Thursday, August 19, 2010

Letter to the Editor

When I was a college journalist, we were going to publish photos of the dirty and messy bathrooms. One editor said, “These are people’s jobs. These are their lives.” That guided me through tens years of journalism.

Today, as a high school English teacher and community-college instructor, I am sickened by the Times’ article and corresponding photos of supposed effective and ineffective teachers. It is a shame someone in the Times’ newsroom did not have that statement in their consciousness: These are people’s jobs. These are people’s lives.

Test scores need to be analyzed in a healthy, constructive environment. This is not what the Times did. This was a “gotcha” moment. This was a “Teachers are to blame” environment, which is malicious – the very definition of libel. If what the Times wants readers to believe – that this was published to help society and kids - the scores would have been presented and discussed with the teachers before publication.

I have been a Times’ subscriber for 15 to 20 years. I used to aspire to be a Times’ reporter. I am now embarrassed to admit both. I have cancelled my subscription. However, I will save the articles and use them with future my AP Language classes to teach rhetoric and author/editor’s intent.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mystified and Horrified

On Tuesday, I took my sophomores to the library. The purpose was to get a book to read - a book of their choosing. I know this sounds ridiculous to even have to say WHY I took them, but anyone who's a teacher will nod and say, yep, gotta tell them.

And I did. I thoroughly explained why we were going and that we would be reading in class. I'll set time aside for us to read for fun (here's a foreign concept), and when they are done with their work, they will read then. This, I told them, is for all of you who ask that ridiculous question: Why do I do now that I'm done with my work?

Unfortunately, right before I told them this eye-opening information, I had given them a research assignment on World War II, as we are beginning the novel Night by Elie Weisel. So, when we got to the library, I had a lot of students thinking they had to get a book for that oral presentation. No, I told them. Well, what do I get then, they asked. A book you're interested in reading. Huh? they said.

Dear God, I prayed.

You get a book on anything - whatever interests you. You like cars, get a book on cars. You like mysteries, get that. Anything!

Oh, they said.

There were probably six to eight students in my sixth period who honestly did not get that is what you can do in a library. You can pick a book about something you like and read all about it! I am not joking, and I am not exaggerating. They did not get that. They did not know that.

What exactly has happened to these teen-agers the last 15 years of their lives I do not know. Didn't their parents - or an uncle or a grandma or a SOMEONE - take these kids to the library? I know some teacher along the way did. Right?

Did these soon-to-be adults simply forget these experiences? Do hormones completely eradicate specifically chosen memories?

I just don't get it. Is it the kids or is it the parents? Is it the educational system or the biological system? Who the hell has the answer to this question?! Who the hell can explain to me - an educator of 12 years - why 10th-grade students do not understand what a library is?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Exhaustedly Excited

Ah, Week One down. Thirty-eight to go.

The first week of teaching is always exhausting, if not for the simple fact that we have to get used to being on our feet and talking all day. That alone is a lot. Couple that with having to think so damn much - and think critically. Whew. Then there's dealing with kids all day, in my case teenagers, who are an entirely different species altogether.

But, this first week went well, and I have to say I was surprised at how well. My students were focused and ready to go. A few will need some reeling in, but I'm an expert at all that. I think it went well because my mindset is much different than it was last year - and in many previous years. I'm thankful to have a job, first of all, and I'm grateful to be at that school. The teachers have laid out well the curriculum and pacing, and there's little left for me to figure out. Except for the important part - how am I going to teach what I'm supposed to teach. And that's where I get to be creative!

So, off I go to figure out how the hell I'm gonna teach analyzing a prompt and writing a strong argument on Monday.

Whew. Exhausting.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Challenging Routine

Today was the first day of school. Sad in that we teachers have to give up the freedom of summer: staying up late, getting up when we want (or our children want), swimming lots, sitting on the porch endlessly, reading what WE want. Ah, the time comes we have to let it go and head into routine: up at 5, in bed by 9. But, exciting also. When I first started teaching, a veteran teacher said she gets nervous every year on the first day of school, and that was the talk at break today; new teachers and veterans saying how nervous they were first period. I wasn't so much nervous - though I do still get that way even now in my 12th year - but excited. I am teaching a new course this year - AP English Language and Composition. I've taught AP Lit but not Lang. New for me. Exciting. It appears the focus is on writing and how authors use language for effect - and affect. Perfect for me!

My regular sophomore classes went well, too, though as I stood in front of them and one tried to be a class clown, I thought to myself They are just overgrown freshmen. Seriously!

The year will be hard in that I'm teaching something new, but hard is good. It means challenge and growth. Amen to that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Big Steps and Big Strokes

As time inevitably zooms along, yet another marker of that has come to pass: Semeli finished preschool at Mama Pete's where she has been for the last two years. She and Lorelei will attend the same school next year - Lorelei in third grade and Semeli in Pre-K.

Semeli's leaving Mama Pete's is significant, because it means our family leaving it. We spent three years there total (Lorelei was there for a year), and I've dreaded parting. We were very happy with the education the girls received: the teachers were experienced, wonderful, loving; the families were always friendly; and Mama Pete, well, she's nearly indescribable. Sure, I can give a description, but it won't begin to do her justice. She's owned the school for 65 years, just celebrating her 94th (I think) birthday. She's hands-on, taking part in running the school with love and discipline and respect. I could go on and on, and, in fact, I included an entire chapter about the school in my book.

The point is, the time came to go, and I was so sad. The girls, of course, took it in stride, but they did mention they will miss their teachers. I sensed they knew it was a big deal leaving this place.

I helped the girls put their handprints on T-shirts, and we gave them to all the teachers and Mame Pete as a gift. They loved them - or at least acted like they did. They even wore them at Show-Off Day.

This is the day all the kids show us what they learned in six weeks of swimming lessons at Mama Pete's. Yep, there's even swimming lessons at this magical place! This was Semeli's second year, and she totally took off and - pardon the pun - dived right in. At Show-Off Day, there are usually four groups, starting with the youngest kids and moving up to the older ones. Semeli was in group three, though I think she should have been in group four but wasn't because there were six kids in it, and that is the max.

She was the last one in the group to "show off," and when it was her turn, instead of swimming from one side of the pool to the other, she swam all the way to the deep end, taking a big breath in the middle, and then turned around and swam back to the shallow end where the swimming instructors were.

It was awesome! I was so damn proud.

After the event, it was obvious Semeli was proud of herself, too. We went out to dinner to celebrate, and then the next day was her last day and the big swimming party. Thus ended our life at Mama Pete's: bittersweet, wondrous, and unforgettable.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lost and Found

I don't always understand this life. OK, I rarely understand this life. I mean, I get we're supposed to learn lessons and learn to be compassionate and learn to love. I know. I know. But why, pray tell, does it have to be so damn hard? Why do we have to lose so much in order to learn? That's when we really take things seriously? That's when we really pay attention?

Today is six months that my Mom passed away. In six months, I have not gotten used to the idea that she is gone. And in six more months, I will not adjust to this new idea. I hate this fact. I hate this reality. I don't want to adjust to it or get used to it or accept it. I just want my Mom back.

I reworked - again -the chapter on her funeral for my book. I'm still reworking it. Revise. Edit. Play. Fix. Adjust. Make it better. I haven't had this much trouble writing in a long, long time. If ever. It's a good chapter, but the beginning is stumping me. I wrote it. Didn't feel right. Rewrote it. Let it sit. Reread it. Rewrote it again. Now, I think I finally have it to a respectable place. I think.

Of course, every damn time I read it, I cry. Sob, actually. Which is really what I need to do. I've not given myself enough of a chance to mourn. It's never the right time; I'm out or driving or having a great day and don't want to start feeling all depressed again. The writing of this chapter is giving me a chance to mourn. But the mourning sure as hell is getting in the way of the writing!

Losing anyone alters our lives. It doesn't just have to be someone who has died. The loss can almost be as great when someone we deeply love leaves or we leave. I just don't get why it has to be this way. Why did God, who loves us so much, put us in positions where we lose and we live with pain? There has to be a better way. I don't care what Eve did - Eve, who was framed by the way. I get it builds character. I get it builds strength. I've got enough character, and God knows I'm strong enough. I just want what I've lost to return.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Swimming Lessons

Last night, we swam again – under a full moon. We met up with our friends Karly and her mom Sara again. Karly swims exceptionally; she has been on a swim team, and this summer, swims every day with mom or dad. Lorelei swims well but not that well. She doesn't yet have the speed or skill Karly does, but still, Lorelei does well for her age.

Sara had some pool toys - two plastic neon sticks - and we would throw them, and the girls would swim to get them and bring them back: Pool Fetch, if you will. The girls would start off together, but Karly would get ahead of Lorelei and get to the stick first. Not everytime, but enough to where Lorelei realized Karly would get there first. After a while, Lorelei would start out with Karly, but then she would stop, giving up, and wait for Karly to return.

I know Lorelei was disappointed, and this made me hurt. She never said anything and didn't appear upset, but I know it bothered her. She's very competitive, and she hates to lose. (Who doesn't?)

Walking to the car together, I brought it up.

"It's good to be with people who are better at something than we are," I told my eight-year-old. "It helps us to strive for more and to improve our skills."

"I know," she said, but I don't think she quite understood.

"You swam well tonight," I said.

She nodded.

This is a hard lesson. It's hard to get out of our comfort zone and to admit there are others who are better at something than we are, especially when it's something we love and in which we take pride. I see this every day in my classroom. I struggle because I know I need to push my students. But, I want to keep them with me and not have them give up. But if I don't push them and have high expectations, I'm not really teaching. I'm babysitting. No thanks. I didn't go to school for two college degrees to be a babysitter, and I haven't invested 12 years in education to be a babysitter. I'll take the risk and push them, nurturing them all the way.

It's different, though, when it's your kid. Your baby. The need to protect is so overwhelming. But if all I ever do is protect, then she will never grow. And I sure as hell don't want that.