That Four-Year-Old Is Braver Than Some Adult Editors…

, , , , , , , | Learning | May 4, 2020

It is spring 2004. A species of cicada emerges as adults every seventeen years in the Washington, DC area — DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland.  

They are everywhere: trees, buildings, roads. And they make an eerie sound because of the billions of them that are trying to find a mate at the same time. When they emerge, they come out of the ground in their nymph stage, dry out, and then molt their exoskeleton one last time. Once they’ve mated, they lay their eggs in the outer twig-like branches of trees. In doing so, the egg takes its nutrition from the tree, killing off the outer twelve inches or so of every branch of the tree.

So, all of the Hitchcockian effects of this insect: little mounds of dirt where each cicada emerges, discarded exoskeletons, cicadas flying everywhere, eerie sound, and many trees’ outer branches dying off.

During this time, I’ve headed to my daughter’s preschool, which is a Montessori school. They’ve taken it upon themselves to make this Biblical insect plague a teachable moment. I’m walking up to the front of the school to check my daughter out for the day. I hear the playful squeals of kids in the back playground. But one little girl, about four years old, is standing out front, looking intently at something in her hands.

The girl holds up her hands to me, showing me the dried leaving of a cicada’s molt, and says, “Look, mister. An exo-skeleton!”

“Why yes,” I say. “That’s exactly right!”

It’s great that instead of being afraid, this girl and all her classmates now have a better appreciation of nature.


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I Didn’t Even Know You Could Cheat At Trees

, , , , , , | Learning | April 28, 2020

Outdoor school has been a long-established “rite of passage” for third-graders here — a time to spend three days away from actual school and learn about the wilderness. Like many of the kids who are attending outdoor school, I am Native, which isn’t uncommon for the area we come from, nor the area we’re in.

We are learning about all the different types of trees, but I’m bored of this lesson and start whispering to my friends. 

It is important to know that everyone in my family has rather… unusual names. It is the late nineties when this happens:

Counselor: “[My Name], are you paying attention?”

Me: “I am! But I know all of this already!”

Counselor: “Oh? Then kindly point out the different types of trees you see around us. If you can get them all correct, you don’t have to go on the nature walk later.”

I stand up, walking over to a big spruce tree.

Me: “This is my Uncle Spruce.”

I walk over to the next tree.

Me: “This is my Uncle Pine, that’s my Auntie Maple…”

I continue on like this for every tree, and the councilor — who is also Native — stops me after a while.

Counselor: “All right, [My Name], you know your trees! But they aren’t your uncles or your aunties; they’re our friends.”

Me: “No, they’re my uncles and aunties! I promise!”

The counselor made a note on his clipboard, and we continued on. Later that night, I was summoned to the counselor’s cabin where they were on the phone with my parents. They put the speaker on so I could hear.

The counselor had told them that I had cheated at the tree lesson, which was a punishable offence. When asked how he knew I had cheated, the counselor told them that no one had ever gotten all the trees correct and told them about me calling them “uncle” and “auntie”. 

My father burst out laughing before my mother could explain; her parents had named all their children after trees, and they had taught all the kids the different types of trees! I didn’t cheat. I knew them because my aunts and uncles had taught me about their namesakes when I was little! 

The counselor blushed and apologized.

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Attaching A Tone Of Resentment To Your Assignment

, , , , , | Learning | April 25, 2020

I’m in Year 11, age 15, and I realise one Saturday night that I have an assignment for my Maths GCSE due on Monday morning. I’ve done the preliminary work for this but not much else. I spend all of Sunday doing it, working until mid-evening, and then I email it as an attachment to my school email address so that I can print it there, as we’re out of paper and ink at home.

It’s important to note that this is around 2005, when even emailing a simple Excel file was far less reliable than it is now. This means that when I get to school and sign in to my email, the attachment has failed to be included.

At the beginning of the class where I’m supposed to hand this assignment in, I approach the teacher and explain the situation. She’s sceptical and unsympathetic, since an email with no attachment is hardly overwhelming evidence of my innocence, and gives me a lunchtime detention, which will be escalated to after school if I don’t hand the work in at the lunchtime detention.

I’m fuming; I actually did the work, so feel it’s really unfair to be punished like this. I angrily rant about the situation to my friends as the class gets settled.

This class, as it turns out, involves something being projected onto the whiteboard. Or at least it was supposed to, but the projector isn’t working. After trying to get it working again, the teacher gives up and announces, “Sorry, guys, bit of a hiccup. We’ll do this another time”.

I respond, in what’s supposed to be an undertone: “Oh, so when technology fails on you, it’s just a hiccup, but when it fails on me, it’s a big deal.”

It’s only when the entire class turns around to look at me, and the teacher stares at me with unbridled fury, that I realise I said it extremely loudly.

There’s a very uncomfortable pause, which is broken when the teacher mutters, “Yes, well, make sure you bring your coursework tomorrow,” and continues with the lesson.

After school, I manage to get hold of whatever printing supplies I was missing and print the coursework at home. I arrive for my lunchtime detention and hand it to her, and she tells me that she had been planning to let me off the hook if I handed it in then, but my little outburst in class yesterday had changed her mind.

And so, I learned three lessons: keep your printing supplies stocked, always check that your attachment has sent, and be very aware of the volume of your voice.

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Good Students Can Get Away With Murder

, , , , , , , | Learning | April 23, 2020

It is a Sunday afternoon when a friend in my A-Level Politics class asks me how many pages long the essay due on Monday is supposed to be. I panic at this point, as I’ve completely forgotten that there even is an essay due.

I get the pertinent details from another classmate and start working on the essay. By late evening, I realise that I’m not going to get it finished in time. However, I will be able to write a little more than the first page. 

I write this, print it, and take the first page to school. In the class, I hand it in to the teacher in a plastic wallet. That evening, I finish up the essay, print the full document, and take that in on Tuesday. Before classes start, my politics teacher finds me and lets me know I only handed in the first page.

Feigning ignorance and concern, I apologise and say I can print it off again and give it to him at break. At break, I go to the Humanities office and hand over the completed document.

And that’s the story of how I managed to give myself a day’s extension on an essay. Thankfully, I had a reputation as a good and conscientious student, which probably gave me the benefit of the doubt in the teacher’s eyes, but I never risked that gambit again!

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Their Pronunciation Accuracy Is Low

, , , , | Learning | April 22, 2020

I’m a fourth-grade teacher.

Student: “How do you spell ‘muscle odor’?”

Me: “Sorry, what?”

Student: “Muscle odor.”

Me: “Um, what does that mean?”

Student: “It’s a kind of a gun.”

Me: “Oh. M-U-Z-Z-L-E-L-O-A-D-E-R.”

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