Author Archive

The Vampires again

We have been redoing our yard and our new neighbors have been fixing up theirs as well.  The difference is that we hired someone and they are doing it themselves.  They have been out almost daily chopping, planting, mulching, creating borders.  They wear me out.

They’ve done a nice job, with some redwood Adirondack chairs and lots of plants in and near their screen porch. (Our kitchen windows look out over their driveway and backyard.  I’m not spying.  Really.  I’m really not. I swear.)  Just the other night I noticed that they have some tiki torches —

Wait a minute!  I get it now.  Pitchforks and other garden implement, torches — they’re not vampires, they’re the villagers ready to storm the castle.

Hmm.  That means there are vampires around here after all.  I’ll go buy a pitchfork.

It’s getting better

The state of the world.

I admit, there is a lot about today that is downright terrible.  So many shootings.  So much terrible news.  The entire conspiracy to destroy public education.  But…

Things are getting better.  I really think they are.

1. You can breathe in elevators and airplanes and schools now that there are no-smoking laws.

2.  I no longer need white gloves, a hat, hose and a girdle to leave the house.  While I don’t go to Walmart in my pajamas, I just pull on pants and a shirt and I’m ready to go.

3. As a child, I was very afraid we were all going to die, and soon, from an atomic bomb.  We practiced hiding under our desks.  I was pulled inside when there were lots of contrails in the air just in case it was the attack.  I wanted a fallout shelter like the ones advertised in the Sunday paper.   Now, death by atomic weapons no longer seems imminent.

4.  The Berlin Wall came down.  Germany reunited.  I remember when it went up.  I was a German teacher; I knew the history and it felt like a permanent condition.  Then we had a miracle.  When I visited Berlin after reunification I just cried because it was so unreal that the Wall was just gone.

5. Humans walked on the moon.  I stayed up late that night to watch the grainy picture on the small black and white TV and, when it was over, I went outside to look at the moon.  It looked no different, but everything had changed.

The most important change, though, was the expansion of ‘peoplehood.’  When I was a child, to my parents, I don’t think the immigrants from Japan and Mexico were quite people, and I’m pretty sure African-Americans weren’t. They sure weren’t ‘us.’  Now…we’re us.  We’re white and black and multi-racial and we’re all people. We’re neuro-typical and on the spectrum and we’re all people. Today, especially,  as the Supreme Court rules for marriage equality, we’re heterosexual and LBGQT and we’re all people.

I’m not Pollyanna.  America has a race problem.  We have too few people controlling far too much of the money.  We have terrible poverty and hunger.  But…it’s better than it was.  We have a long, long way to go, but, today, it’s getting better.

Happy Firefly Day

It’s kind of scary how quickly families develop traditions.  It really only takes once.

For me, Christmas is Christmas Eve, and Christmas Eve dinner is ham, cheesy potatoes, broccoli casserole, potato chips, five cup salad and the only night of the year you can drink soda.  Oh, baked beans are served, too, but I don’t eat them. So, when I had a family, every year, even though we celebrated on Christmas morning, I served the Christmas Eve dinner I remembered.  Finally Mom told me why that was Christmas Eve dinner–you can throw it all in the oven while bathing kids, dressing kids, sending kids out to look at Christmas tree lights while Santa came and opening presents.  No standing over anything.  What was convenience for my Mom meant Christmas to me.

The year we moved into our house I had a cookies and punch open house.  I’d made some frozen concoction that was sort of orange.  When I added lemon-lime soda to it, it became a punch.  I had some extra taking up room in the freezer.  So, that June, when I first noticed the fireflies, I told the kids it was Firefly Day and I made them drinks to use up the left over punch ingredients and called it Firefly Juice.  They caught some fireflies, we let them go, and that was that.  Or so I thought.  A year later, one of them came running into the house to tell me he (or was it she?) had seen the first firefly.  It was Firefly Day!  So off to the store I went to buy orange sherbet and lemon-lime soda.  We had a family holiday. Do it once and you have a tradition.

The kids are gone now.  Well, Chris is gone.  My other son is getting married and has moved into a house.  My daughter moved to another state.  I was outside, watching the cyclists riding past and there was a firefly.  Then another.

The charity bike ride would make it difficult to get to the store.  I don’t keep soda or sherbet in the house.  But today still is Firefly Day. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that, when they notice a firefly, they make Firefly Juice to celebrate Firefly Day.

I won’t tell them they are really just commemorating using up left overs.  Fireflies deserve the holiday.  Happy Firefly Day!

Oh, the Wells Fargo Wagon…

It’s going to be hard on my budget,  being home with Internet access.

It all started when I refilled my maintenance meds online.  While I was on line, I ordered some coffee pods.  We’d just tried to buy some new drip trays  at the big box hardware store, but they didn’t fit our range.  So I went to the manufacturer’s website and found a picture that looked right, and ordered a large one.  They didn’t have the small one in stock, so I wrote down the part number and went to another site and ordered that. Then I clicked a link and discovered that another site had a sale and no shipping and handling on a new patio rug, and while I was there I ordered cushions.

After a few days the orders started coming, one or so a day.  A clunk and then a box at the door.  A clunk and a rolled up carpet.  Just long enough after I’d ordered them that the pain of paying was forgotten. This could become a bad habit.

All I can say is, “Oh thithter, thithter!  Ithn’t that the motht marvelouth thilver thomething you’ve ever theen?”

Evaluating my skill set

I’m coming at this the long way, so be patient!

This morning, at 6 AM, the alarm on my husband’s phone rang.  We hadn’t set it last night, so we both hit at clocks, scrambled for the landline and he finally found his phone.  A minor technophobe, he handed it to me to turn off, and I saw that the alarm was named for me.  First Monday of summer break…first Monday of my real retirement, and an alarm that I did not set goes off at six.  Is the universe trying to tell me something?

So I got up and got to thinking–six weeks ago I would have turned it off and tried to sleep for another ten minutes, but now I just got up…because I didn’t have to go anywhere!  What other aspects of my teaching skill set will I now  no longer use and which will continue to be useful?  Or are they dinosaur skills, gone the way of writing cursive with a freshly sharpened quill? The teaching skills that are never taught in ed classes:

Let’s see…

I can stuff 36 large ‘math-top’ student desks into a room clearly meant for 25, working around the permanent desk for the obsolete language lab and the bump out for the storage room, and still walk around.  Of no use, unless I acquire a lot more furniture.

I can find the paper I want from the paper sludge that is my desk in under a minute.  Useful…my organisational style is not ‘give it a home’, but ‘remember which stack it’s in.’

I can spend upwards of 20 minutes a day to unjam a copier, opening and closing doors and looking for that wayward scrap of paper, and never once hitting or screaming the recalcitrant machine.  Of no use.

I can estimate the amount of bulletin board paper I need, carry it back to my room without wrinkling it and create a winning display.  Of course it got changed maybe once a year.  Of some use for wrapping presents and finally redoing the living room.

I can dress in the dark, grab food from the fridge and be out of the house in less than 15 minutes.  Well, if there’s an emergency somewhere, otherwise a useless skill.

I can explain to a parent why little Coriander is a pain in the neck, all the while using only the most positive of terms and convincing her that Coriander needs a little tough love.  Maybe if I go into politics.

I can hang up on a parent in mid-word as they’re cussing at me.  Yep, useful with telemarketers.

I can refrain from that clever, witty, sarcastic remark that is straining at the leash.  Very useful, assuming I want to stay married.

I can inhale a lunch in 20 minutes and still have time to make copies, grade 30 notebooks and use the restroom. Of no use, now I get to chew my food.

I can create content-free prose for satisfying obscure requirements. Again, maybe if I go into politics.

I can watch 35 kids for engagement and behavior, all while speaking a foreign language, writing on the board and walking over to stand next to darling Coriander, simultaneously reaching over to confiscate Alphonso’s phone. Nope, multitasking is no longer the order of the day.

I can make those 35 kids behave and pay attention and like it.  Nope, unless I want to take on a similar task of turning the squirrels in the yard to a drum and bugle corps.

It’s time to make my summer break skill set, the one where I get up, dress leisurely, shower leisurely, brew coffee, sip coffee, eat breakfast and decide what to do on my own terms…it’s time to make it my permanent skill set.  And hang up on telemarketers.

Only in Middle School

There was a picture going around a few years ago, captioned “only in middle school”.  It showed a boy with his head through the hole in the back of a plastic bucket chair and a number of people with tools trying to free him.  If you haven’t been around middle school boys, you probably thought it was faked.  I believe it.

Most of the boys in my class seem to think that they’re talented percussionists.  Any pen or pencil they have becomes a drumstick, and they constantly create rhythms on their desks.  Constantly.  While I’m talking.  To put it mildly, it can be irritating, and asking them to stop only creates a brief pause.

Fred was a tall, African-American boy with short dreads.  He seemed easy-going, but he had a temper.  One day last year he leaped over two desks to pound a boy that apparently had been teasing him.  But he stopped when I told him to, and seemed more abashed than angry when he was suspended.  Anyway, I was trying to teach, with  Fred providing a rhythmic background when suddenly he yipped.  If you’ve taught in middle school this kind of noise can mean anything from a paper cut to a dog walking by the window.  I looked over and he held up his hand.   His freshly sharpened pencil-drumstick had gone through the web of his hand by his thumb, poking out about an inch.

“Run to the clinic.” I said, “The rest of you, uh, finish the, uh, reading.”  He ran out, I followed at a trot.  When I got there, the nurse had already dialed 911, and was on the phone with his parents.  “No,” she said, “you can’t pick him up and take him to the emergency room, the ambulance is coming.  No!  Fred!  Don’t pull it out.”  As she wrapped his hand loosely in gauze, the principal came in.

“Go to my room.  I left the kids alone.  I’m staying here.”  And I did, patting him on the shoulder and keeping him calm.  The ambulance came, he left with the paramedics and I returned to class.  We made him a card.

He was back in a few days, tapping away.  Only in middle school.

TPRS CI stuff

Lots going on in the CI/TPRS world right now.  I’m trying to add links to the blog roll as things come up.

So, two big things: First  Sunday afternoon, May 17 at 6 PM CST, a Google handout with TPRS/Comprehensible Input providers from iFLT.

Then, Martina Bex, using Carol Gabb’s acronym for TPRS–Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple, is posting a series of blog posts about getting started with TPRS.  The first was about the acronyms used, then second about what to look for when you see a demo.  Good stuff.

There is great stuff on all the CI/TPRS blogs, and, as I see them, I’ll keep adding them.


What I’ll miss

My public school career has ended rather abruptly–but that’s a story for another time.  I’ve been home for two weeks now, and there are things I’m not missing

1 Meetings.  Pointless meetings.  I remember, in another school long ago, a discussion about how we could reduce the number of meetings to become more productive.  That was before e-mail, mind, and we figured out how to sometimes avoid that one, single, solitary faculty meeting a month.  No meeting if we didn’t need it was the promise.  Now?  If there is time for a meeting, there will be a meeting.

2. Grading.   I always enjoyed creating lessons and projects to help the children learn.  But grading them?  I rather liked looking things over and seeing how they did, but the hours sitting and grading, recording grades, taking notes….and because of the endless meetings, there was no time in the school day to do it.  So…six to eight hours every weekend catching up. Oh, and I’ll lump in sending out a Remind text, uploading the assignment to the website, etc.

3. The Big Standardized Test. Oh, and the meetings about the BST.  The convoluted schedule to get every child to a computer. This year?  Three weeks of testing, one grade level a week, a different schedule every week.  Would we see our students in language class?  Would we have longer classes or short ones?  Oh, and reading the test to the English Language Learners after I signed my life away saying I would not look at the test.  Always a fun trick.

4. Proving I teach.  I generally put that off until the end of the year, so this year I didn’t do it.  So I guess I didn’t teach.  Look at the multi-page teacher evaluation rubric and provide lesson plans the length of term papers,  upload samples of student work, reflections, update the website where we write our units,  submit logs of parent contacts, proof that I figured out something to lead a team meeting when it was my turn…another six to eight hours on a weekend.  Oh and a couple of days administering the ‘primary and secondary measures’, then grading and uploading the results to prove that I taught something.  Regular assessments just wouldn’t do.  At least I didn’t have to use the BST for my evaluation.

5. Unjamming the copier.  Standing in line at the copier. Buying my own supplies so I don’t have to do paperwork and then wait. Buying notebook paper, notebooks and pencils to give to the kids who didn’t have them. Hiding the stapler from the kids so that they don’t throw staples.  Hiding the tape dispenser so there is tape when I need it.  Switching out the materials and changing the screen between classes, all while standing in the hall. Another fun trick.

6. Inhaling lunch while grading a stack of papers.  I learned early not to eat at my desk.  The 20 or so minutes I had without kids was the only time all day I wasn’t ‘on.’

7. Whack a mole…the constant monitoring of classroom behavior, checking the clock, time to do what I’d planned, did the kids get it, change plan in midstream, they need to get up and move, they’re lethargic, they’re hyper, let’s do something calming…my brain was on overtime for six hours a day.

8. Being ‘on’.  Being professional, kind, upbeat, pleasant.  Watching my words.  Holding my neutral face through the whole day.  Emotionally exhausting.

I could go on.  Our state legislature.  New initiatives.  Just one more thing–it’ll only take five minutes…but I’ll stop.

What I do miss? What is the reason teachers continue to endure all the ridiculous micro-management ? The kids. The exhausting, demanding, frustrating, irritating, wonderful kids.  I really miss my kids.


It was a few weeks ago, a Friday, late.  I’d joined the exercising teachers, probably entertaining people with my struggle to get on the ground, and then back up.  Oh well.  That’s exercise, too.

So, anyway, I was leaving, my sack of grading ready for me to put the requisite miles on it when I heard my name.  It was an ‘old’ kid.  He was probably a sophomore, now, and he was looking for teachers to greet.

“I’ve decided I want to be a French teacher,” he said, ” and it’s because of you and a teacher at the high school.”

Of course, I started crying.  He’d spoken in French. “That’s so cool.”  I said. We talked, I smiled, I was thrilled…but at the same time, I wasn’t.  “Run!  Run!”  I wanted to cry.  “It’s a trap.  It used to be fun, but now…”

I thought about the endless, pointless meetings, the Big Standardized Test, the data gathering, the bean-counting…

Shhh!  I thought.  He’s only 16 or 17.  He has time to change his mind.  He has time to become disillusioned.  He has time to choose another career.

“Come back and see me” I lied, knowing I was retiring at the end of the year. “Let me know where you decide to study.”

That was my good thing for that day.  And my worst.

Sadly, not vampires

For several years the house behind us has been vacant.  Our elderly neighbor had had to move out, and in the past few months the family had been working on it.  About a month ago we started hearing noises.  Lights came on in the evening.  There was a papa-san chair in an upstairs window.  But there was never anyone there during the day.

As any one would, I figured we had vampires for neighbors.  No one was ever there during the day.  But I’d hear a car drive up after dark, after I’d gone to bed.  I’d hear the door slam,  peek out the back window and see shadows behind the new shades. They were so obviously vampires.  There was no moving van, no parade of people carrying in furniture.  Just shadowy figures after dark.

Well, we met them the other day.  During the day.  Perfectly normal people who were maintaining two households until they could move.  “I bet you thought we were vampires or something.”  “No, of course not.”

There’s a pretty cool hole at the base of one of our trees.  Maybe the little people will move in. One can only hope

Next Page »

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.