Will You Be the One?

He’s that one kid.

You know exactly who I’m talking about.

Worn-out shoes a size too small and always untied.

Messy bed-head hair, or possibly just a buzz-cut so nobody has to bother with it in the morning.

He’s a bit rough around the edges, quick with a temper or a shove when things don’t go his way.

When you walk your child to their classroom in the morning, your Coach bag teetering on your shoulder and Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha firmly in hand, you see this kid.

And something about him makes you uneasy.

You make judgements on the spot about his family, his character.

He’s not the kind of kid you want your child to befriend. He’s trouble, always being sent to the office for this or that.

Or maybe she’s that little girl with crooked ponytails and a huge hole in her tights. She makes no eye contact with anyone, stands at the edge of the playground, and holds a death-grip on her wrinkled brown-paper lunch sack with no name written on it.

You heard from Suzie’s mom that Hayden saw her digging around in the lunchroom trash one day.

As you walk by her, something makes you hold your daughter’s arm and steer her ever so slightly away, away from this girl whose very existence threatens you.

Because she’s different.

I see your stares, hear the gossip.

Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be that one kid?

Some of these kids have already had a horrible day before the school bell rings at 8:30am.

No fault of their own, really.

Kids can’t pick their parents. They have little or no control over the adults in their lives, the crazy mixed-up shells of people who sometimes can’t even be bothered to bring them to school.

For days on end.

The yelling, harsh tones, foul language, tears….all before 8:30am.

Things that don’t belong in a child’s world.

And yet, these children soldier on.

Because for many of them, school is their respite from a chaotic, loud, and unpredictable world.

A world where kids are often expected to be little adults. They try to keep their parent pulled together with nothing more than wishes whispered in a dark bedroom each night.

So the next time you feel yourself veering away from that one kid, maybe you could offer a “Good Morning” instead.

Or simply a smile.

You might just be the one who makes a difference that day.

Post from the Past – Behind the Mask

I’m up to my eyeballs in Christmas cookies and wrapping paper this week, and the blogosphere is full of Christmas posts. So I’ve decided to run a post from the past that has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

Lazy? Maybe.

But read about one of my all-time favorite jobs and you may rethink that.

Behind the Mask

Part of what I love about working at an elementary school is that contagious feeling of excitement that’s always in the air. It’s hard to describe, and you DO feel it when you attend functions as a parent. But you especially feel it as a staff member….at least at our school you do. There is an effervescence about the kids. You see it at recess, during special assemblies, and especially at the last day of school Field Day.

And yet, there is a seedier side to this effusion of glee and giddiness. A side of some children that most parents will never see. If they do see it, they tend to look away and pretend they don’t.

I’m talking about the view from inside the suit.

The Raccoon suit, that is.

Several times during the school year I volunteer to suit up as Rocky the Raccoon, our school’s mascot, and hit the blacktop. Nothing makes you feel more like a rock star than having swarms of enthusiastic kids crowd around you and ask for your autograph or a high five. It only adds to the fun that I’ve done this off and on for the past four years, and not ONE kid has discovered my secret.

I’ll admit that it does burst my bubble when many of the students guess that I’m one of the male teachers. Or someones dad. I like it better when they guess that I’m the very young female science teacher.

Obviously they can’t see ANY part of my body, or she wouldn’t even be in the running.

So as the school year ended this past June, of course I was ready to do my part for God and country the principal and the kids.

I squeezed into the furry suit, lassoed my big head of hair into a scrunchy, and crammed my noggin into the over sized raccoon head. I headed out to the playground, which was a patchwork of carnival games, excited students, and camera-toting parents.

These were my people. I was immediately surrounded by kids jumping up and down, parents requesting a Kodak moment, and kindergartners wanting a hug.

After about half an hour of high fives, photo ops and autographs (yeah, it’s a challenge with the mittens and poor visibility) I am feeling pretty effervescent myself. Like someone dressed as a raccoon should be.

Kind of like a rock star.

Until I see them. The group of 4th and 5th grade boys.

There is a certain gleam in their beady little eyes that causes my morning coffee to make a brief appearance back in my throat. They start moving towards me. “Hey Rocky! Over here!” they shout, as I pat a kindergartner on the head and wish I could dig a hole like a real raccoon.

Or that I was Catholic, because Catholic schools probably don’t have a Raccoon mascot.

And then they surround me.

They try and look up under my mask, yelling to each other, “Hey, I see someone in there!” like they actually THOUGHT I was a real raccoon. Then they start grabbing my tail, which I can’t actually see because there is literally NO peripheral vision in the head part of the costume.

Pretty soon I am feeling like a Coach bag on the 80% off table at Nordstrom.

Like a cat smeared in bacon dropped off at the dog park.

It’s hard to run in the suit, but I push through the small crowd, waving as I go, and pick up speed as I head towards the buildings. The costume has seen better days, and it’s a challenge to keep the mangy-looking booties on while walking.

So walking becomes more like ambling. Limping, sometimes.

Around me are all sorts of happy parents, chatting with each other and enjoying the free coffee and donuts that are always a part of field day. Most of them are probably lamenting that tomorrow will be the first day of summer, and wondering “What will I do with the kids??”

What could you do with them NOW, I wonder, since nobody seems to notice the hordes of children (no longer effervescent; more like militant) continuing to follow me.

And then, like an angel sent straight from above, I see her. I make a beeline towards one of the Special Ed aides, who most likely deals with things like this all day. I sidle up next to her and say “help me” in a very quiet voice (because, raccoons don’t talk….duh). She startles and asks “Who is that??” and when I tell her she asks if I need an escort.

Whew.

She shoos the boys away, scolds a few more when they pull my tail, and has my back (and tail) for the remainder of field day.

Which makes it so much easier to get back to the business of being a raccoon; patting cute kids on the head, writing illegible autographs, smiling for pictures, and giving high fives.

Which helps me forget the seedier side of kids. At least, until next time.

Where’s Lego Jimmy Hoffa Buried?

This week I finally started back at my elementary school job, which is quite possibly the best job in the world. I work with small groups of students on social skills and self-esteem. So I’m pretty much paid to hang with cool little kids, play games, and have fun. I get paid in both hugs and money; sometimes a handmade card or a piece of candy.

And sometimes, funny stuff happens.

Like the Great Lego Debacle.
Lego Retention Policy
Wee B. Stealin’ Elementary School
Effective: October 1, 2010
Objective: To effectively retain Lego men/women for future generations of Social Skills group participants.
Problem: Lego men and women have been disappearing from the Social Skills classroom at a rate somewhat higher than standards allow. We need to align ourselves with District Lego Standards (see appendix).
Policy:
  • Lego men/women will be checked out to Social Skills students on an as-needed basis during free time. A monetary deposit will be required, which may involve the handing over of lunch money.
  • Need for said Lego person must be articulated in a three-paragraph essay, including proper citations and use of MLA format. If Social Skills Aide determines that the proposed use of said Lego person does not meet with current District Lego Standards the request will be denied.
  • A Lego person is defined as having a head, torso, legs, hair or hat, arms, and hands. Prior to checkout, student may exchange these parts to create a unique person. Social Skills Aide retains the right to refuse certain combinations of Lego people (i.e. Indiana Jones head on a Darth Vadar body) that are deemed just plain silly.
  • Various accessories for Lego people will be loaned out at the sole discretion of the Social Skills Aide. Bus Stop Lady probably doesn’t really need Indiana Jones’ bullwhip and Clone Troopers in baseball caps look odd.
  • Before returning to class, student will return complete Lego person to Social Skills Aide. If all limbs and appendages are present, the deposit will be returned to student. If not, aide retains the right to a home visit, where she may help herself to Legos from the personal collection of said student.

This post is linked up to Word Up, YO!, which is masterminded by KLZ, Natalie, and Liz; The Word of the Week is:

debacle

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Free Bird

Both of my kids went back to school last Monday. My job at the school doesn’t start for a few weeks yet, so I have some free time on my hands. There is still the school drop-off/pick-up for my 12-year old and everyone still expects to eat dinner for some reason. But other than that, free time.

Since my kids aren’t little anymore, I do actually get some time alone during the summer. I’m just usually the taxi driver/short-order cook/driving instructor/problem solver/nagger/cruise director and feel like I’m “on duty” 24/7 when they aren’t in school.

During the school year, I know where they are from 8am -2:30pm. It’s kind of like they’re in jail, with no possibility of parole until 2:30 or a vomiting episode, whichever comes first.

As our summer starts to wane, there is always much anticipation of my upcoming free time; so many possibilities. Mani-pedi?? Massage? Meet friends for coffee/lunch/walking/shopping? Lie around the house and do nothing? Write my novel/exercise/knit/crochet/start a money-laundering scheme/walk the dog/scrapbook?

Let’s just say I’m not crafty, so several of those ideas do.not.apply.

But the possibilities are endless.

Monday morning came and the kids went off to suffer through enjoy their first day of their new school year.

I hit the ground running….I was on fire! Drop off daughter, make menu list for the week, shop for groceries at two stores, unload groceries, play with the dog, blog, tidy up family room, make some lunch.

It was only 11am. And then I was stumped.

My problem is that I don’t know how to relax. Deciding what to do is not easy for me, especially when there are so many options.

When I’m stumped on what to do, my mommy-auto-pilot takes over and I start randomly throwing in loads of laundry or tidying something up. Which is never really done, so it’s always an option when bored.

But it’s boring.

As the week moved on, I found something to do for myself each day. I went jogging, trying to find the legs I once had; learned to Tweet thanks to encouragement from my blog buddy Liz; finally linked up to Mama Kat’s writing workshop; I chatted with a far-away friend.

By Friday, I was bored.

And out of the blue, boss-lady called to see if there was ANY chance I could work just a few hours before I’m hired back for good? Just set up the classroom, start getting referrals for at-risk kids from the teachers. She says there are SO many kids that need me this year.

My first thought? Crap. My summer is over.

But after I hung up, I had a different thought. Maybe I finally found what I was looking for all week long.

I think I just need to be needed. Just a bit.

Behind the Mask

Part of what I love about working at an elementary school is that contagious feeling of excitement that’s always in the air.  It’s hard to describe, and you DO feel it when you attend functions as a parent.  But you especially feel it as a staff member….at least at our school you do.  There is an effervescence about the kids.  You see it at recess, during special assemblies, and especially at the last day of school Field Day.

And yet, there is a seedier side to this effusion of glee and giddiness.  A side of some children that most parents will never see.  If they do see it, they tend to look away and pretend they don’t.

I’m talking about the view from inside the suit.  The Raccoon suit, that is.

Several times during the school year I volunteer to suit up as Rocky the Raccoon, our school’s mascot, and hit the blacktop.  Nothing makes you feel more like a rock star than having swarms of effervescent kids crowd around you and ask for your autograph or a high five.  It only adds to the fun that I’ve done this off and on for the past four years, and not ONE kid has discovered my secret. 
I’ll admit that it does burst my bubble when many of the students guess that I’m one of the male teachers.  Or someone’s dad.  I like it better when they guess that I’m the very young female science teacher.  Obviously they can’t see ANY part of my body, or she wouldn’t even be in the running.

So as the school year ended this past June, of course I was ready to do my part for God and country the principal and the kids.

I squeezed into the furry suit, lassoed my big head of hair into a scrunchy, and crammed my noggin into the oversized raccoon head.  I headed out to the playground, which was a patchwork of carnival games, excited students, and camera-toting parents.  These were my people.  I was immediately surrounded by kids jumping up and down, parents requesting a Kodak moment, and kindergartners wanting a hug.

After about half an hour of high fives, photo ops and autographs (yeah, it’s a challenge with the mittens and poor visibility) I am feeling pretty effervescent myself.  Like someone dressed as a raccoon should be.  Kind of like a rock star.

Until I see them.  The group of 4th and 5th grade boys.

There is a certain gleam in their beady little eyes that causes my morning coffee to make a brief appearance back in my throat.  They start moving towards me.  “Hey Rocky!  Over here!” they shout, as I pat a kindergartner on the head and wish I could dig a hole like a real raccoon.  Or that I was Catholic, because Catholic schools probably don’t have a Raccoon mascot.

And then they surround me.

They try and look up under my mask, yelling to each other, “Hey, I see someone in there!” like they actually THOUGHT I was a real raccoon.  Then they start grabbing my tail, which I can’t actually see because there is literally NO peripheral vision in the head part of the costume. 

Pretty soon I am feeling like a Coach bag on the 80% off table at Nordstrom.  Like a cat smeared in bacon dropped off at the dog park.

It’s hard to run in the suit, but I push through the small crowd, waving as I go, and pick up speed as I head towards the buildings.  The costume has seen better days, and it’s a challenge to keep the mangy-looking booties on while walking.  So walking becomes more like ambling.  Limping, sometimes.

Around me are all sorts of happy parents, chatting with each other and enjoying the free coffee and donuts that are always a part of field day.  Most of them are probably lamenting that tomorrow will be the first day of summer, and wondering “What will I do with the kids??”

What could you do with them NOW, I wonder, since nobody seems to notice the horde of children (no longer effervescent; more like militant) continuing to follow me.

And then, like an angel sent straight from above, I see her.  I make a beeline towards one of the Special Ed aides, who most likely deals with things like this all day.  I sidle up next to her and say “help me” in a very quiet voice (because, raccoons don’t talk….duh).  She startles and asks “Who is that??” and when I tell her she asks if I need an escort.

Whew.

She shoos the boys away, scolds a few more when they pull my tail, and has my back (and tail) for the remainder of field day.  Which makes it so much easier to get back to the business of being a raccoon; patting cute kids on the head, writing illegible autographs, smiling for pictures, and giving high fives.

Which helps me forget the seedier side of kids.  At least, until next time.

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This post is linked up to Word Up, YO!, which is masterminded by KLZ, Natalie, and Liz; The Word of the Week is:

Effervescent

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Remember my Name

I work part-time at an elementary school during the school year.  I work with small groups of students who are referred to me for social skills and school adjustment issues.  This is a job I practically fell into a few years ago, and I absolutely LOVE it!  There is an energy around the school that is addictive, like that morning cup of coffee.  OK, I still need the morning cup of coffee (maybe even MORE than I used to) but humor me here.

Due to the nature of my job, I have the opportunity to work with many different students throughout the year, from many different classes and all grades, kindergarten-5th.  This past school year, I was working at two different sites, which exposed me to many more children than in previous years.

This makes a simple trip to Target or the grocery store more interesting.

I am WAY more likely to see a kid from school now, and not always one of “my” students.  Since I go to classrooms to pick up my students for their half hour sessions, the WHOLE CLASS sees me (and knows my name).  I, however, do not know all of THEIR names.

This can be a problem.

So I have adopted the somewhat casual, easy method of dealing with all of those KIDS WHO HAVE NO NAME.  Girls are Sweetie.  Boys are Bud.  Maybe Dude, if they are 4th/5th graders.

I DO know the names of any kids who have been in my groups, even if I have to dig for it a bit.  This past school year, I saw over 70 students.  But all of their classmates?  Now that would be hard.  So Sweetie and Bud seem to have been the classmates of many, many of my students.  This has worked so far.

Until I visited the grocery store a few weeks ago.

And there is a sweet little girl (Sweetie?) staring at me, open-mouthed, amazed that I actually SHOP FOR FOOD and don’t live off the scraps from the cafeteria, roll out my sleeping bag each night in the library, and brush my teeth in the girl’s bathroom.  And she says, “Hi, Mrs. K!”

“Hi Sweetie!”

“Don’t you remember my name?”

Crap.

“Sure I do, sweetie, how has your summer been?”

“You don’t remember my name.”

“How could I forget your name?”  Easily, apparently.  Especially since I didn’t know it in the first place.

And then, like a small gift from the heavens, she shifts focus……

“Did you see Mrs. D over by the bananas?”  Mrs. D is a teacher from our school.

“No, really?  I will have to go say hi!!  Have a great summer, sweetie!”

At least I didn’t call her Bud.

Shooting Stars and Tissues

When you work at an elementary school, you don’t really mark the passing of time by the changing of the seasons or by flipping the calendar page.  There are milestones to be passed in each year, some academic and some not.

At our school we have the usual events each month, a few spirit assemblies thrown in here and there, egg drop, spring break, standardized testing, Open House, and the traditional end of the year field trips to the bowling alley or park.

And then, when the last day of school is about a week away, we have the Shooting Star song.

I’m not even sure who wrote this song, but the graduating 5th graders sing it at our school-wide Awards Assembly each June.  Boys and girls sit stiffly in metal folding chairs, facing the entire school in their nice clothes and uncomfortable shoes that pinch their toes.  They have paid their dues, sitting through assemblies for 6 years on the hard linoleum floor with legs crossed.  Now they have earned the right to sit in a real chair, facing those they have reigned over as “The Big Kids” since last August.

They look so much older, wiser, maybe a bit more mature than last fall.  Girls primp and stumble in their heels, looking nothing like they did just a day before on the playground.  The boys are still mostly disheveled, but a bit more pulled together than usual.  Proud parents crowd the room, snapping pictures for the scrapbooks.  Awards are handed out.

And then they sing the song…..and I always get teary-eyed, even when the 5th grade kids singing it aren’t related to me.

Please won’t you catch
a Shooting Star for me
And take it with you on your way
Though it seems like we’ve just met, you’re the one I won’t forget
Hope some kind wind blows you back my way

CHORUS:
And I was thinking maybe somewhere later down the road
After all our stories have been told
I’ll sit and think of you, the dear friend I once knew
(who)Shot through my life like a shooting star

You are so dear, you’re my bright and shining star
You brighten up each and every day
You are so near, but soon you’ll be so far
So why not hold my hand today?

CHORUS

Sometimes I know that a part of you will show
Deep in my heart and in my smile
There will always be a part of you deep inside my heart
And I’ll know just when to let it go

CHORUS

Why does this sappy song make me so teary?  Why doesn’t it do that to the kids?  I guess I hear so much more in the words than they do, remember so many more goodbyes I have experienced.  To hear these words sung a cappella by 75 young people is beautiful. 

My daughter, who was one of the 5th graders last year, thinks I’m nuts.  “Oh my gosh, Mom, it’s just a song!” she says, nicely refraining from telling me to get a grip.  She has already asked me why I cry if I don’t even have a kid singing.  That, my dear, you will have to figure out on your own someday.

Tomorrow morning is the assembly.  I am taking tissues.