A place for family and friends to see what I'm up to. Visitors welcome here.

Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Could it...

... get any better than this?

The lesson was the War of 1812.

A fun few days.

First person account of an impressed sailor.  Madison's letter to Congress asking for a Declaration of War.  Graphic organizer of the two phases.  The Star Spangled Banner, Uncle Sam and "The Battle of New Orleans" (Johnny Horton AND Mormon Tabernacle Choir versions).

And a little CLOZE test.  It's where you fill in the blanks.  Students could choose the "C" level test (that had all the words on the back) or the "A" level test (students had to remember the information).

I was happy.  Until I graded the tests.

I used to have a hard time with cheaters.  I was raised by people with strong ethical values, and I have them, too.  I tried to monitor and catch and punish cheaters.  Until George W. Bush's first election.  And then, hey, maybe I'm teaching the wrong values, huh?  So I sort of let it all go.

So how do you catch cheaters on a simple, middle school test?  They have matching - usually goofy - wrong answers.  Four kids at one table, two at another.  Nowadays I deal with them by gathering the matching papers, stapling them together and writing "If you're going to cheat, make sure someone has the right answers." 

The end.

No loss of points, no calls home, no trip to the principal's office.

I forget it.  They live with it.

The table of four ended up in giggles when they realized "They're all the same!"  (The question must have been, "How did she know?"  The end.)

The two at the other table, however, have given me a very special teacher moment.  One that I will write in my "I LOVE  THIS" journal and visit again and again.

On Tuesday, Student #1 caught me before lunch and asked to speak with me.  "I just wanted to tell you I did not cheat on the test," she said in earnest, "That's not who I am.  I wanted you to know that."

I got all soft and mushy, smiled, and thanked her for telling me.  I believed her.  She was the copy-ee.

Yesterday, Student #2 came into my classroom, pale as a sheet.  "I'd like to talk to you," she began "about the test.  I talked with my parents about this, and I need to talk to you."  She went on to confess to cheating on the test.  She doesn't really know why she did, because that's not something she usually does.  It's all right if I give her an F.  "I've been sick about this," as she put her hand on her almost 14-year-old tummy, "and I'm so sorry."

I'm sure she didn't expect what she got.  I got all mushy and gooey again, and so proud to know her.  In 24 years of teaching, this has NEVER happened.  With elegance, this young teenager owned this mistake, apologized and rather eloquently explained how disappointed she was in herself.  I'm sure she did not expect an expression of admiration, a hug and a confession of a similar mistake I once made.  (OK, I was in second grade, but she didn't need to know that.)  We had a serious but brief conversation (during which her color returned) and then she left for the day, obviously much relieved.

This morning I emailed her parents to let them know how splendidly their daughter had handled herself and gave them a BRAVO!  Mom wrote back to thank me.  She said the girl had not been eating or sleeping, she was so upset, and finally decided on her own that she had to face me.

Later I went to my principal with the good news (he likes that) and we agreed with Mom that, even with the stress, this was an important lesson that the young woman learned, will not forget.

These are the kids that are my anchors.  I figured out that by the time I retire - maybe as early as next year - I will have taught over 4,000 eighth graders.  Some of them can be challenging.  But the majority bring me hope for the future, and once in a while I get an experience like this.

We'll be in good hands with these kids.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Six years.

I set myself on a path I never dreamed was in front of me.  It's been an amazing trek.  Confusion is probably the word I fall back to most often.  But there has been a great deal of self satisfaction mixed with frustration, happiness with the occasional dollop of anger.

And now I drift.  No dreams, no goals.  The job gets jobbed and the plants get watered.  Christmas still lives and will, apparently, outlive Valentine's Day this year.  It's a day at a time thing.  I watched a documentary about Hay House Publisher Louise Hay.  She talked about the beginnings, just she and her mother filling orders at the coffee table for her first little booklet.  She spoke of how she learned to "do the thing in front of" her.  And that's kind of where I am.  Just drifting, doing the thing in front of me.

Most of the time.

I forgot an appointment yesterday.  Every six months, now, I have to return to the retinal surgeon for a set of scans to check the condition of my retinas (both eyes) followed a couple of days later  with a consult with the surgeon.  I forgot the scan and am grateful they were able to fit me in this afternoon.  Sub is ready for tomorrow's appointment.  Next week is my pre-surgery physical, and the week after that my appointment with my opthalmologist for pre-surgery measurements.  Then in March my lens replacement.  Optimistic that this will clear my vision in my recovering eye.  I'm very grateful that the surgeon was able to do as much as he did - if the lighting is right and I hold a credit card very close to my eye, I can read the fine print.  I believe this tells me that the retina - and specifically the macula - is working properly.  The new lens will - I also believe - bring the two eyes into working together again which will allow me to do some things that have been difficult this year.  Like stitch.  And read.  And grade papers.

But the surgery doesn't feel like a goal.  Not a dream for the future.  It's the next logical step in the driftwood days I float through.

That kind of bothers me.  I miss having the happy fantasy that is dreamwork.  And I haven't quite figured out how to deal with it.  So I decided to go back to what worked to get me here.

One of the assignments in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way that I worked that magical summer of 2010 was to tear apart magazines, just ripping out pictures that appealed to me for 20 minutes.  Then, I was to put them all together onto a vision board and use that board as a kind of viewmaster to get an idea of what my focus was at that time.  In true me fashion, I didn't settle for magazine pictures.  I added other pretties from my scrapbook materials.  And it wasn't a poster, it was a tri-fold.  It has been propped up behind my computer monitor at school all these years.  I still love it, and in some ways I feel like I've grown into it.  That I am MORE that way than I was when I ripped those magazines apart.

And so I've decided to return to those roots.  Sort of.  Yesterday I bought an art journal with a bright sunflower cover.  50% off.  And I determined to fill it in the course of this year with things that bring me joy and satisfaction with myself and my life.  A vision book rather than a vision board.  It is my hope that through this process, I will gain some insights into just how deeply I plan to follow that path.

I got a pretty good start, I think.  I needed to go back to my classroom to make sure I had set things up properly for tomorrow's sub and walked out into a breathin' pink sunset.  They always fill me up.  And I still smile when I remember a little over a week ago, driving up the coast to visit these guys again.

I love to drive the Central California coast and last month just hit birthday for the Elephant Seals.  SO many babies.  I was inspired to do a little studying up on them when I got home and learned that the females carry the embryo just floating around in their uterus until The Right Time for Implantation.  Most of the embryos implant on the same day, and so most of the babies are born on the same day.  And I was there.  I went back a couple of weeks later with a friend to see how they had grown.  Ten pounds a day, all plump and flipping sand and screaming.  Baby elephant seals sound, to me anyway, like howler monkeys.  I know, I know, to their mothers its the world's most important music.


The first time I saw these hundreds - thousands - of seals basking on the beach I thought they were storm-tossed pieces of driftwood.

I dreamed once of working with large animals.  In fact, from the age of eight to seventeen my only dream was to be a zookeeper.  I even wrote to the Director of the LA Zoo for advice on what to study in college.  I was thrilled to learn all I needed was to pass a Civil Service Exam and would I please contact his office to come and talk to him.

Regrets.  My dad poured the cold water all over that one.  And my sweet little self just curled up in her box of autism and walked Dad's path for a while.  And got married.  And walked someone else's path for a long time.  And then, in 2010, found my own path.

Or perhaps a stream.  For this piece of driftwood to float along, clearing away what is in front of me.

Every year I show the brilliant Ken Burns documentary, Lewis & Clark.  The Corps of Discovery often had to shove pieces of driftwood out of their way as they made their way up the mighty Missouri.  Today I encountered something that, I know, will prove to be a life-changer.

A colleague welcomed his first child into the world eight days ago.  The last thing he said to me as he left for that weekend was, "I'm over the moon excited to have this baby."  Today he was back to work and I was excited to hear his experience.  The baby boy is perfect.  Doing great.

But they almost lost the mother.  Multiple complications slamming, one after another.  Hysterectomy.  Draining wounds.  He said good-bye three times.  They are home now, with grandparent help.  But not completely out of the woods.

Perspective.  I may be drifting without direction, but damn!  I've been lucky along this trek.

I had seen this poster this morning and it came back this afternoon.

I suppose.  But I read something a while back that rang truer.  To forgive assumes a judgement of wrong-doing on the other person's part and I don't think that's my place.  And so I'll just drift.   And feel gratitude for the gifts along the way.  "If the story doesn't have a happy ending, it's not the end."   Maybe I'll get lucky and find that the story has not ended.  Or maybe I'll continue to drift past the dead wood.  Whatever the outcome, I plan to stay grateful for what one friend once called the "soap opera of my life."  For all it's frustrations, it has been a life filled with delight and joy.  Looking forward to finding more.

Well, that was a ramble.  Maybe I'll edit it later.  Probably not.