Monday, August 31, 2015

Ten on Tuesday:10 Simple Ordinary Things That Bring Me Joy

1. When people wave. Like when I let them in the lane they need in order to turn left, or even people who stand outside the church on the main drag on Friday mornings and wave at drivers for Happy Friday. There's a strange man who lives about a mile from my house in a little place with tinfoil in the windows. Either he waves at everyone or he has learned which car is mine. Because he always waves at me.

I also love it when a student waves at me in the hallway or when I'm out of context, like at the grocery store.

2. Clean clothes folded in drawers.

3. Sotto voce comments made to me in class by students who think we are in on the joke together. Because we are.

4. Math problems worked in my head quickly in front of others. Perhaps it is a job related disorder. But I love when I can use the distributive property to quickly do computation. I can see the lines where numbers connect and separate on these occasions.

5. Planning trips. I'm in the midst of planning three. One for summer, one for winter break that might not pan out in the end due to timing, and one for spring break. Oh and the one we want to take London on when she graduates from high school. That's in the serious long term planning stage.

6. Weed flowers gathered in a vase. Little daisy-like blooms combined with those weird hard pink things and some tall grass gone to seed. In a milk glass vase.

7. A completed project. A quilt, a clean room, a sweater. I love sleeping under it for the first time or wearing it the first time, and so forth.

8. Snow falling.

9. Waking up and there's a kid in my bed. And they didn't wake me up before they crawled in next to me. It's cozy and perfect.

10. Making connections about history, either genealogy or about my house or neighborhood or whatnot. Putting the pieces together is very satisfying.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Perfect students don't need teachers

This is a teaching post. And kind of a long one.

My new partner teacher and I started using interactive notebooks this year. It's the anti-technology for math. Our whole school and whole world moving to an online learning environment and here we are with scissors and glue.

We teach lessons and create foldables and study aids for kids to cut out and glue in their notebooks. Like this (this isn't one of mine directly, but from Math = Love. I used this one this past week):
Those little doors close and you have each of the operations on the outside. It allows for a different sort of organized thinking. More spatial, more visual.

I teach tracked math classes (you are either average or advanced, there's no remedial). Except for a few boys who thought cutting and pasting was "hard" (I teach 6th-8th, remember), the reaction to the notebook system has been overwhelmingly positive.

The most positive reactions? Reasonably smart girls who are nervous about math. The group I have the hardest time reaching in a classroom setting, but my favorite group to tutor. And I decided to move to this system last year when, sitting in my algebra class with printouts and cut-and-paste work about radicals, a couple of my really bright boys said, "These are the best notes we've taken all year, I really get this stuff right now." So I knew that it wasn't just for kids who struggled. It is clear, it is personalized, and it's more fun than copying stuff I scribble on the board in a hurry.

On the test this past Friday, the last question was an evaluation of my teaching: what is working in math this year? What isn't? What are you worried about? How can I help? Of course this sort of question leads to lots of positive comments (some of them dishonestly so), but I did get comments like "I don't understand word problems" and "You talk too fast". Ok. I can dig it. I will work on that.

But one of my algebra students (advanced 8th grade) ripped me apart about the notebooks. He hates them. He doesn't need them. He resents that math has become this arts and crafts lesson and he doesn't see any value in it. He urged me to give it up and be a normal teacher. He was not nice in his urging. I would call him brave, except...

This child's father called out a teacher at our open house this week in front of a classroom full of parents. She was explaining the new math series and how it focuses on problem solving. She brought up an example on her smart board that showed how to determine if an answer is reasonable. He shouted out, "It's not REASONABLE. It's RIGHT. Who cares if it's reasonable?"

I was once at a classroom party with this student's mother, at which she got a little tipsy (no, not really, I'm just kidding, there was no alcohol) and started making fun of homeless people. In front of me, the other moms, and some kids who overheard.

She was the only parent who was disappointed when we stopped having math groups in 6th grade (we have since gone back to them, unfortunately), because her younger son was so looking forward to math on "his level" without the other kids dragging it down all the time.

The arrogance is doing me in.

So I wrote back to this child on his test. You certainly don't have to take notes this way if you don't find it helpful. That's what I wrote. This is what I thought, but did not write:

Everyone else will get an easy 15 point notebook check grade and you will get "NA", meaning it doesn't count for or against you (if you don't have your notebook on that day, you get "NA" as well).

And if there is any justice in the world, eventually something will be hard and you will come up to my desk and ask for help and I'll ask you to bring me your notebook.

But most likely, you will make an A+ in my class because you are gifted and hard working and don't need me. And that'll be good too. Because you are already angry at the whole damned world at 14. I'm glad math is easy. But I'm still going to teach everyone else this way. Sorry that I moved 8 more students up into your elitist advanced class and therefore we move a little more slowly for the good of those who don't have your giftedness, abilities, and advantages but can certainly learn algebra in eighth grade if I guide them.

If you want to be separate from them, I suggest you find a school you have to test into. Or a homeschool program so your mom doesn't have to worry about the word "Common Core" showing up on the front of a textbook. Or, God forbid, rubbing shoulders with someone a little less perfect.

Funny thing is, after I watched the soccer game the other night, and then after curriculum night was over and the whole staff gathered for a little happy hour, I started wondering if I was selling this place short. And then this happened and I remembered, no, I'm not.

I know there are difficult families everywhere. I know that there are asshole students everywhere. I think it comes down to the BRAND of difficult here. The assumptions and the arrogance. I'm tired of square peg/round hole-ing myself for the few families who like me. Because I won't be an elitist. I won't celebrate advantage. I won't make fun of homeless people with you.

I'm in the wrong place.

I know--just one kid, Sally, don't let it bring you down. I know--it's a job, Sally, that's why they have to pay you to do it. But you know what? I've had jobs that I didn't feel like I had to change who I was in order to teach there.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Negative Space

But if there's one thing in my life
That these years have taught
It's that you can always see it coming
But you can never stop it.

You sit at my table, you live in my house, you learn in my classroom, you ride in my car, you live on my street, whatever it is--I don't let people go all the way. I just don't. Even if they let go of me. I still think and pray and hope.

A text tonight: Sally, they took my son. From Troy. One of my people. Even though all the "even thoughs".

I called him and we talked, but he's bad at maintaining a personal narrative of his life. Details and timelines are not his strength. But there was a visit from a social worker last night that must not have gone well. He didn't even know there was an investigation. The state came to school today and placed his son in foster care. Troy said a social worker told him he may be charged with child abuse. And that there were three open cases about their family. I don't even know enough to know what any of that means. But I think it means he's fucked. I hope that child lands softly.

Thinking about that summer, sitting on my porch with him, with a lot of success under his belt. It had been a great summer. He and his son were great together. He was saving money. He was starting to fix things. There was hope when he moved on.

But dysfunctional, toxic, dangerous relationships involving children and mutual dependency are hard to walk away from. And when you have nightmares all the time and can't read people and have no boundaries and are filled with grief and rage from your own history of abuse, well, you have so many needs and so few skills you wind up caught up in a cycle that cannot be broken on your own. You have no bootstraps to pull yourself up by.

And then you wind up turning into the sort of person who gave you the nightmares in the first place.

I lay back on my porch floor, my phone resting on my chest, staring up at the negative space between the leaves of the oak tree in my front yard.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Right here. Right now.

I am sitting on my front porch. It is still my broke-down old front porch; we have the plans for the new one but it involves Bixby taking them downtown and, you know, he's working. I didn't even bother to go downtown with them. I don't know the answers to any of the questions.

It is barely 70 degrees. Rain came through at some point today, or maybe it never got hot? I don't know. My life is climate controlled and I never even managed to open my blinds in my classroom. So I'm enjoying the overcast mosquito-free situation on the broke-down porch listening to traffic on the main drag a half a block away.

I've just gotten back from a run. A run. I still love writing that and saying it. A coworker who runs marathons and works for a running STORE, for goodness sake, offered to evaluate my form. She's so excited that I've started running. I hope I can keep it up.

I needed the run to kind of clear the head-space I'm in right now. I had a root canal last week and the tooth behind it, it seems pretty clear, needs one as well. Going in tomorrow to have it looked at. Being in moderate dental pain for almost a month is wearing me down.

I am becoming my own worst enemy.
Plus I went back to teaching in my climate controlled classroom. So I have to be "on" the whole time and it's hard. Luckily, I think this is the Year of the Fragile Girl, in comparison to last year, the Year of the Extroverted Intuitive Feeler Boy, which was EXHAUSTING. My homeroom is quiet. My math classes are adjusting to some of the new things I'm doing with them. So it's only moderately exhausting instead of thoroughly so.

London started school this week. She loves it more than I ever could have hoped for. I cried on the phone with the learning consultant last night. I'm a little raw these days.

Niles and Brooklyn started school today. Their opinions were more balanced. But I think it'll be ok.

Everyone is getting into the routine of autumn and the weather is starting to match. The guy who runs my writers group wants to read more of my novel. I love his feedback. He's helped me see through so many stumbling points while still knowing that I need constant praise and attention (that's all I need, after all...).

Troy asked to move back in. I told him no. But then I brainstormed with him about other options. He'll probably move in at his brother's until he leaves again with the Army (brother, not Troy). Another Extroverted Intuitive Feeler I can't very well explain. His felony charges are still pending. The drug charges seemed to have evaporated. That's too many lucky chances. He left the toxic girl. Again.

He was over at the house when Bix's cousins were visiting from western Missouri. I'd been talking to them about him over the course of all of it. Her comment? "He looks so young." I hope. And I sit on my front porch as the weather gets cooler, knowing how that makes him start feeling, and I run and I teach and I live here.

Stabilitas. It's so good. And so hard. And the coworker who made my heart sick last year is being nice to me. Summer helps, I think.

I'm thinking about a change, though. In fact, I"m not thinking about it anymore. I've decided. Seeing my big old graduated 8th grade ENF boys today flipped the switch for sure and for good.

Because I can do more. Because I'm suffocating. Because I'm ready.

So that's the too long/didn't read version of my life right now. Clouds are gathering. October is on its way.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mammoth Cave National Park

 This past weekend we went to Mammoth Cave National Park. There are lots of facts and history and whatnot. But here are some pictures! Above, the historic entrance. It's a big old cave, 400+ miles of cave in approximately a 49 square mile area of Kentucky.
There are several of these terrifying holes on the tour we took. Interestingly terrifying of course. Brooklyn was not amused.
In the 19th century, people signed their names to the ceiling of the cave, using a candle flame. Patience.
London went on a wild cave tour with other kids her age. They dressed her in coveralls and helmets with lamps. She had a great time. Above is the before picture. Below, the after picture. But she doesn't look as exhausted as I thought she would be!
While she caved, Brooklyn and I did a six and a half mile hike. We earned a patch for this, so we took a selfie at the furthest point from the trailhead (it was a loop). We will pretty much do anything for an embroidered patch. Girl Scouts trained us well. I should mention here that running has gotten me into such better shape. Yikes.
And below is the rat snake Brooklyn almost stepped on. Yeah. It was a little bit frightening, that moment. I tried to get the camera out in time to take the photo on the trail but instead, of course, I tracked it a bit off the path.
What you don't see when I tripped over the root and fell about a mile and a half in.  Like all the way down. Like sliding into home plate. I have some lovely bruises. As I was falling, I had that millisecond to think, and I thought, oh, I'll catch myself. No problem. Easy. Nope, not going to make it, going to fall. Falling right now. Don't catch yourself with your wrist bent, Bridgett, slide, slide, slide....and I did. Whee.

So I was exceptionally sore. But it was good. And I earned a patch. Did I mention the patch?

We took another cave tour this morning, in a part of the cave that is still forming--the cave is limestone, but in almost all of Mammoth Cave, the top of the cave has a sandstone roof protecting it from further water seepage. At one end, though, the cave extends past the sandstone and formations like stalactites form. And cave bacon. Who doesn't like cave bacon?
They had to be very still for this to work. It sort of worked. We were there. I promise. It was good.

The weird thing? The clientele wasn't the typical National Park Junkies we are used to spending time near. People seemed far more passive, like they expected to be entertained. Bix thought perhaps, because the one major thing to do in the park was cave tours, we were noticing more of the "drive to the national park and look at the vista" kind of folks than we usually encounter. Most visitors were from quite nearby. They weren't bad folks. They were just, well, different than the usual. For instance: we approached the rangers asking for hikes, and they pulled out the brochure for paved walks near the visitor center. We said maybe something longer than that, and she pointed out that you could do both of them in 30 minutes. Finally, I asked her if there were any fire towers (there weren't) and described some of the hikes we've done in the past. She produced the patch and got out a back country map. Then, when we were on the hike, Brooklyn and I, and we saw 6 other hikers. There were 3 cars in the trailhead lot. We've been to trailheads out west that were filled past capacity.

So we're going to go back in a few years and test Bix's theory by taking the more extensive tours (6 hours, for instance).

How's that for a weekend trip that makes me feel superior to my fellow visitors? It wouldn't have struck me, honestly, if it hadn't been so danged obvious that they thought this was a tourist cave destination. My favorite quote, outside the national park store: "They call this a GIFT SHOP? Are they out of their minds?"