Mastication is a Dangerous Word

sword swallower

The longer one spends in middle school, the more one’s maturity is arrested. This phenomenon is referred to as “going native.” Going native is the idea that after prolonged exposure to their charges, an adult, namely a teacher, unintentionally falls to the same developmental plane as his or her pupils. I’ve been in middle school for over 15 years, not counting my time on the inside back in the ‘80s. There’s not a lot of hope left for my maturity. I certainly love a good fart joke, but lately I’m having a harder then usual time holding on to the minimal maturity gap I hold over my middle schoolers. I’m on the verge of going full-on native and it all started with mastication.

Last year when I was determining the subject areas necessary for middle school scientific brilliance, I decided that a peek into human anatomy was essential and as they say, it’s easiest to “go with what you know.” Since I’ve been digesting and pooping all my life, and have a strange obsession with both due to a bad gut, I am a master of the poop tract. (Don’t worry, I did have to good sense to list it as “Digestive System” on my formal documents as calling it the Poop Tract might be frowned upon by the higher ups.) I figured it would be a slam-dunk unit that would require little research / relearning on my end.

I needed a unit I had full comfort in this year because last January I spent every damn night re-learning physics so I could break it down and teach it to middle schoolers the next day. (Full disclosure, I didn’t really get physics the first time through back in the 90s so trying to teach it nearly killed me.) I was not going to fall victim to the same fate again.

Given my WebMD research on the esophagus, gall bladder, gut micro-biome, intestinal absorption, and because I love a good highball, the liver, our study of the poop tract was going to be an easily digested piece of cake. I planned labs and projects from analyzing enzymes in saliva to building 3-D digestive systems. This was going to be epic.

Then we actually began.

It was the moment I uttered the word mastication to a group of 8th graders that it hit me. I tried to keep my adult-cool and not don the same shade of red as those seated at the lab tables before, me but I could feel it rising. I couldn’t suppress the giggles. I was going native.

After altering my delivery from mastication to “chewing really hard” for the next class, I thought I might be in the clear. I hadn’t even considered that eventually we’d hit the anus. As a woman who cannot speak the name of the 7th planet from the sun without uncontrolled giggling, (Uranus…hehehehehehehe. If you missed my struggle with this last year, go have a look here.) this did not look promising. I’ve been in middle school all these years for a reason.

I made the executive decision to spend a portion of our first class on an anal extravaganza. I gave each class of middle schoolers free rein to gawfaw wildly at my every mention of the word anus to get it out of their system (and mine.) Was this my best teaching moment? Perhaps not, but it get the job done and there has been ample anus discussion in the past weeks with the only giggles being the ones I suppress.

Honestly, what human with any sense of humor would not chuckle when an excited 10 year-old responses to the question, “What is the job of the anus?” with an exuberant, “Well Mrs. O, that is where the magic happens.”

What could elicit such a response? See, in that guy’s class, we magically made poop. We tore up bagels, mixed them with ginger ale (aka stomach acid) and shoved our concoction through a variety of contraptions including a pair of pantyhose that served as intestines. We hit the highpoint as the glob that began as bagels came out the bottom of the pantyhose as a perfectly formed, rather realistic turd. The crowd went wild and a high-pitched “POOP!!!!!!” punctuated the hallway. Magic indeed my friend.

If making poop were not exciting enough, I’ve also filled the minds of my cherubs with fun facts like: the average human farts 14-21 times daily (more if you eat Taco Bell) and the loudest fart ever recorded clocked in at 194 decibles for 1/3 of a second which is louder than a cannon blast. (FYI, the perpetrator suffers back pain from that honker to this day. No mention of Taco Bell consumption prior, but I’m guessing yes.)

As we’ve moved into building models of the digestive track I’ve gotten to say things like, “That purple anus is too big.” And “Your rectum is on the floor, don’t forget to attach it. Or my favorite, “Don’t forget to paint your anus.” 

Fortunately, we’re about to move out of this unit because my heart can no longer handle the stifled laughter that occurs with walking the line of going native. A few more days of this and I’m going to blow. Next week we move on to nutrients. Its time to say goodbye to the anus but I’m sure it won’t be gone forever. After all, that is where the magic happens.

Advertisements

Uranus Is Huge and Filled With Gas, Much Like My Own

vintage-telescope-1

I’ve spent way too many years in middle school. Including my own sentence back in the ‘80’s, I’ve spent somewhere around 20 years in middle school. Even during my time teaching in Turkey, I was in middle school. Is it odd that I’m most comfortable in the one stage of life most people spend years trying to forget? Perhaps. But don’t be mistaken, it’s not like I hit my peak in middle school and thus decided to stay. Oh no. I was a hot mess of braces, bad hair, excess chub and incredible fashion missteps. (I have photographic proof if in doubt.) Middle school was certainly not my jam, so why do I keep going back? No clue but I do love it. Yet another reason that I’m a psychoanalyst’s dream.

While I’ve matured past middle school in some aspects of life, (like my sagging neck and creaky knees) the middle schoolers I teach often surpass me in maturity. This became clear again last week as my middle school science classes began an in-depth study of the Milky Way Galaxy.

As every Earthling knows, (ok maybe not those crazies who are certain Jesus’ sat astride a T-Rex, but I don’t believe those science deniers really deserve to be labeled Earthlings.) that any study of the Milky Way must include, at the very least, mention of the Gas Giant Uranus. (Ok, I cracked up just typing that!)

This is my first time teaching about space so way back last summer when I planned to add this into my winter curriculum, it never occurred to me that I’d have to have various in-depth discussions of Uranus. (HA! Better yours than mine! HA!) No, I was lured into astronomy by the thought of settlements on Mars and the anniversary of Pluto being striped of his planetary status (10 years people, it’s been ten years!). Uranus never entered my mind. (No offense, but I don’t think of my anus often either.)

Perhaps Uranus didn’t come to mind because the last astronomy class I took was in January of ‘92 and involved standing in a cornfield on the northern Iowa tundra during sub-zero temps. The class consisted of staring into the darkness while snot-cicles formed under our noses, clad in layers of clothes scavenged from dorm mates enrolled in more sensible academic pursuits. Not a lot of science happened as we hid bargain booze in our long johns and cracked jokes for survival.

“It’s so dark I can’t even see Uranus.”

“Uranus is so cold it got a crack in it.”

“Move over! Uranus is the only thing I can see though this telescope right now.”

Brilliant young astronomers we were not.

In the years since then, attempts have been made to push through an alternate pronunciation for the gas ball, but it’s useless. You can’t let the world mispronounce your name for 166 years and then decide to change it, (I know, people have been mispronouncing mine for 40+ years.) especially if your name is the butt of so many jokes. (See what I did there? Butt…Uranus…ha!)

During our introduction to planetary alignment, I rushed through the whole “gas giants” section of the solar system with only a few giggles (me, not the kids.) But by fourth period I’d met my maturity cap. The transition between Saturn and Neptune was killing me! Sure, statements like “Uranus rotates horizontally” is relatively innocuous but let’s be honest, if you had to repeatedly explain “Uranus is huge. It is made of gas.” You’d lose it too.

I made it through a few more classes filled with snickers and giggles from both the kids and me. We were all clear on the importance of Uranus and it looked like we might make it until, the Great Toilet Paper lab.

See, there is this method of teaching AU (Astronomical Units, for those of you who haven’t taken an astronomy class since 1992 either. Solidarity my people.) illustrating the vast distances between planets by using toilet paper rolled out on the floor. While Mercury is only half a sheet from the sun, Saturn is 65 sheets of toilet paper away and on and on.

It’s fun and provides an easily visible representation of distance. Unfortunately, my classroom is not big enough to hold an entire scale map of the solar system made in t.p., so the talk of Uranus had to be moved into public space…public space filled with other middle schoolers and teachers. Our immaturity fest was on display as phrases like, “How much toilet paper does Uranus need?” wafted through the halls.

Within seconds, every other adult in the vicinity was sharing the same contorted gafaw-stiffling grimace I’d been wearing all week. Finally, I was not alone. No one in middle school is mature enough for Uranus. No one.

Years ago when I coached middle school boys tennis, no matter how hard I tried, every day at the end of practice, when it was time to say, “Alright boys, pick up your balls.” I couldn’t do it without busting into giggles. Every damn time. It’s kind of reassuring to see that while I’m a very different teacher than I was all those years ago, my soul is still 12.

While this exploration of Uranus has been painful, (hehehe…) it has taught me that, someday when we are all sitting in the TV room at Shady Pines Retirement Villa, I’ll still be crackin’ fart jokes and laughing about Uranus. You’ll just have to listen harder to catch my toothless ramblings.

Solar-System-Printable-sm-GraphicsFairy.jpg