Thursday, August 4, 2011

Frame of Reference

**Note: I've been reading a lot of blogs to figure out how to do this better. What I've noticed is that most bloggers, for anonymity purposes, use nicknames for the subjects of their blogs. As my spouse is the only person I've referenced by name so far, he shall henceforth be known simply as Hubs.

"Frame of reference."
My mom likes to use this term a lot. When she says that someone has a similar "frame of reference," what she means is that they come from a similar type of background. Often this has to do with socioeconomics, family values, social strata, etc.... but when I'm using it today, I mean something more specific.

One of the things I love the most about my relationship with Hubs is that we have almost the exact same frame of reference. We grew up less than a mile from each other in Uptown New Orleans and we are the same age. Well, to be precise, I am five days older than he is - so I guess technically I'm robbing the cradle? Anyway, the fact that we are from the same geographic region, exact same era, and had similar families and education (though, come on - my school was far superior) makes for really hilarious moments sometimes.

A while back, we were having some conversation about something, and for some reason I said, "Calm yourself." To which Hubs replied, "Calm yourself, Iago..." - a line of Jafar's from the Disney movie Aladdin. Now, we have never watched Aladdin together, talked about Aladdin, or mentioned Jafar to my knowledge. But because we were both babies of 1985, Aladdin was high on both of our lists as "movies we knew everything about because we were seven when they came out." (See also: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid)

Example number two: There was a HI-larious commercial in New Orleans when we were little for a ridiculous furniture store called Frankie and Johnny's. (So hilarious that Conan O'Brien even had a contest for remakes recently.) Well, my family thought this commercial was golden, so we videotaped several versions of the four of us acting out the commercial. When we showed them to Hubs, he understood exactly how freakin' magical they were. He understood this because we come from exactly the same place.

This morning, there was yet another example of Hubs and I being on precisely the same page. While the Mickey Mouse Club has yet to return to our countertops (knock on wood), we do find several little insects on a daily basis. No big deal... but for some reason this morning when Hubs was doing away with one, I started thinking about the Sing-Along Songs videos I used to watch on repeat. There was one song called "The Ugly Bug Ball" - and Hubs remembered it too! Neither of us remembered the exact melody, though. God bless you, YouTube:

Anyway, I'm not saying that people from different places or who are different ages can't have very successful relationships - obviously that's ridiculous. All I know is that it's comforting and often hilarious when Hubs and I have those moments of, "Remember that _______? That was so funny!" It makes me feel like we have known each other forever, like we grew up together. Since we're planning to grow old together, it's nice to feel like we started early.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Domestic Enemies of the Elementary Teacher

A few months ago, a parent of a child in my class told me about a fabulous blog called stark.raving.mad.mommy, which chronicles the adventures of a fabulously snarky, honest mom. One of her children is on the autism spectrum, so it has been fascinating for me as a teacher to learn more about how these students function in their daily lives.

One recent post that she did was as a guest on the blog Rants from Mommyland for their "Domestic Enemies" series... in which moms of various types enlighten readers about their biggest nemeses. I was inspired to create my own list of "Domestic Enemies" of my profession:

-Mr. and Mrs. Denial: These are the parents who refuse to acknowledge that their child shows signs of having an issue affecting his/her academic performance. No, his lack of focus and inability to attend to a task for longer than 4 seconds is not because he's "just a typical boy." Last I checked, your male genitalia means you are a boy. Your lack of focus means you may have ADD. (*Note: for the sake of being PC, it makes you "under consideration for having characteristics of ADD." Which is the most I'm allowed to tell you about your child.) My problem with these people is that if a child has an issue - be it ADD, anxiety, learning disabilities, being "on the spectrum", etc. - it will help them if the issue is identified and addressed. It doesn't just go away. Usually I am already accommodating the child for the issue he/she is having anyway!

-Mrs. Overreacting Worrywart: No, there is nothing wrong with your kid. He got a B on the test. Sh*t happens, and it will teach him to study his vocabulary words longer next time. If you meet with his teacher every time he gets anything below an A, he will never learn to stand up for himself OR to realize that he's not perfect. By the way, don't tell me "he's always been an A student." He's eight.

-Mrs. Call-me-at-home: I seriously had a parent call me to ask about a project due Monday on Saturday night at 9 pm. Saturday, February 14. Valentine's Day. For your information, I do have a life, and it does not include acknowledging the existence of my students between Friday evening and Sunday evening.

-Mrs. My-Kid's-Feces-Don't-Stink: No, your child is not perfect, and yes, she did in fact call the girl at her table stupid and ugly. She was not "led into it" by a ringleader - she is the ringleader. Oh, and by the way - MTV is not appropriate viewing material for your third grader.

-Mrs. Jones: as in, the teacher you feel like you need to "keep up" with. She has a color-coded, alphabetized filing system, her graded work folder actually goes home on the correct day every week, her classroom is immaculate... I could go on. Seriously, lady - you're screwing up the curve for the rest of us.

-Papers in my "To Be Graded" bin: I hate you.

- Clutter: It is very difficult to keep a room straight when as many as 27 people operate in it at the same time, with 25 of those being eight- and nine-year-olds. I can't even keep my own one-person mess straight at home - what do you want from me? It's like the piles of paper mate and multiply each night after I go home. I decided a long time ago that given the choice between straightening up my room for an hour or spending an hour planning an amazing hands-on, cooperatively-grouped, high-on-Bloom's-taxonomy lesson, I will pick the lesson every single time.

-Standardized testing. Standardized curriculum. Standardized standards of standardhood. Children are not standardized. Believe me, there are times I wish they were - my job would be a bajillion times easier. But they're not. So quit stressing me and them out by deciding how many bubbles they need to fill in correctly to advance to the next grade.

I'd like to close this rant by noting a few things. First of all, while I have had parents who fall into all of the aforementioned categories, they are few and far between. In my experience, 99% of the parents are lovely, supportive people who just want the best for their child and want to know what they can do to help you. Thanks to all of you who have enabled me to survive three years of teaching still ready for more!

I'd also like to point out that not a single one of the "domestic enemies" that I've listed is a child. Yes, there are annoying kids and mean kids and kids with "issues" - all of whom require patience and often a lot of extra time and effort. The reason I don't have a single kid to put on my list is that the kids are, in fact, the good part of the job. I will love and educate the crap out of every last one of the children who walks in my door to the best of my ability. I'm not perfect, and neither are they. But the kids are the upside, not the enemies. Any teacher who says otherwise is looooong overdue for retirement.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


I don't like change. Not to the extent of actively avoiding it by wearing/eating/doing the same thing every day, but in general, I prefer things to be predictable and relatively comfortable.

I think this may be in part due to my upbringing. I had a very stable, pretty damn near idyllic childhood. I went to the same school from the age of three until I graduated from high school. There is thankfully no divorce in my family, and almost all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in New Orleans when I was growing up. Things were blissfully consistent for me - even to the point of every Christmas Day being basically exactly the same as all the others. (Opening Santa presents under the watchful eye of Dad's video camera, breakfast and presents with Dad's side, presents and dinner with Mom's side, go home and crash. Lather, rinse, repeat next year.) I think that this level of predictability and consistency brings with it a host of good things, including a sense of being rooted in traditions and a close community. In fact, elementary school teachers learn that routines and predictability in a classroom are incredibly beneficial to children.

However, the slight downside is that I have not often in my life been forced to undergo major changes. My first new school (and class with boys!) was at UVA. I only moved to a new house once in my memory, and it was approximately 90 seconds away from the old one. In general, change is just not something that's happened to me that much.

That said, let's recap the past few months for me, shall we? Get married. Go on honeymoon. Return to pack up life and move 855 miles (yes, I Google Mapped it door to door) to a city with no friends. Start new job at brand new school. That's a lot of change for a girl who hasn't even had a freakin' Christmas that was distinguishable from all the others.

Honestly, I was really worried about how I was going to take all of this upheaval. The marriage part has been fine - as I said in a previous post, I don't really feel married (read: old and lame) because things aren't that different with Hubs, except that I see him less than I saw him before. Plus I don't have to take care of paying bills or taking out the trash anymore because he is more than happy to do those things. Score.

For the most part, the moving thing has been fine too; Durham is a town with a lot to like, especially as I've gotten to know some really lovely and fun people. But I am bothered by the newness of it. I don't even notice it most of the time, but my dislike of change rears its ugly head every once in a while. Yesterday, for example. I spent 2 days in Sapphire, NC with my family at my parents' mountain house. When it was time to leave to go back to Durham so I could spend time with Hubs following his week of nights, I got really upset. All I wanted was to stay with my parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousin and soak up the familiar vibe from them. The feeling passed after a couple hours in the car and a tearful conversation with Hubs, but it was there nonetheless. I didn't like it, and I wanted it gone.

After a great deal of thinking, I've decided that I don't know that there's anything I can do to fix my aversion to change except to keep forcing myself to undergo changes. I'm never going to be a person who up and decides to move to China one day - or even to dye my hair - but if I continue to see the upsides of change, maybe it will help. (Side note: I'm considering renaming this blog "The Upside" because I keep seeing myself use that word. Thoughts?)

So... the Upsides of all this change:
-First and foremost, the best. husband. ever.
-a big, beautiful house with a spacious kitchen and a freakin' room for a closet.
-the chance to be part of an amazing new school
-lots of wonderful new people
-Local Yogurt (a deliciously acceptable substitute for Pinkberry)
-driving distance from Cville
-being able to go to a store looking like crap because I won't see 234034 friends of my mom or grandmother everywhere I go

I could go on for a while...

I highly recommend this exercise any time you are feeling negative about a change. My mom suggested it first, when I was feeling extremely apprehensive and anxious in the face of the match and the uncertainty it brought for my future. She suggested I make a list of at least 5 positive things to look forward to about a new place, and it really helped. Take it from me.

And remember.... if nothing changes, nothing changes.