Thursday, April 21, 2016

work now, play later

We had a couple of slow weeks at school, with the students were in standardized testing, when we weren't allowed to give homework or tests or quizzes.  My eighth graders had targeted review work, which basically amounted to a participation grade.  But I assigned a cool in-class project to my seventh graders, which had multiple parts and really let them be creative while still demonstrating that they had learned something.  Those things were due a while ago, as were my eighth graders' physics workbooks (that sort came before and after the standardized testing.)

For some reason, I just got out of the habit of attacking the grading asap, and I just let them sit around too long, which ended with my having to really power through huge stacks of stuff in order to be ready for this week's progress reports.  I have to stop scheduling project and lab due dates within a day or two of quizzes and tests, because then I'm just buried in grading and it takes me a while to dig out.

The trick, of course, is not to get behind, so today I graded all the reviews & quizzes, and put them all in the grade book, so I won't have to think about them again.  It seems rather stupid and obvious to be writing about this ("Do the work.  It's not complicated.") but I keep putting myself into this same jam, at least this year, when I seem to fall into a funk and don't do anything after school.

My life is really not set up to do nothing after school.  If I don't work then, I won't get done what needs to get done!

My students are still bouncing off the walls, and I'm spending way too much time taking their "points" away and emailing their parents about it.  Still, I have to be strong about this now or it's only going to get worse.  It's not for too much longer now, anyway!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

T. S. Eliot was right

April really is the cruelest month.

Nature-wise, everything is blooming and beautiful and the weather is mild and delightful, so my complaint is not with the unfulfilled promise of the season seen in more northerly, harsher climates.

No, April is just the cruelest month for teachers and probably for students, too, who have to deal with standardized testing that throws everyone off for at least a few weeks.  Then, after the extended hiatus, we're exhorted to jump right back into curriculum and "finish strong."

The students have checked out!  They think they're done for the year when we have six weeks left.  I have enough experience with this to know that this happens every year, and that this first post-testing week is crucial in re-establishing procedures and expectations for behavior and productivity.  If I let anything slide now, by the end of the year my classroom will be a madhouse.

We're all loading up the students with work and assessments, and they're resisting, for now.  With any luck, if we keep the pressure on, we'll be back to normal by next week, or the week after... soon May will be here, and the last day of school will be on us before we know it.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

a bit on the nose

I had a dream last night that I was a passenger in a car.  My mother was driving (this surprised me, even in the dream; Mom hasn't driven much since 2010) and my two sisters were in the back, and we were talking about a meal we'd just had together.  Mom was talking about the dessert, I think, but I couldn't tell because suddenly her words weren't actual words, even though her tone and inflection were still normal.  In the dream, I realize that she's having another attack of aphasia and realize she needs help. I ask her to pull over, and the car slowly drifts to the shoulder, but keeps moving.  Becoming more distressed, I ask her to put the car in park, to change the gear -- but looking over, there's now  no one  in the driver's seat, so I grab the gear lever on the steering column and force it up, and the car stops.  I look in the back and see Mom's now back there, flanked by my sisters, the three of them somewhat crowded in the back, and I think, That looks uncomfortable.  And then I woke up.

***

So, yes, my subconscious saw fit to inform me that even if I feel I have no control over my life, I actually do. Or, I could, if I would just take it. Thanks, unconscious brain!

***

I have heard hundreds of sermons on the transformative power of love.  Sometimes, though, you can hear a thing many times before you actually understand it. Fr Rafael today spoke about how the act of loving changes us, as much if not more so than being loved, using the example of Peter's profession of love for Jesus from this week's gospel.  This actually ties back to the out-of-control dream, which connects to my recent discouragement at work (which, you know, is actually school.)

I have a student who drove me crazy last year in seventh grade and was making me nuts this year, too, until I just decided to stop that and really listen to him and be kind.  It would be delightful to say that he's really turned around and become a great student, but that's never going to happen for many reasons -- but it is delightful that he doesn't vex me anymore.

It's also delightful that I'm having visits from all the younger children, who have so much fun in my classroom.  My colleagues can't understand why I'm so willing to give up my prep hour to have the littles come in.  It's a bit awkward to tell them I love them, and really mean it, but I do.  And when I say I love teaching junior high students, they're like toddlers in teenagers' bodies, and they change so much over these two years, they need so much help! I really mean that, too.

I am never happy if I'm holding back.

***

On the other hand... I (finally) know myself well enough to know that minor bumps get blown up in my imagination or psyche into major dramas, and if I talk about it, or write about, or obsess about it... everything gets worse.  I think about what I should do or say, when, where, how, to whom, endlessly looking for a solution to a problem that probably doesn't even exist.  So if I'm upset about something, I'm going to make myself at least sleep on it before deciding whether or not it's actually "a thing" that requires attention.

I can actually do this now, whereas in the past I couldn't detach myself.  I'm glad about that, but wondering what took me so long.  Or perhaps I've had this ability in the past (something seems familiar about this resolution) and just forgot, or lost it.

Trying this recently, very few incidents survive to become "things" that need me to do anything.  I can feel sad about something without having to try to change it, and I can let others manage their own affairs.

This approach leaves me with some energy to apply to useful and pleasant activities that help offset that sadness and frustration.  This week that meant sending another article idea to my adviser, because if teaching is making me a little crazy, writing about teaching intrigues me. I know it'll take months and months, but I want to publish.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Mercury retrograde, or something

Today was not an easy day.

For me, the worst I had to face was too many unruly seventh graders stacked into my fifth period class because ... reasons. At least, that was the worst I had to face for myself, and I was cheered up considerably by the round of applause my 8th-graders gave me after my pointed speech about Newton's laws of motion and their application to chairs that have fallen over.

After school, though, I found out that DS2's field trip was cut short because ... reasons, and that was disappointing.  DD came home crestfallen this evening over an incident at her work, and then DS1 called from campus feeling frustrated by the attempts at indoctrination he's surviving in his required diversity classes.

Easter wasn't even two weeks ago and it feels like it was last year.  I know I need attitude adjustment but it's hard when it's the offspring who are troubled.  I'm better at reminding myself that all things are temporary.  Certainly nothing life-altering happened today, and that's good, but I still wish I could fix all their problems with a hug and a little reassurance.  You think - I thought - when  you become a parent, oh, it will be so much easier when they're out of diapers, only to realize there's new mischief for them to get into.  Later you think, it'll be so much easier when they're in school or when they're out of the house... but it never gets easier to listen to my children be sad or frustrated or upset.

(I suppose the antibiotic is working, but whenever my NSAID wears off, my entire face fills up with mucus. It's the weirdest thing.  I still don't feel well. I'm in one of those moods (modes?) when I wonder if I will ever feel well, again.)

spring, fevers...

The weather has been mostly lovely.  A bit too hot, then it cooled off again, and now we're apparently back up in the 90s, probably to stay.  I'm not complaining.  Enough of the cold!  Plus, we're just about at peak ocotillo season here, and the larger one out front is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  

I finally broke down on Sunday and went to urgent care for antibiotics.  I've been feeling horrid for too long, and even though I kept telling myself I was getting better and didn't need them, I wasn't, and I did.  I'm also taking the new NSAID my surgeon prescribed for me, in an effort to calm down the C7/C8 junction that I tweaked, somehow.  The only symptom, besides the very rare feeling like I'd bruised my spine, is this weird feeling along the back of my arm, like the skin has been scraped.  There's nothing wrong with the skin, of course (scrapes heal well before 4 weeks have passed.)  I figure I'll give a good 6-8 weeks to resolve and only then I'll see the doctor about it again.  It's not that bad. 

School is making me sad these days.  My proposal is DOA, or at least I have every reason to believe that.  Last week was the writing test, and this week is the reading and math tests.  The last of all will be science test to my 8th graders, who frankly have had enough of this nonsense and are not in the mood to review anymore.  I just want to them to do well. At least I finally get my wish and we've kept the normal bell schedule and are just working around the students in their respective test groups.  That, at least, is a blessing, as is the fact that we're getting the testing out of way early.  That last part's great -- we'll be done in just a few days -- but my students are taking the AIMS test 2 weeks earlier than they did last year, which means that's 2 weeks less content I got to try and stuff into their brains.  

I'm trying to stay positive.  I'm trying not to take it personally that my proposal wasn't seriously considered.  I'm trying to avoid that square peg-round hole feeling that's growing.  All that will become easier if this crud ever loosens its grip on me.  Tomorrow is my third full day on the antibiotic, and I'm hoping for a breakthrough.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

acathartic

That's probably not even a word.  But it's how I'm feeling, here at my mother's house, coming to the end of my stay here.  I feel accomplished, even though the inventory is barely begun: there are no more hidden caches of anything, here, now.  Accompanied by various siblings over my stay, we've excavated closets, chests, dressers, file cabinets, innumerable boxes and bags - and (just me) the attic, from where I heaved (many) bags and boxes of yarn, and books, and other unbreakables, feeling like the Grinch who had packed up the Who's Christmas quite thoroughly so he could heave it up the chimney.

It's quite a bit of work to excavate all that, but then another entirely to actually work through it all and dispose of it, sorting the good into piles and the recyclables one way and the trash another.  I am very pleased that anyone walking into the house would have no idea that any of that went on, unless he or she happened to see the piles of bagged trash and boxes of recycling ready to go out.  My timing there was lousy, although I did manage to get 9 bags of trash picked up this morning.  That leaves 6 to go, plus the recycling.  There's nothing I can do about that, so I just tucked it into one of the bedrooms where it's not in anyone's way.  I concede that's it's far from lovely, but so be it.

I wonder if I am emotionally defective, though, because I'm not finding this in the least bit difficult.  It is really surprisingly easy for me to throw things away, when they're my own things, and I'm not having any more difficulty here.  I can scan something written, or take a photo, and then I know I'll be able to access the memory, and that's really all I need.  (Never mind that I am bringing home an extra suitcase; that's mostly my mother's Nativity scene, which is a lot bigger than I remembered it being.)  In this, I am very different from my sisters, who were with me here today as we slogged through an incredible amount of saved paper.

Mostly I feel as if I've done some good. Once everyone has claimed what they want, we can have an estate sale and get the house cleaned out.  All this will make things so much easier when it's time to put the house on the market.  I have a breathless, "Oh!" reaction to the idea of selling this house, letting the reality of never coming back here sink in, but then that moment passes.  I'm busy.  My kids are growing up,  I have a lot going on, and my days of having 6-7 week vacations on Cape Cod are over.  C'est la vie.


Wednesday, March 02, 2016

told ya

The meeting was a waste of time, of course.  No one had anything productive to say one way or another, just some vague sniping ("Don't we do this already?") and no one was willing to go out on a limb with me and say the grading burden is unmanageable... until we were on our way out to our cars after the meeting was adjourned.  Then I heard, "Wow, it would be great if they would drop the requirement for 8th grade next year."  Gee, maybe if you had said that at the meeting and given the district reps the impression that you agree with my proposal?  All that ended up happening was kicking the can down the road to April 1, for some reason no one could clearly articulate.  The decision is, of course, not up to us, and the initial word is, "I doubt that will happen. We were founded with the idea that would do science fair,"  which is of course the best reason to do a science fair, ever!

I won't go so far as to say everything is backwards, but our curriculum development starts and ends with standards, and standards are not objectives.  If we're not specifying what it is we want our students to learn, we're wasting everyone's time with random stuff that has no purpose (like the science fair.)

There was some other interesting/vaguely disturbing news about new textbooks next year, which I'm still processing, but mostly I'm just trying to put it all out of mind since I can't do anything about it.  I'm burnt out and already feeling negative, and the tail end of this illness is hanging on and making me crazy.  I wasted enough time on it, and I feel I should've known better than to try.

Way too much work to do, no motivation to do it.  Not a good combination.

Monday, February 29, 2016

tall poppy



Tomorrow is my meeting with the district science people, with 20 minutes set aside for my proposal.  I have literally no idea how it will go.  The email with the agenda implied we could actually make a decision, and that surprised me.  Perhaps it's true.

I don't want to be perceived as an agitator, but there's a pretty good chance that's where I'm headed.  I'm distressed because two teachers that I had expected to be allies have decided not to come back next year, and so I am feeling very much alone.  No one has given me any feedback on my proposal at all so far, even though they've had it for almost two weeks.  I just hope they've read it.

Meanwhile, I did nothing but sleep after school all last week and Saturday.  My fever finally broke Thursday night but I still have residual crud.  I'm trying to wean myself off all the medication but then I end up swimming in post-nasal drip and dealing with an annoying little tickle in my throat all day long -- guess I'll go back on the meds at least for the meeting tomorrow.

Of course I still have all that work to do: grading, writing, my Reading to Learn in Science course, and very little energy after school to do any of it.  Being sick is the worst!

Amazing to think that a week from Friday I'm flying out. Time to clear the deck of all those tasks!