Saturday, November 18, 2017

Papaw's house (how we left it, and how it looks now)

Yesterday I saw my cousin's post on FB about Papaw's house, which my MIL and her brother sold in the spring.

Papaw had lived in it for something like 50 years, and to say it was dated is an understatement. But it was Papaw's house and we loved it, even if the carpet contained 80% of the dust on the planet and there were grease stains in every corner of the kitchen.

G requested that my MIL take photos of the rooms before it sold so we could remember it forever, and while I often roll my eyes at his insistence on documenting everything including the most mundane, I am glad now that we have photos of what it looked like just 6 months ago.

My cousin's post showed the house after renovations. It is now on the market, and it looks amazing! I almost can't believe it is the same house.

I showed the kids, and even G, who wants things to stay exactly the way they are until the end of time, was happily surprised by how wonderful it looks.

As we come up on the one year anniversary of Papaw's death, I have been thinking about him a lot and feeling a little down, but seeing these photos made me smile and feel excited. I even asked D if we could sell our house and buy Papaw's, but we'd be losing many square inches of sanity space.

Life is all about loss and rebirth, and Papaw's house is a good example of how life carries on.

This is Papaw's living room and eating area as we left it. 

This is how it looks after renovations and staged for sale.

This is Papaw's bathroom as we left it.

And after renovations.

Papaw's attic BEFORE.

Papaw's attic NOW

Papaw had a sunporch right outside the eating area.

Now it is an all-season sunroom with a pass-through to the kitchen area. 

Papaw's kitchen

The new and improved kitchen 
(you can see the pass-through in this top photo to the sunroom).

Friday, November 17, 2017

1. Like a Millennial and 2. why teaching and fun are important

This is the second year that my neighbor and I are seeing Broadway shows together. 

She orders season tickets; every month or so we go out to dinner and afterward are entertained for two hours by people who have more talent in their pinky toes than I do in my entire body. 

At last's month night out, I was telling her about my mindf*ck resulting from my grad class, in which I feel/felt like "not a real educator" because I don't teach full-time in a district school. 

My friend, who has two 20-something children, promptly responded, "Pshaw." 

She then went on to tell me that I am actually far hipper than I realize because I am, essentially, a Gen Xer who is living a Millennial-like professional life. I'm not tied down to one gig and have a much more interesting life because of it. 

She reminded me that not every person gets to interview local "bigwigs" around town, the kind who have donated millions to various civic projects. (That piece will come out in 2018, and one of the "bigwigs" even told me I'm a "fun interviewer.) She reminded me that not everyone gets a byline. 

After her cheerleading session, I began to look at my odd professional career with pride. 

Not every English teacher has an actual almost 8-year portfolio of published writing pieces. Actually, I'd be willing to bet that most don't. That is something special I can bring to my students, even if I don't teach that many of them. (Here is a nice article about this.)

I had thought to myself, "I'm not a real teacher because I have small classes," but I had to remind myself that my college professor only has 11 students in my grad class. It isn't the size of the class that makes you a teacher. Just because I haven't taught thousands of students doesn't mean those I have taught haven't learned something valuable from me. 

I recently received a text from a mom of two of my former students, both of whom now attend the local university. She text was short and sweet and basically said, Ms. V's English class is harder than college English classes. 

I can hardly think of a better compliment. And I know that even though my class is challenging, my former students had fun. They looked forward to being there. 

It is very important to me to make English fun and interesting, to be funny and interesting to my students. Back in the day when I taught in the district, I think I brought fun and interest to the class. In moments when I think about going back to the district at some point, I wonder whether I would still be able to do that with all the testing and data-driven instruction that is done. 

In this class, as we've been designing lessons and thinking up plans, I have realized that I'm pretty good at that. I'm pretty good at thinking how to take a piece of text and make it teachable. 

For not being a "real professional," I'm not half-bad. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Be sure the person you're complaining to is not the person who is inconvenienced by the thing about which you're complaining

I could probably scroll through my blog and find links to all the crap I wrote about three years ago when N wanted to go to her middle school, but then I wouldn't be able to basically rehash it all right now as she applies to high school.

The high school, like the middle school, is not our resides, which means I'll be shlepping her for at least 3 years.
The high school promises amazing things like her middle school did (Note:  I'm not distracted by shiny things and sports teams).
A large portion of the people she knows and is friends with are applying there. (But so are a swath of the fakey people she complains about constantly....)

Let me back this train up to explain why she started complaining to me before I'd ever picked her up when she texted me her complaints.

Last week, she asked me if she could aide for a teacher, and I reluctantly agreed.

My general feeling about student aiding is as follows:
1. Kids do it to get out of classes they hate.
2. Teachers do it to have someone do grunt work that they don't have time to do--which I completely understand as I was once a teacher who had student aides.
3. As a parent, I feel much differently about kids aiding than I did as a teacher.

I had never allowed N to aid, so when she asked to do so for this 12-week period, I signed the paper last week.

On Thursday, she turned the form into the counselor.

On Friday, she went to class because she wasn't certain if the roster sheets showed her as being an aide.

On Monday, she went to the teacher (who happens to be a former colleague of mine) to aid.

On Monday afternoon, N gets into my car at the end of the day and bawls. BAWLS.
An SRT member came to her while aiding and told her the other teacher said she was cutting. She was embarrassed.
Then she found out that the principal said no one from that particular class can aid because like half the class wrote a note to the counselor begging them to get them out of this class.
N was pissed because "she followed the rules and directions and is being punished."
But I get why the principal made that decision. He can't have half the class bailing to aid (although it makes me wonder what sucks so bad about this class that so many kids want to jump ship).

So on Monday, she bawled....and then bitched.
Today she just bitched.

And all the while, I'm thinking to myself:

Sister, this is where your ass wanted to go, not where I wanted you to go. You can just go whistle Dixie and deal with that class because YOU made this choice, so live with it. And because I'm still resentful about driving your butt there, I am probably not the person who is going to give you the sympathy you seek. 

And my daughter knows me....and I also might have said, "You know what I'm thinking?" to which she got to hear a slightly nicer version of the aforementioned statement.

But here is what I didn't say:

What in the holy hell makes you think I'm happy about going along with sending your butt to another school that you think is so spectacular when I may have to listen to you bitch about shit once you're there. Did you learn NOTHING from sixth grade when you and your BFF's relationship went caput and you've never had class together or even been on the same team? What makes you think you and your friends from middle school are going to stay friends in high school? What if you have classes with all the fakey ass kids you dislike? Am I going to have to listen to you bitch about it every day? I would have an easier time listening to you bitch about going to the high school you don't want to go to because I can listen to you once your ass gets off the danged school bus. 

Sometimes I think I'm nuts for not putting my foot down and saying, "We did this crap for middle school, but I'm not doing it again for high school."
But she is hell-bent on wanting to go to the high school she has selected, and she is all about doing what friends are doing. (If memory serves, I wanted to also do a lot of stupid shit because of my friends when I was a teen, too.)
And then I feel guilty for telling my boys: "You will go to THIS middle school and THIS high school and THAT is the end of the story so get used to it."

And then I remember that I am a mother so I'm going to have to listen to somebody bitch about something for the next....oh hell, until I'm dead.....because that is what mothers do.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

There is always more to the story (the fight, the cop and the taser)

Paul Harvey would always give his listeners "The rest of the story."

And in the situation at the local high school, it appears there are many components to the "rest of the story."

Reports are that surveillance video at the school shows administrators de-escalating the situation when the student resource officer escalated it. The investigations are ongoing, and I doubt the public at large will ever get the full and complete story because that requires lots of unpleasant information being made transparent.

Last night, D, N and I attended Open House at this school because it is our resides. Although N is applying to a different school, if she doesn't get accepted there, she will go to this nearest high school so I wanted her to be familiar with it.

What I learned from speaking with two individuals who work at the school is that the two students involved in the fracas had been at the high school for two weeks.

Why is that important?

Anyone who has worked in a public school understands that in some cases, a student transferring in from another school at an odd time of year, can mean trouble. Sometimes a student who is a behavior problem in one school moves on to another one before the sh*t hits the fan.

I remember a student who came into 6th grade during an odd time of year and immediately gave off signals of disrespect to me. I had done my best to welcome the girl, but I quickly picked up that something was off. I talked to the student about it and was very soon summoned for a conference with the principal and the mom (who had gone over my head to the principal). I was given a tongue-lashing by the mother about how her daughter treats people with respect.

Move ahead a couple months, and this child was getting in trouble CONSTANTLY. Her grades were terrible, and her behavior was terrible. The mother somehow faded into the background and didn't come in for conferences when the teachers requested them. The child had issues with every teacher on the team.

I felt vindicated that I had picked up on it from the first time this student sat in my class.

The second reason that the students had been in the school only two weeks is because teenagers are ALL. ABOUT. RELATIONSHIPS, and you cannot have a relationship after two weeks. Students frequently come into a school from another school that may not have the same culture or the same discipline. Students come from other schools and think they can play. It takes time to acclimate them to a school and for them to develop relationships with the staff in the building.

But it is not all about what may lie on the side of the students.
Teachers can have their fare share of unpleasantries.

Like yesterday when I subbed and heard a teacher screaming at a student, just really going off on this kid. And then I heard the kid crying and screaming back at the teacher. I don't know what happened, but based on what I heard, I suspect that the student had just pushed the teacher too far. The teacher had reached a point where she just wasn't able to take it anymore. Maybe the teacher tabbed the student out, and the student refused to go (this is a tactic to remove the individuals from each other's presence and give them a chance to chill). Or maybe the teacher, for reasons I am not privy to, was just at the end of her rope. Or maybe this teacher is just crazy (because there are some teachers who are just crappy for a variety of reasons).

The point is that I don't know all the angles to that situation, just like I don't know all the angles to the fight at our resides high school.

Even the "golden school" downtown that gets to select all the best and brightest has been in the middle of its own brouhaha about the principal saying inappropriate things to students. (Although I admit it makes me a little happy to know that the school that the public assumes is the be-all-and-end-all is not as shiny as it appears.)

If there is anything I know with certainty, it is the following:
1. Working with middle- and high schoolers is not for pussies.
2. Schools with the shittiest reputations have redeeming qualities.
3. Schools with the best reputations have their shitty aspects and are sometimes resting on undeserved laurels.
4. Parents and students are often fooled by bells & whistles.
5. Parents are sometimes not the best judges of their students.
6. Teachers sometimes act inappropriately (even yours truly, who told a kid I would "kick his ass" if he didn't do well on my test, although in my head I said "I'm gonna kick your butt." And I was joking, but I said it twice. I was also very pregnant.) 

Friday, November 3, 2017

The school fight, the cops, and the taser

You can't be an English teacher without discussing point-of-view with students.

There is the narrator's point-of-view---what perspective the narrator takes---and that can be first person (I), second person (you), and third person (he/she/they). Third person encompasses omniscient (knows everyone's thoughts/feelings), limited omniscient (knows one character's thoughts/feelings) and objective (doesn't tell anyone's thoughts/feelings).

It is critical to think about characters' points of view, even the "villains." 

When I have students read Macbeth, I really focus them on what leads Macbeth to do the horrible things he does, and there are plenty of reasons to consider feeling some pity for Macbeth. It doesn't make what he does right, but readers can understand better what leads him down the path he takes. He is humanized. 

My middle school students are reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and last week I asked them to consider Harlan Granger's POV. Granger is the landowner who is prejudiced against the Logans and all Blacks, and it is very easy to dismiss him as the "bad guy." What he does is wrong....there is no question.

But he is still a human being, and he has feelings, even if they are ignorant or biased or what I would consider as wrong. 

The recent incident at a local high school, in which a student was subdued by 3 police officers and tasered, has forced me to consider POV because there are two videos of the event. One shows the officers subduing the student. The other shows the student hitting a police officer and then body-slamming him into the wall, which then leads the officers to subdue the student. 

My "go-to" response is to support the underdog, which in this case would appear to be the student. He is a kid, after all. His pre-frontal cortex hasn't fully developed; his emotional response has led him to action long before his rational brain says, "Wait a minute! It is probably a bad idea to punch a cop."

But watching the video of the student hitting the officer reminded me of every time one of my kids hit me when they were preschoolers.  

Every kid goes through a phase in which they hit their parents. Nothing set me off like my kid hitting me, even though rationally I knew that 1. they were toddlers/preschoolers and 2. I was the grown-up, and 3. it was a phase. 

On the occasions when my kid(s) hit me, I wanted to beat the shit out of them. I did not, but I would be lying if I said I was gentle and kind and talked to them nicely that "it is wrong to hit others." Sometimes, I grabbed their hands forcefully or picked them up roughly or otherwise made it very physically clear that "I am the mom, the adult, and you are NOT GOING TO HIT ME." 

Now, someone might read this post and think I am saying the teenager in this situation is a toddler, and I am not. I have to consider his POV. Like my children when they were younger (and even now, for that matter), this student felt frustrated. He was angry, and he lashed out. Who knows how much baggage this student has in his life. I don't know his story, but his action comes from a place of frustration. That I understand.

The problem is that whether you are a toddler or nine or a teenager or an adult, you cannot hit people out of frustration. 

I would be remiss to not say that there is likely a cultural difference between me and this student. In his world, physical altercation might be the "norm." I have to be sensitive to that, but within a school, that is not the norm, and it cannot be.

One child's frustration can quickly become a bunch of other students' fear and chaos, which is what it became. While there are students who feel the cops were too forceful, I suspect there are as many who felt like the cops were doing their best to restore order and were glad the cops subdued the student.

Does this break along racial lines? Perhaps. 

I recently subbed at a local middle school and helped break up a fight between two 8th grade girls. I happened to be in the middle of a hallway during dismissal when the other adults were at the two opposite ends of the hall.

As I was passing through, I saw the fight erupting. I probably could have interjected myself before the first hit was launched, but I did not.

Call me irresponsible or wrong, but I don't get paid enough to get my jaw broken by a student by sticking myself in the middle of two students hell-bent on punching each other. Once contact was made, the girls quickly landed on the floor, and from behind, I grabbed a girl and pulled her off the other one. As I pulled her backward onto her feet, two other adults came towards me and took her out of my arms. 

It took hours for my adrenaline level to go back to normal, and I hadn't been hit or hurt at all. I cannot help but think of this situation when I think of the officers in that recent situation. This is the kind of thing they do everyday. Even though they are charged with being fair to all, it is difficult to be fair and gentle after you've been hit in the face.

I don't envy these officers being in the middle of a ton of high schoolers (none of whom have their developed pre-frontal cortexes). Given that one student had just hit and tackled one of the officers, it doesn't seem inappropriate that they would feel they needed to show the surrounding students the taser, to let them know that they had force and would use it if any other student or students felt the need to respond physically.

Sometimes understanding other people's POVs makes it a whole lot harder to try to figure out what is right or wrong....or just where on the continuum of right or wrong situations are.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Here's the real bee in my bonnet

A friend recently texted me and asked my honest opinion about N's middle school. This friend is now in CrMS' resides area.

I gave her a long explanation (broken up into about a zillion small text messages....because I'm not a savage) that CrMS has been a good experience for N, and I have no real problems with the school.

And that is true.

What I am still cranky about three years after the middle school decision was made is that I CONTRIBUTED TO ALL THE BULLSHIT that I criticize other people for doing.

By sending my kid to CrMS, I did what other people around these parts do when they move into another county to avoid the district schools.

I did it on a smaller scale, but I did it.

And I'm disappointed in myself for this, even though CrMS is where my kid wanted to go. I guess there was no real way to win this.

I know what kinds of stories I heard.
I know what teachers encouraged me to do, where to send her.
And I know "the talk" in the district: which schools are "good," which programs are "good."
N has been drinking the high school juice in her own way.
Worrying about which school offers which "career path" when she has no clue what she wants to do with her life.

I'm disappointed that I didn't live up to what I say I believe: that it really doesn't matter where a kid goes (for the most part) if they have involved parents and a solid foundation and you know the rest.

I'm mad at myself (and everybody else who runs away or sends their kid to the "better" schools) because wouldn't all the schools be better if we put our smart, hard-working kids into them?

That is the bee in my bonnet.
The thing that makes me cranky as hell at this whole "school choice" process. 

The "high school decision" (drum roll and a poem)

She wants to go to EHS.
For all the wrong reasons.
I don't even care anymore.
I've been driving her,
hither and yon.
What's 4 more years?
Three more, if I'm lucky.
She'll have wheels.

I don't think I'll give
The boys a choice.
I'll funnel them where
I want them to go.
Whichever school is close
And has a bus.

Now we wait.
I clicked the button.
Application sent.
Forms will be mailed.
Horse and pony show
Of her awesomeness.
But is someone else
More awesome?
How many slots of awesome
Are there?
Can you tell me?

All of this...
For what?
What's the point?
I'm not sure.

I suspect the same thing
That happened in middle
Will happen again.
The friend(s) that she followed
Will not be the friends of
The future.

Can't we figure this out
At a school that offers
A bus ride?