Time For Some Serious Smiting


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I feel the need to write a post to God tonight. Or least a post about him. And his whereabouts.

I have been listening to the news again.  And I can’t help asking about God.

Where is He? Where the hell is He?

I’m not all that religious, really.  I don’t know if the God I am looking for is the one who was born in the manger, the guy with the long dark hair and soulful eyes. I’m not sure if the God I am waiting for is the one who Mohammed talked about, or the one who Buddha revered. I’m not sure if He’s the guy that my Jewish friends are praying to, or the one that that was once thought to live in the mountains or the God who lives in the trees.

Whatever.

I don’t have a preference, actually. I just want to see or hear from God himself.  I am in need of some Godly reassurance.

I mean, every time I read anything about God, he seems to be all about peace and harmony and forgiveness and love.  He seems to be the God of a reasonable life.

So, pardon me, but where in God’s name is God?

A bunch of psychopathic lunatics decide that, in the name of God, they will attack a school and massacre as many children as they can possibly massacre.  Seriously?  Hello, God, you out there?  You couldn’t send a lightning bolt for this?

A twisted angry man in Pennsylvania decides to get back at his ex wife by murdering her and her entire family and then killing himself for good measure?  Ah, yo?  Allah, you listening?  Where ARE you?

The world is seething with war, most of it waged in Your name.  You couldn’t make even a cameo appearance for this nonsense?

I read about the horrors that are happening in Syria, about the babies dying in droves as the men with the guns duke it out over who will control the money and the military.  I read about the actions of the twisted, demented maniacs who callously behead innocents in the name of Islam and then post the videos on YouTube.   I remember the images from Newtown.

And I can’t help but ask, Where in all of this sickness and death is the God of mercy?

Dear God/Allah/Buddah/Vishnu/Jesus/tree spirit/Zeus: if you’re out there (and believe me, I’m not saying you aren’t), can you please, please, please flex your mighty hand, and drop it with a gloriously resonant thwack onto the heads of all those who murder in your name?  I beseech, thee, O Holy Person In Charge, can you please, please, please use some of your Heavenly power to smite the living crap out of those who slaughter innocent children?  Can you please reach down from your place on the throne of eternity and squash the life out of every single human who thinks that it is acceptable to commit murder just to make a point or just to even out the pain or just to express his psychopathology?

God, you seem like a very sweet and caring soul.  Don’t you think this would be a really good time for you to part the slivery clouds and send forth your thunderous voice to the mortal souls below?

You might want to say something like this, if you get a chance to reach out to those who carry out these horrors.  You might say, “Cut the shit, all ye who act in my name. I am the God of death and pestilence and if you touch the hair of one more innocent child, I will fill your bowels with the molten lava of Vesuvius.  You commit these acts of the devil just one more time in MY name, and I will smite the crap out of every single one of you.  And I am NOT fooling around.”

I’d feel SO much better if you’d do that. Just this once.

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How To Tell If You’re a Teacher


There are “teachers” and then there are TEACHERS.

I’m lucky enough to work mostly with the latter. You can tell who we are, even if you don’t know us well.  We are the ones who are up and blogging at 6AM because let’s face it, there’s no one else around to talk to and we are gulping our coffee so we can get to the 7:15 meeting.

We are the ones wearing comfortable pants because today will be one of those sitting-on-the-floor-wit- the-math-groups days and we don’t that gracefully in either a skirt or (shudder) skinny jeans.

You can tell who we are by the giant bags that we carry around, pulling our spines out of joint so we can respond to all 24 writing journals when we get home.

We have baggy eyes, and if you talk to us, you will understand why.

Sometimes we dream that we are cooking huge vats of pasta sauce and every time we turn around, another one of our students has appeared, so we just keep adding more.    Sometimes we dream that we are trying desperately to get the kids to quiet down and come with us because the room is on fire and we are the only one who sees it.

And sometimes we look all pale and puffy eyed because last night we kept dreaming of the best way to teach long division to kids who can’t recall the multiplication tables!  Over and over, dreams of singing the nines table, tapping out the eights, making posters of the sixes.  There was a grand piano in there somewhere, too, and a woman dressed in a tree costume (luckily, I don’t think it was me.)

So if you happen to see a puffy eyed, wild haired, stoop shoulder crooked old lady walking around muttering “seven times eight IS…..”, just smile at her and wish her well.

Tonight she may dream she’s fighting in the French and Indian War.

It’s time.


Yeah.

It’s time.

Time for me to think about movin’ on.  Time to think about hanging up my teacher boots and setting out on the porch with some sweet tea.

Or something.

Why am I thinking this way, you ask?  Is it the increasingly difficult children, you wonder? Is it the demanding parents, wanting ever more care for their precious offspring?  Could it be the never-ending changes in the curriculum that have me so disheartened, you ask yourselves?

Could it possibly, just possibly, be the fact that my professional license is now going to be tied to the academic success or failure of my students? Could it be the incredibly insulting and upsetting fact that my entire career may soon come to depend on the test scores of kids who don’t speak English, or who are depressed, or who have autism or cerebral palsy or psychosis? Is it the fact that I know it will be impossible for me to bring every child to the same level of skill on the same day that has me ready to throw up may hands and cry “Uncle!”?

No, my friends, no.  It is none of these terrible stressors that is making me want to cash in my pension chips and get a job at the local Subway instead.

Its this:

My commute takes me along 37 miles of highway each way.  That highway has been under construction for every minute of my 22 years of driving it.  Damn you, Barack Obama and your stupid TARPS road repairs!!!!

And it is the fact that for at least 4 weeks before the “daylight savings times” change and 4 weeks after it, I am driving directly into the gigantic fireball of the rising sun.  And I am driving on a road where every single driver, even the 98 year old blue haired lady, is determined to get to his or her destination in under 7 seconds.  They all drive as if their gas tanks are about to explode. There are usually about 4 inches  of space between one bumper and the next.  Which means that, inevitably, someone sneezes and taps his breaks which results in a chain reaction, 11 car fender bender.

Which closes the friggin’ highway.

Which means that I have to travel at 1 mile per hour for the next hour and a half.

And every single time- I mean this. I am not making this up- the guy behind me every single time that I am stuck in traffic for hours, is a major nose picker.  I look in my rearview mirror to see how close the car behind me is, and I see Mr. Baseball Cap with his forefinger up to the first knuckle.

Glerg!  I have to gasp, take a breath and fight desperately to keep my English muffin inside.

Ten seconds go by, and my eyes are drawn relentlessly to that rearview mirror again.  JEEEZ!  Now his pinky is up the other nostril, and before I can look away, he pulls it out and flicks it.

I. Am. Not. Kidding.

I have to retire.  I just have to!  I can’t take one more winter of crashes-stops-traffic jams- big bald guy with finger up his nose.

Do you think there’s an opening at Subway?

This is really scary…..


I am thinking back to Halloweens of the past. Our neighborhood was filled with children, and our kids ran among them. Halloween back then was held on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, well before the sun would set. We are a rural community, and without streetlights, it only made sense to “Trick or Treat” in the daylight.  I can remember the anticipation, the excitement, the preparations for the big event.  I can remember putting on the make up, taping up the costumes, sending them out the door into the crisp fall air to mingle with friends and neighbors.

I remember standing at the door the year that our middle child was fresh from the hospital with pneumonia and asthma.  He stood by my side, his dyed towel cape trailing down his back, as we handed out candy to the troops of kids who came by the house.

I can remember going out with my three children,  laughing and smiling at friends and neighbors. I can remember pushing a stroller around our streets with a tiny “ghost” inside.

I am remembering what it felt like when the years went by, and the town began to embrace the more typical 5-7 Trick or Treat hours of bigger places. I remember standing by the door, the big bowl of candy in my arms. I remember greeting the little ones from the street, handing them chocolate as I exclaimed with delight over every costume. I remember the grins, and the cheeky jokes. I remember the somber stares of the smallest goblins who were still not entirely sure that this whole thing was a good idea.

As the year passed by, though, the little ones in our neighborhood grew up.  They moved out and moved on.

They left Halloween behind.

It’s been years since I last had a little “Trick or Treat” called at my door.  It’s been years since I last oohed and aahed over a tiny princess in her sparkly costume.  It’s been years since we have had a real Halloween here.

I haven’t carved a pumpkin in quite a while.

Why should I?  I don’t think that it will chase away evil spirits.  There are no little hands to scoop out the seeds or light the candle.  If I buy a pumpkin now, its to make a tasty and sophisticated pumpkin soup.

I miss those days.

A long time ago, when this blog was new and I was still grieving my empty nest, I wrote a post about missing the Halloweens of the past. You can read it here, if you are so inclined. It’s called “Haunted“.

As the years went by, and I became more adjusted to my empty nest and to my role as the older lady instead of the young Mom, I learned to embrace the pleasures of being a teacher. I get to enjoy the kids, love the kids, celebrate with the kids. But I don’t have to deal with the braces, the stomach aches, the forgotten homework or the failed tests. Its really pretty sweet.

Today I dressed up as a moose (in honor of the camp song that we learned this month at Camp Merrowvista.) In an homage to our trip, my colleagues dressed as a Penguin and a Jelly Fish. The kids got the humor right away.  They sang all three Camp Songs as soon as they saw us at the door.

It was pretty hilarious to teach about the Age of Exploration while dressed as a “Great Big Moose”.  They laughed, I laughed, all was right with the world.

I went through the day today being reminded, over and over again, of what it is that makes childhood so special, so wonderful, so fleeting.  I talked about Christopher Columbus as my moose antlers bounced up and down on my head.  I watched a child in a bacon costume writing an essay on his laptop. I conferenced with a girl in a vampire costume as we edited her story.

The kids were fantastic. Funny, silly, respectful and well mannered.  I had a fabulously fun day, surrounded by happy children. I remember what it felt like to be a child in a costume. I remembered what it felt like to be the mother of a child in a costume.

Thank you to my class.  It was a fun and silly and nostalgic day for me! You make it so much fun to come to work.

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And now I must say thank you and “bear with me!” to those who are reading this little blog.  I have decided to push myself a bit (to enter my “growth zone”, in the words of my students) and to join the crazy folks of NaNoWriMo.  I have never written a novel.  I have only written a few short stories. Mostly, I write these little stream of consciousness blog posts.  But I have had a story bouncing around inside my skull for a long time now.  It needs to get out of there.  So. I will spend the next thirty days trying valiantly to put my story into 50,000 words and into a novel format.  Wish me luck. I’m sure gonna need it!

I hope to see you all on the other side of this crazy endeavor!

Muscle memory= Muscle aches


 

Late night fun.

Late night fun.

Last night I learned something very interesting.

I learned that my body can actually remember what it felt like to be ten years old.   And I learned that the morning after it has had this wonderful memory, my body can experience what it will feel like to be ninety nine.

Last night I was one of four teachers who volunteered to host a sleepover at our school. Its part of an annual auction that the parents run to raise money for the school. Its a big job, because we arrive at work at 7 AM on Friday and we stay until 8 AM on Saturday.  It can seem like a really long night, but it can also be an absolute blast.  I have only done it once before, a few years ago, and sort of decided that I was too old to participate any more.

After all, I’m pushing sixty, and out of shape.  I figured that all the twenty and thirty somethings could handle the sleepover.  My auction donation is usually something easier, like a home made dinner or a bread baking lesson.

This year year, though, they were short one chaperone, so I let myself be talked into helping out.

It was a long week, and I was tired by the time the thirteen kids arrived at 6:30 Friday evening.  I thought I’d be able to serve the pizza and then just sort of watch everybody run around for a while.

But the kids had other ideas. They decided that it would be fabulous fun to have a big game of “capture the flag” inside the building.  Now, you have to understand that our building houses two schools with over 1,000 students. It has a huge gym, a cafeteria, two music rooms, a big sprawling library and a multi-purpose room filled with tables, sinks and ovens.  At 8 pm on a spring night, as the sun set, it was a huge challenge to play “Capture the Flag” over three floors of a giant, empty building.

The kids recruited the four adults, and we broke into teams. There were dozens of complicated rules that I don’t really understand, like “No jailbreaks!”  and “Seven minutes of captivity!”  I pretended that I understood, but mostly I just rushed around with everybody else, sneaking up the back stairs, giggling as we peeked around corners and trying to tag the guys on the other team.

At first I thought I would just trail along behind, acting like the aging observer that I see myself being. But my younger colleagues were all in, racing around the empty hallways, screaming right along with the kids.  I started to get caught up in the game, especially as the night wore on, and the darkness outside made the bright lights of the building seem cozy and safe. I started to relax and I started to run.

There were moments last night when I felt like I was in a crazy surreal dream.  At one point I found myself freed from “jail” by the tag of a little boy, who then grabbed me by the hand and yelled  “run!!!”  I could feel my sneakers pounding down the hallway, but I couldn’t believe that it was really me, running full speed down the hallway past the gym.

A little bit later in the night, I found myself creeping silently down the back stairs, hoping to find the hidden “flag”.  When I stepped into the hallway, I glanced behind me. There was a player on the other team, a beautiful grinning girl, ready to tag me. Now, I know this girl very well! She’s been in my class all year and her humor and sass and vibrant personality have made her one of my absolute favorites.

But there she was, ready to tag me and send me to jail!  My heart jumped and I let out a shriek that made us both jump. Then I took off running as hard as I could, careening around the corner to my “safe” area as if the FBI was on my tail, instead of a little girl with long silky golden hair and a glorious giggle.  As I skidded to a stop, I couldn’t contain my laughter.  We stood on opposite sides of the invisible line, my student and I, face to face and laughing like fools.  “OK, that was awkward!”, she said, “I just chased my teacher down the hall!”

There were dozens of moments like that one all night.  Moments when I found myself running around like a kid, laughing out loud, trying to play with a hula-hoop, putting on sparkly nail polish, baking cookies with a bunch of girls.  Slathering on green face mask with my pal to make the kids smile.

And what I loved was that my legs remembered how to run like a maniac. My arms remembered how to pump for extra speed.  My waist even remembered how to swing a hula-hoop, although it wasn’t very successful at recreating that particular experience! We finally wound down and went to sleep around 1 AM and I sprawled on a deflating air mattress in the music room, surrounded by my friends and the sleeping children.

I woke up at 6AM with every muscle in my body screeching in protest.  No one else was awake as I slowly eased myself to my knees and then to an upright position.  I could practically hear the sound of my joints and muscles trying to unkink as I straightened my spine.  I pulled on my fuzzy red robe and stepped gently over the mounded shapes of the kids, and made my slow way up the stairs to wash up and get changed.  I planned to make a pot of strong coffee and find the ibuprofin in my desk drawer.

As I crossed the empty lobby, I thought about how great it had felt to run full speed again, even if it was only down a short hallway.  I thought about how much pure fun it was to scream with the kids in the big echoing building.

I smiled to myself as my bare feet padded through the empty darkness of the cafeteria to my classroom.

“That’s kinda stupid.”


My favorite part of every school day is “Read Aloud Time.”  I love to read to the kids.  I love the looks on their faces as they react to the action in each story.  I love it when I try to stop, and they beg me for just one more chapter.  Its the closest I’ll ever come to getting a curtain call, you know?

A few years ago I was reading the book “The Liberation of Gabriel King” to my fifth graders.  The book is set in Georgia, during the Presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter.  It is a great story, and I often use it to begin the school year, as the main characters are an unlikely pair of best friends who are about to enter fifth grade, one with enthusiasm, one with total fear.

The subtext of the story is the racial tension in the South in the 1970’s. The book talks about bigotry, racial prejudice and even the KKK.  The children in the story have to learn how to stand up to these things, and how to face their personal fears.

As I read the book to the class that year, they asked a lot of questions.  One of the reasons I love this book is because it leads to such rich and interesting discussions.  Ten year olds are honest, and they’re very curious.  They keep asking questions until they find out what they want to know.

I remember one particular little boy in that class. He was a serious, quiet kid.  Not a great student, but just a really good kid. He was the kind of typical fifth grader who spent a lot of our day waiting for recess so that he could play ball with his friends.  But he was a thoughtful kid, insightful in his own way.  I’ll always remember him for one comment that he made, as we were discussing racial prejudice.

One of the other kids had asked, “Why did some white people think black people weren’t as good as them?” (Note that past tense ‘did’, please).  I tried to explain it briefly, referring back to the history of slavery, doing my best to shed some light on a dark story.  “But why would they think that?”, the kids kept asking.

You should know that my class at the time had a few students from Asia, South Asia and Central America, but none of them were African American.  All were equally bewildered by the descriptions of racial prejudice, but all of them wanted to understand it.

I remember looking at the group, feeling somewhat at a loss. But I remember that particular little boy, slouching back on the rug, both hands in his pockets.  He had on a baseball cap, and his eyes were shaded.  I remember him saying,  “So let me get this straight.  Some people back then thought they were better,  just because their skin was lighter?  Well, that’s kinda stupid.”

Don’t you love it?

As I watched the news coverage of the Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality yesterday, I pictured a classroom of the future. I pictured a cute kid, ball cap tipped rakishly over one eye.  I imagined him saying, “So some people back then thought that one kind of marriage was better than another kind?  That’s kinda stupid.”

Down the Rabbit Hole


My fifth grade students are working on our annual class play.  They have chosen to rewrite the classic story “Alice in Wonderland”.  It’s so much fun to watch them in action, just letting the creativity flow.  I love this time of year, when my sole responsibility is crowd control.

Of course, I am always amazed at how much the world has changed since I was in the fifth grade, and how the kids’ perceptions differ from mine. (They have written a mariachi band into the play.)

For example, did you know that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp did a completely creepy “Alice” movie?  Huh.  I didn’t.  My students wanted to base our script on THAT version rather than Lewis Carroll’s.  So I decided to watch it.

Oh.  My.  God.   I got as far as Johnny’s White Rabbit, with his horrible pinkish orange eyes.  Then I hit that clicker so fast that the whole TV just shut right down.

Of course, the next day the kids had a field day laughing at my sensitivity when I explained my reaction.  They find me very quaint.

So they tried to explain the Burton story, telling me all about how the Jabberwocky is a giant monster that Alice has to slaughter in the end.  This is the story that they all know. This is how they think it goes.

Um.  Really?

Has everything in the whole wide world changed, I wonder? Even the classic old stories, once known and loved by every child, have been changed and rewritten and done over.

Is nothing sacred?

Sometimes I feel as if I have fallen down the rabbit hole.

I mean, look at the way everyone is suddenly raising chickens.  Now I am a confirmed and dedicated locavore, and I love the fact that I am able to buy fresh eggs and local, organic chickens.    But when I was a kid, the only people who had actual chickens in the back yard were those hopelessly backward, unsophisticated immigrants. The rest of us thought they were….well….quaint.

I feel like I’m down the rabbit hole.

And what about plastic, for goodness sake!  Remember “The Graduate”?  (Of course you do).  The middle aged, successful businessman advises a young Dustin Hoffman to “get into plastics” because it is the material of the future.  Back in the 60’s (when I was in fifth grade), having things made of plastic was a sign of modernity.  I remember clearly when my tin “Beatles” lunchbox with its warped metal clasp was replaced with a bright blue plastic “Lost in Space” lunchbox.  I was so incredibly cool.

Now everyone hates plastic. It is made from petroleum, it stays in the environment for a billion years and there is a big pile of it swirling around in the Pacific Ocean.  Plastic is hopelessly old fashioned and out dated.

Rabbit hole.

And let’s think about politics for a moment, shall we?

I remember a time when conservative Americans believed in the motto, “America. Love it or leave it.”  I remember when it was the middle class, white, conservative “majority” that used to vilify the hippy radicals who marched in protest against the Vietnam War.  When young people stuck flowers into the gun muzzles of the National Guard, the conservative base called them “unAmerican” and “disrespectful.”

I remember “My country right or wrong.”

Now? If you want to call yourself a real conservative, you have to believe that you and your friends have a right and a duty to own big guns that can shoot a million rounds.  Why? So you can fight back against those government agents if they come to your door.

Rabbit hole in a big way.

And finally, there is the recent loss of sensitivity to sexual misbehavior.  See, for my entire life, a public figure could pretty much say goodbye to his career if he was caught red-handed in an affair.  I mean, we all knew that behind closed doors powerful men were enjoying their free time in the company of beautiful women.  But it couldn’t be right out there in public! Remember the incredible outcry when Ted Kennedy was caught cheating after the death of his young and beautiful campaign worker?  The uproar was more about her presence in the Senator’s car than it was about her tragic death.  And I know you remember Monica Lewinsky…..

So how do you explain Mark Sanford? The famous A.T. “hiker” was reelected after admitting that he was in Argentina with his girlfriend while collecting his public paycheck. He was reelected. They knew about his lies, his cheating and his attempts to cover it all up, and they voted for him anyway.  Really???

And then there is the skinny,  smirking face of the man with the unfortunate name.  First he sends photos of his pride and joy out into the Twitterverse, loses his Congressional seat and publicly hangs his head in well earned shame.   Then he runs for Mayor of New York.

Well, yikes.

This is not the world I grew up in, for sure.   Alice, we are down the rabbit hole.

“I took a chance.”


Well, my class has finished the fifth grade math state test.  Huzzah!

Instead of actually learning anything for the past two days, the kids had the pleasure of taking the Massachusetts Comprehensive Achievement System.  Also known as MCAS.  Also known among the kids as the Massachusetts Child Abuse System.  Also known, on my morning message board as “Maybe Chinchillas Are Slimy”.  Who knows?

Having spent the past three weeks cramming and drilling for this thing, there was quite a sense of excitement yesterday and today as the kids arrived at school.  I put on a fabulous (if outdated) playlist of inspirational songs, and the kids got themselves all psyched up and ready to go.

And here are some of the events that really, truly, I-swear-to-God-I-am-not-making-these-up honestly happened in my room.

1. A child who was out sick yesterday and missed “Session One of the MCAS fifth grade math test” came in this morning.  I greeted her with a big smile and the obvious question, “Are you feeling better?”

Her answer? “Not really.”  A shrug, a smile and she sat down to take the test.  And she got up and got a drink. And she got up again, holding a tissue to her mouth.   I went to her, of course, and asked her what was wrong.

“My tooth is coming out.”, she said calmly, and went back to her desk to work on her math calculations while wiggling her tooth.  Ten minutes later, she came to me with her tooth in her hand, her cheek streaked with blood, and fear in her eyes. “I got blood on my answer booklet!”, she whispered desperately. “Do you think they will make my answers invalid?”  I reassured her and told her that her answers would most certainly be counted. She had been working so hard!

What I thought, in my head, was, “Honey, if they fail you on this test, you have the perfect answer!  It wasn’t me, it was my blood on the test!”

2.  Four different students came up to my desk to ask the meaning of a word on the test.  The word was “integer”.  It means “number”.  It didn’t appear in any of the chapters of our math book this year.  The kids all knew how to solve the math problem, they just didn’t know the word “integer”.  I bit my tongue, swallowed hard and said (four times), “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t tell you that.”

3. I looked up to see one of my most struggling, learning disabled kids whispering to a classmate, five minutes after the testing had begun.  I was so shocked when I saw them that I called the culprit up to my desk in my loudest public inquiry voice.  Now, you should know that I never, ever, ever shame or embarrass a kid in front of his peers. Never, never, never!!! Until the pressures of this stupid, mindless, idiotic test forced me to lose my mind at the thought of cheating.

“What are you DOING?”, I hissed at this little boy. “What did I JUST say about talking during the test?!?”

He hung his head, and whispered, “I took a chance.”

My blood pressure rose, “You did WHAT? You knew that talking during the test was wrong and you did it anyway?”  I was absolutely aghast.

“Yes”, he said simply.  He wouldn’t look me in the eye.

“What in the world were you talking about?”, I demanded.

And so he told me.

“I saw that he was putting his answers in the wrong place. I know he isn’t from Massachusetts, so I thought he didn’t know what to do.” He raised his tear filled eyes to mine.  “I couldn’t let him get them all wrong.”

We stood for a moment, face to face.  My little student was resolute, nervous, red faced, but determined.  I was filled with guilt and shame and a sense of awe.   I took in a breath.

“So…”, I began slowly, making sure that everyone in the class could hear me, “You knew that it was against the rules to talk, but you took a chance of being caught, of getting in trouble, so that your friend would not fail?”

He shrugged, then nodded his head, never looking directly at me.

I thought my heart would break.

I put a hand on his shoulder, urging him to look me in the eye.

“Honey”, I said, through the lump in my throat, “You are a hero. You risked getting punished so that you could do the right thing. I am incredibly proud of you.”

He smiled and went back to his desk to finish the test.

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And I am left with a whole pile of questions.

Why on earth would we design a system that makes it wrong to help a friend?

Why in the world would we create a testing system that is so complicated that kids might put their answers on the wrong page?

What are we really testing when we refuse to define the words on the test?

What are we doing to our teachers when we make them so nervous about “cheating” that they feel compelled to publicly embarrass a student this way?

I don’t have the answers, but I certainly have the questions.

Pendulum Swings.


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I can’t keep up with the pendulum swings.  I really can’t.

When I started teaching, the “latest ideas” and “best practices” told us that we had to group kids in mixed level groupings at all times.  The education gurus of the day (in the 1980’s) shuddered at the memory of those backward teachers of the 60’s and 70’s who grouped kids into homogenous groups, based on skill levels.  Those terrible, stifling, demoralizing leveled groups were soundly and logically and carefully denounced.  We turned our backs on them with pleasure!

Now, of course, the “latest ideas” and “best practices” of education, brought to us by the latest batch of newly hatched gurus, tell us to carefully measure each child’s skill level in each academic area, and to group them accordingly. In leveled groups.  Just like the ones we were told were “stifling and demoralizing”.  Huh.

Yup.  Today’s gurus are denouncing the gurus of 35 years ago. The pendulum has swung back.  Education is right where it was in 1967.

You gotta love progress.

And I was thinking about how the old pendulum has also swung back in the area of politics and social awareness, too.

I mean, when I was in my 20’s, way, way, way back in the 1970’s, most progressive young couples refused to get married. That was the hip, liberal, nonconformist thing to do.  The conservatives of the day were constantly extolling the virtues of legal marriage.  Marriage, they said, would save society and would end all of these “sinful” couples who lived together without the legal sanction of marriage. Everyone must get married, they declared, everyone!!!

Soooooo, compare this with today. Today, conservatives are all about “civil unions”, which back in my day meant “living in sin, you damn hussy”. Conservatives now want to stop people from getting married.

Pendulum swings.

And I remember back to the 60’s and early 70’s, when so many lefty young people were marching in the streets, demanding changes to the government’s policies of war in Southeast Asia.  It was the liberal, progressive, lefty young people back at that time who proclaimed that it was a patriotic act to oppose an undemocratic, tyrannical central government.

Back then it was the staunch conservatives who answered those anti-government actions with the sweeping statement, “If you don’t like the US, get out!”  And they were adamant in saying that anyone who posed any threat to the US government was a “commie”, a “traitor” and should be either jailed or packed off to Cuba.

Ah, yes. I remember it well.

So where are we now?

Now it is the conservative, right wing factions who are claiming that they absolutely have the right, the duty, the obligation to own the biggest, baddest weapons that they can find.  Why?  To oppose an undemocratic, tyrannical central government, that’s why. Its now a good thing, a conservative idea, to plan on shooting up any government agent who comes to your door.

Talk about a pendulum swing.

The whole damn thing is making me dizzy.

What’s in a name?


Sometimes, as a teacher, I am overwhelmed by the sound of my own name.

In our school, we all use our first names. We think of ourselves as a community of learners, where all voices are valued.  This is lovely.

So all of are called by our first names by everyone in the building.  This is often not so lovely.

Last Friday was one of those days.  I was tired and anxious.  It was freezing outside. My feet hurt.

“Karen, look what I made last night!”  Hold on a minute, honey.

“Karen, should I hand this in?”   Don’t we always hand in our math?

“I need help, Karen.”  Be right there.

“Karen, I need to talk to you about a student.”  Yep, let’s talk about that testing.

“Karen, can we make an appointment for a conference about my daughter?” Of course, just let me look in my plan book.

“Karen!”   “Karen?”  “Hey, Karen….”   “Karen!!!”  By noon time my head was spinning.

I took my 24 students down to the computer lab, which was a huge mistake. Sitting at those machines, everyone needs constant help.  And I mean, seriously, CONSTANT.

“Karen, how do I cut and paste?”  “Karen, can I use this page?”  “Karen, where do I save it?”  “Karen, its not letting me type…save…copy….search…..”   “Karen!  I have the spinny ball of death!”  Karen,karen,karen,karen,karen.

By the time I got home, I was wishing I could change my name to Lucille.

Then I got to thinking.

How lucky I am to live a life where so many people know my name, and are close enough to me to use it.

I know some folks who have no one, literally no one, who calls out to them for attention or help or affection.  No one in the world who wants to show them something cool.  No one who just wants a chance to chat with them.  No one who relies on them for support.  I know some folks who have no family calling on the phone.  No spouse to whisper their name and say “good night”.  No colleagues to greet them in the morning or share a cup of coffee.

No kids surrounding them with eager questions or funny stories.

It made me reassess my day, my reactions and my crabby old self.  It made me laugh.

Call me crazy, or call me Karen.  Just keep calling me!