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Gingerbread Men R Us!

I’ve made an important decision: the gingerbread man is my symbol!  Gingerbread men are happy and simple.  They live from the heart.  They are childlike and innocent.  They serve our need for celebration, festivity and magic in a sweet and soulful way.  They are decorative.  They smell and taste good.  They have the sense to jump out of ovens and shout, “Run, run, as fast as you can!   You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”   I emulate you, gingerbread man!

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The next day I subbed at a high school in North County, which is a very cushy district in the world of sub-land: beautiful schools, huge solar panels cover all the student cars in the parking lots, nice kids.  However the only thing that is weird about this district is they really emphasize that subs will not be given codes to log into computers.  And that if you are being paid for a full day, you must make yourself available for any work that is needed during a full day (i.e. during the regular teacher’s planning period), or face termination.

Well, once I realized the school was on block scheduling and I had a two hour break, I immediately tried to circumvent the first rule by going to the Media Center, hoping I could somehow log onto the internet, go to my teaching wiki, and get some work done.  I innocently asked for a guest logon, but they didn’t have any, so my plan didn’t work.  I hadn’t brought any reading, so I inwardly sighed and decided to check in at the school office for additional work after all, not wanting to lose this cushy job.  I figured maybe this whole thing was semi-voluntary: you were supposed to check in, but they weren’t going to hunt you down if you didn’t.  The office lady sent me to the nurse, who had a stack of filing for me to do.

That got me going.  Me doing freaking filing.  How ridiculous.  I get paid so little that I deserve a long break.  But I started my task , and decided to do the right thing by being as pleasant as possible to the nurse.  So we started chatting.  She said, “I have two volunteers … one’s been with me for five years … they do most of the filing, but only a teacher can do these forms”(which contained confidential health information).

Suddenly all those stacks of annoying forms that you have to fill out and turn in at your kid’s school every year had a human face behind them.  Yes, some poor soul had to file all that stuff.  And suddenly I felt good.  I was helping out this poor nurse in her 60’s who had undoubtedly done more than her share of filing through the years.  We talked pleasantly and she told me about how she was attending her 45th high school reunion that night, and damn that her just manicured nail had just broken, and her hopes to get lucky that night and meet Mr. Right.  She also told me her daughter was an art teacher, and she’d had some tough assignments.  “Yeah, at this one place, they drew penises in all her books,” she drawled.  “She had a really nice collection of art books, and had spent a lot of her own money on them.  After that, she couldn’t use ‘em anymore.”  I commiserated … what was wrong with some of these kids?!  And thought: Hey, there was something that had never happened to me!

So I filed the stack, and afterward my eye fell on some magazines on the coffee table.  I leafed through one and came upon a profound article.  The subject was stress reduction, and the article cited research that stated that eating chocolates or sugary snacks does NOT reduce stress.  But looking at certain photos DOES.  The most stress-busting photos are of nature, water, family, vacations, pets, or attractive people of the opposite sex (such as movie stars) looking at you.  The article correlated with some thoughts I’d been having, and felt like key information that might help me in my search for alternatives to emotional eating.  I reflected on how I would never have seen this old magazine had I not been in this nurse’s office.  Among other good outcomes from doing this lowly filing job.

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The other day I had an assignment to go and sub at one of the Court Schools for the afternoon.  I set off, and got there about five minutes before the job was to start.  I had brought some lunch with me, and just as I unscrewed the jar of peanut butter and prepared to put some on a rice cake, I noticed a woman who must be the teacher striding toward me.  She glared at me, and I rolled down the window.  “You’re late, and now I’m late to my meeting!” she said.

I told her, “I thought this job started at 12:15.”

“It starts at 12:00, and you’re supposed to be here early anyway in order to orient yourself,” she snapped.

“I’m sorry, I’ll go right in,” I said, as I put down the jar and the knife, feeling bummed about having to start this job having eaten no lunch.  The teacher muttered again about being late to her meeting, I hurriedly hid my purse in the back of my car, and rushed into the classroom.

I was faced by about 15 unfamiliar faces, the typical assortment of Hispanic gangbanger types, who had started their journaling assignment.  They stared at me, sized me up, and called out a few questions and comments … “You our sub?”  “How long you gonna be here?”  “You gonna show a movie?” and so on.  I spoke with the aide, introduced myself to the class, and told them to carry on.   They were actually quite well behaved for a class of kids at the Court Schools, and were doing their writing, and later their other assignments.  So aside from confronting some disruptive trouble-makers in the beginning, and changing their seats, there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do.  Just sit there, stare at them assertively, keep them on task.

So I had time to think.  I was upset by my interaction with the teacher.  She had come in to use the bathroom before leaving, and I had at the beginning of this episode made the decision to accept the blame for this mishap, and had told her “sorry” again.

I could see why she was ticked off at being made late for something.  However the reality was that I was mightily ticked off myself.  A lot of things went through my mind, such as:  “You’re lucky I’m here at all … I’ve been seriously considering quitting subbing for the Court Schools” … “You’ve got a cushy job that you get paid a huge amount for and you do practically nothing … subs have a tough time and get paid next to nothing … the whole thing is unfair and outrageous, and you should damn well be acting thankful to me rather than being snotty” …

But there was no real solution for my feelings of having been misused.  Maybe the scheduler had told me 12:00, though I knew it said 12:15 on the list of locations and hours.  I told myself to just let this go … let it go … let it go.  I had liked this teacher the last time I’d taught next door and talked with her … science teachers tend to me “nuts and bolts” types without very good people skills … there was absolutely nothing to be gained by my being angry.  I saw a classroom sign that said, “School starts promptly at 12:00!”  I chatted with the aide, who said the last sub said the same thing, that he thought school started at 12:15.  I made a note to call the scheduler and tell her the hours were listed wrong.  Let it go … let it go … let it go.  (In retrospect I should have been telling myself: send her love, send her love, send her love …)

We actually had a nice day.  The kids were more or less good and did their work.  At one point a man came in, talked with the aide, and left.  One girl, Lana, came in very late.  Then at lunch time the aide said to me, “That guy was Lana’s PO (probation officer).  He commented on how well-behaved the class was.  He said it was much better than the rest of the Court Schools he visits.  I told him that there is even a sub here!”  That felt good!

Also, somehow, we got on the subject of subs, and she commented on how many of them do absolutely nothing – just read or play on the computer.  Well, I told her, I felt I was doing very little myself.  She said, “Oh no, you’ve been very helpful.”  Well, I thought, I had done something.  I had gotten in there and made my presence known, as you need to do in some form.  If badly behaving kids are dominating the class, you have to step right into the locus of the problems and break it up, which generally means having a showdown with one or more kids.  And I had done that.   But the aide’s compliment felt like the second feel-good to come out of this day that had started out so badly.

We watched a movie, Mall Cop, which was actually enjoyable and inspiring (good thing #3).  And the theme was somewhat like my life.  Someone in a humiliating “loser” type occupation, trying to make something good out of it.  Also perhaps like the personable aide.  It turned out she was in school getting her masters in education.

I wrote a note to the teacher at the end of the day, telling her things had gone well, thanking her for leaving an awesome movie, and conveying my hope that her meeting had gone well.  Sending her some love.

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Well, I can hardly believe it.  The little gangbangers inspired me.   To back track, substitute teaching is so difficult and devastating that it generally knocks me out for the day.  After subbing I have to spend the entire rest of the day recovering … just lying on the couch, licking my wounds, meditating for hours on my mistakes and how to not make them again, reminding myself that I really am a good teacher and a decent person, practicing self-nurturing and self-forgiveness so I can carry on.  Not to mention confessing the horrors of the day to my sympathetic husband.

Thursday was one of the worst days of my entire life.   I’m subbing for the Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) for two weeks in Oceanside, in a class filled with gangbangers, from 6th to 12th grade, all male except for one girl.  They are not bad kids, I truly like them, and I imagine that five years from now they’ll mostly have straightened out and be fine.  But for now, somehow their lives have gotten onto the crazy track, and they’re obsessed with toughness, drugs, and not cooperating with authority.

However, in any given classroom, often there are one or two kids that inspire me.  In this classroom, there is a kid named Jose (name has been changed), who is always so well-behaved.   He does all his work, even when everyone else is goofing off, and is he only one who actually brings a book to class and sits there reading it in his spare time (it is entitled The Guns, but we won’t be concerned about details).  The first day, I told him, “Jose, I really appreciate how you do all your work, and behave well, and are a good influence on others … I just want to let you know that I notice and appreciate it.”

After school that day I was talking with the classroom aide, Fernando, a hulking man who is invaluable in keeping order.  Fernando not only does this job but works in a group home for kids with serious cases of bipolar disorder and other mental illness, that he says are physically violent and much harder to handle than this group.  He is a true hero.   Anyway, Fernando mentioned that the kids in this JCCS class were not too bad, but the most troubled was Jose!  I said – Really?  He was the one kid I just had to compliment on how well he did all day.  Fernando said that Jose had been in so much trouble with the law that now he was really trying hard.

I guess that’s who inspires me.  Those who are trying hard.  That’s about all we can do in life.

Anyway, back to Thursday.  I had gotten fed up with the usual routine of this classroom, which included “current events,” in which students were supposed to read copies of the San Diego Union, and do write-ups of two articles.  Of course all these little hoods did was to write up the most heinous murders, robberies and drug busts, essentially glorifying or at least obsessing on crime.  So I decided to go to one of these “people making a difference” websites and bring in print-out’s of some positive news, and have the students write these up as current events.  I took the trouble to do this, and brought in an article about a young man in the Philippines who had organized former gang members to teach basic literacy skills to children living on the streets.  My students seemed to be absolutely furious at this assignment.  They threw the print-out’s on the floor, said they couldn’t understand them (though I read it out loud at their request), and would not do this assignment.  I don’t know if it was that the positive nature of the article threatened them, or just that any change in their routine was unwelcome.  But this set the tone of the day, in a very bad direction.  Next, Fernando found that he had left his keys at home, and had to go get them, so he would be gone for about 30 minutes.

As soon as he left, all hell broke loose.  Students started roaming around, getting into things, one walked out the door, they made huge banging noises (though I couldn’t tell what they were banging), and even threw paper wads at me, which was the worst.  I couldn’t see who was doing what, and couldn’t stop it.  A merchant from the store next door came over and said students were banging the walls and he was afraid his mirrors were going to break.  After attempting to carry on with reading, and getting no cooperation, I told the students to put their heads on their desks (as if they were going to comply, but I had to try something), and I think this at least got them sitting down.  I said a number of things to the students, culminating with, “I have never in all my years of teaching been treated this way.  I want you to really think about what you’re doing here.  They say that ‘character is what you do when you think no one is watching.’  Think about how you’re acting when Fernando steps out.  I also want you to think about having some empathy for me.  We’re all supposed to be respectful in this classroom, and you guys have gone so far into disrespect, that we’re at the level of – how low are you going to sink in how you treat another human being?  I am a human being.  Would you want anyone to treat your sister or your mother the way you’re treating me?  Do you really want to treat any human being in this manner? “   I guess I go for the “conscience activation” approach.  The last thing I remember saying to them was, “I’m glad I’m not someone who goes around making fun of people,” and then Fernando walked in.  By this time they were quietly sitting at their desks.  However there was a textbook in the trash, three holes in the wall – it turned out they had been banging desks against the wall – and paper wads all over.  I suspended two students – the one who had walked out the door, and a little guy who would not stop mocking me.  I would have suspended more, but I wasn’t sure who had caused the damage.  I learned from this, if nothing else, that I should have immediately pulled the desks away from the wall when the banging started.

We were supposed to watch a movie in the afternoon, and I told them there would be no movie, and they could just keep working from the textbooks.  It would have been a lot easier to turn on the TV, but I wasn’t about to do anything remotely pleasant for them.   I felt traumatized by how they had treated me, humiliated over the damage caused on my watch, and like crying.  They asked mockingly if I was about to cry, and I said I was very sad.  It felt like a long afternoon, but luckily the Court Schools get out at 1 pm, so it’s never really that long.

So that night I went home and licked my wounds.  I hadn’t gotten enough sleep for days, had come perilously close to falling asleep on the long freeway drive, and told my family I needed a quiet evening, and to go to bed early.  So I laid there and thought about things.  Some things had transpired with my daughter that I actually felt worse about than the subbing.  Overall, I just felt battered.  But underneath that, a little flame burned.  I had the strong feeling that I would survive, would master the art of substitute teaching, that I would learn something from every event that happened, that things would get better and not worse.  I always simply try to focus on the good – I have work in August and September, which is hard to get.  The universe seems to be conspiring to keep me teaching, if anything.

The next day, I went back to the old routine.  They were very, very good.  I’ve learned that in the Court Schools, things are cyclical.  Whenever you have a day that is so bad you feel you can’t go on, the next day, things are good.  Either the kids feel guilty, or they’re tired of all the conflict, I’m not sure which, but I’ve noticed this pendulum swing again and again.

And the next morning, I woke up, and did a lot of work on my subbing Wiki, adding a page about philosophy, little write-up’s about some of the great philosophers through history, and links to websites and films about them.  The beginnings of some lessons I’d like to try.  The face of Jose and a couple of others keeps popping up in my mind.  Kids who have sparks of brilliance, kindness, striving, and leadership.  Of course they all do.  You never know who you might make a difference for.  I always keep trying.

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This is a “deep thought site,” or a “writing” or “ideas” site.  It’s a site for honest writing and reflecting.  Social networking sites tend to be where people demonstrate how cool and trivial they can be.  I mean, I have nothing against them, and write on Twitter and Facebook whenever I can “face” it, but how much can you communicate in 140 characters (Twitter) or whatever the slightly longer Facebook limit is?

How this site works:

See the top tabs for pages.

Go to the pages to find subpages.

To the right are my favorite links.  Hover your cursor over each for my one-sentence description (below) and “preview” (above).

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Family, Friends, Students: Create your own website and link it to mine!  I like these WordPress sites because they have cool looking design options – that’s about it – so these instructions are for WordPress.

Instructions:

1) Go to http://www.wordpress.com and create your free account.

2) Go to your new website and write down your website address, username and password in a safe location!  Otherwise, if you’re like me, you’ll forget how to get to your own site and log on.

3) Create your site, as follows.

Remember

  • Click on “Publish” on the right (or “Update”) to save, after everything you do!
  • To view your site, after making  change, click on “visit site,” which is in very faint letters so you can barely see it, but it is there at the top, just to the right of your site’s name (in large white font, in the darkest gray ribbon at the top)

Logging in

  • You can either put/leave the “meta” box (which has “admin sign in”) on your homepage
  • OR click on “my dashboard” on the gray ribbon at the very top.
  • If you find yourself logged out, go to www.wordpress.com and log in again.

Dashboard

  • “Dashboard” is where you access all the functions for creating and editing your website.

Appearance of site

  • Click on “appearance”
    • You can change themes (basic appearance)
    • Click on “themes” on the left
    • Go to “available themes”
    • You can “filter” to find themes that are one, two or three columns; find and then click on “filter”
    • You can add widgets (stuff that goes on your page)
  • Click on “settings”
    • You can change the name of the site
  • Click on “appearance,” ” themes,” and “manage settings”
    • Here you can upload a custom photo to replace your theme’s photo

Pages

  • “Pages” refers to pages after your homepage.
  • To add pages, go to “pages” (left menu pane), then “add new”
  • To add subpages, add a new page, and under “parent” (on the right, under “attributes”) specify the page you want it to go under.  That’s it!
  • To order your pages, “quick edit” each page and assign it a number in the “order” box in the right.  Your pages will not order themselves correctly if there are any conflicts.  In other words, double-check that you have assigned each page a consecutive number without any duplicate numbers or gaps.

Posts

  • This means you’re adding a new “box” on your homepage; it will be above your last box
  • To add to or edit it, just click on “edit” on the box
  • You can only “post” more than one box on your homepage.  I get around this on other pages by creating a lot of subpages.

Widgets

  • These are things that go on your homepage, on the right sidebar (at least with my theme)
  • “Links” – blogroll
  • “Text” is a text box with a title that will appear in the sidebar of all your pages.  It can’t be changed after you initially enter the title and text.  You can deactivate it, and then create a new one if you want.
  • “Pages” – lists your website’s pages and subpages
  • “Meta” – this contains an easy administrator login link, etc.

Linking to Other Sites

  • Send me your website address and I will add you to my blogroll.

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