Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SOL #21: My Cool Sister

When you are the youngest child, you experience so many perks. Parents and grandparents spoil you. Your older siblings have tired out your parents, so you have less rules. In all, it is wonderful. The best part of being the youngest is having two great older siblings. Let me tell you about my cool sister.

I often wonder if my sister (during her teenage years) ever dreaded the fact that she had a little immature brother that followed her almost everywhere. If that was the case, she never let it show. She was born to be a first grade teacher before she ever had the dream of shaping young minds.When I was a child, my older sister found a way to make everything fun. 

When I would get bored on long hikes, she would take me on a lion hunt or race me and let me win. When my parents needed a sitter, she would have to bring me along for her weekend dates. Going to the drive in or to an ice cream shop was such a treat for an 8 year old. She would buy me things that I begged for even though she didn't make much money. She would keep me occupied in the car by playing memory games or engaging me in goofy conversation. She kept life interesting with her sarcastic and witty sense of humor.

On a particular occasion, in the fifth grade, I was able to spend the day with my sister at college. She helped me dress so that I would fit into the college crowd by rolling up my sleeves on my jean jacket and fixing the collar on my shirt. She took me to her Math class which was so exciting. The professor showed me how to evaluate square roots which was the first new thing I had learned mathematically in months. Later, she peer edited with a classmate in a writing class. Then, my favorite part was visiting the "Kentaco Hut" which was a Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC all in one. I thought it was hilarious that she called it that. Wow, college must be cool, I thought!

Even to this day my sister provides cheap entertainment generously. Whether we are on a beer run with Dad or bridging the miles apart with a phone conversation, she provides a burst of fun, wisdom and cheer to my life. I admire her for who she is: a terrific mother, a great friend to many, and an amazing teacher (you should read her book).  As a child I would follow her directions more frequently than my own parents and that has not changed as an adult. I value her advice. And one of the things I respect the most is that she rarely (if ever) says anything negative about a particular person.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

SOL #20: A Sudden Disappearance

As a teacher in an urban school district, there are a lot of comings and goings in my classroom. However, I will never get used to the sudden disappearance of one of my students. Here is a particular story about a recent disappearance.

 My 7th period class is lively and very close. We started with 28 at the beginning of the year and with dropouts and schedule changes we are now down to about 14 (most juniors and seniors do not have to have a 7th period, so they switched to a different class period to experience the joy of going home early).

She was a bright and energetic young woman with a beautiful singing voice. From time to time, we were lucky enough to hear her sing. Christmas break was celebrated with her rendition of a favorite carol. On another occasion we heard her sing one of her favorite songs. The silence that her songs left us with left no doubt about the impact of her voice.

She was such a hard worker. Her determination to figure out each puzzle and Mathematical nuance inspired others around her. Her classmates sought out her guidance.

Occasionally, I would see her during other classes ditching with her friends. She didn't choose the scholarly crowd. We would have conversations about the importance of going to class.

Then, a month ago, she disappeared. No closure happened; there was no chance to say goodbye. We are left to wonder. Did she fall in love with the wrong guy or girl? Is she experiencing a miracle of mother nature at an early age? Did the wrong friend convince her to stop attending class? Did she leave town? Why didn't she think to tell me what was going on - I thought she trusted me? The questions swirl around in my mind as I look at the empty seat in my classroom.

I ask her friends and they are vague - it seems they don't know either or they would never tell a teacher.

I try to replace closure with a prayer. I ask an angel to look over her. I remember we are all on our own journey and there is no room to judge her choice or lack of choice in the matter. Maybe this detour is leading her to a life she could never imagine. Goodbye.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SOL #13: 10 Things that Happen at the End of the Quarter

It's that time of year - the end of third quarter. Students come out of the woodwork hoping to rescue their grades at the last moment. I always think of the sign that says, "A lack of planning on your part does not result in an emergency for me."

1)   "What can I do to raise my grade?"
2) Students try to learn everything from the whole quarter in two days.
3) "What am I missing?" while I remind them that you cannot make up assignments from January or February.
4) An overabundance of people come to tutoring and there is frustration because I can't get around to everyone.
5) "Why did I get a low grade on my notebook check from February 1?" As I remind them they could have asked that after February 1.
5) I drink more coffee.
6) The pile of random assignments gets bigger as I avoid the frustrating experience of grading different kinds of assignments.
7) A stressed student pulls the fire alarm.
8) Grades go up - that part is pretty rewarding.
9) The students and I talk about what they could have done from the beginning of the quarter to prevent a lot grade.
10) There is always a handful of students who are quite grateful that we worked together so that they wouldn't get grounded.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

SOL #11: Out of my Comfort Zone

Yesterday, I attended a workshop where I was able to catch a glimpse and give feedback to presenters for a Common Core Workshop. I realized that I have so much to learn.

I didn't even realize that there were content standards on top of the practice standards. How was I going to able to give feedback to folks who knew so much?

I was grateful to my friend who was patient with me when I confused additive reasoning with proportional reasoning. These standards challenge me and I have a lot to learn!

I watched the presentations and soaked it in. I learned a lot. I found out more. There is a group of teachers out there who sacrifice a great deal of time to help us understand how to improve our teaching. And they all had full time teaching jobs to boot.

They give up a lot of Saturdays to teach, learn, and create. Everything they do sounds so interesting and I want to get involved. But, I hesitate. I can't even keep up with this daily blog.

I can't help but judge myself a little. I learned a long time ago that I can easily get in over my head with my involvement in my career. I fear turning 55 and wishing I had enjoyed life more. So, I try to set boundaries my work time for self care.I have never mastered the art of surrendering to my life. Surrendering to work that could be so fulfilling. Instead I enjoy quiet and friends and recharging before another week with my students. I fear if I pull myself here, there and everywhere, I will not give them what they deserve.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

SOL #7: One of the Good ol' Days

Like many 17 year-olds I did not realize how many good things were around me. I write this poem capturing my experience as a 17 year-old on this significant day. I have since realized all of the good things about my experience growing up even though I felt so alien in a place called home.

I look around the room -
To see the faces too familiar
The impending freedom from them is intoxicating
The intimate strangers and I gather in a line.

We march in like I've seen so many do before
Some people were sad, I couldn't relate
None of you really know about me
But, someday I will be truly known.

There is a silent anticipation
None of us know what the future holds
I know whatever is coming
Will be better than the last 13 years.

The man at the podium and I want to just get this over with
March them through, give them their certificates
Is it wrong to want to grab mine and run?
Aren't I supposed to feel something besides this new liberation?

We go across the stage one by one
We file out as the cameras click
The weight of the years of pretending melts away
I know I won't have to hide much longer.

As I leave the field, hopes stir inside
I feel the warm presence of new friends still unknown
I anticipate the life experiences that could never happen here
I move toward a kaleidoscope and away from blank paper.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

SOL # 6: Two Step Lessons

I work with the best department of Math teachers in the world. On Wednesdays a group from our department go to a local bar to participate in two step dancing. They have convinced myself and another co-worker to take two-step lessons so we can join them.

Slide, slide tap, slide tap.

A woman and a man in a cowboy hat show us the basic two-step pattern. We step and I'm pretty good at following a pattern. A man next to me who is new to town is intent on impressing his wife, but struggles with the step. We help him along.

As an urban guy, I feel out of place in the country bar. The men wear hats and boots - one of the dance instructors tells me I should buy boots to be able to "slide" better.

I learn the basic and I learn to lead a woman through a basic turn. We smile and laugh and try hard not to look at our feet.

The lesson is over and the experts take the floor. My co-workers and I don't talk about Common Core standards, failing students, changing curricula, changing administration or school drama. Instead we laugh, share a beer, and try to dance. Tomorrow doesn't seem so bad after all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

SOL #5: To Remember a Friend

The yoga teacher tells us to devote today's practice to the special ones in our lives that have departed from this world.

A wince from within my throat and a stirring in my soul remind me of the recent loss of a dear friend. I say to myself I don't have time to think about it, too many people need me, I can't fall apart.

She tells us to inhale and exhale and she coaches us through each pose. I have to keep my face calm. Grief and peace come over me like oil and water.

We twist and squeeze, we keep breathing. I remember how most times I feel less alone - like it is almost easier for him to be near me in his new form.

He watches from a parallel plane - helping with life's difficult poses.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

SOL #4: A Case of the Sundays

Each Sunday evening as the responsibilities of the coming week come to mind, I just want to hide under the covers. I feel bummed that the weekend is ending. Here is my list to attempt to provide some comfort for those of us who get a case of the Sundays.

1) You have made it through so many weeks before, why would this week be any different?
2) The next weekend is only five days away.
3) Remember that you did have one fun day at work last week. Try to shoot for two this week! (I actually had 3 last week).
4) You are not alone - anyone who has a job gets a case of the Sundays.
5) Once you get into the routine, all of the fun that you had over the weekend will give you energy to tackle the challenges. 

Here's a list of five things to do to make Monday go so much better.
1) Watch some comedy before bed. I recommend Parks and Recreation or Arrested Development to lift spirits. I also recently discovered the episodes of Big Bang Theory that are available on the network website.
2) Pet your cat or dog.
3) Read something light.
4) Play cards or a game with a friend or your kids.
5) Remember to get the coffee pot ready before you go to bed.

I'd love to hear what you do or say to yourself to help with a case of the Sundays.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Getting Away is Getting Back

I love road trips.

There is nothing like the feeling of leaving your daily routine to pack up the car and take on the open road ahead. The sense of freedom and open skies is the perfect remedy to the claustrophobia of a routine that is set by bells, constant interaction and lesson plans. And that is exactly what I need. So, as a friend and I drove out of town yesterday, I remembered all of the fond memories I have about the road trips I have taken.

I remember a time when my siblings and I fought over the dividers in the back of the family Pontiac. Traveling the highways and byways of Central Ohio we would reach our grandparents' house and shout, "Grandma, Grandpa, Lady Bug (cat)!"

To pass the time, we would play road games. We would scan license plates and signs to see if we could find all of the letters of the alphabet. Or play the infamous memory game of "I'm Going to New York and I'm Taking........."

On  longer road trips we didn't have to worry about cooking and cleaning. When hunger takes over we would experience the adventure of trying new restaurants or grabbing a Big Mac for the road. And I don't even need to explain the fun of hotels!

There is something that happens on a road trip that goes deeper than the more superficial joys I mention above. When you are in the car with people you love for an extended period of time, there is the opportunity to share memories, silly moments, regrets, hopes and dreams. You are given time to enjoy the people in your life without the interruptions of busy routines (if you can manage to put your phone on silent). The road journey with its traffic jams, uphills, downhills, and 80s hits provides space to reconnect to the thread of your life journey. And you hope maybe, just maybe you can stay connected to what's really important when you return home.