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Monday, March 27, 2017

Superstar year

In some ways, I feel like this fourth year at the cottage school has been a "superstar" year.  I've hit a nice groove and proven myself.  I haven't heard any parent complaints (which doesn't mean there haven't been any....just that I haven't heard of them).

I planned two field trips in the fall...to see Macbeth performed live with my high schoolers who read the play and to see Shakespeare's First Folio with my middle and high schoolers.  On Friday,  I had a local potter come in and give a demonstration as a tie-in for the middle graders' reading of A Single Shard.

I spoke with my high schoolers on Friday about how I appreciate and want their suggestions, which one student gave last week when I inadvertently gave them a spoiler on their reading of Jane Eyre.  Basically, he asked if I could revise the instructions on their assignments so that students can annotate better and avoid such spoilers.

I'm really glad he said something because I like it when students give me their feedback even when, or particularly when, it is constructively critical.

Ultimately, I want all of my students to both enjoy and learn a lot from my class, and if the class or my assignments are boring or repetitive, then they will get less out of it.  And as much as I like feeling less pressure because I'm in a nice groove and have proven myself, I worry that I could become complacent.

I think my desire to change things up to keep myself from getting bored will prevent that, but there is always that possibility.

Next year, I am very excited to teach The Wednesday Wars to my middle schoolersand I'm already planning how I will have students read one of five Shakespearean plays so that they can do some fun literature circle work with the text in the spring.  I haven't gotten excited about a middle school book like this in a long time.

One of the best things about teaching is finding those extra little things that I can encourage my students to read or watch or listen to that adds to their understanding of the literature.  Last night, I watched To Walk Invisible about the Bronte sisters on PBS, and it was really interesting.  I knew the basic story of the sisters, but it really made a difference to me to see it dramatically acted out.  It put a human face to the myth of the Brontes and helped me understand better what influenced their stories.

These are the books I'll be teaching, with the goal being three classes, although depending on enrollment I may have to merge my high school classes together.  I like being able to add new works while also doing some previous books I've taught.  Even if I've taught them before, I learn something new and see something different each time I teach them.

Middle-- Grades 6-8

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery  (never taught)
Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt  (never taught)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare  (never taught)
Nothing But the Truth by Avi
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

High School-- 9th-10th grade---focus on American Literature

A Separate Peace by John Knowles (never taught)
Long Days Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill  (never taught)
My Antonia by Willa Cather
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

11th-12th grade--focus on European Literature

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen  (never taught)
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka  (had students in prior years do as Independent Study)
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Medea by Euripides

New book discoveries with each child

When N was little, she and I enjoyed the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park.  Yes, Junie was a rascal, but that was the great thing about her.  She was an imagined rascal.

(I never understood why some parents got bent out of shape by Junie...like she was setting a bad example that their children would emulate.  Kids understand far better than parents sometimes that these stories are made up.)



N read some of the Frannie K. Stein books by Jim Benton, but when G got older he dove headfirst into every one of them.  The little boy mad scientist in him fell in love with the little girl mad scientist in her.



G went bananas over the Geronimo Stilton fantasy series and read almost all of those.  Now he is firmly ensconced in The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, although I try very, very hard to throw some Newbery Medal winners his way (he doesn't want to read them but loves them once he does).  He picked Because of Winn-Dixie and loved it, so we're getting ready to read another Kate DiCamillo book (The Tiger Rising).





M and I discovered a new-to-me series, Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant.  There is much to love in this series.  I mean, it is about an old man and a cat, which are two of my favorite things.  One of the best things about the series is Mr. Putter's special relationship with his neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry.  There isn't romance, but it is obvious that the books are showcasing the beauty of companionate love.


Parenting is full of "duh" moments, and one of mine concerns my children's different interests in books.

I think when I had children I sorta expected them to all read and like the same books, although I realized that N's interest in princesses would likely not carry over to the boys, who enjoyed books about diggers and other machines.

N didn't have any interest in nonfiction books, while G loves (and loved) nonfiction books (animals, mythology, video games).

She enjoyed the Magic Treehouse books for a time, but G and M haven't gotten into them (although M still might).

N was reading wordy chapter books by the end of first grade, while wordy chapter books are anathema to G and M.  They like things that are more graphic-novelly.

I try not to fret too much on whether the kids will become avid readers.  I wasn't what I would consider an avid reader as a kid.  I liked reading, but I didn't read as I do now.  I didn't have 2-3 books going at one time, as I do now.  I didn't carry a book with me at all times as I do now.

But when I look at this picture of my bedside table and the stack of books waiting to be read or reread, I have to laugh at G's stack, which is next to mine (D or I read with G in our bedroom, and M reads with the other of us in their shared bedroom).  Apparently, I am passing along that shared love of stacks of books.


My stack:  on the left, includes Moby Dick
G's stack:  on the right, includes The Tiger Rising

Monday, March 20, 2017

The slow breaking down

So much of the stuff in our house is going through the slow breaking down.  Various items aren't dead, and in most cases, they aren't even on their last legs....well, maybe they are, and we are just keeping them on life support and don't realize it.  

Our living room television is one such item.  
Once it warms up, it is fine, but the screen looks crazy for about the first 15 minutes.  It has been this way for a number of years, and we haven't replaced it because to borrow a Monty Python line, "it's not dead yet."

My washer and dryer are another two examples.  They are loud, squeaky and annoying, but they still clean and dry ok, so we are listening to the loud, squeaky and annoying sounds. 

The Roman shade in the master bedroom broke so that if we do try to raise it, it is lopsided, so we just don't raise it.  

There is a part of me that would really just love to go out and buy new stuff.  Replace the shade with plantation shutters.  Buy a new washer/dryer combo which really isn't too terribly expensive since  I only wash with cold water, and I only dry on low, so I don't need steaming and turbo-super-active-wash and hyper-sensitive-sensational-dry.  Our 40" tv could be replaced for much less than what we purchased it for however-many years ago we purchased it.  

But to do that would make me feel guilty.  

I know it is just stuff, but I went through a period in my 20s where I read all the comics in the newspaper because I felt like Gil Thorp and Apartment 3-G would get their feelings hurt if I didn't read them, too, so it is within my worldview to feel irrational about nonliving entities.  I really want to thank Siri when she sends voice texts for me, but I stop myself and then feel bad about it.  

But that isn't the real reason we haven't replaced these no-longer-giving-100% household items.  

The first reason is the spending money.
The second (and real) reason is a real moral conundrum.

I am having deep thoughts about both the intrinsic value of older things versus the place where you know an older thing's time and contribution is over.  And even though on the surface, it is about my washer and dryer and television, it is really about my parents and myself and Papaw Chester.   

I have been considering the steps that people take in order to extend their lives.  I do not judge others for whatever choices they make, but I am definitely mulling over what choices I might make should the choice ever need to be made.  We can often extend life for a very long time beyond what is actual, qualitative living.  

Papaw's house is cleaned out and going on the market tomorrow.  I have some of his walking sticks that are waiting for me to polyurethane them.  



I have his pillows made from his shirts throughout the house.  




I have a pile of photo and whatmenots in the basement waiting to be sorted through. 



It has been sad to see the remnants of his life....what was left when he left.  I do not and never will understand when families get their panties in a wad over the stuff that remains after a loved one dies.  The most important thing is gone so who gives a fuck about the rest of it?  

Papaw Chester was in decline, but still carrying on.  He wasn't sick but he was well within the slow breaking down.  

Like my washer and dryer and television.  

My parents are healthy but advancing in age.  
I am healthy but advancing in age.
The slow breaking down happens to most of us.  

At what point do you keep sticking it out and at what point do you decline to try to fix it?
I have yet to meet an appliance (or an automobile) that just dies, that just falls down dead the way Papaw Chester did.
Most of them drag their owners through a slow hemorrhage of expense and frustration and noise-making and half-cleaned clothes or overcooked food.  
I'm not sure I want to drag others along in a slow hemorrhage of expense and frustration or be a part of the process myself.  
Whether it is household items or humans.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

How things played out

I've been in bed since Friday afternoon in a fog of flu-like symptoms.  Today my eyes can focus somewhat, which suggests I am on the mend.

N and I met with her math teacher on Thursday.

In a perfect world,  I would report that her math teacher said, "You are totally right, and I am totally wrong, AND I am changing my assignment return practice as of this second.  Every student will get his/her papers back in a timely manner so they get the feedback they need."

But this isn't a perfect world, and I didn't actually have this expectation going in.

After speaking with the district ombudsman, it became apparent to me that as much as I think this particular practice is not "sound educational policy," there is a whole lot of "academic freedom" given to teachers (which I value and respect since that is what I would want in my own classroom).  Nowhere is it written that teachers have to return students' papers.  Maybe it should be written somewhere.

If I had any expectation at all, it was that I would have a clearer understanding of what the heck is going on in his class and how and why N feels so out of step.

The teacher was nice and very responsive, and that may have been in part because the principal had spoken with him (because I not only emailed the principal but also spoke with him). I think I'm a fairly intuitive person, and I got the feeling the principal said something on the order of, "She's a PTA person, in the building a lot, subs for us, don't rub her the wrong way."  I could be wrong, but I don't think I am.

The teacher explained more of his practice and even admitted that maybe he needs to change it.  It is unlikely that will happen, though, since he told me I am the only parent this year who has said anything about it.

The only parent.
(If memory serves, I think he said only 4 parents had ever questioned the policy.)

During this brief interlude, while you pick your jaws up off the floor, please reread my last post.

Am I the only parent who has noticed that nothing was coming home?
I doubt it.
Am I the only parent who was confused by it?
I doubt it.
Am I the only parent who said something about it?
Well...me and 3 others.

Now I could go the route of Socrates and be the gadfly, but knowing how he ended up, I'm not sure that is my best course of action.  N still has another year at the school, so for me to go stirring things up (when, technically, the teacher has more than satisfied me in terms of my own child) might not be the best course of action.

Still, maybe there is some small victory in bringing my concerns to the principal and having the teacher even think, possibly for the first time, that he is doing some of his students a disservice with this policy.  Maybe he will change it.

Maybe if I begin asking the question next year at Open House as to what the teachers' practices are about returning student work (and being sure to say I've had some teachers at CrMS who do not return student work and how is this best practice exactly?) that will have some impact.

Maybe if my parent friends read this blog and begin asking the questions they have about whatever concerns them that will have some impact?

Maybe if I email the school's SBDM about whether there needs to be a discussion about this topic in the future that will have some impact?

One person can do something, but one person cannot do it all.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why people keep quiet

There has been no great fallout from my blog about math homework.

Yet.

(A conference has been scheduled with the teacher, and I did email the principal to ask if this homework policy is a school-wide policy and how it can be justified as being in any way helpful to students.  I said it politely, but I think my point was clear.)

Although there hasn't been a response to that, what there has been is numerous discussions in person or via email with 8 friends who have experience as principals, counselors, and teachers who are like, "Wha?"  I've also perused the district's progression, promotion and grading handbook for middle school to see what it says (or actually doesn't say).  Oh, and I've put in a call to the district ombudsman to see if there is any JCPS stand/policy on this topic.

I want to go in fully informed.

The input from my friends/colleagues has been valuable to me because even though I have prior teaching experience and have held a valid license for 16 years, I questioned whether I had any authority to question the teacher's policy.  I questioned whether I was wrong for thinking it was odd.  I mean, I haven't worked full-time in a classroom for 13 years, so what do I know?

And this realization helped me better understand why so many "odd" things happen in schools, in government, in businesses, in churches.  People doubt their authority to acknowledge what they find screwy and actually say something about it.  

They keep quiet because they think they don't know enough about the situation to notice something is weird (which can just be plain ole weird but could also potentially be corrupt).
They keep quiet because they think their input doesn't matter.
They keep quiet because they don't want to "start trouble."
They keep quiet because they don't want to hurt feelings.
They keep quiet because they don't want to gain a certain reputation.
They keep quiet because they don't want any fallout to hurt their family (or child, in my case).

I realize this grading thing is small fries compared to what N's school is dealing with---overcrowding and a lawsuit about bullying--and so it is entirely possible it will be shoved under the rug.

If it is, it is.

But you better believe that next year, I'll be asking at Open House what her teachers' policies are on homework and its consistent return to students.  And I'll be encouraging every parent I know to ASK QUESTIONS often.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

OK, and so......

If you live in my house, the above phrase lets you know that G is in an OCD groove.
His needle is stuck.
As M says, "G is being sensitive....again."
G is usually straightening something and this is his repeated phrase that he says as he is checking and rechecking and rechecking something.

We see the psychiatrist later this month, and there will almost certainly be a medication increase.

When I think about how I was as a child, my condition was either not as bad or I was just very, very good at hiding it.

Because of my own OCD and just my personality, I have worked to be very open and honest with G about his brain, at least in terms that a 9-year-old will understand.  I strive to be very accepting.

While I think this is the best way for his emotional health, I'm not sure it is the best way for him to understand that he is kinda weird.

I guess what I mean is that as his family, we accept him however he is and try to be understanding.  But the world at large is not as accepting, and if he feels comfortable to be in his weirdness without trying to tone it down a bit, I'm not sure he will fully understand that sometimes you can't let your freak flag fly as loudly and proudly in some places as you do in others.

I mean, he probably understands this on some level.  He doesn't seem to do this stuff at school much but I think that is mostly because his mind is occupied at all times.  There are plenty of distractions to keep his brain from getting in a rut.  This is why I loved school, and probably why I became a teacher.  Intellectual activity takes me out of my own brain, out of my vat of anxiety, and makes me feel calm.  Since I started subbing, I've noticed that some of my worst days are when I am home without much to do. Even though one part of my brain "needs" those days, another part of my brain just struggles.

He doesn't "OK AND SO" at school not because he realizes it is strange but because his brain is so busy he doesn't feel the need to "OK AND SO."

One of the things I've just begun realizing is how much G's OCD affects the other kids.  It drives both of them nuts when he fixes and re-fixes and gets upset when they accidentally move something he has placed "just so."

I sometimes feel badly asking them to chill about issues when I give G more leeway.  Because they don't have his problems and are naturally less tightly wound, it is easier for them to chill so I often ask it of them.  Asking G to chill is like asking an oven to become a freezer.  Chilling is just not how he is wired.

Whenever I begin to stress that G will never be a successful, "normal," productive adult who lives in my basement, I try to remember that I am a fairly successful, "normal," productive adult who doesn't live in my parents' basement.

In the grand scheme of things, having OCD is probably a walk in the park.  

Friday, March 3, 2017

The letter to the teacher

As soon as I walked in the door this afternoon and said hello to N, she burst into tears.  She had taken a proficiency test in math and said she didn't remember the concepts, and her teacher didn't review anything to help them prepare.

I very much try to let my kid handle her own issues, but if she is bawling over a math test (and it isn't the first time this year she has gotten upset over this math class), I feel I have no other choice than to contact the teacher.

(Bear in mind, I wanted to see the teacher when I attended conferences on Monday, but he wasn't there.)

He was very quick to respond, and he explained his policy on not giving students back their graded papers.  

Yes.....he doesn't give students back their graded papers at all.  That wasn't a typo.

Apparently, he got burned early in his career when students earned poor grades, conveniently "lost" the papers, and then the teacher was accused of giving bad grades for no reason.

As a teacher, I understand very well the CYA policy, but I think his, in protecting his own derriere, is detrimental to students.

And isn't that the whole point of education?

In the age of smart phones, why not take photos of the tests that students bombed so you have evidence?  Or scan them?

Why would you keep good papers from students so they can enjoy their success?

How are students supposed to learn from their mistakes if they never receive papers back with feedback on them?

How are parents supposed to know what their children are learning if they see no papers?

Yes, I can check the computer system to see her grades, but in 3rd grading period, he entered no grades for work the entire grading period and then all of a sudden there was a "final" grade.  And my issue is how my daughter is earning "As" every grading period and then doesn't know how to do the work when a proficiency comes along, which is supposed to glean her compounded knowledge?

And when I asked her, N said the students themselves don't even see their work.  According to her, her teacher doesn't even pass out graded papers to the students and then recollect them for his own needs.

I am gobsmacked, and I'm not easily gobsmacked.

I was so gobsmacked I asked the advice of the elementary counselor at my boys' school on how to handle this.  My inner "momma bear" wants to call the ground troops in because I just find the policy so goofy.  I find it hard to believe that I am the first parent in this teacher's 12 years of using this paperwork practice to find it odd and oddly useless to both parents and students.

Based on her advice, I have requested a conference with him and N and all of her work that he has pilfered in a drawer somewhere so he can explain to both of us what she does and does not understand.  She needs to understand what she does and does not understand and see her graded work.  I need to see her work.

I might also need to take a valium.