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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