Love or whatever

Previously I have written about trying to learn how to show love as freely as my dogs do. This was central to my classroom strategy this year. Since the school year is officially over, now I get to reflect on how well it worked. There was definitely a change.

When I had my very first classroom 18 years ago, I accidentally slammed my door on the first day and scared the freshmen. When you combine that with my natural RBF (resting um…butthead…face), 30 kids were terrified. They soon realized was all bluff and gruff. However, my kids thought it was hilarious to tell incoming students how scary I was. For the first 14 years of teaching, I just went with the unfounded fear turned to continuing upper class prank. It worked well with my inclination to avoid sappiness.

Then it became time for me to go home and change some things in my life.

I had a new opportunity to start the year with love rather than fear. It was tougher than I expected. Before, I had very few discipline issues because by the time kids were no longer afraid, our procedures were established and I could form relationships. I also needed to break my ingrained habits.

I didn’t want to be the scary teacher. Instead of kids laughing at their long running joke (excepting those who thought I was legitimately terrifying and never moved past it), I wanted to be the kid of teacher my kids loved and remembered fondly.

The first two years in my current district, I just tried to be the kind of teacher, and person, I wanted to be. I made some improvements but they weren’t enough and I didn’t feel successful in any way. Then came Percy who would never have been a dog I picked out for myself.

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This was Percy’s first visit with us. At the time, he seemed so big but now I realize how little he actually was.

Percy is the most loving dog I have ever met. I started using him as my model for some of my behavior. I try to show my kids every day how much I love them so the students don’t have to guess or hope their teacher cares. Obviously, I don’t show my affection in the same way Percy does. I have no desire to slobber on anyone or follow them around every moment of the day. I still need my space and quiet time.

I just started telling the students how I felt. I worried that teenagers would think it weird or that they were too old for getting read to and fed snacks. I gave it a go. Then I told them again.

I reminded my kids that I would love them no matter what their standardized test scores were. And in their very last class, I reminded each section that I loved them dearly and I would miss them.

The best part of actually verbalizing how I felt felt instead of just hoping they knew was their response. One group even responded immediately with a “love you” as they left. While I searched for the tissue box that seems to roam the classroom, I thought about how happy I was this year. I had no behavioral discipline referrals. I signed more yearbooks than all other years combined and I have a great start for my new memories book.

I know it isn’t just saying “I love you” aloud to my kids. I actually worked to improve our classroom environment and atmosphere in other ways, as well. Those three words were the scariest part and I will keep working to make my classroom not just a room of learning but also of love.

I don’t regret taking the risk of stating my feelings just like I don’t regret getting a giant, slobbering, blanket-carrying, bottomless pit of a dog who thinks he must be in constant physical contact. Percy and I encourage you to show the love yourself this week. We need more love in the world.

History Repeats Itself

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I will reread some of my posts from the last year. Sometimes, it’s a bit…dull. Sometimes, I wonder how I still have three dogs who are all in good health and we still haven’t had sock removal surgery. Go Percy!

Last time I checked the diary archives, I noticed that this time last year I was counting down the days and being frustrated by Percy’s lack of training success. This year is a little different. I have avoided finding out how many days are left but I am still frustrated with dog training. This time it’s outwardly Haas being uncooperative but actually it’s me falling back on old habits. I’m letting my stress over end-of-school-year stuff get to me. I’m on top of the paperwork. I’m behind on preparing to let my kids go and on being consistent with dog training.

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Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll keep an eye out for papers that need to be graded. We’ve got this!

I figure I am learning by at least recognizing what the problem is. That’s a start, right? I know that when Drake’s turn comes around to go to obedience school, I won’t be starting in the spring. Ideally, I will get my rear in gear and have Haas finished up by the early fall. Then, I can start Drake when I am still busy but less likely to get overly emotional anytime something doesn’t go my way. This sounds like a plan! I can do this!

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We don’t need to train, Mom. Let’s enjoy the deck and my dirt wall art.

I could start my super enthusiastic return to the training regimen tonight and turn over a new leaf. The weather is beautiful, though. Maybe one more night of denial won’t hurt. Surely, I can still get everything in order tomorrow, right? My kids won’t move on for almost a month, I have several days before going to training again, and I don’t really need to come in out of the sun.

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Drake was just awfully cute and minimally dirty so I had to get a picture while I could.

Happy Monday evening to all.

(I will ) Stand My Ground.

It’s been an educational few days. Between Percy’s class Saturday and Professional Development at school (read: teaching the teachers), my brain has had a lot of things to practice and process. It used to bug me when I needed time to think but one of the benefits of not being young is that now I just take the time to let the crud ferment in my brain. It’s too bad I didn’t have that attitude when I was younger. I think it comes down to two things: I don’t care and I am stubborn.

This isn’t nearly as negative as it sounds. I spend all day, every day, with teenagers (those who claim they don’t care what anyone thinks but actually do). I get it. Being a teenager stinks. It stinks like teenage boys’ sweat socks after outside PE in August. If you don’t know what that smells like, its almost as bad as dog, erm, flatulence. So, I’m glad I’m snuggling up to 40. It’s so much easier to learn when I am not just pretending not to care about what other people think and just don’t care.

Even if this is way rambly and gets preachy, I do have a feel-good type point. I couldn’t have trained Percy 10 years ago. I couldn’t have done it 5 years ago because I did care about looking stupid or inept. I would have given up on the first day when Percy pooped in class (mortifying). If that hadn’t done it, maybe I would have given up when we failed the test to get out of level 2 multiple times or when he was “that kid” in class.

A few weeks ago, the trainer was trying not to call out individuals for what they were doing wrong. I was actually bordering on frustrated before I caught why I was feeling that way. I didn’t care if anyone else knew what I was doing wrong. This was a massive growth for me. I just wanted to know how to fix what I needed to fix. I have been tempted to give up, especially when I had to accept that Percy and I wouldn’t graduate from our obedience class. I didn’t quit for two reasons. One is Percy. He deserves my all. The second is that I am just a trifle stubborn (You ok, Husband and Mom? I hope you didn’t choke too much on that statement.) I am okay with us failing but I won’t give up or give in.

I had this realization as we got to do our first off-leash work this week. Up until now, the trainer and I haven’t felt comfortable letting Percy loose with other dogs and people around. I put Percy in a sit and walked maybe 15 or 20 feet away. He stayed! Miracle! When I called him, though, was a tad frightening. Imagine 85 pounds of overly-enthusiastic muscle and teeth charging at you like a freight train. In a perfect world, he would slow down and sit directly in front of me. This isn’t a perfect world. Instead of sitting, my boy decided to launch himself through the air and collide with me at full speed. Fortunately, I am stout so I didn’t end up on my rear and was able to stand my ground. All in all, he didn’t do too badly for his first time off-leash.

Now my obstinance is going to show through with my school kids. My kids are amazing but now it is time to be persistent. They are a delight but there are too many holes in my grade book. If I can stick with Percy, I can stick with my kids. Time to crank the Tom Petty and make “I Won’t Back Down” this year’s theme song. I don’t care if they think I am the crazy teacher who dances in the halls, I am not giving up. Happy Monday!

All the feels

I am amazed at how much love can live inside my heart. It almost feels like rainbows and glitter are going to ooze out of my ears with ponies and baby seals singing in the background. It’s early enough in the year that my students are still angel babies and since we focused today on how valuable we are as individuals in addition to getting to celebrate my grandfather’s 81st birthday with him, I am almost grossing myself out with happiness and…well…love.  It makes me never want to end my sentences.

Even having to outwit the boys to give them monthly meds isn’t getting me down. Instead, it was almost funny to see who took his pill and who had to be fooled with a peanut butter and banana sandwich. The answer: Drake was a good boy about his pill, Percy came in second with only needing 1/4 of a sandwich, and Haas was tricky and needed a full half sandwich, in case anyone is keeping score.

I am giving much of the credit for my sappiness happiness goes to these boys. Dogs can be so good for our hearts and minds. Even if I am sometimes overcome with the amount of emotion I generate, it never seems as much as what our dogs feel toward us. How do they keep loving us even when we are grumpy or sad or too lazy to throw the ball one more time? How can I live up to what my dogs believe me to be? I really don’t think I can, but I will sure try.

So, today, on a Monday, I am setting a goal to be like my dogs when it comes to my kids, both take-home kids and student-kids. I am going to love them even when they are grumpy and stinky and overwhelmed with life. I am going to remember that they are valuable even when they aren’t feeling it and their actions make life tough. They won’t always remember, but like my boys think I am awesome no matter what, I will remember they are awesome — even if I have to reread today’s post to remind myself.  I know I can never live up to my dogs’ ability to love and accept but I am sure going to try.

Ugh, okay. I’m grossing myself out with this already so I’m going to cut this short and go snuggle a dog or three. If any of my students found this, I love you, kid, and you’re my favourite.  (So are you, other kid, just don’t tell the others)

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Teamwork makes the dream work.

Today I started my first full week back with kids and the neediness (oh the neediness!) is going to drive me bonkers. The students are great. I have a wonderful group of students this year. I even get Oldest Child in class. It’s the boys who are worse than static cling in January.

Since I am not at their bark and call all day, I can’t seem to leave the dogs’ sight when I am home. If it isn’t Percy gnawing on a blanket while staring mournfully at me, it’s Haas hugs and snuggles on the couch. Drake tries for cuddle time with Mom but Haas just sits on Drake who then must vacate if he wants to breathe.

Mom says she has to work so I can eat but I’m not stupid. Food comes in boxes right to our door. She’s just mean.

As soon as I walk in the door, it sounds like a bison stampede. They are so wound up, I fear for my furniture. Even with repeated “No!”s and “Off!”s at full teacher volume, there’s still a better than average chance to see a dog soar through the air after launching himself from the back of the sofa.

If it isn’t furniture, then it’s a broken record of “Don’t chew on your brother!” Percy is actually the good boy lately with Drake taking over as King of Obnoxiousness. Haas currently has Drake pinned with Drake’s head firmly between Haas’s jaws. I guess he is tired of Drake’s crazy like the rest of us. It took both Percy and Haas working together to get that monster subdued. On the bright side, I am proud of them working together.

It’s all about optimism, today. My students are going to continue being wonderful, the boys are going to calm down within the next six months, and Percy will finally test into his next training level. While we are at it, Drake will keep making sure Haas gets his exercise and Haas will stop breaking into the kitchen to scare the cat. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. If I repeat it enough, it’ll be true, right? Even if it doesn’t, I have an amazing team of co-workers who will keep me sane when either kids or canines go crazy. Let’s get this year started!

Attitude is Everything

When I tell people I teach high school students, many people tell me they are sorry or give some unnecessary praise for dealing with teenagers. It seems that attitude is the main complaint for those people. It’s true that teenagers can have some overly negative attitudes but I often think it is the expectation of negativity that makes it more noticeable or maybe worse. Teenagers can actually be quite wonderful and full of hope and love and laziness and inspiration and punkishness. I have often written that I like my dogs because they remind me of my kids. It’s easier to train the dogs, though. When they want to refuse or be hateful, I can’t understand what the dogs are saying.

I know that when I am having a particularly rough day with students, I get better results if I let my kids know that I lack patience and am not doing well. I try my absolute best to have as few of those days as possible but I am only human, just like the kids. They can hear and understand that it isn’t that particular class’s fault that I have used up all of my patience and I hope they see that I struggle sometimes, just like they do. I want them to see that even when I struggle, I have to push through.

When I am working with training the boys, though, I can’t make them understand that I am frustrated or impatient and it probably isn’t all them. I know better than to try to work with them when they have broken into the kitchen and eaten half a package of sweet rolls or ripped another blanket to shreds and spread it all over the back yard. It’s the little bits of impatience that I can’t explain to them and have to remind myself that this isn’t the time to work on our homework. Our trainer regularly reminds the class that we have to be in the right frame of mind to be effective when working with our dogs.  I get so caught up in “I have to do this right now” that I sometimes cause us to go backwards.

Today was good though. I set a time to work with Percy and did something relaxing for about 15 minutes before. It took a minute for us to work together but instead of getting frustrated, I was able to laugh when Percy started his “heel” position in the wrong spot. Normally when that happens, I guide him in a teardrop shape to the right spot. I cocked my head to the side (a weird habit I have before I correct him) and just as I was about to correct him, he maneuvered himself in that same teardrop pattern with a little extra hop at the end so he actually jumped into place. I don’t know if I should fix that or not, but it made me laugh and remember that training can be fun when I let it. I’ll ask the trainer Saturday about his weirdness but the rest of the homework went beautifully. He still had his challenges but that’s okay. There were more successes than challenges so I am calling it a day.

Since I wasn’t annoyed or impatient, I added a little time to work on training Drake. It lets me see how far Percy has come because I have forgotten what to do in order to get Drake started. He doesn’t know those basics that Percy does. It doesn’t matter though. Drake always has a good attitude. I thought doggie grins weren’t a thing until I met Drake. I have never seen a dog look so happy. The only time he doesn’t look happy is when Haas gets tired of Drake’s nonsense and sits on him.

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Can we train now, mom? I am so happy! Are you happy?

Drake picks things up much faster than Percy does. Maybe he isn’t as hard headed as Percy. Maybe it’s Drake’s better attitude than both Percy and I have on most days that makes the difference. He can be my inspiration as I try to get half a million things done this week.

I would love to be able to bring my happy boy to see my teenagers in the fall and especially when attitudes all around get a bit rough in October and April. You can’t be unhappy when you look at that grin and I don’t know how anyone ever let Drake go. I am happy to have been lucky enough to snap him up.

Don’t change that channel.

I can’t think of a better way to pass the day

Hanging around, taking our ease

watching that hound a scratching at his fleas.

from The Andy Griffith Show theme song. Originally, it had lyrics.

After presenting my Genius Hour Project, one of my students asked: “Do you use anything you’ve learned training dogs in the classroom?”

I told him I could bring in carrots and praise him effusively when he did good work. The kids laughed but my active teaching and active training are two different things. For some reason, Percy doesn’t respond when I ask guiding questions. He just drools. Excessively.

Active training sometimes feels like a lot of work and I don’t always see results like I want. I have to either praise or correct the boys in 1 second or less and I am getting slow. We repeat things over and over and over and over and always try to end on a good note. Hmmm. Maybe I should try those things in teaching.

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Percy passed into the next level of training! It only took 3 months.

I do seem to have some ability to passively train both my students and my boys. They know to sit automatically when someone has food. This applies to both humans and dogs.

My students are funny about some of the things they were somehow trained to do. For some, that might come from home, too. For instance, if I take a deep breath and run my finger under my nose or a thumb across my forehead, I get an in-class weather report.

“Yes, it is hot in here.”

or

“Nope, it’s just you.”

I don’t have to say or ask anything. I have noticed that those kids who say “My mom gets like that” are then much more careful around me until I am no longer imitating a sweaty tomato. Those are the kids who don’t argue when I say I am old.

The boys have their own habits I haven’t tried to train into them but somehow stuck much better than sitting until I tell them they are free. If I start cleaning, they flop down at the gate to the kitchen because they know it is a going to be a bit and begging won’t get them treats.

The action I saw recently was brand new to me since this is my first summer with the boys and I can’t take credit for this one. As Dad went to bed shortly before 8 am, he turned the tv to an infomercial and said, “Andy Griffith is coming on.”

Good for Andy and Opie? I started to look for something with more color and I was stopped. Apparently, the boys watch, or at least listen, to Andy Griffith every day. Dad headed his way and since I couldn’t’ find another infomercial for something promising, I continued to play indoor ball with the boys.

At 8 am, whistling began. Percy’s ears perked up, he glanced at the tv and all three boys disappeared and left the ball. Weird. I got up in time to see Hass flop down in his room kennel, Percy nose open his door, and Drake sitting patiently outside his. I guess we were done playing and it was nap time.

Maybe I need theme music for my classroom… It worked for Dad so it should work for me, too, right?