HAIBUN for the (NOT)-SPRING OF 2020

young grain
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

 

Today, the smell of the fresh cut grass reminded me of early spring, when students sit in school and begin to get spring fever. They still have a few months to go before summer break, but they feel the fever deep inside—they need to be outside. What I sometimes would tell them is that we teachers also felt spring fever, and that it is so hard for us to keep teaching adjectives and adverbs, Macbeth and Les Mis, and that we dread the testing season in April because we too need to be outside.

Every head turns to the windows if we hear the roar of that first spring motorcycle, and I have to turn my face away from the students when I hear this, for the gray skirt and muddy boots and salt stained old leather shoes and the puffy coat are just too much to deal with when I need spring as well, but I must say, “Students, settle down. We have to get ready for the big tests coming up.”

This year was the Pandemic spring of 2020, the not-spring. I had planned to write down each day of spring news: what date did the rolled up green open to leaves? What day did the first hint of crepe paper yellow show on the witch hazel? What day did the snow drops bloom? And did the trout lily survive, did the daffodil bulbs make it through the squirrel’s hunt? What’s the earliest date the chipmunks emerge, their metabolisms too fast to survive winter while awake?

 

This year, there was

no spring, only a season

of trying not to breathe.

I Won’t be Going “Back to School” in the Fall

        insprie teacher change     For the first time in 28 years, I won’t be going “back to school” in the fall. I need to take some time off to recover from an annoying injury, and I plan to return in the spring session.

To say I am disappointed is very true. This is the first time in my working life–going back to 1969!–I had to say, I cannot do this right now. Not there anyway, with the mile long parking lots and the super long walks to the classes. Not yet.

 I love teaching, and I will miss it a lot this fall term. 

So… if you hear my brains rattling or if you hear some whimpering on my part, give me a nudge and remind me there might be life outside of teaching.

Or just tell me to get to work getting better.

 

Flowers and Failures/ Roses and Graffiti… This is Teaching

From three years ago, when I returned from sick leave at the end of the year. Please excuse the typos– I had hand surgery.

And today was a day of grace in teaching; we dared to say, we missed each other, the students and I. I said it first…but…heads popped in, SHE’S BACK~! I am doing SO WELL I almost felt like a fraud…being gone 2 1/2 weeks and coming back WITHOUT the brace I’ve been wearing all year and without the stitches.

I’m under no illusion that peers are paramount to sophomores; however, I am under no illusion that truly this was a day of love.

We missed you. I missed you guys. Whose birthdays did I miss? How was the test you just took?

And these flowers and the balloon. NO NOTE.. Just sitting on my desk, from two young ladies…not the best students. In fact, one very BELLIGERENT young lady who cost me “check marks” on my evaluation. My boss asked, do you now who those are from? No, I said. And then she told me and we both wondered, since this young lady had a dean in all her classes last year. She has lots of zeros and is currently failing the class, but usually manages to JUST PASS. I support her Latina leadership activities–the car washes, the dances, the study groups. Keep the ticket, I always tell her. I cannot make it. Go ahead and sell it again. And she does. I see her do it.

A few of the truly rowdiest kids from last year’s CRAZY 8’S stopped by. They thought I had retired without saying good bye. They asked if they were the reason I was retiring and I told them… I wrote a blog about you all. Remember the day _____ was crying and you all helped him? You all made sure no one made fun of him, you protected him, you were kind and funny and good? Yes, they said, we remember. Well, I told these two lads, I wrote a blog and I borrowed the quote I STAND UP FOR YOU.

Can we see it, they asked? No, I said. My creative writing is personal, but I want you to know that I got it. I knew that last period of the day was not a good time for 30+ boys in a hot classroom reading LOTF or Les MIs or… Macbeth.

And then I am under no illusion that they are part kids. A young lady pointed out that the sub didn’t notice THERE IS A BOOK OR A PART OF THE BOOK ON THE PROJECTOR FOR THE SMART BOARD AND THERE IS A FUNNY BANANA BACK THERE! BACK THERE!!!

Indeed. Some sophomore had ripped Les Miserable in quarter and tagged it up with..um..um… um… male… parts…. in pencil…. showing his / her utter contempt for the novel. I have a feeling I know who did this, but I simply took it down and said I’d be dusting for fingerprints. After one class a young man asked if he would be is super trouble???? Whoever did it?

I don’t know what you are talking about, I said. I don’t see any book up there, do you? Besides, I heard whoever owned that book was going to read most of the parts of Macbeth this week, right? It’s not me, he said, but I’ll read anyway. The girls in the class just winked at me and pointed at the boy….

Roses and graffiti. Flowers and failures.

And most of all, it’s about us, about being a human being during this time of high stakes testing and pressure and CCSS and…yes, dare I use that word?

It’s about loving your students enough to miss them, teach them, honor them, and…dust for fingerprints. 🙂

Adult Literacy Training Completed & I Meet My Student Friday!

SMALL HEART BOOKS POETRY     There is very little dearer to my heart and mind than literacy in its many forms;  expression and communication across the miles and years is nearly miraculous, in my opinion.  I cannot say if I love reading or writing more, for I spend so much of my life reading and writing!  If I am not reading or writing, I am often thinking IN WORDS… and thinking about reading and writing. I teach reading and writing.  I practice reading and writing. My hobbies include READING AND WRITING.

I go to book discussions. I take literature classes.  I write poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.  I take creative writing classes.  I submit poetry and fiction for publication, and SOME RARE TIMES I get published.

I’m rather boring, aren’t I?  I am so much about reading and writing.

I’ve seen firsthand how literacy can improve and even save lives.  That’s how strongly I believe in the importance of literacy.

My own personal literacy story is still to come, but I will say I am one who was probably saved from a miserable life partly by the ability to read and write well.  (Then there is also the out of control work ethic and stubbornness, but those are stories for later as well.)

This Friday, after completing the second full day of training, I meet the student I will be working with for at least the next six months.    I have come full circle, since decades ago I was an adult literacy tutor through Laubach Literacy International, now merged with Literacy Volunteers to become ProLiteracy.

Here is a link to a great article, “Adult Education Helps Break the Cycle of Poverty,” published by ProLiteracy: click here.

The article points out that:

The value of adult literacy to our economy is estimated at more than $200 billion per year in additional wages and reduced costs for public support programs. Educating adults is a sound investment. Yet, public funding for adult education programs has declined over the past 15 years despite most adult education programs having long student waiting lists. Programs can only serve a fraction of the adults who need services.

Indeed, my student has been waiting nearly a year for a tutor, and some students have been waiting longer than that.  So many more trained literacy tutors are needed!

I’m excited, and I hope I can help my student reach her literacy goals; I know I will sure try hard!

Now I need to get back to preparing lessons for my college teaching job–teaching College Reading. Are you surprised?

Thank you for reading.

 

Off to Start a New College Term

And off to meet the students. I love teaching. Always an exciting day! I teach developmental English at the community college, and I love it. I believe strongly in the mission of our community colleges, and view them as great institutions.

Oh– and a picture from a nature walk the other day.

Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.

From my phone.

Cry, Beloved America

img_1024     Many educators become pensive at the end of the summer; as we get ready to return to the classroom, we cannot help but think about how we won’t have much time to actually *think* for months at a time as we enter a whirlwind of teaching activity.  Think now! Think!

This summer I have been thinking about a novel I read long ago, Cry the Beloved Country, a novel published in 1948 and written by Alan Paton. (See more here: Cry the Beloved Country.)

While this novel is a renowned novel about South Africa, the urgency, sadness, and beauty of the country strikes me to this day and the title–Cry, the Beloved Country.  This is how I felt after seeing Spike Lee’s latest movie, The Blackkklansman.  Cry, beloved America. Is there hope for us? Is there? Can we reach across the years and miles and truly love and respect all Americans?

The news from Washington? Cry, cry, beloved America.

And then I think of returning to the classroom next week and I could weep again for other reasons.

I so strongly believe in the power of literacy to improve lives, and I am so very proud to always have been a teacher of literacy in a nation that educates all students. All students.  I am no longer teaching high school, but when I see my class rosters and check into the background of my students I feel very proud, happy, a bit scared, but mostly so very excited to be a reading instructor at the community college level.

My students, as they usually are, will be those for whom English is not a first language, or those whom struggle with reading and writing.

That’s why I am there, to help them. To create lessons that will invite them to the literacy table, a great strong table.

I so desperately believe in the great promise of educating all students and I so strongly feel pride in our community college system.

So come to class students; I am waiting eagerly to meet you and start our literacy journey together.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Back to School, Educators?

Wishing all educators returning to school this week all the best! 👍🍀❤️.

For those not returning? 👍🍀❤️.

For adjuncts not knowing if we will have a paycheck or not but still need to prep? 😱

🙂

I love y’all !

On running into former students

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I don’t want to make more out of this than I should, but in this case, meeting a student outside of school reminded me of one of the reasons I “retired” early–a badly designed one size fits (none but the elite few???) evaluation system.

No, not because of this student, named D (not real name, of course).  D was a sweet, emotional, moody, respectful, goofy, and very needy student when she was in my class my last year of teaching full time.

Fine.  I like a challenge, and I like kids.  I chose to be a literacy teacher/ specialist at the secondary level, and that means working with kids who have struggled a lot with school.  They get me instead of a fun class or instead of an elective.  This means they often acted out, since they didn’t have the maturity to realize acting out did not get them out of class.  It took much art, much patience, much creativity, and much compassion for me to develop good working relationships so they would try to “do school” and not act out in class (so much) or disengage in class.

And I was used to getting a lot of challenging students all in one class.  Some years, if I had a particularly challenging group, I would often go home exhausted to the point of bone weary.

But for many years, that was fine and we who chose this path were thanked.  Admin understood our classes might not be quiet like the AP or Honors classes.  Admin understood part of our job was to work the magic of relationships and understanding and compassion. Admin understood that many of our students were not intrinsically motivated in classes they didn’t want to be in or actively hated being in.

(Side note: One year, during my evaluation for tenure I had a student go wild, explode after he received some devastating news.   My great admin understood this can happen, especially with adolescents challenged with many outside problems.  I got tenure and I was praised for handling this very difficult situation in a professional and compassionate manner.  The admin was able to use his/ her discretion, assess the situation, and became involved in helping the student and his family after he/ she learned about the issues.)

But that is another story.)

D had been labeled as a handful, a trouble maker, but I found her quick to anger, quick to forgive, quick to cry, but always a young person who would go out of her way to say hello, even shouting across campus.  That’s not always true with teens, and I took it as a good sign.

But during one evaluation  on Day 2 of 2, D was having a hard time, crying in class, whispering, etc.  I dealt with it, I thought, in a manner that let me continue to teach without anyone losing face, without shaming anyone.  It was an active class and we were doing a lot of moving and talking in the room anyway, and come on. They were 14, 15 years old… sophomores in high school. I felt I dealt with it very well, and expected to hear that.  The day before, D had been on task completely and helping out in class by passing back papers, etc.  But this day 2? She was having a hard time.

But using the Danielson framework, it was an awful class allegedly.  D and the other 14 years old did not self correct.  I needed to gently guide them.  Gently guiding did not result in D miraculously gaining self control and becoming a self-actualized student at that moment.  I was dinged on this eval.

Whatever.  Just another reason to retire under this ridiculous one-size-fits-all system.  Admin had to use the system, and the system was wrong, in my opinion, for it tried to standardize what good teaching should always look like.  Kids are not standardized.  Teachers are not standardized.  Yet admin had to use this tool, this evaluation “model” where one size would perhaps fit college instructors or instructors of highly motivated students.  I don’t blame admin.  They had no leeway.

#  #  #

Later that month, I had to miss two weeks of class, the first time ever in my long teaching career.  I had minor surgery and the recovery was longer than expected.

When I returned, there was a vase with some lovely simple carnations in them, no note.

Oh, my boss said to me, they are from D.  She’s been here every day looking for you.

D? D, the one who cost me a ding in my evaluation, which–if I had been staying–could have cost me a rating and could have been very serious.  No matter that the year before D had to be escorted sometimes by admin because of her behaviors in class.  No matter what, the rubric had to be followed. No exceptions.

D, the student who the year before had to have someone from the Dean’s office sit with her often so she would “behave” in class. D made so much progress behavior wise, academically, and personally in just the school year I’d know her.

I will never forget her smiling face as she yelled across the hall, “She’s back!”  I won’t forget you, D, but I had to leave.

D brought me flowers.

#  #  #

I met a former colleague for a late lunch the other day, and there working at the restaurant, seating guests, supervising other staff members, was D.  Her braces were gone.  Her hair was pulled back in a sleek style and she was confident, smiling, and efficient.

She had grown up.

It was great to see her and reconnect for a few moments.

Oh, did I ever tell D she hurt me on my evaluation?

Absolutely not. I believe it would not only have been unprofessional to do so, but it would have also shamed a young lady for no reason. I knew the class well, knew the students, knew how to run the class.  I would not have changed what I did.

It this case, it was a ridiculous system imposed on me, an individual, with my own style and with unique kids in each class, kids who sometimes seemed to change from day to day as they navigated issues.

So no, I would not hurt a young person because a system was unfair and inappropriate to impose on all educators.

But it sure made me remember why I left early.

Not the kids.  Never the kids.

And even after all this time, I am not over it, for teaching is so difficult, so time consuming, and so personal that it’s not okay, in my opinion, to do this to teachers. It is not okay to simply fill out a rubric, and the details be damned.

And I am a good teacher, very hard working, dedicated, educated well, and compassionate and respectful with students.

So a blog post that should have been about D becomes about me and how sad, angry, and burned out I still am.  All those 60-90 hour work weeks truly exhausted me.

But I would still be there full time, working until I could no longer do so, if we didn’t develop this blame the teacher and one size fits all and not being appreciated for the tough job we do very well at times.

It’s just not okay to do this, but it is how it was.