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.

Never too Late to Learn a New Trick

Today, I realized why my elementary teachers were unrealistically nice.  Seriously, I do not remember them ever being upset with me, or if they were, they were nice about it. Now I know why.

The haiimage of teacher at the chalkboardrstyle of the day was a braided ponytail, twisted into a bun.  An hour later a headache started.  Girlfriends, remember when we were kids and our moms made the pigtails too tight?  Yeah it was one of those headaches.  Except, my hair is curly, so I couldn’t take out the ponytail.  If I did, we’d have a Macy Gray situation on our hands. That would definitely distract the kids from their AIMS testing.  So, I tried to endure.

I had to talk in an unnatural for me soft, soft voice.  At first ,the kids tried to pull me to their level.  It didn’t work.  The pained look on my face whenever anybody was loud was persuasion enough for everybody to return to and maintain a calm state of being.  Pleasant would be an oddly adequate description of the day.

It wasn’t until I tried to figure out what was different about today that I realized it was the “teacher bun.”  All this time I thought those teachers had a talent for calm that I lacked.  NOW I know the truth.  The conservative hairstyles they wore gave them headaches, so they had to be calm.

Hmmmm, so long as my hair doesn’t fall out (don’t laugh that really did happen when I tried wearing cornrows in the 80’s) I think I have a hairstyle for the rest of the year.  Those poor kids won’t know what happened.

That is one of the many things I like about teaching.  There is always something new I can learn.

It’s Writing Material

This week my psychology class started. For the next eight weeks I will spend roughly four hours in a room learning from a person that likes to talk-a lot. What I didn’t know until the third hour was the questions are 1-rhetorical and 2-meant to get us to the point the teacher wanted to make. This is the complete opposite of education. We have a 50-50 rule. The teacher talks half the time, the student talks half the time. This teacher rule got me in trouble.

The professor asked a question about a culture. I use the word culture as a substitute for the actual culture. You’ll understand the explanation in a moment. What he wanted was the negative stereotypes. What he got was teacher responses: introspective, creative and yada yada. One teacher-student in the class said, “cultured.”

Have you ever been tired to the point of missing the obvious. I was there. He said

Cloud Pearl image from Wikipedia Commons

with what I now know to be sarcasm, “Like a pearl?”

What happened next I can now laugh about because I’m sharing the story, but at the time left me butt hurt. My esteem of this talkative professor prematurely went up about ten notches. He appealed to the teacher and writer in me. So, the teacher and writer in me
said, “Oh that is a beautiful metaphor.”

I know writers go metaphorical frequently. Apparently psychology professors are far more literal than I would have ever thought. He went psychology professor on me and said,”Are you saying they are white?” This really confused me. Didn’t the man know that pearls come in various colors?

Still in writer mode I said, “No, I thought you meant the hardships they experienced made
the culture beautiful. Like a pearl.”

His opinion of the culture came out. “There is a lot of things about them that are not
beautiful” Now he’s kinda mad because the agenda behind his question had been revealed.

Now the light bulb went on and I realized this man was not asking questions because he cared
about our answers. And, I had been answering them all night. He was probably really annoyed with me. Oops.

Still in writer mode I said, “The metaphor was not a statement of the good or bad of the culture. It was an explanation on how the hardships or irritations in life can make us into something valuable.” Sadly, my esteem of him then dropped 20 notches.

My silence for the next hour was my punctuation mark. I think I could hear all the other people in the class thinking, “Thank you God!”

My friends know what I was thinking for that last hour: a heartfelt laugh and the statement,
“this could become some good writing material.”

Yes, I got a blog out of the moment, but there is more to this story. That conversation prompted
an idea for a chapter for my next book. I don’t want to go into detail, but my angry retort is the theme of the chapter. So even though I may not like it, I know this professor and this class will grow my writing. Now if I can remember to be quiet, it’ll be all good.

Stress Happens

On various occasions I jokingly tell my students that they are driving me to a state that only Dr. Phil himself would be able to re mediate.  Actually this is how I say it, “Y’all are making me crazy, and I’m going to have to see Dr. Phil!”  This statement was made so frequently that one time a student reported to me that he had, after my frequent endorsements of the good Dr.’s skills, in fact, watched Dr. Phil and found the show to be boring with a capital B.  “All’s they do is talk for an hour, Mrs. B.”  He went on to say, “That show is horrible, you could do something better with your time.”  I cracked up. Actually, the entire class was thrown into fits of laughter.  This kid talked a lot.  For him to say Dr. Phil talked too much was irony in its purest form.

Last weekend I really needed some therapy.  At the wise age of 30 plus 12, I have come to the realization that stress happens. And, the secret to being happy is how one deals with that stress.  There were two choices: either I let the stress consume me, or I work within the resources life offers me.  The old me would be consumed by the stress.  The over 40 me knows that I only have 40 to 60 years left, so I better make good on the years that are left.

It is easy to think correctly, however following through can be an entirely different story.  Trust me I know. My mind knows how to eat in a way that would help me get down to a size 8.  My taste buds say that size 12 food is better.  Thus far, the mind is not winning the argument.

picture of a horseI don’t know about you, but I can be the same way about stress.  It is easy to say, don’t let things get to you, but it’s another to live it.  Likewise, it’s easy as a person of faith to say,  leave the burdens to God because he’ll take care of them, and it’s another to live that way.  Knowing and living are two different concepts. It was time for me to live what I know to be true.  I help my kids practice skills, before they apply them.  It was time for me to do the same for myself.

Last weekend, I went with a group of teenagers to  Dreamchasers Horse Rescue in New River.  And who would have thought the phrases horse doo and group of teenagers would be in a story that explains how to gain healthy perspective, but here it is.  The Dreamchasers Horse Rescue is open to volunteers.  That means, cleaning up horse doo, feeding the horses, brushing the horses and as seen in the prior blogs taking care of other animals as well. The thing is, the animals that we were taking care of, had been in situations that would make a PETA person see beyond red.  Normally horses are sensitive,  these horses were ultra sensitive.  Being calm at all times was the only way to be around them and not cause havoc. The horses didn’t mind raucous laughter, which does happen with 13 year olds.  However, if there was any tension in demeanor, the horse didn’t want to have anything do with us.  We learned pretty quick how to be calm.

In other words, I had to leave the stress to life and deal peacefully with whatever life dealt me to handle.  This was  the practicing what I knew to be true. After six hours, all the pressures were still there, but they weren’t stressors.  They were things that I could accomplish if I organized them.

This week was, as my students would say, “beast.”  I worked easily 60 hours.  With the exception of my confession of going to bed by 9 p.m. on Friday night nobody would have really known.  The old me would have treated the high pressure like a flu bug and withdrawn fearing that my stress was contagious.  The new me saw my friends as relief from the pressure.  They helped me through the moments with encouragement and laughter.  The best part, the kids were scared of how calm I had become.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love easy days as much as the next person; but if I had to live this week over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.


Horse Therapy 1

This weekend I went with a group of our National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) students to volunteer at a horse refuge.  Anybody that knows me, knows it wasn’t for my strength, or knowledge of animals.  This writer is good at making people laugh, and seeing the beauty in the moment.  The kids did the work and I recorded the fun. In the end we all had horse therapy of sorts. The explanation will be in subsequent blogs.  This blog is proof that my newest interest is in fact real.

Since acquiring the iphone Angry Birds has been my newest interest.  Who would have thought those stupid rate, distance and speed questions we learned in math class were  valid questions. What does angry birds have to do with horse therapy?  In addition to helping horses, the refuge takes in goats and pigs.  Most of  the responsibilities involved cleaning the cages and providing the

animals with fresh water and food.  It was very peaceful and quiet and after three hours the stress from the crazy week was blown away by the wind.





At first when I saw the pigs I made a joke and asked the pigs to not express their anger towards me.  I think my exact words were, “Please don’t be mad at me because I play angry birds.  The kids thought it was funny and various other jokes were passed along.  And, yes I did work.  I worked enough to get an appetite that matched my 13 year old companions. When we returned we learned that the plot a mutually beloved game was indeed true.

Apparently it is common practice for the pigs to go into the chicken coop.  They go in there because they like the shade.


The pigs will hang out in the chicken coop and the chickens go bezerk.  The chicken’s distress doesn’t phase the pigs and they act like the coop is their second home.






Once they are out in the open the chickens are happy.  This one, thought it would get a last word in with the pig.



After seeing this we did what any person that has a high degree of book smarts and access to technology would do. We sat down for a moment, pulled out our cell phones and played Angry Birds.


If you forward this…..

By the middle of seventh grade, the kids are as tall as, if not taller, than me and look like mini adults.  This makes teaching interesting because they have adult bodies and child like thinking. It is easy to forget they are always in a state of flux.

This particular student, who will henceforth be called Beautiful Girl, reminded me of the dichotomy when she got in a bit of trouble. At our school we have ICI to help us handle those bit of trouble moments.  ICI is a time out for teenagers.  With all the changes in their lives, sometimes life gets to be too much and they aren’t into the learning groove.  Then they go to ICI, which is a quiet corner in the back of the room, and chill for a couple minutes.  If they still can’t hold it together, they get sent to another teacher’s class for the day and a call home is made. It’s a pretty good system.

Beautiful Girl chose to do something that earned her ICI.  After a couple minutes in  ICI,  we talk to the kids and help them through the rest of the hour.  When I went to talk to Beautiful Girl, she looked up at me and shook her head in dismay.  I was thinking, “Wow, she really took this hard.”

She said, “That girl lied to me.”

Looking around I asked, “What girl?”  Beautiful Girl was sitting alone so my curiosity is peaked.

“The girl who said in the email, that if I forwarded it to seven people this would be the best day in my life.”  She went on, “This has not been the best day of my life. This is the first time I got ICI”

This child was so excited about it being “the best day of her life,” she couldn’t contain herself.

The nurturing teacher that I am known to be did what the kids know me to do best-I laughed out loud.  And then, told her that the same thing happened to me except it was handwrite it 10 times so I could get a boyfriend.  Since I never had a date for any of the major dances in high school and didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 18 we know how effective that chain letter was in my life.  In the end she laughed too, and I marveled at the reminder of the preciousness of where she was in life.

Last night I received a random email from a lady named Mary.  Since I get emails from this blog and the random email had the subject line “want to know you” I opened the email. Mary wanted to know me, just not in a way that I want to be known by a person that isn’t my husband.  I was horrified.  However, after a few minutes I had to laugh, because the truth was out.  All of us, or at least I do, still believe in the randomness of goodness. Most of the times it’s true, but then there are those times you share the story about being had and hope there’s a friend that can laugh with you because it happened to them too.  I guess it was my turn.

It Depends on the Perspective

Occasionally at our school we have sub coverage.  Meaning if a colleague is absent we cover there class for a portion of the 50 minutes that we don’t have a class.  This is a source of grumbling, cajoling and laughing. We all have each other’s backs so deep down inside we don’t mind, but it is the unexpectedness of it that elicits the groan.  And then the cajoling and laughing follow.

Personally, I like it.  It is the best way to see how other people accomplish the goal of helping America’s future gain knowledge.  Some classes are so well run, the students push me out of the way and go about their business.  Then again, there was the time the kids and I wanted to run out of the room, arms in the air.  The only thing that kept us in the room, was the idea that we would be close enough to freedom to taste it and the principal would send us back.  In that situation we plodded through and hoped for the best.  That was the day when I went to my class and that the kid that talked too loud, didn’t seem so loud, and the kid that lived to bug the other kids didn’t seem quite so buggy.

It was on one of these sub coverage days that a student heightened my sense of perspective.  The irony is, I should have known it.  At my school, I am the “yearbook lady.”  Most of the time I can be seen with a camera in my hand, standing on a table or crouching low to get the right angle for a picture.  Other times I’ll talk to the kids to draw out their personalities and then take a picture.  The look depends on the conversation.  If I want them reflective, I’ll ask a question.  If I want high energy we’ll joke around for a while.

On one of these days I was in heaven, also known as a language arts or writing class.  This was one of those classes where my friend turned them into young Twain’s, Dickinson’s or fill in the blank with your favorite great author.  They were on it and apparently there was nothing I could do to offer them assistance. I joked and said “aight, I see how it is.”  That’s teenage language for “apparently my presence isn’t valued so I’ll go elsewhere.”

At that moment a girl looked at me hard and said, “You went on a community service project with us.” I had, and that will be material for another blog. I nodded and said yes.  She continued, “You were with my group.” I said, “Yes, I remember you.”   I was thinking “Golly girl, we’ve talked several times since then, but o.k.” She said, “I didn’t recognize you without your camera.”

I thought about all those times since the community service activity we had spoken, and realized I did have the camera.  However, the slightest change in my appearance changed her perception of me.  Kind of like how the change of an angle changes how the picture looks.  And, kind of how the angle we choose to perceive a moment determines our mental picture of that moment. Sans the camera my joking language was the only way she could recognize me.
Since then my moments have taken on one of those slow shutter speed cameras.  This way I can get a wider perspective so I don’t miss anything.   I love those moments when the kids teach me something to make me a better writer.  See, I told you my friend was a good teacher.