Spooked in Timely Fashion

Appropriate to the date today, I had a really creepy experience in a truly haunted house.

The backdrop to this story is that  – suffice it to say – “two people I know” recently bought a house from an old lady. Part of the sales negotiation was my people agreeing to clear out all the stuff she wanted to leave behind. She was, after all, old and alone, so it would have been hard for her to arrange the move and more importantly, it would have taken her longer than my people were willing to wait.

So hands were shaken, deeds and contracts signed, etc. etc. and finally, a day or two ago, they were handed the keys. They went excitedly (I assume) to their new home, unlocked the door, stepped inside, and . . . were immediately floored. Every room was still furnished and every closet and cabinet still filled to overflowing with . . . “stuff”. The beds had used sheets on them and there was dirty laundry on the floor. The closets were full of clothes. The refrigerator and kitchen shelves were full of food. The breakfast dishes were still on the table. There were 1000’s of dusty books, 100’s of worn shoes, stacks of old magazines and newspapers dating back to the 60s. Packages with the remainders of every prescription medicine the lady and her deceased sisters had taken in the past three decades filled up many a cabinethoarders1. There were toiletries and cosmetics and cleaning supplies and papers galore. And there was soap. Hundreds of bars of soap, mostly lavender – its aroma greeted them each time they opened a closet door . . .


They were overwhelmed. There was no way they would spend the next month going through all of this . . . “stuff”. They ordered a huge dumpster to be set up outside. Yesterday, The Removal of the Hoarded officially began. My people went from shelf to shelf and just swept each one’s contents into a crate, toted it outside and emptied it into the container. They did this all day long. And they were still not even halfway done.

hoarders3When I saw this picture on a cell phone last night, I thought, “How could they?!” There could be all sorts of still useful or recyclable things in there. Maybe an antique or two! Maybe some of those books were valuable!

Today my husband and I visited them and toured the house. At first I kept on the lookout for hidden treasures and did see this or that item of interest. My people kept saying “Take anything you want! PLEASE!” But the more I saw, the creepier it seemed. All the little souvenir trinkets. The boxes of buttons and gloves. The face powders. The photo albums and letters and diaries . . . And there were surprises. Like a human skull and a handgun – both of which looked very real to mhoarders4e. After a half hour, I didn’t even want to touch any of it anymore, much less take it with me.


I have been on something of a house de-junking mission lately and this experience added a little fire behind that intention. I pictured someone having to go through my house and figure out what to do with all the crap in it. Would my treasures all end up at the bottom of a dumpster, smothered by books and half empty shampoo bottles and obsolete electronics and framed pictures of questionable taste? And now I should pick out a few items from this house to add to that future pile of . . . “stuff”? I didn’t think so.

My people seemed almost distressed that I hadn’t taken anything, so I searched for an item, ANY item, that didn’t repel me. In the basement, I chanced on an old “Lesekasten” – a pseudo-game for kids back in the 30s or 40s to help them learn the old Austrian alphabet. I thought it might make a nice present for my colleague Ann who teaches German.

“That’s all!?” my people asked. “Are you sure you don’t want to take more? Maybe the skull?”

I was sure.

I not only had this old alphabet box / future present, I also had my something to write about for my Halloween blog post. And no one I know will ever have to tote either one of these to a dumpster someday.



Groundhog Years

Day One of Fall Break (and Day Three of Hiding in a Hole in the Ground Until the Election is Over) was spent relaxing (and relapsing) and piddling and putzing around the house, dabbling in this or that long-procrastinated mini-project. All the while, the back of my mind was working on the big questions. How have we come to this point? What explanation could there possibly be for the fact that about 50+ million people will tick “R” on their presidential ballots two weeks from now?

One of my mini-projects (i.e. one of my efforts in the eternal quest to de-crap the house) was finally removing the big stack of old TIME magazine issues from my office.

I used to read it regularly when I was still teaching semi-adults at the university, but the practice dwindled off when I switched to my new position in a grade/middle school. Thereafter, the weekly magazine was transported from the postbox directly to the pile (still in the plastic wrapping). This went on for several years until I finally got around to writing the email to cancel my subscription.

Another few years later – today – I decided the pile was ripe for removal. I sat on the floor and took each issue, one by one, removed the wrapper, put it in the plastic recycling bag, and then threw the magazine into the paper recycling box.

After issue number 30 or so, something struck me. Many of these cover stories, although all two, three or four years old now, could be from this year – 2016.

the-timesChina, the inner cities, Guantanamo, cyber hacking, Iran, Hillary, whistle-blowing, Putin, Syria, drones, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Taliban . . . All of it ongoing and endlessly discussed for years now. A cycle of problems repeating itself over and over again. The media revisits each topic periodically, does some Monday morning quarterbacking, and then moves on to preparing next week’s cover story. The governments and politician/lawmakers continue to make statements and then move on to strategizing for the next power grab. Actual governing – doing something! – seems to have gotten lost along the way.

Suddenly, I found myself thinking about that old Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day. I pictured all us Americans repeating the same events over and over again – but with a difference.

First of all, we are not in a movie theater, complacent in the knowledge that somewhere around Minute 112, things would resolve themselves. The cycle would be broken, the lights turned on. We would kick the spilled popcorn under our seats, check to make sure we had everything and leave the theater.

No, Minute 112 passed by an eternity ago and we are still sitting in the dark, watching the same looping show over and over, each time expecting a different outcome.

My mind wandered back to the big questions again. Which one of the two candidates this time will give us this feeling that the cycle can finally come to an end? Can we kick-start the government with our good intentions or will we blow it all up in our cynicism?

We moderate D’s and thoughtful R’s should stand up now, turn on the lights and leave the theater together. The rest can stay behind and blow it up without us.

And . . .

. . .  maybe now is not the right time to be diving into a hole and hiding.

Vacation Ripe – (MYoM – Part 34)


My Years of Montessori – Part 34


(Monday evening)


There’s a great phrase in German – “Urlaubsreif”. It means “in desperate need of a vacation” (or ripe for a break).  It’s a feeling that intensifies as the holidays approach, peaking on the evening right before the last day of work before a nice long break.

That’s where I am at the moment. Despite coming home all energized from a fun day at school.

The 2nd graders absolutely loved “Green Eggs and Ham”. I read the book dramatically with lots of gestures and pointing, but using no German at all. From their comments and side discussions I could tell that they understood it – including the point. (Which is more than one can say about a certain senator from . . . let’s say . . . Texas.) From there it was on to the American history lesson with the 7th graders which included a lot of laughter as well. It started with a discussion about just how many States there are today. Ann said 50, Jerry said 51, and Kay said 52.  Each one was absolutely sure they were right and for the same reason: “I googled it!!” Later I heard that the American colonies declared their independence from King George Bush the Third and that the USA purchased Louisiana from some guy named Franz. (The same Franz who later gave us the Statue of Liberty. Generous man!) Still later, when I asked about the two sides of the Civil War, one student guessed that it was between McDonald’s and Burger King. (The German term for civil war is “Bürgerkrieg”.) At this point, I decided to end the lesson for the day. I’d figure out during the coming vacation how to undo the damage.

Once home, I immediately set out to get my prep work for tomorrow done, but then quickly reverted to my usual habits. I procrastinated with dog-walking, podcasts, making dinner, surfing, a load of laundry, blogging, light house cleaning,  and napping,  while continually re-revising my ambitious lesson planning ideas down to just one level above phoning it in.

So tomorrow, I will arrive at school and go into the 4th grade class with a folder-full of Halloween materials that I haven’t really familiarized myself with yet and I will improvise. And then I will monitor independent group work in our Austria project for two hours and I will improvise. Then I will have a parent/teacher conference to talk about a student I have barely noticed, so I will improvise. And then I will have a team meeting, during which I will look at the clock a lot. And then I will come home around 5 pm after a 10 hour day.

And then . . .


(Tuesday evening)

. . . nothing.

Rainmaker Riposte

First – a re-blast from the past . . .

Metaphorical Money

March 6, 2015

Over the years of listening to hundreds of business student discussions, it started to occur to me that the way we talk about money –– the idioms and metaphors we use –– have changed over the decades. I started collecting those idioms and metaphors and discovered that they generally fell into three distinct groups. One for each of the three physical states any substance can take: solid, liquid, and gaseous. Let me explain.

A hundred or so years ago, money had the physical properties of solids. It was dough or bread. You could hold a big wad of cold hard cash in your hand or jingle the coins in your pocket. You could stockpile money, put it where your mouth is, throw it around, or stuff it in your mattress. Like Scrooge, you could stack up your wealth against someone else’s or squirrel it away. You could pinch pennies, hold the purse strings, have money to burn or have money burn a hole in your pocket. Money talked.

Then something changed –– maybe it was abandoning the gold standard or deregulation. Who knows? But it seemed that the revved up economic motor got hot and money melted. Liquidity was born and savings turned into cash flow and liquid assets. Companies no longer went broke, they became insolvent. They didn’t fuse, they merged. A small amount of money was a drop in the bucket. More and you were awash in it. See a good investment? Then dive in! Some of the money evaporated. Some of it trickled down.  But even in its liquid form, there were still some natural barriers to keep money contained; you could pool it, but not for too long, because then it would go stagnant. Money had to keep circulating. And some of those pools had bubbles in them.

The economy heated up a little more and then, in 2008, came the “Great Economic Meltdown” which strikes me as a misnomer. The economy had been melting for a good long while. This was more like the ”Great Economic Vaporization”. We suddenly discovered that money had become a gaseous substance somewhere along the way. At first it had seemed to be everywhere and limitless; you could just breathe it in. You could make money out of thin air. No need to produce anything or do actual work –– let the Chinese do that. We could just buy and resell stuff to make money because it was not connected to anything on the ground anymore. The FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate – in which nothing is actually produced) ascended, while roads, bridges and schools crumbled. But in money’s new form, it started, like most gases, to rise upward, collecting in the stratosphere. For the 95% of us down here on earth, huge portions of it simply floated away; there was suddenly no financial oxygen around anymore, no cash flowing or trickling, nothing solid or tangible to put in your pocket. Poof. Gone.

What now? As I admitted at the start, I am a language teacher, not an economist –– or a chemist for that matter – but it seems to me there is no way to get all those escaped gasses back. And simply printing more money as some have suggested won’t do anything to reverse the chemical processes that have been set in motion. I think we have to start building things again. Let’s start with things that keep the planet cool. Like wind turbines. And solar panels. And schools.

I generally don’t like re-blogging stuff (even when it was written at the start when I had a readership of one), but I have found myself returning to this old idea lately because it still seems completely relevant to what is going on today, and more particularly in how economic issues have been dealt with in this election. One hears continually that decades of increasing financial frustrations turned into rage (with some help from a well-meaning socialist senator and a de-meaning wannabe strongman), leading us into our current political quagmire. Now we are being asked to choose between the classic medicines of the political left and right. Put her in office and she will try to push through her hundred ideas of how the government can help us. Give him the chance and he will wield the magical powers of money to save us.

Although I definitely fall in the camp that sees government as a useful and necessary institution, I believe now that old ways of thinking are no longer valid. For over thirty years of deregulation, wealth has slowly consolidated upward as the lion’s share of the tax burden shifted consistently downward to lower earners. All of these developments have made our economy precariously top-heavy and in constant danger of tipping.  Left/right solutions no longer make sense for an up/down problem. The core of our predicament is neither political nor economic – it is chemical . . . and mythological.

Ironically, the arguments behind three decades of deregulation have been disproven by their own implementation.


Myth #1: “Job Creators”
Let large companies keep their money and they will reinvest it, creating new opportunities for workers.

In reality, the vast majority of people are employed either by government or by smaller companies. When the large ones have more money, is it their first instinct to think “let’s go hire more people”? Or do they go shopping for smaller competitors, take them over, fire employees with redundant positions and make those remaining take on the extra workload? Seeing as how the prime directive of corporations is now “shareholder value”, the choice seems clear.


Myth #2: “Dishwasher to Millionaire”
A person can work their way from nothing to fabulous success.

At some point I learned that a person now needs money to make money. Horatio Alger might disagree, but it seems to me that there are more people working harder and harder just to decrease the rate at which their standard of living is sinking. We have become Gatsby’s, believing “in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us . . .So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


Myth #3: “Taxation without Representation”
Paying taxes means “the government is taking your money”. You are a much better judge of how your money should be spent than those bureaucrats in Washington.

Really? Personally, I don’t want to have to home school my kids, check the quality of my food, build my own roads, put out my own fires, dig my own well, confront the burglar myself, build my own generator, drive my injured friend to the hospital (on roads I built myself) or pay every individual (home-schooled) doctor out of my own (already empty) pocketbook (-and I haven’t even had lunch yet!) I don’t want to dine on cat food when I am seventy or build my own playground or define and defend my own rights.

And I don’t want others to have to do all that alone either.

Until the day arrives when not only the obscenely rich up there in the stratosphere, but ALL of us, down here at ground level, can afford private daycare, private schools, private transport, private doctors, private libraries, private security forces and private pension funds, I think we are going to have to keep working together. It would help us all a lot if we had more cash flow.

So let’s start by making it rain.

I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat

I’m done. Can’t take another day of this.

I have shown my empty absentee ballot to my American citizen witness, I have filled it out (as she looked elsewhere) and then stuffed it in an envelope and sealed it. I have got her to sign and date my witness statement which I then taped on the envelope. I then stuffed all this into a larger envelope and addressed it to the Election Commission in my district. (Full disclosure: it could be that I didn’t do those steps in exactly in that order . . . Voter Fraud! Voter Fraud!)

Tomorrow I will bring the letter to the post office and mail it.

And then I will unplug.

I won’t listen daily to Rachel or Chris or Joy (though I will miss Joy) or the NPR politics podcast.

For the next three weeks, I won’t hear any more of these phrases:

red meat

dog whistle

energizing the base

rigged system

hacked emails


believe me

crooked as a three dollar bill

locker room talk


lock her up

build a wall

lies! lies! lies!


. . .


I simply can’t stand it anymore. (Good luck, Hill! And thank you!)


I have had experiences talking with abused women and men and children in the past. I suffered and empathized with them, but never really felt what they must have been feeling.

I feel it now. And it is frightening.

I feel like screaming at the Lock Her Up / Locker Room Talk party to stop scraping at the bottom of the barrel.  That there are some bases who shouldn’t be “energized” at all.  But who would hear me?


This election cycle has been debasing, humiliating, despicable, violating . . . As an American living abroad, I have only one friend with whom I can talk about it all. No one else really understands how it feels. And who else here would believe me? They’d think I should have known better. Their own history has taught them to be wary of the narcissistic buffoon.


Starting now and till November 9th, you can call me Tweety Bird.

I’ll be on my little swing in my exposed cage, my back turned to the predator, oblivious, nostalgically enjoying my fantasy of a more innocent time when America was great and loony tunes were confined to Sunday mornings.

I tawt I taw a puddy tat.

I did! I did tee a puddy tat!


Speaking of fish . . .


“And now for something completely different . . .”


Quirky One brought me to tears this week with the sad sad tale of her sorry fish (“al-oh-WISHes”) and its tragic (and seemingly long and drawn out) demise. I couldn’t help but suspect that the real tragedy here was NOT the loss of the one and only animal in her life, but the fact that some pet store guy was willing to sell her a fish in the first place. It’s just like when the cashier at the gardening center takes my money for some doomed houseplant. Anything to make a buck! Capitalism run amok! (Hey! That rhymed!)

I should probably admit here – in the spirit of full disclosure – that my track record with fish is also not a glowing one. Not that I ever personally owned a fish. No, but I did stay married to a man with a 10 year long aquarium habit, which, I guess, makes me an enabler. In those years we went through various permutations, starting with a reasonably sized tank housing some attractive fish. Unfortunately the Great Freeze of ’95 put an end to that phase. We returned from a week-long skiing vacation, only to discover that the heating oil had run out while we were away. The house was icy. All the fish were floating sideways on the surface of the very cold tank.

My husband was not daunted. He used the episode as his chance to upgrade and we finally ended up with a whopping 200 gallon tank which accounted for about 2/3rds of my living room and 1/3 of our electric bill. Inside were some very special exotic fish found otherwise only in one particular Lake Tangawimalayanaki (or something like that) somewhere in fish2Africa. There was a particularly ugly one called “compressiceps” that just kept getting bigger and bigger until the day we came home and found him lying on the living room floor. His death was never officially declared a suicide, but I have my suspicions. The rest of the fish were all gray/black and not particularly interesting either in their form or behavior. I suggested we add some colorful guppies or gold fish to spice up our boring aquarium and my husband just scoffed. He said, “Sure! But we should probably give them names before we toss them in there. I’d suggest ‘Breakfast’, ‘Lunch’ or ‘Dinner’ – something like that.”

He then explained to me the some fascinating facts about our boring fish. They were not only predators, they were mouth-breeders, meaning the (female?) fish held the “youngins” in her mouth until . . . ??? . . . some point. (Can fish gag?) I tried to get into it all, but, honestly, how long can you sit and watch a puffy cheeked fish? Eventually, one of them spit her brood out before my eyes. One or two were quick enough to dart into a hiding place in a rock somewhere. The vast majority became breakfast, lunch or dinner.

I contemplated my electric bill. I redecorated my living room in my imagination.

As with many of my husband’s hobbies, this one started to lose its hold on his fascination over time. Eventually the huge tank was fishless. Then it was plantless. Then it was waterless. It continued to occupy my living room, but at least the electricity bill improved.

A year or so later, with the help of an Ebay-like internet site, it was removed permanently from our house – and that was the most amusing part of the whole thing for me. Two young guys showed up with a moving van and only enough money to cover half of the agreed price.  We all stood there awkwardly and then my husband said okay. I added my okay, but only on the condition that they take ALL of the accessories and equipment along with the tank. They had trouble hiding their smiles at the great deal they just made. I had trouble hiding my smile about the fact that I would have paid them to remove all this crap from my living room.

All’s well that ends well.

But where did this all begin?

I assume Quirky One had a much easier time disposing of her small glass bowl and marble. My deepest apologies for making fun of her foray into pet ownership.

Tick Tock – (Democracy – Lesson #54)

Donald Trump is ruining my blog. I can’t stop myself from ranting about him. Part of me envies the people who can just tune out this huge, absurd and scary spectacle of an election. The other part of me believes it is my and everyone’s civic duty to add their dissenting voices to the choir. So here I go again . . .


Logic dictates that people living in a diverse society and committed to the principle of collective self-rule will also need to exercise self-control if the system is to work.

While binge-watching the fallout from “P***ygate” and the second debate, something dawned on me. There is a common denominator in ALL of Trump’s statements – even before he was “unshackled”: To hell with self-restraint!

Before he got off that bus, he basically admitted that he needs to control himself around beautiful women. No, scratch that. As a star, he can get away with anything. Now where are those Tic Tacs?

Then there is his general disdain for “political correctness” which simply means demonstrating a bit of empathetic forethought in one’s choice of words. He can’t be bothered. He justifies his constant stream of uncontrolled, insulting utterances by claiming he is “saying it like it is” – as if what emanates from his mouth is somehow refreshing – no Tic Tacs necessary!

Let’s see . . . what other examples of his lack of restraint can I think of? That’s a tough one . . .

Are protesters at a rally annoying you? Punch ‘em in the face! Iranian soldiers are making obscene gestures? Blow them out of the water! Terrorists are infiltrating western countries? Nuke ‘em! Eleven million immigrants without documentation? Kick them all out! Joe Blow in Kentucky tried to vote twice in 1996? Armed vigilantes at every polling station! Someone disagrees with you? Counterpunch! Bully! Belittle! Journalists and Muslims scare you? Ban them, ban them all! – and toss out the First Amendment along with them! The opponent is doing better in the polls? Lock her up! (or worse, someone shoot her!) . . .

This, ALL of this, it is not a breath of fresh air. It is the same stale stench of fleshy fragments left to decompose in a bunker after 1945. Now resurrected for our entertainment.

There aren’t enough Tic Tacs in the world for a President Trump.


And how would we Americans be as a people with such a person at the helm?

Great again! Stars! Unrestrained! Armed! And unregulated!

What a thought.


Logic dictates that people living in a diverse society and committed to the principle of collective self-rule will also need to exercise self-control if the system is to work. History and Irony dictate that those capable of self-control now let loose and rant their dissent.



Donald Trump: “It’s always good if you don’t fall out of the bus. Like Ford, Gerald Ford, remember?”



Gerald Ford: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”



Desk Drama – (MYoM – Part 33)

A new school year requires a new seating arrangement in my Secondary classroom – my “homeroom” so to speak. With 3 more students than last year, we needed to find a place for two more clunky double desks in an already crowded space. This might seem like a fairly straightforward problem, but when 15 kids between the ages of 12 and 14 have to be consulted before any solution can be found, it can get very complicated very fast.

When you walk into the class, you see a long room stretching out in front of you. The desks are in the front half and the couches and carpet area – where I do most of my teaching – are in the back. It would be a huge space, except for the fact that it is an attic room. That means the walls on your right and left are only vertical for about 3 or four feet before they start slanting inward. So a good three feet on either side of the room can’t be used for anything but small bookshelves. Get too close to either side wall and you are sure to bang your head on the ceiling. Put a desk too close to a wall and the poor kid has to twist and maneuver himself into his seat and then remember not to bang his head when he stands up again.

And there are yet more complicating factors.  For the kids, there are important issues connected to seating:  Who is my desk partner? Will I be able to sit near my friends? Especially true for the kids new to the group is: Will I have friends? Will the others want to sit next to me? A few of the fifteen have worries: Will the others get all the “good” seats? Will they care if I am happy with my spot? Or will they just steamroll over me? All of them question: Do I have a place in this group and what is it? Do I belong? Where do I fit in? . . . .

In other words, this whole process has a lot more to it than mere furniture arrangement.

Before the first week of school, I put a lot of thought into how I would handle all this. When the time came – I asked them a series of questions first (straight rows or groups? girls and boys mixed up? assigned desks or flexible seating?) all of which I already knew the answers to beforehand. I then pointed out what was possible and not possible based on the physical properties of the room. I showed them an idea I had for four groups of four and asked if they’d like to try it out. We moved the desks and arranged them sort of like this:


But we were not done. Which desks would the seven boys get and which would the eight girls get? How would they decide on their sub-groups. The boys all said it didn’t matter and placed themselves at desks without much discussion. With the girls, it was stickier. There were five returning students and three new ones among them. How would they get to four and four? I asked them if they needed my help, and they said they wanted to try on their own first. There was a lot of discussion and then they all got up and took their chosen seats. I was proud of them when I saw how they had split up the old guard and taken the newbies into the fold.

I had them all sit down at their new places and asked them how it felt. If they were comfortable. Happy. The arrangement was proclaimed to be “cool” and approved by a unanimous vote.

“That went well!” I thought to myself when the class was over. I mentally patted myself on the back.

Unfortunately, it turned out that there were a few bugs in the system.


Two weeks later, my colleague called me on my free day. He said that a big fight had broken out about the seating arrangement and that I would probably have to deal with it first thing the next morning.

I got to school and found the room like this:


As the students traipsed in one after another, each one gave me their version of the previous day’s events. As far as I can tell, it started when one of the girls decided she wanted to sit closer to friends in the neighboring group, so all the girls decided during the break that they would push their desks together to make a group of eight. Unfortunately, this required moving the boys’ desks. When the boys returned to the classroom, all hell broke loose. Moving desks without asking first was not okay, they said. We were just trying it out, the girls replied. It’s all too narrow now, some boys said – we can’t get around your desks without banging our heads. Pretty soon most of the girls were adamant about being all together and most of the boys countered that they wanted classic rows with all desks separate and facing the front. Everyone talked at once, the volume went up and no one listened.

I put a stop to the conversation and arranged a time to talk it through. “And in the meantime,” I added, “no one moves any desks!”

In the next session, passions were cooler, but each group had their own cemented-in idea of the perfect solution. I got them to agree to three steps. We would try out the two new arrangements for one week each. See how they feel. Then we will sit in a circle and talk it out with the help of Ann (my colleague who specializes in leading such discussions) because they clearly needed help to resolve the situation.

So the next Monday, I arrived and found the room like this:


And the following Monday, I found it like this:


In the meantime, we had planned an outing for the group to a climbing park so that they could have some fun together far away from any desks. It was a great success.


Yesterday, we had the circle discussion.

Ann was fantastic as usual and got the kids to open up about all the arguing, etc. They said in turn how they felt and what was important to them and the others listened. Unfortunately, it went on a little long and the desk situation had hardly been dealt with yet. I was sensing from the many increasingly fidgety kids that they had had enough of the talking. Some were saying they didn’t care anymore. Others started being deliberately provoking again. Some hinted that they wished a teacher would step in and simply say “This is the way it is going to be. End of discussion.”

At that point, I realized that Ann and I were not quite on the same wavelength. Her goal seemed to be to reach only some common social understanding – assuming, I guess, that the seating issue would then resolve itself. I, on the other hand, believe that the furnishings of a room and how they are placed can determine how people interact in that space.

I wanted a solution for the damn desks.

That was, after all, why we were there.

So after the first round of comments, I admit I interfered a bit and steered the discussion to the matter at hand. My training from 25 years of teaching business negotiation kicked in and I got five quick agreements among them in the last few minutes. 1) Girls’ desks could be in the front half of the area and the boys’ desks in the back half. 2) Each group could decide on desk placement within their area. 3) No desks would be moved in the future without asking the whole group first. 4) The next morning we would make the changes and try it out for a week. 5) It was okay with them if I did some rearranging in advanced – based on their expressed wishes. We were all in agreement and the kids went to catch their school buses.

The school was now quiet. I stood in the classroom and stared at those 8 desks. I started shifting them around. Destiny, desperation, or sheer dumb luck made me act on a whim to try something counter-intuitive. I stepped back and immediately felt “Hey! That works!” There would be no more head banging. No one would have to move their chairs so that another can get by. No one would have to weave through tight spaces, bumping into corners or tripping over school bags . . .

A colleague walked in and said “Wow! The room looks bigger!” Another one came in and exclaimed “Hey! That really makes a difference!” A third entered and said “It’s the Magic Eight!”

I went home hopeful that the kids would like it too.


I got to work earlier than usual this morning – before the first bus arrived. I made my Müsli and then went up to the room and sat on the couch in the back with a good view of each kid as they arrived. One after another, they came through the door and then stopped. They looked. They seemed first surprised and then pleased. The first word out of their 13 mouths was either “Cool!” or something to the same effect. (I say “13” because two of them were absent today.) They all joined me in the back and quickly agreed that the room did seem bigger. They were all willing to try this out for a while. Place shifting was allowed, but no desk moving. We would talk again next week. They said “Thank you” and actually clapped.

It was a peaceful and productive school day.

I don’t want to jinx it, but maybe, just maybe, I might be only two “Cools!” away from the Promised Land.