Monday, December 30, 2013

winter beach

DD and I came East to spend a few days with my Mom.   The temps were close to 50 when we stopped at the beach, but the wind was crazy and we weren't really dressed for that wind, so it was a very quick trip.

The sky was never this blue last summer!

Chappaquoit stairs, sand, surf, sky.

The usual shoreline view at Chappaquoit.

Coming around Falmouth Heights.

Chihuly in the Garden - Member preview Nov 9

We arrived in the early evening, and walked the trails in the rising darkness.

The spotlights washed out some color but heightened the sense of other-worldliness. Some pieces evoked marine life, some flocks of birds or tangles of snakes.   I'll visit again during daylight hours, but these are my favorite photos from our first views of this installation.

Afterwards, we had dinner at the spectacular Gertrude's. A perfect evening.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

well, that happened

Next year at fall break I'll be thinking, What did we do last year?  

Then I'll remember that fall break was basically three days of doing nothing, coming to the realization on Tuesday morning that I had a ton of stuff to do, and then a blur of work.  

I had some vague idea of working ahead so that my future weekends wouldn't be so swamped, but that didn't happen.  I did get my lesson plan templates set up for the rest of the academic year, though, which was tedious but will make my life easier going forward.  And I also researched easier ways to do things I'm already doing, like making PowerPoint presentations from my Cornell notes (yes, PPT can import documents from Word, but only if they're in outline format - no problem!)

The offspring had very few desires: go to Zia, sleep as much as possible.  My own list was similarly short: go to the Desert Botanical Garden, sleep, and catch up on work.  Unfortunately achieving the last did, in the end, take a chunk out of the second, but we did make it to the garden.

It was already early afternoon when we arrived, and the boys were starving.  We had a spectacular lunch at Gertrude's, out on the patio.  I was completely charmed by the families of quail that wandered through periodically, and the one cottontail who snacked on a nearby aloe.   All of them were un-photographable because of the interplay of light and shadow -- no fill-in flash I possess would've been enough to catch them.  Never mind the fact that they never stood still.

So by the time we started walking the trails (my favorite trail was closed!), it was close to 3:30 and the afternoon sun was gorgeous.  The cacti were glowing, and neither my little point-and-shoot (whose battery died about 30 minutes in) nor my iPhone camera could do it justice.

That was a high point, but not the only one.  I made a number of nice dinners and we ate outside as often as we could, just enjoying the food, the wine, the weather, and the company, and it was lovely.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


I like these.  They work. 

I never realized until this week that having less than 20/20 vision means that the world looks darker than it is.

I used to have 20/10, eyes that were better than average, and maintained that for years.  A couple of years ago my eye doctor recommended "cheaters" for those times when focusing on small print was difficult.  For a long time, I rarely wore them at all, reserving them for low-light situations at the end of long days.  Tired eyes don't see as well.

One thing I can see is the day coming when I'll break down and get glasses to wear all the time. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


Depth & Complexity Icons - wiki
My life is profoundly different, and immeasurably improved. 

This is astoundingly our sixth week of classes.  We came home from vacation and I plunged immediately into new-hire training and classroom set up and all that.  Then meet-the-teacher night and learning the names of 170-ish students and all the staff.   All of that was nerve-wracking because I'd taken the job after two not-so-long interviews and a few follow-up phone calls.  It was possible that I'd made a mistake, right?

I didn't.  I love my job.  I must say that at least a few times every day.  Even though this is my first year with this set of textbooks and using this curriculum map, so I'm creating lesson materials (notes, PowerPoints) as I go, I still love my job. 

It is not a chore for me to write notes or put together a PowerPoint.  It's fun.  I've been a writer most of my life, after all, and this is writing about stuff I know really well, in the way that I love to write best.  I get to explain things.  By making PowerPoints I get to engage my students at a level they wouldn't be if I just relied on notes on the board. 

(And really, the PowerPoints keep me consistent, and keep me from wearing out Expo markers every day.)

I don't have that square peg/round hole feeling any more.  And I'm not afraid of my rose colored glasses slipping, either, because there are things that are not perfect, of course.  But that's OK because those are manageable things.  On the other hand, so many good decisions have been made at the top, and best of all, they are enforced all the way down, that make up for any glitches.  My school a great place for me to work.

That said, I can see how someone else might not like it.  We have an "accelerated, back-to-basics" curriculum.  It is a joy to teach to the brightest in the class (and tutor the lowest to help them keep up).  It's great to be able to expand on the curriculum and go further in depth than what the sometimes oversimplified text provides.   It's amazingly satisfying to set high standards and get the approval and backing of the administration, and the cooperation of the students. 

I looked back over some of my posts from last year, and the story of that one class, one day, that learned how to balance chemical equations sticks with me.  I have that experience every day in nearly every class.  My students are interested in science.  They follow directions.  They want to learn.

In the past, I've used an expression along the lines of "Yes, it feels good to finally stop beating your head against a brick wall." 

Yeah, I'm not doing that anymore. I have a smidgeon of guilt for "giving up" on my old school.  I left for a lot of reasons, and I'm much happier where I am.  I heard Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" the other day and the line, Did you exchange a walk-on part in a war with a lead role in a cage? struck me.  Is that what I did?  What I was doing felt like a daily battle.  Now I do have a pacing guide that says what topics  I should teach when, and how many assessments I have to do over each grading period. That hasn't put me in a cage, it's given me a structure in which I can deliver the content (and the assessments) however I want.  It's lovely. 

Old job versus new job is like free-form poetry versus sonnets.  Both can be beautiful, one is a lot more structured.  I like structure.

Like my Lady Banks roses, I do better with support.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

salvage operation

The weather, so far, has been uncooperative.  We did see the sun for about 5 minutes here and there today, and it was nice to finally see a slice of blue sky.  But this evening intermittent showers began, and I felt like throwing in the towel.

I'm not sure whose idea it was, but we ended up going to see Pacific Rim instead.  Yes, it was silly, but it was also fun.  And unsurprisingly, given director Guillermo del Toro, it looked beautiful.  The scene that introduces Mako Mori, with silver rivers of rain sheeting off her black umbrella, was shockingly gorgeous.  An extended flashback scene purposefully evoked Spielberg's red-coated girl in Schindler's List, but more effectively, for me -- the little girl this time was a real character, not a symbol.   There was a lot to look at, but it all made sense, unlike other blockbuster movies (I'm looking at you, Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel) in which I usually can't make head or tails of who's being punched or dragged through a building or whatnot.

Plus, the monsters were really cool, the geeky scientists came through, and the casting was superb.  I understand that many people detest this sort of movie, and even DS1 continues to scoff (even after having seen it), but I was willing to be entertained, and I was.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

now, vacation

I remember feeling almost giddy when school was over this May.  I was so worn out this year, and reading over my (scant) entries here, I was struck by how often I struggled.  I know that for every time I posted, there were at least a half-dozen other events I could have documented.  I've kept everything purposely vague here, just enough for me to remember -- but that was enough.

Funny how I have constantly downplayed the negative, and had to really dig it up again to face it.  I know it's a survival tactic, but it's too akin to a battered woman staying with an abusive boyfriend.  Not to say that I was physically harmed or even threatened (well, maybe that once), but there was a tremendous amount of  psychological pain.  It's hard to feel constantly that you're failing, especially when you're working as hard as you can.  

That, more than anything, was why I made finding a new job my summer job. I spent the first half of June wrestling with the idea of looking for a new job (dozens of conversations and hours ruminating, boiled down to two paragraphs!),  and the second half of June actively doing so.  Applying for a teaching job requires jumping through many hoops, and I applied for a bunch. It may be this way for everyone, but I had to pull together multiple references, both personal and professional, several letters of reference, scans of my certificate and AEPA test results, and more.  Then there were the personal essays, which I perhaps should spend careful consideration on but tend to just knock out, proof read once or twice, and then submit.  I figure it's me.  If they don't like me, they shouldn't hire me.

July 1, a job posted at a school I knew about.  I drive by a few times a week. I applied, was invited for a screening interview, then a formal interview the next day, and I had an offer in my inbox within four hours of that interview.

Today I accepted their offer, and resigned from my old job. Now I can have some real vacation.

(*) The sculpture is not called "Victory" but it certainly represents how I feel right now.  It's on the grounds of Highfield Hall at Beebe Woods in Falmouth, MA.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

not a beach day

We went anyway.

At home, it was close to 80 degrees with fluffy clouds on a blue sky.  But it was a mostly cloudy, only occasionally sunny kind of day. 

At the beach, the sky was white, and the wind was whipping.  It was almost too cold.  The boys and I headed right in, DD took some convincing.

The water was much warmer than I expected it to be.  The waves were huge.  I remember going to this same beach as a kid with my mother and her sister, and various siblings and cousins.  The waves were so big that every time my aunt tried to get out of the water, they kept knocking her down.  She was laughing so hard she couldn't get out of the water. 

I'm thinking that I'm older now than my aunt was, then. But I was laughing hard, too, every time a wave caught me off guard, which happened more often than usual today.  They were very big and very fast and very frequent.

As usual, DS1 was the first in and the last out.  DS2's lips were blue when he got out -- I gave up before I reached that point.  

Two trips to the beach in 21 days?  Not a great start, but we've still got some time here.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ent war

On one of the days when it wasn't raining, we went for our annual hike in Beebe Woods.  I left the trail map home so we just winged it, and it worked out fine -- a gorgeous hike (unintentionally) to the Ice House pond first, then skirting Peterson Farm over to the Punch Bowl and back to the Conservatory.  The path by Peterson Farm was particularly gorgeous, we were walking through boughs of raspberries on all sides.
Sorry for the blur. Must've been crud on the lens.

I thought it was mountain laurel, but a quick look at an online field guide contradicted that.  After some digging (way too much, actually -- should've known this one), it turns out to be some kind of raspberry.  Wish I could be there for the harvest.

It was nice to walk through all those flowers and see the lush marshlands just beyond them, because this particular stretch of Beebe Woods has seen much better days.   There's always the usual plant-on-plant destruction, with creepers and vines growing up the tallest trees and eventually bringing them down with their weight.  But this year we saw evidence of what looked some kind of brown fungal disease eating away several oaks, as well as an abundance of a light green spindly moss-type stuff absolutely coating many trees (same by my mother's house, sadly).  The infected trees are putting out many fewer leaves.  I think the moss or whatever it is is sucking out the trees' nutrients so they can't support as many leaves.

These changes were relatively subtle, though, and you could ignore them if you just wanted a nice walk in the woods.  But there was no way to ignore the number of broken and felled trees, almost from the moment we got in.  It was shocking.

Our first indication that something was wrong was this slim tree in the path.  What was weird about it was I couldn't see the bottom part of the tree.  In other words, it didn't just snap off and fall over.  It was broken off and thrown clear from its trunk and roots.

Another example, more violent than the first, because this was a substantially larger tree with much broader branches. 

And another.  These three were not the only ones we saw, and my nephew even made some attempt, as a good scout, to clear the trail when he could.  Most of the downed trees were off the trail, and there were many.

It is a mystery, but I think it must be hurricane related.  Hurricane Sandy was not the only big storm to hit here last winter, and Beebe Woods is on unprotected high ground.  Snow-laden and semi-frozen trees could break easily in high winds, or even bare trees could break if they were weakened by fungus, moss infections, or choked by vines.

That's one theory, anyway.

Other theories involve a negative and aggressive reaction from the native Ents, wood elves and dryads to the invasion of faeries at the nearby Highfield Gardens.
Everyone knows those twee little folk are nothing but trouble makers.


When I was in high school, I had this huge poster -- one of many, actually -- up in my room.  I remember I bought it at the Strawberry's record store in Kenmore Square in Boston, probably my sophomore or junior year -- that would've been about 1978 or 1979.  At the time I had just become enamored of Yes, and prog rock, and everything that went along with it.

Rodney Matthew's Tanelorn

Given yet-another cloudy and cool day, I loaded the kids up into the car and we took off to Hyannis to Spinnaker Records.   DS1 loves prowling through used records stores and finding obscure stuff.  DD loves it, too, although what she comes up with tends to be less obscure.  At any rate, Spinnaker has a huge collection of 1970s and 80s rock posters and album art and all kinds of cool stuff that was fun to look at, but none of the stuff that I actually owned myself back then.

So given nothing better to do, I decided to see if I could track down that poster I had always thought of as "that huge cool Roger Dean poster I gave to Joe when I went to college and he enlisted in the army."  

Except it turns out not to be a Roger Dean poster at all, and I feel like I owe an apology to Rodney Matthews, who has probably been dealing with that confusion his entire career (which has been and continues to be, quite productive).  

It also has a name, which is Tanelorn, the Eternal City from Michael Morcook's multiverse. I have never heard of Tanelorn before today, although of course I'd heard of Morcock and his Eternal Champion, Elric.  I had good friends (the aforementioned Joe was most certainly among them) who were reading this stuff (in between D&D sessions), along with Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.  I never read any of it, sticking more with science fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Herbert), although I did get more into fantasy later (McAffrey, Zimmer Bradley, LeGuin).  Of course everyone read Tolkein, then.  

I literally wrote out and had to erase: I have no desire to read epic fantasy ever again, but then I realized I'm still curious to see how GRRM is going to untangle the multiple knotted plot threads in his massive A Song of Fire and Ice series, popularly known as Game of Thrones.  I've got a bit of wait on that front, with a possible publication of volume six in 2014 and then who knows how long for the final book.

So I haven't really lost my taste for fantasy, and this image still tugs at my heart. The thing I love about it is that you can't tell whether it's a city or an impossibly huge ship, able to slip away at will  -- exactly the kind of thing Tanelorn can do.  Kudos, Mr. Matthews.

Friday, June 21, 2013

capsule reviews

Have inexplicably seen a lot of movies lately.  Perhaps not so inexplicably, really: finally there was something that we wanted to see.  Generally we manage to go to a matinee (at home, the first show of the day is only $5!) because going out to the movies at night is not that important to us.  At any rate, here are my quick impressions of what we've seen recently:

Oblivion: the previews were highly deceptive, as is typical.  Loved it.  Very smart, tight science fiction film that speaks to what makes us human, and keeps us that way.  I'm sure some people hated it, but thinking back I can't find one thing I'd criticize.  Would love to see this again.

Star Trek: Into Darkness: brilliant, just brilliant.  Loved it. I loved JJ Abrams' original reboot anyway, and this is a more-than-worthy successor.  Same players, different game.  Well, mostly the same players -- fatherless Jim Kirk vs Jim Kirk, the stack of books with legs at Starfleet Academy.  Motherless, homeless Spock vs supremely stable Spock. More, I won't say, but McCoy and Scotty and all the rest are just a joy to watch, and the way this one played out took my heart out of my chest and stomped on it, then picked it up, brushed it off, and put it back in so it could keep on beating. 

Man of Steel: Not as brilliant, but I really enjoyed it.  The fight scenes went on for too long (I've seen a well-reasoned argument that it's realistic for two super-beings to fight that way, and while that may be true, it still doesn't necessarily make for a compelling movie.)  Other than that, I loved all the Kents (Costner was fantastic), Henry Cavill has the look and the sound and the bearing completely down, and Amy Adams' was terrific as Lois Lane.  I do think that Russell Crowe kinda phoned it in as Jor-El but how emotional can a hologram really get?  I'm hearing a lot of complaining about certain parts of this film that make me think that people really aren't paying attention to what's on screen.  One of my favorite scenes? Two words: crucified truck. 

Monsters University: Saw this today with my brother and nephew, before they headed back up to Boston.  It was delightful.  First off, of course it was gorgeous, but the character work (not the drawing, the acting) was really spectacular as we've come to expect in Pixar films.  I saw a capsule review in my Mom's paper that essentially panned this, and again, I wonder, what was that guy watching?  Helen Mirren is just so scary and Nathan Fillion plays the frat boy jerk character perfectly.  Speaking of perfectly, there are at least three places in the story where you think something's going to happen, you just know it, having seen so many of these movies and knowing where Mike & Sully end up, but then... it doesn't.I love this movie for what didn't happen, as much as for what did.   Now I want to go back and watch the original again.  The accompanying short, The Blue Umbrella, was wordless but nonetheless packed with emotion and suspense expertly built and then released, and simply lovely.

All in all, a good run.  Coming up: The Lone Ranger, and Despicable Me 2.  We're on the fence about World War Z, good reviews not withstanding.  We're looking at good weather for the next long stretch so who knows.

Saturday, June 08, 2013


Doctor's office called and asked for a call back.  It's always a concern when they do that, because if everything was fine, they'd just leave an automated message.  So when I called back I was put on hold interminably, but then got the briefest report: CA125 is 'normal' (how suspicious I am of that term), but the ultrasound shows a cyst on my right ovary.  I need a follow-up ultrasound in 8 weeks.

This, I can manage.

I asked for the reports to be mailed to me so I can see for myself what's going on.  I wasn't surprised to hear that I have a cyst on the right side now, even though it's the left that's been bothering me for the past 2 months.  These past few nights I can't sleep if I'm lying on my side, either side. 

So if it goes as it usually does with me, by the time of the follow-up they'll be nothing at all to see, again.

Maybe I should have them out, just to spare myself all this foolishness.  The NP I see at the office suggested it, last go round, but I won't go under the knife again unless I must. I've had worse  pain.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

more break downs

Having whined at length about my career, I can move on to the periodic physical health update.

I developed another ovarian cyst mid-April and, since it still hasn't resolved, went to the gynecologist, got the referral, and had the ultrasound.  It's amazing how easy it is to schedule procedures and tests when I'm not having to work around a school calendar.  I was able to get all of that done (including another CA-125 test) in just two days.  But now I have to wait and see what it says.  I've had so many of these that at this point, it's just a routine, I'm not expecting anything.  Except of course there is that tiny nagging doubt that maybe this time, there really is something going on.

That thought creeps in and I promptly ignore it.  I'll jump off that bridge when I get to it.


I'm going to be fifty years old in two months.  In all that time, I've had my hair colored (highlighted, I guess) exactly once.  Still never had a manicure (or a pedicure - too ticklish).

But yesterday, I had a laser procedure to try to reduce the nasty-looking appearance of the vein extending from a scar I have on my left leg.  It was very quick and while not exactly painless, I wouldn't call it painful, either.  A series of tiny pin-jabs.  The technician thought the results would be good, but it will take some time to see.  It wasn't that expensive, but I'm still kind of embarrassed about spending money on something so purely cosmetic, plus something that probably no one else ever noticed.  The scar itself is barely visible, but the vein was really noticeable (to me).

I'm noticing more gray hairs this year.  Generally I leave them alone but there are a few that stick straight up and out (they always seem to be more wiry), and those I pluck.  I don't want to be one of those women that's trying to stop the clock, but I also don't want to look like one of those ladies with the crazy hair.

And let's not even talk about clothes.  The return of 70s and 80s fashion is killing me; we're surrounded by ugly clothes, or clothes that only look good on stick figures, again.  And if I see something cute or nice, odds are it's designed for someone around my daughter's age.  It does make retail therapy difficult, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  There's always shoes.


Aside from the ovarian cyst, the health issues I was struggling with last year at this time are, I could say, in remission.  I think that's valid because I have this sense that they're just biding their time, waiting to get me, but they're not bothering me now.

My acid reflux/GERD is well-controlled (I can sing!),  and my arthritis/fibromyalgia only kick up when I'm very bad on my diet or I have a very strenuous day, like the last day of school  - slicing up six huge watermelons put a bruise on my hand, it's not easy with a plastic knife.  Mopping, sweeping, and moving a lot of furniture didn't help, either.

My weight fluctuates between 137 and 142.  I can live with it, although I have this ideal of settling around 130-133.  I can't let it get any higher because then none of my new pants for work will fit.  I can eat tortilla chips or potato chips or popcorn occasionally; carbs in general don't seem to cause problems for me, but wheat in particular does.  It's harder to be strictly low carb now since I have to avoid dairy, and I can't live on cheese anymore.  I'm grateful for almond milk.

My ultrasound technician on Monday was a talker, as they often are, to try and distract their really-need-to-pee patients from their discomforts.  I wasn't surprised to hear her say something I've thought myself, which is that about every seven years, our bodies go through some sort of realignment or change.  I'm 49, and this was a year of change for me; 49 was definitely better than 48.   I have a sense of figuring out a lot of what's been going on with me, my whole life, and how to manage better, now.  Shame it took nearly 50 years to figure it all out though.

break down

No car today.  The starter was showing signs of giving out and then it actually did yesterday, on literally the last stop before I was going to bring it over to the shop to have it looked at.

So now I'm stuck in the house all day, which I suppose is good because I have better odds now of actually cleaning out those closets.

Summer vacation, for the kids, means staying up late and sleeping in.  Its' 10:42 and I haven't heard a peep from any of them, but that's OK because we're not doing anything these days.  I may wake them up, I may let them sleep.  I think DS2 has grown three inches in the past month (an exaggeration, but he does seem huge now), and he certainly needs the sleep. 

For me, so far, vacation has meant a lot of running around.  My Mom would say "like a chicken with its head cut off," and that's sort of how I feel.  I don't know what I'm doing.  My school year ended on a significant up note (my students' AIMS scores improved, third year in a row!), but the changes planned for my campus and the behavior of  one cohort of my students remain concerns. 

The plan for next year is for me to teach seventh grade (mostly earth science) and biology (probably 9th graders).  While I am excited to teach biology, I'm not excited about having to develop an entirely new curriculum.  I'm not starting from scratch but in reality, I am, because while I have the last bio teacher's curriculum map, etc, I'm not sure how useful that's going to be.  Our administration is leaning heavily on us to have more hands-on, experiential learning, and I honestly don't know how to do that with many of the concepts I'm dealing with.  

I'm also sad that my 8th grade curriculum, which has shown good results the last 3 years, is being shelved.  I hadn't really thought about that when the new teaching assignment was proposed to me, but I really love that curriculum and I really loved teaching it.  I hope that I will grow to love biology just as much if not more (that was my first area of certification, after all), but I've invested three years there and it makes me sad to just see it set aside. 

So the plan for me involves a huge change.  There are also huge changes planned for the administration (existing principal moving to another school in our charter district, two different "principals" sharing duties on different days at our campus...) that it's hard to imagine how they will be implemented so that they actually work.  One of our biggest challenges in the past three years has been absentee administration. As in, you call or go up to the office, and there's literally no one there to help you with whatever you need help with, for students or for teachers.  So while we're going to have a full-time vice principal and a full-time dean of students, I have concerns about having two part-time principals.  It seems as if there isn't any one person in charge, and therefore responsible, ever.  I'm trying to reign in my negativity with minimal success.

One of the reasons it's hard for me to remain positive about these plans is my last group of seventh graders.  I've been complaining consistently about them, documenting their classroom behaviors and putting them into the discipline system all year long, and a significant number of them have made absolutely no progress.  Back in August, these students would rip little pieces of pencil erasers off and then throw them at each other whenever my back was turned.  OK, that was the beginning of the year, and they were essentially glorified 6th graders.  But a whole school year has passed, and during our last project of the year (model an ecosystem), these same students were breaking crayons and throwing them around the room at each other. 

Worst of all?  On the last day of school, my "thing" is to bring in watermelon for all my classes.  I have now served watermelon to 21 different classes over 3 years at this school, and only in my last class of the day this year have I ever seen students throwing watermelon at each other. It wasn't just one or two pieces, it was all over the place, smashed on the walls and in the corners.  I was so disturbed by their behavior, it still upsets me to think about it, a week later.  I told them, "If I don't come back next year, it's because of you."

And I have been looking. I'm well aware that the grass is always greener.... I'm comparing commuting times, and so far there are jobs out there I could do, but I haven't applied.  I probably won't because I'm lazy and because at least where I am I know what I'll be dealing with, but I feel so beaten down right now.  I am grateful that my eighth graders made so much progress, but my seventh graders were so difficult that any positive feelings about last year are easily outweighed by the negatives.

The thing is, I don't even know if that's a valid perspective, or if I'm just over-reacting.  I can't help beating myself up over this -- what could I have done differently?  What did I do or not do that allowed all this to continue?  I have no way to assess how much responsibility to take, but my starting point is, I'm responsible for what goes on in my classroom.  I believe that, but is it really true when I've got a dozen sociopaths to manage and no administrative support?

About a third of new teachers leave the profession after three years, and by five years, more than half will have left.  I'm in that zone now.  I don't have any doubts about teaching, but I do have doubts about teaching where I am.  I thought it would be getting easier by now.  In many ways, and for my eighth graders, it was.  But as for the rest? It's hard to see any relief.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

May day

April flew by.

May first, May Day, m'aidez...

A couple of things touched off that "I need help" feeling, today.  We had a hastily scheduled, overly long, and completely disorganized staff meeting to announce all the organizational changes that are in store for next year.  I'm skeptical but trying not to be negative, and my biggest concern is the re-institution of the "cool kids' club" atmosphere that used to reign when the incoming principal last worked on our campus.  At any rate, it would've been helpful if the information had been presented with some context.  Instead I have the impression that someone was hurling blobs of jello at me, expecting me to catch it and somehow assemble it into something coherent and attractive.  I mean, jello can be delicious, but it requires some effort to make it so.

Just now, though, I fell for a pop-up's message that my "codecs are out of date!"  I've been having trouble with certain websites hanging and I thought, oh, that must be it, and without another thought, I clicked on the install button.

Then I spent the next 45 minutes uninstalling the eight programs that were installed on my laptop, and disabling the AOL toolbar.

Then my Adobe Flash player actually crashed, so I uninstalled that, and I'm working up my nerve to re-install it.

I'm just glad that I was able to figure out how to scrub all that junk off the laptop relatively painlessly, once I used Task Manager to stop the processes.   Honestly, I'm afraid to move to Windows 8 because I think there are more layers between the user and the operating system, and it will be harder for me to fix a problem like this, which wasn't a virus or an attack, just a whole bunch of stuff piggybacking its way in because I clicked on the link to install "updated codecs."  Man, am I stupid.  But also, relieved.

J's photo

Had a great talk with my sister J yesterday, who reports that the bulbs I planted in Mom's backyard last summer came up and bloomed!  They're daffodils.  I had no idea, I thought they were irises. I'm not even a tiny bit sad I won't get to see them ever blooming, it's enough to know they are there.  The occasional photo will be OK -- my sister is using one as her facebook banner photo.  Early reports on the rose bushes is that they are not all dead.  I'm looking forward to seeing them.

19 more days of school, but my students checked out after the AIMS tests were complete, two weeks ago, now.  Can't have that, so I'm holding them strictly in check, or at least trying to.  I'm hoping that if I drill my rules into the 7th graders now, there's a slim chance they'll remember them next year when they get back.  Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Closing out day 2 of spring break here, and I couldn't even remember what last year's spring break was like, so I looked it up.   Of course, I was in the middle of yet-another-round of tests (PET/CT) and dealing with an ovarian cyst, and generally just feeling lousy.

So much better, this year!

The weekend was busy on Saturday, shopping with DD for the various big events she has coming up ("My first designer dress!"  She was thrilled, I'm wondering if I've been encouraging the wrong ideas.)  It looks better on her than it does on the model.    And the shoes!  Hers are much less practical than mine:
I think these are the ones.  She's taller than me when she wears them, now.  Mine are very colorfully striped flats from Dr. Scholl's.  I shouldn't be surprised that shoes can invoke nostalgia, and these flats do, on two fronts.
First, all of the colors remind me of these shoes I got for school when I was in first grade, that had green/orange/yellow on the front and white in back.  Yes, they sound hideous, I'm sure they were, but I loved those shoes, and my little stripey flats have that same colorful cheer.  Second, all throughout jr high and high school, I lived in those Dr. Scholl sandals, the wooden ones with the leather straps and metal buckles.  They were awesome.  I'm hoping these little flats work out similarly well.  They have a nicely constructed footbed that provides decent support and they look summery and will go with just about everything.

After all that shopping on Saturday, Sunday was a stay-at-home and vegetate kind of day.  I've been taking a nap every afternoon, and somehow those two hours off are not causing any problems for anyone.    Monday morning the dishwasher repairman came so DH took the two older kids to their dermatology appointment, where we're trying to undo some of the damage that their acne has caused; that took a better part of the morning, but I worked on my curriculum maps.  The two younger kids had a makeup piano lesson in the evening, and I was a good girl and actually finished those maps, which is something of a miracle.

Today was our busiest day so far, with an early morning orthodontist appointment so DD could get her retainer (she so loves having her braces off) and DS2 another check to see if he was ready to get his braces on (another 6 month reprieve), then out to breakfast, then to the DBG to see the butterflies, and if I could figure out how to get the photos off my phone in some fast and painless way, eventually I will be able to put up a photo or two from the garden.

Then home, helping DS1 with his speech & debate prep for the state tournament this weekend, then a bit of shopping with DS2, then a lovely cookout and eating outside because the weather has finally, finally warmed up and  it's just delightful.

Wednesday and Thursday have a similar amount of non-stressful events lined up, and DS1 and I leave very early on Friday morning for the tournament, and won't be back until the wee hours of Sunday morning.  At least we'll have Sunday to recover before school starts up again.

We've made our summer plans -- well, we have our plane tickets already, but we have to hammer out the details.  Working on those curriculum maps makes the rest of the year seem impossibly short: only 9 more weeks of school! How did that happen?  It will be over before we know it.

Such a cliche, but so true.  It's so nice not to be in the middle of medical testing and all the worries that come with it, and actually be able to relax.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

we're all alright

My MRI came back clean, and there's no need for any follow-up testing until my next ultrasound, which I think will be in June or July, and we'll do the Thyrogen trial again in a year and see what's what.  Yes, my tumor marker is creeping up, and perhaps eventually we'll find something operable, but until then, there's no point in worrying or holding my life hostage to what could be.

Mom's tests all came back great, too -- no blockages, no new medications needed.  She had really low blood sugar and few other minor things going on which conceivably could combine to cause her loss of speech.  She needs to start taking iron and eat more protein, but other than that, she's doing great.

Last but most unexpectedly, I had a performance review in which I wrangled 4 extra points out of my principal.  That doesn't sound like much, but each additional point represents a significant victory on a different performance metric.  We're evaluated using a 21-metric rubric. My overall score still looks horrendous because of how they weight the scores, but I'll take it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


On this Valentine's Day, I was surprised by gifts from three different students, I'm relieved that my Mom is home, and I'm glad my MRI is over. 

We had a great family dinner (surf & turf -- belated birthday lobster for DS2, shrimp for the rest of us) and just enjoyed each other's company.  I remember so well the days I wondered if a day like this would ever happen -- I'd cook and no one would eat more than 2 bites.  Those days are long gone. 

DH brought home a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates and some flowers... so unnecessary, yeah, but so sweet, since they're my favorite flowers (alstromeria) and the kids will definitely help eat those chocolates. 

It really felt like a little holiday, here in the middle of this crazy week, and that's very sweet indeed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

stories we tell ourselves

Last post I laid out a scenario just to give myself something to measure reality against.  Now it's Tuesday more than a week later.  I'm having my MRI tomorrow, finally -- the original order never made it over to the imaging facility, so I had to call yesterday.  The scheduler was really great about getting me scheduled quickly, too: tomorrow afternoon, without and with contrast.  I don't know that I've done that before.

The interminable hold recording flaunts the facility's state-of-the-art equipment that is supposed to be both faster and more accurate. I hope it is less jump-out-of-your-skin startling, that would help.  We'll see. 

Another deviation from the expected: I have no follow-up appointment.  My endo will call me when she gets the results and let me know what she wants me to do from there.  I appreciate not having to spend another $50 co-pay just to get the results.

The problem with my little story is that the only person in it was me.  Yesterday I called my Mom at lunch time to tell her about my MRI appointment, and her speech was garbled and incoherent, like she was speaking a made-up language or talking backwards.  My sister was with her but it took some convincing to get her to the ER.  She's home now, but in the intervening 36 hours she's had a multitude of tests and my other sister had to deal with the mountain of snow the town plowed in front of Mom's driveway, as well as the skating rink that her front yard had become.  Fortunately Falmouth's weather has been warm during the day lately so some of Nemo's snow is melting off. 

Today we celebrated DS2's birthday, since tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and he has soccer practice and piano lessons as well.  There's just too much going on and besides, DH and I will fast even though the kids are not yet obligated to.  Fast days aren't good for birthday parties, so we had a little Mardi Gras of our own.  It was a good dinner but a complex one, followed by his favorite brownies with vanilla glaze for his birthday "cake."

I feel sad but I'm wondering how much of that is actually just fatigue.  School's going OK, but I have to get back on top of my grading.  I miss my family and I worry about my Mom.  I'm nervous about the MRI itself and scared of the results.  I'm pretty sure when I had my recurrence my Tg was lower than it is now, but I'm not inspired to look it up.  I'll know by the end of next week anyway.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

this is what's going to happen

Some day this week, I'll get a call saying that my insurance company has authorized the MRI.  I will call and schedule the MRI for later this week or early next week, and I'll make a follow-up appointment with my doctor for a week later.

I will get the MRI.  I will be cold and nervous and trying not to flinch too much when the loud noises start.  I will keep my eyes closed and focus on my breathing and relaxing my shoulders.  It will seem like it's taking forever and then it will be over.

A week later I'll see my doctor for the results. 

So that's about two weeks of uncertainty.  I can handle that.

Saturday, February 02, 2013


Well, at least the weirdness at work has settled. 

There's no way to go into any kind of detail without stepping on someone's privacy, so I won't. 

I can say that, prior to today, I felt unsure of how my administrators viewed me.  I had the distinctly unpleasant experience today of sitting in a meeting listening to someone outright lying about me.  It was unsettling and I remained unsettled until the end of the day when a smaller, second meeting clarified that no one believes those lies and I have nothing to worry about.

It felt like someone flipped a switch, and I went from not OK to OK in the time it takes to exhale. It's always good to know that your boss will stand up for you.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Not a good day.  I was about to say "at all", but the class-giving part of the day actually went fine. We did the Cat's Meow lab with the eighth graders, and that one is both fun and easy.  One of my soon-to-graduate student aides popped by to say hello, and it was delightful to see him again. 

Things took a turn for the worse after lunch.  Rather than go into details, I'll just say I've never had to deal with a hostile work environment before, and I've been working pretty steadily since I was 15 years old.

When I finally got to leave campus,  I had just enough time to get to my endocrinologist appointment.  Sadly, my Tg, the thyroid cancer tumor marker, is elevated again, from 3.4 last year to 4.9 this year.  As last year's PET scan was negative, the doctor this year is sending me for an MRI.  While the increase is troublesome, it does not indicate an aggressive recurrence.  I think.  We'll see.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

missed opportunities

Saw a beautiful sunrise this morning, but had no opportunity to take a photo, since I was running late as usual.  Not terribly late, just my usual 5 minutes, but still late enough that I didn't want to take the time to figure out where I could stop to get a decent picture.

Today was an easier day in some ways, more difficult in others.  I'm spending all my prep hours on calling parents. Most are supportive and say the right things, but so far I'm not seeing any improvement in behavior on the part of their offspring.   We'll keep trying.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

closing the gap

When something's bothering me, I obsess about it until I can find some resolution.  So sticking with the theme of how to deal with my attention-seeking students, I realized that I instinctively back off when a student starts grandstanding.  Invariably the student will pipe up with something off-topic and then go on and on and on, and I'm stuck at the front of the room, waiting.

Silly me, I don't have to be stuck.  Jones' prescription for disruption is proximity

So today, whenever a student got into "look at me!" mode, I purposefully, not quickly, moved toward the student.  This happened three or four times today, and giving the student what they wanted -- my complete attention -- turned out to be not what they wanted at all.  Every one of them faltered.  By the time I got to their desk, they had stopped, which gave me the chance to put my hands on their desk, lean over, and say to them very quietly, "You're making a choice right now to act this way... I know you can make a better choice."

I'm also trying very hard, and it is very difficult for me, not to answer the backtalk, but to stare it down as I move closer.  I'm have a little refrain inside my head: shut up shut up shut up, directed to me, not the student.  It's helping.

Nevertheless, my two seventh grade labs today were chaotic, and I ended up having to send several disruptive students out as they were not following the safety rules.  It's going to take a lot of hard work to get us where we need to be, but we're getting there.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jones v Flippen

My thoughts keep returning to my classroom issues, and what I can do to diffuse them.  The number one issue, whenever a class goes all to pieces, is an attention-seeking, disruptive student.  Sometimes it's more than one, but one is definitely enough.

So I've been thinking about what I do when a student goes off, and whether or not I'm helping.  Let me rephrase: I've been thinking about what I'm doing that's allowing it to continue or even making things worse.  Last night I pulled out my stack of "teacher advice" books and looked through them all, yet again, to see what I've forgotten. I didn't find anything of much use until I picked up Fred Jones' Tools for Teachers.

Jones is very clear on what to do with disruptive students.  In his chapter on dealing with backtalk, he repeats this visually alarming mantra: Open your mouth and slit your throat.   The accompanying illustration is kind of funny and kind of horrifying.  The point is, if a student is giving a performance, the worst possible thing you can do is give him more material. If the student wants to derail the class by starting a conversation about something else, you don't have to participate.  Jones' method of dealing with backtalk involves breathing, remaining calm, saying nothing, and letting it die a natural death as you wait out the student with an expression of "withering boredom".

I do wonder if Jones dealt with as many barely socialized students as I have.

When students go off-task, Jones' advice boils down to staying calm, breathing, turning fully toward the offending student, moving in (proximity), and if necessary, camping out on the student's desk until he gets back to work.  There is no dialog involved.  I've used this technique and it works -- at times.  I have students who are so resistant to the idea of work that they don't understand that I'm hanging around because I'm waiting for them to get back to work.  "Why do you keep looking at me?!  You're creepy!"  Then I have to explain that I'm waiting for them to get back to work (because the tapping on their desk, pointing to the work, wasn't clear enough).

Jones' technique does work for backtalk, and it's probably the only thing that does.  Responding verbally to the student just prolongs the 'conversation'/distraction.  I realize that because the Flippen Group training has me doing just that.

The heart of the Capturing Kids' Heart model is to engage with the students.  Very little was said about appropriate limits to that engagement.  In my efforts to acknowledge, respect, and listen to my students, I've put myself in a position where I let the more aggressive few talk all over me.  I'm not blaming the Flippen Group for this problem, because it's not something that came up.  What did come up was dealing with garden variety off-task behaviors, which are handled using the four questions, which begin with, "What are you doing?"  and "What are you supposed to be doing?"  These questions put the responsibility for the student's behavior where it belongs, with the student.  They work well when the social contract is place (especially since the social contracts all emphasize trust and honesty.)

The problem is, the Four Questions invariably start a conversation, directly contradicting Jones' Open your mouth, slit your throat edict.   I know Jones' advice works, but I've seen the Four Questions work, too.  I'm trying to figure out a method to get the benefits of both methods -- acknowledging the student, but at the same time discouraging the conversation.  I'm thinking of a series of statements/questions, like this:

1. I can see you really want to talk about this.
2. Is this something you and I can talk about quietly, so the rest of the class can get back to work?
3. Do we have to do this now?
4. I always have some time in my lesson plans for discussion, but we've already used that up.  Can we postpone this discussion and get back to the lesson now?

It amazes me how I forget things that actually work.  I've used, "Can we talk about this later?" countless times, but recently it has fallen out of my playbook.  The students sometimes complain that "later" never comes, but then I remind them that they can talk to me at lunch or after school, and then they beg off, because whatever it was is not really so important after all.

This is probably the sixth or seventh time I've gone back to Jones' book.  I should just make myself re-read it once a month, or at least leaf through it to make sure I haven't let any good habits fall away.  There are times for the four questions, but there are just as many, as if not more, situations that call for Jones' methods.  I always talk too much.  If I can hold onto that image of cutting my own throat, maybe I'll stop.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

holidays 2012

Apple, Pumpkin, Pecan & Cranberry Ginger Pear 

Thanksgiving 2012

We had a great feast.  On Wednesday (blessedly a half-day of school), I prepped most of dinner and made the pies.  

If you've ever read a woman's magazine, or a cooking magazine, you'll have read the advice not to try something new for a big event.   I knowingly ignored that advice this year, because on a whim I picked up the Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking issue.  The pecan and cranberry ginger pear pie recipes came from it, and were spectacular.  

But the biggest change was the pie crust recipe.  I've been using the basic pie crust recipe from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book for 30 years now, and it's a fine, fine recipe.  But the Cook's Illustrated intrigued me: chilled shortening and butter, vodka, and a food processor?  Sounds fascinating, so I decided to go for it.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize when I started that what this method absolutely requires is chilling time.  Fortunately, I managed it anyway.  The crust is phenomenally flaky and tender, and I didn't have to worry about over-rolling and gluten developing, because the alcohol in the vodka puts the brakes on that process.  So overall, the new pie crust recipe was a win, but I might just try making my usual recipe with vodka if I don't have time to thoroughly chill the dough.  

I also made the cloverleaf rolls, which were OK.  They had so much butter in them it wasn't even funny, but they just ended up too dense for me.  The family liked them well enough, but for me they were too labor-intensive for the result. 

Now, the turkey:  for the past few years I've been cutting up the turkey and brining the pieces, and then baking it on a flat sheets covered with aromatics (onion, celery, carrots) and a bit of chicken stock to prevent charring.   Here's how it looks going into the oven: 

22 pound bird, ready for the oven
It comes out fantastic in about 2 hours, give or take.  I brush the whole thing with melted butter and roast it 400 degrees. Yum. 

The back roasted while some of the pies were cooking, and then goes into the soup pot.  The soup was awesome, too.

DH says a 22-pound bird isn't big enough.  We were out of leftovers by the third day, which was OK with me, but not with him, apparently.  
The kids' Christmas recital was the first weekend in December.  DH's parents came out for a short visit, and we packed a lot of stuff into their few days.  We went to the Luminaria at the Desert Botanical Garden for annual "holiday cultural event" and had a great time.  The kids all played beautifully at the recital, and thankfully we were able to get a good Christmas card photo when they were all dressed up. 
This is not the Christmas card photo!  It's on another computer...

Christmas, not coincidentally, was a much more low key affair.  On Christmas Eve we went out to dinner at Baci. We had so much Christmas candy and cookies  from Trader Joe's and my students (a lovely surprise) in the house it wasn't even funny. I decided there were enough sweets so I didn't bake.  I was so busy in the run-up to Christmas that I didn't get a turkey, but settled for a beautiful spiral sliced ham from Trader Joe's (no bad stuff).  I can't even remember the rest of dinner at this point, although I do remember I made pancakes and bacon for breakfast, and DH picked oranges from our tree and all the kids took turns squeezing them so we could have fresh juice with our breakfast.  It was a lovely day.

Vacation was filled with various appointments for all of us, including the cats.  I'll get my thyroid cancer test results on January 31; all the others have come back just fine.  In spite of all the running around, it was relaxing and restful, and I did only the work that I absolutely had to do.   Isn't that the way it should be?

change is hard

Monday is MLK day, and I have utterly squandered this first day of the long weekend by getting up early and reading all 500+ comments on the Project Runway All Stars season 2 finale post at Tom & Lorenzo's.  I needed to be up early because we had an appliance maintenance appointment scheduled between 7-11AM; of course the guy didn't show up until 10:40, but the cat woke me up before 7AM anyway.

The quiet here is intense.  DH and DD are in Connecticut, a surprise visit for Papa's 85th birthday.  They'll be away until Tuesday, so it's just me and the boys until then.  The boys could conceivably be downstairs with me watching television, but the DVR died on Thursday night and the replacement won't be here until Tuesday the earliest.  So DS1 stays holed up in his room as usual, but DS2, who has picked up a so-far mild virus and is running a slight fever, is crashed on my bed watching television upstairs.

I have this vaguely unsettled feeling, as if something is not quite right.  Part of that is DH being away and the slight worry that always nags at me when any of my family is traveling without me.  Part of it is concern over DS2's illness, hoping it doesn't get worse.  I think he's just exhausted.  We are alike in that we disrupted our normal sleep patterns so thoroughly over winter break that even now, two weeks into the new semester, we're still not used to having to keep regular school hours.

The biggest part of my unease comes, I think, from my work situation.  I did not hear anything about the position I applied for in December, but it's just as well because I do not think I could have left my school mid-year.  I mean, obviously, I could give two weeks notice at any time, but I wouldn't do that. I have a strong feeling that it's simply not the right thing to do.  I won't do that.

At the beginning of December, my administration sent me (with very little notice) to a 3-day workshop run by the Flippen Group called Capturing Kids' Hearts.  While the name of the workshop is nausea-inducing, the content was not.  It was an educational and frustrating experience, because I learned a lot of valuable techniques but it took me out of my classroom for 3 days just as the semester was coming to a close.   Regardless, I was already using many of the techniques they recommend, and I really appreciate the concrete advice on how to help children grow into responsible adults.   When I returned to my classroom, I was able to use some of the things I learned immediately, but I put the majority of it on hold until the second semester.

So, what's unsettling me?  This new social curriculum I am implementing.  The first week back, my students in each class worked together to write a "social contract," an agreement on how we all wish to be treated by each other (including me, their teacher.)  The contract is now their standard for behavior in the class, and it closely models expectations for responsible behavior in any workplace.  So, the contract gives us a concrete definition of what the "practice for real life" that I'm always talking about, is. 

The problem is, enforcing the contract requires 100% commitment from me.   My students already know I care about them, but this is pushing me into an even closer relationship with all of them, and many of them don't want to go there.  On every single contract, the word "respect" is most prominent, but many of the students have no idea what that means in reality, so when they are disrespectful, I have to show them that.  I have had the "two wrongs don't make a right" (and it's corollary, "3 rights make a left") conversation more times than I can count.  We have a huge put-down culture on my school and every single contract says that they don't want to be treated that way, so now I get to police that and remind them that it does not come into my classroom.  I like that, because I have always hated the casual way they are constantly cutting each other down, but I get a lot of push back for making them apologize when they say mean things.  I even have a few holdouts who refuse to apologize because they won't acknowledge that what they did was wrong.

The worst discussions are the ones where the students are literally shouting at me, "What, someone tells me I'm ugly and I'm just supposed to say 'thanks' and take it?"  And I have to explain -- again, for the tenth time -- "No, you tell them that's not cool, that there was no reason to be rude.  And then you forget it and forget them and get on with whatever you need to do."  It is helpful to remind them that hitting people is, in fact, illegal and can land them in jail, but they don't see that as a consequence that can effect them yet. 

I have students who have so few social skills that the only response they have is violence, or threats of violence.  They have no idea how to deal with someone who is making unkind remarks other than to tell him to shut up or to make him shut up.  These are junior high students who should have been learning these skills their entire lives, but in their culture, what they learn is "give back what you got", which of course only escalates the unpleasantness. 

Then, when there is a fight on campus, all the students view that as "entertainment", a good thing. 

On the workshop page, under "additional considerations", it says:
Experience shows that the optimal outcome - an intentional culture shift - relies on the complete support and involvement of school administrators. Consequently, they are strongly encouraged to attend as early in the process as possible.
 Our dean of students has attended the workshop, but our principal has not, and he commonly violates many of the most important terms of every single one of my students' social contracts.  He manages with physical presence and intimidation, and affirmations are few and far between (although I did get one last week -- in the year and a half I have been working with him as my principal, I think this is the second compliment I've received. I can recall no instances of encouragement.)

In my six classes, the contract is making a difference already in 8th grade, because those students are just four months away from becoming high school students, and they want that, they want to succeed.  The seventh graders right now are quite frankly just a mess.  There are too many of them who simply do not respect anyone, including their peers, who will therefore continuously disrupt the class and get us off track.  It's exhausting continuously reminding them how we agree to treat each other -- it simply leads to other arguments: "I didn't sign that contract,"  "I didn't agree to those words," -- when, in fact, they did participate in writing the contract, or if they did not, is was because they chose not to. 

At the end of the first full week of using the contract I am so emotionally drained I'm questioning whether I have it in me to keep it going.  I don't want to give up the contracts, and I'm hoping that it will get easier with time, but over the course of this week it did not.  By Friday the seventh graders were as badly behaved as they have ever been, for no reason anyone could fathom.  It's up to me to make this work, but I cannot succeed if I can't get the students to buy into it also.  The majority of the students want it, I can see that they are tired of the way some of their peers act, too.  I reminded them Friday that they have tools to help make the contract work and that they need to step up, too.  If the class as whole lets the off-task students know they should get back on track, that's a much more powerful message than one delivered by the teacher alone.

Then I wonder, is there any point in me doing this, when as soon as the students leave my classroom they go right back to their dominant, machismo- and honor-based culture, where put-downs, threats, and violence are the norm? I am the only teacher on campus who has implemented this, although the other teacher who attended the workshop with me is using parts of it.  For this to really work, we need all of the teachers and all of the administrators to use it. Right now I'm dealing with students coming to me, every single day, with stories of other teachers and administrators who use sarcasm, dress them down in front of the class, gossip, yell, don't listen, immediately suspect the worst, and so on.  In trying to help my students I remind them that they can say to an adult, "Hey, that's not cool," but even as I do that, knowing it should be true, I'm hoping that if they follow my advice to stand up for themselves in a respectful way that it doesn't get them into even more trouble. 

I don't know whether the students tell me these things because they trust me or they're hoping that the teachers who are mean to them will get into trouble.  I do know that they want the teachers who are mean to them to stop being so mean, so I suppose that's something.

In the meantime, I feel like my heart is breaking for a thousand different reasons every day, and it's taking a lot of energy to keep it together.  I'm not giving up, I don't want to give up, but I'm praying that something will "click" and it will start to get easier, because God knows I can't keep this up for the rest of the year.  Time passing does help, because they're getting older and growing up whether or not they want to, but it will go much smoother if they'd get with the program.

On Thursday, one of my eighth grade sections was exemplary.  It was probably the best class I have ever had at my school: we reviewed how to balance chemical equations, and then the students worked independently on a worksheet.  Every single student worked diligently and got at least some points; most got 100%.  Every time I teach this, the classes usually split 50/50, with half the class "getting" it and getting full points, and the other half completely lost and earning zero.  There were no zeroes in Thursday's class, and that has never happened before.  I was so proud of them that I gushed at them on Friday.  One of the  boys told me, "Do you know why we worked?  Because we want to go to high school." I won't ever forget that moment, that at least with that one group of kids, they understood what they were capable of if they just tried.