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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Slightly Creepy Poem

One of my coworkers found a little ziplock bag. Inside was an oval, metal disc about the size of a quarter only thicker, imprinted with an angel. There was also little piece of paper folded up to fit in the bag, and printed on the paper was a poem. And before I copy the poem here, I would like to say a few things:

1. I Googled the first line, and found it in a few sites dedicated to "inspirational" writings. None of them suggested an author, so I am unable to offer you one here. But rest assured that I did not write it!

2. I'm not posting it because I think it's cool. This will become more clear as you read my follow-up comments after the poem itself.

That said, here it is:

I am a tiny angel...
I'm smaller than your thumb;
I live in people's pockets,
That's where I have my fun.
I don't suppose you've seen me,
I'm too tiny to detect;
Though I'm with you all the time,
I doubt we've ever met.
Before I was an Angel...
I was a fairy in a flower,
God, Himself, hand-picked me,
And gave me Angel power.

Now God has many Angels
That He trains in Angel pools,
We become His eyes, and ears, and
hands...We become His special tools.
And because God is so busy,
With way too much to do;
He said that my assignment
Was to keep close watch on you.
Then He tucked me in your pocket,
Blessing you with Angel care;
Saying I must never leave you,
And I vowed to stay right there!

First off, the person who gave it to me said that it was creepy, and I had to agree, for the following reasons:

1. The list of those who are allowed to have fun in my pocket is extremely short. Strange angels are not on that list.

2. The flower fairy to angel metamorphosis doesn't set well with me, nor does the conferring of Angel power to a former flower-frequenting fairy.

3. This angel is both "Smaller than your thumb," and "too tiny to detect." I don't mean to brag, but I have personally detected many, many objects which were smaller than my thumb. At work I sometimes use screws which are two orders of magnitude smaller than my thumb. This suggests that "thumb" was chosen just to have a word that rhymed with "fun." See my first point.

4. The training of Angels in pools strikes me as odd, whether pool is used in the sense of a group of members to be drawn upon at need (e.g. a secretarial pool) or a largish, artificial body of water.  In the human resources case, it sounds like perhaps there are angels with some spare time on their hands.  Maybe they only work with Christians, allowing them to ignore a large portion of the world's population.  Maybe there are just too many angels, and they have difficulty getting enough hours to earn benefits.  Odd.  And the swimming sense is just plain silly, though it opens up the floor for questions about where an angel would wear water wings.

5. God has way too much to do?  As God himself put it when talking to Job, "Yeah, I did have kind of a busy week once.  The FIRST WEEK EVER, WHEN I WAS BUSY CREATING EVERYTHING!"  (from The Message Bible).

6. A vow to stay in my pocket... just plain creepy.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Working the Mines

You know, walking out of the word mine with a few words in your pocket sounds like a good way to make a little extra verbage on the side, and what the hell? Who is it hurting? The company? They got plenty, hauling it out in big dictionaryloads. Would they really miss that participle that was already dangling off the cart?

But if you read your contract carefully, you will see that their wordsmiths really know their craft. They can redact your paycheck, censor your wages. They can even come into your home and take the adjectives right out of your children's mouths.

I walked out of a word mine I worked at once with a
pocketful of word ore--about 3 (idiotic...didn't have
time to pick and choose the words) sentences worth.
Commas, are import,ant it,'s amazing.

[It's obvious why I didn't post this one.  Solid idea at the start, then I didn't go anywhere with it.  Still kind of fun.  I had to make up a title today, Nov. 28th, 2010, before publishing it back in 2007.]

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Maxine Update

Maxine is becoming more entertaining every day, and I am not doing a very good job of documenting it. And so here is a typical Roblog attempt to put way too much information into way too small a space at the last minute:

Potty Time! A few nights ago I came home from work, and Horyon told me that Maxine had left a present for me in the bathroom. I could smell it as soon as I walked in. She had urinated and defecated in her little potty! I was very proud, though I'm not sure if I would have been proud enough to preserve that particular trophy.

Horyon has been spending a lot of time with Maxine in the bathroom, reading books with her and encouraging her to sit on her little potty. Today she actually asked to use her potty for the first time! Always before it was at our suggestion. Stephanie, Maxine's daycare provider, has told us that Maxine is good with the potty while there, but it's not the same has having success here at home.

In general, Maxine is becoming more coordinated. She is less likely to drop things, and is better able to handle them. She still has a problem eating eggs on toast, though. She still tries to eat the egg off the top by tilting the toast up, so half the time the egg falls into her big [sorry! I meant bib!] pouch. She would probably be better off with a fork, but she wants to eat it like Daddy does, so we're stuck. Because I'm not going to change my egg-eating style just to keep her eggs from taking a detour through her bib.

The biggest improvements we've seen are in her language skills. She is talking more all the time, and constantly adding words and phrases to her vocabulary, as well as polishing up her pronunciation. She still sings the Barney song "Clean Up" as "Cleamup," but it's pretty cute, so we let it go. "Thanks" has been added to "Thank you," as has "You're welcome." She likes to use "Please" as well, and we encourage her to use all three. Being polite is an essential skill that seems to be somewhat out of vogue these days.

She's enjoyed phone conversations for some time now, though she hasn't quite worked on the same level as the rest of us. I think she still doesn't realize that she is actually talking to another person when she talks on the phone--she just doesn't interact the same way she does face-to-face. But it's getting there. And she can do a pretend phone conversation really well. Her favorites to talk to are Grandma and Grandpa. She nods a lot, says, "Uh-huh", "Yes" and "No", and tells the pretend person what she is doing.

In fact, she doesn't need a phone to tell people what she is doing. Sometimes it's like there's a constant running commentary, keeping us up to date on what Maxine is doing. She hasn't got the grammar down exactly right yet, so it comes out "I running" or "My go," but the idea is there.

She is going to daycare three days a week with Stephanie, a wonderful woman who does it out of her home. Her rates are very low, only $18/day, but she lives about 16 miles from our home. She recently moved, because she wanted to give her kids (both her offspring and her charges) a more accurate taste of nature. She's planning some nature trails, and just going outside there is a noticeable lack of traffic noise and city smells. She plans age-appropriate activities, prepares healthy meals, teaches social skills, and doesn't let the kids watch more than half an hour of t.v. per day. We've been told that Stephanie's husband makes enough money for them to live off of, and that she does this because she loves doing it. We think it's worth the one-hour round trip drive, especially since we carpool with Sofia from down the block. And most especially since Sofia's mother picks up Maxine in the morning so neither of us has to do the morning drive thing.

Maxine is starting to solidify the concept of different activities for different days of the week. She knows that Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays she goes to Stephanie's, Tuesdays and Thursdays she goes to Small World (though not while KU is on vacation), and Sundays she goes to Church. I don't think she has an ordered concept of which day comes after which, but she's getting there.

There are doubtless many details I am leaving out, but I need to get this post up so that I can work on a Christmas post. So I'll leave you with one last picture to embarrass Maxine when she is older. Peace!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fourth Sub--High School Spanish

Thursday I got not calls to sub. Didn't bug me much. I could feel some sort of virus testing my defenses, trying to get in. It eventually succeeded, and is now waging a minor war in my sinuses. Not serious enough to lay me out, but it is distracting much needed resources from my brain. It didn't really settle in until Friday evening, so Friday's subbing went okay.

I got the call around 6:15 a.m.: Lawrence High School, 9 a.m. until 3:05 p.m. (The regular teacher a had planning period for the first hour, and no duties during the zero hour, so I got to show an hour and a half later than usual.) Of course, I couldn't get back to sleep after waking up, taking down that information, going to the bathroom, going on the internet to find the exact location of the school, and verifying the work info online. So I had a leisurely breakfast, shower, and plenty of time to get my car de-iced before leaving. Which was good, because I had to circle the school to figure out where to park.

I had my doubts as to whether or not I should have taken this call, because the subject was Spanish, and I probably couldn't come up with a dozen words in Spanish, much less a conversation.

I had nothing to worry about. The Spanish II classes were working at a pretty lame level. They had quite a few vocab words under their belts, and they could read a passage and answer questions, but they weren't sitting around just talking with each other in Spanish. And I made it clear from the get-go that I would be unable to assist with Spanish related questions.

The Spanish V class was a different matter. Some of them actually talked with each other in Spanish when it wasn't part of the assignment. I was impressed. Not so much with their ability, but with their dedication, that they would maintain that level of practice even with a sub who didn't know any better.

My trouble situation on Friday involved a teacher's aid. She was an upperclassman with an attitude. When she came in I asked her what she usually did in class, and she told me she just "kicks." I take it that this is the latest version of "hang out". She also said that she usually just talks to a couple of students who sit near to her. The warning bells should have been going off at this point, but I am still learning. I asked her to go make some copies of an activity, as the teacher had instructed me to do. After she had come back, I was trying to interpret the lesson plan, and asked her opinion of the paper. Her response was to tell me, in front of all the students there, that the teacher never planned very well. The other students backed her up, and they all agreed that the teacher was usually just winging it.

So I made the judgment on the lesson plan on my own, which perhaps I should have done from the start. The students got to work, and I asked the aid to step out into the hall with me for a word. We had a bizarre little conversation that went something like this:

R: I don't appreciate you disrespecting the teacher in front of the class like that.

A: What do you mean?

R: Saying that she is disorganized, and that her plans are not very good.

A: I was just saying the truth. All the other students said so, too.

R: Yes, but you are the aid in this class. I expect you to be supportive.

A: I don't understand why I'm out here and no one else is.

R: Because you are the aid. You are not the same as the others.

A: Everyone knows that she's disorganized, so why are you picking on me?

The conversation kind of spiraled inward like that. She either wouldn't admit or couldn't see that she had disrespected her teacher, making my job more difficult. Eventually she just turned away from me and walked back into the room.

I have to admit, I was a bit upset at this. I decided that she was on her final warning, and that if she tested me again she was going to be sent to the office. Fortunately, she must have sensed this, because she sulked for the rest of the class. Perhaps she thought that her uncooperative silence would annoy me. Far from it. It freed me up to deal with the rest of the class, and there were no more problems.

I was kind of sad that she didn't say goodbye when she left the classroom, but I got over it.

In my last class I had to deal with a jock, one of the wrestling team. Big guy, and very cheerful. Liked to play dumb, but I think he may have been pretty smart. He demonstrated for me at one point that he could conjugate verbs on the computers well. He just wouldn't do his work unless I was nearby watching. The rest of the time he focused on entertaining himself and the people around him. Not in a bad enough way that disciplining him would have been worth the trouble, just enough to be annoying. I let him go to the restroom (probably a mistake) without paying attention to when exactly he came back (definitely a mistake). I'm not sure if he was gone just a few minutes or 10, which gave me nothing to work with. And of course, at the end of the class he was perched on a desk by the door, even though his desk was on the other side of the room. I tried to convince him to return to his desk, and he out-talked me. When the bell rang he was the first one out of the room.

Perhaps I am becoming a control freak, but the behavior of the aid and the jock very much offended my sensibilities. I feel that as a good teacher, I need to be in control of situations like that. Though they cause no serious harm in a one-shot substituting situation (at least no harm so far), I can see these behaviors dominoing in a regular, full-time class room. This time for me is like a laboratory, where I can experiment with discipline methods. As a sub, I often have little power or influence, so I have to leverage it to the maximum. Friday's experiences with the aid and the jock felt like minor failures to me. Dragged my grade for the day down to a B-. In both situations the solutions seemed clearer to me by the following day:

I should have told the aid that I was unhappy because she did not help me to understand the instructions, but rather added to the chaos in the room. Her attitude towards the teacher was secondary. Maybe she would have understood that. I'm not convinced that this would have worked. She felt to me like the kind of person who just never admits to making mistakes, so maybe I was doomed from the time I asked her to step outside.

On the other hand, she stayed out of my way for the rest of the class, so maybe I passed that little test after all.

With the jock, letting him go to the bathroom was the trigger. I should have reminded him that we are no longer in elementary school, and that he had only 50 minutes to go. Perhaps offering to let him go later in the hour if he seemed to be working well.

Oh, I almost forgot. One of my Friday classes was an ESL class. There were only four students, from [in the interests of privacy, I'm omitting their countries of origin]. We ended up just chatting the whole time. They were very curious about me, and asked a lot of questions. Except for the guy who didn't speak English. At all. He has been in the U.S. for a year. Told us (through the other [blank]-ish speaker) that he had worked at McDonald's. There was something very odd about that. A year of working at McDonald's should have at least taught him how to ask and answer the basic introduction questions.

The guy from [redacted] spent most of the class time working on an assignment for another class. I later saw him walking the halls. Apparently he has managed to wrap most of the teachers around his finger.

The guy from [Nunuvyabizness] stayed for my next class, Spanish V. Seems like he was a very good influence on the other students. They used him as a resource from time to time, without swamping him. Seemed like a good way to help him build a peer group, which can be difficult for an outsider who doesn't speak the language.

It was cool being back in an ESL setting. I didn't really teach anything, but I slipped back into the conversation-leader role quite easily. And I found that I can still speak "Special English." It sounds easy to most people: you speak slowly, with very clear enunciation, simple vocabulary, and minimize the idioms you use. Very vanilla. Almost everyone can slow down, but clear enunciation takes some work and focus. Most people can do it for a short time, but they start slurring and speeding up after only a few minutes. The vocabulary and idiom issues also take practice to eliminate, or "weed out". You are probably unaware of how many idioms you use in daily conversation until you have a classroom full of students who are puzzled every time you use one that they have not previously encountered. When my parents came to visit, my mother slipped more easily into this kind of language than my father. I was a bit surprised; my father taught high school shop for many years, and I had assumed that it would help him. The lesson I learned is this: talking to second language learners is not really the same as talking to people who aren't that smart. Not that all students who take shop aren't smart, but a lot of them are there to avoid more academic subjects.

It made me a bit homesick for Korea, actually. Puzzling out what someone is trying to communicate and teaching them the language skills to do it. It was fun stuff.

This may be my last post for a while. I work again tomorrow, then Chaeryon will arrive on Wednesday. That will take up the whole day for us, I'm pretty sure. Once she is here it will be the countdown to Christmas, which will definitely keep me busy on the work front.

Still, I will definitely get on the Roblog one more time before Christmas. Hopefully.



Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Special Piercing

Warning. This post contains subject material suitable only for mature audiences. If you are under 18, please stop reading.


I mean it.

One class of items we sell in the Wal-Mart jewelry department is body jewelry: the bits of metal people put through the holes in their eyebrows, belly-buttons, noses, and other places. As you can imagine, this occasionally leads to some interesting conversations. In my first month, a pretty young lady asked me for a belly button ring recommendation. We picked out a cute little skull and crossbones piece, and I never really thought anything more about it. Then a few days later she showed up with her boyfriend. I asked how the belly-button ring was working out, and she pulled up her shirt and said, "See!" It was really cute. Since then I've been thinking about how I can suggest that Horyon get her belly-button pierced. I finally came to the conclusion that the best way was by posting it on Roblog and letting her read it at the same time as, if not later than, my hundreds of loyal readers.

OK. Last Warning. It gets nasty from here on out. Even if you normally like my stuff, you might not like this.

That made for a nice little working-at-Wal-Mart story. Then the other day a young lady told me that her friend was too embarrassed to ask about this, but could I recommend a particular piece to use as a c**t-ring. Perhaps it was a good thing that I had been sort of broken in by the belly button ring customer. I think I managed to not blush as I told her that I didn't have much experience with that sort of thing, but let's see what we could find. She then told me that it wasn't a vertical piercing, it was horizontal, except that she didn't use those words; she waved her hands and said, "Like this." Right. She must have been in her early 20s. She showed absolutely no sign of embarrassment. Of course, she wasn't the one with a piercing normally concealed by underwear, either.

We picked something out, then she told me she'd be back with her friend. When she did come back, her friend never looked me in the face while she bought her jewelry. I found myself thinking how bizarre it is to know something so extremely intimate about someone that you otherwise don't know at all. This wouldn't be entirely unexpected if I were working in the medical industry, but I work at Wal-Mart for crying out loud!

Friday, December 07, 2007

3rd Sub

I was at Sunset Hill Elementary from 7:30 this morning until about 3:15. I taught a 3rd grade class. Easier than first, but not easy. I think it would have been easier if it hadn't started snowing around nine o'clock. Someone said, "Hey, it's snowing!" and the next thing I knew they were all gathered around the windows giving commentary on the weather. (e.g. "Wow, it's really coming down!" and "Look at how it's snowing!" and "Cool!")

The principal commented at the end of the day that you could feel the "Snow Energy" as you walked down the halls. The kids were abuzz with excitement, and everyone had to deal with it. Of course, dealing with it as a sub makes it that much more of a challenge, but I think I did okay. At least no one came to tell me that the class had been very loud.

It was fun to watch them at recess, goofing around in the snow, throwing it at each other, making tracks, and being silly. One kid was picking it up and dropping it on his own head. After all, it had stopped snowing, so he had to do something to bring back that loving feeling.

I spent the entire day five or ten minutes behind the schedule left for me. I felt kind of bad about it, but catching up just seemed impossible. Every time I figured we were going to catch up, the kids took five minutes longer than I expected.

They were reading (and studying) "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", one of my favorite books from back in the day. It was a bit difficult to do a discussion, because some of them had seen the movie, running some serious interference with the book. You don't have to think to make predictions about what might happen if you've already seen a version of what happened.

I learned one important lesson today: during silent reading time, I was struggling to deal with a full bladder. I told the class that I would be stepping out of the room for a minute or two, and that when I came back I would listen from outside the door. If it was quiet, every table would get a point, and if not, the tables I could identify would not. The principal was in the resource room outside the teachers' restroom, and I told him that I had stepped out briefly. He told me that he would go cover the class, which I thought was nice. When I got back he told me that it was school policy to not leave classes unattended for any length of time. A sensible rule for many reasons. If I had given it any serious thought, I might have called for help instead of just leaving, but for the last ten years I've been teaching people who can take care of themselves. Time for a paradigm shift.

After school I apologized, but the prinipal, Mr. Bay, told me not to worry about it, and that it was as much for my own legal protection as for the kids' safety. And he assured me that when he got to the class room you could have heard a pin drop. I will confess to a bit of pride at hearing that. Mr. Bay asked if I could give my contact information so that they could request me in the future, and once again I felt pretty good about the day.

I found Mr. Bay to be a very dynamic principal. He starts every day with a short assembly, which I saw today. A student read the announcements, and another student read the cafeteria menu for the day. (Breakfast burrito or french toast strips with a sausage patty, I had both. Not bad for caf food.) They introduced the school Watch Dog for the day, the father of one of the kids. I talked with the Watch Dog a bit during recess. It was his first time, and he enjoyed it. They basically have a parent around to walk the halls, provide a bit of additional security, as well as an occasional extra pair of hands. Good program. Mr. Bay knew lots of kids' names, and had a good rapport with the students. I'm guessing that my Uncle Tom Sack runs a similar ship up there in Effingham. (Curse the ham, we hates it! we hates it!)

The teacher had assigned a helper, Vivian (once again, I'm not using the kids' real names in these write-ups). Vivian is a nice girl, but a little high strung. I feel bad, because I may have piled that on her by telling her at the beginning of the day that I could really use her help to get through the day. I had to tell her a couple of times during the day that the best way she could help me was by not getting up without permission. So one more lesson there: don't depend too much on the helper.

The other kid that sticks out in my mind, besides little Anna with her twisted ankle, hobbling around on crutches in the snow!, was Steven. This boy had an attitude. He talked back to me in little, not-quite-over-the-line ways. If I were going to be back in that classroom tomorrow, I would start the day by having a little talk with Steven about respecting others. At one point a girl had accidentally bumped into him. Well, she said it was accidental. He argued repeatedly that she did it on purpose because she didn't like him. He then went on to show why she might not have liked him. I asked her what we say if we hit someone accidentally, and so she said she was sorry. Steven said he couldn't hear her. Fine. So she repeated it. Then he said he couldn't hear her again. I was starting to get a bit pissed at this point, but didn't say anything. He accepted the next apology, though with unsurprisingly little grace.

Here's my moment of regret: next time I will talk with "Steven" (in whatever class I come across him or her) about being kind and forgiving, and how other people see you. Of course, it would depend on having the proper time and place to do so. This kind of behavior is becoming too widely accepted in the world, and it is up to teachers to HELP with a more positive shift. I say 'help' because I'm sure that Steven has inherited his attitude from the people he lives with. I am also sure that his teachers have done what they could to improve that attitude, but no one has the effect of a parent.

Well lookie. It's 1:15 a.m. I'm not sure if I can keep up blogging about every classroom I spend time in, but I want to. I'm so tired that some of these lessons may not sink in if I don't reinforce them, so here I am. I hope it's also good reading for you.



Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Substitute Teaching--Days 1 and 2

Last Friday I had my first subbing gig. Half a day (11:30-3:30) with 19 first graders at Deerfield Elementary School.

Needless to say, it kicked my butt from here to New Jersey and back.

The problem was this: I like kids that age. I love the way they completely accept you the moment their regular teacher says, "Mr. Sack is your teacher this afternoon. Be good for him!" I love the way many of them will come up and hug your leg within the first few minutes of being in the classroom. I love the way they talk, completely guileless, eager to speak their minds, and ready to please. I love watching them interact with each other, and I love trying to figure out what's on their minds. And all of that kind of gets in the way of being The Enforcer.

For the first hour or so, things quickly spiraled out of control. They started popping up out of their desks to go do stuff or talk to me, they started talking as they raised their hands (if they raised their hands at all), and I felt like I was herding 19 kittens. Then I took them to art class, which is in a different room with a different teacher. I had a chance to talk to another teacher in the same team, and she gave me some good advice.

When the kids came back from art, we went directly to recess. (Remember recess? That's like a coffee break, except you spend the entire time running, climbing or kicking a ball around, BY CHOICE. And you don't get coffee, thank God.) After recess, I asked them to sit down, and we had a little conversation about classroom rules and etiquette. I then told them that they had a choice about what kind of letter I would write to their teacher: a good letter, or a bad one.

I'm pleased to say that they chose a good letter. Unfortunately, they had already misbehaved, so they had to pay the consequence: Fun Friday was cut from 45 minutes down to less than 10. They didn't complain much, not after I got them to admit that they had been pretty rowdy.

I felt a little bad about letting them run amok. If I had cracked down from the first minute, they never would have gotten out of hand, and wouldn't have gotten in trouble. I made that clear in the note I left for the teacher. It was my first time to substitute in a long time: twelve or thirteen years. On top of that, they had just had a sub the previous day, so things were already a bit out of control.

However, it was a good return to subbing. Not too long for first graders, a well-organized teacher, and students that were ready to behave when handled correctly.

This morning (Tuesday) I got a call at 6:10 a.m. asking if I wanted to take an "Inter-Related Resource" position at West Jr. High. (The name is now a bit ironic, as it appears on a map to be almost in the exact center of Lawrence. Reflects how much the city has grown, I guess.) It turns out that Inter-Related Resource means Special-Ed, so I had a good day. There were paras (para-professional, a person trained to work with special needs students) for each kid there, and they kind of traded off jobs. I spent some time reading with Peter, and went to a regular photography class and a math class with John. I also spent a fair amount of time just having conversation with Peter, John and Chris. (I am just making up names for these kids, even though I can remember them right now. It just doesn't seem like a good idea to name names on a blog like this.)

Three or four of them were not capable of conversation per se. They had serious behavior issues, or just sat staring at nothing if not given instructions. James kept slapping his own legs, grinding his teeth, and making funny noises. He had an electronic device with USB ports that he could use to communicate. It was set up as a sort of hi-tech See and Say; he touches the picture(s) and it says what he wants to say. A speech therapist came in and worked with some of the kids, though I didn't see her work with James. She was working with Suzie, who had a tendency to just sit and do nothing until instructed by someone else. The therapist played a card game with her; she picked up the cards one at a time, and Suzie had to say what the card was. It was a pretty big deal for her. I never heard her make any other sounds the rest of the day. The other girl, Deana, was also very quiet. I found it interesting that the two girls were content to just sit in their chairs and watch videos (as we did through the afternoon, watching "Home Alone", "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and most of "Stuart Little"), but the boys wanted to be up and moving around, getting into stuff, talking with someone, or causing trouble.

Horyon commented that this is a good chance for me to try some different classroom styles on, and remind myself of how American schools are run. I am enjoying it so far. When I went to class with John, I was impressed by both the photography and math teachers. In the photography class she was juggling what seemed like half a dozen different tasks, and students at different stages in their projects, including some in the dark room and some outside writing up paragraphs about their photos. Once she had taken roll and reminded them of their tasks, she put some classic rock n roll on her computer speakers. It made the time pass quickly for me.

The math teacher was working on ratios and percentages with the class. Apparently she had driven the point home in an earlier class by dividing the class into different sized groups, and then passing out apparently random numbers of Skittles to each group to share. She had them report how many Skittles they had in their group, and wrote the numbers on the overhead so that they all knew what each other had. Then she made them come up with a solution to the fairness problem.

It struck me as a fantastic way to connect gut feelings to math. I imagined the students saying, "It's not fair that their group has four people and 90 Skittles, but my group has ten people and 27 Skittles!" Suddenly the words "ratio", "average" and "cross-product" have very practical meaning: they help make sure you don't get shafted on the Skittle count!

She also had them spend some time in the journal section of their notebook, writing a reaction to that Skittle activity from a previous day. I'm guessing that it was a review of what they had talked about in class, though I didn't find out for sure.

I ate lunch at the school cafeteria. I was starving, so I had some ravioli, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, beef stew and salad (all in small bowls), an orange, and a chocolate milk. Cost me three and a half bucks. Not a bad deal. It tasted exactly like I remember school cafeteria food tasting: boring. Not bad, just boring.

I ate my lunch in the classroom. While I was eating, John came up to me and started talking as he stood over me. I was listening, but I didn't stop eating. He told me a couple of things that I can't remember now, then he told me that there was someone he knew named ____ ______ , but she died, and she was his grandmother. Then he put his hands over his face and started sobbing very loudly. No transition at all. For a second or two I thought that he was pretending, forgetting that I was dealing with someone much simpler than your average 13-year-old. Before I could decide how to react, one of the paras came over and held him in her arms, a woman old enough to be his mother. She told him it was okay, and tried to distract him a bit. When he had calmed down some, I gave him a hug, too, and told him that my Grandfather had recently died. I then reminded him that we are still here, and we have each other.

John, Peter and Chris seemed to have a lot of the same educational skills as other kids their ages, but were socially and emotionally quite a bit behind. They actually reminded me of the first graders I had just taught the previous Friday in that respect; John came up to me when he first walked into the room and introduced himself. Chris told one of the paras that my name was just the same as a grocery bag. All three of them were my buddies from the get-go.

It was a good day. It's not what I want to do for a career, but it was good for me to be there. I think it would do many people good to spend some time in an environment like that once in a while. I was glad that I didn't have to work at Wal-Mart today, though. (I will resist the temptation to make comparisons, trusting that you, my faithful readers, will manage just fine on your own.)

Working two jobs isn't going to kill me, but it is going to make me tired. And I still haven't written about our new (to us) car. It will have to wait, as well as catching you up on Maxine. I am working on a Maxine update post, I promise. Please be patient with me, and try to be content with a picture of Maxine eating (a popular pose):
and a picture of her with her friends dressed up for Halloween:
Is she not adorable? And it's okay to say it, she's more adorable than her friends! I only wish that I could have dressed up as a clown, too.

I must especially beg Aunt Becky for forgiveness! I know I said I would do the Maxine pics tonight, but I just had to get this post written while it was fresh in my mind.



A Wal-Mart Surprise

Tonight, as usual, I was by myself in jewelry from the time Julianna left at 8 until closing at 10. Around nine o'clock I got a phone call. The woman on the other end of the line asked if I was the guy who had been working there earlier. I answered "yes" somewhat hesitantly, as I wasn't sure where she was going with this. She told me that I had sold her some earrings, and did I remember her?

Well, that didn't narrow it down a lot, but when she said, "The titanium ones with the long posts," it connected. I had spent a few minutes with her, helping her to pick out something that would hopefully not irritate her ears. "Yeah, yeah, I remember. Is everything OK?" I asked.

She was so happy that she just had to call. The earrings were perfect, a very comfortable fit, not irritating at all.

That was it. She just called to say thank you. Totally made my day, and I wanted to share it with you. Because as Christmas approaches, Wal-Mart, as well as every other retailer in the U.S.A., is starting to get busy, and it won't back down until after new-year's day.

And as the semester has just ended, a few of my coworkers have unceremoniously quit, leaving the store short-handed. Lines are starting to get long, and tempers are starting to get short. I have been told that the week before Christmas will be hellish, at best. Everyone will expect VIP treatment, and no one will settle for being last in line. The words "We don't have that" will take on the same connotations as "Your mother is the paragon of promiscuity". Meal breaks will be rushed, and other breaks will be crushed. We will actually have another person temporarily in the jewelry department working on the register, just checking people out so that the jewelry staff can help customers find the jewelry that they want without dealing with all that nasty money. Our usual closing time of 10 p.m. will get pushed back a bit further every night, until we are forced to just call out "HELP!!" and run away.

And before it's gotten totally nutsy, I've had a customer call to say "Thanks." What a blessing.

Oh, and I've had my first overlap of teaching and Wal-Marting. Last Friday I subbed for half a day in a 1st grade classroom (which by itself deserves a whole write-up). Today one of the kids from that class recognized me as I was ringing up his mother's purchases. I felt good about that, though I'm not sure how well it's going to go when I get the same recognition from teenagers. Not so bad in Wal-Mart I expect, but in the classroom it may cause me some difficulty. Ah well, that's a bridge not worth crossing until I come to it.



Sunday, December 02, 2007


So we're short handed at the jewelry counter, and it started when one of my fellow associates died. Okay, that's not completely accurate. It started when she got sick. Until then there had been five of us, four full-time associates and myself working part-time. I have been made to understand that they were understaffed for a long time before I arrived, but I had not really witnessed it until Karin (the one who's dead now) started having hernia problems. She called in sick the day after Thanksgiving. At Wal-Mart we call it "Blitz Day". Yeah. They named it after the Blitzkrieg. How special is that? The busiest day of the year, and we were short-staffed at jewelry.

Karin came back some before and after Christmas, but in January she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By the time they figured this out, the tumor was larger than a softball. She could barely eat any food (as there was no room in her gut), and she found it painful to move around. She was in for a few days, then out for the long haul. She spent some time in hospitals, and some time at home. By the time the doctors had figured out what was going on, she was in no shape for an operation. She had infections, lung problems, and very little strength. Then one day at work I got a call that she had died early that morning.

Karin wasn't my friend. I knew very little about her outside of her work habits. She wasn't great with customers (I thought she always sounded a bit artificial, which was probably suitable for Wal-Mart), but she was really good at the merchandising side of the job. She was one of those people who could remember UPC numbers. Not just the last few digits, but entire numbers. I also found out that she liked to gamble. No doubt there was some connection there. And she had at least one brother and sister, but wasn't in close contact with them. Her brother came into the store once, and our coworker, Julianna, picked him out of the crowd. Julianna made Karin go over and talk to him. This was before she got sick. I hope that they stayed in better touch after that.

I never really found out much about her from sitting down and talking with her, as we never sat down and talked. I learned a fair amount about my job from her, as she was always willing to lecture. She wasn't a particularly good teacher, as she tended to throw out too much information too quickly. But she was always willing to answer questions. And if she sometimes came across as condescending, she had some cause to be proud of how she did her job.

But as I said, she wasn't my friend.

So when I got the call that she had died, I called management and passed the news on. A short while later they called a meeting in the back for all associates. I went back, even though I knew what the meeting was for. It just seemed like I should be there. They made the announcement, told us that it was okay if any of us needed to step into the back during the day. They offered to let me go home if I wanted. They wrote the number for the free grief counseling on the board, and encouraged us to call if we needed it. They thanked me for letting them know. Then management left the room.

I decided that perhaps it would be good if I sat for a few minutes. I was a bit surprised to find that tears were running down my face. As I've said, Karin wasn't my friend. We had disagreements on how to organize things, and we simply did not find each others' jokes to be amusing. Come to think of it, I'm not sure if she actually told stories that were supposed to be funny. She rarely laughed (that I heard), though she chuckled over a few of her own stories, and had an awkward chuckle that reminded me of how Koreans laugh when they are embarrassed.

So I sat there just crying in front of everybody. A few people came over and hugged me. One woman said something to me along the lines of, "She was a pretty special person." I couldn't help it. I laughed just a bit. Not an out-loud, sarcastic, nasty laugh. Just a small laugh that I quickly got under control. She didn't mean it to be the slightest bit funny or ironic. She meant it, the way people who use the word "special" a lot mean it.

It's just kind of funny how completely removing one person from your picture of the world can have a deeper effect than you expected.

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.