Valentines Day: A Lesson From My High Schoolers

Sometimes as a teacher, I’m fortunate enough to learn valuable life-changing lessons from my students. One of those lessons is what I should not put up with from men on Valentines Day.
   I had a lot of blessings this Valentines Day. I actually got a chance to substitute teach again at the local continuation high school. Being able to connect with kids in a positive way is a very rewarding experience. These kids do not care for teachers in general (especially substitutes) and if you happen to be a white teacher, let’s just say you have your work cut out for you. It is an exercise in character building to say the least. I always tell myself that the only reward in taking an easy sub job over a more challenging one is that it’s easy. While working with these students, I’ve learned (by overhearing side conversations) about sex ed (handjobs), what to do if you have a pregnancy scare, where the best meth parties are in the desert, the difference between a “ghetto weave” and a “nice weave” and about how smoking weed “isn’t really a drug” and “it improves your concentration in school.” The best lesson I learned by far is what guys should give you on Valentines Day.
  I’ve had several suitors over the years attempt to seduce me with their well thought out and even better executed Valentines Day “gifts.” Let’s start with my magical Valentine of 2008 when the guy I was dating asked me if I wanted to go to the local bar to get a drink:

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Why of course I’d love you to win me over with alcohol on the most romantic day of the year. I could tell this date was planned for over a month (I will add my “sarcastic smiley” 😉 for those of you that are unfamiliar with sarcasm).

Who can forget Valentines Day 2009 when I was given a single rose (Just the rose by itself):

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….From Big Bob’s Last Second Roadside Valentines Day Emporium:

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Perhaps the most “memorable” Valentines Day was 2013 when my last boyfriend gave me…wait for it….

NOTHING!!!!!

And the funny thing was all three of these guys thought they were going to get laid. They didn’t even deserve a peck on the cheek. Ain’t nobody got time.

As I was teaching at the continuation high school, my female students for all 6 periods got the whole lot-flowers (plural), candy, and a teddy bear:

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It made me realize I was putting up with way less than I deserved. These girls were just 15-17 years old and their Valentines gifts from their 15-17 year old boyfriends were way better than the Valentines Day gifts I received as an adult. It was a wake up call. I’m going to expect better for my future suitors. Time to raise the bar.

At least I didn’t have any desperate, creepy guys on tinder that I’ve only known for three days try to rush to meet me so they wouldn’t be single on Valentines Day. That was my other Valentines Day blessing.

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New Girl Jess Day (a.k.a. Zooey Deschanel) is my spirit animal

My lifelong dream is to be a screenwriter for television.

Marge Simpson: “But your lifelong dream was to run out onto the field during a baseball game and you did it last year, remember?”

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Oh how I forget.

Those who know me know I love to quote The Simpsons in my everyday conversation. Whether or not it makes sense to anyone else but me is irrelevant. Conan O’Brien wrote the teleplay for this aforementioned episode Marge Vs. The Monorail (Season 4). He is a hero of mine.
   Television writing has been a part of my life since I emerged into this thankless world on March 10, 1983. My aunt’s boyfriend was in the hospital with my family on the day of my royal birth (who is this George Alexander Louis? I don’t know him). My aunt’s boyfriend at the time was a prominent television screenwriter who has written for Dragnet, M*A*S*H, and more recently, Diagnosis Murder. While they didn’t end up together, his quick wit regarding a largish female baby who shared the room with me had my mom in stitches great enough to threaten the stitches fresh from her cesarean section. I always wondered how life turned out for “Mr. P.” I like to think he had something to do with my love of writing.
  When I was a teenager and in my twenties, I wrote short stories and poetry. I was a staff writer on my high school newspaper my senior year. Unless you count my blog and my high school newspaper, I have never been published. I am working on changing that now. Last summer, I got a position as a writing teacher for 7th and 8th grade GATE students at a private school. These students attended public middle schools in the Arcadia Unified School District during the year. This private academy was meant for enrichment during the summer and was therefore a temporary position for me. My job was to come up with my own curriculum to foster these gifted and talented students’ love of writing. They needed to be challenged by someone who truly loved to write and who could make writing fun for them. I planned my own essay topics, taught them how to write a strong essay, taught them how to write fiction, came up with my own creative writing prompts, and under my direction, we published a class newspaper. Their parents were college professors. My boss told me the parents called him up every day praising my program. Their positive feedback gave me the inspiration I needed to take my writing to a more public arena.
     I gave screenwriting some serious consideration when I  started watching Fox’s New Girl starring Zooey Deschanel. I tuned into this “Friends for the millenials” sitcom partially because I am a fan of She and Him, but mostly because I could relate to Deschanel’s T.V. character Jess Day in a variety of ways. First, we are both creative and quirky middle school teachers. Secondly, we both sing (only I’m not famous, but am working on that minor setback as well). Lastly, we are both the same age and look alike. I’d say my resemblance to Zooey Deschanel is only about 40%, but I’ve had enough people mention it to me over the past few years that I’m willing to believe it may have some merit, but I will let you be the judge:

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Miss “Look at me, I’m a lovable goof!” Deschanel.

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Miss “Look at me partying in my friend’s car! I totally have a reason for making this face!” Lewis.

After tuning into some recent episodes that appear to have been basted in the weakest recipe for weak sauce since Miracle Whip (Schmidt swallowing ALL of Jess’s birth control pills right in front of her? Beyond creepy and totes not funny), I decided it was time to add some of my real experiences/sydrocks flava that can take the plot ideas and writing of New Girl to soaring new heights. After all, there has to be some perspective that can be gained from a similar lovable goof/30ish female douchebag/hipster/singer/creative middle school teacher who wears “cool” glasses like Jess Day:

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I’m aware that my glasses could be bigger. I’m aware that my frames could look more 1950s in a way that’s ironically unflattering. Sorry I’ve let you down with this anticlimactic photo. (Sidebar: I think school is very cool).

Here are suggestions to enhance the plots of New Girl from someone who considers Jess Day to be her spirit animal:

1. Have Jess collect homework from a row of male students. In horror, she will see that they have drawn dictures on their assignments. Hilarious parent phone calls will ensue. This has happened to me with my 8th graders and I have a feeling that both Jess and I would react the same way: blushing, laughing nervously, and crying on the inside.

2. In New Girl, I have seen a storyline where Jess has trouble fitting in with her fellow teachers. They are older and more experienced, so naturally they exclude her. I would like to bring my experience to the table. How about instead of her fellow teachers being a decade older, why not have them be almost a decade younger? Why not have them be jealous and catty about the fact that she feels more comfortable being called “Miss Day” rather than by her first name like them? Why not have them be jealous about the fact that she has more experience and education and is therefore getting more pay than they are? Why not have them give her icy stares in the hall because she is getting paid more for creating her own curriculum rather than passing out reading packets for less pay like them? Why not have them pretend to be friendly but act in passive aggressive ways like not erasing the board for her when it’s her turn to teach in the classroom they share or coming by to shut the door to her room because they think her voice carries? (It does, but the civilized thing to do would be to discuss it with her first). And why not have all of her fellow teachers be no older than 22? I’m trying to decide whether this situation would be funny or just plain sad.

3. Jess comes up with a creative writing prompt where she writes the beginning lyrics to several hip hop songs including “The Motto” by Drake (the clean parts, obvi) on the board and her 8th grade boys who are hip hop fans get to finish the lyrics by writing their own. She awkwardly raps the beginning lyrics to get them excited about the assignment. At first they stare at her, then to her total surprise, they laugh, nod their heads in approval, and call it a “bomb assignment.” Yep. This is how it went down for yours truly. Since the girls were not hip hop fans, I let them finish the lyrics for Justin Bieber and One Direction.

4. Jess’s students will ask her if she has a boyfriend. She will mistakenly answer, “Yes.” They will then ask her, “Do you do nasty stuff together?” She will react the same way I did: bewildered and crying on the inside.

Mind you, this is just a start. I think New Girl is great and that is why I have so much affection for Jess. I see a lot of myself in her. If I could, I would marry her. Oh wait. Now I can.

Being an elementary school teacher: My secret weapon for dealing with adults

My secret identity comes out: I am an elementary school teacher. I teach both kindergarten through fifth grade general education and special education. There is a priceless reward in helping struggling students reach their full potential as scholars. I feel privileged to be a part of that. Perhaps an unexpected reward that comes from being an elementary school teacher is that the patient, nurturing, and maternal attitude that I use around my students had helped me successfully deal with adults in a way I never thought possible. I have a side job as a server on the weekends. I have learned that when communicating with my adult customers and coworkers, it is best to think of them as second graders. Talking to them as adults rarely gets the job done. It is better to talk slowly, calmly, patiently, and in a maternal style. I have several examples which I will list below:

1. One time the line was very long at the bar, so I helped the bartender out. One gentlemen asked the bartender, “Do you have limes?” She replied, “We ran out of limes,” in a regular tone of voice aimed at an adult male in his thirties. He then got belligerent and challenged us by stating, “You really don’t have any limes?” I could have said “no” in a regular adult tone. I could have even attempted sarcasm such as, “What part of “no” don’t you understand?” like I have seen male bartenders do in other bars (I would not recommend this strategy). Instead I had an idea. I wanted to calm the gentleman down so I replied very patiently, calmly, and slowly like I was talking to one of my kindergartners: “No, we do not have limes.” The key to my success was not to make it obvious that I thought he was mentally challenged for not understanding the first time or for thinking that he could try to intimidate two sweet women. I treated him like he was my seven year old student. I was nice but firm and also surreptitiously condescending (not in a way that was obvious). I held onto the word “No” in an attempt to drag it out like I do with preschoolers, “Noooo.” It helped to make my mouth into an “O” shape as if I was teaching this gentleman to sound out the letter. Guess what? It worked like a charm. Homeboy smiled and said, “No worries” as he quietly left the bar.

2. The next incident I was bussing my table when a woman in her forties asked, “Do you have any straws?” I replied, “I’m sorry ma’am we don’t,” in a kind, professional manner. You’d think that would get the job done, right? Instead I couldn’t have been more wrong when she burst out, “So you don’t have any straws?” She emphasized “any” as if this were The Sahara and I said we couldn’t find any water. It was a matter of life and death to have a tiny straw in which to suck up her soda. I can think of something else I’d like her to suck but I have to avoid getting off topic. I decided to treat her as if she were one of my first graders asking to go to the bathroom five minutes after I had just said no. I smiled and replied very calmly but firmly, “Still no.” This lady then got embarrassed for how she acted and smiled and said, “It’s okay.” I don’t know where these people come from. If I don’t have straws in my kitchen I can’t automatically pretend I’m Criss Angel and pull one out of my ass. (I’d rather not think about what Criss Angel has up his ass).

3. My final example has to do with my male coworkers ages 20-40. I was on break with all five of them. A June bug came crashing onto our table. Immediately the boys wriggled and cried out, “Ewwww! A June bug!” I told them, “June bugs are attracted to the light.” My 40 year old coworker mirrored my information to the rest of the group as if he had learned a new fact: “June bugs are attracted to the light.” He then picked up the struggling June bug and put it in a can of Coke. Having seen my kindergarteners kill bugs without knowing any better, I immediately forgot about code switching and talked to this 40 year old like he was a kindegartner. In my patient, firm, and maternal voice I said, “We do not kill June bugs. They are our friends. Just because they are inconvenient to us doesn’t mean their lives are worth any less than ours.” One of the 20 year olds snickered and said, “Friends. Hahaha.” Thinking I wasn’t looking the 40 year old took the can of Coke and dumped it out on the grass so the June bug could fly away. The next June bug that landed on the table got left alone. The boys allowed me to pick it up and release it. When one of the other 20 year olds said, “Don’t they live for only a day anyway?” I explained, “June bugs have a different concept of time than we do. To them, a day feels like 10 years to us. We wouldn’t want to cut their precious lives short just like we wouldn’t want anyone to cut our lives short.” The boys sat there transfixed as they were thinking about my lesson. I think the lesson I learned was the most powerful of all.