Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview with Ms_Teacher

Ms. Teacher's interview from her blog ( brings a perspective not only from the classroom but also from the teacher's association.

My background information is that I am in my tenth year of teaching, but am working as a full-time release president of my local association. When in the classroom, I taught 6th grade, mostly language arts & history.


How was actually teaching different than what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I remember being in awe of most of my teachers growing up. When I had kids of my own and they started school, I admired and deeply respected most of their teachers. I guess I expected that most everybody respected and liked teachers, so it's been a shock to find out how many people in the general public do not hold this same point of view. The routine disparagement & scapegoating of teachers that takes place in public discourse is very disappointing. I went into teaching to help kids. When people complain that teachers & their unions should not be in politics, the retort is, "then keep politics out of education." That's not gonna happen anytime soon.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
I wish that people would understand that good teachers take their work very seriously & never stop to examine ways to make their craft better. During the 8 weeks off during the summer & over the holiday break, many teachers spend time planning for the upcoming months. Over the summer, I would often examine how I could make the next year better based on the previous year. Holiday break was often spent recalibrating my plans based on the needs of my students. Teachers work many hours beyond what they are contractually paid to do. Contractually, it may say that I work a 6.5 hour day, but for many teachers (myself included), I work way beyond that.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
The deprofessionalization of teaching done by those who have never taught or have very little classroom experience. People listen to them because they have money or because they have backers who have money. Case in point, Michelle Rhee has a questionable background in teaching & in fact, has been recorded at public forum stating that they taped the mouths of her students shut. No one in the audience gasped when she told this story, instead they applauded her! She went on in her story that when the tape was peeled off, kids were bleeding as the tape peeled off their skin. Where is the outrage? Yet, she is held up as a STAR in the Education Reform movement because of her "take no prisoners" approach to education.

What is the best thing about teaching?
By far, the connection to students. It's the one thing I truly, truly miss about being in the classroom.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I'm really wrestling with this question right now. I've enjoyed my year and a half in my current position, but do miss working with kids. I plan on running for president again when my term is up in May, however, I'm contemplating what my next step should be.

Interview with Cupcake

Cupcake over at A Truth Universally Acknowledged answered my interview ( I had never been introduced to her blog before, but I was intrigued by the name being a big Jane Austin fan. It looks like an interesting read.

My background information is that I am in my fourth year of teaching high school English to (this year) sophomores, with some experience with juniors, and am in my third year of teaching the damn yearbook class in the South, which may or may not rise again, depending on to whom you speak.


How was actually teaching different from what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I did not come to teaching until I was past 40, so by that point, my expectations had taken on a rather jaded perspective. What I dreamt of was a room where freshly scrubbed faces would stare at me with adoring anticipation of all the brilliant things I have to say, and we would discuss literature and writing and analyze everything to within an inch of its life. What I got were four classes of Geniuses, and the time I spent teaching, compared to the time I spent on classroom management, was negligible. Those poor kids. I don't think they learned a thing. As far as the actual act of teaching, what shocks me most is how surly, disrespectful and entitled the kids today appear to be. They have no accountability, either at school or at home. The schools just want to pass them and graduate them, because to not do so means we leave a kid behind, and that costs us money. So the game is pass 'em and get 'em out. Consequently, the craftier kids know that they can do virtually nothing and we'll still let them graduate. Their parents refuse to believe that their little angels are anything but little angels. Case in point. One Genius from my first year works at a local market. I popped in before Christmas to do some shopping and ran into him, which immediately killed my Christmas spirit. He announced that he's at the local community college, getting As and Bs, and then said, "So somebody didn't do her job at Ye Olde High School because you gave me Ds." It took all - and I mean ALL - of my strength of will not to leap over the cheese counter and drag that little shit through the slicer. Instead, I said, "If that's how you wish to interpret it, knock yourself out." The fact that he did NOTHING in my class except sleep or tell us how well endowed he was meant I did not do my job.

Now, this year is different for me, because I have mostly Honors kids. We really talk about what we're reading, and we analyze it. They are fascinated by symbolism and allusions. They want to understand why authors wrote their works, and they are not satisfied with cursory answers. They dig into the material. Are some of them held blameless by their parents? Yes. But are they fun to teach? Yes.

This isn't to say that I don't enjoy Geniuses. Those kids have personalities that defy description, and they are the ones who keep coming back to say hi. I guess that's one thing I didn't anticipate - that kids who registered little or no acknowledgement of my existence would pop in my room the following year to ask how I'm doing or tell me a little story about themselves. That's a bonus to the job.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
They don't know that it is HARD WORK. They don't know that we don't just teach; in many cases, we also parent those kids. We help them get clothing and we help get them fed. We give them hygiene products and advice about boyfriends and girlfriends. We tell them what it's like to pledge a sorority and to graduate from college. We also are aware of when they disappear - when their little lights start to dim, due to personal stresses. People also don't understand that teachers want every kid to do well. We really do. Even the ones we don't like. But there is only so much we can do. We are haunted by Big State Testing, federal mandates, paperwork, ever changing district priorities (project-based learning today, inquiry-based tomorrow, collaborative - the list goes on and on) and parents (yes, them again) who expect us to bend to the abilities of their children rather than demand their children stretch to our expectations. And the three months off for summer? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I counted. Last summer I had a grand total of 23 days in which I did no teaching-related work, including weekends. We work our asses off.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
Misplaced priorities, for a start. Right now, it's all about passing tests, as opposed to showing growth. There are some kids who just will never pass those Big State Tests, but from the moment they step in my room until the moment they are tested, they learn something. They have academic growth. But it doesn't matter, because the only thing that is emphasized is how they do on those tests.

Another problem is that we seem to spend money on a lot of crap as opposed to actual materials that help us design those engaging lesson plans or projects or whatever. All of the useless committees and meetings with the Consultant Du Jour cost money. How about instead of revamping mission statements or making us spend two hours watching clips from School of Rock and analyzing learning styles (I kid you not), you buy books for my classroom, paper, markers, Dry-Erase markers? There is all of this fantastic hue and cry for education, but in the end, it seems people want whatever is easiest or whatever looks the most impressive.

What is the best thing about teaching?
Oh, my gosh. There are so many things. Despite all of the pissy negativity found above, I love this job. LOVE IT. I love when a kid starts the semester by telling me how much she hates English, hates reading, hates writing, but at the end says, "I think I want to be an English teacher." Or voluntarily checks out books from the class library because she "has to read something." Or asks for advice about a story she's decided to write. I love the moments when it clicks for kids who just did not get it; that look of accomplishment on their faces is like a deposit in my spiritual ATM. I love the ego rush that comes with a student who says, "You made a difference." Or when they cheered for me after I earned my Master's degree. I love that a kid with whom I thought I made no connection came to me this semester, asking if he could be my TA because he missed being in my class. Most of all, I love watching my "I hate reading" kids learn to love a book. That is the nectar of the gods.

What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
Well, in ten years, I suspect I will be teaching high school kids, because I can't imagine any other job that I'd like - and I've had other jobs. I also think I'll be teaching some online classes, and I plan to have earned National Board certification. I've threatened to still be teaching even when I'm using a walker, my teeth won't stay in, and my wig is on crooked. It really is the best job in the world.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interview with Clix

Clix at Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable ( answered my interview post-op. She brings up a new point about misconceptions about tenure which I completely agree with, but hadn't initially thought of for that question.


How was actually teaching different than what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
Well, I've got the yearbook, for one thing. And it's not too bad. Frustrating and stressful, definitely, but also liberating.

And I'm better at it than I thought I would be. I'm not being arrogant, here; it's just that I didn't think I'd be much good at all. I really sucked as a student teacher. Management - classroom order, at least - isn't a problem for me any more. Now getting ALL the students to do their work? Still a struggle. But I don't feel too bad about that, because I think there are very, VERY few teachers who can accomplish that. And I haven't given up. :)

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
That tenure does not mean a teacher cannot be fired; it means a teacher cannot be fired because the principal needs to create a position for a friend of his, or because the teacher has lots of experience which, while useful in the classroom, costs more money than a fresh-from-college n00b.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
(1) We are being othered. I hear ALL THE TIME that "everyone knows who the bad teachers are." I call BS. And it's not because I teach at a school where everything is rainbows and butterflies and sparkly stickers thereof. At our school, the teachers that students complain about, who use "best practices" only when commanded to by the administration - they're the ones whose students outscore others on state exams. What people mean by this is that somewhere else, in some OTHER area, there are bad teachers who need to be fired. And everyone knows who THEY are.

(2) The public is being LIED TO. Another 'fact' I hear all the time is that teacher quality is the most significant predictor of student achievement. It isn't. The most significant predictor of achievement is POVERTY. The most significant CLASSROOM factor is the quality of the teacher. (You'd think that would be obvious - that the quality of the teacher matters more than the quality of, say, the classroom technology.)

What is the best thing about teaching?
Again, I've gotta do twos: (1) Exploring ideas. I love it, particularly when they're ideas I'm familiar with but I'm re-exploring them with people for whom they're new. My students help me see the material with fresh eyes.

(2) Freedom. I love having summers "off." Since we're not compensated for anything we do over the summer, I can pursue professional development according to my own interests and schedule. The only thing that would make it cooler would be the opportunity to get paid for sharing what I've learned.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Possibly right where I am, although if the teaching environment in Florida cleans up a bit, it'd be VERY tempting to see if I could get a job near Disney World. Then, if I was still spry enough, I could work weekends and holidays at the Magic Kingdom. That would be pretty awesome. I don't love Disney enough to give up teaching, but being able to do both? Yeah. Definitely awesome.

I hope I explained all of that in a way that made sense. I had surgery yesterday (nothing major; they took out my chemo port) and when I took my pain pill this morning it made me loopy - jittery and confused. So if I said something dumb, please forgive. :)

Interview with Mrs. Chili

Mrs. Chili over at A Teacher's Education ( posted her answers to the interview. Interestingly, it followed very similar trends.
My background information is that I am in my 5th year of teaching in a high school (though I have taught at the junior college and university level, as well) in the Northeast. I teach English, writing, literature, poetry, public speaking, critical thinking, and film as literature.


How was actually teaching different from what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
Teaching is both better and worse than I expected it to be in college. Truly, nothing that happens in a college classroom can prepare one for the experience of being a teacher; despite their best efforts to get us prepared for classroom management and curriculum design and all the day-to-day stuff that happens, there’s really no substitute for being in it. Honestly, I don’t think that someone who hasn’t taught in the field in the last few years has any business teaching a class that prepares teachers for their jobs; I have no problem with someone who’s never (or not recently) taught giving classes in the respective disciplines, but the classes specifically designed to teach people how to function in an honest-to-Goddess classroom should only be taught by people who actually do it (or have recently done it). Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I realized that I’m not answering the question. I guess my answer would have to be that I didn’t expect to do as much on-the-fly teaching as I do. I mean, I knew that I wouldn’t be following a plan word-for-word, but I find that I can go off on any of a million different fruitful tangents depending on what interests the students. A kid will pick up on some little detail or ask a question that I didn’t expect, and we’ll spend a whole class period exploring where that takes us. Personally (and professionally), I have no problem with that – in fact, I think it’s really wonderful – but it sometimes leads me to have to recalculate my trajectory for the semester.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
I wish that people understood how emotionally invested in our work, and our students, we teachers are. Of course, there are the exceptions – I know for sure that I had teachers who were just going through the motions – but I would have to say that the greater percentage of people who go into teaching do it because they love their disciplines and they love their kids. I CARE about how well my students do; I know I have something to give them that will help them get along in the world, something that will ease their way and make their lives richer and more productive. It matters to me that my kids are safe and well cared for. It matters to me that they be given the space they need to grow and change and to sometimes fall flat on their faces. I know I didn’t go into this work for the money (she says with a sharp edge of bitterness in her voice), and I resent the fuck out of people who discount the work that we do because of their perception of the hours that we (supposedly) work. These people take no heed of the fact that teachers are building human beings – the future citizens of our world – and that is no small thing.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
The single biggest problem that faces education is that we SAY we value it, but we don’t BEHAVE as though we do. I won’t even tell you how much money I spent out of my own pocket because there are simply no funds for things like paper and pens and books. I hold book fairs and bake sales and I beg my friends and family and the members of my community to give our school the things we need because we don’t have the money to buy them. We talk a good game about how America needs to be on the cutting edge of science and technology, yet we do practically nothing to serve the kids who are in our schools right now.

There’s a bumper sticker that says something like “it will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy another bomber.” Our priorities are NOT what we claim them to be, and until we start behaving as though education matters, it will all be just so much lip service.

What is the best thing about teaching?
The kids, without question. I ADORE my students, and I bear each and every one of them a particular variety of maternal love (though I will admit to loving some more than others). I have formed great relationships with most of my students since I began doing this work, and it is the exchanges and interactions I have with my students that I find most rewarding about this job. There is little that equals the high of seeing a kid finally GET something that she’s been struggling with for however long we’ve been working on it; the look of “Oh, my GOD, I GET IT!!” that crosses their faces is just fantastic, and the fact that they’ll never think the same way again is something that I treasure. I’ve been fortunate to witness a lot of those moments (I call them “Helen Keller moments” in honor of the famous scene at the water pump), and the potential for more is what keeps me hooked on this work.

I’m also in love with my discipline, and getting to share that with a new group of kids every year is more fun than I expected it to be. I get to read and talk about books for a living! Really; how can that be bad?!

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
My intention is to keep doing what I’m doing, though I can’t say for sure that I’ll be doing it WHERE I am now. I teach at a tiny charter high school whose long-term future is somewhat murky (between funding and the disposition of the Department of Ed toward charter schools, we’re not sure whether we’ll see ten years though, in a fit of optimism, the board signed a 20 year lease with our current landlords, so….). Mr. Chili jokes that I’m his retirement plan, so it’s a good thing I like what I do, because he plans on my doing it for a while. I’m okay with that; I’m still excited to get up and go to work every morning. Someone once said that if you find something you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think that someone was exactly right.

Interview with Ricochet

I just read Ricochet's answers to my interview. She has a great blog and you should check it out if you haven't ( Anyway, I found it interesting that so many of the same ideas came out and she hadn't even read the answers that I wrote. So, here is her answers.

My background information is that I am in my sixth year of teaching in an suburban/rural school in the South. I teach math. I have 2 years in middle school, 2 years of freshmen in high school and am in my second year of teaching seniors.


How was actually teaching different than what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I was surprised about how little responsibility any of the groups of kids that I teach will take in their own education. Bringing a pencil to class (or not) is just symptomatic of the larger picture. They won't stop talking when you are reviewing for a test. They won't participate in state tests that determine their future, sometime to the point of not even coming to class. And then they want do-overs.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
1) That when budgets are cut, SOMEONE still has to pay for supplies (paper and pencil at minimum). I am seeing more and more teachers declaring that the someone is no longer ME.
2) The emotional toll it takes on the teacher, trying to do the right thing by everybody: the student, the administration, the colleagues, the parents, the state, the teacher.
3) How difficult it is sometimes to teach the content dictated by people who do not adequately convey their intent.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
Testing. There is too much of it and (at least in my state) the testing is not necessarily related to the material taught. My state says that the tests come from the standards as do the classroom instruction. Then why have they had to throw out several test scores statewide? (middle grades social studies, 9th grade math to name 2 over the past five years) If everyting were meaningful, there would be no reason to throw anything out.

What is the best thing about teaching?
That lightbulb moment - that moment when the student GETS IT - whether it is a concept in math or his/her worthiness as a human being.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Same show, different day. I see myself teaching some sort of math.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Interview with Myself and a Challenge to Anyone Who Reads This

Okay, I know I already posted once tonight, but it is writing weather. It has been raining all evening, and that never happens here. All I can here is the sound of the rain on my skylight and the click of my keys on my keyboard.

Okay, I know I just resolved to write less about education and more on other topics, but I've been provoked. I have been watching this show called Teach. Have you seen it? It is a show where Tony Danza becomes a teacher in a high school in Philadelphia. I liked it, and not just because I used to watch reruns of Whose the Boss on Nick at Night. There were some aspects of it that were unrealistic, but watching it, I could see him living the experience of an American public school teacher. It was actually very moving because usually when teachers are portrayed in the media at all they get the experience of being a teacher all wrong. At one point Tony was talking to his mentor, and his mentor asks him, "Have you cried today?" Well, it's enough to completely set him off. I just have never seen a portrayal so accurate of the emotional toll the job can take on you.

All of this show got me to thinking about why what it is really like to be a teacher is such a secret to most of the world. Why? Because we have to be professionals (which is a good thing, but maybe part of the reason crazy politicians do not take our opinions seriously about how to run the field we are experts in). I think I mentioned before that my roommate's boyfriend works for a local news station. Last year, during all of the crisis with the budget and the teacher layoffs out here, he asked me about interviewing with the news channel. I couldn't even think about doing something like that (and actually speaking frankly) because of the increased jeopardy that would put my job in. Every time a parent has pointed out to me a problem, I have to handle it without hinting at how bad the system really is. I've glossed over issues of budgetary shortcomings, special education, crazy legislation, overcrowded classrooms, and politics, politics, politics. So, I thought I would interview myself on my blog and be frank and I would also interview anyone who is listening. So, below you will find my interview with myself. If you are an educator, I encourage you to comment and answer one or more of my questions. If you have a blog, I encourage you to steal the whole interview and answer frankly on your own blog. Tell me that you answered on your blog and I'll post your interview here.

My background information is that I am in my fourth year of teaching in an urban/suburban school in the southwest. I taught fifth grade for two years and this is my second year in third grade.


How was actually teaching different than what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I've been most surprised by the guilt that comes with the territory. I never expected to feel like I wasn't enough. I really expected that hard work and a caring spirit would help me reach every student. My first two years of teaching taught me that spirit doesn't compensate for lack of skill. My second two years of teaching have taught me that no amount of skills, hard work, and caring spirit have a 100% success rate. So, I've had to come to terms with the fact that sometimes I am not enough. Sometimes someone else would have been, but I was who was there. Sometimes no one would have been enough, but the thing that will really get to you is when a student fails at something and no one is there to pick up the pieces. You will be left with the feeling that you were not enough to reach that student. It is rare, but in certain cases that is a reality I have had to face. Movies are going to come out like "waiting for Superman" and you realize that these kids sometimes need Superman. When you can't be Superman, you are a disappointment. I had no idea that I would have to deal with anything like that before I started teaching.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
I wish that people knew that teaching isn't just presenting. I have had people see the giant curriculum binder that I have for third grade, and say, "Well, you have a whole year." I wish that they understood I don't have to just present a binder full of standards, I've got to coach a room full of kids who bring every issue you can think of to the table into mastery of those standards.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
I think the biggest problem facing American educators is that as a whole this culture views education as a right without any accompanying responsibility. People want their children to be given a good education. You can't be given a good education. The only thing that you can be given is an opportunity for a good education. If parents don't teach the value of hard work and students don't put effort in, I can't give you a good education. Do I think that every child in this country has an opportunity for a good education? No, I know there are situations where that is not true, but I do think that when we give students an opportunity for a good education we've done our jobs. Education is a two way street and that is oft forgotten.

What is the best thing about teaching?
That is a hard question because there are a lot of great things about teaching, but I think the best is working with the dedicated professionals I work with. The who of teaching is a great crowd. Almost everyone I know who is attracted to this profession did it because they care about others--specifically children. I do this job for the kids, but the greatest perk is the people I work side by side with.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I don't see myself in the classroom, honestly. There's an expiration date on how long I can work like this. I see myself working in the field of education, but hopefully doing something a little less demanding. Maybe writing curriculum or working at a university...
Honestly, I love staying home alone. I have big plans for going out New Year's Eve because my friends want to. Tonight, I ordered Chinese food to my house, and I am going to watch a movie using the on demand programming I have through my cable company. I am sitting here thinking about how I infinitely prefer staying in to going out.

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Years Time!

Boys and girls, my blog is really growing up. It turns three this year, and I couldn't be more proud. I am proud of my blog because it has always been honest and from my heart. My biggest inspiration as a writer are people who write because they have to. I used to think that everyone was a secret writer, but teaching really knocked that naive notion out of me. Now, I think writing is more like a language that some of us are more comfortable in than others. In fact, sometimes I think writing is like my first language and speaking is only a cheap substitute. Sometimes I need to write like other people need a cigarette. I write to make a decision. I write to understand. I write to laugh. I write to cry.

I remember one time in undergraduate school I had to write a paper about teaching writing. I said in the course of the paper that teaching writing was like teaching breathing. I didn't know how to do it because I don't know how not to be a writer.

Yet, when I look back at this blog (my primary writing outlet over the past two and a half years), I wrote almost exclusively on the theme of education and being an educator. Reading it, I would almost believe that I am a teacher the way I am a writer. I know that is not true, but over the past three years I lost myself a little in teaching. Yet, I found myself in my writing.

I wrote so much about teaching because that is what I needed to write about, but I am ready to explore different topics in my writing again.

All of this started to dawn on me on Christmas day. I picked up George "W"s autobiography (a gift to someone else not me), and read the first couple of chapters. He talked about how he spent his early twenties living without a lot of responsibilities and finding himself. I thought about how good for him that must have been later on because when he was president there is no room to be anything but president. Then, I thought about how I've spent my early twenties. The answer is that I've spent them lost in teaching. The truth is that I have given it too much--too much to sustain anyway. I have to find a way to be more balanced. Because of who I am, a big part of that is going to be writing about other themes. So, this blog is going to change in 2011. I'm still going to write about education sometimes because that is a big part of my life and what I do most days, but I am going to write more about theology and family and life and love. That is my New Year's Resolution this year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Shocking Christmas Confessions

Well, I've been needing to get these two Christmas confessions off my chest for a while. So, here we go.

1.) I loathe the song "Christmas Shoes" because it is deliberately manipulative. I can't hit the radio switch fast enough when it comes on. I have a second reason for switching the station, though. The song works on me every time. I don't want to be manipulated by the song, but the shoes and the little boy. I cry during the "Christmas Shoes" song. That is my first Christmas confession.

2.)Every year in third grade we read "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" with the kids. In the final chapter when Imagine Herdman cries while being Mary, I cry a little bit every time I read it. I try to hide it because I have to read it to the kids, but I don't hide it very well. That is my second confession.

Also, I love the song found below. I am totally going to watch it on my computer like twenty times in a row because I love it.

Yeah, I am sometimes a Christmas Sap.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve

I've been a little down on Christmas this year. I think I am having some sort of mid mid life crisis, but that is another story. Anyway, it was nice to have my annual Christmas Eve festivities at my Grandparents church and our annual Chicken-N-Dumplins meal. I did feel, though, that our party could use some livening up, so I invented some new family games for tonight and tomorrow. My family refused to play most of them, so maybe someone out there can put these to good use.

1.) Family History Balderdash
My mom has been doing research on She has found many many stories about our ancestors. I thought she could use those stories to make a new version of the game Balderdash. She would give us three elements of a story from our family history. For example, she might say, "Revolutionary War, Baker, George Blithly." All of the players would invent a story about our family history using these three elements and write the story on cards. My mom would write the actual story. Then, she would shuffle the cards and read them in no particular order. We would all vote on what we thought the real family story was and get points accordingly.

As an appendage, I think another version of this game could be Family Secrets Balderdash. In that game we would give three clues to an embarrassing family secret. For example, "Aunt Mae, tattoo, 1995." We all would make up stories and mix them in with the actual family secret. I really think siblings would enjoy playing this game.

2.) What Time Will People Arrive Bingo
This is a game we could play because our family all lives in town (at least the family coming to Christmas this year). Across the top of our bingo cards, we would write times we thought people would arrive. In the actual squares we would write the names of our family members. We would mark a space if a family member actually arrived at the time they were on our card. This game is challenging in my family because you would lose if you wrote down the actual times people said they would arrive.

3.) Family Survivor
In this game, we would vote our family members out of the main Christmas room.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's Christmas eve eve. I am afraid I haven't been much in the Christmas spirit. Actually I am worried that ghosts will visit me by night--I'll probably call them a bit of undigested beef.

I would like to say that I baked the pies I am supposed to bring to the family festivities, but I bought them at the store and put them in more homely containers. I would like to say that it is snowing outside, but I have been wearing shorts all day. I would like to say I spent the day decking the halls, but I actually spent the day scrubbing them.

I feel good about getting a lot done over this break, but I just can't shake the idea that life is passing me by right now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Indecent Proposals

I am sorry for misleading you with my title because the proposals aren't actually indecent at all, but I feel obligated to throw some spice into my writing and sensationalize slightly--at least in title. I've been writing a lot lately about how I feel kind of trapped. When my job was so hard that I could barely make it through, I couldn't really quit. Oh, I talked a good bit about it, but when it was really hard I had to conquer it. You could call it stubbornness or perseverance or masochism--it doesn't really matter--I just had to keep trying. When I had graduate school to finish, I couldn't quit that either. If that meant eating macaroni and cheese and draining my bank account, I was going to do it.

Now, my job is still hard work, but it's not over my head. I've finished graduate school. I feel a little stir crazy. It's like I need the universe to play chicken with me and dare me to do something I can't do.

So, that leads me to yesterday. It was like a game show asking me to look behind doors.

Door Number 1.)
I was cleaning and scrubbing the house because I can't resist that when I have time off, when my phone started buzzing. It was PreLawGuy checking in again. I know that he still wants to see where things might go, and while I had closed the door--even slammed it shut--I could almost hear the universe daring me to make it work.

Door Number 2.)
One of my two best friends has a birthday on Christmas and every year for ten years the three of us have been celebrating together. We went out and my friend was telling us about her job offer in San Francisco. "You should come with me," she said, "I'll need a roommate." Because I have my Master's Degree and four years experience transferring my license isn't too hard and even if I couldn't find a teaching job, I would be half tempted to do something else--just because. It would be crazy and San Francisco might be the one place the economy is worse than here, but it was intriguing just the same.

Door Number 3.)
After dinner, we were hanging out at my friend's house. I was trying to explain my restlessness related to my job. Suprisingly, my friends both said, "You should be writing." I say, suprisingly, because they have no idea about my secret writing addiction on my blog. I just don't tell anyone about it who has any proximity to my workplace. I do have a secret ambition to travel far away and write about it. Perhaps this is fueled by my addiction to National Geographic. This does seem like the craziest door of all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I can't find the words tonight. They're in my head all jumbled up, and I can't untangle them. The writer in me rebels. I commanded myself to be practical through and through. So, I have much to say but can't say it until I resolve my practical and creative natures.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Rooftop

Something you might not know about me is that my undergraduate degree is a dual major. It is elementary education and Bible. I have thorough background in protestant theology and literal interpretation of the Bible.

I was thinking about David and how he was so close to God, the God, who created everything. He lived in a palace and he was king, but he screwed up everything. I don't actually know how old he was at this point, but I imagine that he was about twenty-five. There has been a lot of theological discussion on why he fell away from God and why he did it. I think he did it because he got so wrapped up in life that God's influence grew dimmer. He lost his focus.

That's why I think he was twenty-five. I feel like I might lose focus too.

I talk to God all the time. I always have. I used pray just in case there was a God who was listening. Then, I prayed because I always got answers. Now, I pray because I know God is listening anyway and I figure I might as well talk to him directly.

I know God is listening to me. I know in some sense what He wants of me, but lately his voice is dimmer.

My heart says go to church and I try, but it's like all I ever hear about is how to raise kids and build godly marriage. They are always saying that those of us who are not married should pray for our future families. I never talk to God about that, though, unless someone tells me to. I talk to God about the real and the tangible and I ask him questions. I just don't want to talk to him about a fictional marriage and children.

I feel like church wants me to fit into this box for women that I don't fit into. I ask God if that is really what He wants from me then why none of those things seem to fall into place. I don't believe that God is like a mettlesome parent pressuring me to meet a nice boy and settle down. Church is like that, though.

That is why I feel a little lost at church and a little more at home out on the town. Yet, I am trying to be faithful to what God wants from me. I stay anchored to the good, right, and true; but I feel like I am already out on the roof questioning the life I have and wondering what might be out there.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Look in Your Eyes

Teaching is a team sport. My team is my school staff, and it is a great team. We share all successes and all struggles.

Let's face it, though. Struggles are like the problem child in a large class. You might have far less struggles than successes, but somehow struggles seem to zap all your time and energy.

There is a situation going on at my school. I am not directly involved, but it is bothering me just as if I were. The situation is just one of those stupid things that educators have to deal with and watching it unfold is like getting punched in the gut.

I just hate watching good educators and administrators take abuse. I really wonder what it was like to teach in a time when parents and students were held accountable. People are always saying that education is in an age of accountability, but from the inside, the only people I see being held accountable are educators--and we're held accountable for things we have no control over.

Even though I had a good day with the kids and got some wonderful thank you notes, even though it's break, this whole situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I just get to work with some really talented people who do amazing things. I want to believe that they don't face the same doubts and discouragements that I do about this work. Today, though, I saw it in their eyes: they are tired of it all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Leaves in the Desert

When I got home from work today, I walked across my yard to the mailbox to get the mail. My yard is full of yellow and orange leaves to the point that you can't even see the grass. It was raining lightly and leaves got stuck all over my boots. Anywhere else in the country, I think the leaves and the rain would be a nuisance. Here, though, in the desert, it's like a garden in bloom. It is a rare and beautiful sight. I stopped in the center of my yard and stood there for a bit because it just felt right.

Every morning, at 5:30, when it is still dark outside, I can barely drag myself out of bed. I know that I have an entire day of hard work ahead of me, and I wonder when it will ever let up. The answer is that the hard work never lets up. The thing is that in teaching there are these moments with the particular kids in your class for the year that you miss if you don't ever stop and look around. I spend a lot of time this year looking at the clock and looking at the calendar and wondering how much longer my "sentence" with this group of kids will last.

The first thing that happened to me at school was that I received a gift. It was a bar of soap. Yeah. I was amused by this, but the soap looked really familiar. It looked familiar because the classes in our school each put together a basket of food and basic supplies for needy families. The baskets actually all went to families within our school, but the kids didn't know. I knew that this family received a food basket and I remembered the soap on top of our box. This kid really didn't have anything else to give me, so she brought me the soap. At first I thought it was the funniest gift I'd gotten, but in the end it was one of the most meaningful.

Later that day, I received a card from the little non-reader I've had in my class this year. I actually did get him placed in resource services and he is making a ton of progress in his reading and writing. He wrote me a note.

Dear Miss Understood,

Mary Chishmas. You make me feel Happy. You make me feel Smart. you are smart. you are wonderful Because you are Smart.

From, -J

I promised myself that I would not let him leave my room without learning to read, but I also knew in my heart that he was smart but didn't believe it. I haven't got him reading fluently yet, but making him feel smart is almost a better compliment.

Finally, there was the special card from Bob. Bob is my student who has some more pronounced issues. He came in from his resource class with a huge smile today and he was hiding something behind his back.

"Bob, did you make me something?" I asked him.

He pulled out his card in an envelope with a perfect replica of Sonic the Hedgehog. "Here!" he said proudly. His note said "you make me Happy."

Bob, is one of my biggest challenges to teach academically this year, but Bob makes me happy too. I have so many kids with difficult temperaments, but Bob is the happiest, nicest student I've ever taught. He has been such a bright spot and a blessing for me on those days when I am looking at the clock and looking at the calendar.

My job doesn't have a lot of perks. I get really sick of it sometimes, but sometimes when good things do happen looking at it is a bit spectacular--like leaves in the desert.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Major Award

Today, blog friends, I won a major award. I won the award for Best Employee of All Time. It was an ultraHD FLip video camera. Awesome, right?

How did they decide who was the best employee of all time, you ask. Was it a vote? No, it wasn't a vote. Was it based on test scores? Goodness no, it wasn't based on test scores. Was it based on hours put into the job? Not so much.

It was decided by a sorting hat. The hat said I belonged in Slitherin, but the camera was my consolation prize. Just kidding, it was decided by casting lots, and God chose me. Okay, it was kind of decided by a sorting hat which cast our lots. We put the names of all the employees into a hat, and out popped mine. Some have called it random or a raffle, but I won't let them rain on my parade.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Desert Hike

The rocky, desert mountain looked down on me unforgivingly. Dust hung thick in the dry, desert air. Not even sunshine could reach the leeward ground I stood on. It felt almost hallowed. The landscape was desolate. The bristled, brown plants clung to jagged edges. There was no path. Something beckoned me to the top.

In the beginning, the climb was a stroll. Soon it grew steep. I used my hands to pull myself up. Rocks pulled loose under my fingers and fell sharply and endlessly down below. I didn't look how far down because I had to keep climbing.

Finally, the summit appeared. It was like a sandstone wall, standing as a fortress guarding the other side. There was no foothold. I jumped until my hand found the peaks. Hanging there, I had to pull myself up--not know what was on the other side. I wasn't exhausted, but I was very afraid. I swung over and and landed almost on my back. I looked at my scraped hands and knees. I wondered how I would go on, but when I looked up there was a gentler slope.

The pink dusk fell over the whole land. It was beautiful, but I knew that meant darkness was coming. I couldn't see much, but I followed my feet. I stumbled down the mountain.

Then, it was finished. As surely as I heard the call to the top, I felt the end at the bottom.

I dreamed this all two nights ago, but it is my subconscious reminding me that we are at the halfway point in this year. Why do people climb mountains like that?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friendly Dinner

So, guess who I heard from again? PreLawGuy... He wants to have a friendly dinner over my break. I kind of thought he was not wanting to see me anymore after I told him I didn't have feelings for him.

I was really happy to hear from him because I love hanging out with him. I get talked down to by men--a lot. Maybe it is just what men do, but I don't like it. Growing up, I heard all the time that men want to feel respected and women want to feel adored. I tried to believe that. You know what, both things would be nice, but if I had to pick, I want to feel respected.

Case in point: my roommate's boyfriend has been e-mailing all week about Christmas presents for my roommate. He is asking for my opinion, but he keeps giving me idiot proof directions about how to find out what she wants and even how to open a url. I get it that he's older than us too, but I get really annoyed by that stuff.

Here's another example: my sister-in-law. She and my brother have one of those relationships where gender roles are rigid. She told me she votes for whomever my brother tells her to because she doesn't know about politics. Once, they both told me that "Women have their own language. They say the opposite of what they mean, and men are supposed to figure it out." I protested this, of course, because if there is one thing I do it is saying exactly what I mean. I have no wish for anyone to interpret hidden meaning in what I am saying. They told me that I would learn how things are when I was in a serious relationship. Whatever.

This post has gotten really off track, but my point is this: I don't think PreLawGuy is for me, but whoever ends up with him is a lucky girl. I feel like he will meet someone before I do because I have a terrible track record, but even if we can't be friends after that I'll be happy for him.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

One Other Thing

I graduated!

Sort of.

I finished my Master's Program.

I am waiting for my diploma in the mail--as I am not walking.

It is nice to be done, though. Whatever will I do with Monday and Sunday nights back?

DIBELs Blues

It's the most wonderful time of the year. That's right everyone, winter DIBELs testing! What? Did you think I was talking about something else?

I actually love data from outside sources--and our DIBELs testing is not done by classroom teachers (progress monitoring is, but not the actual testing). Because, even though I am religious in the collection of my own data, I always wonder, on some level, if it is skewed by my being too close to the project.

Yet, I want my numbers to be what I want them to be, and they never are! This is partially because I was always disappointed if I didn't get 100% or better on exams. Sometimes I want my students to be the student I was, and not every student is good at testing. I am learning to focus on progress instead of flat test scores. It is a healthier perspective all around. But as I focus on progress, I get totally obsessed with the few students who didn't make progress. I can barely notice the students who made a lot of progress because I am obsessed with the ones who didn't.

What I am forgetting in my fruitless quest for perfectionism in an imperfect world, is that my love for data is totally practical. I love concrete data as a director of future instruction far more than I love it as an evaluator of success. In fact, I cower at the thought of the recent law passed stating that 33% to 50% of my evaluation must be directly based on test scores.

What I have to do is look at the numbers I am not happy with as a challenge and not as a failure. I am tempted to just throw my hands up and think that I did enough, and it is crazy that I still have so many strategics and intensives. I know, though, because of these numbers, how to help them better.

I have to teach every single kid well this year or they will not make it through third grade objectives. That is the challenge I have.

So, Crystal Ball of Data, you are reminding me that the hard work is just beginning. You are reminding me that we have a long ways to go. Yet, you remind me also, we've come a long way.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Peace on Earth

It is the second Sunday of Advent. The candle of peace is lit today.

We sang in church today, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I learned the story of this song for the first time.

It was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was a true academic and a poet. As such, he felt things very deeply. He courted his wife, Fanny, for seven years. Although he eventually won her heart, he suffered a fate worse than rejection when he lost her at a young age. Left alone, the poet and the academic in him brooded for years. The Christmas bells were a song of mourning to him, until they weren't anymore.

Peace found him.

On Christmas day, in the midst of the Civil War years he heard the bells again.

Christmas Bells

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Confessions of an Elementary School Grinch

I have a confession to make. Working in an elementary school makes me into a grinch. I start liking Christmas again on the first day of Christmas Break. Before that, though, I start to get grouchy. I turn into a mean little green animal. Last week I actually stole the Christmas tree out of the school library and dragged it back to my lair.

Okay, it's not that bad. I don't enjoy holiday projects or holiday parties at school, though. I wish I could keep teaching through the curriculum as if nothing special was going on. I really do.