Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One Last Day

Yesterday was busy. I mailed a package to my kids in France, had lunch with a longtime friend who moved to my town from Seattle, met my mother at the doctor's office so I could be clear about what was happening in her life, and ran foodie errands for my husband who had Parent's Night last night at his high school. Since hubby wasn't coming home for dinner, I decided to work on my seating charts for school. AND I found a mistake in my gradebook lists, totally my fault, that required time and photocopying to fix. So much for being ready for school!

Today is that last day before the kids show up and I'm not planning to spend much, if any, time at school. I need to return some things to one store because I found the exact same stuff at another for less than half the price and then I need to pick up a couple grandkids so we can enjoy lunch out today. They go to a local public school and relish the fact that they have an entire week of vacation to enjoy while their grandpa and I are working. And it's raining. So much for my park idea with the kids.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Friday and My Attitude!

The Meet and Greet Friday was a success at school. I tried to count how many showed up but gave up early on. I was distressed to hear that two students would almost immediately miss extended days of school. One of the boys, an 8th grader, will do fine. He could probably miss a month and come back with every assignment finished and not skip a beat re-entering the rhythm of the classroom. The other boy, a 7th grader, is new. His mother was quick to tell me that he suffers from ADD and she is more than willing to help him with his work. That probably means she'll do his work for him. He's going to miss a few days the first week of school. I just looked at her and wanted to ask her what in the world she was smokin' but I resisted and told her to be sure to check in at the office because they would need to excuse the absence. Of course she wants his work. He'll be there the first day but nothing after that for a while.

My husband and I talked about this kind of mentality at length today. We never missed school for fun. Well, I never did. Hubby was allowed one day a year to go hunting with his family. I won't mention what I think of that kind of outing. I have decided that this year I'm not going to ruin my day by getting upset when less than average students get pulled out for days of fun in the sun, or whatever they're doing. People don't get it. They just do not understand that struggling students need to be in school every single solitary day! Routine matters, consistency matters, getting every opportunity to learn matters. But I'm tired of getting upset about this. I'm sure my blood pressure flies to the moon when I get the message a few days before the departure, even though the policy is clearly written that we must have two weeks notice.... right.

I want this to be a good school year. The potential is there but starting with this kind of stuff does not make me a happy camper. So... hummmm, hummmm, I'll just chill out and let come what may. I'll focus on the student who came to me all upset because the 56 spaces on her book list weren't enough to record all the books she read over the summer and she used notebook paper for the rest but could she please, please, please have another book list sheet (or two) so she could make it right! I'll think about the four students who brought in their summer projects ahead of time so they didn't have to carry them on the first day of school. I'll remember the boy who did his required project but then did an extra one because he liked the idea of it. I'll think about the girl who did all four possible projects, because she could. It will be a good year; I am claiming that right now!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Poetry Friday - Back To School

Today is Meet Your Teacher Day at my school. So here we go!!!

Back To School

When the summer smells like apples

and shadows feel cool

and falling leaves make dapples

of color on the pool

and wind is in the maples

and sweaters are the rule

and hazy days spell lazy ways,

it's hard to go to school.

But, I go!

~Aileen Fischer

Monday, August 23, 2010

Counting Down....

Today is my last day of freedom! Well, somewhat. Tomorrow should be no school but I have two parent meetings in the afternoon. Wednesday is sit through boring staff meeting time and Thursday is work in the classroom. My classroom is ready so I have no intention of staying on campus during work days. I've found that too many people drop by so no one gets much done anyway. Several of the teachers last year worked until well after midnight getting their rooms ready for the meet and greet day on Friday. That is something I've never been able to understand. The following Monday and Tuesday are work days and kids arrive on Wednesday the first. So I do have time; it just won't be the same after today.

I have a new bookcase again this year! Last year my hubby found a big, old, solid-oak bookcase for sale on a gov't auction site. Sometimes it's a good thing to live in the state capital. This year my brother and his wife gave me a really tall bookcase that came out of her mother's house. There are doors for the lower section but I think I'm just going to leave it open and put in art supplies that the kids can access easily. I'm still filling it up but I have no doubt that will happen quickly. Who ever has enough storage? If the bottom section gets messy then I'll add the doors but for now, I like it.

The other thing that has occupied my time is our backyard renovation. We bought our house four years ago from my husband's mother. His dad died in 2005 and after a year, she knew she needed something else and moved into a condo with a gorgeous view of Mount Rainier. We moved to WA a month before she decided to sell, bought the house, and spent the first six months renovating the inside. It took us a long time to find the courage to tackle the yard but we have worked all summer to change this overgrown hillside...

...into something I am really proud of, a beautiful hillside with trails that small grandchildren love to run. We still have some grass to plant on the west side of our house but that's it; all our yardwork is finished! Next we need to paint the house. I've chosen the color (SW-Svelte Sage) but we haven't done anything more than that. I'm even thinking about asking my unemployed neighbor, who just did a beautiful job of painting his house, if he would like another project! I wouldn't mind observing rather than working this time!

So since this is my last truly free day. I'd better get busy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Poetry Friday a bit early

In the year 2000 a beautiful baby girl was born and she was named Kayla Rose. She is joy personified and in honor of her birthday (which is Saturday) I am posting this poem for Poetry Friday:

"Happy Birthday My Friend" by Raymond A. Foss

Today you are ten.
But, with that
Sly smile and
Those knowing eyes,
You are
Going on twenty.

That sparkle in
Your blue eyes,
That false pout,
That mischievous
Laugh and
Kind spirit
Make me glad
You are
My friend.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dead Computer

Don't you hate it when that happens? My school computer has been acting up since last spring. The tech took it last week and supposedly fixed it. I asked for a tutorial because I didn't think it was really fixed and guess what? I was right! Augh!!! So I drag my laptop back and forth... which works fine but I hate using my personal computer like this. I like the separation of school and life! Also, I keep forgetting to take my camera to school. Actually I have plenty of time for that. Meetings and class set up begin on the 25th but I'm nearly done. I have even finished most of my photocopies. I still need to copy my book list form and journal question list, as well as other things that I'm sure I will think of eventually but most of what I need is finished. I would LOVE to get my hands on my new planbook so I can get that started. Yeah, I'm ready to go back, something that surprised even me!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Glorious summer heat

I know that people in the eastern part of the US don't feel the same about 90* weather as we do out in the Pacific Northwest. For the past three days we have hit new records. Both Saturday and Sunday were 97* and yesterday it got up to 92* - all new highs. We don't have a/c but we do have tall Douglas Fir, Spruce, and Cedar trees surrounding our property. It's like natural a/c. This picture is taken from the back of our patio toward the hillside that we worked on all summer. The umbrella hides the waterfall and pond but it gives you a good idea of how much shade we have. Of course that changes throughout the day but it is generally a cool, tranquil space... unless we have three little children running the hillside. That's fun too. Our summer heat will be short-lived. In fact, it's supposed to rain on Saturday. My water bill will appreciate that. And my flowers, some seriously burned by the hot sun, will enjoy the relief as well. As for me, I just wish it had come sooner. School officially starts in two weeks - I go back next week for meetings and classroom set-up. I would have enjoyed this part of summer more if it had come sooner!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Poetry Friday - The Summer Day

I think I am mourning the passing of summer. My husband and I went for a short drive this evening and both of us noted that it was getting dark earlier. I have loved my summer again this year; I don't believe I'm ready for it to morph into autumn. Obviously it doesn't matter whether I'm ready or not. I do live in a part of the world that enjoys summer well into the month of September. In fact, most of us in the Pacific Northwest do not consider June to be a part of the summer months - rather summer comes in July, August, and September! To honor this time of thoughtful relaxation, I submit one of my favorite summer poems for Poetry Friday.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Music In The Park and Other Joys

Twenty-five years ago we finished our first four-year term as missionaries and returned to WA for a year of furlough. It was the only time we took a full year, way too disruptive on so many levels. One of the activities we really appreciated that year was Music In The Park. At that time there were two concerts, one at noon and the other in the evening. Our boys were eleven and seven so we chose to go to the park at noon with our picnic lunch and thoroughly enjoy whatever group happened to be playing. It was free (still is!) a really good thing on a missionary salary and all. We've been back home for four years and this year is the first summer we took the time to enjoy this lovely tradition. Last night was the Tacoma Concert Band. We sat in our lawn chairs on this breezy summer evening, eating strawberries and banana bread, watching people, reveling in the beautiful music.

There are so many good things to say about living here. Number one has to be our three grandchildren. We never imagined that we would have this opportunity. It is amazing! We also live in a forested community that is incredibly tranquil. This morning a doe and fawn bolted across my front yard, jumped the fence, and trotted into our vacationing neighbor's backyard for breakfast. I'm quite sure these animals know who's home and who isn't. I've learned which flowers to plant (daffodils, lilacs, black-eyed Susans) and which to avoid (tulips, bell-flowers, roses). Another joy is teaching. My husband and I work on the same campus, in two different schools. He is high school principal and I teach language arts in the junior high. This season of our career is about preparing the next generation for leadership and it is wonderful, challenging, stressful, and very fulfilling. We are so grateful for the opportunity we have to impact the lives of hundreds of students.

It is also wonderful to know that this mission "gene" lives on in our family. Our son and his family serve as missionaries in France. We have never lived in the same part of the country since he left home for college. Last year, we had the joy of having them with us for four months while they prepared to head overseas. Our little Gracie learned to love us almost as much as we love her. (Yes, this picture is a year old but I still love it!) Our parting was heart-wrenching but we knew that it was right.

We are so blessed and we know it - we are constantly surprised by these blessings, but we recognize them clearly as God's goodness to us. We did nothing to earn this; it is simply a gift. We learned long ago to appreciate the lovely things we receive in life and to endure the hardships - for God is in all of them. However, every now and then it's good to just purposefully pause, remember, and be thankful. Today, I am feeling very thankful.

Monday, August 09, 2010

A Dream Deferred

Whew! I'm tired tonight. I worked like crazy in my yard today, planting, pruning, cleaning up my garden bench. It was fatiguing but wonderful. I love fixing things up and making something pretty out of the ordinary or unsightly.

That was a hard part of life in Haiti for me. There was no way to clean it all, fix it all, make it all pretty. And now? Oh my word... I just shake my head in sorrowful amazement. And I think of all the people I know who live there, because they have to live there. They don't have a way out or they would probably take it. And I think of those who could leave and don't because they want to make a difference. I wonder if knowing they could leave makes it easier to stay?

I think of those who were just beginning to make it, had a little home, a job, tried to save a bit of money toward a real future and then... gone, in a heartbeat, forever gone. They pray and they sing and they hope and they work, work, work! I have never seen people work so hard for so little.

I was going through some poetry today, getting my mind ready for the school year and ran across Langston Hughes' poem:

"Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I think it's all of the above, especially the explode part.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Teaching Experiences

I was reading through a blog tonight that dealt basically with first time experiences, including this teacher's first teaching experience. It was an amazing read. I have had an incredibly easy life in the classroom, especially by comparison. This just further confirms my belief that teaching is a calling because why else would The Science Goddess continue in this profession after experiencing such a horrific first year!

I remember knowing that I would be a teacher. It began in 5th grade with my irritation that the teacher didn't have a clue about managing a classroom and it came into extreme clarity in 6th grade when the teacher called my mother in for a conference because I was not doing well in math. My mother was in tears. I vividly remember working on a math assignment, taking it to the teacher's desk where she sat, grading our work, only to have her tell me that it was wrong--- do it again. So I did and it was still wrong so I did it over and over and over and it was always wrong. She never did show me how to do it correctly. I knew then that I would be a teacher and that I would treat my students with respect.

Those memories have really helped me relate to my students each year. I remember what it felt like to be in a room that was completely out of control. I did not like it, even though I am certain that I was a big part of the problem. And I remember what it felt like to know that a teacher did not believe that I was capable of being taught. That was humiliating and disrespectful. But it's okay; because of this, my own expectations for my students have no limit. I know they can learn. I remember a parent-teacher conference I had three years ago, with the student present due to parental request. This kid really struggled; I remember asking L. if he believed he was capable of doing the work. He told me no. I asked him if he believed in me as a teacher and he told me yes. So I told him that I totally believed that he was capable and that he could just trust me, believe in me, and let me be the one to believe in him and pretty soon he would know success. It worked.

I am insanely optimistic and I like that. I have a feeling this character trait is going to be put to the test this year. But that's okay... I'm a true believer in the untapped capabilities of junior high kids. Success will come, again.

Poetry Friday - Phenomenal Woman

In honor of women who have not graced the covers of fashion magazines but have lived confident lives, making a difference in a world of confusion and uncertainty.

Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sacred Space

It is difficult for me to stay focused on the things of God, even when I am trying really hard to do so. Plus, I get a bit tired of the folksy devotionals with sweet little stories attached to them. For several years I read Oswald Chambers each morning. There is nothing folksy about Chambers and I read his work year after year but then was ready for a change. Last year I read Neil Anderson's online devotional. For a couple of months I tried out Max Lucado's. Anderson's was a good one for me, for the year, but then it repeated itself so I needed to move on. Lucado's? Not so much.

Several years ago, my daughter-in-law's sister posted a link to an Irish Jesuit devotional site called Sacred Space. This is a very simple site that is a prayer guide. The scripture reference changes weekly and there is a different emphasis for each day but otherwise, it's quite the same, yet it doesn't bore me at all. It is deeply personal, if I take the time to focus on what it is guiding me to do. Ahem... my difficulty - distractions! I was ready to go this morning, totally committed, when a doe and her fawn stepped into the yard, headed for my garden. Out the door I went! Oh but they were beautiful! I love living with the forest creatures and towering evergreens and tranquil lake. This setting and prayer guidance from the Irish Jesuits gave me a true sense of the presence of God today. I'm am grateful.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Classroom Time

I'm getting that itch again. Yesterday I went to the school to drop off some stuff that I had collected over the summer, was just going to set it in a closet and leave but that's not what happened. I made the mistake of sitting down at my desk and one thing led to another and suddenly, it was six o'clock! I actually planned my first (3-day) week of school and began to think of how I want to structure things in my classroom. I need more beanbag chairs for one thing. I hate going to WalMart but I may have to go there to pick up a few of these essential reading tools! I should also drop by School Daze to see if I can pick up a new poster or two or three. I really want to begin preparing all my lesson plans on the computer rather than in my plan book. But I love my plan book! I love looking at that whole week, touching the pages, making random notes where necessary. Plus what would I do during the boring parts of staff meetings if I don't have my plan book to fill out!?! Last year I computerized my Bible class and this year I want to do the same for Language Arts. I know it will undergo tons of tweaking but my lesson plan notebooks are getting too numerous and bulky. I don't know... maybe I'll do both! This may require more thought.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Home... again!

We had a wonderful vacation in the Cascade Mountains. We stayed in a beautiful alpine-style timber home for eight sunny, warm days. The guys went fishing, we all enjoyed the river (every day!), and we spent time playing, talking, and reading together. I finished the book The Book Whisperer and LOVED every page! Donalyn Miller put voice to what I believe about children/teens and teaching reading by allowing them to just read! I've done this for years and years. I really refined it in Haiti while teaching 7th and 8th grade students for several years. The beauty of teaching there was that I had two class periods to teach these students, one for reading and the other for English/writing. Now... 42 minutes to do it all. It simply is not the same.

When I first took this assignment, I had five different sets of curriculum to implement: Bob Jones basal series (not a fan at all!), Write Source (I like it a lot as a resource for myself and for the students), Wordly Wise (love it - great independent homework), Houghton Mifflin Grammar book (a good one but really...), and four sets of class novels for each grade. I always start my class with silent reading. They come in, check the board to be sure they have everything they need for the class, put their stuff down, take out their books and read. Most bring books from home. Our library doesn't always have what they want, especially when we're talking about Harry Potter or the Twilight series. I don't really care about that. Kids will find a way to get those books anyway. One of the teachers spoke up at a staff meeting; she wanted to make it a rule that kids couldn't read some of these books at our school. I let everyone talk and then reminded one and all of the school's philosophy (that I don't always agree with but it worked well for me at that moment) that we are simply assisting the parents as they educate their children and that the decision was actually theirs. It worked. Later, when I grumped about all the material I was supposed to teach, it was suggested by the principal that I cut out the silent reading. That wasn't going to happen! So... I took it upon myself to send the grammar books to the library for storage, to put the Write Source books in the cupboards for use when we needed them, and to keep my reading time going! Everything is still a work in progress but I see myself simplifying as I go. My students must read and they must write. That's it. Along the way I want to make sure they understand the elements of literature (not just the definition of the terms) and know how to express themselves properly when writing about literature. Students must read outside of class as well as the time I give them in our classroom. They must do a lesson every week or so in their Wordly Wise (did I mention that it is the perfect independent homework assignment?). They must write about their reading in their comp books at least once a week. That's what we do in our 42 minute class period.

I also re-read Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. I had never gotten around to reading that. It was a quick, sweet read about life and loss as opposed to Hemingway's darker version. Most important of all, I read with my granddaughter every day. I brought Roald Dahl's gift set with me and Kayla read seven of the eight books in the boxed set.(This link is a bigger set but I couldn't find the one I bought at Costco.) She loves the insane sense of humor and magic that Dahl uses in all his books. Plus, she wrote about every book in her journal... so now I owe her seven lunches out! That's fun for me too!

Well, laundry is calling. There's nothing like a vacation in the mountains by a river to make mountains of laundry! That's fine; it was totally worth it!