Friday, September 30, 2011


I've been a bit on the busy side of things lately. Between my teaching job (which doesn't even fit into the 40 hour work week), the two classes I adjunct teach and this dissertation defense, I haven't had time to write much.  I'm stressed because this is the longest I've gone without posting.  My friend L.Bangs remarked the other night that I need to write more.  And believe me, friends, I have stuff to talk about.

I have finally gotten to a point with my students that I can begin moving them from dependent learners to independent learners.  For instance, students commonly ask me if they might sharpen their pencils. I put up a sign that reads: "Independent Learners may sharpen their pencils whenever they need to, as long as the teacher is not lecturing". My next step with them is to tackle responsible use of the bathroom pass.  I have scaffolded this with my 8th grade class. They have now earned the privilege of moving their desks into the groups they want and can do community work.  If they do well next week, they can be trusted to use the bathroom pass at their own discretion. I wanted them in the configurations they chose. I want them to learn respect and to be respected in turn and for our classroom to be a place of learning.

I gave new vocabulary words last week too. "Home Language" and "Standard English" and "Code-Switching" all came up. We discussed openly - in all of my classes- whether or not one language was better than another, the importance of code-switching and why we need to study English. It went well and the spirited ones are becoming more focused. The less interested ones seem to be paying a bit of attention.

What has helped too is the ESL teacher who is coming for two of my classes.  I make use of her and have her work with struggling readers/writers who seem to founder in language and are shy.  They like her because she is nice and quiet and a native speaker, so she is a safe person to ask if they need to in Spanish.  Let's face it- I am a good teacher but the ESL teacher is a great augmentation because she shares a language context that I do not.  And I am all about using that to help those kids. They need it. They deserve it.  Sometimes the languages get mixed up.

I was explaining the concept of quickwrites to my kids. Quickwrites are writing where we just put down our ideas on a topic or tell a story as quickly as possible without thinking too much about it.  It's the warm up to our class and is a great way to generate topics for further writing. I gave an analogy (and taught that word along with it) of stretching before playing a sport. "What does stretching do for you?" I asked. "Helps us not get..." said one of my students. "Get..?" I inquired. He looked puzzled. Sometimes my students will know a word in Spanish and not know how to translate it. "Calambres." He turned to his friend next to him. "Cramps." said the kid.  You stretch so  you don't get cramps.  "That's why we do quickwrites. Nobody wants calambres." Some of my girls giggled. They later told me that calambres are also associated with menstrual cramps.  Fortunately, this was first hour.  I practiced the word on all of my other classes.  I got it wrong a few times and students delighted in correcting my pronunciation.  "Hey, I have to get it wrong in order to get it right." It was a wonderful and teachable day.

Followed by a few days of mindless testing.
Two steps forward, one step back.

The day we discussed home language and code switching, I was also being observed by the principal. We used poetry to talk about verbs and more on the use of analogy.  He's been hitting us over the head about curriculum so I was nervous.  When we got a chance to meet about it, he mentioned how much the kids participated in the discussion and the writing and that they seemed to be learning.  It was a good evaluation.  At the end, I confessed that the exercise we did was not in the curriculum script that was handed me as I walked in the door. It went far beyond and he could see that this was true.  He didn't have much to say about that.

School seems to be leveling off. I'm working out issues one at a time. It's really my health that is in the front seat today. I've been going at it a little aggressively. This week in addition to teaching at the middle school, I also taught my Tuesday night class at Osu-Okc. Then I ended up back there until 8 on Wednesday night and subbed in on Thursday night for someone else. Three 12 hour days in a row is a little too much. And my dissertation defense is next Friday. One week from today. And I am not ready yet. And I haven't graded all of those papers. And I need to work out. I did work, despite the aching in my lungs. And it all came down on me today.

I had to go see my doctor after work.  I have been coughing and wheezing for two weeks. Then I got a sinus infection and a really sore throat. It's all from my asthma. The doc gave me a steroid shot in the butt, an antibiotic and some cough syrup made with codeine. And a strong admonition to come earlier next time so that it doesn't get that bad.

So I had my own calambres this week. I didn't warm up properly or get enough rest and paid that price.  I'm going too much, running too ragged and trying and failing to be Wonder Woman. I've been typing with one eye closed and pausing to yawn. So tomorrow I cancelled my plans to be in the parade and to help someone move and I'm going to sleep in instead.  Because next week is going to be a hell of a week.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Make It Better

I can't just wallow in self-pity.  Well, I guess I could, but it's like not taking a shower for a week- eventually you get sick of yourself.  I let it go a night and decided to do something constructive instead of complaining about a situation where I do not have a lot of control.

I made the day good with my kids and then wrote an email to my boss documenting the things that were said in the meeting. I feel better knowing that my concerns and the things that were said in the meeting are written down and I can prove that they happened through more than the hand-written meeting notes that I will never have access to again.  Several of my many wise teacher friends told me that if I do not document something, then it's my word against someone else's and I would do well to document, document, document.  I think I did a good job.

The other thing that helps more is not concentrating on the negative and thinking of some sort of good I can do in the world.  One of our teachers is brand new. She has never taught before and I think if I were in her shoes, I'd be pretty freaked out.  She's doing the best she can and had no air conditioning for the first month.  That's right, no AC during this hot, hot summer with 6th graders! Ugh! Poor gal! So I wrote her a little certificate for being a Super Teacher and slipped it in her inbox. It's nice to get an "Atta Girl" once in awhile and it made me feel better to say something nice to someone.

Unfortunately for me, this morning I woke up with a really tight chest and a few asthma attacks.  I called in to work and went back to bed.  I've been sleeping most of the day and can't breathe well.  My dear, dear friend Charlotte brought me over her nebulizer and I am still shaking from using it. It's like a legal electric bong. I don't enjoy taking medicine.  But I can breathe and feel better, even if I had to resort to steroids.  There's Charlotte again, pulling my butt out of the fire.

Tomorrow will be better. I will get back to work and it will be Friday and I will have two more days off to recover.  And it will keep getting better- I will keep making it better- through thoughtful reflection and not through reaction.  That's my new mantra today.  And now my shaking hands and I are going back to bed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I feel scared right now. I don't like to feel this way.  It's not panic, but a building, billowing feeling that things are going out of control and there is nothing I can do but hold on and hope I don't get blown out of the back of a speeding train. I do not like this one bit.

At work I feel as though we are all on a motorboat with nobody really at the controls.  The guy holding the rudder is arguing coordinates with the janitor and the guy with the nautical maps is bailing the holes that have sprung in the bottom of the skiff.  I've got my eyes on the horizon, yelling that we are at land-ho and nobody wants to acknowledge what my eyes see and what impeding doom will likely hit us if we do not alter our course.  Down in the hold is the future of my kids, all baled up and ready to drown at the bottom of the deep blue sea.  It frightens me.  I love my students, who are more or less resigned to going with me on the curriculum idea. Some actually enjoy class.  I love that we've begun conversations about code-switching and Standard English versus common language.  They are not the problem.  I am also lucky to have two classes with only 20 students and two classes with 25 or fewer. Only one of my classes is at 27 right now.

Seriously, I've got that part. It is the trivialities of the matter- access to email, technology for my classroom that every student should have in junior high if they are to make it in the world and textbooks, yes, textbooks, which are currently sitting in the Library waiting to be inventoried- and administrators who are too new and unseasoned to be able to effectively help my department.  It's scary to have meetings about curriculum that nobody in the department has taught and to have someone attempt to stand over me and raise their voice as though I were a naughty child to be chastised.  It's not fair to then to have to be the one to calm the frazzled nerves of the other teachers and help my administrator to become a better communicator.  Let's add a little resentment to that mix, in with the fear and lack of information. Just because I am not being treated as a professional doesn't mean that I can behave as though I am not. On top of all of that, the air conditioning went out in our 100 year old building for two days but I was still expected to teach well.  My poor students. They deserve better.

I am scared and pretty soon will start rebelling, as is natural.  I may develop an eye problem from time to time and won't be able to see going in to work.

If this is the way our public educational system works, then we should scrap it and start all over again. If I am this ineffective as a teacher and negotiator with others in the system, I should not be an educator, a teacher or other person involved in a bureaucracy.  What scares me most is that the things that scare me have nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with "things" and people that really do not matter.

I'm sure that this will look better in the morning but for now, I've just got to go to bed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Ends Of Things

This is the season of the ends of things.  This is the week of the ends of things and the night of the ends of things.  I have to turn in my dissertation revisions tomorrow but instead I'm writing a blog post.  I should be revising. I don't have internet at home right now and have to get to bed by 11 at the latest and that's after a shower.  I work in the morning. 
This is the end of my homeless wanderings.  I've spent the last 6 months wandering all around Oklahoma as my house was rented out while I finished my teaching contract in Ada.  The contract was not renewed and I ended up getting a teaching job in Oklahoma City. I got my house back on September 1.  It was a terrible mess and will cost me thousands of dollars to clean up.  My contractor is installing new kitchen countertops and replacing drywall in the pantry because of the heavy urine smell.  I bug bombed since the roaches were large and singularly unafraid.  One of them looked like "Ponyboy" from The Outsiders. I think he was carrying a straight razor so I backed out of the room and called in a nuclear attack. My cat is happy to be home at least.  The livingroom, hallway and one of the bedroom carpets has been steamcleaned four times and spot treated several times.  While stained badly, they won't be replaced since I just don't have the $1,700 to do it. Then there are the dead trees and landscaping in the back yard and the garbagea dn assorted junk tossed into the yard here and there.  It's going to take several pick up loads to get rid of it.  Now you know where the roaches came from.  All of this on only 6 months.  The meager deposit didn't even begin to cover the steam cleaning. I feel relatively safe tonight and the house is rather stink-free save for the pantry. The contractor will take care of it.  I put the ball in motion.  The end.  My very nice ex-boyfriend is babysitting my Big Dogg and he will come home soon too. My happy little family will be home and in the same place.

This is supposed to be the end of my dissertation. I'm a little blocked.  I don't want this to be over.  I'm teaching full time during the day and in the evenings I teach an online class.  On Tuesday nights I've got an in-person class.  I'm not sure that I'm spending enough time on revisions. I'm not sure what I'm afraid of. I'm not sure if it will pass. I'm not sure if it *should* pass.  I'm not sure what to do next. I've been a student for a long, long time. I don't want that to change. I don't want it to stop. Can't take it back now. I will finish this too and be done with it.

I am glad to be on the back side of summer and the end of the hottest season on record anywhere.  I thought I would die.  I didn't.  I complained a lot on Facebook and obsessed on the topic with my friends and family.  Wildfires raged and tempers flared. For four months I sweated and played ninja in my avoidance of the giant ball of gas in the sky.  I couldn't run more than 2 miles without getting heat stroke.  It went on and on forever until suddenly, like a puff of smoke, it was gone.  Today I turned on the heater in my car on the way to work.  It was all of 55 degrees.  I rejoiced. I reveled in it, rolling down the windows blasting the heater.  I love the descent into fall, bringing in the eaves and putting away the summer dresses.  I love putting the earth to bed, to sleep for a season of dormancy, of well deserved rest already after the long and winding dirt-road season under a burning sun.  And I feel an easing in my mind too, in my philosophy that things can wait and that there is time yet for me to think and to reflect and ponder some of life's greater mysteries. A season to compost my thoughts and plan and to dream.  To gather my wisdom about me like so much yarn to spin into the shawl of age.

I have had the end of a relationship too.  My brother is not speaking to me, nor I to him. I got pulled in to some stupid drama where I did not want to be. I am not a tactful woman and did not pull my punches when I perhaps should have.  We argued and fought and said things we cannot take back and he did something he cannot take back.  For now, for this season, I am done.  I'm not angry anymore but won't open my heart for someone who has caused that much grief for me, knowing the stress it would cause. I hate the ends of relationships and really, really dread conflict.  I do love being healthy and now perhaps we can both be healthy on our own. 

Finally, I am going to end my relationship with Blogspot.  People clicked on the ads.  I was supposedly making money from my blog.  Then I made too much money- over $300 that I never cashed in over the course of a year- and the blogspot people decided to suspend my adsense account.  So now you can read my work but I cannot make money from it.  This is work, keeping a blog and trying to put something thought-filled out there every week.  As soon as I get a suitable new home for my writing, I will let you know and we will go from there together. 

Drink the last of the summer wine. Enjoy the leftover pieces of watermelon in the refrigerator.  Pick the remaining tomatoes from shriveling vines and watch as the squash and pumpkins grow and grow. 
I leave you today with the following from William Butler Yeats:

The Folly Of Being Comforted
One that is ever kind said yesterday:
'Your well-beloved's hair has threads of grey,
And little shadows come about her eyes;
Time can but make it easier to be wise
Though now it seems impossible, and so
All that you need is patience.'
Heart cries, 'No,
I have not a crumb of comfort, not a grain.
Time can but make her beauty over again:
Because of that great nobleness of hers
The fire that stirs about her, when she stirs,
Burns but more clearly. O she had not these ways
When all the wild Summer was in her gaze.'

Heart! O heart! if she'd but turn her head,
You'd know the folly of being comforted.