* Survival Tip #13: Stick with applesauce

You should check out Nerd In The Brain‘s Thursday posts, where she lists things for which she’s grateful.  Reading about her dehydrated hot dog allowed a dreadful memory to seep back into my consciousness.  I had repressed that one for good reason, but it may help you make better choices in your classroom.

I had been teaching my self-contained class of kiddos labeled with behavior and emotional disabilities.  It was almost Thanksgiving and I was desperately searching for easy-to-make Christmas gifts for families.  So many past projects had been fiascos; I was determined to do better this year.  You know how magazines make everything look simple?  I read an article on making adorable Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus figures from dried apples.  Coincidentally, my students had just studied the types and flavors of apples AND I still had one unused bag.  Talk about destiny….

The kids were impressed by the magazine photos of the Claus couple with their cute, wrinkled smiles.  The project was easy-peasy.  Nature would take its course as the carved apple heads lost their moisture.  Like magic, the heads would shrink into miniature, loving faces.  Once dried, we would create bodies using found materials, add bifocals of thin wire, and top them with tiny wigs (feathers? moss?) to complete our benevolent characters.  Best of all from the kids’ perspective, they’d use REAL knives to peel and carve those little Claus characters.

That Friday, we started our awesome project with REAL sharp knives.  Some students told me they were never allowed to use a REAL knife at home.  Imagine that!  A few kiddos sliced through their apples and had to start again, but at least no one sliced off their fingers.  I encouraged the students to make small cuts for eyes and mouths.  Just a tiny divet for the cheeks. Then we hung the apples on a long string, carefully labelling each one so the proud owners could reclaim them.  I tied the string over a radiator to speed up the process over the weekend.  Everyone went home happy, all those intact fingers waving goodbye.

When I opened my classroom door on Monday morning, I knew something was terribly amiss.  The odor was stronger than fermentation.  Apple juice had dripped and cooked all over the radiator.  But it was the heads themselves that stopped me in my tracks.  I was still immobilized as kids filed into the classroom.  You know those delightful smiling mouths the kids had carefully sliced?  They had turned into gaping leers.  Those tiny, twinkling eyes?  Hideous staring holes.  The round cheeks?  Gross holes that spoke of skulls and ghouls.  The Claus faces had become gargoyles and worse.  One student cried.  Another declared that these heads had once been buried.  I thought they looked like a string of shrunken heads from a cannibalistic tribe.  After a quick vote, I tossed the so-called Claus heads.  We made applesauce instead.  shrunken head

* Survival Tips for Testing, part 1

board-361516_640It’s that time of the year.  The End-of-Grade Tests loom large and special needs kids are not the only ones who dread the upcoming weeks.  Instead of debating the pros and cons of testing, I’m offering some survival tips.  Here’s a starting point.

1.  Listen and watch.  Before you jump in with a hundred reasons why your child will survive the tests, listen to their test talk, their fears and worries.  Watch their behavior.  There’s a place for dialog or responses to anxiety, but start with an assessment of their reality.  It’s easy for all of us to project our own uncertainties onto kids.  It’s also easy to make light of something we don’t fully appreciate.

2.  Ask for specifics, using your child’s language.  “What is most boring about the tests?”  “What are you most afraid of?”  “What do you hate most about the tests?”

3.  If you can come up with a single, practical response to their greatest fear, do it, but don’t belabor the point with too many words.  Give them time to process your suggestion and come back to it later: “So, what did you think about ignoring the kids working around you?”

4.  Take your time.  It’s better to spread these conversations over a period of time instead of one onslaught against Test Anxiety.  Kids will get even more anxious if you start an intense, hour-long review of everything that relates to tests.

5.  Put testing in its place.  I have observed that many schools, after a year of teaching to the test while pretending it didn’t matter, have ratcheted up their test fervor to amazing heights.  Therefore, you are already at a disadvantage if you are attempting to put testing in its proper place.  If you spend every moment talking about and providing last-minute strategies and encouragement for tests, you will deepen the child’s perception that this is the most important event of the school year.  It is NOT the most important event in the school year.  “But my child may fail!”  “He’ll feel stupid!”  If you are only now just considering the trials facing your special needs child, you’re a bit late.  If your child has consistently performed below grade level expectations, nothing has changed.  Most likely, this test will not measure the actual growth your child has made this year.  Progress on IEP goals should be a better indicator of growth.

More child-specific suggestions in my next post on test survival.

Survival Tip #16: Saved by superheroes

It’s a sad new reality of the world of education: lock downs.  After tragic shootings ripped away a sense of security in schools, teachers and their students now routinely practice procedures for evacuations (bomb threats) and lock downs (intruders).  Teachers in North Carolina watch a fictional but unnerving film of a gun-toting intruder and learn the protocols for keeping all kids safe in the event of such a calamity.

As a resource teacher, I fervently hoped the lock down drills occurred when I was sick or visiting another country.  I was amazed at the number of drills which coincided with my largest and neediest groups.  I wondered if they used my schedule as a litmus test: If that group can survive a lock down drill, we will all be fine.

It came as no surprise when a drill was announced in the midst of a seven member small group.  In order to be out of sight, the kiddos had to be squeezed into my walk-in closet.  I’ve mentioned this closet before.  It had a row of filing cabinets and ceiling-high metal shelving bolted to each wall.  Every inch was packed with teaching supplies, which also managed to take up most of the floor space.  Once you “climbed” into the closet, there was virtually no room to turn around.  Since I knew a lock down drill was imminent, I had already shoved stuff aside so there was more floor space.  But seven kids and me?  Yikes.

Not only was the closet ill-fitted for all of us, my kids were even less suited to be squished on top of one another.  It was a lively combination of first graders with autism, behavior disorders, and learning disabilities.  Everyone had social weaknesses and attention problems.  Now imagine this scenario: I lock the classroom door, turn off the classroom lights, and shepherd this motley crew into that closet and turn off that light.  It felt like being locked in a tiny cave.

For a few moments, the kids were actually silent, which is a requirement of the drill.  Don’t let anyone know you are hiding in the closet, right?  But it wasn’t long before voices were hissing, “Get off me!” and “He poked me!”  I reminded them to be silent and listened hopefully for a jiggling of the classroom door, which meant the police or administrator were ensuring that everyone was safely locked away.

Only a couple of students knew what a lock down drill actually represented.  Like those precocious kids who know Santa Claus is imaginary, these two were intent upon delivering the others from any misconceptions about this drill.  “We’re going to be shot!” one of them announced.  The other affirmed that statement, which sent Martin, my lowest functioning kid, into overdrive.

As Martin started to babble and wail, I decided that we needed some light.  I had positioned a flashlight in the closet for such an emergency.  I was able to shift kids around more effectively, but the light also created an eerie sense of being at the bottom of a deep pit filled with odd shapes and shadows.  More kids started to panic.  I grabbed a book from a stack which I had also positioned for such dire straits.  “I’m going to read a story VERY QUIETLY,” I said.  “And we should be out of here soon.”

I began reading.  Martin immediately interrupted me.  “We need Batman,” he declared.  The rest of the group laughed and I gave them a frantic signal to be quiet.  Although Martin was personally offended by his classmates’ reaction, he offered an alternative: “Spider-Man can save us!  He will zap the bad guys with his web and we’ll be safe.”  No one laughed this time as they all considered this solution.  Martin continued to describe the amazing ways in which his superhero could keep us safe.  By now, the others were nodding their agreement.  I just hoped no one could hear him talking.

I watched the group discuss the pros and cons of webs, handcuffs, and laser swords.  I also kept listening for some sound of movement outside the classroom, but all was quiet.  A five-minute drill lasted over 20 minutes due to some kind of glitch.  By the time the principal’s voice sounded an “all clear” over the intercom, my group was calm and unanimous:  Spider-Man had kept us safe.  Whew.

* Survival Tip #15 Remember the good old days

Milo was a kindergartner in my self-contained class for students with behavioral and emotional disorders.  He joined my class for the latter part of that school year after assaulting adults and peers in a regular classroom.  Milo was small for his age but quite muscular and agile.  His school readiness skills were in the basement.  He responded well to the structure of my room and was fine as long as he was in my line of sight.  All bets were off if I lost sight of him for a few seconds.  One of the first things I did was make a home visit; I wanted to see how Milo functioned out of school.  He was never home when I made my visits and no one ever knew where he was.  His mom took one look at me and told me how to handle him.  “You tell Milo the “Enforcer” is in that room and you won’t have any problems.”  I must have looked confused, so Milo’s mom explained that he believed she was always watching, Enforcer in hand.  The Enforcer was a giant stick, to be applied liberally if he acted up.  I had social services involved in the wink of an eye.  Of course, I never mentioned the Enforcer to Milo, but I did find myself searching for it occasionally.

I gave Milo my best effort.  It was hard to form a relationship with him, but he seemed to like me.  He probably had an attachment disorder along with a slew of his other diagnosed deficits.  Milo made no connections with his classmates (other than with his fists).  I had to restrain him a few times, but he would immediately calm down and make perfunctory apologies.  His academic performance did not improve much.  I worked hard to find ways to praise him (“Wow, I like the way you are breathing!” popped into my head once or twice).  After a couple of months, we came to the last day of school.  I watched Milo approach the room but he didn’t see me.  Uh-oh.  He flattened a fellow kindergartner with a vicious kick to the belly just outside our door.  When I asked him about it later, he didn’t even know the kid, nor had they interacted.  I wondered if he was sad about leaving my class; his mother was moving, apparently able to find him long enough to take him with her.

Fast forward about six years.  Same class, new kiddos.  One of the kids started crying during our class meeting, describing a neighborhood bully.  In a private conversation, it turned out that this bully was sexually assaulting him and other kids at gunpoint.  The bully’s name?  Milo.  Social services was contacted again and I told my student to run if he saw Milo.  A few years later, Milo was in juvie for sexual assault and other violent acts.  Then he graduated to adult jail.

Fast forward again about 10 years.  I was at our administrative offices, hanging up an art display created by my kids.  I was on a ladder, just about finished, when I looked down the long hallway.  I saw Milo walking in my direction.  He was an adult, but I could tell it was him (and he had once lived in that neighborhood).  “Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “Please don’t let him see me!  Don’t let him remember that I restrained him years ago!”  I turned my head away and held my breath.  And then I heard him say, “Mrs. Teachezwell!”  I looked down at him and saw a beautiful smile.  I could tell that he was overjoyed to see me.  I climbed down the ladder and we hugged for a couple of minutes.  I looked up at this tall, muscular guy, grabbed his shoulders and said, “Wow!  You are all grown up!”  (“And breathing!”)  He smiled.  Milo was genuinely glad to see me, former restraints or not.  I could not come up with much to say.  “How was prison?” “Assault anyone lately?”

I do think of him from time to time.  He was birthed in alcohol, drugs, and violence.  I remember worrying that he would kill his mom when he got bigger than the Enforcer.  Dear Milo.  I am glad that you remember the good old days.  prison-370534_640

* Survival Tip #14: What’s cookin’?

DuhI always advise student teachers and interns to avoid cooking projects on the day before a break from school.  Then I ignore my own excellent advice.  Why?  Perhaps it’s sacrificial on my part: they won’t ever forget what happened to me.  (No, they scattered when the kids were dismissed.)  Perhaps it’s because I am too dense to remember last year’s fiasco.  Whatever the reason, I end up at school long after Elvis has left the building.

Here’s an example.  The Breakfast Club kids were begging for another homemade breakfast and the only “convenient” time was the day before winter break.  After hours of scouring the cafeteria, I stashed all the extension cords, borrowed griddles, mixing bowls, extra cereal and pancake mix, orange juice, cooking oil, plastic gloves, and potholders in my classroom closet.  Throughout the day, I squeezed into the closet to extract all the gifts I had prepared for others that week, cooking well past midnight each day.  I also stashed gifts I received into that same packed closet.  The closet door had to stay shut because my socially-needy gang had been sent to “relax” with me, since their teachers and classmates couldn’t relax with them in their room.  So I forgot all about the closet until the kids had been sent merrily on their way.  Then I started chatting with a speech therapist who is a great listener.  Then I checked my email.  Then I began my winter break “to do” list on the board.

By that time, the school building was eerily silent, with lingering odors of latkes and peppermint.  I was more than a little horrified when I opened my closet door.  All those stinking skillets and cookware were still sitting there, waiting for me.  I was dimly aware that my blood sugar had plummeted.  In a foggy stupor, I stared into the closet brimming with oil-soaked bags.  I gazed dully at my classroom, which was cluttered beyond imagination.  The lone custodian had wheeled the last bin of garbage out of the empty building.  Lights were turned off.  My brain was shutting down.

I jumped when my phone rang.  My husband had called to see if I was ever coming home.  I snapped at him.  He asked if I needed help and I said I was just fine.  He showed up at the outside door a few minutes later (we live close to school) and hauled the ripped bags to his car.  I was in a fog as he maneuvered me to the teacher parking lot.  Do you recognize this tune? “Joy to the world, my blood sugar died! My brain has turned to mush!”

I think I know why I make the same mistake year after year.

* Survival tip #12: Roaches, critics, and climbers, oh my!

When I started teaching the BED class described in a previous post, everything was pretty much a disaster.  There were many reasons for this.

First, I was sweating bullets in a humid southern state after moving from chilly San Francisco.  The school was not air conditioned.  When I turned on the rustic fans, they spewed roaches across the room.  Naturally, that drew the kids’ attention (and mine) to the fans, which had previously been unnoticed.  Who knew that fans could also be used to launch a variety of classroom objects?  The fans stayed off.  I sweated through my pants’ waistline AND through a leather belt every day.

Second, my adorable assistant was completely opposed to my methods of behavior “management.”  He had been hired by the previous teacher, who left after a being stabbed in the head with a felt-tipped pen.  The assistant and I got along well, but were working at cross purposes.  I sent a student to time-out and that kid ended up playing in the assistant’s lap.  In fact, every direction I gave to one particular student was countermanded by my assistant.  My behavior “management” got so shaky that the child’s family removed that student from my class at the recommendation of his therapist, who considered me a walking disaster.

Third, I had no materials in the class except for a couple of random “touchy feely” games.  Knowing that these kids had already played those games to no avail, I was left with nothing.  I had to bring my own notebook paper and pencils.  I created worksheets for the kids every night, right after I cried into a glass of wine.

Fourth, I became quickly ostracized by the school staff.  Those teachers who had previously befriended me now considered me a pariah.  As I was standing in the main lobby of the school, the guidance counselor said loudly to some nearby teachers, “She’s not going to make it!”  So much for confidence building.

I was not a novice teacher, but I sure felt like it.  My assistant I parted ways amicably after two weeks or so (he visited my class years later, telling me how he had nearly burned alive when the kids in his group home locked him in the time-out room).  I had trouble finding an assistant, duh, so I was granted a series of substitute assistants.  I think that was worse than being alone. That first month was dreadful enough, but for some reason I had invited the head of the Parks and Rec department to visit our class to demonstrate rock climbing.  Why, oh why?  I have no idea.  We ended up outside the room, watching this huge guy fasten himself into a harness for climbing up to the roof.  I’m sure that wasn’t MY idea.  The kids were mesmerized as he tightened and clipped the gear around his “privates.”  One kid dared the others to try it, so the poor man ended up sweating bullets himself as he grappled all these kids (who were laughing hysterically) into the oversized harness and then hoisted them into the air.  The kids went wilder than I could have imagined, swinging like Tarzan in the harness, tearing up the hill to watch from better angles, and using colorful language to describe this remarkable experience.  They all rotated through time-outs in a very short period of time.  I couldn’t decide if it was better for me to monitor the time-outs or have my substitute assistant do that.  Ultimately, it didn’t matter.  The man literally ran off, never looking backward.  The sub turned to me and said, “I don’t know how you do this.”

* Survival Tip #11: Don’t look now, but….

It was a typical cafeteria scene.  My assistant and I sat in the midst of that crowded and noisy room with our students, a self-contained class of kids who’d been identified as behaviorally and emotionally disabled (called BED, back in the day).  My daughter-to-be was in that class.  We were racing our way through lunch, always ready to leave after exactly seven minutes. That was the time it took for my kids to finish picking at their food and start getting antsy.  Most of them were on medication for hyperactivity, which wiped out their appetites.

Those were also the days when real food was prepared and served by talented cooks throughout our district.  Even teachers enjoyed those lunches.  But I did not select my favorite foods.  I always chose something that could be scarfed down one minute before the kids were on their “count-down to lift off.”  On that beautiful autumn day, where walls of windows opened to views of brilliant orange and red trees, I  took a huge bite of hot dog.  OK, I always take huge bites.  This class was really my finishing school for a lifetime of dreadful table manners.  But that chunk of hot dog did not slide down my throat.  Instead, it lodged neatly in my throat like a cork in a wine bottle.hot-dog-149935__180

It took less than a second for me to realize I was in deep trouble.  I could not breathe.  I could not cough.  And I was terribly invisible.  My first thought was, “Don’t upset the kids.”  They’d had enough school trauma in their short 6 or 7 years.  But I didn’t need to worry about upsetting them because even the kids sitting next to me never once looked my way.  How odd was that?  My next thought was, “Get help.  Without upsetting the kids.”  I turned to my assistant, who now had her back to me, chatting with another adult.  NO ONE saw me. The physical world seemed to change.  Time slowed down to a crawl, noise disappeared.  I looked around the cafeteria and observed how pleasant it was.  Laughing faces, busy conversations.  I was still amazed that no one could see I was dying.

Then another thought: “Relax.”  My body was clenched like a fist.  My throat hurt badly, like a jagged stone was lodged in it.  I was desperate to breath.  I was choking to death without a sound.  “Relax.  If I relax, my throat will loosen.  Then the hot dog can slide away.”  I relaxed.  How did I relax?  Why did I relax?  I believe it was divine intervention.  The hot dog slowly and painfully edged downward.  I forced myself to sit still.  The sounds of the cafeteria started to return.  As the pain worsened, I bent over, clutching my raw chest.  That hot dog felt like a brick as it moved, but I could breathe again!  I tried to stay relaxed but I wanted to scream, “Look at me!  I almost died!”  My assistant was now facing me.  I said softly, “I almost choked to death on that hot dog.”  She looked at me skeptically.  After the worst of the pain had subsided, before the kids lifted off, I lined them up and we headed for our class.

Did you know there’s a universal choking sign?  Did you know that if no one is looking, that sign means nil, zero, nada, nought?

* Survival Tip #10: Don’t judge a book by its cover

surfer-532132__180Many, many years ago, I taught at a public school whose entire population consisted of students with emotional disorders.  My class was a group of psychotic adolescents.  It was a tough adjustment for me since I typically work with elementary-aged students who have a hope for their future.  These were kids for whom the future seemed dismal.  Most of them lived in group homes, having long been abandoned by parents who could not manage them.  I inherited a few routines I could have lived without.  One of them was a weekly “walking field trip” to the local library, which was about half a mile away.  I never enjoyed these visits.  Let me rephrase that.  I hated these trips.  For one thing, the kids were so unpredictable, one with uncontrolled seizures, that I always felt uneasy about corralling them safely to and from school.  Second, the school was in a neighborhood of retirees, so the library was full of elderly folks (about my current age, come to think of it!) who disliked our presence, to put it mildly.  They thought library patrons were to be completely silent and generally invisible.  I had high standards for my class, but with a special ed twist: my kids were to walk (not spin in wild circles), handle materials appropriately (no stealing or eating books), and treat others with respect (no biting, pinching, kicking, or kissing).  Some of my students continually talked to “beings” that no one else could see.  Other kids had syndromes or conditions which induced a wide variety of random shrieks and unusual sounds.  And these “kids” were in their late teens, so they close to being adults.  When we opened the library doors, you could hear the sounds of disapproval from the library habitués.  Even the librarians were wary of us, looking considerably happier when we walked out the door.  However, we did establish a kind of routine on our visits.  Each student had their preferred sections, music, and magazines.  Everyone was allowed to check out materials if they followed the basic rules; otherwise, it was three strikes and you’re out (no check-outs until the next week).

Everything changed when a new student named Derek joined our class.  I didn’t even realize he was a student when I first saw him.  Derek was almost 18 and stood much taller than me.  Derek looked like an exile from a southern California beach.  He was bronzed, well-built, had a charming smile, and looked like a stereotypical surfer dude.  He talked about sports (no, he did not surf) and acted perpetually shocked that he was in our class.  Basically, Derek was embarrassed to be seen with the other kids.  I had reviewed his records, which described him as quite violent, but he certainly did not appear that way in our class.  He isolated himself from the other students but was polite to “adults.”

Derek walked behind us on his first trip to the library, not wanting to be seen with the “weirdos,” as he called them.  I had reviewed the rules before we left and he was excited about finding some records.  Yes, this was the vinyl era.  When we entered the library, all the kids scattered to their favorite spots.  Derek took a moment to scan the surroundings, including the disgruntled elderly.  WIthin moments, Derek was screaming and shaking a fist at an older man.  I intervened, counted that as his first warning, and redirected Derek.  I stayed near him but he seemed to have settled down.  My assistant and I moved around to check on the others.  Then I heard another uproar from the music section.  Derek was fighting with a classmate over a set of headphones.  That was warning number two.  The third warning came after he clubbed a student who happened to be standing nearby.  Finally, it was time to leave (yea!) and my gang lined up to check out their materials.  Derek also got in line, clutching three albums defiantly.  I shook my head and he looked away.  I walked up close to him and softly reminded him that he could not check out anything on this visit.  I was enthusiastically confident he would do better next week.

Derek went ballistic.  The records went flying as he went for my throat.  My assistant and I struggled to contain him, a cursing, writhing, incredibly strong young man.  Gasping, and losing the battle, I asked a librarian to call the school.  Within moments, three other teachers arrived.  It took all five of us to get him out of the building.  Then he fastened himself onto the roof of the small car, which would have been funny if I had not been hyperventilating.  Eventually he was driven off, barely contained, while I staggered back to school with the rest of the group.  Everyone was shaken and fearful after Derek’s assault.  All I could think of was whether we would return to the library.

What do you think?  Did we go back to the library?  I guess that would be another survival tip:  Don’t take the surfer dude back to the library.  Well, he did end up returning to the library after a brief hiatus.  He acted like a wild man again, was transported back to school by car, and that was his last field trip to the library.  Not mine, unfortunately.

* Survival Tip #9: Don’t let compliments go to your head

Years ago, in the early days of my teaching career, I was working with a profoundly deaf and quite unique boy named “Don.”  He was tiny for his age, nonverbal, but used sign language pretty effectively when he wanted something.  Don never made eye contact unless he wanted something, usually something sharp, heavy, and dangerous.  His primary fixations were with women’s high heels and car tires, but scissors would do in a pinch.  Don loved putting his face directly under the point of a woman’s heel (of course, I was no fun because I wore “sensible” shoes).  The tire problem emerged as we got ready to go on field trips.  If not stopped in time, he would manage to press his face against (parked) car tires so firmly that he wore a black smudge on the tip of his nose.  Don and I got along really well, although I am not sure what that said about either of us.  In fact, we got along so well that his mom asked if I would accompany them on his yearly visit to the audiologist.  She’d had many traumatic episodes with Don in that sound-proof box; he was not at ALL interested in wearing headphones or chucking blocks into a bin.

I was quite flattered that Don’s mom thought I could be of assistance.  I felt really important as I walked into that crowded waiting room.  Perhaps this would be a defining moment in understanding the exact nature of Don’s hearing loss.  I scanned the room and saw Don fairly quickly.  He was almost in a chair, his face pressed to the sole of a lady’s shoe.  A lady who looked terrified.  I noticed that everyone was staring at little Don while his mom pulled on him, to no avail.  By chance, I guess, Don saw me.  To my amazement, and great delight, Don looked right at me.  I mean, he stared at my eyes intently.  Then, in a moment that made me think I was Annie Sullivan to this boy-version of Helen Keller, he ran straight to me, arms outstretched!  I was a genius!  He literally jumped up into my arms (I staggered a bit) and then, before another self-aggrandizing thought could form, that remarkable little boy head-butted me in the nose.  I nearly dropped him.  Tears flowed involuntarily down my face (I thought it was blood) and I felt like passing out.  As quickly as that had happened, it was undone.  He raced back to the lady’s shoe as I staggered across the room, trying in vain to look like all was well.  And no, we got less than nothing from the hearing test.

* Survival Tip #8 Allow extra time when cooking for 100

pancakesThat goes without saying, right?  Why would I cook breakfast for a hundred kids, anyway?  It was the for Breakfast Club, of course.  I adored the kids who ate breakfast there every morning, so I wanted to do something extra special for them.  Just before our winter break, I asked the kids what they would like me to cook.  Pancakes, bacon, and hot chocolate were unanimous favorites (and I brought cereal and milk, plus juice).  I sent an email to my colleagues asking for loaner electric skillets.  My plan was to hook up 4 electric skillets (having cooked the bacon at home) and heat gallons of delicious hot chocolate on a hot plate.  While I cooked, the two ladies who worked with me would get kids in a line, helping the younger kids carry their plates.  I don’t know who was more excited, me or the older kiddos, when I told them they could have as much as they could eat.

I donned my apron, whipped up huge bowls of batter, and started cooking.  The kids arrived eager and hungry.  They had also advertised the event for me (uh-oh), so we had a line that stretched past the doors of the cafeteria.  My long-suffering helpers remarked that I would have to cook faster so kids wouldn’t be late for class.  I flipped and whipped and splattered as fast as I could.  It was a little tricky to reach all 4 skillets because those things have cords about 3 feet long.  I found myself hopping over cords and slipping on the floor, which was quickly coated with batter.  We hadn’t even gotten through the first round when the bell rang.  How on earth did the cafeteria ladies feed everyone on time?  The kids looked anxious. “Don’t worry,” I told them.  “I’ll give your teacher a note.” (Fortunately we had “late bus slips” that I could jot on.)  It was a relief when we were on to seconds.  By that time, the tardy bell had long since rung, so I jotted notes to teachers, my hands covered with batter, while I flipped at a frenetic pace.  My helpers started rushing thirds to the tables, which was about the time that I fried the electrical circuits.  I had noticed that the pancakes were looking rather anemic, but they were not soggy.  Kids looked at these albino pancakes with suspicion and helped themselves to more bacon.  By now, my helpers were frantic, I discovered that we had no power, and the remaining kids departed.  It took us almost an hour to clean up.  For the next breakfast (which the kids begged for continually), I had an extensive network of extension cords that used a bunch of different circuits, along with “tardy” notes for each kid and an email to all teachers.  I prepared cinnamon rolls at home- and discovered that scrambled eggs don’t get away from you as easily as pancake batter.