Small Town Scrimmage

My back hurts! I have a kink in my groin, and my baby finger does not bend like it did two days ago. My heart, however, is bursting with pride.

Yesterday morning began like any other day. Fun lessons were set to go. I knew from history, it was not a sit down and write quietly day. The junior high team had a football game planned. On football days they are a little more “enthusiastic” than normal.

giphy-downsizedCase in point. The old way: I start my explanation of the lesson saying something like,  “Every group needs a set of highlighters….”

Five to seven boys would jump out of their chairs and launch into an all out race to the back of the room. Imagine with me: Chairs toppling from the momentum. But that doesn’t stop them. They simply hurtle the obstacle and heaven help the individual that is between them and the well organized supplies in the back of the room.  In a matter of thirty seconds, we have witnessed the opening scene to the actual Hunger Games. Oblivious of the girl wincing because a toppled chair hit her in the knee, the victor while brandishing  five brightly colored markers declares, “I took care of it for us.”

Nope, I don’t make that mistake anymore. We have vocab battles set up on Classcraft. They have alliances and are battling against a big purple animal thingy to gain 500xp and 75 gold coins. This battle will be a mental one.

22549566_10212033088316395_7570032453164356018_nIn a further show of support, I spent the morning decorating myself in fanfare also known as the Jamberry wraps with the school mascot, logo, and colors.  I had my new school shirt, and my headband and shoes to finish the theme. Win or lose, our junior high football team was going to know they had a die-hard fan. I could feel it in my gut, the kids were going to have a great day.

Except, it didn’t happen the way we planned. When we arrived, we all learned that the other team forfeited the game.  The boys were sad, mad, disappointed and did not care one bit that I thought they were the best team ever. Then a follow-up announcement came over the PA system. The junior high team was playing at the end of the day. Their competition was the alumni. “What is alumni?” they asked. I named off a couple of the kids they’d remember. “Jackson, Tyler, Sam.”

Their eyes grew wider with each name drop. “Jackson cannot be tackled. He hurdles people.”

In my finite wisdom, my response was in line with the gladiators. “Then grab his leg as he jumps over you and pull him down.”

Kids were scared. Hindsight told me that I shouldn’t have been quite that encouraging. But I digress. Back to the story.

Then came the unexpected call. “Hey, how do you feel about playing in the game against the junior high kids?”

Before I share my answer I’d like to interject that I do not know how to throw, catch or handle a football. The shape confuses my senses. My helpful side did not seem to care. It said, “sure.”  The helpful side inferred that they had to have asked me for show. You know have the peppy teacher on the sidelines. That’s my gig and I’m good at it.

Just in case, the study hall lesson hour was in the gym with the kids teaching me how to throw a and catch a football. With every drop of the ball, they had a pointer. With every wobble, there was a comment on how to improve it. At the end of the hour, I was a little more confident and they got 500xp points to fight against the purple thingy because they experienced life from the teacher/coach perspective. That in itself was priceless. Right? This is where life was chuckling at what was soon to happen.

It turned out that the “alumni” team was a motley crew of people pulled together in the two hours between the announcement and the end of the school day.  The history teacher was the quarterback. He graduated from the high school in 1985. The business teacher, and a dad of one of the players, were receivers.  The older brother of one of the players and the current Student Council president played receiver and linemen. I was on the field because I knew how the flags worked.

giphyThe looks on the boys’ faces probably matched the look on mine the first time I felt the strong shove on my bad shoulder as one of my little darlings blocked me. I did not know pushing was permitted in flag football. When the stars faded and I remembered where I was, I yelled, “You did not teach me how to do that!”

And their response of, “You didn’t ask,” floored me. That was it. Game on. I still couldn’t catch a ball. They didn’t need me to throw a ball. It got real. I snatched at and caught a couple flags. The older brother full on tackled his younger brother for the ball. The kids got all strategic and tricked us into going offsides. Twice.  I  had to throw out a couple bags of Skittles mid-play to keep a couple of them away from my flag. One of my affable ten-year-old who loves the Dork Diaries books growled at me… He gave me a full snarly faced grr.

Then it happened. The people who read Piece of Cake know what I am talking about. When I am not teaching, I am the school librarian. Those lessons from earlier in the day proved useful and the school librarian crossed the goal line with a football in her hands.

Kids were shocked. I danced. And the game went on. Until twenty minutes later when the “Alumni” team limped with exhaustion.

I am sorry the original team forfeited, but I am not. There was a larger lesson here. Our community is here for the kids always. Four of the six people on our team had bad knees, hips or backs. Without hesitation, we went out there to let those boys prove how tough they were. And, Wow! They embraced the opportunity.  Parents cheered on the sideline and the high school football team coached those boys throughout the game. Those boys can say a lot of things about our small town and at the top of the list is we are there for them as much as possible. And we are. We do it with the hope that when they have a problem or deal with a character lesson in the absence of adult influence, they’ll remember they have a community of people who are rooting for them to come out of the problem a winner.


P.S. they won the game by one point.
Until the next post.


I Was There When…

The season for student stories is beginning. By now, they are comfortable with their new personalities and things a child wouldn’t have said last week let alone six months ago pop out of their mouth….

Today I helped a student work through an argument he blew out of proportion. As we talked through it I told him that a sincere statement of making peace with the other student was necessary. So, as we walk the halls to the classroom I ask him if he knows what he’s going to say. He shrugs and grumbled something incoherent. 

I can tell he needs encouragement. So I say, “It’s easy you just say something like ‘Yo about what happened earlier. I could have handled it differently. I’m sorry.” 

He stopped in the hall and adamantly said, “I would never say ‘Yo.'”

That makes sense. I said, “Of course you wouldn’t I’m 50. You’re nine.” 

I could have blown him over with a feather. When his words came back to him, he said, “I didn’t know you’re that old.” 

In fairness I rounded up. But to emphasize my understanding of our differences, I added, “I was there when gum was invented.” 

That was the icing on the cake. 

I pulled the other student out of class and before I had time to explain the kid apologizes. The friend expressed understanding and apologized. (This is all done without any coaching from me)  They walk arm in arm to class and the first kid says, “You are not going to believe how old she is.” 
And in that moment I learned the power of being old. It shocks kids into forgetting their grievances. If it wasn’t so funny my feelings might have been a little hurt. 

Writing Material….

Every Friday my afternoon involves reading and teaching library skills to Kindergarten, first, and second grade students. Today the same child cried when another girl got The Lion King book before her, and subsequently declared this the best day ever when she was able to check out Kittens First Full Moon. 

Image retrieved from

Best book ever as declared by the kindergarten class.

Today I taught the kids about cliff hangers within Chris Van Allsburg’s
The Widow’s Broom.

A cute before Halloween read

The kids oohed and ahhed and bit their nails.

At the end of the book two very sweet girls rushed to talk to me. This is a familiar Friday routine. They want to be the first to get another book by the author. I am pleased and prepared to answer their question. 
Except they didn’t have the question I expected. Cute little girl with the bright eyes said, “The best thing happened today. There was a wedding on the playground today.” 

Going along with the conversation I asked, “Who got married?”

Beaming she answered, “I’m married to a boy in our class.”

I said, “We really shouldn’t marry boys until we’re 25.” 

It was like I was talking to air. Her friend added, “I’m trying to figure out how to get (a very sweet and wisely oblivious boy) to marry me.”          

These are the same kids that I have to seat boy girl when I want them to be quiet. I had to laugh. 

Thankfully, the next girl that approached me wanted to check out Jumanji.

I close this blog wishing you days of refreshingly amusing conversations, and introductions to books that will brighten your reading experiences. 


“I have the song in my heart!”

My absence from blogging is a direct result of going back to school and adapting to my old life style.  Except I went back down to elementary school. The transition was not as smooth as I would have liked. Apparently eight year old children find high expectations overwhelming. Like I’m going to put my head down and cry overwhelming. (Sorry about that kids)

So-four weeks in. I get it. They like to sing and  love cute phrases and embrace the wonder of life. The first song I sang them was the ant song.

“Just what made that silly old ant?ant plant

Think he could move a rubber tree plant?

Everyone knows an ant can’t-move a rubber tree plant.

But he had high hopes. He had high hopes. He had high apple pie in the sky hopes.

So any time you’re feeling sad, just be getting glad and remember that ant.

Oh! oops there goes another rubber tree, oops there goes another rubber tree, oops there goes another rubber tree plant!”

Well the song is catchy and one of the kids continued humming it long after we were done with the moment thus driving all of us crazy. So I said to her, “Honey, you’re supposed to take the song and put it in your heart. Then it makes you feel happy inside.”

She asks me “How do you do that?”

My response is the classic teacher answer, “You have to practice and then one day it’ll happen.”

So we’re doing our social studies lesson when one of the boys yells “I just did it. She’s right.” His excitement has all of our attention. “I have the song in my heart. I can feel it. It makes me happy.”

I don’t know about the other kids, but my heart felt it. And I’ll be darned if those kids who used to cry at high expectations didn’t throw it back at me. Because now I’m racking my brain for songs I can remember from third grade to sing to them.

Eventually They Get It

One and only one thing makes middle school difficult to teach.  Puberty.  One day nice, quiet girl comes in a lioness on the hunt and will try her newfound skills on those, who she perceives to be weak, around her.  Usually, that weak person is me.  It is startling, scary and, confusing. The same child who just tried to rip me into tiny pieces will start crying because she can’t handle the world around her. The boys are not much better.  They become aggressive, like tigers, and out of the blue take on an angry countenance and return to their sweet, charming demeanor in front of my eyes.  Now you know why I don’t watch scary movies, sometimes I’m living one.

The strongest tell tale sign of puberty is the voice.  A drop in range makes the voice easier to hear so less force is required to project the sound. Fortunately, the kids don’t realize this so I hear every secret they try to hide. And the look of surprise, when confronted with the knowledge that they were thinking of ditching 4th hour is priceless.

image of one cat yelling at the other

image retrieved from

The only time the voice is a problem is when the kids get on each other’s nerves.  As was the case yesterday….Two loud boys were sitting next to each other. We were playing Catchphrase and the excitement was more than even the quiet kids could contain.  Loud Boy One started yelling at Loud Boy Two.  “BE QUIET! YOU’RE TOO LOUD FOOL!”  Fool is a term they use to connote a close, friendly relationship.

And thus the teachable moment began.  “Loud Boy One, remember how I taught you a softer voice is more effective than a louder voice.  Loud voices express excitement or frustration.  Softer voices express the ability to maintain control,” was the beginning of my intervention. “Remember, emotions are contagious.” He looked at me confused.  Then I went into the cause and effect of voice volume and how people try to compete with loud, but softer pulls them down to the level you want.  Ergo the softer voice has the control.  Still not believing the cosmic truth I demonstrated and talked to him in an even softer voice than what I was using.  As the effect of my voice hit his understanding of reality, his eyes lit up and he softly said, “Ohhhhhhh.” The rest of the class breathed a sigh of relief, because they too were about to be the recipients of a reprieve from the Loud Boys’ voices”

We were ready to commence the game and he indicated that he still had more to say and put his finger in the air.  “You know what I just noticed,” we all looked towards him, “You use that quiet voice mostly on me.”  We all burst in laughter, because, he was absolutely correct.

This is why middle school, in spite of the terror and the long hours and definitely the headaches, is so fun to teach. Eventually, they get it.

Back in the Day

Morning duty this week has been cold. So cold, our normally social, dance and run around every chance they can get teenagers have been hanging out in the library. As I stood in the cold, wrapped in my sweater, scarf and pea coat a student walk by savoring a warm beverage.

I smiled at her enjoyment of the drink. She noticing my smile, stopped raised her mug and said, “it’s hot cocoa.” She had that warm hot cocoa smile. Then she confessed, “Not really,” and went on to explain, “It’s warm milk with Hershey’s syrup.”

Stunned at first, I quickly realized that she thought that powdered stuff you add to water was the real hot cocoa! It was my first experience with a generation gap. Not realizing it at the time, I corrected her mistake, “That is how we made hot cocoa before they sold the powdered stuff. You are drinking the real hot cocoa, the powder is instant cocoa.”

Another girl who was walking by overheard the conversation stopped to learn more. “Are you for real?”

You’d have thought I said I walked in the snow or some other hyperbole that adults like to use on kids. “No, really.” I added, “That’s still how I make my cocoa.”

The bell rang and the three of us headed toward our common destination. The conversation ended with the second girl saying as she waved good day, “I’ll have to try that sometime.”

I smiled and thought to myself, “Today is the day I became officially old.”

Consoled by a Teenager?

It is raining in our normally sunny Arizona. Last week was the lunar eclipse and next week the kids are released for winter break. And, people are getting sick. Myself included. Madness is all around me.

Today as I walked down the corridor, close to the wall, so my hair wouldn’t get wet, the school bell rang. A door slams open and I am hit hard. In addition to looking like a fairy tale character, because I was walking with a hood and a scarf, I have the grumbly angry witch face.

The poor child who hit me is walking beside me. The moment was awkward. Finally, she looks up at me and says, “if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll tell you that same thing happened to me once.”

It worked. I looked at a child that I would normally console for one reason or another and burst into laughter. The shoe was on the other foot, and I got a glimpse of how I appear to those who experience my sprinkling of a little sunshine. And this is one of the 100’s of reasons why I teach middle school.

Never Too Old to Learn

This week the comics from the local paper was the source for our vocabulary words. I got the idea when one of the characters used the word “minutiae.” This was a word I taught the kids the week prior and served as validation that what they learned on school is applicable to the real world. The kids had to pick 5 words to add to their vocabulary list. I knew one of them would be rendezvous.

I overheard a conversation between a couple students. The eldest of them told the group, with the knowing wink, that it meant “to make out.”

I intervened, “No! It means meeting.” Every disinterested student suddenly found the lesson intriguing. I know because Mr. I Normally Don’t Care went to the back of the room and brought the big dictionary to find out if the well meaning teacher was trying to lead the class astray.

Sure enough I was right and the situation was ripe for teaching. “Maybe it’s the 10th definition. You know the dictionary helps with words that have multiple meanings.”

Now several students are in dictionaries and the girl who told the original meaning is laughing. She realized her definition wouldn’t be validated by Mr. Webster. “it only has 5 meanings.”

I was laughing with her too. Sometimes all it takes to get a kid to want to learn is to let them think they shouldn’t know it.

Middle School Isn’t That Bad….

In three week this relatively relaxed and, actually, kind of bored teacher will return to her professional calling which is the interesting life of middle school.  Which means I will return to the days of goofy boys who think it’s funny to throw folded bits of post it notes with rubber bands, and feel compelled to share their proficiency in accurately depicting certain parts of male anatomy that the girls lack. In plain english they like to throw things and draw penises. The girls are not so innocent.  Every day around 3 the girls will all of a sudden have need to use the facitlities.  These darlings are trying to wash the makeup off their faces so their unsuspecting parents won’t know their daughters look like Geisha’s to the rest of the world.  The irony of all ironies is  their surprise at my thinking that I came into the situation thinking they actually wanted to read. (of all things)

Fortunately, I remember my middle school days.  Maybe it’s because I teach one mile away from where I attended middle school.  Either that or it was because the whole delayed puberty thing scarred me more than I realized.  Regardless, it is a time to behold because the memories are unlike any others from other stages of life.

In a recent facebook reunion all of us recalled the time our 7th grade teacher declared us, “The worst class ever.”  Ever? that’s going to make it difficult for those that want to best us. We laughed about it.  Which is the biggest form of irony for me. After the online conversation I realized, those past and future little darlings that I  will teach are going to laugh, in the years to come about how they tormented me!

But I also remember we weren’t that bad on purpose.  It wasn’t like we had secret meetings about what we were going to do to make the teacher lose it. Seriously.  Case in point: The Square

man playing a fiddle

Charlie Daniels playing his fiddle

Dancing Incident.  Before kids danced in a manner that required disclaimers and permission slips,  the official dance was the square dance. Every year in p.e. we had dance lessons and it was the time held, only American dance, the Square Dance.  We didn’t want to dance because there was hand holding and boys. However,  we did it because this was Catholic School, and if you didn’t God would be mad at you. You think with that mindset, we’d be good all the time.

For roughly an hour three times a week, for two weeks we’d dosey doe and allemande to Charlie Daniels singing “The Devil Went to Georgia.” He sang about the devil trying to take somebody’s soul, but lost it in a fiddle competition.  A totally appropriate song for Catholic School.  By the end of the second week we were good. I mean really good. We were over the having to touch hands thing and I do believe a couple of angels were in there having a good time with us. Then Sister Delbert, the principal came to observe, the worst class ever, dance.

This was back in the day when records had two sides.  On one side was the edited version, on the other, was the real version of the song. Sister Delbert walked in to hear Johnny tell the devil, “I told you once you son of a @#%&! I’m the best there’s ever been.” No lying all the time we practiced we listened to the side that said, “son of a gun.” The nun walks in and Charlie Daniels starts cussing? I slept with the rosary that night.

Dancing was done for that year, and possibly until our class promoted out of the school, and it was time to play soccer. This is one of the many experiences that gives me a keen insight.  Looking at things from the kid’s perspective,  I understand what they mean when they say, “Mrs. B., really, it isn’t what you think!”

A Bandaid Will Fix It

This was our week to go to the library.  Every time, before we visit the library I teach and sometimes reteach my students appropriate library behavior.  When I don’t chaos ensues.  Apparently as time progressed, and I didn’t, the concept of  library and amusement park became synonymous in the minds of our youth.  So we talk about what is “appropriate.”

My class was so “appropriate” the librarian issued impressive comments about their behavior.  Books in hand and beaming we returned to class.  In the freedom of the walkways they shared their literary finds.

Shortly into our walk, one of my students runs in front of me visibly upset.  “Mrs. Bergastrom! this book is not appropriate!” Normally I am “Mrs. B.”  My Swedish last name is difficult for students from the Asian continents to enunciate. The full use of my name is a clear indicator of her distress.

Her younger brother had a Zits comic book collection. I was looking hard and could not see the inappropriate.  She pointed to a picture of Jeremy, the main character, bending down and showing what us older individuals would call plumbers pants.  She comes from a highly conservative culture. And, yes, there was a tad more than what she wanted her younger brother to see.  He saw the picture and his sister’s objections and burst into fits of laughter.

image of a bandageJoking, I said, “When we get to the room I’ll put a baind aid on the picture.” She was happy.  Life was good and I felt like I was the best teacher in the whole world.  We had a good library day and I saved my student from distress.You know the stars stopped their alignment for a brief moment to say “Good job, teacher girl.”

We were in the class and getting settled and she was at my desk with the book. Smiling and holding the book for surgery she waited.  I laughed a hearty laugh, this girl was serious.  Her brother knew she was serious too because he relinquished the book to his sister.  And Jeremy’s pants were altered to include something to cover the slight crack revealed below his waist line.

Once the band aid was applied she was happy.  Big sister, hugged me and said, “You are good teacher Mrs. B.”

And I thought to myself, I’m glad they’re still at the age where a band aid can fix it.