Cue Laughter

In third grade, students practice the art of writing in different genres from friendly letters to narrative stories to persuasive essays.  Around this time of the semester, if a school performance is fast approaching, third grade teachers also get to flex their writing muscle in a very particular genre.  You know it.  You love it.  It's that knee-slapping, guffaw-inducing yet informational style known as the Third Grade Skit.

If, for some reason, you are not acquainted with the art of writing the Third Grade Skit, here is the basic process.

*Lay out a loose plot that allows you to cram in a bunch of science or social studies content.

*Anthropomorphize up some rocks, historical documents, or animals to serve as characters.
*Continue to introduce a ridiculous number of characters until you reach your class size.

*Render several characters incapable of understanding any terms used by the other characters, thus necessitating explanatory monologues on metamorphic rocks.

*Sprinkle puns and plays on words liberally.

*Have one of the characters keep making mistakes in a comical way.

*Spend the rest of your time counting and recounting all of the lines until each part is relatively equal and immune to complaints of, "He gets more lines!"

Last week, other third grade teacher and I were on a roll--cranking out scene after scene of corny lines mixed with explanations of how sandstone forms, the properties of marble, and what buildings and monuments use granite.  You can be sure that we have a line starting with, "Don't take us for granite....."

The cornier the better.  If a super cheesy thought occurs to you--put it in.  The character who keeps forgetting Bernoulli's Principle will get big laughs.  Not again!  Ah hah hah.

Before Thanksgiving break, we placed the final script in the hands of our eager thespians.  We started reading, and a few corny jokes passed by with no reaction.  "Hold on, people.  Get why this is funny?  Let me explain."  I didn't expect anyone to get our reference to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, when Marble (the metamorphic rock that limestone turns into) says, "I thought about going by, 'The Rock Formerly Known as Limestone.'"  I had found my co-scriptwriter's line about marble to be a rather exemplary instance of the genre, though, so I invested a few minutes of class time into explaining the joke  "You see, children, before you were born, in something called, 'The 90s'...."  Even after I broke it down, they still did not find it nearly as funny as I did.

We pushed onward to the next act, where some of the lines got big laughs.  I felt inordinately proud for having made a bunch of eight year olds chuckle.  They laugh at pretty much anything, including fake-picking one's nose.  Still, though, I knew the jokes were the right level of corniness.  Oh, that calcite!  Always dissolving in acid!  What will he do next?

Now back after a few days off, with time ticking down until our big performance, we're in big-time rehearsal mode.  Basically what that means is that we spend a lot of time moving around the furniture to clear off our "stage" and then put all the tables back to do "learning," and I do a lot of, "It's your line!"  "Louder!"  We'll see next week in front of a real audience whether or not the script and the acting have hit the mark in the well-loved genre of Third Grade Skit.

If you're in the mood, now, for some acting tips, take this advice from previous experience performing Third Grade Skits.  Here you'll learn what to say to the audience if you have to abruptly leave a scene due to line forgetting.  Or you'll learn what NOT to say to a fellow actor should her or she fail to step into the scene at the appropriate time.

In a Word....No.

Kids can, at times, be rather poor judges of what would or would not make sense.  

I, at times, have the energy to explain.  At other times, I'm just not up for it.

Last week I had given a co-worker a small gift bag for her birthday.  On her way out at the end of the day, carrying the purple paper bag in her hand, she thanked me for the present. 

Dylan was hanging out in the room after school, waiting to be picked up.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Well, it's Ms. Lesley's birthday today and I got her a gift" I replied.

"Did you get her clothes?" Dylan asked.

I imagined trying to stuff a sweater into the four inch tall gift bag that Ms. Lesley had just left with.

"Little, tiny clothes?" he asked.

"Umm-- "


"No, Dylan.  I did not get her little tiny clothes.  Just--no.  We're going to leave it at that."

Dear Children who Sit at the Back

Dear Children who Sit at the Back of the Classroom,
  It has come to my attention that I have neglected to teach you a key rule of handwriting.  Yes, we've discussed how certain letters have to always hang below the writing line or a) your writing will be hard to read and b) people will think poorly of your third grade teacher.  We have begun to cover the odd rules of cursive, like how a lowercase cursive k just blatantly looks like a capital R, and I think you're starting to get it.

  I've expounded on the evils of failing to erase a letter before plopping a new, more correct letter in exactly that same location.  The resulting Hybrid Letter of Non-Erasing really is nobody's friend and makes your words tough to decipher.  (Fortunately, though, I am skilled at deciphering them anyway, so this reminder is for when your writing will be read by those less skilled.)

  But alas, I have failed to share with you one more rule of correct letter formation.  It is a well-established expectation that I assure you exists in all of the classrooms in our school, regardless of how youthful the teacher.  Your teacher is exceedingly young (and hip!) and this rule is unrelated in any way to her denial of the increasing need for an eye exam.

  The internationally-recognized rule of handwriting that I have omitted from previous teaching is as follows:

If you are a Child who Sits at the Back, Global Handwriting Law states that you must form all of your letters at a minimum height of five inches when writing on a whiteboard that will be held up for the teacher to read across the room.

    I apologize for not teaching this rule sooner, but it's quite standard practice and it's time you start falling into line.  Children who Sit at the Front, this rule does not apply to you.  Yet.
           Your Youthful and Non-Squinting Teacher

Talkin' 'Bout Mommas

There are times in elementary school when the urge to be mean arises and the internal voice of Dad or Ms. Sarah reminding you to, "Be nice!" "Think about how that would make someone feel!" or "If you don't have anything nice to say...." is too quiet or completely nonexistent. 

Mean stuff comes out.

It sometimes disguises itself as a compliment.  At the end of the year, when we write kind words about everyone in the class, a few insults always sneak into the mix posing as appreciation.

"I think that you always try even if you don't know the answer."

"She is very athletic for a girl." 

And my most recent favorite supposed compliment: "You're mean to people but not to me."

Next on our tour of elementary school insults is the putting down of one's mother.

Sometimes, though, there is no need to even say anything at all about a momma for it to constitute an insult.  A simple, "Your momma!" will suffice to seriously peeve a classmate.  Really, though, how do we even know what the ending to this incomplete statement was going to be? 

It could have been:

"Your momma...IS LOVELY!"


But no--it doesn't matter what follows, just the fact that the word "momma" was invoked.  And, as I found out last week on our hike at Great Falls National Park, it doesn't even matter if the insultee actually has a mother.  We had stopped to use the bathroom before heading out into the wilderness and the boys were commenting on the facilities.  True, they were the kind of utilitarian restrooms you'd expect at a public park, but they served our purposes just fine.  From within the bathroom, though, I heard one of the boys declare them ugly.  Not satisfied to leave it at that, Harrison then launched a serious slam.

He proclaimed--of the bathroom, "It's MOTHER is ugly, too!"


Carnival of Education

I'd like to give a shout out to J.M. Holland at Emergent Learner for hosting the latest Carnival of Education!  He describes several education-related posts around the web for which he's thankful (it's that thankful time of year, people!) and I'm thankful that he included me!  I'm also thankful for the recent treasure trove of club documents that I've managed to get my hands on outlining the girls' plans for spying on kids and for "messing with" the boys.  I really can't make this stuff up, so it's helpful when the kids comply and dump nuggets of gold into my mailbox.

But wait!  There's more!  I am updating my thankfulnes to include a mention in the same post as a former Secretary of Education!  Yes, Margaret Spellings and I now share a page at The Quick and the Ed.  I'm assuming, though, that her link is of more serious and important education commentary than mine....which is about poop.

We Mess With Them!

Setting up long trains of toppling dominoes, building assorted machines out of plastic Zoobs, and pretending to know how to play Mancala are all popular options for how to spend indoor recess or Earned Free Time in the third grade.  The way that Earned Free Time works is that the class can save some time by being particularly quick to clean up or by finishing our bathroom break in under the time allotted.  That time gets deposited into our Earned Free Time amount.  On Fridays, we take a few minutes to "spend" that time with the dominoes, the Zoobs, and fake Mancala.

Another option for how to make use of this free time is to make grand plans for total domination over the boys.

Keisha and Deja are big planners.  First, they had their Girl Calendar, outlining all of their various recess activities, including one spot on Tuesdays reserved for simply, "Girls are better than boys."  I wasn't clear, exactly, on what that activity would entail, but now I've seen their accompanying plan which seems to flesh out the calendar more fully.  And with more dollar signs.

The wording of this plan is really less an outline of proposed activities than it is a rallying cry or call to action.  I assume that there is an appropriate way to read the plan, and that is as follows:

1. Gather crowd of loyal supporters of your cause.

2. Stand on improvised platform in front of a podium if possible.

3. Loudly and passionately proclaim your intentions: "We MESS with the boys!"

4. Clench fist and raise it in the air.

5. Shake fist while repeating the plan for more emphasis: "We MESS WITH THEM!" [Note: Draw out 
the vowels for yet more emphasis.]

6. Crowd of loyal supporters echoes your rallying cry back to you.

7. Proceed, en masse, towards the Four Square game to carry out plan.


A couple of days ago I was stretching for a run on the sidewalk when I suddenly found myself face to face with an inexplicably fascinated little girl.  

Nate and I altered our usual neighborhood jog on Tuesday so that we first stopped by our local polling place to vote.  Our civic duty successfully carried out, we stopped outside on the sidewalk to stretch.  As we readied our hamstrings for some exertion, a mother walked by with her two little girls.  One of them, about elbow-height-age walked over to Nate, sized him up, and found him only minimally interesting.

She then walked over and stood right in front of me.  The girl looked up from under a polarfleece purple hat and smiled.  I smiled back. 

"Hi." I said, assuming that she was waiting for an acknowledgment or a greeting before moving on down the street with her mom and sister.

Still she stood there, smiling, completely impressed with me for some reason.

"Hi" I said again and my pint-sized fan took a step closer.  I almost asked her if there was something she wanted to ask me, so intently was she staring.  My usual response to one of my students standing so expectantly but so mutely is, "Do you have a question?"

"Maybe it's my 'I voted!' sticker," I thought.  She could have been particularly inspired by me not only having cast my ballot, but so proudly wearing my sticker.

Or perhaps she was drawn to me because of the teachery-ness I exude.  Even in jogging clothes, maybe I just seem like someone who could help you find an equivalent fraction or who might tell you you've done a Good Job.

Then again the attraction might have been my outfit.  Out of a coincidental abundance of orange-colored workout clothes, I was dressed in bright orange running pants and a vibrant orange sweatshirt.  I sort of looked like candy.

Whatever the reason, this girl had decided she just loved a complete stranger.  As I stood with my hands on my hips, fascinated by her fascination and wondering where, exactly, this child's mother had gone, she took another step toward me, puckered up her lips, and KISSED my ELBOW!  A little girl on the street kissed my elbow!

She then just dashed off down the road to her mother.

At least she didn't talk to me. We all know you shouldn't talk to strangers.

Your Mock Civic Duty

Anyone else feel a little underwhelmed by this election season?  Sure, there's been enough drama surrounding various Senate and House races to fill a few Saturday Night Live sketches, but it's been hard for me to drum up much enthusiasm for any of the races happening in D.C. 

Two years ago, though, now there was an election!  I was exciting to be part of such a historic moment and to share it with my third graders.  In 2008, passions ran high among both the McCain and Obama supporters.  This being the highly democratic District of Columbia, though, the McCain camp was sorely outnumbered.  Spontaneous chants of, "Obama!  Obama!" would break out during class and I had to have several conversations about how everyone was entitled to his or her own opinion.  "It's OK for someone else to like a different candidate than you do," I'd say.  "It's not nice to say a candidate, 'sucks.'"  "There will be no more vandalism of the McCain and Obama photos in our Time for Kids news magazine."  Yes, passions ran high indeed.

This year, though--eh. 

I didn't do nearly as many election lessons as in 2008, but I did go through a PowerPoint overview of the voting process and pictures of the different candidates for D.C. mayor and non-voting congressional delegate ahead of last week's mock election.  I purposely omitted the one candidate for delegate who published complete nonsense as her official platform.  Sorry, but "The state of California has kidnapped my children" does not constitute a stance on the issues.  Perhaps I should have left it in, though, to demonstrate how literally ANYONE can get on the ballot!

I scrolled through a few photos of the mayoral hopefuls along with a summary of their political positions.  The content of a candidate's message, however, didn't factor at all in the decision for some of the third grade mock voters.  The photo was all that was needed for Keona to make up her mind.

As pictures of two men running for mayor filled the screen, Keona muttered under her breath, "I ain't voting for no man!"

Not to be outdone in this categorical rejection of candidates based solely on their gender being different from one's own gender, Thomas answered from across the room under his breath, "I ain't voting for no lady!"

There are some very good reasons why third graders are relegated to the realm of mock elections.

We are NOT Joking Around, Here

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