Archives For Teaching

Tara and Brian

October 20, 2013 — Leave a comment

Last night I headed over to Tara and Brian’s, friends of mine who had a baby a couple of months ago. Since I was all sick and stuff for the past month I didn’t think it best to be near a newborn, but yesterday I felt normal enough to head over there to catch up with some good friends, and to see their new baby and whatnot.

I love kids, don’t get me wrong. But I’m horrible at the whole “It’s a new baby!!!” thing. I’ll let others buy the cute little jammies and booties and whatever else babies wear, and I’ll just be the wisecracking single friend that reminds everyone of their single years. I’m hoping this is considered part of long-term bachelorhood. Does Clooney buy baby booties for his friends’ kids? Or does he just smile and wave and then jet off to Italy for six months?

But seriously folks, I’m really happy for them. I’ve known Tara a long time, and she’s one of my closest friends, and seeing her happy and married and now a new mother means a lot to me. And her husband Brian is a great guy. Bought a car from him and everything!

Tara and I used to teach fifth grade together at East View, before I jumped ship for the AT program in 2004. Many of us on that old team became good friends, and we even used to vacation together up to Door County once upon a time. This is where the now-famous “Apostrophe Catastrophe” running joke began. Everywhere we went we found signage that had made horrible, horrible errors in punctuation.


That’s my all-time favorite picture of her, by the way.

Now Tara and I are co-workers again, sort of, but she’s off work until January, raising that little baby and watching a lot of television. Looking forward to having her back in the building, so we can joke around and commiserate together, just like the old days.

And for my loyal readers, one more picture, from December 2003. I present to you, Hipster Mr. Fauth. Enjoy.


Personal Matters

October 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

This week wrapped up two rather stressful events at school. One was our fundraiser, and the other was the annual “puberty” talk for the fifth graders. Both necessary evils, and both get the kids all wound up and distracted. I am very, very glad this week is done.

We actually have two puberty-themed events. The first was held earlier in the week, where representatives from the Robert Crown Health Center come and give a presentation about how life begins. Boys and girls together, and while it’s informative, its certainly a bit embarrassing for the kids as they process all this new information. We normally have this happen later in the year, but due to costs going up we scheduled it for October. Fifth grade teachers sometimes see the Robert Crown talk as a watershed moment. There’s how your kids act Before The Talk, and there’s how your kids act After The Talk.

Today was the day where the boys go in one room, and the girls go in another, and they watch a video, and they get a chance to ask questions about personal matters. And there’s no need to go into the details, as this is a student-friendly site, but we’ve all been there, and as a teacher who’s done this around a dozen times or so, I thought I had heard every question that could be asked by a fifth grade boy.

Except today.

After the video, kids could put questions into a bucket, anonymously, and then our presenter would read and answer them. Questions like, “When will my voice start changing?” “When do I start getting taller than the girls?” And so forth. But here’s a new one:

“Um, when do I start shaving my chest?”

The Manscaping Era has come to elementary school, folks.

*   *   *

Now the weekend is here, and I’ve stuffed my belly full of bad frozen pizza, and I shall read for a bit before firing up the TV. I’ve just discovered seven seasons’ worth of Rick Steves’ Europe on Hulu, and that’s all I’m able to watch right now. He’s my favorite nerd ever.

On closing, I present some fresh fifth grade art, which is the second best part of my job. We’ll discuss the best part another day.

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Today was, on the whole, a good day.

We had the first proper presentations of an invention project I had my kids do in class. Not as brilliant as Joel’s weekly invention exchanges on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, but since the kids were learning about the Industrial Revolution I thought it might be a good idea to have them research proper inventions like the telegraph, rockets, and even Segways. (We learned what “ironic” meant when one presentation erroneously stated that the inventor of the Segway died by falling off of his and down a cliff. Tomorrow we get to learn what a “retraction” is.) One student built a homemade telegraph machine that actually worked. I’ll get a picture of it for later, because it’s incredible.

While I wanted the kids to learn about inventions, the project was really assigned to gauge their adeptness at technology, research skills, and public speaking. And it’s interesting to see what they know and what they don’t know. Now that tablet computers and smartphones are (increasingly) the only digital device kids use, their knowledge of how to run desktop PCs and software like Word and Power Point is really starting to decline. Which may not be a bad thing. Do I really want to train kids to just give presentations? I’m not trying to train a generation of market analysts, you know.

After the end of a long day I got to spend a couple of hours catching up with a former student from my last class. He’s a seventh grader now, and we hadn’t had an opportunity to tell stories and crack jokes in a long while. He’s a great kid, and one of those students I’ll probably keep in touch with for a long time. Now that he’s older he’s into Doctor Who and Arrested Development, so it was a mad quote-a-thon for a while. (“There are dozens of us!!! DOZENS!!!!!!!!!”) Right now he’s obsessed with the Freemason mythology that has surrounded American history for a while. This is one cool kid.

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He’s admittedly not much of an artist, so he enlisted his sister (in my class this year) to do some drawings for him.

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Before I close, I should really just embed this Invention Exchange and let others enjoy it. I’m so thankful for YouTube’s treasure trove of MST3K-related videos.

Is it wrong that I credit Joel Hodgson as one of my main influences, as far as teaching goes? That might explain my tendency to (gently) mock and (slightly) distrust most things I come across.

What do you think, sirs?

Red Shirts

October 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

This morning I had a student say to me, upon seeing me for the first time that day, “I like your shirt!”

It was just an ordinary blue button down Oxford shirt, but it was a long-sleeved shirt, see. The first I’d worn all year. Your basic Hal Gurnee outfit. Up until now it’s been nothing but the same 5 or 6 polo-style short sleeve shirts I own. Over the past year I had pared down my wardrobe, for travel purposes, and I’ve been slowly replenishing the work shirts since I got back. And so, since the year started, it’s been a simple uniform of khakis and polo shirts. I’ve had these weird skin sensitivities lately, but I recently discovered these shirts, and they’re fabulous. They’re pretty much all I wear.

Anyway. Why am I writing about shirts? Because yesterday, to coordinate with our Boosterthon Fun Run®, I wore the second of two red polo shirts I own. I wore the other one on Friday. Actually, I wear the red shirt every Friday, because it’s “spirit wear” day, and I get to wear blue jeans. Simple pleasures of life, people. So another student catches me in my wardrobe faux pas, and says, “Why are you wearing a red shirt? It’s not Friday!” I guess, according to him, I end the workweek like Tiger Woods does a golf tournament.


Hopefully I’m less expendable than these guys.


The point of all this is not about shirts, or the lack of variety in my sartorial selections, but about what kids remember. I could complain that some spend more time remembering the oddball details, instead of putting proper punctuation at the end of their sentences, but that’s a losing battle. Kids remember weird stuff. (My former student Liz still busts out stuff I said in class 14 years ago like it was yesterday.) This causes many of us to develop that very cautious, rehearsed voice, where every word is chosen very slowly and deliberately. You never know what kids will remember, so sometimes its best to choose your words with caution and care.

I am not very good at this. I talk to them in a regular voice, and I try to avoid that “teacher voice” as much as possible. Our daily Boosterthon visitors to our classrooms have very rehearsed, affected voices, and I don’t think the kids like it. I think they take offense when you talk to them like you’re a textbook, or a game show host. Show them some respect, recognize them as proper individuals, and use your own voice when talking to them. That’s what I do, and I hope that’s something that they remember.

Oh, and the first time I wear a sweater, it’s gonna blow their minds!

Part One is located here, in case you missed it.


Here’s a wide view of the room. I’ve been in this one for six years straight, as opposed to my time at East View, where I had three different rooms in the same span of time.

I have 30 students, plus a few 4th graders that come in for Math every day. It can be fairly crowded at times. Right now the seats are supposed to evoke a Viking mead hall, but I haven’t been able to get my annual Viking Day off the ground yet. It should have been today, as I always try and have it the Friday before Columbus Day weekend. We have new restrictions concerning food in school, which has really taken half the fun out of Viking Day. Because we do things like this:


We’ll see if I can get an exemption.

Here’s one more look at my bulletin board area. I have a student who has been giving me pictures of different animals with human names like Bill and Sam:


When the school was built, interior windows were in vogue, so we could monitor activity in the hallway. Now we cover them up to provide a “safer, more secure” environment in case of a lockdown.


Traveling back in time to the East View days again, one year a fast food restaurant had Halloween Simpsons toys, based on episodes of their annual Treehouse of Horror episodes (back when they were good.) Students brought them in and gave them to me. I had a Bart one, but one year my sister and my niece were visiting and she took a liking to him.


One student has decided it is her job to mark off the lunch calendar at the end of every day. And to occasionally leave me secret messages behind the screen.


Zooming in on the library, we see some rather worn copies of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and a pre-film edition of The Return of the King. (I really need to update my classroom editions of  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. That might be all that’s left of them.)


My library could use some work, to be honest. I should be grouping them by genre, labeling them with reading level stickers and whatnot, but it’s a lot of work and I just don’t have the time.


My old Choose Your Own Adventure books made their way into my class library. Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? was my favorite one to read over and over again.


Peanuts isn’t as popular now with kids as it was back in the day, but they’re still a presence in my classroom. Snoopy on his doghouse was made by my mother a long, long time ago. The beanie toys were a gift from…Kaitlin S, I think.


Nibbles is a creepy rat who occasionally shows up in students’ desks. Today someone made him a bed during Read Aloud.

This week was a long one, for many reasons, and I had to have a few chats with some of my boys who really don’t know how to make good choices. Forgotten homework, a tendency to goof around and talk at the wrong times, and a general disinterest in school. I have dubbed them “The Lost Boys.”

After we packed up and marched downstairs, and after the goodbyes and high fives, I walked back to my room, exhausted and frustrated yet again with how the year is going. This was waiting for me on my desk.


I’ll address the missing capital “R” in “rings” on Tuesday. We just took a quiz today on proper nouns. They should know better!  🙂

Many teachers hang on to everything, because they never know when it’ll come in handy. I rarely hang on to anything that I don’t use on a regular basis, since I don’t like clutter, and more of more of my “stuff” is in digital form. I have hung onto a few interesting objects over the years, though, and along with a few other entertaining bits, I thought we’d take a short tour of some of my classroom.

Let’s start with this strange little object.

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Every year, sometime during the first days of school, I will have several students become obsessed with this object. They immediately think it’s a brain, or guts, and are always surprised to find that it’s just a hunk of hard pink plastic. Any clue what it is? I’ll let it sit there for a while and spark your creativity, and we’ll come back to it another day.

Also pictured: the new glass chess set donated to my room by a very nice family; the replica Empire Strikes Back lunchbox that is exactly the same as the one I had when I was in 3rd grade. Some NASA toys, a “bald” Lego Harry Potter, and of course rubber spiders and cockroaches, because obviously.

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My desk bulletin board is always one of my favorite places to personalize. It’s a mix of new oddments and some favorites that I stick up year after year. Up at the top you’ll see a man going for a walk:

Rockwell walk

I pulled this out of a Norman Rockwell wall calendar a long time ago. I suppose it sums up me at my most content. Going for a long walk in the cool autumn air. Loyal Dog can be optional.

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This picture of Bob Dylan was part of Apple’s Think Different campaign of the late 90s. Its hung in my room every year I’ve taught. Above that is the picture Mr. Rainaldi and I convinced the school picture people to take of us as a joke. The Monet comes and goes, depending on my mood.

Here’s a flashback picture to my first work area, when I taught fourth grade at East View, and where you’ll find a few familiar pictures. I don’t know who the skinny guy with all the hair is, though. The Irish Tricolor hung in my room all the way back in 1998, before I ever set foot on the island. Note the collection of gourds, indicating that this picture was taken almost exactly fifteen years ago, give or take a few weeks. I think Liz gave most of them to me. And to the left of the gourds is the sweet Princess Leia mug I used to have…until Shane broke it the next year.

First Classroom 1

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Speaking of the Irish, you wind up in Water Bottle Prison if you bring one of those cheap plastic water bottles and scrunch it at your desk just to make noise and annoy me. It will be guarded by the Irish Stereotype Who Wields a Lightsaber.

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The cabinet is new, replacing a large green cabinet that I had in my classroom every year until now. It was originally built by my grandfather for my aunt, who used to teach first grade in the district. She lent it to me for years and years, and I gave it back to her when I moved to Dublin. A parent was kindly enough to donate this one to my classroom. She’s just happy her child is enjoying school again.

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And of course, nothing beats 5th grade artwork. Read it in a mirror!!!!

I’ll take some more pictures tomorrow and continue the tour then. This is kind of fun.

88 per cent

October 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

While the kids left for P.E., one of them asked me, “What percent Mr. Fauth are you today?”

Mmm, I’m feeling about 88% today.

“I’ll take that!”

If I can monitor how I’m feeling by the number of Halls Menthol cough drops I suck on throughout the day, then I must be feeling better, because I think I only had 2 or 3 today. Usually it’s more like 10-12, sometimes almost non-stop.

Each time I get sick I can never remember the exact details of the last time I was sick, so I’m trying to use this blogging marathon as a way to document a few things, lest I forget the next time this crud comes my way. I’ve finally got a bit of energy again, but I tend to slip back into that overly-energetic mode I get into when I’m teaching, so I’m usually exhausted by the time snack break rolls around.

Had enough gas in the tank to make it to a former student’s soccer game yesterday, on the invite of a parent. I rarely have time for things like that, but he was a student who meant a lot and who kept in touch while I was gone last year, so I was glad to do it. Tough loss, but we got a chance to say hi and chat for a few minutes. Apparently he’s now deep into Arrested Development and Doctor Who. Knew I liked that kid for a reason.

Finally have some money in the back account, so I did a proper grocery buy tonight. After a quick dinner of chicken burritos (again) I worked on emails and my parent-teacher conference schedule, which I’m a bit behind in sending out.

First Quarter is winding down, and so my next two weekends will be spent with large tests and end-of-term projects, and then report cards. I missed the transition to online report cards last year, so this should be a pleasant change. No more hand-writing out all thirty students’ information, no more white out when I invariably make a mistake. 

Trying to get these guys whipped into shape, which involves being stern, but also appropriating stale memes that they haven’t discovered yet:



This is the secret of my success. Corny, out-of-date jokes and bad impressions. I’m like the Michael Scott of elementary schools.

Oh, God. I’m the Michael Scott of elementary classrooms…

Ick of the Sea

October 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

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This is the very last of the Purina pencils.

Almost 30 years ago I had a bunch of these, which a friend of mine would alter by scratching out key letters in the Purina products advertised on the pencil. PURINA CHOWS became PURINA COWS; CHEX CEREALS morphed into CHEX EELS; PET products became ET products (how’s that for an 80s artifact?); and of course Chicken of the Sea became ICK OF THE SEA.

Don’t ask me why I still have it. One of those things that survived purge after purge of childhood mementoes and countless moves.

*     *     *

That’s all I got tonight. Had a horrible night’s sleep, still not feeling any better. Hoping to go to bed early and get some real rest.

Tomorrow apparently there is something called a Boosterthon pep rally. I am scared.

Nutmeg and Spice

October 4, 2013 — 2 Comments

I decided to stay home today, to get some rest and try and get over this thing. Chest was pretty congested when I woke up, and I thought about going to the doctor, but so far I haven’t made it past my reading chair.

Of course I have a reading chair. Which is different than the one where I watch films and the televised programs of broadcast and cable. It’s one of those POÄNG chairs from IKEA. Cheap, but comfortable, and perfect for reading books. A chair that almost helps you not nod off to sleep.

Since I’ve been ill so much of the past two months, I’ve spent a lot of time in that chair working through a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read. So much of the past year was spent reading plays and theatre theory and the stack of “other” books to read has gotten rather high. So this is what I’ve been reading lately:

I started James Joyce’s Dubliners unofficially as part of my theatre reading last fall. The Corn Exchange in Dublin was premiering a new production based on the famed short stories and it was a highlight of the 2012 Dublin theatre fest. I never found the time to get them read, unfortunately, and I wish I had, as it would have deepened my appreciation for the Corn Exchange’s play. Anyway, I finished them a couple of weeks ago, and enjoyed them quite a bit. I don’t think I’m quite ready to tackle Ulysses, though. Someday.

Another volume I’ve been slowly working through is a collection of Tolkien’s short stories, mostly centered around the theme of wandering into the realm of Faerie. Tales from the Perilous Realm includes all those stories with lovely titles I never got around to reading when I first fell in love with his works: Smith of Wooton Major, Farmer Giles of Ham, and Leaf by Niggle. There’s also the haunting poem “The Sea-Bell”, and his essay “On Fairy Stories”, which I’m about halfway through. Once I complete this book, there won’t be much left of him for me to read.

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After meeting Bill Kelso I read his book on the Jamestown archeological dig, and I wish I could do more with it in class, but 4th grade handles early American history now. I tried dipping into it
in class, but no one was biting.

I’ve tried to work through Ken Robinson’s The Element, thinking that it might have something interesting to say about education and the arts, but it’s mostly self-help nonsense. Best to stick to his TED talks I guess.

A bit of comfort reading has been necessary as well (if Tolkien doesn’t already count), and so I picked up some X-Men comics for old times’ sake. It’s one of those multi-issue crossover things that I usually don’t care for, but so far this one has been decent.

Books that stare out at me waiting to be read include Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, and Savage Continent, a new book about the aftermath of World War II in Europe. Not really anything that relates to fifth grade, but I haven’t had much interest in reading kid lit these days. I think about all the books and stories I haven’t read, and wonder how I’ll ever find the time to fit them all in, so my reading time has been devoted to books just for me. I can’t keep up with the latest “hot” books for elementary students, nor have I much interest in books on whatever trendy educational models people are reading. No Daily Five for me. Though, Summerhill School, by A.S. Neill recently wound up in my Amazon cart. Certainly not a trendy or recent book, but one that keeps niggling away at the corners of my brain.

Bad Luck Brian

October 3, 2013 — 2 Comments

One strange hope I had during the Year Off was that I’d come back healthier and more energized, and less prone to getting sick.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so much.

Things were good at first. I had dropped some weight, I was in decent shape after walking everywhere. Came home, tried to get into a running habit, and promptly got plantar fasciitis. Six months later I’m still limping around. And I’m growing more sideways than I would like.

I’m six weeks into the school year, and I’ve been sick twice. First time I figured it was allergies; everyone had it back in early September when there was a lot of ragweed and mold in the air. This new bout gave me a 102 degree fever last week and I’m on Day 12 suffering with a congested chest. I know I should have gone to the doctor, but honestly I think it’s nothing serious. These things usually stay with me for a couple of weeks and then go away.

Plus I really don’t feel like racking up any medical bills right now. I’m not exactly flush with cash. But no need to get into that. At least I’ve got health insurance and a real salary again.

What’s really frustrating is the fact that I never really got sick during the Year Off. The only time was a 4-5 day chest cold, and that was while I was back in the states for a wedding and a funeral. Even when I subbed for a few months, and I was around different kids and different germs every single day? Nope. Nothing. Not even the sniffles.

So what does that mean? Why do I get sick all the time in this job? Is it my habit of high-fiving too many kids? I don’t really do the whole hand sanitizer thing; I tend to believe that it does more harm than good. (This is probably one step on the road to me becoming Ron Swanson.)

Maybe the job just takes too much out of me. Two years ago I stepped down from my other job, and one that I loved dearly, because I kept getting sick just as the summer season would start up. My current students ask me what percent of Mr. Fauth they’re getting today, and it hasn’t been 100% Mr. Fauth for a while. I can’t sleep most nights, at least on Sundays and most Mondays, so there goes half the week. I’m lucky to get two-three days at work where I’m the teacher they know and (hopefully) enjoy, the manic preacher of Vikings, Hobbits, and Funny Voices. Most of the time I’m just exhausted.

So what’s the answer? Don’t tell me I need to exercise and eat like a caveman, or take some miracle drug, or “just relax, Brian!” I am fully aware that I need to exercise and eat and sleep better. And I would love to relax, but the job is always there. It’s never-ending, and when I finally put it down for the day there’s always the nagging list in my head of All That Needs To Get Done.

Sometimes I’m afraid that the only way I’m going to stay healthy is if I stop teaching altogether. But that’s pretty unlikely. It’s a job I’m born to do, apparently, and I’m still dedicated to it. And it’s not like I can just up and do something else. Our society is pretty good at keeping you in your place. Once you do something for a while, it’s awfully hard to try and break out into something else. Believe me.

I’ll try and rest up again this weekend and hope that I wake up next Monday with a clear chest and a full battery. My students deserve nothing less than 100% Mr. Fauth.