27 April 2011

Story: Eagles?

One name has been changed...can you guess whose it was?

"Angela, do you know what eagles are?" one of my students asked me. It was snack time and we were walking to the bathrooms so that the kids could wash their hands.

"Yeah, I know what an eagle is. Do you know what eagles are, Keith?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I know what eagles are." Keith looked down at the ground as we continued walking. I could tell that he had something on his mind. Very hesitantly he continued, "Are...are eagles...real?"

"Of course they're real. I mean, you won't see one flying around here because they don't live in cities but they do exist. They're not imaginary like dragons or unicorns."

I often wonder about my students' futures but that little exchange really moved me. I wonder how many of my students will graduate high school and go on to college. Sure, I hope that they'll all make it but the realist in me knows that many will trip and fall along the way. How many of my students will actually get to travel and see the world? Which ones will be able to broaden their horizons? What opportunities will be open to them and how many of them will actually take advantage of these chances?

Will Keith ever get to see an eagle in person?

FYI: I'm pretty sure that he was talking about bald eagles.

14 April 2011

Story: Lying

Name changes? You betcha.

Kids lie for a variety of reasons but I find that I have a hard time dealing with kids who lie to coverup their tracks when they've done something wrong. I'm not sure that I'm explaining it properly but when I feel like there's been forethought put into a lie and that this lie was created specifically because a child didn't want to face the consequences that would otherwise have arisen, it just drives me a bit crazy.

Being a librarian means that I have to deal with many kids who have "forgotten" or straight up lost their books. I usually give these kids two weeks to try to find their books before I assume that the book is gone for good; there have been plenty of times that I was pleasantly surprised by the reemergence of a "lost" book. Anyway, pretty much any kid who has lost his/her book doesn't want to admit it and I understand that. It sucks to know that you've lost something and that you'll be charged a fine of some sort. Having said that, there was this one kid, Mindy, who took the whole lying bit to that level that I really detest.

She came to the library with the rest of her class and turned in her book. The problem was that the book she turned in wasn't hers. We've got three identical copies of said book and Mindy's class is one where the kids enjoy checking out multiple copies of the same book so that they can read together and whatnot. When I checked the records, I saw that Mindy and another student in her class, April, had checked out the same book.

It started out innocently and civilly enough. After Mindy had turned in her book and had come up to my desk to checkout her new book, I looked up her file and saw that she still had a book checked out.

"Mindy, did you turn in your book from last week?" I asked.

"Yes, I did," she said.

"Okay, give me a moment," I replied. I'm always okay with double checking things; I know I make mistakes. I found the book she had turned in and quickly realized that it was one with multiple copies. I looked at the book's bar code and discovered that indeed, it did not match the book that Mindy had checked out. Instead, the bar code belonged to a book that her classmate, April, had checked out last week. I glanced around the room and realized that April wasn't even present--she must have been absent that day. Still, it's not like I automatically assumed the worst from Mindy, instead I explained the situation to her.

"But that's MY book. I brought it from MY classroom," she protested.

"Mindy, I understand that but what I'm saying is that someone else in your class had the same book. It might have happened accidentally but somehow, your books were switched and you've turned in her book, not your own. I think that your book might be sitting around somewhere in your class." I tried to reason with her.

"No, I'm sure it was MY book. April must have lost the other one. She tried to take my book!" she insisted. Setting aside the fact that her reasoning didn't make much sense, I continued to try to talk it out.

"Well, Mindy, there isn't much I can do. I've already showed you on the computer that your book is still checked out and that you have turned in April's book. I can't let you check out another book until you've found the missing one." Mindy is a bright kid but she was way too used to getting her way. She could be labeled as a "Teacher's Pet." I was not going to budge on this issue. Everyone needs to learn to face the consequences of their actions.

"Are you going to make me pay for the book?" Mindy worriedly asked. "Because I lost a book before and my mom was really mad. She's not going to pay for another lost book." Ah, so now we had gotten to the crux of the issue. It really was one of those moments that reiterated to me that the truth would have made things go far smoother.

Yes, it's true, sometimes kids do get charged for lost books, but as I already stated, I have a standing policy of letting kids have at least two weeks to look for their misplaced books before I place a fine on their account. The other thing is that I know very well that pretty much all of our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Heck, I came from that kind of background myself. I know that money is tight, especially now. When a student can't pay a fine, I allow them to donate a used book to make up for the lost one or to "work" off the fine--by work I mean they come and help me out in the library for a couple of recesses. If Mindy had just told me her concerns from the beginning, I could have explained all of this to her. Instead, we had taken a different, rather winding route to get to the same place.

"Mindy, I'm not going to charge you for the book yet. Like I said, I think that you might have just misplaced the book. I'm pretty sure that it's sitting up in your classroom somewhere. Why don't you ask Mrs. Stewart if you can go up to the classroom and look for your book right now? Maybe you'll find it before library time is over," I suggested.

"No, I know that the book isn't there. I already turned in MY book. It's right there," she said and pointed to April's book on the book cart. That girl was going to stick to her guns even though we both knew she was lying at this point.

We had a standoff, well, sort of. Mindy wanted me to checkout her new book but I wasn't going to while she still had a book missing. I made this point clear but I guess she thought she could wear me down by continuing to stand at the desk. There were other students in her class who had been waiting to get their books checked out so I told her that if she wanted to continue to stand at my desk, she'd have to at least move off to the side a bit. She did so. I checked out other kids' books. She stood and stared at me.

This arrangement probably would have lasted until her class' library time was over but a couple of minutes later another student came strolling into the library. Marlene arrived late to the library because she had a counseling session that was regularly scheduled to overlap with some class time and some library time. She walked up to the circulation desk with two books in hand.

"Ms. Angela, I brought two books. This one is mine and this one I found in our class library. I don't know who's it is but I decided to bring it down anyway," she informed me.

"Thank you, Marlene! I'm glad that you brought your book back. I'm sure that whoever checked out this other book will be happy that it's been returned to the library," I said as I checked in both books. Lo and behold--the book Marlene had found in the classroom library was indeed Mindy's.

Mindy, of course, was standing at the circulation desk this entire time. When she saw that Marlene had come in with her book--even before I had checked it in to confirm that it was her book--Mindy blurted out, "Oh! My bad, I forgot!" She even added in a little giggle to convey the "Silly me!" sentiment.

Those two words, "I forgot," coming from kids when they don't really mean them drive me insane. It's like when a kid says, "I'm sorry," and thinks that those words excuse his/her actions. Well, I'm sorry, Larry but your apology does not make up for the fact that a minute ago you hit Jimmy in the head with a toy helicopter and left nail marks on Annie's cheek when you decided to gouge her. I can't stand it. Needless to say, Mindy got her new book checked out (I'm an advocate for reading after all), but we had a conversation about lying.

Kids--I want to teach them lessons that will lead them to become responsible adults but it's quite the task. Certainly Mindy is not exceptional in her attitude and habits. She's a third grader and didn't get to be the way she is on her own. It takes a village to raise a child, so while I do all that I can, I worry about how much of a difference I'm actually making. You can only do your best though, right?

10 April 2011

Story: Missions--A Rite of Passage

Fourth graders in California (or at least SoCal since that's the area I'm familiar with) study missions and often make models of them. I know plenty of younger students who look forward to when they'll get a chance to make a mission. Personally, I really like it when teachers restrict their students to making "mini" missions. They're great because they allow students the opportunity to make a cool model of something without going overboard in terms of materials. Mini-missions also help keep the classroom clutter-free.

The fourth graders at one of my school sites just finished their missions--they were not mini-missions. I think their teacher wanted them to be able to focus on classwork without being distracted by their creations, so on Friday morning I received a phone call inquiring whether or not I'd be willing to display the missions in my library. Of course I said it'd be fine. Within the next fifteen minutes, my library was filled with missions; every flat surface in my library had a mission on it.

I still had classes scheduled to come in for their weekly visits so when the kids walked in, I made sure to warn them beforehand about the missions. Many of my kids have siblings who attend school with them. When one of my third grade classes arrived, one of the girls in the class pointed and called out excitedly, "Look! There's the mission I made!"

I said, "You mean there's the mission your sister made."

"Right...that's the mission my sister made."

07 April 2011

Story: Mike the Bully, the Kid

A name has been changed for anonymity. 

There's this kid named Mike and he's a bully. He doesn't have a stocky or bulky build--he's more wiry and lean. He's also pretty tall for his age. I only see him three out of the five days of my work week and that's more than enough. Whenever he's around, trouble is sure to follow. He regularly bullies our third grade boys, he punches people, he kicks people, he slaps people, he floods the bathroom sinks, he ruins people's artworks, he destroys books, and he often lies in an attempt to save himself from timeouts.

One of the only ways I can get him to behave is to remind him that if he misbehaves during homework time (when all of the kids must stay inside due to our supervision requirements), then there is no way he's going to be allowed to play outside after snack time. Mike loves to play outside so he takes this matter very seriously. Sometimes in an attempt to "be good" he just falls asleep. We usually don't encourage our kids to take naps but with Mike, we make an exception.

He's a pretty bright kid. He'll pester you to help him out with homework when you're (of course) busy helping out five other students. Unfortunately, when it comes around to his turn, he'll inevitably lose focus or purposefully pretend that he doesn't know how to do simple things like put two fingers up in the air.

Mike is a little terror. He's drawn some highly inappropriate pictures that show he's well versed in human anatomy. All of the aforementioned things make him a challenge to deal with but then there are these moments (few and far between) where you watch him and remember that he's still just a kid. He had a pretty good day yesterday. He spent most of the day showing other kids his new pen; it was furry and had a chibi monkey as a topper. It was quite cute and completely at odds with his persona. Every once in awhile Mike will bring a teddy bear to school and walk around all day with it.

Did I mention that he's a kindergartner?

06 April 2011

Story: The Mystery of the Missing Chocolate

Names in the following story have been changed to protect the innocent...and the guilty.

Yesterday, as often occurs, I had an agitated student come running up to me. She and another boy (standing about five feet behind her) began speaking simultaneously.

"Angela, he keeps..."     "No, no, she keeps..."

"Alright. Stop there. I can't hear what either of you are saying when you're talking at the same time. Now, I'm going to give both of you a chance to tell me your side of the story but when one person is talking, the other person has to be quiet, got it?" Two heads nod in consent. "Okay Agnes, what happened?" I asked Agnes to speak first because she's a very well-behaved girl and I was pretty sure that whatever she said would be a lot closer to the truth.

"Karla. She keeps...she keeps...Karla keeps bothering me," Agnes tells me in a stutter. Agnes doesn't stutter all of the time but it comes and goes depending on how agitated she is. Sometimes I think it's just her nerves (she's rather shy) but other times, I think it's because she's a non-native English speaker and is still getting a grasp of the language. You can see the wheels turning in her head when she's trying to think of how to say a particular world in English.

"Okay. Karla it's your turn now. What's up?"

"Agnes keeps trying to take chocolate from Kita. She keeps asking her for it." At this point, Agnes is vehemently shaking her head in denial. She keeps silent however because she knows that she's supposed to give Karla a chance to talk, too.

I silently do a quick scan of the room and of the kids. Agnes is standing beside me since she's the one who initially ran up to tell on Karla. Karla is facing me but she's actually standing right in front of Kita. Kita in turn is standing protectively over her backpack and looks harassed. She keeps shooting reproachful looks in Karla's direction. It seems much more likely to me that Karla has been trying to wheedle chocolate from Kita and that Agnes was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I say, "Okay. Agnes, I don't think that you were trying to take chocolate from Kita but I want to take this chance to remind everyone that we're not supposed to even have candy or junk food in the program. Agnes, you and Karla need to leave Kita alone from now, okay? Don't bother her for chocolate or anything of that sort. And Kita, you should keep the chocolate in your backpack. If you ever have candy in the program, you make sure that you keep it in your backpack and save it for home. You can eat it at home. Everybody understand?" Three heads nod in assent. I hoped that the matter had been taken care of but a part of me (the part of me that's had plenty of experience working with kiddies) knew better.

An hour later, I notice that Kita is teary eyed and upset. She's a kindergarten student and is one of those kids who's extremely cute; you're inclined to have a soft spot for her. Kita walks up to one of my coworkers and starts crying outright. She keeps saying, "I...want...my candy back. I...want...my candy."

"What candy?" my coworker asks. I'm too far away to hear the entire exchange but my coworker wraps an arm around Kita and leans in to hear what she's saying. I hear her coo a couple of times, "It's okay Kita, don't cry. Don't cry now." A few moments later, my coworker's head snaps up and she yells, "Karla, come here right now!" Karla hesitantly approaches.

"Karla, where is the chocolate?"

Karla looks like she's about to speak but you can tell that she's scared stiff (likely out of guilt), so she instead shakes her head in answer.

"I don't understand what you mean by that Karla. Where is the chocolate?" my coworker demands.

"I don't have it. I didn't take it," Karla replies.

"Are you sure?"


"Are you 100% sure?" My coworker gives Karla a measured gaze. I'm very bad at threatening kids into compliance but my coworker is quite skilled in this department. She tells Karla something along the lines of, "You'd better tell me the truth right now because if I find out that you're lying to me then I'll make sure that blank blank happens and that you don't ever ever get to blank again." (You can fill in the blanks.)

Karla now looks very worried indeed. A hush has descended over our entire program as all of our kids listen in to see how this situation will play out.

"Bring me your backpack Karla."

Karla grabs her backpack and hands it over. My coworker starts searching through it for the chocolate. While she's working her way through the second compartment, Karla blurts out, "I don't have it anymore. I gave it to Enrique!"

All eyes turn to Enrique. "I don't have it! I gave it to Sam."

All eyes turn to Sam. "I don't have it! I gave it to Jacob."

All eyes turn to Jacob. "I don't have it anymore. I ate it."

More silence ensues. My coworker starts to lecture the program at large about why we don't want them to have candy while they're with us. During her tirade, an anonymous voice floats through the air and reveals that, "The candy wasn't Kita's anyway. Denise gave it to her."

My coworker turns to Kita. She has dropped her arm from around the girl's shoulders. "Is that true?"

Teary eyed Kita nods her head. My coworker is not happy. "Wipe your eyes and stop crying right now," she commands. She turns back to address all of our kids and continues her lecture. Once she is done, everyone goes back to their task or activity.

Later on during the day, after all of the kids have finished their homework, after all of the kids have eaten their snack, and while most of the kids are playing outside, I am cleaning up the room. Whenever I clean up, I make sure to pay close attention to the areas where kids like to hide things they want to keep away from others. Our kids love to hide coveted toys, like legos, in (or under) the bookshelves. It is while I am clearing up the bookshelves that I find a violet-colored, foil chocolate candy wrapper. It has an Easter bunny printed on it.

02 April 2011

Arts & Crafts: Cheetah Bulletin Board

It's funny that it's taken me this long to make a post about my Cheetah bulletin board when I actually completed it around the time of my last post. That factoid should go to show you that once the school year starts up, I am one busy little bee. I've realized that the difficult part about having two part-time jobs that you work at on a daily basis isn't really the travel time (although that is an inconvenience), it's the fact that the people at both of your part-time jobs expect you to produce full-time quality work--especially during these trying economic times. It's simply not possible to get all of that work done in three to four hours. I try my best not to take work home, arrive especially early, or stay incredibly late but seriously, quality work takes time. I know that I'm definitely a slow poke in comparison to other people so that probably just makes things even harder for me...meow...

Even with those complaints though, I must admit that this bulletin board was fun to put together. I always enjoy a good art project. It should be noted that Mr. Cheetah plays such a prominent role here because he's the school's mascot. 0=)