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Posted by on Nov 8, 2017 in Tales from the Underdesk | 0 comments

In the Beginning.

When I first started teaching, the head of the education department at Lees-McRae College told us we had one goal.


We all thought that was pretty hilarious. Little did we know how that statement would end up being truthful. We had no idea the infectious diseases, the late nights, early mornings, our exhaustion being exhausted, and writing so many lesson plans that our plans have plans for the evening. You are told you learn the hard way, but you never figure the hard way would include fire breathing dragons and walking over hot coals.


When I first walked into my kindergarten student teaching assignment, I thought I was going to vomit.

I really did.

So much so, all I could do was walk up to the door and look in. If I had taken one more step very unfortunate occurrences would occur.

Kindergarteners are not for the feint at heart. They are supercharged cannonballs flying in any direction they can figure out to go. This particular class was no different.

And I really never meant to be in kindergarten. It was a mistake. I had asked-begged-okay, pleaded-to be with my mentor teacher, because I loved her when I volunteered in her third grade classroom. I loved how she had a room full of “those” kids and “those” kids held their heads up high with dignity, had excellent manners, and did amazing work. Whenever you find a teacher with a class full of “those” kids, you latch on and get on the ride.

And now I was regretting it. I had no idea she had transferred to kindergarten from third grade.

There was no way out. The head of the education department’s brags still cluttered up my brain from the day before about all of the accreditation my mentor teacher had racked up, and how wonderful of a teacher she was.

I took a deep breath, and walked into the death zone.

Not five minutes inside the walls and I had a foot on my lap. If you know me, I hate feet.

I hate feet. I hate them.

But yet, there was a foot on my lap. On. My. Lap.

I must have looked terrified because the child giggled and said, “Shoe”.

Oh. He wants his shoe tied.

I laughed. He laughed. He threw his teeny arms around my waist and hugged as tight as he could before giving me a toothless smile and running off to play with some blocks.

Never in my life have I been poked, prodded, patted all over my body for attention, the way I was in that kindergarten classroom. My mentor teacher and I became like sisters, the kids were the reason I got up in the morning and dragged myself to duty, and I fell in complete love of kindergarten.

They begged to walk the stage with me when I graduated. They ended up settling to decorate my graduation cap with her fingerprints that we turned into pigs.

It has been thirteen years and several grade levels since I have been with five year olds. I am not sure I have it in me anymore, but I bet if I were put in that situation, I would find it. For now, I’ll stick with my fourth graders.

I’ve got quite a file cabinet full of stories over the years. Some hilarious, some hilariously painful, others that nearly broke me. This section of my filing cabinet houses these stories that helped turn me from a green student teacher to a full on alter ego Ms. Shapiro. Don’t worry; nothing is in order and it’s organized based on chaos.

And survival is still the end goal. But the survival to what is what morphs itself and evolves over my career. In the end, I’d say my professor was both right and wrong on her assessment, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that survival is a gift in itself. 🙂

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Posted by on Nov 4, 2017 in Everyday Life, Read Alouds, Young Adult Reads | 0 comments

Sinus Saturday Musings

Breathe in.

Breath out.

Breathe in.

Blow nose.

This seems to be the rhythm my body has composed over the past few weeks.

Don’t get me wrong; I love fall, but fall certainly doesn’t love me.

Actually, here in East Tennessee, the seasons are a mafia of allergies and pollen and don’t take too kindly to anyone.

My doctor parathentically referred to this area as the Allergy Armpit of America.

Certainly explains a lot.

I will tell you one thing: don’t ever try to self diagnose yourself on WebMD. Because no matter the symptoms, no matter the congestion or pain or numbness or faintness you feel, the prognosis is death. Honestly save yourself the trouble and prescribe yourself DayQuil. That stuff is strong enough to put an elephant on its hind end so certainly it can at least keep death at bay long enough to figure out how to breathe.

My fourth graders aren’t any help in the matter either. Poor things. They sound like a sinus orchestra. I’ve hollered WASH YOUR HANDS enough to tattoo it legally to my vocal chords and hounded them to keep their hands out of their mouths. But still. Germs are sneaky little weasels. Somehow they manage to infect even the cleanest attempts at clean.

Anyway, in the midst of Hurricane Allergy, the teacher in me keeps trudging ahead full force and the Allison in me just sits slumped over waiting for some relief. Once the two finally meet back up perhaps I can start to breathe again. Then I can at least feel like I own functioning lungs.

Well, that was my attitude until I woke up and I thought I woke up under water. No. I was still in bed and I was still snuggled up with my dachshunds and my alarm was still going off. I knew what it was. Four ear surgeries as a kid and you know what it is. Double ear infection. I caved, and went to the doc in a box to find some relief. One infection flushed right out, while the other seemed to harbor some kind of vendetta against me and has declared mutiny. They sent me home with pills large enough to choke an ox and drops to hopefully help the deeper infection resolve on its own. If not, more doctors.

My favorite.

Okay, I’m sorry for my attitude, it’s just that weather doesn’t meet the height requirements for the roller coaster it’s on and frankly it’s not fair to anyone. Including me.

So yesterday, my class finished one of my all time favorite read alouds. And you know why it’s my favorite? Because the story lifts off the page and into the air, and becomes its own self. Seriously. It does. I mentioned the book, Okay for Now, in another post, I believe. It’s about a kid named Doug living in upstate New York during the Vietnam War, which is brother is off fighting in and his father is home making his life a living hell. Doug, his brother, and his mother are all caught in the middle of walking on eggshells and trying to figure out their place in the new town they landed in after Doug’s father lost his job in Long Island.

The plot twists when Doug enters the Marysville Free Public Library for the first time, aggravates the tar out of Mrs. Merriam, but befriends Audobon’s Birds of America book. And begins to draw them. Slowly, the story of the Arctic Tern, the Black Backed Gull, the Great Esquimaux Curlew, and even the stupid Large Billed Puffins begin to entwine with Doug’s story. Through art, through birds, through newfound friendships, Doug realizes he’s not a chump and the world is his oyster.

I can’t give away any more than that except to tell you this: there are so many moments in this story that are so hard to read out loud but must be read out loud to be validated and reading the end of that book, no matter how many years or how many times I read it, will always touch the deepest part of me and will always bring my voice to its knees.

My kids clapped at the final words of this story, but yet they were sad they didn’t get to follow Doug on any more adventures.

It’s not worth reading unless there should be a sequel and there isn’t and all that you really can do is read the original book again. True story.

Some of my habits I keep year after year and others I change as often as necessary. Some say that’s being a professional but I just call it knowing what works and what doesn’t. I will keep Doug’s story alive for as long as I am teaching. The kids need to know Doug.

Almost as much as I need relief from my sinus pressure. But I digress.

Anyway, I’m not quite sure where I will go from here with my read alouds. I might read the prequel to Okay for Now, The Wednesday Wars. My class of fourth graders is a bit more mature than I’m used to for the most part, so they just might enjoy a little goofy take on Shakespeare. I’m not quite ready to leave Doug quite yet anyway.

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