Try To Remember….


….the kind of September….

When I was a teacher. Try to remember the late August days that used to bring me anxiety, excitement, joy, a sense of purpose, lost sleep and far too many credit card charges at Michael’s Crafts.

I do remember.

I remember what it felt like to watch those precious days of summer begin to fade. I remember the excitement of facing a new school year.

I remember seeing my class list, and recognizing some of the names. I remember knowing some of the siblings of “my” kids. Knowing some of their parents. Recognizing the faces and thinking, “how can she be in fifth grade already?”

I miss those days. I miss them.

I miss the little heart flutters that used to come with printing out the tags to go in each hallway cubby. I miss the pleasure of opening up new boxes of clean, pure notebooks.  I miss throwing out the old broken crayons and replacing them with new, whole, optimistic replacements.

I miss the new books. The clean desks and shiny new pens.

I miss it.

I miss the long walks that I used to take in the week before school started, memorizing my list of students in alphabetical order. Walking, and reciting, and walking some more. “Adams, Bates, Cohen, Chevaliar, Dulakis…..”

I miss the first day of school, when I would look each child in the eye and tell them how nervous I was about meeting them. I’d tell them about waking up at night, worrying that they might not like me. I would laugh as I told them about picking out my first day of school outfit, and changing my mind five times before the first day.

I loved being a teacher. I loved the joy of taking a group of disparate souls and helping them to form a cohesive classroom unit.

Mostly I miss those completely unexpected moments when all 25 of us would break out in laughter.  I miss the hugs. I miss the snacks. The history lessons, the incredibly touching and surprising written words. I miss the smiles, the frowns, the pushing back against my “authority”.

I was a good teacher. I loved being with my students every day.

I wish that I hadn’t been pushed out of my classroom by an insecure and over controlling administrator.

I wish that this was that week when my stomach would fill with butterflies and my heart would skip some of its beats. I with that I was in my classroom, placing name tags on desks and getting ready to know and love and laugh with a whole new group of inspiring young people.

I remember what it felt like to come to the end of August knowing that you were about to enter a demanding and fulfilling September.

I remember.

And I’m sad.

I wish that I was one of those lucky teachers spending this week opening boxes of brand new markers.

I miss it.

photo

My old self……

Advertisements

Dear American Adults,


Dear fellow American adults,

I submit the following for your edification, enlightenment and possible humbling mortification.

I used to teach fifth grade. The kids in my class were all about ten years old. They were old enough to understand the basic rules of how to get along, but young enough to still need a lot of guidance.

They were kids.

Young, young kids.

This essay is a composite of about 853 such conversations that I had with students over my ten years as a classroom teacher. The names were changed because, seriously, this could have been any fifth grader at any time in any place.

“Karen, I need your help! Jackie was mean to me!”

“Jackie, what did you do to Jason?”

“Nothin. I just called him a fat wussy pants jerk face noodle head.”

Jason sniffles and looks at me with huge blue eyes, filled with righteous pain and anger. “See? He was so. MEAN.”

I sigh. I rub my forehead. I look at the culprit, sitting in front of me in his baggy blue shirt, with his recess sweaty hair in his big brown eyes. He looks away. He knows he did something mean. Fifth graders know mean when they see it, even if it comes from themselves.

“Jackie? What do you have to say about this?”

A shrug. “Well, I didn’t mean it. It was a joke.”

(Are you following this line of reasoning, Roseanne Barr, Michelle Wolf, Orrin Hatch, Ted CruzKelly Sadler, Donald Trump?)

I look at my little student with my most serious teacher face.

“Jackie,” I say sternly. “You know what a joke is. What makes something a joke?”

He drops his head. The shrug reappears.

“A joke is something that makes everybody in the room laugh. A joke makes people feel happy inside. Did your words today make everybody laugh? Did everyone feel happy?”

“No.” It’s only a whisper, but, still, he said it and I am proud of him.

“What you said wasn’t a joke because it hurt someone. It hurt just as much has hitting with a fist would hurt. What you said wasn’t a joke. What was it?”

Now the shoulders are drooping, the chin is almost on the chest. Now my ten year old student is truly feeling bad about what he did.

“I was being mean. I was making fun of someone.”

“I’m proud of you!” I tell him honestly. “You admitted that you were wrong. You are a strong and brave boy. Good for you. Now what do you think you should do?”

Jackie looks at Jason, a classmate he’s known for years. Both boys are teary eyed. Both are tender.

“I’m sorry.”

Jackie thinks that he means it, but I have to push a little bit more.

“OK,” I say. “You said you were sorry. Do you think that takes away your bad choice? Does it take away Jason’s sadness?”

The answer is obvious to any ten year old. A simple, “sorry” doesn’t erase the pain or the hurt. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t screw up. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to make amends.

At this point I would usually let my two students hug or shake hands or say, “It’s OK.” I’d send them back to class.

But before the end of that day, I’d catch up with “Jackie” again, and ask him if he had thought about what he could do to show Jason that he didn’t mean those cruel words. That he had respect for his classmate and that he wanted to make it right again.

In the world of elementary school teaching, this is called an “apology of action.” It is designed to make the one who did the hurting take some kind of definitive action to elevate the one who was hurt. In that world, it means picking the one you targeted for the recess basketball team, or letting them sit in the best spot in the library. It means giving them some of your snack or choosing them for your math buddy.

Ten year old kids are able to understand that “It was a joke” is a very feeble excuse for being a jerk. They were able to grasp that a simple, “Sorry” can’t take away the hurt that words have caused.

They are little kids. But they get it.

Are you listening, adults in Washington DC, Hollywood, the media, the networks? Are you listening?

We know you by your words and by your actions. And we know it isn’t a joke if most of us aren’t laughing.

royalty-free-photos-angel-and-devil-kindness-and-evil-12174545

 

 

Touching Our Lives


One of the things I loved best about teaching was knowing that I touched the lives of children, that I meant something important to some of them. After teaching for such a long time, I have had the enormous joy of hearing from former students who have grown up and who still remember our time together.

What I don’t think people realize, though, is just how deeply the kids impact and change the lives of their teachers. Good teachers care about their classes. We love our students. We laugh with them, grow with them, argue with them and hug them when one of us is sad.

That love and those memories stay with us at least as much as with the kids. Maybe even more.

And I know that this is a very improper thing to say, but some kids just stay with you more than others do.

For me, the kids who will always stay in my heart are the ones who struggled. Some struggled with learning disabilities. Some with hearing loss and language disorders. Some kids fought battles with depression and anxiety that made school a constant challenge. Some worked harder than any child should work just to keep their emotions and behaviors under control.

Many of my students became my heroes. Their willingness to grab their backpacks and come back day after day to the place of their greatest struggles was a constant inspiration to me. I knew kids who felt friendless and alone. But they still showed up, every single day, to try again.

I knew kids who expected perfection from themselves. When math came to them without effort, but writing felt beyond their abilities, I watched them swallow hard, blink back tears, and finish that story.

Those kids stay in my heart. They stay in my memory. I call on their example when I feel overwhelmed and unsure of myself.

Most of those kids have grown up and gone, and I can only remember them with fondness. With the miracle of social media, though, some of them have reached out and told me about their lives today. A few are friends who I get to see once in a while.

And some of them are gone. For some, the pressures of life were too much, and they chose to step away. They are still, every one of them, my heroes.

Some have been lost to accidents or to illness. For some the lifelong health struggles have finally come to an end.

They are still my heroes.

Dear parents of kids with extra needs and concerns, dear moms and dads of spirited kids and challenging kids and kids who push the teacher hard,

Please know that your kids are the kids who kept some of us coming in every day. Your kid was the one who made us throw up our fists and shout “Yes!!!!” when they finally finished that book report. Yours is the one who made us sneak into the bathroom to cry when he asked another kid to sit with him and was accepted. Your child is the one who made us think, “If she can keep going, so can I.”

Thank you, kids. Thank you, parents who trusted me with your kids.

You will all be a part of me for the rest of my life.

imgres

This is how I saw myself sometimes…..

If I Carried a Gun


Books

I keep thinking about the idea of teachers carrying guns.

When the Newtown massacre happened, I was teaching fifth grade. Immediately after the horror of that day, the NRA and dozens of political leaders tossed out the idea of “arming teachers.”

Even now, five years after this stupidity was mentioned as an answer to school shootings, the idea continues to be thrown about.

There are so very many practical reasons why this is a completely idiotic idea, including impossibility of safely keeping a loaded gun in a room full of kids.

But one issue hasn’t been raised yet, and it is the biggest problem as far as I’m concerned.

It is the moral question of killing, even in defense of others.

What would happen to the spirit, the soul, the conscience of a teacher who successfully shot and killed another human being? How have so many come to believe that all there is to killing is pulling the trigger?

I was a pretty typical American public school teacher. I’m a mother, a wife, a grandmother. I loved my job because I loved being with children. I loved laughing with them, exciting their interests, forming relationships with each of them.

I have spent a lot of time imagining myself in an active shooter situation.

I try to imagine myself with a gun in my hand, knowing that my 24 students are cowering against the wall. Knowing that outside our door there is someone trying to kill us.

I imagine the door bursting open as I raise the gun, pulling the trigger, hitting the target.

I imagine the face of the young man in front of me exploding in a shower of blood and bone. I can hear the screams of the kids behind me as he collapses. I imagine watching him die in front of me.

What then?

What if he turned out to be a student I knew? Maybe one of the many struggling kids I had taught myself some years before? What if he was a former student at our school?

What if I knew his family?

Would I be expected to walk back into my classroom a day or a week later, ignoring the newly laid flooring where his brains and blood had damaged the carpet? Would I be expected to focus on my math lessons and recess and homework corrections?

What would I feel as I looked into the eyes of my young students? Students who had come to trust me? What would I be expected to say to them?

I would never be able to look at myself the same way. I’d never feel clean or whole again.

Oh, I know, the press would call me a hero, the survivors would cheer me, there would be articles in the paper and on and on.

But I would have been changed from a teacher to a killer. The very essence of my self would be smashed and reshaped into something unrecognizable to me or those who love me.

There may be times when it is reasonable to kill another human being outside of wartime. I don’t know.

But I do know that is deeply wrong for people to casually toss out the idea of “arming” civilians so that we can protect ourselves from each other.

It is morally wrong to lightly suggest that those who have not chosen to be members of the police or military could simply shoot to kill and then go back to teaching phonics.

I think we need to step back, away from the growing pile of weapons in front of us, and take a deep breath. We need to ask ourselves if we really believe that killing is anything other than a life changing, painful, horrific event for the killer.

Life is not a video game. None of us is Rambo. Causing the violent, ugly, bloody death of another human is not a joke. It’s not a part of life in civilized societies.

Where are our morals? What happened to our souls?

 

 

What I miss every day


 

imgres

“Hand in that homework or else!”

I retired from teaching almost two years ago.

It wasn’t exactly a planned retirement. In fact, the decision came in mid May of my last year. It came after my evaluating administrator made it real clear that I was going to be rated as a bad teacher, even though for the previous 21 years I had only had great evaluations.

It came after the Principal at my school accidentally let it slip that I was on his short list of “old teachers who need to be eased out the door.”

The timing for me was good. My first child, my daughter, my teaching colleague, was due to deliver her first child. The problem of finding good childcare was on all of our minds.

When I realized that I was going to be the target of intense pressure to move my old fashioned ass out of our school, it wasn’t hard for me to decide to retire and take on the role of full time daycare provider for my new grandchild.

I made the move. The year ended. I left.

I took on the role of Nonni with love and joy and a huge sense of gratitude. I had never been able to be a stay at home Mom, and now I was able to give myself fully to the daily raising of a beloved child.

But.

I miss teaching. I miss it so much.

I was a good teacher. I was a teacher who connected with kids. I loved my job. I loved my students, so much. I loved their humor, their warmth, their vulnerability.

I remember so many kids who made me smile. Kids who only wanted to sit beside me. Kids who thrived because I greeted them in the morning and asked them how last night’s game had gone.

I loved their sassiness, the way that they challenged me. I remember kids who sat in front of me with tears in their eyes as they said, with shaky voices, “Yeah, but I disagree.”

I loved helping them find the best parts of themselves. I remember the shy children who lead the morning meeting. I remember the unpopular kids who directed our class plays. I remember the moments when the very cool kids independently reached out to the struggling kids.

Every night, I dream of school. Every night. I dream of teaching. I dream of my colleagues and my friends. I dream of rooms full of smiling kids.

Every night I dream that someone is trying to keep me out of my classroom. Or that it is my last day of teaching, and I have to say goodbye to the kids, but in every dream there is no real way for me to do that.

I dream that I am on the outside of school, looking in at kids I loved so much. I dream that I am a substitute teacher, but that no one one knows I’m a “real” teacher inside. I see myself on the edges of my old life. I feel myself sobbing as I say goodbye to a line of children I once knew.

I love my new life. I am happy to be at home with Ellie.

But, oh, man. I so miss read aloud. And birthday songs. And recess. I so miss those moments when the kids light up about a history lesson.

I miss the social connections. I miss the afternoon game. I miss the greetings. The math lessons. I miss the bursting out laughing with 24 people who all share the joke.

I was a good teacher.

It should have lasted longer.

 

Quintessentially American


Last week I taught a summer class in Improvisational Theater. The kids ranged in age from 7 to 9.

It was a hoot, let me tell you.

I had 9 students, divided between my morning and afternoon classes. Out of the 9, 4 were of Indian descent, with Indian born parents. Two were Chinese, and one was Russian. One child was from the UK, with a Scottish mom and a Welsh Dad.

It was a hilariously eclectic group of little ones acting out silly scenes like “Fashion Show!” or “Horse Race.”  They danced, pranced, twirled and acted. Some of them were excited and proud, but some felt completely embarrassed and out of their element.

My job was to encourage, to prompt, to help them to laugh at themselves and let go of their fears.

Other than the fact that on the last day I threw my back out trying to prance down the fashion show stage, I had a wonderful week.

Children were chatting with me, smiling at me, asking me questions about life. I loved it.

But our last day fell on July 1st. I had to ask the kids what they had planned for the most American of holidays.

They answered with so much joy, and such a level of excitement. I sat there, listening to the mingled accents from around the world, looking into the beautiful shining eyes of the kids. The American kids.

“We are going to the beach with our cousins!”

“We are going to the lake, and then having a cook out!”

“My family will barbecue! Hot dogs, cheeseburgers and good chicken!”

“My Dad says that we will use sparklers after dinner. We are going to have a fire in our back yard. With marshmallows!”

These children are America.

Their joy as they talked about s’mores and burgers and watermelon and fireworks; this is the joy of our country.

I looked into the beautiful brown eyes of those Indian children, warmed by the warmth that I saw there. I shared a grin with my Chinese students, moved by the sincerity with which they planned those barbecues.

I smiled with my blue eyed Russian student and her British pal.

This is America. All of these eyes, all of these smiles, all of these accents.

All of these lovely children planning to celebrate the fourth of July with the rest of our nation.

Happy Independence Day. Welcome, everyone. Everyone.

Welcome, beautiful children.

A Teacher At Night


Oh, holy Lord…….

I remember that when I was teaching it often felt as if I spent 10 hours planning for 4 hours of teaching.

I remember feeling that the morning was like being on the runway. Getting ready to fly.

Thinking about the kids, planning how to group them. Picturing which kids would instantly succeed and which would struggle . Counting out the sets of cups, spoons, salt shakers, tins, dishes and hand lenses to arrange on the back table.

Thinking about the kids. Copying the checklists to match the lesson. Double checking the colored pencils.

Thinking about the kids. Making a list of vocabulary to give to the ELE students. Finding some pages of extension work for those who would finish quickly.

Just thinking about the kids.

And all that planning would find its fruition in the moment when the kids came through the door, smiling, frowning, teary, giggly, pale, ruddy, eager, shy…….They would appear and I would flip that internal switch to “on.” The day would begin, with me on stage, and I would coach, coax, encourage, stop, redirect, prompt, caution, cheer, lead, follow, observe, record and silently celebrate every students’ accomplishments.

I would be thinking about the kids.

And I remember that after the day was over, and the last child had gone home, I would spend hours filing, washing, emailing, copying, cutting, displaying, correcting, and planning for the next full day.

And thinking about the kids.

Now here I sit, more than halfway through a one week drama camp for little students. I am planning for tomorrow, checking my list of props, hanging up a reminder to bring my fan to our stifling upstairs classroom.

I am thinking about the kids. I have met them all, and have smiled at each one and made all of them laugh. I won’t ever get to know them, though; this is after all only one short week of 3 hour classes. By the time they put on their first day of school outfits, these children will have forgotten me.

Yet I sit here writing out plans for the morning, checking my online sources for ideas.

Thinking about the kids.

For Orlando and Aurora and Newtown and Littleton …….


 

I wrote this short story three years ago. I posted it then, and I felt better.  So I’m going to post it again tonight. I’m doing it because I was on Facebook and Twitter. And I am disgusted and disheartened by what Americans are saying to each other.

“Ban the Muslims, keep the guns.”   

“My automatic weapon didn’t kill anyone today.”

“What don’t you understand about the 2nd Amendment?”

So. I am so man and so frustrated.  This story is my fantasy. I wish I had the courage to really do it.  If you like the story, pass it on. Maybe we’ll all feel better.

 

“Righteous Anger”

It was Friday afternoon, an hour after the last kid had gotten on the last bus.  I was packing up some weekend work when my best friend, Betsy, popped her head into my classroom.

“Glass of wine before we head home?”, she asked hopefully. Before I knew it, we  were seated at a table at Joe’s, a bowl of popcorn chicken bits in front of us, matching glasses of white wine in our hands.  We started off talking about the week, as usual.  Which kids were having trouble with the math, which kids were way behind in their reading and which parents were driving us nuts.  We sipped and laughed and ignored the calories we were scarfing down in those greasy little blobs of chicken fat.

It was a typical Friday evening.

Then the news came on.  We were sitting across from the bar, and the screen was in full view. We didn’t pay too much attention to the first couple of stories, but suddenly the screen was filled with the smirking face of Warren LaDouche, head of the American Gun Owners Gang.  As usual, he was managing to keep a straight face as he somberly explained all of the reasons why it was necessary to arm public school teachers.  I don’t know how he manages to avoid breaking into gales of maniacal laughter when he says things like, “If every teacher were armed and ready, they would be able to respond to these attackers in a timely manner.”

Betsy grimaced, and took a healthy slug of her wine as LaDouche  went on with fake sincerity, elaborating on his plan to have armed guards standing at recess and loaded guns in every classroom.

“This guy is just sick!”, Betsy hissed, leaning forward across the table so far that she almost landed in the chicken bits.  “I know!”, I hissed back.  “I cannot believe that  NO one out there is calling him out for this crap!”

“Its so obvious that AGOG just wants to sell more and more guns! They don’t give a damn who dies in the process!”

“Everyone knows that they are paid for and supported by the gun manufacturing companies.  But the government just refuses to stand up to them!”

“I can’t believe that people are listening to this crap! They are actually thinking about making us carry guns instead of making the damn things illegal and getting them off the streets!”

We sat there for a while longer, sipping, eating, listening to the bullshit coming from the screen.  The wine ran out just as the news report came to an end. We had lost our happy Friday night mood by then, and we were quiet as we paid the bill and headed out to our cars. I threw my purse onto the seat and turned to give Betsy a hug goodbye.

Uh, oh.  I knew that look.  Betsy was frowning and puffing out her lips in deep thought.  She twirled one lock of greying hair around her finger in what I knew was a sign of concentration.

“Bets,” I began, but she put her fists on her ample hips and launched right in, like she always does.

“What if we do something ourselves?  What if we take some kind of action that just cannot be ignored?  I mean, this is just not right!  I refuse to carry a rifle in my classroom!”

The image of Betsy, armed and dangerous, almost made me laugh, but I knew better.  She was serious, and she was mad.  And she was my best friend.

I sighed, and said, “I don’t know what we could do, hon.  But if you think of something, you know I’m right there with you! I’ve got your back. Have a good weekend.”

By the time I got home and started dinner, I had all but forgotten the press conference and the conversation after it.  My husband came home. We had dinner and talked and then I settled down on the couch with my knitting.

It must have been about 10 pm when my phone suddenly rang.  Everyone who knows me knows that I am usually out cold by 10 pm on a Friday, and I was in fact already under the covers when the call came in.  I would have ignored it, but I always keep my phone close by in case my kids need to reach me.  I picked it up, located my bifocals, and saw Betsy’s name on the screen.  What on earth…..?

“Hey, Betsy!  What’s wrong?”

“I have a plan. Don’t say anything, don’t argue, just listen to me.”

I took a deep breath, settled back on my pillows, and listened to her.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

And that’s why I found myself on my couch two days later, my laptop open and my credit card in hand.  My heart was hammering away, and I could feel nervous sweat pooling under my arms.  I had gone to several web sites to find the best deals, and now I was ready to order.

“It’s perfectly legal”, I told myself as I got ready to click “Add to cart”.  The fact that what I was about to do was legal was the root of the whole problem.  I sat up straight, gulped, and hit the button.

As promised, my purchase arrived within a week.  I read the little “how to” pamphlet that came with the packages, and called Betsy to see if she had read hers.

“Sarah, this is ridiculously easy!! I can’t wait to try them out.”

“What?!  You can’t try them out!  Betsy, don’t!”

“Oh, I’ll be careful…..”

“Betsy! No! You’re the one who made up the plan! You said we’d wait until the last minute so no one would know!”

She grumbled a little, then gave a sigh.

“OK. Then I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

The next morning, early, I kissed my sleeping husband on the cheek, and grabbed my very heavy bag.  I placed it carefully in the back seat of my car, and headed out to pick up Betsy at her house.  I had told my husband that I would be away for the next few days, the first part of April vacation, relaxing with my dear friend.  I had lied.

After Betsy placed her own very heavy bag in my trunk, we headed onto the highway.  As we headed south, she reached over and squeezed my hand.

“We are doing the right thing, Sara.  Someone has to do this. They haven’t left us any choice.”   I nodded, but kept my eyes on the road in front of me.

We reached our destination without any problems, in just under 5 hours. We parked on the street across from the surprisingly modest house.  We waited.  We ate the last few M&M’s in the bag between us.

“I need to pee.”, I complained.

“Hold on, hold on.  He’ll be here soon, I’m sure.  I called his secretary this morning, remember? I told her we wanted an interview, and she said his last appointment today was at 4.”

“What if he goes out to dinner?”

“Oh, just hold it, will you?  Sheesh. You’re a teacher, for God’s sake. You can hold off for hours.”

Just as I sat back to wait, a big gray car pulled into the driveway.

“It’s him!”  Betsy clutched her chest, breathing hard. “Oh, my God, oh, my God!”

“Calm down!  We have to get over there, quick!”

We piled out of the car, straightening our skirts and pulling down the backs of our sweaters.  As we hustled across the street in our sturdy Dansko clogs, each of had a big “teacher bag” over one shoulder.

We looked like two middle aged elementary school teachers. Because that’s what we were.

We were also two angry old ladies on a mission.

And we were armed.

As we approached his driveway, Warren LaDouche cast a wary glance over his shoulder.  I smiled with every ounce of fake cheer I could muster.

“Oh, my goodness, Betsy, you were right!”, I squealed, “It really IS Warren LaDouche!”  I waved my free hand as I scurried up the long drive.

“Mr. LaDouche!  Oh, my goodness!  Please, can we have your autograph!” That was Betsy, huffing and puffing with excitement as she hurried up behind me.

Just as we had predicted, ole Warren was so full of self-appreciation that he fell for our story right away.  What could be less threatening than a couple of chubby older ladies? He smiled at us, showing yellowing, uneven teeth.

“Can we have your autograph? Please? We’re teachers!  We’ll just be so excited to show your signature to our friends back at school! You’re, like, the hero of the schools!” As we chirped and fluttered around the smiling man, we had maneuvered him closer to his back door, and the car was now between us and the neighbors.  It was nearly dark, and we knew that there was very little chance that anyone would see what was about to happen.

I gave the signal that we had agreed upon. “Let me just grab a pen from my bag!”

Warren still stood there smiling as Betsy and I simultaneously reached into those big canvas bags and pulled out the semiautomatic handguns that we had purchased on line.  Mine felt like it weighed a thousand pounds as I swung it up into the shooting position that I had seen in the pamphlet.  My arm hurt already, and I was pretty sure that I was about to have a heart attack and wet my pants, all at the same time.

“Open the door and walk inside, Warren.”  Betsy sounded slightly less panicked than I felt, but I knew that this was the key moment. If he believed us, we could pull this off.  If he laughed in our faces, it was all for nothing.

The thought of having spent almost $2,000 for nothing sent a jolt through me.  The thought of this man allowing ever more deadly guns to be brought into our schools sent a wave of rage right behind it.

I surprised myself by jabbing the muzzle of the gun right into Warren’s pudgy midsection.

“Open the damn door, Warren.  NOW!”

He was breathing fast, and his beady eyes were scanning the street, but Warren reached for the door.  He inserted a key and took a step.  I kept the gun firm against his waistline.

“You two have no idea what you’re doing.”  I was gratified to hear that Warren’s voice was shaking.

“Oh, you’re wrong, LaDouche.  We followed AGOG’s advice to the letter.  We have our guns, two bags full of ammo magazines and all the time in the world.  You were right! It does make us feel more powerful to have these things in our hands.”

As we had planned, I held the gun on Warren while Betsy checked him for weapons (ew…..).  We were slightly amazed to find that he was carrying a handgun under his jacket!  Yikes!!!  He hadn’t even tried to reach it!  We exchanged a look of terror as Betsy emptied the chamber and put the gun in her bag.  I pushed Warren into a kitchen chair, then Betsy pulled his arms behind his back, and attached him firmly with two pairs of handcuffs (also purchased on line without a problem).

We stood looking at each other, our eyes huge, our mouths hanging open.

I was still flooded with adrenaline, but I was starting to shake.

Betsy dropped into a chair that matched Warren’s, her gun clanking against the table.

I suddenly remembered my earlier problem, and gasped, “Betsy!  Keep the gun on him!  I gotta go!”

Somehow, I managed to find the bathroom and use it without shooting myself.  I washed my face and made my way back to the kitchen.

Warren was sitting quietly, looking steadily at Betsy’s gun.  He looked smaller cuffed to his kitchen chair than he had on TV.

For a moment, I just stood there.  All three of us seemed slightly stunned by the events of the day.  But time was moving on, and I knew that we had a lot to do.  I gave myself a little mental head slap, and turned to Betsy.

“OK, kiddo. Get the iPad out.”  She looked at me blankly for a minute, then smiled.  Betsy loves new technology, in spite of her age, and she was excited about the video we were about to make.

We spent a few minutes arranging the items on Warren’s kitchen table, finding a good spot to prop the iPad so that the sound and visual quality would be as clear as possible.   We sat ourselves at the table, with Warren in view behind us.  We had explained our plan to him, and that’s when he had finally come out of his stupor.

“You stupid bitches!”, he had snarled, “You can’t do this!  No one will believe you.  You can never outmaneuver AGOG!”  We finally had an excuse to do what we had been hoping to do all along.  We were teachers. We had been teaching ten year olds to recognize and appreciate symbolism in literature.

We gagged ole Warren with an ugly green dishtowel. How’s that for a metaphor?

At last we were ready to go.

Betsy started the recorder and I began.

“Hello, my name is Sara Williamson, and this is Betsy Manchester. We are elementary school teachers with the Braxton Public Schools.  We are armed.”  (The camera cut to the two guns, and the huge pile of ammunition clips and magazines beside them.)

“We have just kidnapped Mr. Warren LaDouche, chairman and spokesperson for the American Gun Owners Gang, commonly known as AGOG.”  (Betsy moved the iPad camera to Warren, who by now looked both ridiculous and apoplectic.)

“This…….man…..is trying to convince the American people that we will all be safer if we allow every citizen to own as many weapons as he can carry.  He wants you to believe that by carrying a weapon, you’ll be protecting yourself from so called bad guys.”

I held up the gun and clip that we had taken from Warren in the kitchen.

“Well, he was carrying this when we grabbed him.  We pulled out our guns before he pulled out his, and that was the end of his resistance.

Being armed with a dangerous weapon did not do one single thing to keep Warren here any safer.  As you can see, we took his gun away, and now he’s handcuffed to a chair.  We can shoot him time we want to.”

That last line made me gulp a bit, but I grimly went on.  Betsy was handling the filming, saving each clip and keeping the camera pointed accurately.

“Ladies and gentleman, you can see that Warren LaDouche and his friends at AGOG are full of….” I paused to find a proper word.  After all, I am a teacher of young children.  “Full of horse manure.  They are lying to you.”

“Let’s think about background checks, shall we?  AGOG and its supporters feel that there should be fewer required background checks.  We are here to tell you that even the ones we have now are not anywhere close to sufficient.”

I held my gun up to the camera and said, “No background check can keep you safe if guns like these are out there in public.  We bought ours from a licensed gun dealer online.  We both went through the required background checks.  We passed with flying colors. You see, we have no criminal history and we have never been diagnosed with a major psychiatric illness.”

Now I stood up, gun in hand, and walked over to Warren.  I pointed a shaking finger at him.

“This man wants you to believe that we should bring guns into our classrooms!  He wants you to believe that we can kids keep safe, we can keep our families safe, we can keep our movie theaters and grocery stores and neighborhoods safe as long as there are guns flooding all those places.  As long as we run background checks to look for criminals who intend to do harm.”

I was working up a head of steam now, thinking about the little ones in my classroom, thinking about those babies at Newtown, thinking about Aurora and Columbine and the streets of every city in the nation.  I held up my gun one more time.

“I’m here to tell you, right now, that more guns will NOT keep you safe.  Background checks will NOT keep you safe.  Anyone can get mad enough and desperate enough to use one of those guns for its intended purpose.  Even two aging fifth grade teachers can get angry enough to buy guns and use them to kidnap and threaten someone they hate. We passed the checks, we paid our money, we bought these guns legally.  And we can use them right this minute to blow Warren LaDouche to bits.

Think about that when you consider whether or not we need to ban guns like the ones that my friend and I are holding right now.”

I nodded my head to Betsy, and the camera went off.   I started to cry.  Betsy came over and put her arms around me.  We held each other for a few minutes as we cried.  Our guns lay forgotten on the kitchen floor.

Three hours later, Betsy and I walked into the police station in Warren’s home town.  We had spent the time at a local Starbuck’s, fueling up on lattes and scones.  Betsy had spliced and edited the movie clips into one short film, running for about two minutes in length.  Then we had uploaded it to Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter. We had emailed copies to all of the major news outlets, including CNN.  We finished our drinks, ate the last crumbs of our last desserts as free women, and headed out the door.

As we entered the police station, we were recognized almost immediately.  We held our heads up high as the buzz raged around us, and the Captain was summoned.  We remained silent as we handed him our note, giving the location of one angry but unharmed Warren LaDouche and telling him that our guns were unloaded and stored in the trunk of the car. After he had read the note, the Captain scratched his head, told his men to go get the guns and free LaDouche.  Then he escorted us, fairly politely, into his office.

“Weren’t you ladies scared about what you did?  Aren’t you worried about the consequences?”

I gave him a withering look, and smoothed out my wrinkled skirt.

“Captain, we teach fifth grade.  Nothing scares us.”

“Let’s put on a show!”


drama

At the end of every school year, my class puts on a play.

They cut up huge cardboard boxes to make sets, they create the costumes out of old scraps and outgrown clothes.

They create the script.  They direct.  They make the posters and the programs. They practice and memorize and improvise and fine tune.

At the end of every school year, I ask myself why I tolerate the chaos and the mess and the paint smell. I ask myself if all of the time and money spent is really worth it.

And every year, I realize that it definitely is.

My students create a play that is original, always a bit random, and often completely confusing. By the time they have completed the creation, the rehearsals and the multiple performances, I am always exhausted.

But it is worth it.

It. Is. So. Worth. It.

Why?

I’ll tell you why.

There is no rubric.

There are no scores to measure success.

The children are allowed to create on their own.  They are allowed to make the story their own.

There is almost no adult guidance or control

Which means that the kids have to compromise, work together, support each other, listen to each other.  They have to learn how to share a stage.  They have to be able to imagine a place and then to create that place.  They have to learn how to depend upon each other and upon themselves.

They get to laugh.

They get to be silly.

Every year, every single year, at least one shy child steps forward and assumes a leading role.  Every year, at least one assertive child learns to step back and listen with an open mind.  Every year, children learn how powerful it is to share a stage with friends, and how exhilarating it is to be a part of a cooperative group.

I don’t interfere in the play. I don’t insert my ideas or my beliefs.  As much as I possibly can, I do something else while the play is being created and shaped and fine tuned.

And this is the true meaning of education.

When the kids in my class put on their wigs, their bacon costumes, their tiaras and their matching tutus, they are showing all of us what they have learned in the fifth grade.

It is so not about the rubrics. Or the test scores. Or the stupid state tests.

What they have learned is that they are competent.  They have learned that they are kind.  They are cooperative. They are funny.

They have learned that they can work in a group and can put forth their very best efforts to make that group a success.

When we do our play, my students have learned that nothing is sweeter than hearing the audience laugh, and knowing that you and your friends made that magic happen.

Number two on the list of things that I will miss.  My annual class play. 

Field Trip Magic


Olde Sturbridge Village...how quiant can you get?

Old Sturbridge Village…how quaint can you get?

Ah, field trips!

Those wonderful carefree days of no actual school work.  Parents often think of those days as “days off” for teachers.

To which teachers respond, “Bwahahahahahahaha!”

No kidding. We actually chortle.

I woke up this morning at 5:45, showered, drank my cup of coffee and headed out the door.  I usually have at least two cups of said coffee, but knowing that I would be trapped on a bus for an hour and a quarter made me forgo my second fortifying beverage.

Also, I know how cranky I can get with all that caffeine coursing through my veins.  So I skipped it.  Sadly.  And with a few bad words.  I skipped it.

But I got out the door in plenty of time, and headed off to school.  I had told the class to be in the room by 8:00 AM at the latest, assuring them that I would be at my desk by 7:30, and could handle anything that came up.  As I got on the road and glanced at my watch, I was buoyed by the realization that I would be at school in PLENTY of time.  No worries!

Until the traffic on the highway came to a grinding halt.  And I sat for ten full minutes without moving a foot.

Gah!  Time was ticking by.  What should I do?  I booted up my GPS app, and saw that it would take me 40 minutes to get to my classroom.  Gulp!  40 minutes would put me at TEN PAST eight!  The bus had to leave at 8:15!!!  I frantically texted my ever serene and uber organized colleague, Amy Jo, and asked her to get my classroom ready for the kids.

I came careening into the parking lot at 8, and entered my classroom at 8:02.  I greeted the kids, handed out medications to the chaperones, filled out the “before school” attendance sheet, and got ready to head for the bathroom.

And all the lights went out.  Bam.

We were in the dark.

I turned on my phone, used the facilities, and got everyone lined up and ready to go.

Onto the busses we went, chaperones, incredibly excited kids and me.   Phew!  I gave orders (“No standing up!  No screaming!  No eating on the bus).

And I settled back to relax.

Almost immediately, I had two little girls in the seats across from me firing questions my way. Had I been to Sturbridge Village before? What would we see? Would there be animals? What kind?  When was I last there? Did I always know that I wanted to be a teacher? How old was I , anyway?  If I could have any animal on earth as a pet, what would it be?  Did they have bees in the 1800’s?

I did my best to answer, and I chatted with the kids.

Its what teachers do.  We talk to kids.  We answer the questions that they ask.

After about 40 minutes, one of the chaperones turned to me. She is the young mother of one of my most intriguing kids.  “I hope you don’t mind, ” she said, “But I was listening to everything that you said.  Wow!  I think I love you!  No wonder my daughter loves you so much!”

I was completely taken aback.  What?  My talk with the kids impressed her that much?  But that’s how people should always talk to kids, I thought.

I was delighted, and grateful.  But truly surprised.

I thanked her, and sat back to think.

The rest of the day was filled with rain, and laughter, and a hundred kids from 20 schools rushing around and shouting questions as only kids can do.  We flew from the blacksmith to the tinsmith to the cooper to the printer. We petted the baby cows and the fluffy little lambs. Because we are fifth graders, we laughed and commented as the bulls peed and the lambs nursed.

We manned the pumps, threw rocks in the pond, raced across the covered bridge.

We got back on the bus and we headed back to school.

And now I am at home, feet up on the coffee table, glass of wine in hand.  My mind is filled with the images of the day: my sensitive and anxious boy clinging to my side, asking me a thousand questions about the safety of the bridge and the sanitation in the animal pens; my social and smiling boy, asking his friends to back up and make room for younger kids who had come into the potter’s shed; my smart, sassy, learning disabled girl, pausing to think about the oxen, then turning to me with a smile as the meaning of “neutered” made its way into her consciousness.

I love my job.

I love those kids.

I love the caring and warmth and support of these loving parents.

I wish that I could teach the way I want to teach.  I wish that my connection to the kids would be evidence enough of my success as a teacher.