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In January 1986, I was an 11th grader at Dreher High School.  I was a Library Aide for one of my class periods.  There weren’t televisions in every classroom or SmartBoards or computers.  We had a few TVs on AV carts that were borrowed by teachers.  On this day, there were only so many to go around.  One of the self-contained classes had come to the library to watch the Challenger lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on one of the televisions we did have in that area.

This was important in SC and in schools because we had home state hero, Ronald McNair and teacher, Christa McAuliffe on board. It wasn’t common to watch the lift offs, but occasionally we would in a science class.  The librarian, myself, the special education teacher and her aide and a handful of students from the self-contained classroom were all standing up watching the lift off.  For most people who watched the tragedy unfold, they remember the sight of that explosion and witnessing the deaths of the brave men and women on board.  While I do remember that, the moment I remember most about that day was when Helen, one of the students in that class of students who had come to the library excited to witness this event.  She was stricken.  As soon as it was clear that this was a fatal event, she let loose the most pained, heart-wrenching cry.  “NOOOOO!  THERE’S A TEACHER ON THAT SPACESHIP! NOOO! SHE CAN’T DIE!”  She just fell down and started crying and repeating this over and over.  She was utterly inconsolable.  I felt so sorry her, and her raw emotion and utter sadness touched every person in that room.

She was finally able to be led to the nurse, where her parents were called to come get her.  She missed several days afterward.  Apparently, she had to be sedated and kept that way for several days until she was able to come to terms with the tragedy.

Even today, 32 years later, that is the image that comes to me whenever the Challenger tragedy is discussed.  As a teacher, we take our students to the Challenger Center that we have here in my town.  The Challenger Center provides students with hands-on activities and experiences related to NASA and the space program.

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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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In January of 1986, I was in the 11th grade at Dreher High School in Columbia, SC.  I was a library aide for one of my periods.  It was during this period that I was in the library when the Challenger Space Shuttle was scheduled to lift off. In 1986, there wasn’t cable television in every classroom to watch important events like this.  Our special education teacher brought her classroom to the library to watch.  This wasn’t a classroom of children with normal learning abilities, but behavioral disorders.  It was a class with lower IQs and some other disorders.  I remember one little girl in the class was very excited to be watching the take off. With those students, their teacher and aides, the library staff and me, there were less that 20 people in the library, which was very large.  We were all sitting and standing around the television to watch the Challenger take off.

A little over a minute later, what we thought was part of the normal procedure was actually the malfunction and explosion of the shuttle.  A couple of minutes later, the announcer – I don’t recall if it was a reporter or an actual NASA employee – reveals to the spectators on site and the television viewing audience reveals that there has been a “major malfunction” and the shuttle has exploded.

I remember being shocked and sad for the people who were killed. The thing I remember most, however, is this little girl in the class that was watching becoming hysterical and inconsolable.  She just kept yelling, “No, that can’t happen. There is a teacher on that shuttle!”  That’s all she kept saying.  She was crying and yelling. The other kids were being really sweet and trying to calm her down while the teacher was doing the same thing.  The aides took the class back to their room, but the teacher had to take the girl to the office to the nurse so her parents could come get her. That stuck with me more than the image of those curling plumes of smoke I saw on TV.

A few years later, after I was out of college, I saw this girl with her parents at a baseball game I had take my grandma to.  Immediately, I was taken back to that day in the library and wondered if she ever thought about that day, if she ever got sad thinking about it, how it effected her over the years since I’d seen her.  I spoke to her because we had known each other in high school.  She remembered me, and seemed happy. To me her reaction was so pure and raw, so genuine because she didn’t have the constraints and reservations placed on us by how society expects us to act and react.  There have been plenty of times in my life where I wanted to yell “No! That can’t happen like that!”  Unfortunately, I have to hold that in and do my yelling later into my pillow or in the privacy of my house.

Today, on Yahoo!, I saw this link and it reminded me of that girl and made me wonder about her again.

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/first-amateur-video-challenger-shuttle-explosion-revealed-185802006.html

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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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Did you guys know that in most, if not all states, governments decide how much money to budget in the future for new prisons, prison renovations, enlargements, etc. based on the standardized test scores of their ELEMENTARY students, in some cases starting as early as SECOND GRADE??

Maybe it’s just me, but couldn’t some of that money be redirected to early childhood education programs, parent services and training, access to more books for children, etc.?  I know, I am just a crazy ol’ democratic teacher.  What do I know about middle school kids who didn’t get the early childhood base of education they needed? What do I know about parents who are just as intimidated about school as their kids are because more often than not, school was not a positive experience for them either? What do I know about parents who can barely read so they can’t spread the love of books and reading to their own small children?

Just something to ponder.

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