Student Stories

8th Graders: No Longer Cooler Than Thou

I expected 8th grade to be as emotionally turbulent as I’d remembered it, with kids constantly eye-rolling, scoffing, teasing, and just generally being too cool to talk to you. I admit to being one of  the worst offenders. The current 8th graders at Altimira are nice. Let me repeat that: They’re nice! The ones I’ve encountered smile at me and each other; they chat with their classmates, even the ones they’re not close with; and they genuinely seem to care about each other. It’s not just for my benefit as a grown-up, either — the kids confirm that they think the school has a culture of tolerance this year.

In fact, most of the kids I’ve met and observed at Altimira right now act this way. I say “at Altimira right now,” because not all modern middle schoolers are like this. Having worked closely with other 6th-8th graders recently, I can confirm that some are the cruel little buggers that you may remember from your own middle school days: the stuck-up popular “mean girls” that have gotten so much press recently, or the kid who makes himself look good by calling attention to people’s weaknesses. Those I’ve talked to say that there were more kids like this at Altimira over the last couple of years, but they’ve either gone onto the high school or have transferred to the school for struggling students. My 8th grade buddy, whom I’ll call Janessy, says, “The popular kids act totally different when they’re in class than they are with their friends. They sometimes try to make their friends laugh by picking on people.” But for the most part, the kids agree that while there’s a known popular group in each grade, “the populars” aren’t that snobby or mean, and it’s not a huge deal if you’re not in the in-crowd. People do their own thing, and that’s fine.


Teacher Training Day and Sixth-Grade Lunchtime Tales

This will be a quick update, because it’s again well after midnight, and my body is telling me that it’s fed up with my late-night writing sessions. Last night I stayed up until 4 a.m. writing about my rediscovery of music. There’s no telling when creative inspiration will strike, but I am going to start begging the muse to visit me at a reasonable hour. The chest pains and tightness that I’ve experienced on and off for the better part of this year have plagued me consistently this week. Even though I tell myself that no activity — not even learning a cool new song on guitar — is worth putting my body through the wringer, I get into a trance while on the computer late at night. One of these days, I will learn to like sleeping. Ever since I was a baby, I’ve always preferred to be awake and doing things to going to bed. It may be time to for another mandatory Day of Doing Nothing.

One note: While I was at my elementary school, I refrained from using its name to maintain a bit of anonymity. However, there’s no mystery about what middle school I’d attended because there was only one in town at the time I was a preteen, and its name was also emblazoned on my P.E. shirt. I’ve been calling the middle school by name, Altimira, and from now on, I’ll do the same for my elementary school, El Verano.


A Week Down Memory Lane

I’m writing from a little library in the Maryland town where my mom’s parents live. They’ve lived in the same house since 1959, and they’ve actively refused to hop on the Interweb party bus. (I think my grandpa’s exact words were: “Don’t buy a computer for me. I won’t use it.”) As a result, I have 30 minutes to give you a brief update before I’m booted off the library computer.

I’m taking a week off between elementary school and middle school, which is giving me time to process my K-5 experiences. My scrawlings have filled a whole notebook with memories and observations, and I’m both eager to translate them into posts and petrified that I’ll lose the notebook before I have the chance. As always, I hope to catch up on writing in the next few days, and share more stories with you.

This week will generate some blogging fodder of its own, I’m sure. I’m spending a couple of days in Maryland with my mom and grandparents (Pop Quiz: 3 generations of anxious Asians + 2 days + 1 small space = ?). On Thursday, I meet two of my college roommates in the Boston area to see the new baby boy of our third college roommate. At my high school reunion, the mere thought of my classmates reproducing made me uneasy, so I’m sure seeing a close friend with an infant will blow my mind.


Fourth Graders: Pre-Preteens

I first worked with fourth graders through the I Have a Dream after-school program in East Palo Alto. I taught Creative Writing/California History to a small group of low-income African American kids, and they were quite a handful. Later that year, I substituted in a fourth grade class of wealthy white kids at a private school in Menlo Park. I found that the kids were just as off the wall as they were in East Palo Alto, and in the same ways. It seems that across socioeconomic lines, fourth graders are a unique breed. They’re right on the border of puberty, no longer children but not yet preteens. As those infamous hormones are beginning to circulate, “tweens” enjoy testing their limits.

This is what I’ve noticed about my fourth grade classmates so far:

1. They stink.

After recess, there’s a slight, foul odor that hovers around the room, drawn from a collection of sweaty feet and armpits. I was in fourth grade myself when my mom gently suggested that I start wearing deodorant. At the time, I felt offended and probably left the room in a huff. In retrospect, however, I’m glad that I got the news from my mom at home than from a classmate in front of my peers. I found one of my first Teen Spirit sticks (pictured above) buried in one of the bathroom cabinets. It’s a weird artifact, but it makes me nostalgic all the same.


Remember This? #6 Tetherball

If you do, leave a comment!

This one comes with a story about my Marsha Brady moment (remember the wayward football episode, the one where she’d invited Davy Jones to play at the prom?).

I don’t think I’ve ever won a game of tetherball, and today at recess, I decided it was time to reschool myself. If you think I’d have an advantage because I was twice as tall as my 8-year-old opponent, you’d be wrong. He was strong for a little guy! Halfway into the game, he whipped the yellow ball around the pole hard…and it smacked me squarely in the nose. The ball made a loud slapping sound upon contact with my face.

My first reaction was panic — my 10-year high school reunion activities start tomorrow. It would not have amused me at all to accessorize my red cocktail dress with a nose splint and have to explain that a tubby little 3rd grader beat me up on the tetherball court. I think I’d rather lie and say I got a nose job. I spent the rest of recess with a chilled, lavender-scented beanbag from the nurse’s office over my nose. I thought looking ridiculous on the playground was better than doing the same at the reunion. My nose throbs a little now but isn’t swollen or bruised — thank you, little baby Jesus.

Sigh…I still haven’t ever won a game of tetherball.

Classroom Crime & Punishment

Yesterday I remembered what it feels like to get in trouble at school.

I arrived during morning recess, and immediately a group of my 3rd grade classmates accosted me, pestering me to tell them more scary stories. I hesitated, asking them whether they’d had any nightmares.

“I couldn’t go to sleep at first,” one girl said, “but I remembered that you said the stories were make-believe, and then I fell asleep.”

The end-of-recess whistles blew, and the kids and I filed into class. Ms. Alessio, a teacher who was at the school back when I was a student, asked us to take our seats because she had an important announcement.

“I got a call from a parent last night,” she began.

My stomach sank. I’d suspected that indulging the kids’ demands for scary stories had been a bad idea, and that parents might complain. An anxious feeling began growing in my chest.


Not So Little Miss Popular

I never thought I’d get the chance to say it, but it’s true. I’m the most popular girl in my class. This is the first time I’ve ever had that experience, and you better believe that I’m loving it.

I wish that I could have known 20 years ago, when I was in 3rd grade, that one day I’d get a chance to be the girl that everyone paid attention to. At age 8, I was more teacher’s pet than social butterfly.  I was exceptionally tall for my age and had straight brown hair down to my waist. I wore headbands with little teeth that dug into my scalp, and I had to put on thick pink-framed glasses during class so I could see the blackboard. (We had actual blackboards, not white boards like the classrooms do now.) In one class photo — the kind with the futuristic “lasers” in the background — the huge puffed sleeves of my dress are uneven in height. (FYI, those are tack-marks on the photo, not pockmarks on my face.) In another photo, my bangs are slicked into what appears to be a cowlick combined with a comb-over, which is just about as attractive as it sounds.


A Colorful Cast of Young Characters

Turns out that my hand is twice the size of a first grader's.

Turns out that my hand is twice the size of a first grader's.

It’s been one week since I kicked off the classroom phase of Reschool Yourself, and I have so much to share. The challenge lies, as always, in time. I’ve been busy adding features to the site and will post more writing this weekend.

As I mentioned in the video log, I finished up in the kindergarten on Monday morning and began rotating through the five first grade classrooms. I prefer staying in one class, to build relationships with the kids, but the first grade teachers each needed my help. There are a few benefits of rotating, such as observing different teaching styles for the same age group, getting to know all the teachers — they’re a cool bunch of women — and meeting a variety of kids.

I do miss my kindergarteners! Since I was part of their very first school experience, they seemed to get as attached to me as I did to them. On Friday, due to another meeting, I came late to school (no, I didn’t need a pink tardy slip). When I walked into the kindergarten, several kids bombarded me with hugs around my waist and exclamations like “Where were you?” and “You’re heeere!” With those long eyelashes and baby-toothed grins, those kids turn me into putty in their hands.