Friday, May 25, 2018

Dress codes for girls can kiss my ass

Here is what it is like to be a girl.

Select a dress for a dance. It has to be finger-tip length (meaning when you hold your arms down, it has to be as long as your fingertips on your leg or longer). Said dress meets this qualification.

Since your mother is cheap, and this dress costs more than she'd like, she says you have to wear the dress to both the dance AND your graduation. Mother is striving to not raise an entitled child.

Even the Duchess of Cambridge wears her stuff twice.

Wear the dress to your middle school dance. No administrator or teacher says anything about it being too short or too tight.

After buying this dress, you get notice that the graduation dress requirement is 2 inches above the knee. You don't pay any attention to this because it is March.

There is snow on the ground. Who the hell is thinking about May?

Fast-forward to May. You get another reminder that dresses have to be 2 inches above the knee. Girls start panicking. Is my dress ok? Is my dress too short? Will they let me walk if I show up in whatever I've already spent money on and WORE ALREADY TO A BLANGED SCHOOL DANCE AT WHICH NO ONE SAID ANYTHING???

Anxiety is so pervasive it jumps to mother. Mother emails counselor explaining that this dress was bought in February, and we aren't the Kardashians and don't buy a new outfit for every occasion. Also, seeking clarification on how to successfully SHORTEN DAUGHTER'S LEGS????

Two inches above the knee means entirely different things depending on whose legs you are talking about. And is it 2 inches from the top, middle, or bottom of the knee area?

Review the dress code that also includes.....
No prom dresses.
No jeans.
No backless.
No thin straps.
A sweater over bare shoulders.

Daughter goes shopping with friends while waiting to hear back from counselor as to the acceptability of dress. Plan is to purchase a top to go with an already-owned black skirt in case counselor insists on this insanity.

Mom and daughter have conversations like this via text:

Daughter: Would this work or is it too low cut?

Mom: That's cute. Heck, I don't know what is acceptable. I think the cut is fine. Are the shoulders ok?

Daughter: (Sends this picture. Apparently, we measure things at the school with 2 inches and 3 fingers.)

This is the kind of shit that girls do. Measure their legs. Measure their dresses and shorts. Measure the width of their tops. Make sure their bodies aren't too bare, too sexy, too whatever it is that bothers society so much.

To her mother, she looks like a 14-year-old in a peach-colored age-appropriate dress that is among ALL THE OTHER DRESSES IN THE STORES.

As my neighbor said, "1926 called. They want their dress code back."

ISO: A burqa to wear to this graduation to protest just how ridiculous these dress codes are to the entire half of the 8th-grade population known as FEMALES.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Yapping, anxious white people

Two weeks ago, when I subbed, a black male student said something interesting that I have not been able to stop thinking about.

It was during morning announcements when the white male principal was talking about the upcoming state assessments. He repeated himself at least twice about the students showing what they know, working hard, etc.

The student, who was standing near me, said, "Why does he keep talking?"
When I asked him what he meant, he said, "He just keeps talking nonstop."
The student then mentioned his social studies teacher who talks nonstop.

I have been in this social studies teacher's classroom with this student, and the teacher does talk forever. He lectures the class, gives them work that is entirely too hard for them, and refuses to take suggestions from the ECE teachers who have tried to get him to modify the work so that students can be successful. He is never prepared for class, which gives students entirely too much time to start talking, which he then lectures them about.

It is painful for me to be in the class, so I can't imagine how much it sucks to be a student in there day after day.

Perhaps it was the blend of hearing this student's words and reading Homegoing by Ya'a Gyasi, which is about colonialism in Ghana and slavery, that made me realize for the very first time:

Brown-skinned people are probably very sick of listening to white people yapping at them in the same way that, as a woman, I get tired of groups of men yapping at me about what I should do or think and making legislative decisions for me that they cannot possibly understand in an "I've been there" kind of way.

The recent Starbucks and Colorado State University situations, and now Yale University situation in which a black student had the police called on her for sleeping, makes me ashamed to be white. It has made me more aware of what thoughts go through my head whenever I am with brown-skinned people.

One of the things I think about is that I don't have to think about my skin color, usually ever. I don't have to think about how others will perceive me when I walk into a store or a restaurant.

Another thing I think about is whether I think someone is a threat just because they are brown-skinned.

A couple months ago, D and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood. We saw a black man with a package walking along with a confused look on his face. I asked him if I could help him, not because he was black, but because he looked lost. He was trying to deliver a package, so I told him where those neighbors lived. The entire time this was going on, inside my head, I was asking myself, "Did you ask him if he needed help mostly because he looked confused or mostly because he is black?"

I feel like as a white person, I second guess my intentions because of the other white people who see a brown-skinned person and automatically feel threatened (for reasons I can't fully understand).

The recent slate of 911 calls by white people makes me think of the old lady busybodies in neighborhoods, who stare out their windows and know what their neighbors are doing at all times. On the one hand, it is good to be aware, but individuals (regardless of their color) also have the right to be left.the.hell.alone.

I feel like I'm fairly aware of my own prejudices (although I also recognize that I probably have some that I'm not aware of).

I know for a fact that I make a concerted effort to help black students when I sub, and maybe this, in itself, is prejudiced. I do not do this because I think black students are dumber than white students. I do it because I feel strongly that they are ignored more often than white students. If I can do something to remedy this, in whatever minuscule measure I can, I do it. Plus, I feel like if I am helpful and compassionate in whatever capacity I can be, it helps them see that not every white person feels threatened or overreacts or paints all brown-skinned people with large strokes.

Last summer, our neighbors had a happy hour, and one of our black neighbors came (I think this was the first time ever.) He was sitting with everyone, but I felt that no one was making an effort to engage him directly or pull him into the conversation (it felt a little cliquey), so I did.

From my perspective, I wanted to include him, but I wonder sometimes whether that was perceived as me gushing over him (although I don't think I really give off that gusher vibe), which I know white people do sometimes with brown-skinned people in an effort to make them feel welcome, which usually results in them feeling weird and even more "outside" the circle than they might have felt.

It is very possible to know brown-skinned people, have brown-skinned friends or colleagues, and still have feelings of prejudice, even if you aren't aware of those feelings. I have a hard time understanding how anyone can say things like, "I didn't own slaves, so I think we've moved beyond that."

Blame it on reading books, but I very much see how the impacts of travesties linger for generations upon generations. Even if slavery ended in 1865, Jim Crow laws didn't. Brown versus Board of Ed was 1954, and the Civil Rights Act was in 1964. Those are not quite two, possibly three, generations in the past.

Due to the current political climate and the propaganda about how dangerous the US is (despite what the facts are), white people feel scared like every brown-skinned person is a threat waiting to happen.

I had to laugh when the woman who called the police on the Native American kids at Colorado State said something like she could tell they were lying when she asked them what they were going to study. My first thought was, "YOU ARE A STRANGER TO THEM SO WHAT BUSINESS IS IT OF YOURS WHAT THEY ARE GOING TO STUDY IN COLLEGE?"

Maybe those boys reacted strangely to her because they didn't feel like it was any of her business to question them? Maybe they could tell that she felt uncomfortable and was feeling them out which made them feel uncomfortable? Did she ever think that there are differences in how people communicate whether it is due to personality or culture? I don't necessarily speak to my 10-year-old the way I speak to an adult colleague, and teenagers don't speak to their friends the same way they do their teachers, so why would this woman think everyone speaks the same way she does?

There are an awful lot of white people living in a bubble of whiteness that is dangerous to brown-skinned people. Unfortunately, these bubbles also hurt the white folks because they miss out on a whole lot of understanding and relationships.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Why public school doesn't work sometimes and what can be done about it

I subbed yesterday and spent the much of the time thinking about why the school district "doesn't work and needs to be taken over by the state."

Let me be perfectly clear: The district can and should change things. If you think I love everything the district does, all of its teachers, and every policy it has implemented, you haven't read my blog (nor are you my husband who gets to hear 99% of my diatribes).

There are definite disadvantages to having a district as large as this one is; unfortunately, because our city is so segregated, I'm afraid that attempting to break the district into more manageable "chunks " is liable to have consequences that many people do not want.

Anyway, back to yesterday.

I noticed a number of things that help explain why some kids do not achieve in public schools. All of these things happened right before, during, or right after first-period class---so give-or-take 70 minutes.

1. One student left her glasses at her dad's house.
2. At least 4 students in math class did not have pencils.
3. The pencil sharpener in math class is a POS, which means students could not quickly sharpen their pencils.
4. One student slept during class. I tried to wake him repeatedly. He said he didn't feel well (likely due to allergies based on his symptoms).
5. One student, who I gave a pencil to in math class, walked across the hall to social studies and needed another pencil. What happened to the pencil from math class, you ask? I asked her that myself. I have no freaking clue, nor did she.

There were 3 adults (all certified teachers in this classroom). Although I am a substitute, unlike some substitutes who don't know what they are doing, I actively help in the classroom; I've worked with these kids often enough that they know me, seemingly respect me, and allow me to help them.

Let's assume that the state takes over the district. What can the state do to remedy these situations above that negatively impact student achievement?

1. One student left her glasses at her dad's house.
  • Call parent to retrieve glasses. 
  • If the parent can't or won't retrieve glasses, the state drives the child to her home. (Yes, I'm thinking 1984, too.)
  • If the child doesn't have a key to get into the home, break windows and get glasses. (Here we are verging into Maze Runner territory.)
  • The child spends the day with no glasses. 
2. At least 4 students in math class did not have pencils.
  • Have a fresh box of pre-sharpened pencils available in every math class. Pencils must be pre-sharpened because of item #3 on the list. 
  • At the cost of $3.89 per box per 180 days of school, this comes to $700 a year per 1 math class. If this one teacher has 5 math classes per day, that comes to $3500 per year.  If one school has 3 teachers teaching 5 math classes per day, the cost per year for one school is $10,500. Our district has 150 schools, so the cost per year is $1,575,000.  
3. The pencil sharpener in math class is a POS, which means students could not quickly sharpen their pencils.
  • Purchase pencil sharpener for $13.18 for this one math class. 
  • Purchase boxes of unsharpened pencils since at least four students didn't have pencils at all. (I'm too tired from doing the aforementioned math to do the math for a box of unsharpened pencils per math class). 
  • Remind students repeatedly to sharpen pencils.
  • If they refuse to sharpen pencils, sharpen them for the students. 
  • Delay the start of class instruction because of pencil sharpening, either because the teacher is sharpening or because the students are dorking around while sharpening and causing a distraction. (Even the most well-behaved kids on the planet cannot stand in a line and sharpen pencils without dorking around.)
4. One student slept during class. I tried to wake him repeatedly. He said he didn't feel well (likely due to allergies based on his symptoms).
  • Call child's parent to wake him up. 
  • If a parent doesn't respond, forcibly make the child sit up and stay awake. Force might involve smacking child, dumping water on his head, or using a taser. 
  • Take child to the doctor for allergy treatment. 
  • Continue taking child once a week for allergy injections. (Cost of this: astronomical, which I can prove because I do it with two kids.)
5. One student, whom I gave a pencil to in math class, walked across the hall to social studies and needed another pencil. What happened to the pencil from math class, you ask? I asked her that myself. I have no freaking clue, nor did she.
  • See # 1 but repeat for 6 class periods every day in middle and high schools. 
One of my questions for anyone who thinks a state takeover or charter schools are magic bullets:

What do we do with the students who do not care?

Some of them don't care because they don't care. 
(Have you ever tried to make a child do something that he or she doesn't want to do? How did that work for you?) 

Some of them don't care because their lives are 100% about survival (Will I have a home when I get out of school? Will my home be the same home I had when I left for school this morning or will we have gotten evicted? Will I get dinner tonight?)

Another question: What do we do with the parents who do not care?

Some of them don't care because their lives are train wrecks.
Some of them do care but don't have the ability to do any better than what they are doing. They may be financially strapped or inadequately educated themselves. 
Some of them, whose children are disruptors, cannot handle their kids any better than the teachers can. 

Other questions:

Are we going to reinstitute workhouses of Charles Dickens' time for the children who refuse to do their school work? Do we let them run the streets? Do we put them in prison until they mature and (hopefully) see the value of education? 

Will we make their parents go to workhouses or prison for not making their children do the work? We can legally penalize them for truancy, but can we legally penalize them for their children sitting and doing ABSOLUTELY nothing in the classroom or causing distractions in the classroom? Is this a road we want to go down?

During planning period yesterday, I helped some of the teachers prepare Extended School Service (ESS) materials. ESS happens after school two days a week and some Saturdays to help kids who are failing in school.

One child, in particular, is failing every.single.class during every.single.grading.period. He has attended 5 out of 30 ESS sessions and none of the Saturday schools. He failed a grade last year so he is already at least 1 year behind.

I don't know his whole story, but what can the state do for this child that his teachers, his principals, and his counselors have not tried doing???
For all I know, this kid's family is ready to kill him because he won't do anything.
Does anyone think a charter school is going to magically save this child?
Is the state taking over the district going to suddenly make this kid do work?

Regardless of whether the state takes over or the district continues as it is or the district makes vast changes or charter schools happen, the following is what I feel pretty darn certain about.
  • Some students are never, ever going to perform well on achievement tests. Not because they don't care and not because they don't try and not because they don't have great support systems. Not everyone has the same brain capability, but that doesn't mean they are stupid or know nothing or are FAILING somehow. How is it that a large percentage of parents (myself included) can think a school is great even if our kids aren't distinguished or proficient? Maybe it is because it is simply common sense that a danged once-a-year test is not the be-all and end-all of ANYTHING. 
  • Some students don't care about school and cannot be motivated to perform. We either punish them, let them fail, or find new and different ways to motivate them that may not look like school.  
  • Some parents are never going to make the best choices for themselves or their kids. We either do it for them, or we accept that they have the freedom to make messes of their lives and also acknowledge that as a society, we have to deal with it as best we can. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

The NEW AND IMPROVED state test encouragement letter

I could just rewrite my letter from last year.
But I won't.

I shall practice here and then write in my own script.

Dear G,

You will soon take the KPREP as a 4th grader. Hopefully, since you took it as a 3rd grader, you kinda know what to expect and won't stress out about it. 

I know the schools make a big deal about the end-of-year tests, which might make you worry, but don't. Although I want you to do your best, this is one test. While it matters now, it won't matter in two years or five years. 

Taking this test gives me an opportunity to remind you of what is important:

*Giving your best effort at all times, whether it is test-time or not.
*Taking the time to be careful in your work and review it for mistakes.
*Taking care of your body by getting a good night's sleep and eating well.

But there are other VERY important things that this test will never measure:

*Your kindness towards others.
*Your ability to show compassion and helpfulness. 
*Your sense of humor (which I love).

No matter how you do on this test, I love you, and Daddy, N, and M love you. Don't ever forget that.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Being a feminist role model?

My daughter bought herself this book a few weeks ago.

When we got in the car to come home, she flipped through the text, reading me the names of the women in it. She then said, "I'll put you here."

This is what she showed me:

This made me feel a lot of things:
honored that my teenage daughter thinks so highly of me (because that is NOT how I thought of my own mother when I was that age.)
terrified because I think I am the last person on the planet someone should honor as a feminist.

I often worry if I have been a good role model to N of what a woman can be.

I imagine my own mother wondered the same thing.

For my mom, she didn't have a professional career. She worked, but she didn't love it. She wasn't a teacher or lawyer or chemist. From her own childhood, she knew if she had children, she would be at home with them. If she couldn't do that, she wouldn't have children. She went back to work part-time at my grade school after my brother started school but retired when she developed breast cancer at age 58.

My mother influenced me because she wanted me to have the choice of staying home if that was what I wanted. She wanted me to have options if at all possible, but she also made me very aware of limitations. I knew she was not going to raise my children, so I would either have to do it myself or put my trust in other people who were not family. I knew, long before I ever wanted children, that I could not easily do this.

Most of the time, I beat myself up because I am not what I consider a true professional. I am only a half-time anything. A half-time writer. A half-time teacher.

I do not give any one thing 100% of myself because I desire the flexibility of being available for my children if and when they need me. I have always been willing to sacrifice if needed to make that happen. I am fortunate that D has a good job, but when the kids were younger, if his job situation had changed, I would have moved into a smaller home and been a one-car family to make it work. (I would likely go back to teaching full-time if this would happen now since the kids are older, although if we were in dire straits, I'd still move and go to one-car.)

(I am very much aware that many women don't have that option, especially single moms. By the same token, I also think that some of the things we think we can't live without are more wants than needs. I feel like I need to write that so someone doesn't think I'm completely living in an upper middle-class bubble. I am, but I'm also very cognizant of that.)

I suppose, in some ways, what I am showing my daughter is that a woman can sometimes carve out a niche for herself that works for her. She can take graduate classes and be certified and teach part-time and write part-time and volunteer and read books and go to book club and have a mind that is engaged and growing.

This past week I worked at the magazine office to interview various women from different professions (marketing, image consultants, politicians, etc.) After speaking with them, it became very apparent to me how much of a woman being what she wants involves her knowing herself, being true to herself, knowing what she can and cannot live with or without.

For some women, they know that staying at home is not for them. I used to not understand this. Doesn't every woman want to be with their children every day?
Some women don't. They are okay with allowing others to care for their children (of course, wanting that care to be loving and responsible and responsive).
They know what they can live with.

For each woman, that is different.

While I certainly don't consider myself a feminist saint, I think I have shown my daughter that I am a blend of a "traditional" stay-at-home mom and a nontraditional "have a little bit of a lot of the things you like and are good at" mom.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

State teachers, stupid things politicians say and do, and my own pension

Even though I am a teacher and in the pension system, my situation is very different from other teachers. This difference has me in a weird position.

When I left teaching to have N, I rolled all of my pension into an IRA because I didn't know what my future plans were. I had 3.5 years of service.

Now that I am back subbing in the district, I am once again in the pension system. However, because I don't substitute a ton, it will take me forever to accrue much money. In two years of subbing, I might have $1300 in my pension at this moment. It's not something I'd want to lose, but its also not something I can live on.

Even if I started teaching full-time today, I would never get a full pension because I don't expect I'll want to teach full-time after age 65, especially since I don't know that I have the energy to teach full-time in my mid-40s.

So I have a personal investment in the pension system, but at this moment, at least, it is not a strong investment.

As a sub, it has been lower-case frustrating to be in the midst of the politics because subs don't get paid if they don't work. I was supposed to sub the Friday before Spring Break, but that got canceled when the district couldn't find enough subs. As much as I support teachers and public education, I would be lying if I said it hasn't ramped up my anxiety to be wondering, "Should I take this job because it might be canceled if there is a sick-out?" or "Will I get dinged for not working enough days if these sick-outs continue?" And there is also the uncomfortable feeling of "I want to support teachers but I would also like to work." It is one of those times where the greater good feels at odds with my own personal good. I have to remember that while my pocketbook is thinking of the short-term, I have to think of the long-term game.

I didn't put any thought into being in a pension when I decided to become a teacher. A pension was not a draw. I had worked full-time and had a 401(k) and contributed to Social Security). My salary actually increased when I became a teacher (which is sad). I became a teacher because I wanted organized chaos and busyness. After I became a teacher, I realized that I really love working with kids.

Being a sub has reminded me of a lot of the work that I had forgotten when I left full-time instruction. I forgot the staff meetings, the team meetings, and the department meetings that teachers put their time and energy into. I forgot the parent/teacher conferences. I forgot the Open Houses for registered students and the Open Houses for prospective teachers. I forgot the sub plans and the recovery from what the subs do with your lessons. I forgot the time crunch of submitting grades. I forgot the SBARC meetings during planning periods. I forgot the modifications for students with IEPs. I forgot the grading that never ends. I forgot the field trip planning; collecting money, getting chaperones, coordinating buses, and everything else that is involved. I forgot about holding detention after school when I wasn't in a staff, team, or department meeting. I forgot the professional development on gold days and during summer before school begins. I forgot about being a staff moderator for an extracurricular activity. I forgot about calling and emailing parents. I forgot so much that full-time teachers do of which the general public isn't cognizant.

This isn't to say that teachers are saints. They are human and flawed. And some teachers should be tossed out on their butts because they undermine their teams or simply aren't good teachers to students. Although I support labor unions, there are some things about unions that aren't so great, and the inability to get rid of ineffective or downright detrimental teachers is one of those things.

And this isn't to say that monies to fund education are always spent in the wisest way. I remember getting money each year to buy supplies for the classroom. I didn't need extra paper or pencils or crayons, but I did need class sets of reading level books for the kids who weren't at grade-level. We couldn't "save up" the money over a couple years, so sometimes grade level teacher colleagues and I would pool our money to buy class sets and share them with each other.

In addition to teachers not being saints, politicians aren't either. They sometimes say and do stupid things.

Don't get me wrong: I say and do stupid things all.the.time.

But I am not a politician under intense media scrutiny. I just interviewed a local politician the other day for a magazine article, and this is one of the things we talked about: how as a political figure, you never get to relax. You are always potentially "on." That has to be difficult.

Still, what has been lost is a basic civility. Even if you don't agree, you can say that in ways that are not antagonizing and insulting. You can disagree while still supporting people's basic rights to peacefully organize. As a writer and a writing teacher, I think about this a lot. You have to have to think about how your audience will read or hear what you are writing or saying. Unfortunately, some of our politicians allow their frustrations to come out of their mouths, further alienating their constituents.

Perhaps those politicians need to come sit in on my class?

Perhaps these politicians need to think of better go-to analogies for what protesting teachers are, rather than thugs or high schoolers wanting a better car?

Monday, April 2, 2018


I recently read The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin and loved it. It is a fictional story of reincarnation, but it is grounded in the work of Jim Tucker and Ian Stephenson. Because I found the novel so compelling, I decided to read Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives.

While I wouldn't say I'm a firm believer in reincarnation, I am a firm believer in possibilities that I cannot understand nor explain. 

Whenever I think about what happens after death, I think about the first law of thermodynamics, that energy is neither created nor destroyed. But I am not a physicist, so my understanding of the laws of physics are preschool-level (and I'm being generous). If you actually look up the first law and reincarnation, you then get sucked into a great mind-numbing debate on discussion boards that makes me wish Neil deGrasse Tyson would apparate and explain it to me in dumb-person language that I can wrap my head around.

As much as I value science and evidence, I also value that there is much that we don't yet know or understand. This is to say that at some point, we may have definitive evidence, but right now we do not. 

I don't need proof, really, because I think it is pretty fun to just ask the questions and wonder.

What is consciousness? 
What is the soul?
Are they the same?
Is there an underlying consciousness that all of our disconnected consciousnesses feed into or come from? And does that mean that there is only one consciousness and we are all just little feeder shoots off of it?
Is that what we call God?
Is memory real and trustable? (I think not)
If reincarnation does happen, what does that mean that the "me" I think of as "me" actually is? 
What does it mean if my consciousness isn't really mine? (And is that "possession" a stupid way to think of it anyway?)

One of the reasons I wonder about reincarnation is because of M and his ear-twiddling, which he continues to do now and has done since he was an infant nursing at my breast.

Is there a gene for ear-twiddling? Is that an actual trait that gets passed along from parent to child?
Because my deceased father-in-law was an ear twiddler. He didn't do it to everyone, but I was one of those people.
And it may be entirely possible that ear-twiddling is actually encoded in DNA, so it makes perfect "logical" sense that M does it.

But if it isn't, then how and why does M do this, especially since his siblings do not and his father does not?
I don't think M is his reincarnated grandfather, but I do wonder if consciousness of some kind is a plane of existence we cannot sense except in weird ways. 
My father-in-law died unexpectedly, and M was an unexpected birth control pill-conception. 
I like to think that his ear-twiddling is my FIL's consciousness reaching out to us, but I have no proof that it is. And if I did have proof that it isn't, that is ok, too. 

I also have what I have always thought is a dream, but maybe it isn't a dream. In this dream or whatever it was, I am conciousness but not corporeal, and I'm not even entirely sure that I am Carrie-consciousness. I have consciousness of being in existence but there is nothing else. Everything is black. 
If it was a dream, I don't know what the point was. 
And if it wasn't a dream, I don't know what the point was.
But I'm ok with either one.