Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Miss You

19 more school days... Not that I am counting...

This weekend I am suffering from separation anxiety. I am separated from my phone!

I left it at school and someone was supposed to bring it by my house, but it never came. So, I have no alarm clock and I am pretty sure I am missing very important phone calls--from, I don't know, the president or something!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Circus--I Mean Board Meeting

There was a lot of people at the board meeting last night, which went until 11:30pm! It was a mess. Three of us who went were sitting in the lounge today during lunch, someone asked how the meeting was, in unison we all replied,"bad!"

How can I describe to you, dear reader, what this meeting was like. I can only describe with a teaching analogy, so enjoy =).

Once I was teaching some third graders basic algebra and balancing equations. We were drawing scales. We were practicing saying = signs as "the same as". It seemed to be going pretty well. The kids were doing it correctly and nodding along. Finally, I asked, "Does anyone have any questions?"

One little boy raised his hand and said, "Miss Understood, you made a mistake."

"Okay, what is the mistake?" I asked.

"You have letters in the middle of your Math problems!" I looked around and the other heads were nodding in agreement.

I knew at once: they didn't get it. AT ALL... We had to start from the beginning.

So, what is it like at a board meeting? It is like the district superintendent and leadership council are me, and the board members are my students. The district leadership council explains the situation and recommendations and the board members seem to nod along. THEN the board members begin to ask questions and it becomes abundantly clear at once: they didn't get it. AT ALL...

What is it like to be a teacher in the audience at a board meeting? Well, I am a spectator, so it is like being a spectator at a tee-ball game for six year olds. Only you're a spectator whose bet thousands of dollars on the game. When the six year old first basemen suddenly sits down for all of the third inning, you find yourself wanting to yell, "what the Hell!" The outcome of the game is in no way dictated by logic or reason, but you know you will pay dearly if things don't go as expected. In a word, it is FRUSTRATING!

As of 11:30pm last night, the rif was approved, but apparently we can't have contracts because they want to change wording and possibly rif more teachers. So, no job security for now... Why would they want to let a team of accountants, lawyers, and educators make a sensible budget when we can have elected officials with no qualifications make their own plan??

Monday, April 25, 2011

Safe for Now

Well, another rif has come and gone without sweeping me away.

We got a series of emails from the teacher's association and district office warning that there will be another rif, pending board approval tomorrow, and that those effected would be notified today. Which is right on my predicted time block, as today was the first day outside of the official state testing window. Anyway, everyone was a bit jumpy to say the least!

I almost jumped out of my skin when I saw the V.P. walking around the corner.

In the end, though, I hung on again.

Tomorrow is the big board meeting where we can hear about other special surprises in store for us. The talk is that they're reducing the sub budget and at a certain point we'll have to take in kids of absent teachers. They're also, of course, increasing class size. We don't have supply budgets anymore, so there's nothing to cut there. We've already lost all classroom assistants (excepting those required for certain IEPs). I heard also there will be program reductions for Art, Music, and PE.

Tomorrow will announce some but not all of the new budgetary surprises.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


When I was a little girl I loved to swing. Going up your eyes would be drawn from earth to sky. Coming down the sky would meld into the ground. Then, all that mattered was that there was a sky and there was the ground. I knew that they were somehow one, but knowing that was enough.

It's Easter today. I like Easter, of course, because I believe in the salvation celebrated. In some ways, however, I think that I am not such an Easter girl. It's kind of like the pep rally of Christian holidays. I've never really fit into a pep rally.

On Easter, you're supposed to wear bright colors and sing peppy songs. I usually go to church ready to reflect and learn. I feel more comfortable on Good Friday or Christmas Eve.

Today, though, I was having some trouble getting into the "Easter Spirit" at all. Recently, I haven't been attending church. I keep on tithing by automatic withdrawal. I keep on trying to follow my moral compass. I even keep praying.

I don't want to throw away my beliefs, but I've felt recently that I do not belong in a church. I've felt unsure if I believe everything the church stands for. I am like the man who prayed, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."

Today, though, it was interesting. Our pastor preached the typical Easter sermon on Matthew 28, but he focused on the fact that the disciples all worshipped Jesus when they saw him, but some doubted. He pointed out that you can worship and not feel secure in all things related to your beliefs.

In some ways, I am still like a little girl on the swing. I see the terrestrial and the celestial, but where they meet just looks blurry right now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

So Much for Plan B

When I was a little girl, I didn't want to be a teacher. I had much bigger thoughts. I know some teachers recall playing school with younger siblings or toys. Not me, I wanted to be a princess. I ordered my toys and younger brothers around.

I always assumed that if teaching didn't work out, you know, if I got riffed or something, then I would go marry the prince of England.

The royal wedding is really ruining my fall back plan!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More on Gender Roles

When I was very young, maybe even as young as four, I was sitting in church. The pastor must have been preaching on the crucifixion--I don't remember that part--but he said, "I was there; I carried that cross!"

Everyone was listening intently, but I was sitting there thinking, "Why do all of these adults believe this? This happened a long time ago, and this man couldn't have been born..."

Obviously, I wasn't developmentally ready for the abstract concept he was addressing. As Piaget would say it, I was concrete operations sitting in an abstract situation.

The thing is that it was confusing because my family told me, "Everything at church is true you should believe it." For a long time, I couldn't distinguish what I thought was true from what I was told was true. That's where I am at with gender roles.

My developing mind accepted what I was told about a wife submitting to her husband. My whole life that has been a concept I have begrudgingly lived with. My whole family believes that is part of marriage. Yes, my church believed that too. It wasn't a belief that was abusive to women. It wasn't a belief that I would call repressive because women have a choice. There are no submission police. It wasn't a belief that women are less than men. That's not my issue. It's just that I woke up one day and thought, "What if I don't believe that?" What if I think that marriage and family decisions are a completely equal partnership and not about authority on either side? What if I don't even want to try to submit? What if I think that if my hypothetical husband absolutely thinks I am wrong and I think he is wrong that we should use rock-paper-scissors and not his authority to see what we should do (yes, I am being facetious, but I do think consensus, not authority could work)?

In theological circles, we call this debate egalitarianism versus complementarianism. Once I wrote a paper defending complementarianism, but that was before I really lived out in the real world. Now, I just can't believe that anymore.

I don't think that women who choose to practice complementarianism are cheating themselves. My Grandmother lived that way and was happy every day of her life. I just woke up one day, and I realized that I don't have to do it. That thought was freeing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Polygamy and Patriarchy and the Usurpers

I have been feeling really stressed at work lately. This group of children is so difficult. I come home and fall straight asleep. Anyway, I'm not going to write about that right now. It's all pretty standard anyway.

Lately, I've been watching Big Love seasons 1 and 2. I wanted to watch it because I have been watching the corresponding reality show, Sister Wives and found it fascinating.

Why do I find it fascinating? I think it is the mix of modern women and antiquated gender roles. My religion doesn't embrace polygamy, but it certainly endorses patriarchy.

At young age, I learned about the male being the head of the household and wives submitting to their husbands. I've heard more sermons on the differences between men and women than I can count.

Here's the most typical sermon I've heard: a woman's primary need is to be loved and taken care of and a man's primary need is to be respected. I heard this sermon when I was probably eight, for the first time. I remember thinking at eight years old, "Well, I would rather be loved and respected, but I would choose respected if I had to make a choice."

For a long time in my life I didn't say much about my problems with patriarchy. People told me all the time that women don't like to submit and that if they don't do it they will be poison to their families. I didn't want to be poison.

At a young age, I learned the word "usurping." It means that one is seizing power inappropriately. I think that I learned that young because everyone felt that I was at risk for being an "usurper." They were right; I totally am. The thing is that they mean by that that the women is passive aggressive, subversive, and manipulative. I've always been honest and forthright, but naturally I am not a follower.

Additionally, I think the culture I grew up in took this stuff a step further. Ambition, leadership, and even strength aren't generally appreciated in women in circles I've been raised in. It's better to be quiet and sweet natured.

I hear all the time about how emotional all women are, BUT I am an exception to that rule. I'm not naturally emotional, and I've always been confused when I've been told that I just need to be myself to find that side of me.

I think that growing up in that culture did change me. I hold back more of myself because I was taught to. Women being opinionated was bad. Women being in leadership was bad.

As I watch this show, I really identify with the oldest daughter of the family, Sarah. She doesn't like the way the women are sometimes treated in her faith, but she loves her family.

At one point, her mother asked her if she was sleeping with her boyfriend because she had been walking away from the family faith. "Mormons don't have the exlcusive rights to morality," she answered.

Now, at 26, I am starting to feel a bit like her (though my religion is a different one). I still believe in God. I still believe in Christianity. I just think that maybe people are using it wrongly. There was a time when people used it to keep slaves in bondage. There was a time when people used it to justify many terrible actions.

I think that I can be every bit as strong and independent as I feel and keep my Christian beliefs in tact.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Question #5

State testing can be a bit of a trial. I have to test the Crazy 8 this year and I knew it would be tough. My white board usually reads: "Silence is golden," during testing week. For this group it read, "Silence: It's the Law."

Third grade is the first time the kids are subjected to state testing. So, I took full advantage. I gave the kids the following speech:

Boys and girls, next week is a big week for third grade. Next week we will be taking the [Insert Catchy/Infamous Acronym for State Testing]. They don't let you take this test until third grade because you can't handle it. Now you can, but we need to talk about what this means.

Usually in this class we have a rule during tests that says, "No, talking." Some of you break that rule regularly and you get a reflection or I let your parents know about the choices you are making. Well, when we take [Insert Catchy/Infamous Acronym for State Testing] it's not a rule [Insert Dramatic Pause]. It's the law!

The state passed a law that says every student gets to take this test in silence so he or she can do his or her personal best. If you choose to break this law, then you've committed a testing violation.

If you commit a testing violation, I will have to write an official report on what you did. It will say your name and what you did. It won't just go to Captain Principal either. It has to go all the way to the state--probably the Mayor or something. Because of your testing violation, your test might not count, and if that happens then how will we know if you really understand your third grade skills?

After my big speech, I saw lots of big eyes so I knew I was effective. One little boy raised his hand to ask if they would go to "juvey" if they committed a testing violation.

"Well, you probably wouldn't go to jail, but there would be a severe consequence," I told them.

My little speech must have been effective because this group of kids constantly have behaviors and no one has tried anything that memorable. That is saying something because my newest student took an entire hour after all the students finished during part 1 of the Reading test. She did the exact same thing again during the afternoon Math test.

All the kids were sitting in their seats trying to see her book, so they would know how much longer. I was walking around trying to contain the Crazy 8 for the rest of the testing session. "Hulk, turn back to your original color!" I said in passing. "Taz, quit chewing through your desk!" "Lost Boys, I don't know where you found a bunch of planks, but take down that fort at once!" However, I must confess, that when I walked by New Student who was the only one with her test left and saw that she was on question 5, I almost committed a testing violation myself! Do you think they would send me to "juvey"?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lessons for Education from Dr. Phil

I was watching Dr. Phil the other day. He claimed that these parents were some of the most difficult guests he's ever had. They reached out for help because their two teenage daughters were out of control. Dr. Phil had provided help and they sabotaged his efforts, lashed out at him, and were generally rude.

I was trying to watch how he handled them. Let's face it, as a teacher, I often try to help parents with their difficult children only to have them sabotage my efforts, lash out, or be generally rude. While watching this show, I came to the following conclusion: I need a studio audience to help me deal with these types.

Whenever the parents would say something really crazy, Dr. Phil would just look at the audience and they would roar with laughter. The problem with these type of parents in a meeting at a school is that it's always closed door. I need a jury of my peers to make my point. Instead, you close the door and suddenly these parents are describing some illogical world where up is down and black is white. Their crazy reality suddenly has as many or more votes as actual reality. How can you talk people out of that? I mean I can tell them that another student looking at their child doesn't justify their child punching another student in the nose, but if they continue to insist that it does, how do you work with them?

Well, everyone who wants to reform schools, here's my suggestion, when teachers are forced to endure stupid meetings about crazy complaints they should get a studio audience. They just should.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls

I am dreading work tomorrow. Dreading.

For one thing, tomorrow begins state testing week. Our school cancels P.E., Music, Art, and Library so those teachers can help test students with testing accommodations. That means I have the twenty-three precious treasures with me from 7:45am all the way until 2:35pm every day: no breaks!

Really, though, it's not testing week that is making me dread work. Testing week marks the passing of time in a school. It is the beginning of the end of the school year. Trust me, I am ready for this school year to end. It's not that I don't like the kids; it's just that I am exhausted! The kids I have this year are so hard to teach and I am ready to roll the dice and get a new crowd. The odds of it being this bad again are low, also the upcoming gradelevel doesn't have the reputation of the kids who are now in third grade.

The thing that I am really dreading is the bad news on the horizon. I have gotten a series of e-mails from the superintendent saying that program cuts are coming. This means a rif, pay cuts, or both.

When the president is on his way out, they call him a lame duck. I think the district is refusing to tell us the exact nature of the cuts because they don't want a bunch of lame ducks administering tests that determine labels and funding. I get that, but I feel the storm approaching. Also, because of my lame duck theory, I am pretty sure that Monday we hear the bad bad news.

I read in the local paper yesterday that 39% of the people in my age bracket (18-28) in this metropolitan area are unemployed. My stomach turns a little when I think about the peril my job is in. I know that I am a good teacher, but that doesn't mean I'll find a job.

Inside the walls of my house right now all is well. I have a job that pays the bills and a roof over my head. I pay my all my bills and don't have any debts or loans. I am dreading going to work, because I feel like the Grim Reaper of jobs is lurking there waiting for me. Once he finds me, there is no escape.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It's a Hard Job!

No, not mine... Well, my job is a hard job, but I am talking about the job of being president of the United States.

I've been reading the rest of "W"'s autobiography the past few weeks. I have been most struck by the pressure you must face if you are president of the United States.

There was a lot of Bush bashing back when he was president and there still is, yet we elect the president. I just wish that people had respect for the office.

I didn't approve of the Bush bashing then and I don't approve of the Obama bashing now.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I Want a Wild Card

I have a special headache. There is a certain part of my head that starts to hurt when I get overwhelmed by budget issues. It's damn near a migraine right now.

I've been right on the edge of our rif issues in the school district for two years. Last year I got so stressed out because I saw the impending threat of a rif coming at me like a freight train. I didn't know what to do if I was riffed because I was enrolled in grad school through the district. I ended up being temporarily being displaced, but I got to keep my job in the end.

According to my W-2's I've progressively made a little less money every year than I did when I got the amazing wages of a first year teacher. I have been threatened with a rif every one of the past three years, but hasn't actually happened to me yet.

This year I resolved to stave off worrying about it unless it actually happens. I can't do it, though. Things are bad. Things are worse than they've ever been, and we all know something serious is coming. Remember when I said I wish our superintendent would give a speech similar to that of the chief of police? For better or worse, he gave almost exactly that speech and it is going to run in several newspapers. At this point, I can no longer ignore the voice in my head saying, "brace yourself."

The thing is that this year I had it rough. I really did, and I know I've done a good job. I had a difficult job and I worked so hard to give these kids the best. I helped out with our school reading program. I worked nights and weekends. The kids have learned so much and I have been an excellent teammate. My team had problems before I came, but I am a team player and I've helped them. The thing is that none of that matters. In the end, it will come down to a number on a rif rubric. My glowing review from admin won't save me. Non-reader's parents who told me I'm the best teacher they've ever had can't help me. Bob's pictures of me as a superhero can't save me. It's a number.

My understanding of a wild card is that it started as a way to give teams who don't qualify by the book a shot. I know I am an asset to my school, and I wish I could apply for a wild card. I do.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Protein Shake

And Sleeping on the Couch

Now I am watching "Black Swan."

My body cannot handle alcohol. Period.

I Demand a Recount

Thursday Night I got roped into helping with Reading and Math Night. I was just trying to get some Wednesday morning coffee from the library lounge when Madam Librarian appeared out of no where.

"Can you run a booth for the night event?" she asked me.

"I already am," I said naively assuming that she was talking about the Camp Night next week. I didn't even know we were having Reading and Math night.

To make a long story short, I was assigned to the laptop station from 6-7pm. Mrs. Partygirl, my third grade teammate, requested that we get the same assignment. The whole of our job was to make sure that people did not steal the laptops. I told Mrs. Partygirl that I thought it would pretty funny if I stole one of the laptops for a while to freak Mrs. LiteracyCoach out. I didn't carry it through, but the thought crossed my mind.

Right accross from our station was a raffle station where kids could put their names in a drawing to win reading and math games. Miss Fourthgrade was supposed to be making sure kids entered only once. Miss Fourthgrade made the mistake of leaving her station for a while.

That's when Mrs. Partygirl noticed that one of the games being raffled off was Banana Grams. She really wanted that game. "Let's enter ourselves in it!" she said.

"No," I answered, "They're pulling these names out of a hat live on announcements, and we're not supposed to enter." Well, Mrs. Partygirl of course entered herself five times anyway.

Friday morning announcement time came. Sure enough Madam Librarian pulled Mrs. Partygirl's name out of the hat. She looked confused but decided to allow it. Then, she pulled her name out for a second time.

I guess it was appropriate since this drawing happened on April Fool's Day!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Spirit Is Willing But

the flesh is weak.

I have so much to blog about floating around in my head,

BUT state testing is in one more week,

AND it is an uphill battle.

When I got home last night at 7:30 (hooray for night events at the school), my new roommate was dejected and down. She is in nursing school and one of her professors had been particularly rough on her.

I do know something about what it is like to have a supervisor be really rough on you when you are still new and learning something. After all, Principal Sadie (the former principal of my school) was about as rough on me as possible during my second year of teaching.

It made me question what I was doing. It got me pretty close to quiting.

As I was talking to her, I began to articulate what I did take away from that whole experience. I learned to deal better with criticism. Captain Principal was telling me how he sees me as much more confident when dealing with parents. Ironically, I am more confident in dealing with criticism because I've dealt with it before and I've proven it wrong before. So, my advice for newbies being torn down is to prove them wrong. You can't do it in ten minutes. You might have to wear a scarlet letter for a while. In the end, you will be the better for it.