Crazy Teacher’s Guide to Helping Reluctant Writers

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In honor of summer vacation, Crazy Teacher, my alter ego, will be posting to this blog. Crazy’s advice for dealing with difficult people and situations is, “Show them that you are crazier than they are.”   Here is an excerpt from The Crazy Teacher’s Advice Book.

Question to Crazy Teacher

Johnny Smith, a student in my 10th Grade Global History Class, does no written work. Like many of my students Johnny is either a gang member or a wannabe gang member. He is failing the class because he hands in no work. I’ve tried to motivate him, but he just sits there when I give a writing assignment. What would Crazy Teacher do?

Crazy Teacher’s Answer

It’s time for the Crazy Teacher transformation. Blink your eyes three times and become Ms. Toady, the humble secretary. Say, “Mr. Smith, I know you are a busy man, but I would be happy to serve as your personal secretary today. Please allow me to record your thoughts for you.” Pull up a chair next to him, pull out your pad and pen, and wait.

“Huh?” Johnny will go into his this-lady-is-crazy face, but you will note how he bites his lower lip to keep from smiling.

Blink up at him rapidly and say, “All you need to do, sir, is to listen to the question and say what you are thinking. As your personal secretary, I will be happy to write down your ideas for you on my pad here.”

Johnny will smile out at his classmates, gauging their reaction.

Bend your head in a posture of great obeisance, occasionally looking up at him as you wait.  “Sir, you’re a busy man. Let me help you get these other tasks out of your way.” Lower your head and pretend not to see his sneering face and the little triumph dance he does in his seat by rocking his big shoulders back and forth, back and forth. “Now, sir, perhaps you might want to say something related to the essay question: How did the Black Death in the Middle Ages contribute to the decline of Feudalism?”

He mumbles something.

Bite your lip in concentration and write.  “OK let me repeat what you just said. Oh, my heavens!  Was that, ‘I own this bitch.’”

He will turn his hat around, recline in his seat, and make a gang hand signal over your stooped head as he thrusts his long legs out in front of him, and the class laughs.

“Sir, perhaps it might help if I started you off.” Say as you write,  “In the 1300’s the Black Death…. ,“ and then wait.

“…lead to the end of feudalism because lots of people died from the plague which was carried by rats.”

“And,” put your hand to your ear, and look up at him hopefully.

“…And there was a labor shortage because everybody was dying,”

“So?”

“…So, the feudal lords told the serfs they would give them freedom if they would do some work.”

“Thank you, Sir. It was a pleasure working for you. Have a great day!”

“You too, Miss.”

Disclaimer by Crazy Teacher Who Is Very Old

It’s all about image, and Johnny wants to maintain his as a tough guy. Often these wise guys are so insecure that they don’t want to look like they bend to anyone’s will, let alone a teacher, in a class, in front of peers.

As my alter ego, Crazy Teacher, I draw from 45 years of experience in elementary, middle and high schools, and I write about what I have lived. True, “being old” has its advantages. If you are a newbie teacher just starting out, you might want to reserve some of these strategies for those days in your career when you too will be wearing sturdy thick-soled shoes.  I believe, however, that humor and a bit of keep-‘em- off-balance if done with love and care actually does work. The kid in this tale became my best pal after this lesson because we ended our power struggle. He won and I won too!

The Crazy Teacher’s Advice Book

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In honor of summer vacation, Crazy Teacher, my alter ego, will be posting to this blog. Crazy’s advice for dealing with difficult people and situations is, “Show them that you are crazier than they are.”   Here is an excerpt from The Crazy Teacher’s Advice Book.

Question to Crazy Teacher

When two sixth graders get into a fight in a school hallway and there is no one else around, what do I do to break it up?

Answer Provided by Crazy Teacher

Blink your eyes three times, and transform into that legendary crazy teacher, able to end fights, make students laugh, and turn moody adolescents into sweet little boys—Grandma Edna Cohen!

Read on to learn Grandma Edna Cohen’s trade secrets…

“Oy! Oy! Oy! This is not good. How can you do this to me. Oy! Oy! Oy!” Edna holds her head in her hands and rocks back and forth, back and forth. She waits.

The boys stop fighting.

“Do you know where most of my friends are now?”

The boys stop fighting and look at Edna.

“My friends are in Miami Beach, in Florida.  Do you know what most of my friends are doing in Miami Beach, Florida now?” Edna waits a second or two. “They are lying on lounge chairs by a pool, drinking pina coladas.”

The IS-SHE-FOR-REAL?  look on the young boys’ faces warms Grandma Edna Cohen’s old teacher soul. “Do I look like I’m lying on a lounge chair at a pool in Miami Beach?  Do you see a pina colada in my hand?”

The boys try to maintain their fury, but alas, they fail.

“So, dahlinks, listen to me, bubalas! Be good little boys and go back to class and be nice. OK?”

“Ok.”

Application and Follow-Up by The Crazy Teacher

I excel at doing Grandma Edna Cohen, but that doesn’t mean I can’t transform myself into another character in my repertoire. Another favorite of mine is celebrity pole dancer, Lola La La La Lampert.  When Lola sizzles out “Hi boys,” her low-pitched guttural voice coming from the body of an elderly woman wearing a blousy top,  wide pants, teacher cardigan and thick soled, brown, sensible shoes is guaranteed to make perps stop whatever bad stuff they are doing. (By the way, I don’t share Lola’s pole dancer moves, I just use them in my mind to get into my character.)

If you’re a new teacher, you might want to use part of this summer vacation to develop your own repertoire of characters. If you’re a veteran, you might want to share one of your own creations.

Thank you and best wishes for a great summer!

Crazy Teacher.

My First Principal

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Do you remember your first real job? Did you cry? I did.

I cried, often. As a first-year teacher in an elementary school in 1966, I was sure my first principal, Hurricane Grace, was going to fire me.

Trending in the world at that time was the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, an area in the Atlantic where planes, ships and people mysteriously disappeared. Hurricane Grace was her own Bermuda Triangle, gobbling up designated probationary teachers. Tales abounded of first year teachers called to her office at 9am, being sent somewhere (We all figured Central Office.) and then disappearing, forever.

All of us quaked in Hurricane Grace’s path, and I knew my day was coming when she came into my classroom and raged about my lousy bulletin boards.  She said something like, “Your room looks like you teach in a poor school!  Where is everything? Your room is naked!” (I remember the word naked clearly.) I spent the rest of that day trying not to sob in front of my first graders.

Thank God, my dear friend Sandy, a year older and wiser stayed with me until six o’clock that night and helped me to fix up my classroom. We put out books that had been hidden in cabinets, freshened up my ugly bulletin boards, put out new erasers, chalk, charts, and manipulative materials that I had never thought to display. Sandy threw in some plants from her own classroom, and she told me that the next day I needed to get Hurricane, bring her to my classroom and show her how I was an obedient little probationary teacher.

“You’re kidding,” I said to Sandy.

“Do it,” she ordered.

The next morning, I knocked on Hurricane Grace’s closed door. “Mrs. Bartter?” I squeaked like a little girl. “I fixed up my classroom. Sandy helped me. Would you like to come in and see it? I hope it meets your approval.”

Sandy was right. Hurricane eased up after that, and I didn’t get fired.  To this day, however, if Hurricane Grace came back from the dead I would tremble in her presence.

Also, to this day, when I see a blank bulletin board in a school hallway or classroom, I feel great empathy for the sorry soul who is responsible for filling it. I’m not even going to talk about all that Common Core Standards stuff teachers today must display; that post will come later.

Good Morning, Boys and Girls!

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In early 2016, I retired from teaching and consulting after working for 45 years, thirty as an elementary school teacher, and fifteen more as an educational consultant. I posted occasionally to The Nothing Expert, but I was not focused; I wrote about Everything and Nothing.

Perhaps I was afraid to write about education.

I’m not afraid anymore.

To warm up for my new focus on education, I wrote a list of my best days in schools.  When I say best, I mean the days you relive over and over and sit there smiling to yourself as you remember your pride, your absolute wonderfulness!

Take a minute, dear Reader, and remember one of your own wonderful work days. Savor it. Pleasure in it. Ahh!

To continue my pre-writing I made another list of my worst days in schools. When I say worst I mean the days you want to bury and forget—the days when you felt alone, stupid, worthless,  humiliated—the days when you got home from work and drank too much wine, slept too many hours, thought too many terrible thoughts, and were in a funk deeper than Hell.

Take another minute, dear Reader, and force yourself to relive one of those days.

Not fun.

Now, just to relieve your pain, pull up one of your silliest days—For me, I remember the kindergarten kid who walked the halls of our school smoking an empty applicator tube from a tampon, the way Groucho Marx (some of you won’t know him) smoked his cigar. Hilarious! The kind of stuff that makes lunch in the Teachers’ Room the best reality show there is.

After making my lists, I found my mission for The Nothing Expert’s new direction. I will write about education and my mission will be to:

  • empathize, entertain, comfort, and occasionally offer an old-timer’s tip.
  • write with seriousness, humor and compassion. I will frequently reread my lists of best, worst and silliest days and remember my feelings.
  • reach you and assure you that “We all went through this, and we survived and thrived!”
  • write as honestly as I can, grateful and mindful of the hand that feeds me my pension as well as the hand that has fought for my rights.
  • connect the trends of today with the trends of when I started…so long ago.

A heads-up before we start—If you expect state-of-the-art info on technology, do not waste your time reading this blog. I miss my chalk, the smell of it, the feel of it, the potential of it.

Conservation of Energy

Hello Folks, any of you who might still be left out there…

You might relate to this block if:

  • You talk to yourself
  • You aspire to be a person who is “organized and gets things done.”

As I was staring at the birds at my feeder this morning and talking to myself, this is what I said:

“Rose,  stop it.  If you use up your eyes on the birds now, your eyes will not work for you when it’s time to write.

Rosie, if you look at the birds and think about them now, you will use up your mind and it won’t work when you are trying to plot out the novel.

Girl, if you work on plotting the novel now, you will surely need a nap. Then you won’t be able to start the new project…the one that was going to make you and the family….lots of money.

Doody Head, if you use your energy to write on your sweet dying blog now, you will not be able to do any of the above—so you might as well go back to bed; remember 40 years of going to work; remember traveling there on snowy, rainy, icy mornings; and then snuggle in and sleep late.

Nighty night.”

Gephyrophobics! Let’s Unite!

Photo Credit: danmachold via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: danmachold via Compfight cc

My name is Rose, and I am a gephyrophobic,  a person who is afraid to drive over bridges.

(Welcome Rose.)

I am worried that the New NYBridge being built in New York to replace my beloved (barf) Tappan Zee Bridge will make me go nuts. I want to connect with others out there who also freak out when driving on a high road, up in the air, over water, without nets. We need representation.

If nothing is done to assuage our fears, when the New NYBridge is finished in 2018, those of us oppressed with panic attacks, may be forced to stay on one side of the Hudson for the rest of our lives!

From my side on the west, Rockland County, I might never be able to drive east to Westchester County and its pricey malls and restaurants. My bridge-fearing friends from Westchester may never come to visit us poor folks in Rockland County, which many Westchester people feel is a vast wilderness, close to the Adirondacks.

I’m suggesting we, gephyrophobics, form a task force designed to address our concerns. First thing I’d suggest is that we change our name to Brobics (bridge+phobics). Catchy, don’t you think?  I have tried to network with Important Bridge People (IBP) so that when they hear the chilling words, “Rosie and The Brobics are coming,” they will quake with fear. Knowing that we have the power to deliver hoards of Brobics for protests, boycotts, and basic acts of civil disobedience, they will immediately address our concerns.

For starters, Important Bridge People, as you convene your task force to listen to our concerns, it would be nice if you could set up that “drive-over” service. That way Brobics from both sides of the Hudson can meet as one group, on terra firma.

Thank you. Fellow Brobics out there, we need to get together and form a slogan and mission statement. All ideas are welcome.

Night Terrors in the Bedroom

 

Photo Credit: Dia™ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Dia™ via Compfight cc

Three a.m:  “Chirp. Chirp.”

She wakes.

Uh oh. The window’s open. The screen must be broken.  There’s a bird in the house.

Ridiculous. Go back to your dream.

I think it’s flying around the living room.

What if it’s not a bird? What if it’s a bat?

If it’s a bat, then we’ll have to go for rabies shots.

No, get a hold of yourself. Bats don’t make sounds. They use that echolocation stuff.   It’s one of our phones.

We just charged our cell phones. It must be the smoke detector.

“Wake up, Jerome.” He snores.

Chirp!  Chirp!

Oh my God! What if it’s the carbon monoxide detector? Do we even have a carbon monoxide detector? Is it that red and white thing that’s been hanging in the basement for twenty years? There must be a gas leak. I must be delirious, probably dying from the poison gas.

“Jerry, wake up. We gotta get out of here. I think we are unconscious. We’re dying.”

He snores.

She tiptoes out of the bedroom to investigate.

Chirp! Chirp!

The noise is definitely coming from behind her, in their bedroom.

She whirls and steps back. “Oh my God, Jerry!  It’s in this room. I think someone has been recording us.”

“Boring movie,” he speaks for the first time. He turns over.

Who had done recent work in their house?  Cable guy? Electrician? Which one of them installed the camera? She looks up at the ceiling fan. Was that little button there last week?

She looks down at her bleach stained green tee shirt and ratty sweats, and then at her snoring husband.

“You’re right,” she says as she gets back into bed, “pretty boring.” She gives a quick wave to the ceiling fan, pulls the covers to her neck, and goes back to sleep.

 

Stage Your Supermarket Cart: Be the Envy of Everyone

Photo Credit: JasonUnbound via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: JasonUnbound via Compfight cc


Start with the Kiddie Seat.

Staging One: No Child is in the Kiddie Seat:

Stage a Tableau of Color and Texture

Mix red and green baby lettuces, white daikon (who cares that you don’t know what to do with it; it’s a nice color contrast.) Mix in a few jars of baby octopus. So what if the jars have been on the top shelf since 2004; people will be intrigued by your allure.

Surround an upturned loaf of white Wonder Bread with jars of fig jam, assorted almonds and quince. Shabby chic!

Staging Two: A Child is in the Kiddie Seat:

Stage the Child

Give him carrot sticks and have him nibble them passionately. No one needs to know that you promised him, if he was good,  a big fat bag of M & M’s when you got back in your car.

Get on line in back of a cart where another child is having a tantrum. Teach your child to smile and coo at other customers who are screwing up their noses in disgust at the crying child.

When you get out to the parking lot, get the hell out of there, fast, before the other mother comes out. Throw your kid his M & M’s and head to McDonald’s just like you promised.

How Really Cool People Go Hiking in the Wilderness

On this Earth Day I am contemplating the great outdoors.  Here is how Really Cool People go hiking in the wild.

Really Cool People:

  • Always wear red or khaki bandanas,
  • Never wear pink flowered scarves designed to draw the eye upwards and away from the butt.
  • Always carry matches.
  • Never carry handbags.
  • Always pack a light snack of nuts and raisins and lots of water.
  • Never pack pickled herring with creamed onions in a Tupperware container.
  • Always squint their eyes and say words like “I reckon…”
  • Never screw up their noses and say words like “Oy.”
  • Always have weather-beaten feral faces and look formidable.
  • Never have flushed sweaty faces and look like they are about to drop dead.
  • Always wear weathered khaki short shorts, and baseball caps.
  • Never wear blue plaid Bermuda shorts with a matching baby blue solid shirt, and a white sunhat with chin straps.
  • Always nod and say hello to other hikers who look just like them.
  • Never acknowledge people like me.

An Earth Day Story Written by a Bug

IMG_20140421_110311_025A quick note from The Nothing Expert before we get to the Earth Day Story Written by a Bug

My late younger brother was a practical joker, and he reserved his best jokes for me.  For example, there was the time we all went camping.

My brother knew I loved nature, and he knew I loved taking kids on nature walks. So, with everyone else in on the joke, he placed a big black rubber snake under a rock on the trail.

“Rose, he said, “why don’t you take the kids on a nature walk.”

“Great idea,” I said,  “Come on kids. Remember, use all of your senses.”

“Why don’t you lift up the rock,” my brother suggested.

Ha! Ha!  Everyone is still talking about that day!

Tuesday, April 22 is Earth Day. I am dedicating this Earth Day post to my brother, Joel.

At the wonderful Hudson Valley Writers’ Center( http://writerscenter.org/), we were asked to write something from someone else’s point of view. Here’s what I wrote about the creatures whose lives were changed by my rock turning.

An Earth Day Story Written by a Bug

Strong of back and stomach, the Rock Turner is a home wrecker. It could be a perfect Tuesday morning; everybody’s eating and working and moving around prey. Then, the evil Rock Turner, in one heave, slices away the bonds between soil and stone that we hold sacred. Some of us cling desperately to the undersurface as we are ripped from our homes and thrown aside. Others remain behind, exposed and naked. It’s every man for himself when the Rock Turner rolls in. Even our grubs are up for grabs. After the initial shock, the tearing apart of our homes and the feel of the hot sun on our backs, we run for our lives, at least those of us who are not yet pupae. There’s nowhere to hide. Our gullies and ditches and secrets are open. Our way of life is up for scrutiny, and we may not measure up to expectations.

The Rock Turner’s compulsion has decimated us. Does he know how many years it takes to get started, to settle in and build a home? Does he care? Last Saturday, the buzz was out that he must have had a reconsideration. A reconsideration, that saved the gang under the large quartz and granite flat top on mossy hill.

“Don’t look at the bright light,” adults called to their nymphs. “You will be blinded. Look away. It is the apocalypse.” Some of them, more religious than others, followed the bright light. For them, the uncovering was divine. The reconsideration ended all that. The Rock Turner replaced the large quartz and granite flat top on mossy hill and life went on, although it was never quite the same again.

The End.