Sunday, October 24, 2010

Not a pea gun, but a...

"Miss B, Arturo has a squirt gun and he is squirting people at his table with it."

This was pretty standard. The girls in homeroom liked to tattle on the boys in homeroom, and vice versa. The thing about 6th graders is that most of the things they tattle about people of the opposite gender aren't accurate. 6th graders haven't progressed much beyond hitting and teasing their crushes - tattling and getting each other in trouble is 6th grade flirtation. That, and codes designed to advertise the object of their affections without explicitly saying who it is; right now, kids are writing "14__" on their hands. 1 = "I", 4 = "like", and __ = the # of letters in the name of the boy or girl you like. Yup. Cool, right?

"OK, thanks Yvonne. I'll deal with it."

I looked over at Arturo's table. The boys were all giggling and Jason was making a squinty-eyed grossed-out face and rubbing his mouth. Again, they're 6th grade boys - none of this seemed unusual in any way. I walked over to the table, just to make sure.

"Hey Arturo, whatcha got under the table?" "Huh? Me?" He got all shifty-eyed. Maaaaybe there was some truth to this tattle. I figured I'd try a matter-of-fact approach and ask him to give me the squirt gun, like I was sure he had it. That way, if he really had one, he'd assume I already knew for sure he had it and wouldn't try to play innocent. If he didn't have one, no big deal.

"I'll take that squirt gun, thanks," I said. He looked around at the other boys at the table, all of whom were making "BUSTED!" faces. He totally had a squirt gun.

Arturo slowly pulled the squirt gun out from under the table. "I'll just throw it out Miss B, sorry," he said. "Ohhhh, that's ok. I think I'd better take it," I said, holding out my hand. Dave was trying not to laugh. "He shot Jason in the mouth with it!" he squealed, almost gleefully. "DUDE!" Arturo shouted, kind of smiling but clearly freaked out by this outburst. The bell rang for the end of homeroom and Arturo thrust the gun into my hand and darted out of the room.

It was a little squirt gun, the kind that come 5 to a pack. Clear green plastic. Mostly full. And warm.

IT WAS WARM.

Rewind: I'd let Arturo go to the bathroom right before homeroom started.
Jason was rubbing his mouth and wincing.
Dave said Arturo shot Jason in the mouth.
IT WAS WARM.

I was holding a squirt gun full of pee.

My 1st period class was coming in. "Um... grab your table folders and get started on your Bell Ringer," I announced, and shot out the door for the office. I barged into the principal's office. "Mr. Anderson, this is a squirt gun I confiscated during homeroom. I just discovered that it is full of urine. Also, it was squirted into another student's mouth." I held out the squirt gun which he did NOT take from my hand. Ohhh, right, because it was full of pee. I pulled some tissues out of a box and laid it on his desk.

"I'm so sorry. I've got to go grab Jason and send him to the office. I took the gun from Arturo." No last name needed on that one, he knew exactly who I was talking about. "OK, Sarah I'll call for Arturo - send Jason to the office too please." He was looking at the squirt gun, all wrinkly-nosed. I really wanted to wash my hands.

I raced through the hall to social studies and called Jason out. 2 minutes left until 1st period started! "Jason! Why didn't you tell me he squirted you in the mouth?!" I exclaimed when Jason came into the hall. "Well, he was just messing around. And it was just soap water," Jason said with sheepish good humor. I closed my eyes and shook my head. "Noooo, Jason, it was pee. He shot you in the mouth with pee." Jason just looked at me, confused and grossed out. "Oh..." he said. "...what should I..." "Go to the nurse! Ask for mouthwash and a toothbrush. Then go see Mr. Anderson! Next time, TELL me if something... anything!... like that happens!" I exclaimed. "Yeah... Ok." He turned and sort of ambled off down the hall. He turned around and started to ask me if he needed a pass, but I cut him off. "NO! Just go wash out your mouth, seriously!"

I turned and darted off to the bathroom. Less than a minute left. I scrubbed my hands and shoved them under the hand dryer, then raced back out into the hall and ran for my room, rubbing my still-damp hands on my pants as I ran. I passed a sassy 7th grader (ALL 7th graders are sassy) who said, "Hey, no running in the halls!", but I held my usual sarcastic tongue and ran on. The bell rang. 5 seconds later I entered my classroom.

"Ooooooh, Miss Borzo, you're late!"

Sigh.

"Yup."

I looked at the clock. 8:18. "Well, let's get this day started!"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prize Patrol

One thing I've found true about middle school kids from all walks of life is that they feel like they deserve prizes and rewards for everything. EVERYTHING. Walk with me, if you will, through a few scenarios that led me to make this generalization.

Let me set the scene. It was mid-September and I had to attend an all-day conference 3 days in a row. I knew in advance. The students knew in advance. We prepped for my absence - expectations, consequences, procedures, etc. All the bases were covered. I came by after school to check out the sub notes, and what did I find? A list of "problem students" 25 kids long and a 2-page description of the shenanigans that had occurred. Examples of shenanigans, you say? Why, certainly!

  • student claimed that chewing gum was part of his IEP
  • students claim that they were allowed to use the teacher's computer
  • student threw a text book at me
  • student tried to take the Kleenex box with them on their way out
  • student left the room before I could take attendance when he found out you were gone and the rest of the class wouldn't tell me who it was
  • student changed my name from Ms. ___ to Ms. Fart on the whiteboard
And on and on and on. So I won't get into how that got dealt with, but in October I missed school again and got a fair (not good, fair) note from the substitute when I returned. I told the students how pleased I was and they suggested I reward them with... a pizza party. 

"Guys, do you really think a pizza party makes sense as a reward for doing less than I expected of you just because it is better than when you did WAY less than I expected of you?" I'll spare you the dialogue, but the answer to that question was YES. 

My other examples are much less involved. For example, the other day:
Me: Ok, lets take a break from this intense discussion and try a little review game. 
Student 1: What do we win?
Student 2: Is it candy?
Me: Who said you win anything? I said lets take a break from this intense discussion to play a quick review game. I didn't say anything about giving you anything.
Student 1: Yeah, but still anyway, what is the prize? For winning in the game?
Me: Wait wait, I'm still confused. Why do you assume there is a prize?
Student 3: Because why would we play if there wasn't? 
Student 1: I hope it isn't a pencil. A pencil is NOT a prize. 
Student 4: If there isn't a prize, can we just watch?
Me: Forget it! Get out your science journals!
ALL the students: Noooo! Boooo! Whine! Sigh! Groan!
Me: So, ladies and gentleman... what do you say to playing a little review game?
Scattered students: Fine. Ok. Alright.

Or,
Me: Wow, this class did great - everyone is secure on this skill!
Class: What do we get?

Or,
Me: Look at this amazing list we just compiled. Who knew we were this smart?!
Class: What do we get?

Or,
Me: Thanks for coming in so quietly!
Class: What do we get?

OR, just today:
Me: Hey Jim, thanks for picking up Danielle's books just now. That showed awesome character.
Jim: Sure. Can I pick something out of the birthday box?
Me: What?
Jim: Since I showed good character?
Me: ... Nope?
Jim: Oh. See ya later Miss B. 

One more related but different example...
I choose a male and female student of the week for my science class and I put their picture up on a stage-like bulletin board with lights all around it and give them 5 of those "caught you being good" cards which can be redeemed for desirable items on the Reward Cart once a week. This is the process. So, I chose my new students of the week, swapped their pictures with last week's students, and carried on with the day. 6th period roled around and in came Danny. He saw that there were new students of the week, one of whom was in HIS class. He started getting very teary and asked me why HE wasn't student of the week.
"Miss... Borzo... I don't... understand. D-d-d-d-didn't I... do good, too? I always do good. Why... why... why didn't you ch-choose me?"
"Danny, what is the deal?! Of course you do a great job, and I notice it! But you know what? Lots of students do a great job and I only pick TWO a week. Don't worry, you'll be student of the week too, just keep up the good work!"
"Why b-b-b-bother, no one notices anyway."
"I'm sorry that you feel that way, but I promise you I notice, and I know that you'll be student of the week very soon as long as you keep up the great work that you do."
"O-o-ok. I just wish... that..." ... and he walked off to his seat, got his act together, and class started normally. The things that happen before the bell even rings...

Next up: the story of the squirt gun. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Beginning

Every day is an adventure in middle school. Every kid in every class is having the "single most ___ day" of their lives.
Every kid is weird.
Every kid is awkward.
Every kid is awesome.

I decided to record some of these "adventures" because while they seem so vivid to me now, I know that later, with years of teaching behind me, I'll forget the little adventures that happened along the way. Plus, they really should be shared because they are HILARIOUS. 6th graders are funnier than any sitcom.

Gather round, my son, and I will tell you a tale of the origin of "Bikini Bottom(s)".

On an ordinary day in 6th grade science, students were grappling with the process of experimentation. They struggled, furrowing their brows and making clear their exasperation with frequent grunts and snorts and quiet "this sucks"s. Figuring out dependent and independent variables and control groups and hypotheses and procedures and conclusions and analyses... that is some tricky business, and they wanted me to KNOW that it was a tricky business they wanted nothing to do with.

Students were given the task of designing their own experiments. After they had spent considerable time actually DOING this work, the grunting diminished and the complaining, while still constant, lessened in intensity, and the students really seemed to "get it". So, I asked them to apply their understanding in a more abstract way and gave them a series of situations from the internet that were inspired by Spongebob Square Pants. Kids needed to read the scenario, identify variables, and critique the "experiment".

Students started working and I was strolling the room, stopping to visit with small groups, redirecting students who had lost their focus, asking questions, pushing their thinking, when I got to Harrison (obviously, his name has been changed...).

(Please note - this child really does talk like this.)

I said, "Harrison, how are we doing?"
Nothing.
"What are your thoughts on that first scenario?"
Harrison started growling at me. Literally growling.
Then he threw the packet of scenarios and asked me (in an outdoor voice), "WHY ARE YOU FEEDING ME THESE LIES?"
"What lies are you referring to, Harrison?"
"The lies in this reading! None of these things has EVER happened in ANY episode of Spongebob that was EVER made!"
"I see, Harrison. Maybe I didn't explain this well enough when I passed these scenarios out. They are not transcripts of actual episodes, they are merely science scenarios someone wrote using familiar Spongebob characters. Do you understand?"
"Mrrrrrrs. Borzo." (kids ALWAYS call me Mrs.) "This is offensive and completely unrealistic. I've seen every episode that has ever been made, including the movie, and none of these things would happen. This is a MISUSE OF NICKELODEON PROPERTY because those characters are TRADEMARKED. Trademarked, Mrs. Borzo! Trademarked! Which leads me to my next thing that this is, which is copyright infringement. This whole science class is breaking the law!"
"Ah. Harrison, I appreciate your enthusiasm about Spongebob, and I'm glad you are interested in how the legal system works, but I assure you I am not breaking the law, nor is the entire science class, and I'd like to encourage you to focus less on the characters and more on our goal, which is to analyze the SCIENTIFIC element here."
"Mrrrrrrrrrrrs. Borzo. The thing that is the worst is that I can tell that you don't even like or watch this show, and don't try to tell me that you do. While you are stealing characters to make me learn science, you are also proving that you haven't learned a thing about Spongebob or even taken time to watch the show. Here, look - it says 'there wasn't a doctor in all of Bikini Bottoms...'. Bikini bottomSSS? BOTTOMSSSSSS? Spongebob doesn't live in Bikini Bottomssss, he lives in Bikini Bottom! One bottom! You want some science? It is scientifically impossible to live in more than one bottom at a time! Unless there is some kind of magic involved..."
"You could be right on that one, Harrison. Now, here is the deal. If this is really a problem for you, you can come in after school and we can discuss it further. If you think you can move past your concerns about the use of Spongebob characters in this scenario and focus on the science, awesome - you won't need to worry about coming by my room at 2:55. So you have a decision to make now: would you like to do the work now, or swing by after school to discuss the issue and THEN do the work?"
"I guess I'll probably just work now. The great thing about Spongebob is, everyone likes him so I don't really object to doing the work."
"I couldn't agree more - he is great, and that I think you made a good decision."

The moral of this story is: unless there is magic involved, you can NOT live in more than one bottom at a time.