Adventure Time: Kings Dominion

Honestly, this next post was devolving into a tirade about parents and report cards until I realized that its summer and frankly I just don’t want to go there.  Everything is electronic and online nowadays so parents and students can track the student’s progress weeks before they receive their report cards by mail.  Not all parents are comfortable with the program or forgo checking until June.  As such, I’m still receiving emails from parents asking how their daughter received this grade instead of that grade in this subject.  Some even request meetings, which can erode into the parent venting their frustration at the teacher.  I received one such email on Tuesday, and dread crept a little into my heart.  Conferences like these are part of the job, sure, but once summer commences, even one additional second worrying about grades or fretting over angry parents becomes an intrusion, like a car alarm in the middle of the night.

In order to recall my missing mojo, Kevin, Bree and I decided that yesterday we would have an adventure.  Thus, the next day, we drove to Northern Virginia to spend the day at Kings Dominion, one of Virginia’s premier theme parks and roller coaster factory.  Most theme parks choose two paths when attempting to draw in summer crowds.  The first involves creating a ‘world’ or an ‘adventure.’  Disney does this rather well, creating a traditional thrill ride but attaching a story or theme to heighten the emotional experience.  Hollywood Studios’ Twighlight Zone Tower of Terror is a good example.  By linking the idea of the Twighlight Zone and ghosts to a simple freefall ride, you create suspense as guests become part of the story.  They relish the thrill, and as such buy more T-shirts.

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First World Problems or Summer Vacation with No Beach

First World Problems or Summer Vacation with No Beach

True adventurers have never been plentiful. They who are set down in
print as such have been mostly business men with newly invented
methods. They have been out after the things they wanted–golden
fleeces, holy grails, lady loves, treasure, crowns and fame. The
true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and
greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son–when he
started back home. — O. Henry, “The Green Door.”

Jumping into the car on the last day of school terrifies me.  For teachers, summer vacation can prove a daunting enterprise particularly if you happen to be single.  “Balderdash!” you may shout in a Victorian accent.  “I have a 9 to 5 job throughout the entire year.  You teachers have it lucky what with this summer vacation nonsense.  Pip pip cheerio.  Fish and chips.”

Well, let’s field that common misconception first.  Imagine you have trained your entire life as a scientist or a writer.  After graduating with your Masters degree, you find jobs in short supply due to . . . let us say because of a ‘recession.’  You take a job as a teacher in a high school, which slowly consumes your entire life.  You teach all day, and on nights and weekends, you plan new lessons, create tests or grade grade grade until your fingertips are permantly stained red with misplaced commas and imbalanced chemical equations.  This is your life.  These kids, their needs and their dreams, become your life.  Tunnel-vision within a textbook.

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Off Duty

LoyolaAs a student, it always amused me to stumble upon my teachers outside the classroom: at the mall, in the movie theater, or even on the school parking lot.  Somehow it seemed strange to discover that our educators had lives and families outside the school property, as if they had apartments in the teacher lounge or — more abstractly — ceased to exist entirely without their class.  I would imagine Mrs. Willis and Mr. Phebus melting from the walls at the ringing of the bells, reforming flesh from discarded glitter glue and construction paper like a Terminator villain armed with copious lesson plans and graded algebra tests.

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The 9th Level

God, I hate meetings.  Somewhere in the pits of Hell lies an oversized board room for the world’s biggest assholes arguing for eternity over what to have for lunch or who gets the check.  Honestly, I think that sums up most people’s vision of Hell actually.

Today in school I sat in on our school’s DAC (Dance-Activities Council) and we spent twenty minutes discussing whether the girls could wear goofy socks during Spirit week.  Twenty minutes.  This is the hazard of working at a girl school: over-thinking pointless details and fashion accesories.  It’s like watching CSPAN and losing the remote.

I swear the council head, an older woman dressed in perennial purple and drowned — perhaps to complete the metaphor — in lavender perfume, was fishing for a problem with this particular issue, constantly asking the vice principal: “Do you have any issues with this?  Are you sure?  Because you know . . . some teachers might . . . have a problem with the socks if they have bells on them.”

Socks.  With.  Bells.

God. Help. Me.

The End of a Beginning

The tassel hung from my cap like a fly trap in my grandfather’s barn.  Every breath dislocated the strings clinging to my ears, eyes, and nostrils and scattering the pieces into another equally obnoxious location.  It was like being hugged by a miniature octopus in heat: annoying and mildly disturbing.  The rest of the academic staff appeared nonplussed by the attire.  We marched into the bowels of the cathedral between rows of parents and relatives wielding telescopic cameras and palm-sized smart phones.  Within a second the whole procession would be circulating around the web, complete with tags of the students favorite (and most hated) teachers, so I tried to appear as dignified as possible, suppressing the urge to hurl both cap and gown in the air and  blast skeet-style with a shotgun — or not owning a gun, hit it really really hard with my car keys.  Pew.  Pew.

We approached the altar of the cathedral and bowed, then the procession turned to the side and filtered into our seats adjacent to a small electric organ.  Once parked in our pews, we turned to smile on a crowd of white gowned seniors, eager and excited for the evening parties, college and summer vacation.   My many-fingered yarned beast choose the moment to slap me in the face repeatedly.

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The rumors concerning our sanity have been greatly exaggerated.

Coffee cup

The motivation behind all scientific discovery begins here . . .

October found me eager and excited, brimming with confidence and creativity for my work . . . at least during weekends. However, Monday mornings broke with the din of a funeral march, disturbing those few early morning dreams and ushering me upstairs upon the family couch while reruns of Law and Order painted visions of murder and desperation before sleep-filled eyes.  Waiting to leave the house proved the most trying, as my imagination, planting visions of screaming children and growling soccer moms, tried its damnedest to wrack my body with anxiety, upset my stomach and basically ruin the whole of my week.

Thankfully, I had Dunkin Donuts and their wonderful battalion of iced coffees to attack my flagging spirit and sleep deprivation.  Truly, the smell alone had a soothing effect; the extra-large galleon-sized container of liquid energy, a balm to my worries.  My imagination, drowning in legal stimulants, learned to behave, and I drove to school, happily contemplating Thanksgiving and Christmas break, only three months away.

The fallout from the field trip befell us the following Monday when Dr. T took us in the conference room for lunch. Slowly Ms. P spilled the story, downplaying our absence at the deli (a little) and deleting the abusive pot-smoker entirely (to be fair, the kids were not involved at all). Continue reading

Field Trippin’: Part 2

Rats and human bones

Yeah, the whole trip felt like that . . .

Of all the nonsense that befell Unity over the following months, nothing frightened me more than the sight of the kids stumbling to the edge of the highway, ready to play Frogger with speeding yuppies from Kingsmill and weekend historians.

The man behind us shouting on his cell had already called the police by the time we left the deli.  Ms. Jane was screaming for the kids to return when he noticed us.  Ms. P and Catherine were still buying snacks on the opposite end of the plaza.  Sporting a greasy comb-over and a haunting odor of Axe body spray, the man – who I will forever christen as Little Pesci – addressed me first, obviously mistaking me for the leader of educational band; although it was Ms. Jane who answered.

“Are those your children?” he asked.  He had this way of saying ‘your’ like an old woman in a Pollyanna movie, as if only the children’s guardians would possibly summon a pack of middle school students from rushing headlong into traffic and playing dodgeball with a Buick. That fact that he happened to be right only proved the guy was a total prick as well as an idiot. Continue reading