There is always somewhere to explore

There is always somewhere to explore

Monday, May 4, 2015

Concussion- A poem.

In honor of my daughter who sustained a major concussion in a car accident in October and is suffering to date from post-concussive syndrome. In her junior year in high school, she has missed months of school and this injury will now alter her plans for post high school studies. And for  a sweet young 9 year old boy in my third grade class who also is suffering from massive headaches that keep him out of school on and off. 
 Both of these young people appear to be "normal" and thus they are treated as though nothing is wrong with them. Their flightiness, forgetfulness, lack of concentration and focus continue to add stress to their daily lives. I know there are thousands of others out "there" with the same issues. To you I offer my utmost respect and compassion.

Incoherence, fatigue
Jolts of agony
Throbbing nausea
Swallow me into a black hole of
Utter wretchedness.

Endless nights of wakefulness
Interspersed with exhaustion
Days of  drowsiness
weeks of dreary fog
creep into months of lethargy.

Smiles mask sluggish confusion
Teachers question
my memory
Administrators doubt
my absences.
I wonder
will my brain

Monday, April 20, 2015

My friends don't bring soup when I am sick.
For the past several weeks, I've been sick with asthmatic bronchitis. It all began, of course, during my spring break. This was actually a good thing, as all teachers can relate,  because I didn't have to create sub-plans. Those plans take me hours to compile and I was too sick to do anything, but sleep. I was even sick while my son came home from college, and over my birthday weekend, and Easter. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself!

One dear friend, Lori asked if she could host a small birthday dinner for me once break was over, friends were home from their vacations and I was well. I am not usually one to accept such offers, but agreed and thought it would be nice thing to look forward to. I told her, " I don't know who will come, but if even just 5 gals show up, it will be fun to be together!"

However, after break, I was still ill. I tried to go back to school, managed to struggle through a day and then went to see  the doctor that afternoon.

"Breathe into this peak flow meter," the nurse requested as I sat hacking in the room, waiting for the doctor to arrive.

"Huh?" I huffed and puffed and that little red flag only went up a tiny bit. She looked at me strangely, left the room quickly and suddenly, the doctor appeared. She looked stressed. Your peak flow is less than 200. I looked at her blankly.

"You must do a nebulizer treatment right here, right now," Dr. Chang implored. So, I complied. After it was finished, she re-tested my peak flow rate and was slightly pleased to see it had risen to 200. She then told me 400 would be normal for someone like me. Whatever that means?
"Go home, take the antibiotic, use this inhaler, get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids and soup," she recommended, "you will probably feel lousy for at least another week. But the fluids will help."

Wonderful, I thought to myself. How can I miss a week of school? I can't. So I only took a day off and went back to teaching. I could only muster strength to get through the days with my class, and  then every afternoon came directly home and slept for hours.

Now where does the soup come in? No where.. None of my friends called and offered to bring soup! I had to make it myself! I, who always volunteer  to make meals for families who need help. I even make nice 4 course dinners complete with wine and dessert! I make dinners for families who typically have a mom and a dad and teenagers. I, who have the teenager, have no spouse to intercede when I am sick! I wanted soup. I was not happy. ( I should mention, I did not ASK anyone to help me, of course.)

One evening, while still sick, I lamented to my friend, that I always make other people dinner who have spouses who could for "Gods sakes make their own dinners." I could tell she was laughing at me, "LOL,"  she texted. I was miffed.

A few days later, she called to say, " Well, they might not bring you soup, but they certainly want to party with you! I have already received 7 RSVPS for your dinner party!"

I still didn't get soup. I didn't get anything, but some texts throughout the weeks, inquiring as to how I was feeling. However, as I gradually returned to the life of the living and started to feel better, I began to  look forward to the weekend ahead eager to get back to regular life after 3 weeks of coughing and need I mention, irritability?

Last Friday night, as I walked down the path to Lori's door, I immediateley sensed that she had gone to a lot of trouble for my "little" birthday dinner. Through the window, I glimpsed candles sparkling on the mantle, a huge vase of my favorite spring flowers on the entry table and could hear laughter coming from inside. As she opened the door, she greeted me with a big hug.

"They might not bring you soup, but they brought you champagne!"

There, inside her beautiful home, were 24 of my dearest girlfriends there to celebrate my birthday! I was shocked and surprised and somewhat chagrined. I had thought no one cared about me, and here they all were to hug and love and laugh with me. There were jugs of roses from their gardens, presents wrapped in cheery paper, bottles of wine..and yes, many bottles of champagne. But most importantly, there was the realization of how blessed I am to have so many friends to celebrate the good times with.

The next morning, as I reflected on all the conversations and laughter and how lucky I am to have such loving and dear girlfriends, it dawned on me, that some of us in life bring soup, and others of us bring champagne.
Here's a toast to  champagne- toting friends!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Laments on Standardized Testing...Reports from the Frontlines of Testing

My sweet third graders looked shell-shocked as they emerged into the light after 90 minutes in the computer lab pounding away at their keyboards. Less than 5% of my students finished the Performance Task section of the test. Which means they will all be back in the lab in the morning for their last round of Language Arts testing. This normally overly-chatty, exuberant group was silent as we walked back to class. I felt so sorry for them. I would say that none of them had the "I aced it" grin on their face or even a sense of accomplishment. They just looked weary. Luckily it was almost recess and they could go blow off some steam.

This is the first year these children (and yes, they are still children, ages 8 and 9)  have to take a standardized test, and from the looks on their faces it is probably the last time they ever want to take one again..Tough luck- according to the education gurus in our state, they have 9 more years to go! I sure hope that the test results this year, stun the testing reliant CA Department of Education to make changes to their expectations of what testing is required of children in our state.

The level of the testing was written above their comprehension- and I teach at a CA Distinguished School and a high-ranking school district.I have no English language learners in my classroom, so I shudder to think how the EL kids will do on this language -heavy testing system. The maddening thing to me is that we were told that this year's new tests would be adaptive, scaling up in difficulty or down as needed for each child. I saw no evidence that this was occurring. Last year when we were the guinea pigs for the Smarter Balance "test of the test', we complained about the degree of difficulty and the maneuvering and manipulation required to take the test. None of that was changed this year. It seemed to be the same format, the same type of answers. Why did they bother to test the test? Who was listening?

According to local sources, our third grade classes were the first in our district to take the new CAASP tests this week. Yes, you are correct, we began testing 8 weeks before school is out. Yes, that is 2 months of instruction that we are missing before the kids are tested for what they are supposed to have learned this year.. So far this week we have spent almost 6 hours in testing. Then next week, we go at the Math sections. All in all we will probably spend 12 hours in testing in 2 weeks! That is more than 2  days of lost instructional time when I still need to teach volume and the metric system, CA state government and the Structures of Life unit in Science!

I am not giving away any secrets here, because anyone can go on line and look at the CAASP practice tests and see that the entire test requires massive amounts of keyboarding and writing skills. Writing for language arts and for math is a necessity. I am grateful that my school district adopted the CA Common Core for Math last year, so we have been teaching Core Math for the past two years and we are Writers and Readers Workshop trained, so that covers our ELA curriculum.  The teachers in our district have spent countless hours in professional development to teach the new Common Core.This means that the students have been prepared as well as we know how, to meet the CA State Standards for Third Grade Curriculum. But even so, I was shocked at the grade level content on the tests this week. The expectations did not seem to me to be Third grade State Standards.. Maybe Fourth? Maybe even Fifth?

I am doing my job in my classroom every day to prepare my students to be educated contributors to our global society.  I do not want to teach to a test that doesn't make sense for 8 & 9 year olds' development. I don't want to crush their spirits and joy of learning in favor of test taking. I assess my children every day in a myriad of ways. Someone in the State Department of Education, come see the data I have on my kids, you will not need to test them to know they are well-educated and learning!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Thanks to Anne Lamott

 Well, I have set up my first official blog, thanks to an amazing writer!
 How come that Anne Lamott makes it seem so easy to write? Yes, I know she has been writing for a few decades now. That certainly helps! In fact, she published her first book, the year I graduated from college. And that was a while back... 
But her book, "Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life",which is fabulous by the way; inspired me enough that I finally decided to set up shop and begin to write 'my story'. Okay, I haven't read  ALL of "Bird by Bird"- yet.  But I  read the beginning chapters, last week when I was sick in bed with bronchitis. In between bouts of coughs, I was cheered by her encouragement, "Plug your nose and jump in, and write down your memories as truthfully as you can." Then, I kept coughing, knowing that if I wrote so truthfully my family would die. However, her words inspired me to begin this blog .. Well, actually what prompted me to set the blog up today was that I  wanted to apply to write on another writing blog.  But, I have to have a blog to apply to apply to write (for free, mind you)..(Maybe if you read this you can let the women at Two Writing know that now I have an official blog.)  
So, here it is: the Blackboard of Life blog. 
Hopefully this counts as a blog? But the bigger question for me is, do I now count as a writer? I definitely know how to teach writing to children! So, I know eventually, I will become the writer I am meant to be. And how will that happen?   
 Well, according to Anne, " You sit down."  That seems so simple..I thought it would be anyway. So I thought it would be easy enough to take this blog " one bird at a time." But as I sit and stare at the screen, all I can think is, who wants to read what I have to say? (If you don't, that's OK.. come back and check on me in a few months..I will still be here and hopefully I will be a bit better of a writer.. That is, if you will comment and tell me what I need to work on.)
Even today as my fingers slowly begin to type, I realize that Anne's advice just to write,  is slowly coming true. One word at a time, I will be writing to see inside my soul, conquer my demons, make sense of my life and maybe at the same time, help someone else along the way discover what is true for her.
So, Anne this one is for you! I am sure I do not do you justice. But I hope that you will know you have launched another writer on her journey. Happy Birthday and much appreciation for your faith-filled, funny and so real work!