A Day in School

I am almost getting the hang of teaching middle school. They say teaching middle school is like drinking scotch. That is, at first it is hard to get it down, then you get used to it, then after that it’s the only drink you order. I may confidently say that I am currently at the “getting used to it” part.

A typical day in middle school involves diffusing tension in kids which are full of it. From stopping fights before they happen to constant bullying, there is always something that comes up. Kids here are too much trouble and majority of my time teaching is spent on planning how to channel these kid’s energies into school work, how to coax adolescents crippled by low self-esteem into participating, how to deflect every curve ball, even the directed insults, into a teachable moment. And that takes a lot of effort on my part.

But it’s not always that hard, sometimes there are light moments too. Take for example, a talk I had with a very problematic, but at the same time bright, kid in class. A kid who always takes the lead in mayhem, a kid with seemingly boundless amounts of energy that, if the energizer bunny ever becomes a kid, he will be it. One day in school he fell quiet. Instead of him bullying his classmates, the class now picked on him. He was called motor-mouth and that got me interested. And after an uncharacteristically failing score on a test in math, his favorite subject, I decided to talk with him and requested that he stay after class.

After explaining to him the details of his test and showing him where he was wrong, I asked him what was happening and if there was anything wrong with him.

bracesAnd after a few times cajoling an answer from him he finally responded with a wide grin and said “its braces pain sir”. And I immediately saw why the others called him a motor-mouth. He had a mouthful of shining metal, connecting wires and elastic bands, in short he has braces. He then continued to tell me that he recently had those braces put on him by their family dentist by the request of his mother. And that he can’t concentrate on the test because his mouth was hurting and his lips and tongue were sore. And that also didn’t review for the test because he was feeling sick the previous day.

With a smile, I told him that I believed him. My curiosity intrigued, I proceeded to interview him about his braces. He told me of the job of brushing and flossing his teeth every meal was a complete bore. And that he cannot eat caramel candies anymore because it will stick to his braces nor bite into an apple or other hard fruits without first slicing it into smaller bite sized pieces. He also told me that his favorite snack of crunchy chips and popcorn was no longer allowed as its bits and pieces gets stuck in between the metal parts of the braces. He doesn’t have this problem with other foods, such as vegetables.

I kind of pity the boy and hope can find some tooth pain relief. Suddenly, he was restricted from eating his favorite foods. And also became a target of mischief in school with his new braces.

After our talk, I told him that I understand why he got low scores in his last test. And also told him that he can take the test again if he wanted to so that his grades won’t be affected. He lit up and said with another big shining grin, “really”? I said, yes of course. And with that he said yes and then he asked if he can go now.

I don’t know, but I felt happy after talking with the kid.  These moments makes me forget how hard teaching could be. I survived another typical day in middle school.

Health Benefits of Eating Your Veggies

Vegetables are an integral part of our diet – there is no doubt about it. However, children these days eat only a minimum amount of vegetables, which is a very alarming trend. I always worry when I see children going for snacks and fatty food items at the cafeteria of the school where I teach Math. Middle school students are at a stage in their life where they need nutrition and a proper diet. Even if the school menu has fruits and vegetables on it, 90 percent of the children opt for snacks and sugar-laden drinks.

New fast food places open up every week in San Diego which means children and adults have more opportunities to eat junk food. It really worries me to see children gobbling down food that is most likely to cause obesity. I know it is hard to get children, especially teenagers, to stick to a healthy food routine, but you can always incorporate vegetables into their daily meals with a little bit of effort. For example, when we are having steak at home, I make sure that we all consume a healthy portion of sautéed vegetables with it. Similarly, adding a bowl of salad to every meal can do wonders in improving the overall diet patterns of your family.

Eating vegetables has tremendous health benefits which cannot be stressed enough. First and foremost, they reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Everyone knows that heart attack kills millions of people in America every year and it seldom comes with a warning. The fatty food items that we consume on a regular basis clog our arteries and ultimately lead to a heart attack. If you think about it, children who consume fast food on a regular basis start clogging their arteries at a very young age, increasing the chances of having a heart attack even before they reach 40. Same is the case with strokes. By adding vegetables to our diet, we can easily be safe from these fatal illnesses.

Obesity is another worrying trend that I see in children too often. I have often talked to the parents of my students about how low carb vegetables can help with this problem and bring their child’s weight within the normal range. Vegetables such as sprouts, spinach, cabbage, legumes and carrots are all low in their carbohydrate content and are excellent sources of nutrition. However, the problems is that most kids and even adults run in the opposite direction as soon as they hear the words ‘green vegetables’.  The trick is to cook them in a way that they become appetizing – use some spices or add some meat to jazz up the serving.

Eating more vegetables has numerous health benefits such as reducing risk of diabetes, kidney stones, certain types of cancers and high blood pressure. If we only included more vegetables to our diet, we wouldn’t have to take medicine for so many conditions. The reason I am more intent on getting kids to eat vegetables is that once they get into the habit, it will stick with them forever.


The Joys of Coloring

Back when I was young, I used to love coloring. In fact I even colored regular books and newspaper comic pages when I ran out of coloring books to use. Come to think of it, I didn’t remember getting scolded when I did that. Even when I wrote on the walls of our house, my mother just smiled an approving smile. Maybe she knows something I don’t. What was supposed to be reprimand, became words of encouragement, telling me how beautiful my drawings are and how vibrant the colors of my rainbows, that stretched seemingly unending across our bedroom walls. I was a good girl back then, how do I know that? Because my mother always told me so, and who in this earth would you rather trust than you mother. Maybe it was because of those coloring books. How I miss those days.

coloring kidLooking back, it dawned on me that those same crayons and coloring books reflected innocently what I was going to be today. Coloring books with black and white images yearning for me to play with them, to put color into their otherwise dreary state, shouted at me that they want to live. Countless amounts of time thinking what would be a good color for the hills, for the moon, for the rivers and the sea, for everything under the sun.

Putting color into those coloring books taught me many things. Among the most notable I can remember are the following:

First, it taught me coordination. From what I thought in my imagination, my brain directing my hands, my fingers holding the crayon the right way and my eyes seeing where to put them, each of these takes a lot of work for a child who is still learning. Doing them all at the same time teaches coordination.

Secondly, it taught me obedience and focus. Putting color inside the boundaries and not straying beyond the lines takes focus. It is hard for a child with shaky stroke to adhere with it the first time, but keeping focus and practicing soon rewards him. The subtle teaching of following what is right teaches obedience. The bonus of a beautiful and pleasing colored image teaches the child that it pays to color only the areas within the boundaries of lines and not outside of it. Same as with everything in life, you are rewarded, in one form or another, if you do what is right.

Last but not least, it taught me self-expression and creativity. What the final image will be in a coloring book isn’t defined.  It was up to me what it will eventually be. The outlined image is not the same after you color it. A once morose landscape in black in white becomes a wonderful place after you color it. Make it burst into life with brilliant hues. Or make it even bleaker with brooding shades. It exercises a child’s mind to imagine the desired look and feel that the choice of colors will bring to the picture thereby eventually triggering one’s creative potential.

Coloring books as adults also has their own benefits. For one thing, it can definitely sustain sharper minds. We can also use it as a form of meditation or to relieve the stresses of everyday life. Even the absence of a coloring book today poses no problem to us crayon devotees. One click of a mouse prints for you individual coloring pages of your choosing. I particularly like the My Little Pony coloring pages because ponies are little girls’ best friends, and I am still a little girl at heart.  And also the Disney’s Frozen coloring pages because the movie reminds me of great times I had in the snow when I was a kid. Besides, when does anyone loses love for Disney characters? So what are you waiting for? Grab a crayon and color something today.