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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Opportunities to learn right from wrong

Let me be the first to say that I don't know what the hell I'm doing as a parent.

Like everyone else who has children, I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I read as much as I can, use my experience as a teacher, and listen to my own feelings to guide me.

I am a firm believer in letting kids fail on the small scale so that they learn how to "police" themselves.
My kids are going to make stupid decisions. All kids, including their mother, make stupid decisions, especially as teenagers.
But I'm hoping that they learn to listen to the little voice inside their heads that says, "This isn't right," and get out of situations on their own because they've had practice in developing good sense.

I know there are all sorts of technologies out there that will monitor my kids online, but at this point in time, we do not use them.

We talk about what is and is not appropriate for kids online.
We talk about not giving any kind of personal information about themselves online.
We talk about child predators.
We pop in and check to see what our kids are doing online. The boys do all of their internet stuff in the living room where I can see them. N is up in her room most of the time, but gets occasional "mom interruptions" where I ask what she is watching.

The other night, while I was at my class, D told me that G was watching a YouTube video on the couch. All of a sudden, D heard "F*ck yah! F*ck yah!" and G scrambled to get out of the video. G said, "I didn't know it was going to do that."

Did he get out of it because he knew his dad would hear it and question him? Yes.
Would he have learned the lesson if we had everything inappropriate blocked? I'm not sure.

I distinctly remember doing things as a teenager and hearing my mother's voice inside my head telling me not to do something. In some cases, I ignored the voice, but it was there, and it tried it's best to get me to do the right thing.

The problem with having all sorts of technology do the monitoring is that it can give parents a false sense of security. "Technology is taking care of it, therefore I have nothing to worry about it."
Technology can and does fail.
Technology isn't going to teach children how to monitor themselves.
Experience does that.

This is part of the reason I don't censor my children's reading.
I mean, if they walked into the house with Fifty Shades of Grey I would draw a line, but I don't research what they read.
When I was a kid, I read Judy Blume's books all the time and loved them. I read about masturbation in Then Again Maybe I Won't. I read about menstruation in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." I read about teenage sex in Forever. And I would say now, as an adult, that isn't the worst way to learn about those things. Better than learning about them from other goofy teenagers.

With my GAD, it would be very easy for me to put a bubble around my children and protect them from everything, but I see what happens when parents do that. I see how unsuccessful it is when parents deny their kids opportunities to fail or shelter them too much.  I have known parents who read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath to their high schooler to censor out things that they deem inappropriate. (The parent who did this had a child who explored pornography, which tells me that sheltering them too much doesn't actually work.)

(There is a happy medium, though, because giving kids complete free reign isn't successful either. Children need guidance.)

As soon as you deny kids something, forbid them from something, that is exactly what they want to do or see or learn about unless they are unusually obedient kids. I say this as an adult who is hell-bent on doing whatever it is someone tells me I can't do, and I have a fully formed pre-frontal cortex that helps me be pretty darn rational.

So for now, we're doing our best to help our kids develop the skills to self-monitor so they don't have to have big-brother do it for them.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

My own tame version of #metoo

When #metoo began trending, I thought about whether I had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted.

I know that may sound silly--to have to think about it--but I doubt I'm the only woman who had to think back throughout her life experiences.

Of course, any kind of violent or serious sexual assault doesn't require a lot of thought, but the thing with sexual harassment is that it is insidious. It often appears harmless, and perhaps a woman wonders whether she is making a big deal about something that wasn't intended in an intimidating or uncomfortable way. I think there is a certain amount of disbelief that goes along with it, a certain wondering, "Did that just happen the way I think it happened?"

I thought back to when I was a preteen. I'm not 100% sure how old I was, but I think I was around 11...maybe 12.  My parents took me and my brother to Panama City Beach, FL, and I met a cute boy. I don't remember his name or what he looked like. I think he was around 13 or 14.

We met at the pool and sat beside it talking. When my parents called me back to the room, I remember him escorting me. When we got into the elevator, he pushed the emergency stop button on the wall. It came to a sharp standstill. I don't remember if there was an alarm. I remember feeling startled. I remember him quickly coming up to me, pressing himself up against me, and kissing me. I remember pushing him off and feeling overwhelmed.

I don't know if he pushed the emergency release button or I did. I remember walking off the elevator and feeling angry with this boy. I remember walking out of the elevator when the doors opened. I hadn't thought about this event in many years, but now that I've been remembering for a couple hours in order to write this blog post, I seem to recall him saying, "You don't know what you're missing."

As an adult, I don't look at this event as having any major lasting impact on my life. I don't think it scarred me. I wonder if maybe the boy was just as stupid as I was and thinking this was the way you were supposed to "make a move on a girl." It certainly wasn't a situation in which someone with power or authority over me used that power for nefarious purposes.

I never told my parents about this experience. I don't really remember a reason why I didn't tell them, but I wonder if I didn't tell them because I suspected they would keep me from going out again alone if they knew this had happened. I wondered if I would essentially be "punished" because of this boy being too fresh or whatever word you want to use to describe what he did.

As a mom, I'm spending an awful lot of time instructing my sons in what is appropriate and not appropriate with other people. Drilling it into their heads that when someone says no or stop, they mean absolutely, positively NO and STOP. Informing them that if they are giving you mixed signals, you probably need to be with someone who communicates better.

I think we've spent so much time warning girls that we haven't spent enough time helping our boys learn to navigate what is appropriate and how a girl might read stopping the elevator emergency button and pushing yourself against her. Our girls end up being punished, being denied experiences and opportunities, because we are so terrified of what boys may do to them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

You only think you know people (and I don't just mean powerful celebrities who sexually harass)

I don't know any celebrities nor do I want to. There is something about celebrity that I find troubling.

I don't know if it is the power or the fame or the money or a combination of it all, but anything that invites sycophants is a problem.

In no way am I surprised, stunned or shocked by any of the allegations against any of the men in power or with celebrity who have been accused of pulling out their johnsons on various women on various occasions (or grabbing them by the pussies or anything else they've done). The only thing I keep thinking is that my 10-year-old son does shit like that, and at least he has the sense to only do it in our house where he gets yelled at by all of us to put his junk away.

I think what is most surprising to me is how many people are stunned, shocked or surprised by revelations about Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor and whomever else has been deemed "ok even though we actually don't know these people or anything about them." Why would anyone think these guys would be above the fray?

Because you like their on-stage personality?


All of these people are acting.

I once taught with someone who is now in prison for rape and sodomy of a middle school student he taught. On the one hand, I can understand the disbelief of colleagues of people accused of heinous crimes. That isn't the person I knew; it isn't the person they knew. I wouldn't have thought this person capable of such an act, but I tend to believe in the power of the legal system. I couldn't convict someone of a crime unless I was damned certain, without a reasonable doubt. Plus, in this case, after he took the stand, he later admitted to the rape and sodomy.

Just because I can't believe it, just because this person was above board with me doesn't mean this person was above board with everyone.

We really never truly know anyone as well as we think we do. 

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 every.stinking.day, 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...
Stewing...
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?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Happy 20 years of marital whatever-this-is

I don't want to jump the gun, but provided D and stay married until Wednesday, we will "officially" celebrate 20 years of marital "bliss."

We unofficially celebrated in May with our 6-day trip to Quebec, Canada, which seems a lifetime ago. Our goal was to stay married until our official anniversary.

I think we've got a pretty good chance of making it until Wednesday.

I remember as a teen looking at my parents' marriage and thinking, "Geezus, it is so boring." To my teen eyes, there was no passion, no romance.

My teen eyes were right.

A long marriage is a whole, whole lot of boring. Of tedious. Of thinking to yourself, "How in the world have we tolerated each other for this long?" It is sprinkled with occasional bouts of "I cannot stand this person at all" and "I am so thankful I have this person in my life."

Every once in a while, if you can somehow find enough energy, there are sparks of the passion that got the two of you together in the first place, but those are hard to find during any kind of sports season when you are driving someone to practice or a game 3-4 times a week.

Most conversations that D and I attempt to have are interrupted by G wanting to say something highly important right-that-moment about poop or a video game.

We are entirely too tired and antisocial to actually want to "go out and do anything" on a weekend. That whole "date-night concept" is not really for people who don't enjoy going out much.

If my kids ever ask me the "secret" to a long marriage, I think I would tell them that to have a long marriage, you have to keep your mouth shut a lot.

You have to realize that the whole "grass is greener" phenomenon is bunkus. Other situations appear better, but the reality is that that other person who seems amazing enjoys sports WAY more than you and would have a game on the television ALL THE TIME and would EXPECT YOU TO EAT AT SPORTS BARS. That other person likes to shop ALL THE TIME and would EXPECT YOU TO GO WITH HER.

A long-term marriage requires that you still consider the person you married your friend, and in spite of all his/her annoying personality quirks, you know that the person you married is going to be there come hell or high water.

By the time you reach 44 and 48 years of age, you want someone who will go with you to your colonoscopy and find the mupirocin when you have an infected hang-nail, not someone who will take you dancing every weekend.

Having and continuing to want a long-term marriage is looking at what you started with and being thankful for and proud of what you've built together---the family, the camaraderie, the wealth when you started out with nothing.



So....here's to Wednesday, to 20 years, to looking at life through middle-aged eyes and finding that marriage may be a little dull but not so bad after all. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The voices inside my head

A perfect storm of stress and hormones made the voices appear again, those insidious thoughts that come from the depths of my id, the thoughts that make me cringe because they are so not me.

When I say "voices inside my head" someone might erroneously think of a schizophrenic who hears voices and thinks they are real. The horror of intrusive thoughts for me (and other people with OCD) is that they appear and I know good and well that they aren't my intentional thoughts. But they are in my head, nonetheless, so I worry that they ARE my real feelings and that I'm so dense that I'm not even aware that that is how I must really feel.

At least for me, the voices sound like me except more rough and angry.

What "the voice" says are things that are the horrible, nasty, cruel things I might say if I had no conscience or empathy or concern about hurting others. Basically, it is like having an anonymous disgusting person launch Twitter attacks inside my head all the time.

That may be the most troubling thing of all.

If you cannot imagine what these voices sound like, I can give an example:

Me, seeing a classmate of N's who just happens to walk by and for whom I have no real opinion whatsoever:
My thought: "Oh, there's so-and-so."
The voice: "What a bitch."

Such a comment by "the voice" might be ascribed to potentially any female who just happened to walk near me in the grocery store. No one has to "do" anything to me.

There are worse things that "the voice" says, but I try to dismiss them very quickly by reminding myself that those are nonsense thoughts.

When I noticed these thoughts, I was reminded of John Green's interview about his latest book, Turtles All the Way Down, and his interview about his OCD. He said he's a terrible detective because he is so in his own head all the time that he can't notice much in the world outside him.

I have not read the book yet, but I have to wonder about the title, which is based on a philosophical and cosmological concept which goes back to Anavastha. Although it can relate to God, I think it is meant to describe what it is like to have OCD. 

Anavastha means unstable or absence of finality, hence the turtles standing on turtles all the way down, forever and ever. What I visualize when I picture these turtles is what I imagine my mind to be when I am in an obsessive rut. There is no bottom to obsessive thought.

This concept relates, too, to the fact that scientists still don't really understand what causes OCD, although they know it is in the deepest parts of the brain. What is the cause? On what does OCD stand?

Turtles all the way down, of course!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Trying not to be a complete b*tch in class

My poor college professor.

I really feel for her having to manage my "chip-on-my-shoulder for not being a traditional school district teacher self" in class.

I know she recognizes the psychological self-imposed "drama" of me already having a MAT, having gone through the state internship program, having classroom experience under my belt, and taking a class with people who do not. She knows I feel a bit like an 8th grader in a class of 4th grade students.

On the positive side, I am certainly learning a lot as a result of the text: The English Teacher's Companion by Jim Burke.

I ran headfirst into my weakness as a teacher, which is that I suck at grammar. I can write well, but don't ask me to define an appositive, an adverbial clause, or to succinctly explain when and why to use a colon over a semicolon.

My professor gave us a list of grammar terms and asked us to rank them in terms of how well we understood them. I gave a "1" for everything, which basically means I've heard this term but could not explain it to you or anyone else. 

And I felt compelled (because I cannot shut my big mouth) to say out loud that while I do understand the importance of "doing grammar," I do not necessarily agree with the importance of expecting students to be able to explicitly name an adverbial clause or a gerund.

A classmate (who happens to also be middle-aged and has a freelance background) responded to me that I (actually, she said "you," but I don't know if she meant "you as in me" or "you as in the general you")  will never be a great writer without understanding the rules of grammar. I understood her comment, but I'm not sure I agree (and I think I also might be a little insulted that she suggested I could never be a great writer, even though I know this is true).

I'm not sure I believe that Hemingway or Steinbeck or Bronte or Austen or Garcia Marquez or Roth wrote or writes from a place of analyzing whether this gerund clause works better than this other gerund phrase in those direct, explicit, scientific and clinical terms. Maybe they do?  Who knows?

I think that to be a great editor, a person probably needs to know the rules of grammar really well. And I realize now, as the editor of my students, that I am lacking in that department. Although, I think there are probably a lot of editors who can't recite all the rules of grammar.

Maybe this is why I've never aspired to write the Great American Novel?
But I don't think so.
I think it is because I have nothing of fictional merit to say....
I think it is because I have no great imaginative spirit that drives me to write in that way....
I think it is because I don't want to put the time into writing like that....
I don't think it is because I couldn't define a compound complex sentence if I tried.

Maybe the stick up my butt is because I subbed 3 days this week with a class of MMD students and worked with them on writing narratives? Maybe it is because even if I explained to these kids what is a subject and a predicate and called them by their official grammatical names, these kids cannot write a sentence better than what my 2nd grader can?

Maybe it is because I only see my students at the cottage school one day a week and think the value of having a class discussion about a text and analyzing it together is WAY more critical than spending that 65 minutes discussing how to write a sentence with an appositive in it and specifically bashing them over the head that it is an appositive.

I suspect I may have come across as a bit of an asshole, but I fully recognize that this was in large part because I recognized in myself my glaring weakness as a teacher: the grammar thing. I have never been able to understand the grammar thing, although I certainly understand it better now as an adult than I ever did as a kid. I could not diagram a sentence to save my life as a kid.  As an adult, I can do it just slightly better than "meh."

And I guess a part of me is also going off the chain right now because what follows are the instructions to the class for next week's homework:

Read Chapter 8. Type 3 text-dependent questions about grading that you encountered in the reading and include page number. 

As a writer and a teacher AND A STUDENT AT THE MOMENT, I am confused by this question. What is she asking exactly?  Is she asking me to type 3 questions I had in my head about grading as I was reading or is she asking me to type 3 questions that the author asked about grading that I "encountered" as I read and, thereafter, reflected upon. Is she asking me to type his questions or my reflections??? Or both?

That "encountered" is a tricky word, I think. When I think of encountering something, I think of meeting it in a dark alley. It brings itself forward to me, which suggests it would be a question someone else asked that I met in a dark alley....or in this chapter. I mean I even looked up the stinking definition of the word "encounter" to try to figure it out.

So I emailed her and asked.

Sometimes it is hard not to be an asshole, and I try to remember that when I think about students who sometimes are asked to do things that just seem so confusing or tedious.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Getting my head back on straight

I am finally getting my head back on straight from this graduate class, and I am feeling a renewed sense of "I do NOT suck."

I suspect I will always have a chip on my shoulder, a feeling of "I am not a real teacher because I haven't taught full-time in x many years," until or unless I do teach again full-time.

But what I have begun to realize for myself is that I have a tremendous amount to offer students because I haven't been in the classroom full-time for 13 years.

I have done a lot in those 13 years, including being a professional writer. It matters a great deal, I think, that I have real-life experience in interviewing, listening, writing, editing, and networking with people outside of the school world. For the most recent article I submitted, I interviewed some local "big-shots" in the community, one of whom told me I'm a fun interviewer.

I'm not the type of person to be awestruck (I don't care who you are or what amazing things you've done, you have had an occasion when you've had poop streaks in your underpants), but I admit that it made me feel pretty good to have someone who has created a millions-of-dollars enterprise offer that compliment.

I have taught for the past 5 years in a setting that has given me a tremendous amount of freedom. I have created my own plans from scratch, and I have taught very difficult texts to students. I do it well, and I know it.

I have taken close to 20 additional hours of graduate class beyond my master's degree in literacy and instruction.

And I substitute teach, which is trial by fire if there ever was such a thing.

I will still be tremendously glad when this class is over, but my attitude and self-esteem have improved.


Your brain is not within your control

The counselors at the boys' elementary school frequently do activities with the students to help develop their character and improve self-regulation.

G recently came home with this paper:


It is am important reminder for him of what is and is not within his control. He often likes to think that he can control others and gets frustrated when he can't.

When I asked him about it, he talked about Wilda Rudolph and how she had to control her mood when things didn't go her way.

I felt compelled to remind him that how for him and for me, it can be hard to control our moods and that is why we take our medicine. We are the types of people for whom controlling our moods can be a challenge. Like Wilma Rudolph, we have to use assists to help us out. She used leg braces and did therapy and had massages for years, and I suspect that she also dealt with pretty intense pain even when she could use her legs to achieve in the Olympics. The stories of our inspirational figures often leave out just how much unbearable pain and frustration they had to deal with even in the midst of their great accomplishments.

As much as I like that we promote self-regulation among kids, and we probably should do so more among adults, it is a bit of a fallacy to tell kids that they can control themselves. They should strive to do this. We should give them logical consequences for when they can't.

But if I had to complete this chart, the word "mood" would be written half inside the circle of control and half outside.

The fallacy that we can control our brains is one reason why people fight so hard to admit they have mental health issues.  They believe they should be able to control their brains, when the hard reality is that the brain is just like any other organ of the body.  It doesn't always work the way we want it to. A kidney may not remove toxins as it should. A pancreas may not produce as much insulin as it should. A heart may not beat as fast or as regular as it should.  And a brain may not pick up enough serotonin as it should.

But our identity, our spirit, our personality comes from our brains, and we cannot even imagine that we can't make it do exactly as we wish when we wish for as long as we wish.

I have not yet asked him what he means by "the demons" in what he cannot control, but I find it interesting that he used that phrase. I suspect he means actual "demons." He is knee-deep in intrigue about horror movies right now and would give his left leg if we allowed him to watch "It." (That ain't gonna happen.)

But for anyone with a mental health struggle, they know their demons aren't the dementors of Harry Potter fame, although they do suck the happiness out of one. The demons are inside, not floating around in the dark and fearsome skies. There are ways to quiet the demons, but they never go away. They don't fly off back to Azkaban, never to return.

It takes a long, long, long time to accept that the demons are real, are there, have moments (or years) of quiet, but can, do and will reappear when you least expect it. So like Wilma Rudolph, you ice it, and use heat on it, and take your pain meds to reduce inflammation, and you rest, and you still achieve, but you don't do it without assists. Those assists just get lost somehow in the story.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

What? No....wait. My baby is actually eight?

Dear M,

I don't care if you grow to be 6'5" and 230 lbs, you will always be my baby.

I cling to every snuggly moment with you, even though I see that it won't be too long before those gangly legs and arms have a heft that I can no longer comfortably hold the weight of.



I try to pay attention to those big front teeth sandwiched in between the tiny nubs of baby teeth when you talk to me about important 2nd-grade stuff.



I enjoy watching you come downstairs in the morning wearing your Guardians of the Galaxy underpants and holding your Papaw pillow, your hair in 14 different directions, and your eyes still heavy with sleep.



I know these days are numbered.

You are still adamant that you like and want the "same thing as G," even though I suspect it won't be too long before you admit that you like what YOU like much more instead....whatever that actually happens to be.

You often say you want to read silently to yourself at bedtime, but you are content to have me or Daddy sit next to you as you do it. You point out funny things you notice or something unusual so we can at least have some notion of what you are reading and whether you know what is going on.

Of my children, you are the only one who pretty regularly likes the vegetables I give you, especially if they are of the squash family and slathered in butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar.

When I think of your personality, I call you my "Indian chief" because I don't think you are going to fit into a similar mold as your sister and brother. I'm not sure what you'll end up doing in school or in life, but I suspect it will be something that keeps your body busy and not just you sitting behind a desk every day.



I love your current mop-of-hair style. Daddy makes comments about your "wings," but I like all the weird contortions your naturally wavy hair makes. I play with your hair at night as you are trying to fall asleep and am astounded by how long it is when I pull out the curls to their full length.



You've already had a friend stay the night and your big family celebration with G, so today's celebration will be just us with you opening up the small gifts from Mommy and Daddy. Oh, and your "8" cookies, which have become a tradition.

Even though I often think I have no clue who you are because you are so intent on being a carbon copy of your brother, I know that you are super polite, always holding the door for others. You are sweet and sensitive, sometimes coming off the bus and telling me how you got tears in your eyes when you read a book about a dog who was missing a leg. You are, thankfully, so easy-going as to make my life much easier, especially since your big brother is not easy-going in the least.

For the rest of my life, I will always be thankful I got my bonus baby, and that he is you.

Love you,

Momma


Monday, September 25, 2017

And then......you turned 10

Dear G,

Tomorrow marks ten years of you doing things on your own terms, in your own unique way, regardless of what anyone else thinks or says.

You have been that way since before birth....you moved around so much in utero that at 18-weeks gestation, I would get motion sick from all your fluttering.

You completely upended my plan for natural childbirth by not only being breech but refusing to turn during an external version, resulting in a c-section. You came out ass-first, which should really be a t-shirt motto that you wear proudly.

You refused to open your eyes for the hospital photographer for your newborn photos (even though your more adaptable siblings did).

In ten years, little has changed.

You are growing your hair out with the goal of looking like Finn.

Finn and his sidekick:

You and your sidekick:

Am I wrong?

And your grand plan is this:


As much as I'd sometimes like to hold you down with a pair of shears, I know that this is "you doing you." My goal is to guide you to be the best you possible, and if that is a long-haired you (provided you get periodic trims and keep it clean), I guess I am ok with that.

You doing you is pretty brave, and I'm proud of you for having the guts to be who you are, even if your grandpa and your uncle and lots of other people rag you about your hair.

Most of the time you are a balance between total turd and utter sweetness and sensitivity. I think the turd part is just being a 10-year-old boy because I distinctly remember your uncle being the same way when he and I were kids. Eventually, you will outgrow the turd part, but I hope the sweet and sensitive never leaves.



You feel so deeply, and it is as much a gift as it is a tremendous weight for you to shoulder. Although you often don't know what to do with your own pain and uncomfortable feelings, you seem to know how to help others when they are under their own emotional burdens.  You get it, and I'm not sure many 10-year-old boys do.



Being your mom has challenged me in many ways, but it has also helped me become more flexible and more accepting of things I cannot control. Having a son who is so much like me has made me see that being stubborn and persistent and pig-headed is equal parts maddening and awesome.

I love you and hope you have a fantastic birthday!

Love,

Momma
















Sunday, September 24, 2017

What "taking a knee" represents to me (little ole English teacher)

Nevermind that the president should be governing and not bloviating on Twitter. Let's just put that aside.

I have been thinking about the symbolism of the act of "taking a knee," and it is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that I wish I had an interest in attending a sporting event so that I, too, could take a knee.

When I teach, I introduce students to the words connotation and denotation. 

Denotation is the literal meaning of a word. For example, my wedding ring is a circle of gold, a piece of jewelry.

Connotation is the idea or feeling (or symbolic meaning) that the word evokes in addition to its denotative meaning. My wedding ring is a commitment, a promise, an act of love, infinity.

"Taking a knee" is literally a half-stand. The body is nearly half the size it would be if the person stood on both feet.

But symbolically, taking a knee has many possible connotative meanings.

"Taking a knee" is reverential, although it would be more reverential if both knees were on the ground, as someone might do in a Catholic mass. When I see people lambasting athletes who "take a knee," I think they fail to notice the importance of this reverence.

When we see people knighted, they "take a knee." It is a statement of respect, of dignity in the face of authority. It is a great honor to be knighted. (That link is not high-quality journalism or anything, but the picture serves the purpose for what I'm saying.)

Here is a better one to make my point:
"Taking a knee" is also symbolic of not being on equal footing, and this is why the athletes do it. They are not speaking for themselves but in symbolic deference to others who do not have equal footing.

"Taking a knee" as the athletes do it is symbolic of not being fully degraded. This would be a representation of someone who has given up all dignity at the hands of an oppressor:


Hands and knees on the ground in complete supplication.....that is connotative of complete loss of dignity, power, and self-respect. This body shape can be both negative, as seen above, and positive, as when worshippers do this in prayer, offering up everything to God.

If athletes wanted to give a giant F-U to America, they would stand their full measure and hold up their middle fingers during the anthem. That would be a clear, unequivocal symbol of disrespect.

But "taking a knee" is anything but a giant F-U.

It is peaceful and gentle. When Jesus washed his disciples' feet, he certainly didn't do it at a full stand. He was almost certainly on one or both knees.

And that is another important part of the meaning. "Taking a knee" also symbolizes being ready to offer service to whomever you kneel before. By kneeling during the anthem, athletes may be offering service to the betterment of the country, offering service to those who do not feel they can "take a stand."

I know Twitter is no place for nuance, but it would certainly be nice if it was.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Not a helicopter parent, but an "unable-to-let-go" parent

I try very much not to be a hovering parent.

Part of this is because I don't think it serves the best interests of my children. My goal is to have them become fully independent of me. If I am over their shoulders for everything they have no incentive to learn to be fully independent.

The other reason is because why in the world would a fully grown adult want to be all in their kids' interests?  Yesterday, N asked if I would take her and two friends to Target, and I obliged. In the 10 minutes it took for me to drive the three of them to Target, I had to put in my earbuds. The earbuds were not attached to music; I just needed something to dull the noise. We stepped into the store, and I immediately said, "I"m going to get my stuff; ya'll go do what you need to do," and I made a beeline in the opposite direction of them.

I appreciate my daughter and her friends, but under no circumstances do I want to hang with them. They are 13; I'm 44. Sometimes our interests briefly intersect, but most of the time, they do not.

I texted N and told her she had until 3:30. When I didn't get a text back from her, I texted, "Where are you?" Fortunately for her, she located me. Had she not, I would have texted her one more time to say, "I'm going to check out. If you don't text me back or meet me at check-out, I am having them call your name on the loudspeaker and ask you and your friends to come to the front of the store."

N knows full well that I will do this because I did it to her when she was younger and refused to leave the toy department. I left her, walked to the front of the store, started checking out, and asked the cashier to call my daughter over the intercom.

What I find difficult to reconcile within myself is that I refuse to helicopter my kids, and yet I am seemingly unable to emotionally disengage from them. I'm not even certain that they are aware of my emotional entanglement, but I certainly am.

On Thursday night, I had my graduate class, and the teacher discussed missing her children's open houses because she was at her own school's open houses. She talked about her husband attending with them but said he didn't know what to look for. She talked about being dedicated to teaching, and she is. Decades in the profession, a ph.D., and now teaching soon-to-be teachers at the college level.

I observed a teacher on Thursday morning/afternoon who teaches, does workshops and is clearly highly dedicated.

I have never, ever been able to split my dedication, and it is why when my children are 10, 8 and almost 14, I still cannot do it. This is why I am ever-so-slowly pulling away in my chaotic juggle of part-time employment. I cannot let go just yet. I tell myself that in four years when M starts middle school that I will return to work full-time, and I may.....but I also may not because I don't know what four years from now will bring.

Will G's OCD be out of control? Will he and M adjust ok to middle school? How will N handle high school? Will my parents or my MIL need care or help that I can assist with? Will I need the flexibility that my current situation allows me?

I think about not only the teaching, but the faculty meetings and the grading and the IEP meetings during planning, and all those extras that pull one's mind away from just planning and instruction and keep one busy and distracted beyond the measure of 7 hours.

I wonder sometimes if this inability to disengage is harming my kids. I don't think so; it is probably harming me more than anybody because I keep stewing over it.



Sunday, September 17, 2017

The kids are alright (or massive f**k-ups).

Whether my children are alright or massive f**k-ups really just depends on the day of the week.

There has been a slow-build to a situation involving G that came to a head yesterday morning. Technically, it came to a head on Friday afternoon when I was conveniently at the grocery store, so I wasn't aware of it until yesterday morning.

It doesn't take much for G to become confused in relationships with others. In his mind, he thinks if you like someone, you like them forever with the same amount of enthusiasm and gusto.

(This kid is not meant to have a long-term marriage, I think).

In third grade, he had a falling-out with a boy with whom he had been friends since kindergarten.  The friend stopped talking to him and didn't explain what was going on. He felt uncomfortable with G's hugging but wouldn't ever tell him, and G just didn't get it. He wrote the friend a note and said, "Why didn't you just tell me?"

Now, I know that there have been many, many times when I have told G something, and he just doesn't listen. It's not what he wants to hear so he doesn't hear it. However he thinks something should be is the way it should be, regardless of reality. So it is entirely possible that his friend DID tell him.

Whenever I worry that I am siding too much with my own child, I usually respond to myself with, "Bitch, PUHLEASE. You know your kids and every downfall they have."

A similar situation has occurred again with a different child.

Last week, he wrote a sweet note and gave the child a flower. I read that note, and it said something like, "I want to be friends. Why did you say I was rude and mean?"

(My response to his was, "Because you are rude and mean.")
Helpful, I know.

This time, G drew a picture of the child stabbing him in the heart and calling him a loser. He then  wrote something on the order of, "This is me in the future. I thought you would like it because you f**king hate me."

The person he wrote it to is a 6-year-old girl.

G has been playing with her older brother. It bothers G that she avoids him now, so he questions the brother who gives his spin on the situation.

Sigh.

My feelings are all over the map on this one.

On the one hand, I'm glad G is drawing/writing his feelings, but I feel angry at him for writing it and leaving it for the girl to read.
(And when I say leaving it, I mean taping it to her front door. Way to be a stalker, son.)

On the one hand, I feel sympathetic to G because it is maddening to have someone like you and then decide they don't like you without explanation.
(Hello, my dating life from ages 13-22.)
And he internalizes it. He is a loser rather than the other person just doesn't realize how good of a friend he can be. (It takes a whole lot of time and wisdom to get to a point where you realize that if someone doesn't like you, it is their problem. Not yours.)

On the one hand, I feel Mama Bear because my kid has been hurt and is confused, but I feel like murdering my own kid because YOU DON'T WRITE SHIT LIKE THIS AND GIVE IT TO PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY ARE 6.

So, we had a talk in which I told him it is a good idea to draw and express his feelings, but when he does it he needs to share it with me or D so we can help him. Giving it to the person who upset you does not help the relationship.

And we talked about how you should be friendly to everyone, but that doesn't mean you are friends with everyone.

And we talked about how even if one person doesn't like him, think about all the people he knows who DO like him and think he is special.

And I saved the drawing/note, and we'll be discussing it with his psychiatrist and possibly increasing his medication dose if his obsessing continues.

I saw a college friend yesterday who commended me on "living out loud," which I took to mean sharing my life....good and especially bad....in this blog and on Facebook. Sharing my mental health demons, and now my son's mental health demons.

Sometimes I am really proud of this because I do think it helps people, and I know talking about it helps me.

But sometimes, especially for G, I worry that he gets labeled as "troubled" because of his medication and OCD.

All kids, in their own ways, are troubled.

I have tried to deal with G's issues head-on and proactively, just as I do my own issues because time often doesn't make them less problematic. You try to cope as best you can and sometimes develop some rather unhealthy coping mechanisms because you don't know what the f*ck you're doing.

G's issues are made public by me, but I know that the other kids whom he has had relationship problems with have their own issues. Divorced parents, living in grandparents' basements for a time due to financial issues, new siblings, deaths of grandparents.....

G is not the only kid who is struggling with growing up, and I try to remember that.

Unfortunately, as a parent, you not only get through your own childhood crap but then you have to wade through the muck and stink of your children's childhood crap.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

I jinxed myself (in fetal position, overwhelmed with doubt)

Sigh.

The highs and the lows. I sometimes (thankfully) forget just how subject to them I am.

Wednesday of last week was high. I spoke to two composition classes at my college alma mater about my experience as a blogger and how it has impacted my professional life freelancing. In addition to seeing and helping out one of my friends from undergrad (who is now the professor of these classes), one student came up to me after my presentation and told me how much better my talk made her feel about her own generalized anxiety disorder and being on medication.

Yippee!
Huzzah!
Woohoo!

As the tide rolls in.....so it rolls out.

Thursday was horrible.

I should have felt high, especially since a sweet friend texted me her son's poem about my class at the cottage school, which was delightful.



But on Thursday I felt completely ill-equipped as a professional.
I felt like I don't know what I'm doing.
I felt plagued by doubt as to whether I'm an effective teacher according to the people in the "know."

Taking this graduate class, even though I was told on Wednesday that I've actually "technically" taken this class before but need to do it again since the first go-round was like 20 years ago, is bringing forth all sorts of doubt in me. Even though my directors at the cottage school are thrilled with what I bring and how I teach. Even though my students actively and vocally enjoy my class and feel they are rigorously learning.

Graduate classes set the bar super high, and I understand why. Who doesn't want only the best, most organized, most committed people in classrooms?  I'm a person who is highly susceptible to trying to meet unattainable and unsustainable goals, even if it makes me half crazy to try to do it.

Added to this was my experience subbing at a middle school on Tuesday and feeling like a failure since I called the student response team twice (which I strive to never have to do, even though this may be a completely stupid and unreasonable goal I set for myself). The kids were on like day 3 or 4 of nonconsecutive subs doing busy work, and that is a shit situation for a sub to have to attempt to mop up. Three or four days of busy work for a middle schooler might as well be a freaking lifetime.

By last night I was feeling better. It helped when I got a text from the mom of two girls I taught at the cottage school. I taught the younger daughter English all four years of high school; she is now at the local university.  The text said:

We are discussing college English class. 
Ms. V's class is more challenging!  
We love you! Thank you!

Today, I have completed my grad class homework and had a first day back at the cottage school, and I feel like I don't suck. For today, I don't suck. Tomorrow I might feel differently.....

Monday, September 4, 2017

Here's a hoop....I think I'll jump through it

A long time ago, before I had children but after I got my MAT, I thought about working towards a Ph.D. 

I am a pretty goal-oriented person, and I thought that would be something great to achieve.

At some point, I let that idea evaporate. It was probably when I was knee-deep in diapers, pacifiers, burp cloths and all-purpose nipple ointment. 

After I began working at the cottage school with high schoolers in 2013, I decided that I would like to be certified to teach high schoolers for that far off time when I might return full-time to teaching. My current certification is 5-9, and while I like this age-group a lot, I also really like choice. If I have to take classes anyway to renew my certification every five years, I might as well make them classes that count towards additional certification and the ability to move between middle and high school if I so choose. 

In 2015, I took an adolescent psychology course, and now I'm taking a course called Teaching Secondary English. 

Now, here is the blurb about this class: Application of current theories of pedagogy, instructional strategies, student assessment and evaluation tools for teaching English in the high school. Topics intentionally addressed are learning styles, special needs, diversity and technology integration. 

As a person who already has an MAT, and is the only one in the class who already has an MAT, I already know about.....90% of this stuff. 

I am jumping through the proverbial hoop, and this makes me feel a little frustrated. 
This is not to say the class has no value at all. I can always, always learn something in any new situation.

But I'm having to write the big, drawn-out "lesson plans" that no actual teacher ever does in real life. (One student asked if teachers do this for every lesson. The professor--who knows my situation--and I looked at each other, smirked a bit, and shook our heads "no.")

I'm having to prove that I know how to think about instruction in an orderly, chronological way. I'm having to teach a lesson plan to high schoolers to prove that I can write one of these big long things and then follow it. 

Sigh.

I did this 19 years ago when I got my first MAT. I do this logical, organized thinking 27 weeks a year at the cottage school for my high schoolers.

I know I should take the high road and suck it up (which I will do and AM doing).
I need to grouse a little bit, though. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tell us about your child. Um.......duh.........

N brought this inventory home the other day for me to complete.



It is for the "gifted" program, but I'm not even sure what "gifted" means anymore.

I looked at this paper and sorta began to drool. Basically, I felt like this guy.


I often feel like a moron when people ask me to describe my kids, especially in terms of how they are as students. G is a little easier to describe because he has more of the "odd-ball gifted" type kid. He's dramatic and has always asked a zillion questions and has always used bigger words than other typical kids.

N is a "good student" in that she makes As and Bs, but I had a hard time answering the aforementioned questions. She's 13, so she isn't particularly motivated to do anything besides watch YouTube and listen to weird music.

She's sometimes a big ding-dong, but they didn't ask a question about that.

I could write about how she told me the name of a song I liked from the radio was by Port 2 Gull, the man. I didn't understand what she was saying until I finally figured out that it is Portugal, the Man. As in the country. As in phonetically pronounced Por-chu-gul.

I'm still ribbing her about that.

I'm still trying to figure out the question about sensitive to the aesthetic. N has a keen eye for photography and takes some cool, artistic photos so I checked often on that one. And she plays viola. Is that what the question meant????

I checked often for enjoys being a nonconformist---wearing eyeglass frames without lenses since 4th grade qualifies for that.

I had to fill out a questionnaire about M, too, and I really didn't know what to say. I actually have no clue what he actually likes and dislikes because whenever I ask what he wants to eat or drink or wear or go do he says, "Same thing as G." Sometimes when I ask what he wants to eat or do, he asks, "What did G say?"

He complains about having to go to school every single morning, which N and G don't do, so I assume that means he's not keen on school. His teacher last year told me he is often in la-la-land, so I put that down too.

Forms like this make me wonder how well I actually know my own kids...and if I am, indeed, a moron.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

And now to talk about Nazis

I focused my last post on race because of the tiki torches blazing in a southern town but SS symbols were plastered on t-shirts and posters so I'm going to talk about that aspect.

In late July I read and saw a performance of The Merchant of Venice, which some of my middle school students will read this fall. There is clearly anti-Semitism in it, and there is also Shylock's explanation of his revenge.....the long tradition of Jews being spat upon and his desire to be treated with dignity because he is, after all, a human being.  To read or see the play is to be made uncomfortable on many fronts, with Shylock's plea for decent respect, with his sinister desire for Antonio's death, and with Antonio's seeming smugness.

I have a long-standing fascination with the Holocaust, although fascination is the wrong word.  When I was in high school, I did a research project on the Nuremberg trials, which required me to read about the many sick things that were done to Jews, gypsies, gays and anyone else the SS deemed unworthy. I still remember my voice and body shaking while delivering this presentation because it was so upsetting to me to speak of. Not too long ago, I heard an interview with Affinity Konar about her book Mischling, and it made me feel similarly horrified and unable to pull myself away.

My ability to understand genocide is limited, just as a sane person has a limited ability to understand the illogic musings of the insane. The mass graves in Bosnia or the visual horror of the roads amassed with murdered bodies as portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda are overwhelming. On a purely intellectual level, I can understand how the process of such deep hatred happens and how humans are psychologically pulled into doing terrible things, but on every other level I just cannot wrap my head around it. Scapegoating and mob mentality are very real and to think that we are "past that" is rubbish.

Just as I didn't know any Black people while growing up, I didn't know any Jews or gays (or if I did, I didn't know I did). Although I heard prejudiced whisperings of Blacks, I do not recall anything anti-Semitic. It took me well into adulthood to notice that some names are what might be considered "Jewish" surnames. I was also unaware that Catholics have been historically lumped in with Jews and Blacks on the most-hated list by Nazis.

I like to think that I am a pretty moral person, but this week I have considered whether, in my own small ways, I am, or appear, morally relativistic. I read this article which really hit home for me about the use of playing devil's advocate. I do try very much to consider all sides and their respective motivations as a means of understanding, but I have never considered whether this appears to others as moral equivocation.

When I teach Macbeth, or any novel with a villainous character, I strive to understand the villain, noting that most villains aren't all bad. A villain who has nothing redeeming about him or her is not a truly real or human character. There has to be, or have once been, something of value, of virtue, about the character. We watch Macbeth become evil, and we see him note that he has come so far in his evil misdoings that he has two choices---"I am in blood, stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as to go o'er." In these moments, we can feel some inkling of sympathy for Macbeth. He knows he has done horrible evil, and he knows he has the choice to go back to being a good person, to stop in his relentless ambition. 

But we cannot have sympathy for his movement further into evil. We cannot have sympathy for his actions--killing Macduff's family, killing Banquo, killing Duncan, upending his responsibilities as a host, kinsman and thane.  

I do believe there are two, or more, sides to every story, but that does not in any way mean the stories are equally at fault, equally honest, equally right or equally wrong.