Miss Cardigan's Blog

Instilling Catholic Values, One Middle Schooler at a Time

Mack Truck Moment April 13, 2011

Filed under: Alcohol,My girls are too young for this... — misscardigan @ 3:02 am

There is a joke among my students, both present and former, that I know everything.  The fact that I somehow know so much about what’s going on in their lives drives them crazy when they first arrive in my room.  I’m upfront and tell them that 99% of what I know about them I learn from them (since I was a young girl I’ve been very good at being ignored by people and learning about them from the conversations they have in front of me).  Eventually some of them pick up on it…and some do not.  Once students leave my room, if they choose to stay in touch with me, they usually become even more open and frank with me – I’m not their teacher after all.  Sometimes this is good…and sometimes it leads to me feeling like I’ve been hit in the chest by a Mack truck.

Today, today was a Mack truck day.  We’re studying Catholic Social Teaching in religion and were discussing the first theme today: Life and Dignity of the Human Person.  The group leading our discussion chose to talk about the negative impact of drugs and alcohol and how these substances go against this theme. Underage and “of age” drinking and the legal limit was discussed.  Then, one girl raises her hand and asks what the blood alcohol level would need to be for someone to have to go to the hospital and be near death.  I told her that I didn’t know and would have to look it up.  Before I know it, she launches into a story about how she knows this girl whose blood alcohol was like a .3 (or something) and was taken to the hospital and almost died…. and it hit me.  I know who she is talking about.  Because a former student and I were talking and she shared with me how her friend had gotten scarily drunk and was taken to the hospital and almost died.  Former student’s friend has a little sister in my current class—who is the friend of the girl asking the question.  I felt the wind leave my chest like something out of a cartoon while the color simultaneously drained from my face.  I actually had to excuse myself so I could go out into the hallway and pull myself together.

I know that I had known about the girl, so perhaps this shouldn’t have affected me as it did.  The reality, though, was that I was caught totally unaware.  I really wasn’t expecting for the situation to come up in my classroom ever.  I realize now that it was also the casualness that the student spoke of the event…as if it weren’t really that big of a deal at all.  I don’t know…it just really shook me.  It also reminded me what’s at stake.  That yes, even though there are days when I feel that what I am doing is totally useless and they don’t care or listen to me anyway…I have to keep reminding them and encouraging them so that they will be equipped to handle the crazy life situations they will encounter and will hear a little buzzing in their ear, reminding them to make good choices.


One of THOSE days January 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — misscardigan @ 2:34 am

Today….today was one of THOSE days.  You know, those days?  Those days when it would have been more productive and better for everyone involved if you had just stayed in bed?  It started by my waking up at 6:56 (I usually leave the house at 7) and ended with my finding out that one of the 8th grade songs for the dance showcase is the “clean” version of a song really entitled f*** you.  Fabulous.  Where was the teacher who okayed this and didn’t realize what the song was really about?  And why do I always have to be the “bad guy” when in reality I’m just trying to uphold them mission of the school and instill some values into my students?

So basically, today was one of those days when I wonder why I even try.

Still – I’m looking forward to seeing my girls in the morning and am going to hope for a better day!


Texting…UGH January 18, 2011

Filed under: My girls are too young for this...,Should have stayed in bed — misscardigan @ 4:13 am

So, we left off in our story with my rather uncomfortable parent phone call and then student conversation.  And yes, I know that was MONTHS ago.  I haven’t been good about updating, but am going to make a more concerted effort in 2011!  YAY for blogging and reflecting!

Back to the story…

I walk into the gym one morning, with the intention of reminding two students to go to stationary to buy sweatpants (ahh the life of a teacher!).  As I am searching for one of the students, Smiles, and another student overhears.  She tells me that she is looking for Smiles as well, because Smiles left her cell phone and home and her mom found it and read the texts, then texted her (perhaps not mom’s best move, but).  I look at the friend, my blood pressure rises and ask how worried I should be on a scale of 1-10.  She says 4 – which, all things considered, is not that bad.  When Smiles finally arrived, the friend updated her, I reminded her about the sweats, and off we went into our day.

In the meantime, Smiles has been dealing with hives that are appearing and causing her to itch for no apparent reason, so she went to the nurse a few times during the morning.  When the classes were switching, she came up to me and asked if she could talk to me for lunch.  I said of course, and thinking it had to do about school or something, really didn’t think about it until lunch rolled around.  There were girls working in my classroom so Smiles and I decided we’d go to the oratory to talk (which was quite the scene with her eating pizza…in the small chapel…I was so scared a colleague would walk in to witness the craziness of it all).

(and I begin, trying to pretend that it isn’t odd that we’re eating pizza in the oratory) “So, Smiles…you said you wanted to talk.  What’s going on.”

“Well, you know how my mom read my texts…”  Oh God.  WHAT DID SHE SEE, I want to scream – I AM screaming in my head.  Instead, I tense up inside and calmly respond “Yes.”  And then she just sorta stares at me so I continue… “What did she see, Smiles?”  And then the eyes start welling up with tears.  “Umm, well…” And then it comes out that there were text messages with boys, involving joking around about sex.  At 13?  Really?  Turns out when she was at the nurse’s office, she called her mom about the hives and mom was crying about the text messages.  So Smiles and I had a nice conversation about what sex means, and why we don’t joke about it, and why mom would be upset, and how we can restore our relationship with mom.  All things considered, it was a nice conversation and she seemed very open to hearing what I had to say.  I ask her, at the end, if this is something other girls are doing as well.  She hesitates to answer, so I tell her she doesn’t need to respond and rephrase the questions to “is this something I should be addressing in class with everyone?”  Without skipping a beat, “Yes.”  Oh boy.  Then she adds, “except, they aren’t joking around about it on texts.  They’re doing it…um…in person.”  And my heart sinks.  So I close my eyes (to keep my own tears from falling) and start thinking about how I want to address this in class.  It comes to me: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.  “Got it.” I say.  Smiles looks at me funny so I tell her that I figured out how I’m going to address it in class.  Now I just have to get approval for it.


Holes October 20, 2010

Today was an example of how it can be extremely difficult to try and teach adolescents, period, but particularly to teach them about modesty and making good choices.  I try very hard not to be careful of what I say, so that I am supporting them and sending a message consistent with the Church’s teachings…but sometimes…sometimes, even teachers speak before they talk.  Or, perhaps better said, they speak and forget CRUCIAL adverbial prepositional phrases.

As I have previously mentioned, I have a very energetic, and wordly class this year.  It makes for quite the deadly combination some days.  Today was one of those days.

There are some pieces of background information necessary to fully appreciate the story.  First is that Tiger has a hole in her turtleneck (required uniform shirt) in her right armpit.  She plays with it all day, sticking her fingers in and conceivably stretching it out.  Second, my students have snack every morning, but must store their snack in their desk throughout the morning.  They are not permitted to get up and go to the cupboards to get it from their lunches; that is just too distracting.

It recently came to my attention, as well as the rest of the class’ attention, that Wilma has an odd idiosyncrasy when it comes to snack.  Unlike many of the girls, she has no problem remembering to put her snack in her desk each morning.  She does not try to eat her snack throughout the morning, but rather waits until Snack Time (very sacred in my room).  No, the oddness comes out AFTER she has eaten her snack.  See, she has this habit of going to the cupboards, taking her lunch bag out, looking at the food she has for lunch, then putting it all back (without taking anything), and returning to her seat.  We’re not really sure what this is all about, but we are trying to support her in breaking this habit.  Yesterday was day 1 of our attempt (and by our, I mean mostly mine), and it was successful.  Today, though, we were checking vocabulary homework and I was distracted and only picked up that she was at the cupboard when the class started telling me “Miss Cardigan!  Wilma’s at the cupboard with her lunch again!”  That is when Tiger so lovingly calls out “Wilma, you’re so weird!”

I chastised Tiger and reminded the class that we are here to support Wilma: “Girls, we are here to help Wilma get through this and realize she does not need to check her lunch.  That no one here is going to eat her lunch during snack.  We all have odd character traits.  It is not Wilma’s fault that her’s is a little more visible to the class.”

But no.  That’s not all I said.  Nope, it gets better…wait for it…wait for it.

“For example, Tiger, you like to put your fingers in your hole.”

IN YOUR SHIRT ARMPIT.  IN YOUR SHIRT ARMPIT.  But did I add that adverbial prepositional phrase?  NO.  Of course not.  And why not?  Because I do not think like my 13-14 year olds.  I didn’t realize what I said (or rather, how it might be interpreted) until I started to hear the mumblings.  Luckily, I was able to ignore and quickly return to checking vocabulary.  I can only imagine the dinner conversations around their tables tonight…


The dreaded parent phone call… October 18, 2010

Filed under: Modesty,My girls are too young for this...,Teaching — misscardigan @ 1:50 am

I’ve recently had to have two very difficult moral conversations with individual students.  I needed time to digest the incidents leading up to the conversations, and the conversations themselves, but am now ready to share and explore my thoughts…

A few weeks ago, on a Friday, a co-worker came up to me and told me that she needed to discuss something that happened with my students, which was setting them a bit on edge.  Great, I thought to myself, Bring it on.  See, this class is wonderful, energetic, charismatic, and out-going, but they are a little different than my previous classes.  This class is a little more worldly, has had some bullying issues, and developed a very difficult reputation last year because they seriously clashed with one of their teachers.  I’ve been approaching the year as a “great and successful” one…but some days its more difficult than others.

Finally, the co-worker and I were able to find 5 quiet minutes in my classroom for her to tell me that she heard through a student that Darling told a group of girls that she had…let’s just say done something very…advanced…with a boy (again, I teach 8th graders…and yes, we’re talking something more serious than kiss).  Wow, I replied.  I thanked her for letting me know and told her I’d figure out a way to handle it.

My principal (who is fabulous) always tells me how she hates Friday afternoons, basically because that is when the sh** hits the fan (my words, not hers), and it is really difficult to resolve anything because it’s Friday afternoon and everyone is heading out to the weekend.  My co-worker and I talked at about 2:50 on a  Friday.  My principal is very wise.

I finally find my principal after dismissal and say to her “You know how you love Friday afternoons?” Her: “Yeah…” Me: “Well, can we sit and chat for a minute?”  Her: “With that intro, I don’t think I want too.”  As I think to myself…no, you definitely don’t want to, but come on now.

So we sit, and I tell her the whole saga. about Darling.  Long story short, we have to figure out if it is for real, or if it was just said for attention.  She tells me I have to call Darling’s mother.  Gee, thanks!  Just what I always wanted to do: tell a mother that her daughter perhaps isn’t as innocent as one would like to think her daughter is.  Thankfully, mom didn’t attack me and we both agreed that we’re here to help Darling and we need to figure out what is going on and why this was said.  I hung up feeling much better than I had felt as I was dialing, which I considered to be a success.

Monday finally pulls around and Darling comes up to my desk, wanting to talk to me.  We set a lunch date.  I’m hoping against hope that she wants to talk to me about something related to school.  No luck.  “So Darling, you said you wanted to talk to me…what’s on your mind?”  “Well, I know that you talked to my mom on Friday…”  Ahh yes, so we ARE going to have that talk.

What resulted was actually a very nice conversation, where we were both open (well, appropriately open considering she is a student and I am a teacher) and had a mature discussion on what was going on.  I learned some background information, and she learned that perhaps I’m not as antiquated as they make me out to seem.  I also learned that she, mom, AND DAD, had a pretty difficult, but open conversation over the weekend.  Dad cried (which I think pretty much sums up WHATEVER could have been said in the conversation).

So this basically left me thinking…HMMM.  Darling is struggling for whatever reason which a lack of self-confidence and a need to prove herself around boys.  Need to think of ways to do handle this and support her in making life choices.  And part of me was thinking that she would perhaps need a little different presentation than what I normally do regarding boys, choices, chastity, and sex.  But as I’ve been observing her in class, things seem to be okay.  I don’t hear her making immodest comments, etc.

And then?  Then, this past Friday occurred…


The Beginning September 28, 2010

Filed under: Clothing,Middle School Dance,Modesty,Teaching — misscardigan @ 8:50 pm

There is one day, at the beginning of each year, which I have learned to love and dread all at the same time.  It is the Friday of the first dance at a nearby boy’s school.  See, I think that it is my duty as the girls’ religion teacher to give them a pep talk before the dance on how fabulous they are and how they should make good choices.  I saw some former students on Friday afternoon and explained how it was the first dance talk…they nodded their wise heads and gave me a knowing look…”ohhhh.”  I had to laugh as they either had it last year or the year before—it’s not like we are talking years and years ago here.  But anyway.

I cover basically the same topics in each speech, although I did tweak this year’s a bit to better fit the personality of the class.  Here’s a general cover of what I discuss:

I open by telling the girls that this is a day we have all been waiting for (I really try to build it up) and go on to say that they are now my students and as such represent me.  As I am fairly involved in the Catholic community in my area, I have connections at most of the local schools, so I remind them of this and encourage them to be aware that I WILL FIND OUT (although most often I find out from them…as they think I am deaf and won’t hear it if they talk right in front of my desk.  Yeah, right.  I’m 24, girls—I HEAR YOU!).

Then we go through the 3 Bs (this class also got 2 extras…no bellies and no backs).  We briefly discuss that they don’t need makeup, but if they and mom decide they can put it on, less is more (don’t want them looking like they belong on a street corner somewhere!).

We cover that they aren’t engaged to these boys, so if the boy dances with them, and then dances with someone else, there is no reason to take it personally.  He’s obviously not THE ONE and they should just talk to someone else, not get angry with the girl.  Of course, there is also a conversation on how even if I am not at the dance (I only chaperon our dances), God is everywhere and God sees everything and that God will see them.  That they should leave room for the Holy Spirit, as he guides us in making good decisions and if we leave him out, how will we be guided into making good decisions.  And that leaving room for the Holy Spirit is not just a mental thing—it is also a physical thing.  There should be actual SPACE in between the bodies.  My favorite is when I talk about inappropriate dancing…and how we just don’t do it.  I’m not sure if they don’t think I know the word grinding, or if they simply think I won’t use it, but I do and they are always shocked.  I figure that if I’m up front and direct, there will not be any room for questions or discussions.

I end by simply telling the girls how fabulous and beautiful they are, and that I firmly believe that they will change the world.  I remind them that they are perfect just the way they are and that they don’t need a boy, especially not one who will make them feel bad.  I try to stress how special and wonderful they are so they will go into the dance feeling great and confident (so they will feel strong in making good choices).

How do you talk to your kids about dances and making good choices?


Name Calling September 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — misscardigan @ 9:00 pm

On Friday, after recess, three of my students were missing from my class.  Two were taken by a secretary, and the third I figured was already down in the office.  While I was hoping it was something innocuous, like they were being asked to participate as a leader in mass or something, I had an inkling that it was most likely due to something which had happened during lunch or recess.

So, sure enough, after I dropped my class off at their special and stopped by the office to check off my mailbox, I met my principal who takes one look at me and says “I hate Fridays.  Come on in.”  So we sit and she proceeds to tell me that there was an incident between my students.  Apparently, one of the girls did something over the summer (my heart is racing and my palms are beginning to sweat) which prompted the other girls to call her a name at recess (not a good name…AT ALL).  So the girl used a friend’s cell phone to call her mom during recess (breaking the rules.  All cell phones are to be in the bookbag at all times!) who in turn called my principal which set the post-recess meeting in motion.

Meanwhile, without knowing ANY of this, I happen to have a conversation with my students during our after recess class about calling each other good names.  We were discussing Uglies by Scott Westerfield, a fabulous book if you haven’t read it.  Anyway, in the Uglies, the kids call each other nicknames based on their “beauty issues” (at 16 they become “pretty” by undergoing an operation).  So I discussed with them how sometimes girls will call each other bad names (no, I wasn’t thinking the word they used) and how that is bad and it shows we don’t have respect for each other and if we don’t respect each other how can we expect boys to respect us…and on and on and on.  And then I go and find out that the students who actually needed to hear my talk aren’t even in my room!

It breaks my heart that at such a young age my girls are already encountering meanness and bad choices and bad language.  It also makes me realize just how difficult, and at times uphill, my job is – to try and help them see the good in everyone, and that by living according to God’s will for us, we will actually be happier in the long run.  Suggestions?