The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Teacher's "Wish List"

          After a near-death (of the spirit and sanity) encounter with a parent and grandparent tag-team this week, I am writing down my wish list.  I know Santa is watching me, and my self-control and pleasant expression that remains intact until I get back into the privacy of my classroom--when it's empty--is evidence that I've not been naughty.  I'm always nice (at least I always have a hard, candy-coated nice exterior).  Because my job depends on it.

       So, since there is only a little more than a month before Christmas, I wanted to send off my list early.  These are things I would truly appreciate and use (not like those hideous hand-knit sweaters in old-lady colors and styles that I used to get), yet I know they'll be a challenge for the elves to hammer and glue-gun up.  And yet I am still asking for them...

photo by MADsLucky13

1.  Stop thinking I have the time and energy and inclination to plot with your child's  previous teachers from kindergarten, first, and second grade---along with the PE and Music teachers---and together, we form an evil scheme to paint an incorrect "picture" of your son or daughter. Your child's former teachers and myself do not stay up late into the night on the phone, planning how we are going to "get" your child.  There is no conspiracy swirling around, portraying your child as disruptive if they are not. Seriously.  I am so tired when I get home, I barely have the energy to take off my bra when I get home. I am too exhausted to carry out a vendetta against anyone, including your child.

2.  Chew me up without your child watching it.  Don't go off on me over the phone and allow your child to listen to it.  I have a thick skin.  My name has been scratched on bathroom stall walls and surprisingly, kids can't spell "when" correctly but there are other words they definitely can spell! I can take it.  What I can't take is you cutting my legs out from under me.  You undermine me when your child watches as you cuss me out and rant and rave and tell blatant lies.  When your kiddo sees me take that with a polite expression, it tells them they---kids--- can treat me in a similar manner.

Help me provide a "united front."  In public, portray the illusion that we are a team, working together.  In private, you can say anything you want.  I can take it.  Really.  I mean it...

3.  Come and spend a few minutes in my classroom before you decide I am the epitome of evil.  You may find out that your child is not the empty vessel just waiting to be filled with knowledge, as you previously thought.  You might just see that I beg and plead and cajole and bribe your child---and a few others---all day...many times a day.  If every teacher for the last three years has told you that your child has anger management issues/sexually inappropriate behavior/learning obstacles/problems focusing for more than 1.7 seconds at a time...Perhaps it's not evil intentions on my part.  Perhaps you need to turn and really look at your child...

4.  Be an advocate for your son/daughter.  Come up to the school like a rocket because they are reading two years below their grade level.  Yell and scream because you are demanding ways YOU can help them.  Don't holler because I took a bag of chips from your offspring after they were eating them in the middle of my math lesson instead of paying attention and then lied about it.  There are things that are scream-worthy. A bag of Flamin' Hot chips is not.

5.  Take your child to the cultural things like the free museums and the zoo and the nature centers. Expose them to the world in kid-friendly ways. Watching R and X-rated movies is not usually often  ever appropriate for third graders  second graders  first graders   kindergarteners kids.  (Even if you view them during your "family time," it's still warping their minds.)  Talk with your children. Engage in conversations with them.  Ask how they feel and what they think and what they dream of becoming.

       Santa, I know this is a lot to ask for.  So perhaps you could bring one of the above things to me this Christmas, and next year, perhaps another, so by the time I retire, my wish list will be fulfilled?

Janet Fitch

           The author of White Oleander (one of Oprah's books, for goodness sake!) has a blog.  Janet Fitch doesn't post nearly often enough for my tastes but hey, beggars can't be choosers, right?

           Yesterday (11/11/10) she shared a short piece prompted by the word "stamp."  (A word is chosen, and she writes a piece that features that word at least once...I'm hoping I have the details correct.)

photo by kathrynw9

          Read "The Skyroom."  It paints a vivid picture.  You will be able to see the girl with such clarity that if you're not already a Fitch-Follower, you'll become one...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Eyes of a Dog...

          Annie is our "old girl."  She is almost 15, which--for a large dog--is old. We know she is on borrowed time...

          We adopted her from Love a Golden Rescue when she was 8.  Her previous owners surrendered her due to her chronic ear infections (something that Goldens are known for). We didn't have her in particular in mind when we went to the "meet and greet" session but just like Tom Cruise had Rene Zellweger at "hello," Annie had us when she flopped down so we could rub her belly.

            She had been at one of the rescue's "foster homes" for eight months; no one was interested in adopting her.  Was it due to her age?  Her expensive ears?  Who knew, but we fell in love with her and thought--stupidly--that the expense of her ears was exaggerated.

           Many vet visits later, a couple of surgically-performed deep ear cleanings, countless bags of costly dog food (she's allergic to yeast) and many bottles of god-awful expensive miracle ear drops later, Annie is still perking along.  She now can barely see (cataracts), can barely hear (deafness due to her age along with the infections) but she knows what love is.  And, she knows when it is 8:00 every night--that's when she gets half a raw carrot as a treat (to a dog, it's sweet and delightfully crunchy).

         She is the best dog imaginable.  She has perfect manners---always the lady---and has the most beautiful brown eyes I've ever seen.

          In the evening, when I'm on the couch reading or grading papers or watching TV, she comes up and nudges my hand so that it's resting on the top of her head...demanding some attention.

And I give it, no matter how busy I am, because I know her time on earth is dwindling...


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stone Fox

          I was reading some of Dianne Graveman's old postings and found one about Stone Fox.

          In case you are not familiar with the story, it is a book suitable for elementary students.  I have used it with third graders, but at that age, they need support in order to understand the concepts.  It would be a great book to use with sixth graders, especially with  struggling readers; the text is not very difficult, but the story is engaging.

         Willie lives with his grandfather and his trusty sled dog, Searchlight, on a potato farm.  It is just the three of them.  They are about to lose their farm, as they owe a great deal of back taxes.  The farm is all they have...So despondent, Grandfather "checks out" mentally, becomes bedridden, and becomes uncommunicative.

       Fortunately, Willie discovers there is a sled race, and the prize money will cover their debt.

       Unfortunately, Stone Fox has also entered the race.  He is a Native American who never speaks to white people because of the way his nation has been treated.  Stone Fox has a whole team of champion sled dogs; each time he wins a race, he uses the prize money to buy back his tribes' land, the land that has been "stolen" by white people.

         In the race, the two are neck and neck right up to the second-to-last chapter. Each of them should win; they both have noble causes.  And then the unthinkable happens...

         I won't tell you what happens unless you either 1) torture me with milk chocolate or 2) pay me scads of money.  However, I will tell you that if you don't cry, you need to go to Whoville and spend some time with little Cindy Lou Who, because you're heartless...

         It's a short book (around 100 pages, and that includes illustrations) and the author, John Reynolds Gardiner is an awesome speaker.  I once saw him speak at a conference, and he told the story of getting this bestseller published.  He claims there were 138 errors in his manuscript--spelling mistakes, grammatical gaffes, and so on...In 100 or so pages, that's a lot of mistakes.

          His message:  Don't squash the spirit of a writer by paying too much attention to the deficits, the errors.  There are writers who are reluctant to put down their words because they are not confident about things that are really inconsequential.  Spelling is easily fixed. Grammar can be examined during editing.  But a great story is priceless... 

While You're Holding Your Breath...

photo by frankieleon
          Still waiting for the prize patrol to arrive from the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes?

       In the meantime, check out Becky Povich's contest.  It's easy.  And if you have not ever stopped by Becky's blog, you'll find she's like a golden retriever-greyhound-chihuahua.  She's a great friend, she has endless energy, and she's tiny but mighty.

A Trip to Soulard

         Saturday, our boy scout troop did a 22-mile bike trip to Soulard Market. For those who do not live in the St. Louis area, Soulard is a historic, open-air farmers' market. There is a bike trail that winds along, parallel to the Mississippi River.  We also visited the Arch and Eads Bridge.

        Our son is 22, and having become an Eagle Scout and now doing his internship in Kansas City , he is no longer active.  We still volunteer with the troop because 1) it's enjoyable and 2) there were parents who helped Ian out as a scout, even though their boys had graduated and moved on.  It's a way of paying back the "debt" we feel we owe...

        The boys we rode with, the boys who go camping and hike trails...they are exceptionally nice young men.  With most of them, there are so many "ma'am's" and genuine polite behavior, we wonder if we're in another dimension of time and space.

         But, no. It's not an episode of The Twilight Zone.  It's reality.  In 2010.

photo by Roadsidepictures

         Unfortunately, the misbehavior, the crimes, the apathy and self-centeredness get all the press and all the attention.  People talk about all the things that are wrong with the youth of today.

         But what about the things that are right?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I'm Working On...

        I regret I am not continuing with NaNo.  I do. I quit something, but it was a wise decision for me.

        This evening I worked on a story for a contest that Saturday Writers is sponsoring.  (The deadline was extended.)  It was a story I wrote probably 15 years ago.  I had to rework it in some major ways.  I won't say it's brilliant, but it's also not pure fecal matter, like my NaNo story was.

        I think the word count was just a bit over 1,000 words. So it's very short short story.

       By the way, this story was written way before I had a laptop or a flashdrive, so I just had a paper hard copy.  Therefore, I had to retype it.  I didn't mind, because as I was typing it up, I was also I went.  (Sometimes I retype things even when I have them saved, so I am forced to look at it again, with new eyes.) 

photo by Hassenpfeffer Incorporated

            The story I worked on tonight is a childhood memoir.  I am going to send it off, and later this week, I 'm going to work on a holiday one.  (Saturday Writers is sponsoring a holiday story contest as well.) Both stories are being "recycled..."

Going Teacher

        If you didn't already know, the "average" IQ is 100.  I think if you are a potential MENSA member, you have to have a score of 140 (but I'm not, uh, smart enough to know for sure, if, uh, that's right).

        One of the crazy things that teachers have to contend with is the expectation that the state (and the country, with the No Child Left Behind mandates) has for students who fall in the crack, intellectually-speaking.

          For example, I have some students right now, in my regular class, who have an IQ of 71 or 72.  It used to be that 70 was considered mentally retarded.  I think it has changed to a number under 70.  (That is so less kids will qualify for special help. And the term is now ID--"intellectually delayed." However, that term hints that eventually they will "catch up," which is never the case.  If their IQ is that low, they will always be behind...)

photo by peter_kucerka

             I know that some number has to be decided upon.  I get that. However, there is not a lot of difference in the capabilities of a student who has a 68 IQ and one that has a 72.  It's not as if they are not prepared for grade level work under the 70 line, and once they cross that line, they magically can do the sophisticated problem-solving and concluding that is necessary in the third grade. 

              The state, in its stupidity, expects that all students will excel at high levels on the state test.  Even the ones who are ID.  They read at a level two or three grade levels below the grade they're in, they interrupt a lesson on measuring with the excited comment, "Mrs. R, I got a new book bag!", they cannot add 2 + 4, but the state does not want to hear any "excuses" about why these kiddoes won't score in the proficient/advanced range. They just keep putting the pressure on.

            In the past, there were lots of jokes about people going "postal" because of the frequency of postal employees getting angry and shooting the place up.

          If things do not change, soon the phrase will be "going teacher" because we have lots of valid reasons to be 

"mad as all get-out, and we're not going to take it anymore!"

Surrendering, Yet Still Succumbing

photo by ryantow

          After writing for less than a week, I am waving in the air the pages I've written so far as part of the NaNoWriMo project; I'm surrendering.

            The reason?  Is it because the pace is too much?  A bit, but not really.  The main obstacle:  my story is crapola.

            On November 1, in preparation to beginning writing, I squinted over a list of 1000 plot ideas.  (The type was extremely tiny.) I found an idea that seemed clever do-able at the time, but has fizzled out quickly.  The character--since I did not really have one in mind before beginning--has become too much like me, and then I threw snippets of other people's personalities on top of the character.  It is now a "hot mess."

            The plot is going nowhere.  It has ended up being endless descriptions and internal conversations and nothing interesting or exciting is happening.  If the character and story does not matter to me, does it have a chance of engaging someone else?  I think not...

             So I am surrendering.  I certainly am not assuming that if I had stuck with it, I could have kept up with the pace.  And don't even think of writing, "But it was probably not as bad as you thought...I'll bet it was pretty good...You're too hard on yourself," and so on.  If it smells like poop and looks like poop and reads like poop, it is indeed poop.

             However I am also succumbing.  Even though it was just a matter of days, I enjoyed the daily writing expectation.  It was fun to sit down and fulfill some sort of requirement. So I am succumbing to the muse that was sitting next to me this week, urging me to write. 

          I figured, if I can write over 1,000 words a day about something that does not matter to me, perhaps I can write at least half that amount on things that do matter to me.  There is a contest that I'd like to enter, a piece for one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies I'd like to write, and an idea for a children's book was brought up from the dead yesterday...

           So, to all NaNo writers who keep slugging away, keep it up.  I bow down to you...