Crawfish Season, 2017

Published July 18, 2017 by mssprinkle

I teach in a very high-poverty area.  I teach children who have needs I can’t even begin to understand, much less explain or meet.  I love my job.  I love these children.

I should also say right now that I’ve been doing this for a long time.  I am an old dog who is pretty sure she knows what she’s doing.  It’s hard and I am not always “successful,” but I don’t think there are too many others in my line of work who can actually do this better than I can.  And yes, I can be pretty smug.

I learned something significant this spring.

Have y’all seen that post on facebook about the first grade teacher who did the rock-stacking project with her fidgety first graders?  I love that.  All of a sudden those children developed the ability to focus and control themselves in very unexpected ways because they cared about stacking those rocks.

Crawfish live in a little draw that runs through our playground.  On two sides of the yard, there are low places (say, hip deep on a ten-year-old) that stay wet most of the school year.  The sidewalk acts as a bridge over these water holes, which are about ten feet wide.  When it rains there is a shoe-soaking stream all the way across the whole field, connecting the two.  And crawfish live out there, some in the deeper ponds, and some in chimney-topped dens along the “creek.”

I gradually became aware that the children were gravitating to the water in a way that was different from what I had seen in the past.  They were not trying to push each other in, or get wet themselves.  They were crouching around the circumference of the ponds, or sprawling flat on their bellies on the sidewalk bridges, and peering studiously into the water.  It was the most STILL I had ever seen some of them!

Shortly I began realizing that I had little boys with half-eaten bologna sandwiches or part of their lunchtime corn dogs in their pockets.  I saw them running out the doors at recess whipping off one shoe to strip out the shoe lace.  Bait attached, they would skitter to a halt and flop down beside the water and FISH.

Children who hadn’t remembered to bring back library books on the right day ALL YEAR could remember to put bait meat in their pockets every day?  People who could not keep up with where they just put down the pencil they were half-way done working a math problem with could remember which crawfish hole they sat by yesterday.  Can’t sit still for six minutes while you read a story, Miss, but I will kneel absolutely motionless holding a string and praying for a bite for the full 12 minutes you will give me for recess!

Not only that,  they were nice to each other.  You don’t have any bait – I’ll break this piece of chicken in half for you.  Your shoes don’t have string?  You can use my other one.  Heaven forbid the corner of your Social Studies book ever slips one centimeter over the edge of my desk, but OF COURSE I will show you how to catch a crawfish!

I taught a ridiculous amount of math, science, reading and writing trading on crawfish.  We measured them, compared and contrasted, pretended to be them, did research on everything I could think of about them… and I was flat astounded by how the kids got into it.  Crawfish were excellent bait, too – “You were perfect during the firedrill, so we will stay outside for ten extra minutes.”  It was a wonderful spring.

Here’s what I learned – – –

You can’t make this happen.  Lots of springs have gone by, and last year’s kids didn’t even notice the crawfish.  Next year they may not care about them.

I have to be alert for what drops into my path as a teacher.  I got the blessing of the crawfish because I listened to my children, and let them love what they loved, and taught THEM.  It might be rock stacking.  It might be fishing.  It could be anything, but teachers HAVE to be tuned into those babies and take the blessing of teaching the children where it pops up.



Do not allow the Perfect to be the enemy of the Very Good…

Published October 11, 2014 by mssprinkle

Long time no see!

School started and I got busy.  But there is a lot going on in my life that I find comment-worthy, so I have carved out a bit of time to do so.

In no particular order…

My daughter is not mad at me right now.  She’s not exactly my best friend, either, but it’s just so nice to be able to call her up to ask about the pronunciation of a French word or to receive a random text from her on a Tuesday that I can hardly stand it.  I know it’s not what I eventually would like.  I am so happy with how things ARE that I’m not even worrying about how much better they could be.

Best friends with cancer will add to one’s worry burden.  Two of mine are doing really well right now.  Yes, they still have to get checked a lot.  One is very old, but happy and healthy for an old gal.  The other one just retired, and is not so old, and the skin-graft surgery last month was a huge success.  Sucks that she required such a thing, but HOORAY for success!

My new job is FUN.  Yes, the drive (40 minutes each way) is a drive, and especially in the afternoon it makes me even more tired.  But things have gotten off to a rollicking start and I think this may be a really darned good year in the classroom for me. I can’t wait to see how far we can go!

My cat died.  Hard to sugarcoat that one, but she was 18 and didn’t suffer much.  Now my dog, who is 2, has taken over the cat’s primo cuddle spot on the back of my easy chair, and I find myself strangely lighter knowing that kitty is no longer struggling with the simple business of moving.  It had gotten really hard for her in the last couple of weeks.  I cried some yesterday, but I also know that last vet visit was the best possible final act of taking good care of that cat.  Loved her.  Love having somebody to lean on to help me through it, too.

What can you look around for in your life that’s WAY BETTER than it could be?  Be optimistic!  Take a hold of that half-full attitude opportunity and breathe.  I may not be able to sustain this feeling for long, but today it’s easy to be grateful.

A Snowball’s Chance

Published May 13, 2014 by mssprinkle

I have spent the last couple of weeks locked in an epic struggle with 13 angry, overaged fifth graders who have NEVER passed a state-mandated test in their lives, trying to get them ready for their second chance.  In her infinite wisdom, my principal assigned me the baker’s dozen of our students who were the FARTHEST from meeting the passing standard.  The first year teacher got the 18 who failed only one of the two tests, and/or didn’t miss by much.  The lady who has already announced that she’s not coming back to our school next year?  She got the couple of dozen who passed everything, and permission to do ANYTHING SHE LIKES.  So they have loudly manufactured catapults and board games, while we across the hall sit around and hate everybody.

I’ve been trying to convince myself my assignment is actually a compliment to my expertise, but the boss was very clear that she’s not really counting on any of my group to pass on the second try.  “Just don’t let them hurt anybody,” was the exact phrase she used.

Some days it has been a near thing.  The assistant principal for discipline finally just brought his paperwork up and sat at my table for a couple of hours, looking up once in a while to scowl ferociously whenever the mutinous grumbling reached a crescendo.  But we have also had a surprising number of laughs and AH HA moments!  

“Okay, folks, I want the first grade teachers to come up here to see what we are doing.  I want you to be loud.  Read that passage out loud.  Not together, just on your own.  As loud as you can.”  This when I realized hopelessly that 90 seconds after receiving a 3 page essay about the Conquistadors and the Aztecs, my snowballs were already answering questions!  THEY LOVED THIS!  They outdid each other reading at the top of their lungs.  And then a beautiful thing happened.  One of the fellas from my homeroom, who has probably not read three paragraphs of text all year, suddenly leaped up from his chair.

“Hey!  Miss!  That right there is the answer to one of the questions!”  He shouted accusingly.  “They just told us the answer!”

“Yes, they do that.  Almost always if you read the thing, the answers to the questions are in there.”

“NO WAY!  Can I read it again?!”

I had to sit down.  I felt like I needed to lie down.  I love my job.

He actually made a 100 on our last practice paper today.

Y’all pray for me and my snowballs.  They take the tests again on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.


So Why Am I Crying?

Published April 15, 2014 by mssprinkle

I want to be feeling grateful.  I have been reading loads of things about being grateful lately (any Monkees out there?) and I wish my response for this moment was just happy gratitude.  I’m physically okay.  Everybody’s okay.  Here’s what happened….

At 5:29 this morning, one minute before my alarm began to do its thing, I opened my eyes from the most delightful dream!  I love that I remember it.  I can be grateful for that because I often am aware of dreams without really remembering them.  (If you hate it when other people go into detail about their dreams, just skip the rest of this…)  In this dream, I was in a really big, nice, new, very convoluted house, visiting my ex-husband.  In the dream I was conscious of my regular life, just for some reason I was over at this house visiting and helping out – there were other people there, too, besides him, but I think it was his house.  For some reason I was going to take out the trash (why would I do that with him sitting right there, I don’t know…) I took one bag of trash out to the garage, and when I got back to the kitchen the container was full again, and this time it was heavy, but I picked that bagful up and started out again.  Silly man was not only not helping, he was standing in the way.  Instead of getting annoyed at him, I just took a different route, carrying this heavy trashbag full of newspapers and magazines, maybe rejected mail.  I was talking about recycling the whole time!  I started going through other rooms in this house, and there were other people, but ex was also kind of trailing along listening to me talk about recycling, when we went into this one room and there was my daughter, about age 3!  

Now, in real life I am crying again remember it all.  It was amazing.  There was her crazy wild hair and her warm just-woke-up self in her little pajamas – I had forgotten those pajamas, but I remember them now, white, thin, soft things with a snap front.  She loved them and wore them until they were way too little for her.  In the dream they fit.  She was laughing and jumping, and she leaped up onto the bed in this room and said “Mama!” and I just dropped the sack of trash and there were bouncy springy hugs and baby kisses.  She felt so amazing in my arms.  She loved me.  And I opened my eyes and it was 5:29.  Right before the alarm went off.

I never want to forget that.

It think it was a beautiful, painful gift.  I guess being her mama has been kind of like that.  

In case you are new here, my daughter is fine.  She just doesn’t talk to me.  She graduated from college in December and she’s in culinary school now.  I left her Daddy during her sophomore year of college and “Ruined all of Her Christmases and Birthdays for the Rest of Her Life.”  I also kept her from having the Mama Who Jumped Off A Bridge.  Oh well.

I’m so glad I got to see her baby self in that dream this morning.  I’m so glad I remember that in real life it was like that – she did love me and there were lots of days when she hugged and kissed me and was glad to see me.  I’m so glad I have an hour to stop crying before I have to go be civil with anybody.  I’m so glad I have this blog to write about this experience, because I want to remember.  I love being her mama.  I love that I am her mama, even it if makes me cry.  

Still Life

Published April 10, 2014 by mssprinkle

Spring is my busiest and worst time of year.  I am a person who notices anniversaries, and there are some big baddies for me in the Spring.  I am also a public school teacher, and this is the time of year that “THEY” try to kill us with morale-crushing tactics like Tutoring, Testing, and Teacher-Trashing.  This season also includes Lent and Easter, which bring a lot of family baggage and difficult music along with whatever Spiritual and Religious Stuff they might be packing.  There’s something about taxes where you have to look at all your money and DEAL with it.  So from New Year’s to my birthday in May, I pretty much just hang on and try to survive.

This year things have been really, really good!  So good, in fact, that I don’t want to miss it in the furious mad dash that usually constitutes Spring for me.  Not only am I actually noticing birds and flowers, I’m very aware that Spring seems to be being really gentle with me this year.

I have had a few little flurries of contact from my Darling-but-Difficult Daughter.  She’s still not ready for much of a relationship, but I get the feeling she’s thawing.  I am still trying to get used to living in a different part of town, but my ex is looking happy, and my own present living situation is very good.  Those days that mark great losses still came and went, with the lost ones duly noted but not devastatingly so.  I think my lost ones still love me.  I had enough money to pay for help with the taxes and I am still in good standing with Uncle Sam and the bank.  Work is still very hard – we are still on the State’s Bad List (for the second year), but my class size is remarkably small this year and it’s making a shocking difference.  Even though these children are not smarter, less disadvantaged, or better behaved than usual, simply the fact that I have 30% fewer of them means I am not hopelessly drowning.  This year my principal seems to like me, which is unheard of but refreshing!  Extra tutoring at school and extra rehearsals at Church still mean long hours away from home, but The Holy Week Music is even something lovely, with which I am already fairly familiar, so I am singing along happily in Church Choir without too much added stress (UNLIKE last year, which may deserve a whole post of it’s own!).  Most of my friends know they are just not going to see me much this time of year – but the ones I have fleetingly crossed paths with have all remarked on how much less beaten down I appear than is usual for Spring.

I still feel wretchedly insecure at random awful moments.  I am still trying to love friends who are still sick, or away.  Work is still work, and money still kind of scares me.  I realize that I am crowing optimistically with many Spring Challenges still ahead of me.  But I don’t want to fail to note the strange condition of “Not Too Bad.”  I know it could still turn into a “typical” Spring for me.  But the snapshot of my life right this minute is good.  I am still here, and I am still happy.



I Wasn’t Invited

Published March 23, 2014 by mssprinkle

I think I was a little hard on the smart-alecky fifth grader who showed up at my classroom door with three blue envelopes in his hand.  He was popping gum (never allowed) and waving the envelopes over his head.

“Three lucky people invited to my party!”  He shouted when he opened the door without warning.

“Not on my time!”  I exclaimed, without taking time to think.  “Unless you have one for everybody, you may not distribute them during school time.”  I did not actually shove him out the door, but I am a large lady and when I advance menacingly, most people retreat hastily.

“Aw!  I bet one of those was for me!”  whined one of my less-sharp little tacks.

“I bet it wasn’t!”  Responded my meanest girl.

“MATH!”  I practically roared, and class resumed.

Last night I missed the wedding of a young woman of whom I am very fond.  She is the same age as my daughter, and they grew up together in church and school.  They were not best friends, but because their parents were friendly and their paths crossed constantly, they knew each other well.  I was not invited to the wedding.

I know the mother felt awkward about this.  She and I really have been friends. We never actually spoke about the decision, but as the wedding approached she avoided me more and more.  When it was impossible to do so she frantically directed any conversation toward other topics as we stood around before church choir or met up in the grocery store.  I ached to pat her on the arm and say, “It’s okay,” except that it wasn’t.  I WANTED TO BE INCLUDED.

I understand why I was not.

I’ve had to cut those wedding guests lists down before, and it’s painful.  And I know that my ex-husband and his new wife may be closer socially to their family than I am now.  Most of all, I understand that the estrangement between me and my daughter complicates something like this very nastily.

I got a nicely detailed report from friends who did attend.  It’s not the same as going, but it’s good.  My daughter was there, she was beautiful, and she has a new boyfriend who met with greater approval than the previous beau.  The bride was lovely, the service was sweet, and the party was fun.

Hopefully now the mother-of-the-bride and I can settle down and say “Hi,” without the nervous twitching.

Hopefully soon the achey little place in my heart with catch up with my sensible thoughts.

I already had another friend who grabbed both my hands tightly and said, “Listen to me.  This will not happen for our wedding this summer.  My son loves you both and you’re both invited.  Don’t you worry.”

I am sorry my friends are stressing about this.  I am stressing about this.  Nobody tells you when you finally say ENOUGH and rearrange your life that the weddings of your children’s friends will involve such troubles.

I think I shall go and grade some math papers.

Daily Prompt: Mr. Sandman

Published March 23, 2014 by mssprinkle

Yes, I have been thinking a lot about sleeping lately… but I LOVED this video! My daughter first introduced me to this singer, so having Pamplamoose pop up made my day, but I so thoroughly enjoyed the effort of the video, and the charming afterblurb, that I couldn’t resist passing it on. More about sleeping later…