Thursday, February 11, 2016

too soon to be hopeful

Today was only mildly wretched.  I am emotionally and physically exhausted, but:

- I made the spectrascopes for my 7th graders and they came out awesome.

- I had an excellent conversation with DS2 about his most recent reading assignment.  This will be a daily occurrence from now on.

- I heard back from DS2's teacher regarding his grade and it seems that there is a bit of upside potential there if he can demonstrate he actually did the work he has been docked for not doing.  He's bringing in a printout of his paper with the revision history that shows he actually did start with a rough draft and edit it.  Here's hoping he recovers those lost points.

- DS2 had a spectacular piano lesson.  He has finally started practicing the way his teacher asks him, and he's finally doing all the things she asks him to do, like using the metronome. She is thrilled with how well he's doing, as am I -- perhaps this newfound respect for a teacher's directions will filter over to his school-life?

- Another great conversation with DD wherein she finally, finally talked about the confused jumble of thoughts her brain becomes when she "fails," by which she means gets less than A.  Knowing there's a problem is the first step in treating it, right?

Data analysis proceeds apace -- I entered 111 student surveys into SurveyMonkey, but you only get 100 for free.  Guess I'll pony up the $26 for a month's access.

Not an easy day at all, today, but overall a good one.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

back to the crunch...

My students may be done with the science fair, but I'm not.

I want to present the unit at my district meeting and recommend we roll it out district-wide, integrated into the seventh grade curriculum.  The only problem with that is, my district meeting is set for March 1.  So in order for this to be given any kind of consideration, I need to write it up at least somewhat coherently this week and get it out to all the interested parties.

Sheesh.  Just when I thought I could relax.

I need some data to back up my recommendations, and I have grades from last year and this, so that's one perspective.  But I wanted feedback from students and parents, too, so I put together two surveys last night, one for the parents online, and one for the students, on paper.  I administered the paper surveys today and will spend time tomorrow tallying them.  Fortunately SurveyMonkey has great analysis tools for the online survey, if only the parents would click through and respond!

On top of that, we're heading to Savannah this weekend for our niece's wedding, so I'll be missing school Friday.  That means sub plans, which always have to be excruciatingly detailed -- finished those tonight.  I also meant to make spectroscopes for my 7th graders out of the refraction grating I bought, but I didn't get to that.

It was just one of those days.  DD has really been struggling with optimization in calculus for the last week or so and today she just had a complete meltdown.  She called me at work (nothing quite grips the heart as seeing your child's school pop up in the caller ID on your own classroom phone -- Everyone knows they shouldn't be calling me here, during school hours...) and I told her of course she could go home.  She slept, and spent an hour on the phone with her brother, and feels better.  I hope.

So that was worrying, and something that hadn't happened before, so we'll have to keep an eye on her.  She puts so much pressure on herself to get all As.  It makes no sense.

What really derailed tonight was getting yet another round of deficiency notices for DS2.  Hey, we're not going to give back any assignments or give you any feedback at all until we tell you you're in danger of failing!  That's a seriously wrong model of education, and it's the one thing I would change about my kids' school if I could.

I spent about 45 minutes composing an email to his humane letters teacher basically telling him I don't buy it.  Don't tell me my kids is failing because he missed 2 reading checks, which are only supposed to be part of the participation grade!  We'll see what happens there, but here, it was horrible, because I completely lost any hope of the kid developing any sense of self-control while he has electronics in his possession, so I took them all away, even his phone.

He says he wants to stay at his school.  He says he'll do all the work now, since he doesn't have anything else to do, except piano and reading.  We'll see.  My heart is broken again for the millionth time over this.  I wish I could be hopeful, but I'm not.

It's just too bad that this is coming before our long weekend away, too.  It'll be casting its shadow over everything for quite a while.   Adding the last straw to my already overburdened psyche?  DD and I watched this week's episode of the X-Files, and let's just say Scully's situation hit way too close to home for me.

Now it's very late, again, and it's Ash Wednesday.  Can I give up being upset for Lent?

Thursday, February 04, 2016

a night off...


I spent the day trying not to be nervous and failing.  The doctor was in surgery this morning when I called, so I just left a message to call after 3:30.  I kept my phone glued to my side but 4,5, and 6 o'clock came and went with no call, so I figured I'd talk to him tomorrow.

He called at 6:45PM.

There was some confusion because the imaging people inexplicably sent over the results of the biopsy they did four years ago, but the real news is that the lymph node mapping came back fine.

Now I can cancel my ultrasound in March and make plans to go out to Massachusetts instead!

I can't shake the feeling that there's something going on in there that will catch up to me eventually, but I'm used to that one.   I decided some time ago that I can't put anything on hold because of all the what if scenarios I imagine based on my wretched history.  If it happens, I'll deal with it then.  For now, I'm good.

I'm not doing any school work of any kind tonight. I also plan to sleeeeeeep.

(In spite of my nerves and exhaustion, the dry ice observations with the 8th graders went very well.  The only bummer was having to go to 3 different stores to find one with the dry ice in stock.  Next time I'll call first.)

moving along

Science fair was yesterday.  I had a lot of help and things went very smoothly, for once.  No drama!  I like that.

Not so nice, today, my ENT called me to give me the results of the ultrasound I had on January 6 (!).  The doctor himself called, and left a message for me to call back.  Of course when I called back 5 minutes later the office was closed, so now I have to wait until my prep hour to call in the morning and hope I can get some kind of news.  I am a bit freaked out.  If it were nothing, wouldn't that call be delegated to his nurse?

Tomorrow's dry ice day with the 8th graders and it's way too late.  But I designed a new worksheet for them, and I finished the first lesson of the MOOC I'm taking at Stanford on Reading to Learn in Science.  I just wished that deadline hadn't been quite so close to the actual science fair.

I've been catching naps on and off since getting home this afternoon, so I'm not as dead as I could be (should be).  Let's hope I've managed to accumulate enough rest minutes that tomorrow isn't dreadful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

the inexorable march of days

I feel caught up in the sweep of the tide of time.  The hours go by whether or not I want to participate.  I have huge swathes of time where I am productive and to all appearances "normal," mostly through the early hours of the day, through work, through dinner time.  It's after dinner, especially in the late evening when I should be getting ready for bed, that the sadness falls on me again.  Some days it's worse than others, like this past weekend after a conversation with one of my siblings made everything seem raw, as if no time had passed at all.  Then I'm useless.  I should grade papers, do lesson plans, answer emails, but all I can do is stare at the wall or (endlessly, aimlessly) surf the web because thinking hurts.

I realized that my problem is I am struggling to come to grips with a reality I simply do not want to recognize.  Eventually, I'll get used to it, but I don't want to get used to it, and just typing that makes me angry.  This is not to say I've reached the "anger" stage of the grieving process.  I'm not angry that my mother's dead, I don't begrudge her the peace she dearly earned.  I'm just (mentally) thrashing around because there is no power that can change this and I just have to deal and I'm really, really bad at dealing with tragic disappointment.

I am lucky because I've had so few instances to deal with.  When my father died, I was devastated but I had an infant to care for, and there's nothing so hopeful and busy-making as an 11-month-old baby.  And God bless my father but the relationship I had with him was not like the one I had with my mother.  He was not woven so thoroughly into my daily life.  I told DH that I have this mental file of things I store to tell Mom, and it's still there, and it will probably always be there, now and forever overflowing because I'm never going to be able to talk to her (in a two-way conversation, anyway) in this life again.

That's not the only hole in my life, though.  I feel mostly disconnected from my whole family, now, like Pluto in its distant orbit, demoted to a dwarf planet.  While Mom was alive, we all had routines of when we'd call her and when we'd call each other.  When Mom entered hospice and one of us with her 24/7, I could call any time, any day, and try to ease the burden a bit by providing company, even if it was long distance.  Now all of our routines are out and everyone is in the same situation, trying to figure out our lives in this new Mom-less world.

I could call but then I get sad and thinking hurts and I don't want to talk so I don't call, propagating a vicious cycle of loneliness.  I adore my games of Words With Friends because I imagine them like strands of spider-silk binding me to my sister.  No one else probably thinks that way, but to me they're still a connection, however wispy.

(Recent) Past
I have a sense of having survived the holidays.  I should post some photos; we got a new tree, and DD decorated the house again and everything looked lovely.  I did the whole buy-all-the-gifts, do-all-the-cooking thing, for the most part, because that's what we've always done and I do enjoy it, but this year, oh -- it was all through a gray fog for me, and no one seemed to notice and that was fine because I just wanted the kids to have a normal Christmas -- up until New Year's Eve when we were driving home from California in a rental car because the van died on CA91 in Riverside (RIP, Bessie), when all that self-control just cracked and I broke down nearly as thoroughly as the van.

I guess not, though.  You don't repair blown head gaskets in vans that are 16 years old with 175,000 miles on them. (Why, you may ask, did we drive the old car to CA?  Because the service center assured us it was in perfect condition, having just completed the 27-point safety check and knowing we'd kept up the maintenance.  I don't even want to think about how much money we put into keeping the van up just so we could eke a few more years out of it, only to have it just... die.)  I feel similarly finished but manage to keep going anyway.  If I felt this horrid all the time I'd look into treatment for depression, but it only gets me at night, and I'm still pretty much completely functional.
Disneyland was unbelievably packed but a total blast.  I don't think I took a single photo while we were there but I did post a few to facebook: I actually went on (now called) HyperSpace Mountain with DH and really enjoyed it.  That was a major accomplishment, because I was terrified before hand.  The great thing about being at Disneyland is that we were so busy I didn't have much time to think, and I slept like a rock because we were doing so much walking around.  Plus it was cold, so we dressed in layers, but crawling under the covers and getting truly warm was wonderful at the end of each day.

Physically I'm perhaps even more of a mess than I am emotionally.  Still hearing that tinnitus in my right ear, and today that under-the-jaw thing, whatever it is, has been absolutely killing me, and ibuprofen is only barely taking the edge off.  It is very distracting having such a noticeable pain!  My diet has been horrendous and I am now trying to break myself of the sugar/carb addiction I've let myself fall into.  Too many of my students gave me sweets, bless them.  Next year: much more discipline with the indulging.  I feel fat even though I'd be willing to bet that no one else can even tell I gained a few pounds.  My reflux had been doing better until this afternoon when I torpedoed myself by having 1) a cup of coffee and 2) way too many Trader Joe's cheese puffs.  (Mindless eating while on hold... not a good scenario.)   Back to square one, which is limiting all carbs as much as possible until that heals.

I had an ultrasound of this neck thing last Wednesday. The radiologist was going to request the imaging studies from Banner MDA in October for comparison and decide if I need to go back in for a biopsy.  (At this point I kind of just want to jam a needle into it and drain it, but I'm pretty sure that's not a recommended procedure.)  For the first time I ever, I asked the technician if I could see the images when she was done.  She was surprised but said yes, but also told me she wasn't going to read them.  I explained that I've seen enough ultrasounds to know what a cancerous node looks like (you can't go by size, a better indicator is shape:firm, fixed, rounded; extensive blood vessels rather than just the little blips that are typical, and calcifications which show up like white spots.)  The cool thing is, I didn't see anything that looked like that, but I admit, I glanced pretty quickly since I didn't want to take up too much of the technician's time.  Still waiting on the results, but hoping to hear by the end of the week -- I don't think I'm stressed about it, but that's probably just denial on my part.

The Future!

First up, and probably contributing to my acid reflux: science fair, just three weeks out.   I absolutely cannot wait for it to be over.  Shortly after, we're going to Savannah GA for a niece's wedding. In June, we're heading to MA for a nephew's wedding.  We may stay in MA for some extra time so DD can look at colleges in the Boston area other than MIT, where she has set her heart, but we haven't made any plans yet.  I want to hear about this neck thing first, and then I need to really decide whether or not to move to the new campus my charter school is opening in the fall.  It will be literally 5 minutes from my house and only 2 miles away from the kids' school (for the 3 years they'll still be there...) and DH has told me he wants me to do it, but I am struggling with leaving my team.  I love them.  I've worked with a lot of people over the years and this is the finest group of people I have ever worked with.  My team lead assured me that they'll still be around and we can get together, etc, but it won't be the same.  I just have to decide if I have any professional ambitions at all right now, or if I just want to stay and be comfortable.

There's this feeling that as soon as I finish my Master's program, I'm going to be restless.  I'm finishing up the project this semester, taking my last 2 science classes over the summer (history of science, philosophy of biology [just typing that makes me so happy!  I will have stacks of reading but it's summer and I know I am going to love love love these classes]) so then next fall literally all I will have left is my thesis defense.  So, if I'm helping to open a new school and being team lead for a bunch of newbie junior high teachers, I should be able to handle it, right?

Sometimes I feel invincible.  Now is not one of those times.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


A little sigh of relief.

Today was the first day of my winter break.  I was out from 11am to 6pm, so it wasn't a lazing-around-the-house kind of day, but it was still a good one.

Last week did me in.  I had developed a cold the week before, and that just didn't help.  It wasn't bad at first, but by the middle of last week, my voice was shot, and it  still isn't right.

Most of that is on me.  I was supposed to finish up my paper over the weekend  and it just didn't happen.  Too much Christmas, family, school stuff happening.  Too much feeling overwhelmed by all of it this year.  Too much feeling this huge emptiness where Mom should be.

Which is not to say things didn't get done.  For example, I found and printed the photos to put into the photo frame ornaments I bought for my siblings.  I did some Christmas shopping.  And food shopping.  And laundry.  And cooking...  I really should not go to the farmer's market if I am not on vacation.

Things got done but not the paper, which was due on Wednesday.  I stayed up incredibly late several nights running getitng it together.  It was supposed to be only 15 pages with at least 10 references but it just got out of hand. (22 pages [not counting the title page and abstract, mind you], 4 pages of references) I should explain, this is not just "a paper," it's the literature review for my non-thesis project.  Having never done a literature review before, I was cheerfully naive about what they entailed before taking this last course.  The entire purpose of said course was to teach how to read and write a literature review, and then to help us write them for our theses or non-thesis projects.  My non-thesis project is kind of a monster, and so the lit review is, too.

Anyway, on Tuesday I realized it wasn't going to be done on Wednesday and begged for an extension, which of course my professor gave me.  I finished it about 1AM Thursday night (early Friday morning) or maybe even later.   Of course I still had to work every day.  I think Monday-Thursday I got about 12 hours of sleep total.  It was not good, and it made me even sicker.

But, I wrote an awesome paper which my professor called "excellent" and she said that I am very close to being done with it, which is pretty huge.  She's totally amazing because she graded it by Saturday, which was about a 24-hour turn-around.   Plus I have an A for the class which is affirming.  I worked very hard over an incredibly difficult period but managed to stay on top of everything.  (This sounds stupid but I'm writing it anyway --) I think my Mom would be proud of me for going on with it, even though I could've dropped when things went sideways early in the fall.

So, school's out until January, grad class is over, kids are done with recitals and piano for 2 weeks.  Christmas shopping is done (unless I decide to get that one last thing for the boys), and some of it is even wrapped.  The fridge is stuffed with food and I don't have to go out again if I don't want to...

Except tomorrow morning, when we're seeing Star Wars: TFA at the odd hour of 10AM.  I'm spoiler-free and looking forward to it.  I'm working on resting and recovering.

Right, back to today's massive outing; a good part of that was an appointment with Dr. O, whom I have not seen in quite a while.  First off, the cold has morphed into a disgusting infection (confirmed when he scoped me), so I'm on anitbiotics plus Mucinex to keep the mucus thin and draining.  (That should help my voice.)  I went chiefly about my right ear tinnitus and the weird pain I get from under my jaw line where those glands are swollen.  I thought they felt weird and so did he, so he's sending me for an ultrasound and possible FNA if it's something suspicious.  He thinks the tinnitus is a vascular side effect of the nodes, which makes sense to me.  Oh, and he confirmed that the lumpy-throat feeling is because of my reflux, it's got my esophagus irritated again. I suppose I should not be eating sriracha potato chips if I'm having reflux.  I'll do as best I can to get the reflux settled but over the holidays it's really hard to stick to a good diet.  Lately I've been living chiefly on Starbucks soy milk peppermint mochas and various Christmas candy given to me by my students.

Astoundingly generous, they were, this year.  Of course I still have nearly 200, so that partly explains the huge haul of stuff I got.

After Star Wars, perhaps I will grade some of those (many, many) papers?  I tell myself I'll have hours in the car to & from California (Disneyland!) that can be used for that, but I don't want to have it hanging over my head.  All the cards and presents have been sent, all the shopping is done, now I can just sit home, relax, and get some grading done... after DD and I finish watching Avatar: The Last Airbender.  We only have a half-dozen or so episodes to go, and we are thoroughly enjoying the fantastic characters, beautiful art direction, and occasional silliness, but best of all, the most coherent magical world-building of any story we (collectively) know.  Tolkien's magic is impenetrable, Harry Potter's is secret (which, as much as I love it all,  is stupid), and everyone else's is just ... weak, or perhaps opaque or just too incompletely revealed to be as engaging.  At least, that's what we decided in our conversation this evening!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

odd day

It seems I only pop in to write when I'm at my wit's end, these days, these months.  Too much to do and not enough time to do it in.

All that is still true.  On the plus side of things: DD's Shakespeare performance was terrific, and both kids played well in their holiday recital last weekend.  My professor liked the first half of my paper very much, so that means I only have about 8 pages or so to write, and I have another whole week to do that, along with putting together my presentation.  The new Christmas tree is so different from the old one that it still surprises me, but it is really beautiful, and DD Christmas'd up the whole house again, which is just lovely.

On the working-on-it side of things, DS2's inadequate school skills and general dodginess landed him in trouble for the last time, so now his computer's downstairs in the family room and I grill him about everything coming due and stay on him about doing it.  I managed to avoid having the same failed expectations conversation for twenty-first time by simply deciding not to have it.  I gave him a 2-week shot at managing his own affairs, and he didn't.  Whether he can't or just won't is immaterial. If he wants to stay at his current school, he has to do the work.  There is no point in keeping him there if he's not even going to try. He doesn't want to switch schools, though.  He admitted his own school "could be good if only...' if only what? "...if I tried."  We'll see.

Today's personal drama started yesterday after school, when I got drafted to attend a meeting.  Then this morning I had to report the directives from that meeting to my peers.  All of that's OK except our admin hasn't been her usual positive self lately, and after being harangued not to be "lazy," (we all were group-chastised)  I knew I had to tread carefully.  And I thought I did!  But I didn't, and there's no point recounting the dialog, because that's not the point.

Here's what happened: with about 30 minutes left in my prep hour, I realized I needed literally 2 pages of one version of my midterm exam because there was a problem with the copies.  So I went up to the office and made my two copies, and then got called into the admin's office.  I really did not want to talk to her because I was confused by the discussion at the morning meeting and still thinking about everything and trying to figure out what exactly we are supposed to be doing now and how that works with our mission, which we generally adhere to pretty well.  So I tried to say, could we do this later?  But I was told no, and then things got very weird.

There was the back-and-forth about the meeting stuff, and I just flat out disagree with her judgment -  I did not see the point of raising a junior high specific question in a meeting that had already run over an hour, when I was literally the only person at the table who was interested in the answer.  We kept talking past each other, but it got to the point where I expressed how overwhelmed I am following the death of my mother.  Of course, tears at this point, not sobbing, just leaking eyes and not wanting to talk anymore, but having, of course, to talk more.  I say, quite clearly that nearly 200 students is overwhelming, and that's when it got bizarre.  My admin said, If you want 30 students in a class, find another school.

It's still echoing around in my head now, more than 13 hours later.

Well.  At the time, I was shocked but I stood up and said, "I will," and turned to go.  She called me back and wouldn't let me go, and told me what a great teacher I am, blah blah blah.

All of this was just so upsetting.  She kept me 10 minutes past the bell -- my students were waiting out in the hall because I had locked my door before I left my room -- my midterm exams were all laid out, getting ready for tomorrow, and I didn't want anyone walking in and finding them.

I'm finally released from this trying encounter and of course still very upset, when I'm told to have a great day, and I respond with, "Oh...."  I had just been crying and talking about how overwhelmed I feel, and now I have to go back to my students and I'm told I will have a great day and I have to choose my attitude blah blah blah.

I am a professional.  I got my shit together on the walk back to my classroom and not one student had any idea I had just been crying in the principal's office and basically told to find another job. And I got through the rest of the day, too, somehow.   My co-workers are as flummoxed about this morning's meeting as I was, and of course wanted to know where I was when I was so late for third period class.

What a mess! I don't think it's a good idea to make a decision when you're under a lot of stress, and I am under a tremendous amount of stress right now.  But I think applying at another school or two isn't the worst idea in the world.  I don't know if my feelings will change but for some time I have been thinking that teaching 190-something students is too many, even if I'm not in grad school.  I don't want to teach that many students, and if I have to go to another school to achieve that, that's what I'm going to have to do.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

it's all too much

The first batch of my students' science fair papers, the research part, came in last Friday.  The dozen or so I've looked at so far are wretched, and I don't want to read any more, but there's nothing to be done for it.  I just need to get over my resentment and do it.  This year, however, I have resolved: no comments, just a  score.  They had an opportunity to get comments from me earlier in the year, so it's too late now.  Besides, the vast majority just don't care.

I'm so burned out. I always seem to have at least one commitment too many.  I dropped teaching RE and thought that would free me up enough, but no.  This year I'm only taking one grad class, but I'm also implementing my portfolio project, so it's more like one-and-a-half.  Then of course is the kicker: I'm teaching 197 students.  When I saw the enrollment numbers at the beginning of the year, I thought, "It will drop off."  But it didn't.  The district is giving us a "class size stipend" and it's not small, but at this point, I don't want the money.  I want the time!

If science fair were part of the regular curriculum it would be OK, I wouldn't mind grading the nearly 200 papers.  But it's in addition to the regular curriculum, and that's what's killing me.

Of course I'm still reeling from Mom's death, expected as it was.  Every day there's something that brings back the idea that she's gone.  I suppose it will get easier but it's still hard right now. I just feel like I haven't had any time to process, and God only knows when I'll get it.

Last weekend we went up to the DBG to see the Bruce Munroe exhibit, Sonoran Light.  It was spectacular, and a lovely break.  How I wish I could do that kind of thing more often!

Last but not least:

I just realized it has been 10 years since my last treatment.