17 07 2011

“Game” as in, “I’ve got game.”  Or as in, “I’ve got no game.” 
Or as in, “I know! let’s play a game!”  Or as in, “I went (small) game hunting.”  All four, really.


Home.  Sick.  Not how I wanted to spend my weekend. 

The bug started on Wednesday night, and I called in sick on Thursday.  As I tried to go back to sleep that morning, all I could think of was Nico – my naughtiest student, and also my favorite.  I had scolded him the day before, after he broke a raw egg that I told him not to touch.  I would not have been so upset if it were an isolated incident, but he had been acting up all week.  Even with his father on my side, offering a trip to the swimming pool for good behavior, he was only getting worse. 

After he broke the egg, I told him he could not have a cookie with the rest of the class, and he had to go sit on the other side of the room and draw.  Instead, he crawled under a desk in the corner and started wailing.  I ignored it.  “I DON’T WANT A COOKIE!” became a distinguishable refrain.  I ignored that, too.  But then he came out and started walking like he was big and tough – arms out to the sides kind of like a zombie – with a fake brave smile on his still-teary face and sobs shaking his little shoulders.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I asked him to come outside with me, adding that I wasn’t mad anymore, and that I just wanted to talk with him.

Once in the hallway, he started sputtering, “Chri…Chri…Chris… I don’t want a cookie… I just want… I didn’t mean to break the egg…”

As if my heart wasn’t aching already, watching him cry, now I felt like a horrible person for not hearing him out in the first place.  All I could do was grab him and hug him, and clumsily explain that I really do like him, but I don’t like when he doesn’t listen to me.  I think that by the end of class he had forgiven me, but I hadn’t forgiven myself.

And so when I didn’t show up for school the next day, I didn’t want him to think it had anything to do with him being bad.  Maybe that thought didn’t occur to him, but the fact that he was crying because I got angry and not just because he wanted a cookie made me realize that I had underestimated the emotional capacities of 6-year-olds – I wasn’t about to underestimate them again. 


Despite what it may sound like, I really am doing well with the first grade students – of which I had only 3 the first week, but last week I had 7.  The fifth graders that I taught for half-days during the first week were another story, though… I thought they’d be a more natural fit for me as someone who had only had experience teaching adults, and who has been known to call small children “little aliens.”  I mistakenly thought that I would not have to work as hard to keep them entertained, they would listen to me (even if grudgingly), and they would be easier to have conversations with.  Those of you who are familiar with children are probably snickering right now, but this just goes to show you what a crash course in dealing with kids this trip has been for me.

Teaching first graders has a few things in common with improv acting: you must be prepared to act foolish, but not make a fool of yourself while doing so; you must pay close attention to how a scene is developing and know when to follow the trajectory or when (and how) to take it in a new direction; and you must completely commit yourself to being present in the moment in order for the audience/students to be present there as well.  Both teaching and improv acting are balancing acts between taking enough control to be… well… in control… and leaving enough control on the table to let the kids (or other actors, in improv’s case) remain engaged rather than simply following, or fighting to not follow. 

Not that I really know much about improv acting or teaching… feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.


I have taught the kids how to play “slaps” – the game in which one player places their palms on the upturned palms of the other player, and as the other player tries to flip their hands to hit the tops of the first player’s hands, that player tries to whisk their hands out of danger’s way.  As I’m sure you can imagine, six-year-old boys love this game.  However, this does open up the possibility that a parent or another teacher might walk outside my classroom and hear them screaming, “hit me! hit me!!!” or, “now let me hit you!”

Another favorite is the chicken dance.  When I showed them how to do it, I did the chicken-beak fingers and the wing flapping in the wrong order, but when I tried to do it right the second time, I was immediately corrected.  This was a lesson for me on the importance of doing things right the first time, when it comes to kids… because to them, whatever came first is right.  End of story.

The kids also love anything they can look at with a microscope, and if there is a microscope in the room, they will search for things to put under the lens.  Like dead bugs.  When they found such a treasure last week, Yshan held it eight inches from my face and sweetly asked that a slide be produced.  When I declined, he moved it closer, as if that would inspire me to help them examine it with extreme magnification.  When I requested that the bug be placed in the trashcan, a chorus of, “but Mr. Mike would do it!” arose.


The cockroach problem in our apartment has given me a whole new appreciation for dead bugs: they are better than live bugs.  Unfortunately, the Raid cockroach baits in my apartment are not quite up to the task.  So yesterday, in my cabin fever boredom, I decided to booby trap the kitchen. 

I waited until my roommate got home, and I enlisted her to help me fight the war on vermin.  She held the tape while I cut it and laid it sticky-side up on the counters, in cabinets, and even in one drawer.  “You’re crazy,” she told me.  “I’m a genius,” I replied.  Next, I cut a paper towel roll into three sections, and wrapped tape around the bases, then placed them upright in strategic locations with a bit of fruit-rollup-like Chinese candy inside. 

This was at around 9:30.  At 9:42 and at 10:01, there were no cockroaches to be found on the tape.  Before I went to bed (about 15 minutes later) I checked again.  Nothing.  When I couldn’t fall asleep, of course I got out of bed to go look.  Still nothing.  I have not been so excited about late-night visitors since the days when I believed in Santa Claus and his reindeer. 

The duct tape was laid on the plywood with care
In hopes that cucarachas soon would be there

And in the morning…

Away to the kitchen I flew like a flash,
Tore open the cabinets as if searching for stash

When what to my wondering eye should appear… but a lot of empty tape strips and some undisturbed and ridiculous-looking sections of a paper towel roll.  Damn.

Tonight, I will try pieces of meat.



3 responses

17 07 2011
Tom Milliner

Get well soon!

18 07 2011

It’s noisy, and labor intensive, but you’ve had some luck in the past with attacking roaches with paint cans…………in the bathtub…………in the middle of the night………………….. 🙂

18 07 2011

Some things I guess I’ll never live down. 😉

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