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June 4, 1987, I had it ALL planned out, no vision boards necessary. The next ten years were all laid out in my head.  I would go to the College of Charleston, live with my best friend, become a child psychologist, find Mr. Right, get married, have 3 kids (all boys) and live happily ever after.  HAHAHA!  Oh, how much I knew at 18.  I did go to C of C and live with Amy Jo.  That’s about as far as I got in my 10-year plan.  During my Freshman year, I met and fell in love with who thought was my Mr. Right.  We were together for 4 years, then broke up the month I graduated.  During my Sophomore year, I decided I didn’t want to be a child psychologist.  I had always thought about teaching and law school.  So, obviously, the next step was to obtain a very useful English degree.  While I was doing that, I was also taking education classes so I could teach when I graduated, until I went to law school.  Changing my major and my overly active social life, plus working three jobs screwed up my credit hours, I ended up getting to the end of my financial aid eligibility and not finishing my student teaching.  I graduated.  I moved home.  I got a job in a law firm.  I got my paralegal certificate.

All that time, I was living with my grandmother.  Ultimately, we would live together until her death.  She could not financially take care of herself when she got too old to work, so I took over the bills.  I was glad to do it.  She had worked hard her entire life.  She deserved some time to lounge around and a little pocket money from her Social Security check.

Fast forward 20 years from my high school graduation.  My grandma passes away.  She had been ill and chose to no longer take her medications.  The event in my life that I am most proud of is allowing her the dignity of her death. She never wanted to be in a hospital, hooked up to machines.  My entire life she had always told us she wanted to die at home.  That was my last gift to her.  She died in her bed surrounded by her family and friends.  I will never regret that decision.

So, I still hadn’t found Mr. Right, had three sons but I was living pretty happily, aside from the normal grief that comes with life and death.  Ultimately, I did find and marry Mr. Right.  Unfortunately, it was rather late in life and I don’t know that we will have 1 child, much less three.  I can take some solace in knowing that I have had the joy of impacting the lives of hundreds of children.

Now, 30 years later, almost to the day, my senior class is celebrating and preparing for our reunion.  I am seeing lots of family and friends graduate or promote from kindergarten, middle school, high school and college.  I think about all of those high school and college graduates and their “plans”.  I can only offer advice that at 18 or 22 you’re probably not going to think is very realistic.

First, take chances.  Don’t sit and wait for anything to come to you.  It won’t.  Whether it’s a job opportunity or that special girl or guy, you have to go after it.  Time is not on your side.  In one blink, you are 30 then 40 then 30 again (haha).

Second, forgive.  Don’t hold grudges or hatred towards someone else, if you can avoid it.  It only makes you feel bad.  They usually don’t even know or care.  Forgiveness is more for you than for the other person.  It allows you to move on.

Third, don’t wait.  That’s similar to taking chances, but different.  Don’t wait for that ex-girlfriend to realize she wants you back.  Don’t wait until your 40 and then decide you want to go to law school, but realize you have too many adult responsibilities to justify another $100k for schooling.

Fourth, have fun!  There are so many amazing things you can do.  Travel alone, meet new people.  Take that class in class French cuisine or creative writing.  Plant flowers in the yard because you LIKE that, not because you want your yard to live up to the Joneses down the road.  Be silly.  It’s okay to laugh at yourself.  It’s pretty necessary actually to keep a sane mind

Fifth, let the people you love know it.  I have a friend whose parents never say they love each other or even tell this man or his sister that they love them.   I tell my husband multiple times a day that I love him.

Sixth, actions speak louder than words.  Sometimes idioms enter our culture because they are true.  Thought you may tell others you love them, SHOW them you love them. Clean up the cat barf because you know your wife doesn’t like to.  Call and make the dental appointment because you know your husband hates talking on the phone.  You can still be a snarky jackass and show kindness.  Just ask me, I do it every day.

Seventh, cut the people out who need to be cut out.  Sometimes, we have to “break up” with friends and even family because they are toxic to our lives.  We must watch out for ourselves sometimes.  It’s not easy, but sometimes it is necessary for your well-being.

Eighth, sometimes we don’t know everything.  Whether you’re new to a job or in a workplace, whether you are going through an illness or a divorce, SOMEONE has been there before and can give you reassurances, guidance and an empathic ear.

Ninth, step out of your comfort zone.  Try new things that scare you! Public speaking! Parachuting out of an airplane! Asking that person out! Getting out of your rut will invigorate you!

Tenth, finally, ignore all of this if you want, because ultimately, it’s your life to live and no one can judge you for your decisions and how you carve your path.  As long as your actions don’t inflict harm on others, trudge on.

I’m not writing this just for you nubile adults just graduating.  Sometimes we old folks need a reminder, too.

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I am not sure exactly which book it was that I read that made me think, “Holy CRAP, this is something I love to do”.  Ok, I probably didn’t say “crap” because I have been reading since I was 3.  I know that as a child, there were several books that spoke to me even at a young age.  I can remember reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and being very moved by the love and loyalty Mike had for Mary Anne.  I know that was a book that spoke to me as a child, but I don’t know that it was “The One”.  I know I loved Dr. Seuss, Peggy Parrish with her Amelia Bedelia stories, Ramona Quinby and her sister Beezus by Beverly Cleary, Bunnicula and a list of others.  I remember as I got older Judy Blume was there to assure me that everything was ok and every other girl or boy my age felt about the same away I did.  I know the same copy of Forever floated around Dreher High School.   I read classics.  At ten, Wuthering Heights was a favorite.  It seemed very romantic to my unexperienced mind.  In 7th grade I think I was the only person who checked out Little Women, and I read it multiple times and enjoyed it each time.    I have had books taken from me at the dinner table.  I have walked to and from school with my nose in a book, oblivious to traffic or others around me.  I have ridden thousands of hours on the city bus reading each mile and, if I was not on a bus with a regular driver, I would often miss my stop.  Books were my babysitter.  They are what kept me out of trouble throughout school.  “Just let her read, and she won’t disturb her classmates” was written about me each year to the new teacher in elementary school.  Thank God for amazing teachers.

In high school I was a total nerd and read ALL TEN selections each summer on my summer reading list.  We had to choose two. That was where I found Ethan From, The Catcher in the Rye, The Sun Also Rises (with one of my favorite literary heroes, Jake Barnes, who I sort of fell in love with that summer) and so many more I can’t even remember.  I actually read books in high school that weren’t assigned.

Reading was, and still is, the only time I felt calm and relaxed.  I can sit and read a book for hours.  I can’t do much else for hours.  I become intrinsically attached to  the characters.  I have cried with and for the crazies in the series Flowers in the Attic.  I sobbed during the last 50 pages of Where the Red Fern Grows and was so thankful my 7th grade Reading teacher told me to stop on page so and so and finish it at home.  I have cried with Harry Potter, Woodrow call, at least one character in every Pat Conroy book, Lennie, Granger and Montag.  I have hated characters (most recently nearly every character in A Game of Thrones series).  I have loved characters.  I have cussed out characters. I have thrown books.  I have read and forgotten more books than many people will ever read or even know about.  I have read amazing books (To Kill A Mockingbird, Lonesome Dove).  I have read shitty books (Twilight all of them, The Notebook  – luckily, I never read anymore past that tripe), but I would read a shitty book over not reading ANY books.

I have met some of my favorite authors.  In first grade Peggy Parrish, who is an SC native, and the author of the Amelia Bedelia books came to my school.  I was STARSTRUCK.  I met Pat Conroy, more than once.  I couldn’t even SPEAK.  Anyone who knows me knows this is a grand feat in itself.  I met Frank McCourt.  I met Robert Olen Bulter and Fred Chappell. These are all authors I hold in high regard. I have met other as well. I volunteer at the SC Book Festival each year, just on the off chance I get to meet someone.

But, no, I can’t tell you the minute or the day or the book that made me a lifelong lover of books and words.  I only know that once I started, there was no stopping me.   Nothing speaks to me, touches my soul, consoles me, entertains me, evokes every emotion on the spectrum nor delights me to no end like reading a book.  I have used books as a way to escape reality and procrastinate dealing with problems, but I have a crazy brain that might be doing one thing, but in the background it’s creating a solution to a problem or dealing with an issue. Reading is just a catharsis that allows my brain to protect itself as it purges the negativity out.  I would sooner lose a limb or my hearing that lose my sight or the ability to read.  Reading is such much a part of me that, as a teacher, it seems like it should just be as natural for everyone. I find it very challenging to teach reading.  It to me should just come naturally for everyone. I don’t remember when I couldn’t read, so my own personal reading history and experience can actually work against me as I try to teach others to read and instil the same love for it that I have always had.   Luckily, I DO have successes. It excites me to no end to find books that my kids love.  I love to see a kid who has always hated reading because no one really took the time to help him choose books that he might actually ENJOY.

If I am lucky, I will die with a book in my hand.

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I was recently talking to a new friend, and I got the impression he didn’t fully understand the love I have for my students. To me, teaching is a calling, much like to the priesthood or convent. I don’t make a lot of money; I don’t get much respect. It is my fault if your child is unsuccessful in school. But there is NO other job I can think of that makes me prouder to claim as my profession.  I adore my students – good and bad, smart and simple.  They are just as snarky as I am.  Many of them overcome huge disadvantages just to come to my classroom every day.  I love my students.  When I am at school, I think of your child as being my child. I want only the best for them.  I want success in whatever form they can achieve it. I have had students go on to be successful in a huge variety of ways, professionally and personally.  I love seeing former students.   I have cried for them, laughed with them, been angry with them, been proud of them, but above all I have loved them.  I may be unhappy with the interactions I have with their parents.  I may be disappointed in their performance in my class or other classes.

I  want there to be no doubts about how I feel about my job and my children.  I may complain about certain aspects of my job, but who doesn’t?  When one of my students asked me what I would do if i won a big lottery amount, and my answer is the same. Start my own school.  My standards would be high, but my students would reach, and surpass my ideals for them.

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So, my 25th high school reunion is next weekend.  I am going, though I was torn about it.  I feel like I have no accomplished the things I really wanted to accomplish.  I have three college degrees, including my Masters, and plan to start working on my PhD next year.  The first in my immediate family to graduate from HIGH SCHOOL much less college and grad school.

When I was younger, I used to daydream about my perfect wedding, who would be in it, what they would wear, where we would go on our honeymoon, how many kids we’d have, what their names would be, where we’d all go on vacations, etc.  NONE of that happened.  I have never been married, never even been asked.  A lot of my jaded, divorced friends tell me everyone else is envious of me, but the grass is always greener as the overused-saying goes.  I only sort of feel like I missed out on the husband, but I REALLY did miss out on the kids.  I always wanted to be a mom.  And not to toot my own horn, I’d have been an awesome mom. I see all these little teenagers, skanks, and Casey Anthony having kids they don’t deserve, and it stirs a little disappointment.  Yes, I know I can adopt or be a foster parent. Yes, I am close to my nieces and nephew, but it is not the same at all.

It is no one’s fault really.  I spent those years you use courting and breeding to take care of my grandmother, and have no regrets about that decision at all. I would do it the same way all over again.

So, next weekend, while everyone is talking about their families, I’ll just smile and get drunk.

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If you find yourself wondering why you have to interact with stupid, uneducated, ignorant, and otherwise useless people, please blame school boards, school administrations and parents.  Yes, I said it. PARENTS.  Not all parents, but enough of them.   As a teacher, I have been told to give a student a packet of work and if he/she completes it, give him/her a passing grade. I have refused stating that I have allowed this same student the chance to make up work, re-do work, re-take tests, turn in late assignments. I have stayed after school, given up lunches and come in early.  Yet, I have not once gotten a parent to call me back, attend a conference, email me or otherwise contact me. The school board threatens NO SUMMER SCHOOL every year.  Every year, the students can attend 16 4 hour days and that is supposed to make up for the class they failed. They can do this for up to two classes. I promise you I have seen the worksheets they do, and there is no way they learn anything other than “Hey, I don’t have to do shit all year, and I can come get a free lunch, and they’ll pass me”. Then they get to high school and don’t know shit.

I can promise you when we get them from elementary school, they are already two, three, four years behind. I have had students who are reading on a 1st and 2nd grade level. You can only hold that struggling child back so many times in elementary school before you have to socially promote him.   The same goes for middle school. You can fail them once.  After, they get socially promoted.  For the kids who are “too old”, we now have a computerized program that students take a year or less to complete.  The district and the administration determines which lessons they must complete. NO, it’s NOT all of them. They are taught no research skills, which are higher level, critical thinking skills.  Mind you, if I am evaluated and found to NOT be teaching this skills, I can at the least be chastised and at the most be written up or fired.  Teachers are NOT failing your kids. The “powers that be” are.

I am teaching high school summer school this year.  It is all on the computer. Basically, I, and another teacher, re-mediate as needed.  Otherwise the students are on their own. they must complete a mere 50% with a 70 or better and they can be finished. If they do that in a week, they’re done. If thy do it in five weeks, they’re done. The group we have consists of 9th, 10th, and 11th grades.  The DISTRICT (which I will be happy to remind you is made up primarily of men and women who have not sat in a classroom in YEARS), determined the content.  It is maybe half, MAYBE, of what they should be learning for the year.   I do think it will take most of the students the entire time to accomplish their 50/70 goal, but then what? Next year they’ll be sitting in their next English class completely unprepared.

School boards need to quit letting a handful of high-maintenance parents control them.  They should also be made up of a broader range of stakeholders.  We have a school board member who was a clerk of court for her entire life.  WHAT does she bring to the educational table?  People voted for her, a familiar name, so we’re stuck. There are no teachers on the school board in my district, and it is my understanding that this is how it is in most school districts.  If you think this is only done in my district, you are SORELY mistaken. It is an epidemic in America.   It is why we have fallen behind “lesser” nations.  Our entire school system needs to be scrapped and revamped. I have no problem with computer learning, virtual classrooms, etc. What I do have a problem with is the dumbing down of a curriculum by the district and administration, but when test scores roll in, it will be teachers to blame.  If my students who are with me every day don’t do well on the PASS test or if i taught high school the HSAP and EOC, it will be unspoken that it is MY fault.  So, who is at fault when the student who did NOT pass MY standards in my class is passed along?

Know thine enemy.  Teachers and most parents are the only people looking out for your  children and their education.

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Growing up, we were pretty poor.  I didn’t really notice it so much because Grandma always made sure we had great Christmases and Birthdays.  I did know we didn’t have a car, but I just chalked it up to “Grandma doesn’t like to drive”.  She was a child of The Depression, a woman of a young marriage and divorce, two unruly, heathen children and as a result had learned to be crafty in her solutions to tricky situations.

When I was a little kid, several factors left me and my little sister unsupervised from about 2:30 to 4:30.  When I was ten, we moved from the Earlwood Park Area to the Melrose Heights area. We continued to go to McCants Elementary School (the best school I ever attended) because I wanted to finish up there.  It went to 6th grade and I was at the end of my 5th grade year.  We would get up before early and take a city bus downtown, transfer and then take another bus to McCants.  After school, we would need to repeat the process.  Mind you, this was in 1979, and the gentrification of the Heights hadn’t begun yet.  We lived on the last block of King Street, right down from many drug dealers and bootleggers.

Grandma didn’t really want us going home alone, and she certainly couldn’t afford someone to watch us. As a result of all these circumstances, Kelli and I took the bus downtown, but instead of transferring to the next bus, we went to Richland County Public LIbrary on the corner of Sumter and Washington streets. That was my day care center.  I knew every inch of that library.  I would wander around the art section on the second floor near the Children’s Room.  When I was tired of that, I would go look through thousands of albums.  I wandered from floor to floor, following Dewey, enjoying the smell and feel of the books.  All of the workers at the library knew us.  We were well-behaved and obviously we appreciated the books.  More importantly, we respected the sanctity of The Library.  Always easily bored, but eager to learn new things, and never shy, I befriended the women who worked in the children’s area.  Eventually, they taught me to check out books using a crazy machine that took a picture of your library card, a white paper card similar to a bi-fold business card with the map of Richland County that was represented in metal sculpture on the wall outside of the library and now resides in the new library on Assembly street, and a picture of the book from the back of the book.  They let me shelve books because I did a good job at it.  It was very important to me that books be in order and in the correct areas. I would help other little kids find books they liked.  I adored every minute of it.  I loved learning how to use the card catalog, which I can still do very well, and taught many classmates over the years how to use.

At a certain time, Kelli and I would go across the street to meet Grandma at the bus stop to go home.  I was safe every day and learned an immense amount of useful knowledge and skills.  My love of books continued to grow. My grandmother barely had a high school education, but she was had  love of books that she passed on to every one of her children and grandchildren.  No matter what our shortcomings, insanities, poor choices and mislead lives, we all had and have a love of reading and books that is nearly an obsession for some of us (me).

We only did that until I started 7th grade and walked to Hand.  I loved that year and a half spent in the stacks on Sumter Street.  It’s one of my favorite memories of being a child.  The only card I have loved as much as my first library card is my first voter’s registration card.

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So, it’s been a while since I have done shown some love (and some unlove)

Things I am loving right now:

**almond bear claws from Publix

**teen lit

**my new teaching ideas

**snapped

**fresh, new razor cartridges

**the promise of fall in the air some mornings

**the reminder of summer in the air most afternoons

**planning my halloween costume

**playing with Matthew

**my new clinique mascara

**walker’s short bread

**my friends

**all of my dog/house/pool sitting jobs

**tammy’s pimento cheese

**thinking about the SC State Fair in a month!!

**reading my students’ journals (my favorite of which was a funny, cute account of trying to get Justin Beiber’s phone number on Twitter)

**our seventh graders this year

**ginger ale

**goat cheese

**sushi

**orbit spearmint gum

**my kitties

**a certain man who can always make me laugh

**movies

**new tv line ups

**project runway

**tim gunn telling off one of the contestants on PR

**Pinnacle whipped cream vodka with orange juice

**Jon Stewart and The Daily Show

**HeelTastic

**new season of The Amazing Race in two weeks!
Stuff I am not loving….

>>fall allergy season (achoooo)

>>car repairs

>>itchiness

>>being too busy to walk (which will be rectified this week!)

>>my  tan is fading

>>extremists who are intolerant

>>the stinkiness of the river

>>lazy students

>>my messy room

>>judgmental people who don’t know what they’re talking about

>>not being a trustfund baby or lottery winner

>>reruns

>>those ankle boot sandals mutations

>>jelly shoes

>>katy perry songs (all of them)

>>my spilling everything

>>my crappy old ass mattress

>>my crappy ankle

>>white chocolate

>>raspberry anything

>>lemon anything

>>the new cherry 7UP formula

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