Monday, December 29, 2014

Fly Your Freak Flag (Or is it Your Freedom Flag?)

When I was in my awkward tween years I had a hippie-dippie taste in music. I was drawn like a moth to a flame to Janis Joplin.  Not a particularly pretty woman, her style was random, her hair was ratty looking, but when I would listen to her music, my soul would ache and I would belt out the tunes right along with my worn copy of her greatest hits album.  To this day, her songs still make me feel really freakin' good. You can tell she probably felt good singing them too.  Her voice was loud and hoarse.  It seemed like there wasn't anything left in her soul to sing or air in her lungs to exhale.   

Does that make her a freak or truly free?

I attend church almost every Sunday.  A Congregationalist church, where people sometimes raise their hands and yell things, like “Praise God!  Or “Yes, yes!” after the preacher makes a poignant point.  At first it made me uncomfortable, but now I don’t think twice.  Currently, I feel uncomfortable when I drive by people on the sidewalk holding poster boards that say “Jesus is coming soon, prepare.” I think, am I prepared? and then I wonder what was the impetus for their poster board holding....

.. And am I really that far removed from that place?

I have two tattoos.  They are in fairly discrete places that can be hidden by socks or clothing.  I love them. I want more.  I recently met a mother at church in the playroom and she had a sleeve tattoo.  I enviously gabbed with her about the meaning of the designs and where she got them and if people judged her for her body art.  I daydream about getting more ink on my arm (gasp – in a visible place), but I don’t do it. I convince myself it's not practical.  Then in the next breath I don’t want to live in discrete mode anymore. 

What makes people take the leap from strategically placed-tattoos to ones that are visible ?  Furthermore, what makes it necessary to hide them? 

Kids are free spirited and no one thinks twice !
What is the difference between the toe tappers, handraisers, Jesus-preaching posterboard holders and sleeve-tattoed people?  Not too much, unbridled conviction?  

What makes people choose to fly their “freak flags?” Or are they really freedom flags?   I think it’s because they are confident with their lives and themselves and therefor have "nothing left to lose."   That is my hope for the new year: To fly my freak/freedom flag more frequently. 

What’s your hope for the New Year?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Letter to Parents of a Student with an 89%

Disclaimer: No, this post is not about any one situation in particular.  I have been teaching for over a decade and it is a conglomerate of about 1300 students and my experiences, along with the experiences of good friends within several entirely different school districts in several states as well as sassy figments of my imagination (obviously).

** It is also part of a training that I intend to give on Standards Based Instruction/Assessment at some point in life, so stay tuned for that!**

If you have been in the education system where you had to assess work in a traditional point-based system, …..your welcome, I am about to write things you have been thinking.

Dear Parents of a Student with an 89%,

Your student is a good student, a very good student!  89%! Wow! Nice work student, high five! They have earned a summation of 89% of the credit assigned to all assignments within one academic quarter.  I’m sorry that’s not to your satisfaction.  While this may feel like a personal blow to you/your student, it’s not.  I did not randomly assign this grade to your student - they earned it.  As you know, during the quarter I enter grades into a computerized grading system and it uses the pre-set expectations I have decided upon- (these expectations were given out at open house, parent teacher conferences and posted to my website) to spit out an average. No, I do not offer extra credit.  No, they cannot bring in a canned good or dress up in school colors to earn back that 1 point….  And by the way, its not just one point, it’s one percent of all points assigned from the entire quarter.

Just to be clear, I did not personally keep your student off of high honor roll, they did it themselves.  No, I don’t hate them. No, I don’t hate you.  Is there anything they can do? Yes, please have them try 1% harder next quarter.  Is it sad that their grandparents will not see their name printed in the newspaper with the other children in the all A’s section? – maybe?  Unfortunately, they will have to “slum it up” with the other regular honor roll students in the section printed below it.  I guarantee they will still become successful adults.  If they are interested, they will get into a college.  If they are athletically gifted, they will earn a sports scholarship.  The 89% they earned one quarter in my class will neither be a help, nor a hindrance in either situation. 

Your student is a good student and they are earning an 89%!  If the other 11% of their energy was invested in something else this quarter (a different class, their family, their job, their appearance, the opposite sex, what their peers are wearing, what their peers are doing, annoying you, face timing, tweeting, snapping, posting, thinking about touching or actually touching, smoking, drinking, driving, drinking while driving, using drugs,) then I would say we are collectively winning the battle.  I am here to help and (I know this stings)…but I may know things about your child that you don't, so don’t bite the hand that feeds.

Not satisfied with that answer? Please don’t take to the weekly town paper or social media venues to slander my school/name/grading expectations.  I get it, your fierce tiger parent instincts are coming out– but your privacy setting are not tight and with six degrees of separation I will find out and then I will be annoyed – not shocked – but annoyed.  Perhaps you should have your child help you tighten up those settings.

Yes, I will meet with your student, you, the department head, administration, their grieving grandparents or the pope himself to discuss this grade of 89%, if this is that important to you.  However, your student hasn’t skipped a beat and looks happy and healthy per usual.

To be honest, I have my own tiger-mom-ish business to attend to.  I am thinking about other things when I leave work: Do my children have manners? Are they kind? Did I remember to pack them mittens for daycare?  Will my kid need surgery for that weird gastrointestinal thing that just happened? Will I be able to pay for heating oil upfront or will I have to charge it? Do we need milk (again)? When will I stop stress eating and lose my baby weight? When will I be able to go on a date with my husband?  The list goes on and on and on.  See how your student’s 89% didn’t make it in there? That’s because your student is a good student.  Take a breath and have a cocktail, you are doing a good job and so are they!

Talk to you soon,

One of the 50+ teachers your child will have throughout their educational career…

P.S. – In a school with only standards based instruction and assessment, this letter would not exist.  
Just sayin'.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Yellow: Caution/Hope/Joy

Yellow: Caution/Hope/Joy

Chemical shower handle
horse crossing
tractor crossing
intersection ahead
Is that plant changing color or wilting?

#2 Dixon
plastic ruler
empty lined paper
lined paper filled with scribbles

15 month old roses hanging upside down from my cabinet knob.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pairing Glossy with Gritty

I began to write this letter this summer for a writing contest to potentially be included in a book....the submission was due September 1... I returned to teaching on August 25 and then became hypercritical of my blogging and never submitted it.

This afternoon my son's behavior was abysmal.  Actually, it still is as I type.  I put myself in time out to post this.  This letter is good and we need it right now- enjoy.

Sometimes we do have moments like this, I swear.
A letter to my son:

Be kind and use your manners.  Say please, thank you and excuse me when you do something gross.  Hold doors for women AND MEN.  Holding doors for men, if you are a man doesn’t make you gay, IT MAKES YOU POLITE!  And honey, if you are gay, that’s cool too.   I am pretty sure that men like to date polite men who hold doors open and say excuse me when they burp or fart.  Speaking of farting and anything else in your crotchal region….

…Please call your genitals by their biologically correct names.  I spent the first several years of your life using the correct terminology for your body parts so you wouldn’t be referring to them as your: sausage/weiner/pepe/twig and berries….  To me, slang for your penis and testicles sounds stupid.  Call your parts what they are.  I understand in middle school you will probably call it “your junk” because you will have to fit in with your friends.  Fair enough.  However, please, please, please, use the correct terminology when asking questions of your parents or your medical doctors.  Speaking of professionals….

…Appreciate those who work with you.  Know their names.  If you suck at names, write them down and hide them in your desk drawer.  It matters.  Shoot the shit with the everyone.  Find out what you have in common. Everyone is a cog in the same wheel.  Who do you think refills the toilet paper? Or makes sure your pencil sharpener is working? Or will ask about your kids or how your day was? Who do you think makes sure important emails get forwarded or deliveries are received? People work together.  Treat all relationships with love and respect. Speaking of relationships and love…

….Love what you do and If you don’t, try to find something you do love about it.  I am a middle school science teacher and at least once a day, I have an authentic belly laugh.  Side note, expecting that your entire day, each day is going to be magical is bullshit.  However, if you can practice finding something happy about your day, they will feel happier because you actively try to tune into the happy frequency.  Life and love and being a parent (especially your parent), is hard work and it’s worth it.  Every second.  If it is not hard work, I hate to tell you, but your doing it wrong.  When trying to be strong….

…Select a battle cry.  This will make you more prepared to stick with it when life and love becomes challenging ….Our families verse is: Romans 12:9 ”Let love be genuine, hate what is evil and cling to what is good.”  Your father and I decided that this bible verse would be our battle cry for our family before we were even married, way before you arrived on the scene. Think about it long and hard.  Everyone needs a battle cry.  Choose one that is inspiring. Choose one that makes you feel hopeful in good and bad situations.  Choose one, stick to it, and love it.  Do you love it enough to tattoo it on your body?  Yes? Then carry on and do so.  Tell me after.  Speaking of “clinging to what is good.”…

Watch out for your sister.  Cling to her.  I thought you were the wild one.   I was wrong.  Remember, she is your blood.  Keep one ear open to listen to how her day was.   Tell her she is beautiful – (even if her hair is a giant tuft of tangled curls).  Always try to make time for her, no matter how annoying she grows up to be.   She was your first human friend. If she is acting like a huge pain in the ass, tackle her and tell her to get over herself.  Then call her, text her, snap chat her or tweet her.   Snuggle her if she lets you…. But help us keep an eye on her, seriously, help us.  That’s a whole other letter.

Love you. Cling cling cling!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mass Extinctions: Market Basket?

There are a few things that may be extinct by the time my children are grown: pay phones, newspapers, neighborhoods-where feral children play until after dusk and Market Basket.  

Yeah, I went there. Oh for the love of Pete! End. This Shit.

Look, every family has their drama.  However, most families eventually resolve their issues and achieve a delicate equilibrium of existance.  

For those who are not from the New England area....

The Board of Directors at Market Basket (amaze balls cheap supermarket) fired their CEO: Arthur T Demoulas and replaced him with his cousin: Arthur S Demoulas....annnnnnd then people went bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Arthur T is so adored by the Market Basket community that his workers and customers alike are pouting, protesting and petitioning.  Some of them feel so strongly that they have not been to work since "T" was fired. Some workers were wasting an inexcusable amount of food by walking off the job… THAT made me furious in a head-spinning-exorcist-vomit sort of way.

Indulge me, while I compare this whole Market Basket fiasco to the education system:

The hierarchy of education isn't really much different than a corporation. You have the superintendent of schools and then the principals and vice-principals and sometimes department heads.  You also have a school board with a lot of power.  Anyways.... When a great building principal is removed/retired/reassigned.  You go through a “good leadership hangover.”  Morale ebbs and flows and it takes a while to recover.  Things are NEVER quite the same and that's life. 

I have had a truly great building principal before.  He was so adored that I believe he "retired" and came back as the principal several times.  He supported his teachers.  He cherished his students.  He was honest and reasonable and fun.  At the end of each marking quarter he would have a get together.  There teachers and administrators alike would exhale, together.  When crazy shit went down (like a student abduction on the way to school) he gathered all the girls in the auditorium and made them program the schools number into their devices.  He was charismatic, he kept his promises and he was kind of a hard ass.  

Good leadership matters.  I have no doubt that Arthur T Demoulas was as adored as this building principal was. However, you don’t see teachers threaten to walk off the job if a good principal was replaced.

(Ahem.  Clears throat, climbs up on my soapbox and uses my best teacher voice.)

Market Basket Workers:  I think that instead of pouting over the speculation of what may happen to working conditions and instead of putting all of your eggs into Arthur T’s should have unionized.  Participating in a union is a choice.  Just like pouting.  Now, I know that many people think unions are rigid and demanding....but in my experience as a teacher in a teachers union, that has never been the case. 

 Are you worried about your benefits disappearing, hours decreasing or salaries diminishing? Quit spinning your wheels.  Grow up. You want a collective voice to protect your benefits? Unionize.  I'll tell you what, even with a union there have been a handful of years when my salary was frozen because our contract did not pass and I live to blog about it. If Arthur T is as good of a guy as everyone says, I bet he would be happy to work along side a union.

Even if someone waves a magic wand and this childish squabble ends tomorrow at 9 am,.. Things will never be the same if we don’t return soon.

For that reason, I suggest that we begin to employ some simple, tenth grade economics.  GO to Market Basket.  Get more for your Dollar. Increase demand. Stock up on random stuff: Tampons, paper products, brown sugar, etc.  FYI Arthur S has not done away the 4% off your entire order promotion. When I was in there about a month ago, a loaf of wheat bread was 99 cents.  Um, I bought 4.  I froze them.  Please follow suit. Stockpile.  Graham Crackers and Diapers for everyone!

I think what the Market Basket Community is trying to preserve is family.  Obviously not the blood relationship between Arthur T and Arthur S, but the family-experience that is Market Basket. When I went into my local store this week, I overheard the store manager chatting at the check out, he said, “I just want my customers back in my store.” New England Market Basket Goers: we are family in a weird, discount craving, pj-pant-sporting sort of way.  

So go back to Market Basket.  Make up with your family.  They haven't changed (only one man has).  Honor him by not decimating his company.  It's still there for you.  Diapers this past week were 4.99/pack (Um, I bought 3)!  Boxes of MB Brand Mac and Cheese were 5 for 3$ (I bought 10).  Go to your local store.  Increase demand and they will have to increase supply.  Do it for the Market Basket Family you love and your own families who are growing and living on a budget.

DO it for the family.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Balancing Act

Last weekend we did an activity with a group of 5th and 6th graders at our church.  In the activity there was a plate that was passed around a circle of students.  Each child was asked to share something they were required to do this past week and then add a plastic cup to the plate.  The object of the activity was to stack/balance as many cups on the plate as possible without any of them falling. The kids said things like: walk the dog, go to camp, take the trash out….one set of siblings said: do mission work in Bolivia- (fair enough, they didn’t really have a choice in that.)  Each student cautiously stacked one cup at a time.  My husband was visibly surprised when the plate made it completely around the circle.

Unfortunately, when the cups started to fall, they didn’t fly off the plate in a dramatic explosion…. they simply stacked quietly, one on top of another. 

The obvious message: When there is too much on your plate, things that are important will be neglected or eliminated.  In this case:  your prayer life, praise for God, being in community with others.  Truth statement:  Everyone is over scheduled, sadly, even some 12 year olds. 

The activity was entirely too ironic.  At the beginning of the summer, another woman stepped down from teaching because her schedule was becoming consumed by the activities of her daughters.  I finally volunteered to teach at church.  I had resisted for years (seven years to be exact.)  I had staked out that hour and a half of quiet time as mine. Mine mine mine. However, when this opportunity arose this summer, I thought I was ready and I added that cup to my plate.

Immediately, things started to stack up.   I was tired.  I was resentful.  I was desperate for quiet time. Caring for two young kids full time this summer was an exhausting transition.  Now the hour and a half of quiet time was trumped yet again by needing to do something for someone else.  I thought I could handle it, but it was too much.  I needed to be alone.  Alone with God, alone to people watch, alone to stare off into space…just alone.

Even more ironic, I had prayed about my decision to teach at church during this time and God told me nothing.  Even though I had no response to my requests for guidance, I decided teaching at church wasn’t right for me.   I emailed the head of children’s ministries.  I needed quiet time with God back on my plate.  She understood. In her response she said “God knows and provides.”  Ironically, teaching children about God was the thing to purge.  The next morning, God sent me this activity to teach the children.  He does know.  Message received.

You choose to put things on your plate.

It is not my intention to construct a deep and reflective post with suggestions of how to juggle it all. What I am suggesting, is put things on your plate that you honestly WANT to spend time balancing and purge the rest.  Stop lamenting that there are too many things on your plate and start throwing shit out! I am worth it and so are you!

Don't be this guy!
Lets honor what we want to balance on our plate.  You want to make space on your plate to write blog posts? Do it.  You want to have family time from 5:30-8:30? Do it. 

I balance my marriage, my young children, my friends and family, my job, my need to exercise slowly for 30 minutes a day, my blog and my quiet time. I purged teaching at church. It was a selfish decision and I don’t regret it.  I already feel more at ease.  Come fall, I will spend an hour and a half in church, in quiet reflection and prayer.  What are you going to purge to make room on your plate for the things that bring you balance?