12 Things I’ve Learned From My Students

One of my day jobs involves taking care of kids after school… tutoring, crafts, and a lot of improvisation.

Two sixth-grade girls said I should do a blog-post about each kid. I don’t think that’s a good idea, but a more general blog about working at the school is doable. More specifically, I’ll go into what I’ve learned working with kids. And yes, all of these have happened since January.

  1. Big boobs are something of a liability on the job. (I’m constantly telling kindergartners “personal space, honey!”)
  2. Construction paper robots have to have perfect weddings, with all the trimmings.
  3. Knot-tying is best taught with animal metaphors (“the little eel swims into the cave”).
  4. Not being able to spell “turkey” is a 12-story crisis.
  5. Five AM at Freddy’s is fun, but Home Alone is terrifying. (Who knew?)
  6. Hair clips are surprisingly sharp, and they can cause quite a lot of blood.
  7. They remember and forget bodily autonomy with no set pattern.
  8. Wet paper towels make everything better.
  9. Dolphins and tigers are the most fascinating animals on earth.
  10. I constantly have to drop subtle messages like “moving chairs isn’t just for boys” and “being a girl doesn’t make you a scaredy-cat.” (Thanks, co-worker.)
  11. Asking them if they follow what I just said (like the bad guy in The Sting) gets amazing results.
  12. Most importantly, they know how adults are supposed to behave and remember when the adults in their lives (or the President) don’t live up to that standard. (Just for the record… they volunteered their disdain for the creature sitting in the Oval Office. I guess that means there’s hope for the future.)

Halloween! (repeat and fade)



The first elementary school I attended (kindergarten through third grade) took Halloween very seriously.  One teacher turned her house into something that wouldn’t have been out of place in Nightmare Before Christmas, and encouraged us to trick or treat there.  She and her husband were in full costume, of course; she dressed up as a witch, and he dressed up as a ghost, except for the year she was a skeleton and he an alien.

Aside from trick or treat, she and the music teacher instilled in us a love of goofy Halloween music.  Her favorite was “Witch’s Brew.” ( Listen, and try to get it out of your head.  I dare you.

The songs the music teacher had us sing proved a bit more difficult to find, but one of my all-time favorites was “The Bat Dance.” ( This song was especially dear to me, not only because it was slow and easier to sing, but there were a ton of bats around my house.  We just had to walk up the hill, and it was like the introduction to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

Then there was “Do the Igor.”  I never liked this one as much (being hypnotized into dancing creeped me out), but I have to include it because it was a huge presence.  And it has a really kick-ass organ solo. (

Any Halloween mix would be incomplete without “The Monster Mash” of course.  This was a party I always wanted to attend– after all, Boris sent me! (  It was a constant nag as a tot that I never did get to do the Mash with my favorite monsters… dancing with Dracula was practically a life goal.  More proof of my incurable weirdness.

Anyhoo, enjoy the music– comment with more, and happy Halloween!


Think About the Children!

Normally, that phrase really gets my goat, as it’s used in a self-righteous, messianic, moralisitc, and increasingly tedious manner.  So I have a good reason for using it.

Today I had to do some online training related to workplace harassment.  The video segments kept freezing, which gave me time to think.  And I realized that my old middle school subjected the entire seventh grade to something unlike the quid pro quo (this for that) discussed in the training.  It wasn’t sexual, but we did have to do exchange a service above and beyond the call of attending school in order to pass.  The school wanted a new garden, and we were slated to provide the labor to plant it during our science classes.

At that particular school, every April each grade would do a different project to be displayed in the cafeteria over a weekend.  For fifth and sixth graders, it was history projects.  Eighth graders did surveys with graphs, but the thing to see was the seventh grade science projects.  The piece de resistance.  But in April, instead of getting the assignment, we were told that we could not be trusted not to let our parents do the projects for us, and so we would instead plant a garden.  If we refused, we failed science.

Of course, there was too little work to go around to 150 students, so only the huskiest boys were conscripted (sexist), while the rest of us were either herded inside to watch documentaries, or to make posters about the flowers planted to display instead of our science projects.  And, interestingly, no other seventh grade class after us had to do anything like that.  Maybe enough parents were indignant, I don’t know.  But the only indignant parents I can personally acknowledge were my own.  Still, if my mother was required to weed the dean’s garden in order to renew her contract, HR would be all over it.  Why did the principal, assistant principal, and teachers think this was a good idea?  How did heads not roll over it?

Going further back in time, in fourth grade my history class passed around a petition not to have homework over the weekend.  Standardized tests were coming up, and our assignments consisted solely of copying out the pre-test, 3-5 times each, depending on how close to the test we were.  It was a horrible assignment– took hours to complete, and really had no value.  We probably remembered what we wrote down, but we didn’t learn it.  Anyway, I knew we would get into trouble for the petition, so I was too chicken to sign it.

Sure enough, the teacher came back, and poof!  The homework didn’t stop, and every signer had to run extra laps in PE.  Way to teach us about our rights as American citizens… right to petition and all that.  Years later, I asked my law prof if the school could actually do that.  Unfortunately, she said, they could.  The younger you are, the less willing people are to apply the Constitution to you.  What a rotten situation that is!

As an American child, you have no rights, so when the schools try to take advantage of you, you must smile politely and hope that someone who actually has rights will stand up for you.  And somehow childhood is considered idyllic.  Something needs to change.