Saturday, April 21, 2007

Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Mrs. Crazy Teacher and Me

OK, all you people in the blogging world, give me some advice, 'cause Lord knows I need it right now. Yesterday, along with seventh grade girl drama, we had some weirdness I cannot quite get out of my head, or figure out what to do with.

This week, at morning prayer at school, we have been praying for those affected by the Virginia Tech shootings. It gives some weight to end of the Our Father---'and deliver us from evil'.

Yesterday, there was apparently some national drive to have a 9 AM moment of silence both in honor of those who died in Virginia, and to mark the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. Our principal asked that we mark this in our classrooms. Since the seventh grade could no more maintain a moment of silence than they could sprout wings, I had the kids offer some thoughts and comments, and then we said an Our Father and a Hail Mary.

They've been following the VT situation in the news, kind of. They've come away with a fixed idea that the shooter was dating a girl who he killed because she was dating a black guy...attempts to tell them that this does not actually seem to be what happened got me nowhere. They told me kindly that I needed to start watching TV, because the newspapers don't tell you what's going on. But, well, you do what you can with tweens.

Columbine was sort of a different deal. My students were four and five in 1999. They have no real memory of the coverage of the story. And I'm not sure that to them it's significant, or should be, particularly. At any rate, I gave them a few details, and they went on to their other classes.

Specifically, math class. For math they have Mrs. Crazy Teacher. Mrs. Crazy Teacher is not my favorite person for a number of reasons, and one of the reasons that I am happy I'm leaving the school at the end of the year is that Mrs. Crazy Teacher has been tapped to be the new principal of the school. (This year she has served as VP.) Mrs. Crazy Teacher is organized, efficient, self-confident, well-spoken, has BRILLIANT classroom management skills, and absolutely no rachmones or humility that I can detect. She also has, I think, sort of a screw loose, but she is very well thought of by those who have authority over our school. (And I'm not, so my ability to take her on is zip.) This is the woman who when I ran into her one afternoon recently and told her she looked wrecked, snapped "Well, do you want my job?"

Mrs. Crazy Teacher has said a lot of things to students in the past that I have not approved of. No one asked me. She rules by fear. She bitches about the other teachers on the floor messing up the schedule, but feels free to keep my classes waiting for five or ten minutes every day while she 'wraps up' class with no apology. If one of us does it, we get complained about. She talks trash about the parents. She gets under my skin.

Anyway, apparently she decided that math class was a great time to have a 'discussion' about VTech and Columbine. She has these discussions a lot. She told the kids about Columbine in graphic detail, and told them that she would screen the video footage from the massacre if their parents signed permission slips. And she told them a story about her own college days where, apparently, a frat boy told his friends that he was going to rape a girl at one of their parties. They thought he was just being stupid, it turned out he was not. His victim was very badly hurt, and Mrs. Crazy Teacher decided to get a little graphic with the kids about that. Then she turned 'em back to me.

The girls were scared and grossed out. The boys were grossed out and disturbed. I am also grossed out and disturbed.

Does this seem like a step too far? This woman has also told the eighth graders when she's mad at them that all the girls will get pregnant before they get into high school, and that the boys will 'impregnate' a bunch of girls and then leave the state. Now she wants to show twelve-year-olds footage from Columbine and talk to them about internal damage from sexual assault? I'm not one for protecting kids overmuch from the realities of the world they live in, but what use is this to them? What's the message? Live in fear of your classmates?

Should I try to talk to the principal about this? The principal is a nice person, but she's a good and old friend of Mrs. Crazy Teacher's, and I assume supported her promotion to principal. What would you do?

Seventh Grade Girl Drama

I swear, I could submit the whole thing to Dei'ah ve Dibur as something like "The Power of Lashon Ha-Ra". Seriously. I don't think I ever quite understood the warnings about how you shouldn't even pay compliments, for fear feelings might be hurt before. Not like this.

Oy. Oy. Oy. Drama At St. Colmcille Elementary School. (Please note, for newcomers to the blog, in order to protect my student's identities, I have not only changed the name of the school, I have changed their names, and refer to these mostly black and Latino Catholic school kids by Hebrew names that I assign them. The names have some significance, or none, being related by sound, meaning, or inside joke, to the names their parents gave them. Don't worry about it.)

It seems to have started a little something like this. (I present this edited version, sorted out of several interviews, for your convenience.) The students who helped at a school concert last night, including most of them in my class, were rewarded with a free dress pass, meaning that they can wear their civilian clothes, instead of their uniforms. Brachi told Sarina that she looked nice today. Sarina, who does not speak English as a first language, said, "Thank you, you do too."

Between adults, the whole thing might have stopped there. But Brachi, who desperately wants to be the center of attention at all times, decided to go on. She said, "Just between you and me, do you think we are the two prettiest-looking girls in the seventh and eighth grade today? Just tell me." Sarina shrugged, and said, "OK, I guess so."

After this the trail of evidence becomes disputed, and fairly murky, but what we can be sure of is that Sarina repeated this conversation to Margalit, and perhaps others. (Brachi says several others, Sarina says ONLY Margalit. But tell Margalit, tell the New York Times, except Margalit is faster, and not bound by journalistic principals.)

As a result, some short time later, Shoshi comes up to Brachi and says "Did you tell Sarina that you and her were the cutest girls in the seventh and eighth grades? Because that's really conceited." "I did not say that!" Brachi exclaims. Brachi then goes off and tells the entire story to Aviva, just to clear her head, she claims, (tell Aviva, tell Fox News Network) and then confronts Sarina, who, when told that Shoshi said she said, bursts into tears and runs off to confront Shoshi. Na'amah is also involved in this, I think, but I'm not sure exactly how...

At this point, dumb ole Ms. Bluejeans is only aware that there is some conflict developing between some of the girls in the class, but is not aware how much, or that it will blossom into something worse than the hurt feelings they inflict on each other routinely. At lunch, Ms. Bluejeans has her usual Erev Shabbos classroom lunch for a small group of students who like to talk about their problems and concerns, but most of the time is spent trying to enforce a shomer negiah policy, or perhaps a restraining order, between Tzippi and Reuven, who are in love, in a seventh grade way, and express this by hitting each other a lot, and arguing constantly. Even the other kids tell them they sound like an old married couple. I'm just afraid that someone will suffer a concussion before they're old enough to just admit that they like each other.

There was one reference to the brewing storm, as Reuven commented "I just don't get why girls have to tell each other things that are supposed to be secrets and then get all mad when it turns out other people know about it." I told him "Reuven, hon, you will be wondering that until you are an old man with a long white beard, so you may as well start now." "You're weird, Ms. Bluejeans," he commented.

Anyway, by the end of lunch, Mrs. Baum the lunch supervisor has had to send both parties to the principal, because the drama has gotten unbearable. I spent much of the PE period talking to all parties and trying to sort out exactly what's going on here.

Best moment:

Ms. Bluejeans: "Brachi, do you think that some of this might have happened because Sarina's English isn't perfect?"

Brachi: "Nooooo...she knew what she was doing!"

Ms. Bluejeans: "Brachi, I'm not so sure, because English is my first language, and I barely understand what you just told me. If you told me in Spanish, I don't think I would have the slightest idea what the problem was."

Brachi: Shrug. "But she lied to me when I asked her about it!"

I am never again telling the social studies teacher that I like her skirt. Never.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The complications of the interfaith family

Erev Shabbos I was over to my folks' place for dinner. It's Pesach. It's also a Friday during Lent. We had fish and potatoes with salad. It was good--but it was also, more or less, the only option available. This is what happens when pious people of different faiths get married to each other.

The fella is not pious--he's almost piously not pious--but he will still expect a chocolate bunny and some form of nice treyf dinner for Easter. I suppose I will have an artichoke. (If some rabbi with too much time on, I'm sure his, hands has discovered that artichokes are not kosher l'Pesach, don't tell me, okay?)

Wedding plans are coming along, although I have to say that I am feeling like a slug when I look at the progress that AidelMaidel is making on hers. We have a rabbi, and also, almost certainly, a place to have the wedding. We now need a caterer, music, and I need to get the two of us dressed. We also need to choose a ring, get a chuppah, uh, flowers...

One thing I've decided I DO want for the wedding, or rather after, is that I really want to do the thing where you save the bits from the glass the groom breaks and have them embedded in a nice Lucite cube suitable for displaying on your mantelpiece. I don't know why this has such a deep appeal--OK, I do, it seems like the epitome of slightly schticky grown-up middle-class settled-down-ness, and I WANT it. Does anyone have a Lucite cube company to recommend?

Wedding customs are strange things. A few weeks ago I was getting a lift with a coworker and her wife, who teaches at another school in our area. These ladies, you need to understand, are both very opinionated individuals, and they were both married once before. The subject of freezing one's wedding cake for the first year came up. (Clearly this cannot be a very old custom.) Coworker (CW) had not done this for her first marriage. Coworker's Wife (CWW) had something to say:

CWW: "You didn't freeze the top layer of your wedding cake? No WONDER your marriage failed!"

CW: "It's stupid! And look who's talking!"

CWW: "Hey, I was married for ten years, and not all of it was bad, only the last three or four. Because I froze the cake!"

CW: (Bronx cheer)

Balabusta: "Ladies, please, shlom bayit, shlom bayit, CW, the traffic, the traffic is merging..."

But still, I'm going to risk it. We're going to EAT the cake, and assume that we'll bake more during our marriage...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Like Axel Foley...

I am on vacation.

Great moment from an otherwise difficult day...we did a gameshow style contest on Biblical knowledge. One of the earliest questions asked whether the animals had boarded the ark a. on tiptoe, b. two by two, c. in crates, or d. on motorcycles. Avinoam, one of my seventh graders, answered correctly, and then exclaimed with evident seriousness, "Motorcycles! They wouldn't even be able to SHIFT!"

The class lost it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Green Matzo Balls

Flylady, bless her, has started posting Pesach cleaning tips, and has included this cautionary tale from real life. Do not cook matzo balls in a cast-iron pot. The copper will turn your matzo balls green. GREEN I TELL YOU !!!

Kitchen knives

The Balabusta is tentatively starting to think about wedding present registries. (Tentatively, because she is thirty-three, and it seems insane to ask people for presents just because she's finally getting married...oh well. I lack a sense of entitlement, people.)

Anyway, one of the things we really do need, and I would like, is nice kitchen knives, since I'm sick of hacking vegetables with stainless steel cut-outs. Problem is, most of the quality ones seem to be made in Germany, and I got issues. (Do the issues make sense? I've been known to buy German products over ones made in China, since I figure it's better to patronize a country that used to use slave labor rather than one that is documentably using slave labor NOW. But knives...knives is different. Somehow.)

Can anyone recommend to me a nice range of fairly good (not necessarily super-good) quality kitchen knives made in some nice place like Canada or Denmark, or somewhere like that? Where do frum gourmets buy their knives?


I hear that Pesach is starting tomorrow night. I even have seder tickets. Otherwise, couldn't prove it by me.

I was sick all week, sicker and sicker, and not getting better. Finally, on Thursday, I think my body realized it wasn't going to get what it wanted by simply having a cold, so my eyes turned red and started to gunk up. Pinkeye-shy coworkers insisted I go home.

Doctor says it's not pinkeye. Gave me drugs. I slept through Shabbos almost completely, and am now feeling slightly better.