Thursday, March 31, 2016

Got hired. Now what the F-word do I do???

I am officially hired as a sub in the district.

As is my way, I now feel frozen with terror.

What in g*d's name was I thinking?  
Why did I want to do this?  
How am I going to make this work?  
What if......

Oh lawd, the "What ifs" are coming at me, whacking me in the forehead at every turn.

What if none of the nearby schools hire me, and I have to shlep across town all the time?  
What if I work at a middle school and have an unruly student?
What if I hate it?
What if the staff at the schools hates me?

I am trying to remember all the goofy "What ifs" I had when I began at the cottage school after 9 years of not being in a classroom at all.  I worried that the students would all be smarter than me.  I worried that my directors wouldn't be happy with my abilities.  I worried how it would impact my life.

And it was all fine.  My students are bright but not smarter than me (yeah for maturity and wisdom).  My directors are happy with me.  I adjusted my life, and it is a good fit.

In my obsessive worry over this new adventure, I am trying to accept that it will be a good thing that I'm being forced out of my comfort zone, which is intensive preparation.  My need to be highly prepared is one of the reasons I knew I couldn't hack (then or now) going back full-time to the classroom.  I could not devote all the time I felt necessary to teaching, to being prepared for the next days and weeks.

Subbing is going to force me to sometimes....maybe hopefully not as much as I fear....have to just do things without much preparation.  Like the night before or the morning of.  I will have to go in without knowing what I'll be doing with students.

I don't like the feeling of any of that.

But I guess it is good to be nudged shoved forcefully out of my comfort zone.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

More appropriate cussing?

G has been reading a new book series.  I figured since he is so completely gaga over mythological creatures he would like it.  

He was reading about the Cretan bull and didn't like that Heracles stabbed it.  He said, "Heracles is an a-word hole."  

It is endearing that he is both so determined to use inappropriate words and so determined to not get in trouble for cussing.  

Last night, D and I spent some time rethinking our own use of cuss words to make them more G-like:

Mother F-word-er
God D-word-it

Although I think these are hilarious, I suspect I'd be violating George Orwell's "Politics of Language" ideas if I began to use these.  The two D-words would be especially problematic.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Errr. I might be a little scurred.

I turned in my paperwork to substitute teach and got my TB test.  As soon as my references submit their forms, and I go back for my TB re-check, I can be processed.  I guess because I've taught for the district before they fast-tracked me for orientation.  Thank goodness.  This process is as slow as molasses.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shaking in my boots.  And not because I'm concerned about the outcome of my tuberculosis screen.

The hope is that I can sub at the boys' elementary school or N's middle school 5 days a month (this is the minimum I have to sub in order to stay in the rolls and as much as I care to sub anyway).  There is another elementary and another middle school nearby where I can also sub that wouldn't take me completely out of my way.

I'm not concerned about subbing at the elementary schools, but the middles.....

It has been a decade since I was in a public school middle setting.

I do teach 6-12th graders at the cottage school, but that couldn't be a more different vibe from public.  No chance of swinging punches there.

In an effort to re-acclimate myself, I've been working in N's middle bookstore occasionally, which is during the lunch room chaos.  There have been two reasons for this---one, to help myself get used to the feel again and two, to put my face there for students to see.

I keep telling myself that I did this before, I can do this again.

I am having to tell myself that on a never-ending loop.  I hope I start believing it soon.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Being a mom of a girl means reliving all your sh*tty preteen friendship crap

I try to ixnay my commentary as it concerns N's friendships, but sometimes it takes every ounce of my strength to not throw a complete duck fit.

Like when a very good friend of N's texted her today to say she had too much to do and couldn't make it to N's party today.  This is such a good friend that I would expect her to come unless she was dead or bleeding out the it seems a little fishy.

It could be that she really did have too much to do, although I wish she could have told N that long before an hour before the party.  Like on Monday.

This is N's business, but I did say that I thought a very good friend who said she would come to your party should come to your party unless she is very sick or very dead.  I left it at that.

But inside, I'm roiling.  It has churned up the waters of my own childhood friendships.  My own girlfriend drama.

The occasions when a very good friend of mine would put me on hold when I asked her to come over and do something with me.  When it seemed like she was waiting for something better to come along.  I remember my mother feeling rather aggravated with this friend of mine because I would be upset when she turned me down or didn't follow through.

As a kid I couldn't understand my mother.  Now, I wish I didn't understand my mother.  I wish I didn't understand that anger that comes when my own child is confused by, disappointed in, hurt by or frustrated with a friendship.

The never-ending birthday saga....

I recently wrote an article about planning a reunion and neighborhood block party, which is definitely not my skill set (the topic....not the actual writing, I mean).

This is actually the second article I've written about party-planning.  One published in Nov/Dec 2015 and made me realize that I am a terrible hostess.  When I interviewed two party planning experts, I learned that I basically do everything wrong, which is why I don't entertain often.  (If you are looking for event planning/management resources, Eventbrite might be something to check out.)

Today was N's final, final, absolute last or I'm gonna scream turning 12-years-old birthday commemoration.  She had one with just the five of us, one with my side of the family, one with D's side, and now this one with friends.

She was allowed to invite 5 friends (since only 5 other people besides me and her can fit in the minivan) and take them to a trampoline place.  They ate unfrozen pizza, cake and ice cream prior to the trampoline place.  This is as much as I can stand given it is celebration #4.

I am definitely a "simplicity" party person.  I'm not going to spend tons of time on Pinterest....or any time on Pinterest, really.  I suspect there are a lot of moms out there like me.....who don't have $300 to spend on a big birthday party for each kid every year (or don't want to spend that) and who don't have the time or desire to make parties into "events."

Here are simple things to make parties fun and meaningful.....

I. Commemorative "gift" items

As a general rule, I abhor gift bags.  Kids need to learn how to give a gift without expecting a gift bag for attending the party.  Plus, most of the stuff that parents put in gift bags are cheap toys and candy.  My kid has just been fed a slice of cake, ice cream and juice.  The last thing he needs is candy.  The last thing my house needs is more removable tattoos, stickers or cheap plastic thingies that I have to surreptitiously toss in the garbage.

What I CAN get behind in the way of "attendee gifts" is something special that commemorates the day.  And by this I mean, a photograph of my child and your child together.  I will be thrilled because it is something to put in their scrapbooks, and my kid will be super thrilled because kids love to have photos of themselves with their friends.

II. Something to house the commemorative "gift" item

Something as simple as card stock could be decorated by kids at the party (Hello!  Easy activity for keeping kiddos occupied) and used as a mat for their commemorative photograph.  This card stock mat could also serve as a thank you note:  "Thanks for being my friend and coming to my party."

People who want to be more fancy than card stock can buy inexpensive wooden frames at Michaels or clear plastic frames at dollar stores.

N has made these are birthday parties she has attended, as well as Girl Scout camp.  Even I can handle something like this.

N will be sending 4x6 copies of a photo I took with her and her friends today in her thank you cards.

III.  Make them learn something

Every moment of every day is an opportunity to learn, and I don't mean boring, stodgy learning that sucks the life out of everything.  If your 8-year-old son is having a "medieval knights" themed party, and you are of the persuasion to plan for the party more than 5 minutes in advance, have them play medieval bingo, where they can land on and learn about being drawn/quartered or other horrible things from that time.  This is a book any 8-year-old boy will love.

IV. Have a start time AND end time

One of the moms told me today that she liked how specific our invitation was.  Drop off at our house noon; pick up at trampoline place at 2:45.  Boom!  Now go plan your day.  None of this nebulous, "It ends whenever you feel like picking your child up."

V.  You don't have to pay the party place for the cupcake bit

I understand the convenience of just doing everything at the party place.....but really, like $300 just so a teenager can hand out cupcakes to my kid?  I like the idea of minimizing the guest list....6 kids including how many can fit in my car.  They come here, eat, open gifts and bug around. I drive them to the roller-rink or trampoline place or wherever.  Today I spent $118 (including for the boys and me to jump).  N had a good time with her friends.  Mission accomplished.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Inconceivable! Common core, modifying homework, cursive.....

1. Common Core

Sometimes I wonder if people who complain mercilessly about Common Core have ever read the standards themselves.  

Common Core standards are very general, as in, "Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style."  This is an 8th grade literature standard.  A teacher can have kids read pretty much anything to meet this standard.  The point is that they are learning to compare and contrast using different types of texts. Fifteen years ago, when I was in the classroom full-time we had similar standards.  They weren't call Common Core, but they basically outlined what kids should learn at different grade-levels.  

Some schools are trying different approaches to math, which has nothing to do with Common Core.  This is curriculum to teach kids math, and there are all kinds of curricula out there that schools may adopt.  It may be different from how I learned math as a kid, but considering how much I didn't understand math as a kid, I think different approaches to teach math to kids is a good idea.  It may be different from how I learned it, but that doesn't make it stupid or bad. 

My son is in 2nd grade and starting to begin problems that help students understand the process, the concept, of multiplication.  Yes, it involves drawing circles and grouping things.  I didn't learn it that way.  I just memorized my times tables, which he will also do.  But there is absolutely nothing wrong with learning what multiplication actually means.  Students will do all the rote memorization that I did as a student, but they will understand what the heck is happening when they are saying 5x5=25. 

Some kids may be fine with the way I learned stuff as a kid, but there are probably lots of kids who need to understand it in a different way.  I have personally gained a much better understanding of math by thinking in terms of 10s.  For example, if I want to add 43 and 52 in my head I add 40+50+5.  But if I am looking at it on paper or computer, as I am now, I add 4+5 and then 3+2.  

I learned to read music for piano 4 years ago by learning  Every Good Boy Does Fine/ FACE for the treble clef and Go Back Down For Apples/All Cows Eat Grass for the bass clef.  That is a perfectly fine way to learn the notes and the way gazillions of people have learned their piano notes.  

For the past 2 years, I have been taking a class with G and M in which stories are told to help kids learn the notes and play piano.  So E and G on the bass clef are "Bottom Button E" and "Top Button G," and they are the buttons that hold Mr. Bass Cleff's pants up.

I am 42 years old and learning about the buttons of Mr. Bass Cleff's pants has been FAR MORE effective to help me remember these notes than learning All Cows Eat Grass.  I would have to repeat All Cows Eat Grass over and over, but the story of the buttons has stuck in my head. 

With that being said, I have myself seen some terribly written questions which, again, has nothing to do with Common Core.  I have helped a group of boys in 2nd grade with their math assignment when I volunteer in G's class and had to read the question myself a few times to finally understand what the question was asking the kids to do.  There have always been poorly worded questions, and there always will be, whether there is Common Core or not.  

II.  Modifying Homework -

G has to write spelling sentences every week and complained about them until I suggested that instead of writing 10 sentences, he write a sentence using more than one vocabulary word in each sentence.  I modified what he has to do to make it more bearable for him (and me), but he is still doing the work and actually doing it on a higher level.  It is more challenging to figure out how to use 3 vocabulary words in a sentence and have it make sense than to use just one word.

Below are some examples of his sentences that he wrote the other night:

1.  Vocabulary words:  thumb, plump, grew
Today a boy's thumb grew very plump.
2. Vocabulary words:  blew, clue
One day I blew some dust off and found a clue.  

Are these the world's best sentences?  Of course not.  He could have improved that first one by saying the thumb grew plump because the boy was stung by a bee.  

Did he get the work done, compose original sentences, use the words correctly and practice spelling them?  Yes.  

If his teacher said she didn't want him to do it this way, I would explain to G that life is unfair and one day he will likely have a boss or a spouse who is very particular about certain things, and he will just have to deal with it.  Lots of things don't make sense, but you suck it up and do what you have to do.  

As a result of teaching at the cottage school, one of the things I've learned to look at is how assignments are structured.  Many times advanced students are given MORE work instead of being given the same volume of work as other kids but differently challenging.  Advanced students should not be given more homework, but what they are asked to do with the homework should challenge them more robustly.  

III.  Cursive---

G's 2nd grade teacher, who was also N's 2nd grade teacher, teaches cursive.  When I tell other parents this, they are astounded because most (or many) teachers don't.  My response is:  It doesn't matter whether their teacher teaches them cursive because I TEACH THEM CURSIVE.  

Last summer, before G began 2nd grade, and eons ago, before N began 2nd grade, I started teaching them cursive.  This summer, G will continue to work on practicing cursive.  

I think kids should learn to write cursive for one reason only:  they have to be able to sign their names to documents.  

Some parents make the argument, "How will kids read historical documents if they don't know cursive?"  I never read historical documents as a kid, and I learned cursive, AND I'm a pretty well-educated person.  The vast majority of children will not become historical scholars.  

G reads Geronimo Stilton books, which have cursive script in them periodically, and he can read them even though he doesn't know cursive all that well at this point.  I think it is because an "f" in cursive looks an awful lot like a printed "f."  Same with "t" and "m" and "p" and "b" and "d" and almost every other letter.  

The bottom line is if you value that your child learns cursive, then teach your child cursive.  Use this book.  The schools can't stop you from teaching cursive.  But a parent can't realistically expect their child's teacher to teach everything.  

And if you think it is important for all kids to learn cursive, then volunteer in your child's classroom to teach cursive after testing in May when teachers are looking for things to do with their students.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

When I think I'm not sane, I just look to people who want to be president

This is a painful, painful election season.

I continue to think that maybe I have gone mad.

But I haven't, and most people I talk to seem to feel like they've gone mad regardless of their party affiliation.

There is some small comfort in that, I guess.

As a way of checking my sanity, I ask myself, "Self, do you want to be President of the United States?"

Self always says no.

That makes me feel better, too.

Even though Trump seems the most insane of the whole band of candidates, I really think wanting to be President has to be a sign of some kind of derangement.  Extreme power-hungry-ness?  Acute idealism?

I'm not sure what is going on politically, but somehow it feels the earth is shaking under my feet, under America's feet.  Like something is going to blow big and hard and irretrievably.  Maybe I am just feeling paranoid because everywhere I turn, every radio show, every article, every news story, is awash with "I can't believe this" and "No one predicted this."  This isn't just a case of my mind being blown.....and if everyone's collective mind is being blown that has to be big, right?

I don't love (or even like, if truth be told) any of the candidates from either party, but I will not, under any circumstances, vote for Trump.  He makes Ted Cruz look moderate and reasonable (and I maybe can't believe I just typed that).

I have posted occasional things on Facebook against Trump because he is unkind and reaches into the territory of cruel.  Maybe it is an act, I don't know.  If it is an act, that suggests he's a nitwit and can't be trusted with a role as big as the president.  If it isn't an act, that is one of the scariest things I've ever witnessed.

More than any other characteristic in my children, I encourage them to be empathetic and kind, and I cannot tolerate unkindness and cruelty when I see it and when it could become the 45th President.

I expect politicians to lie, to backstab, to not play fair, to have bags of bones in their closets.  I like to imagine George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as beyond reproach, but I suspect if I could time travel back to their day, I would be privy to unstatesman-like behaviors and statements.

But this election of 2016 makes me think we should remove statesman from our collective vocabulary.  A statesman is civil, is inspiring, builds and doesn't cut down, and knows that there is far greater power in compromise than in refusing to consider and negotiate.  A statesman makes other people want to be their best selves without having to trash anyone else in order to do it.  A statesman doesn't belittle others, and even if you don't agree with him/her, a statesman makes you want to consider his/her view because it is expressed respectfully and comes with a willingness to learn and listen.

Donald Trump, of all the candidates, seems the least capable of doing any of that.