Friday, September 19, 2014

Washed Up?

I began teaching when I was 22. Bright-eyed and full of self-importance and altruism, I spent my days around people who were much more "experienced." As the youngest member of our staff for the first five years of my career, I listened to their grumblings and complaints with a mixture of curiosity and loathing. Those poor, wretched people had forsaken their principles and succumbed to the pressure to *gasp* settle. They did not try to save every child. They did not spend hours every night grading papers. THEY WENT HOME BEFORE DARK! And to top it all off, they were bitter. They said negative things about the administration, the district, and even the students. It was all very, very disturbing.

Then I had a baby, and I had to learn to *gasp* settle, too! Strangely, my baby did not understand that I needed to grade papers. She did not care one bit about cheer competitions, or community service events, or that another one of my students was homeless. She just needed her mama. And I was the only one she had. So I learned to find TAs to help with grading. I didn't even grade everything! I quit coaching. I, too, was home before dark (most days). But I still loved my job, and I did it to the best of my ability. I loved my kids and my school and the neighborhood where I worked. I pitied the people who left the school, because they always realized in hindsight how much they had loved working there. But they moved on, and kept teaching. I stayed.

My school has undergone many changes in the 22 years I have been there. Some of them have been groundbreaking; some have not. Some have been incredibly positive; many have not. Today, the only two colleagues who were there when I started are administrators, and they are serving out their last couple of years before retirement. Everyone I taught with has left, by choice or by force (including my husband), or retired. Enrollment is dropping. We are the only school that has not undergone facilities improvements that other campuses received a decade ago. And we have a significant number of teachers who are just biding their time until they, too, leave. Of course, there are other teachers who have taught valiantly with me for many years, who have fought for our students with every ounce of their being. They are tired, defeated, and bitter. They are only in their thirties. They are on their way out. Out of the school, or out of education altogether.

And so here I sit, in my mid-forties, wondering what I am supposed to do about this. As an educator, I cannot respect someone who doesn't demand the best of kids. But the people I know who don't settle have left or are leaving. And last year, in one of my classes, I had to settle, too. "Just let them graduate." As a senior English teacher, how can I correct three (or eleven) years of failure to demand quality work from students? No, no. Let them graduate. It's not their fault. ISN'T THAT THE SAME ATTITUDE I'VE FOUGHT MY ENTIRE CAREER??

I know I am at a crossroads. Change is coming, and I don't know what it is or where it will lead me. It's been a very, very difficult beginning of the school year, even though my actual teaching assignment is pretty nice (all honors classes, small class sizes). But right smack in the middle of my identity crisis, one of my graduates came by to say goodbye before she moves in to UCLA this weekend, and left me the sweetest thank you note telling me all the things I helped her with. Another of my current seniors came in with cheesecake to say thank you for writing him a letter of recommendation before running off to football practice. And two kids stayed for 90 minutes after school going over a test on which they performed poorly.

These kids. These beautiful, hard-working, grateful, amazing kids I work with. How could I ever leave them and live with myself? How can I continue to sit by and watch them be undereducated and given less? How could I stop doing everything in my power to change that? How can I live with my inability to change that?

Life was so much simpler when I was 22.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Community Service Crack

As the advisor of our Peer Helping club at school, I get the annual opportunity to oversee our school's Adopt-an-Angel program. We have a community-support organization based on our campus, and they refer families who have contacted them for assistance over the course of the school year. They reach out to the families and ask them what their children would like for Christmas. Then we put these anonymous requests out to the students and staff of our school. In theory, they purchase the gifts they have chosen and return them in a timely manner so that we can sort them by recipient and family and deliver them in time for Christmas. The operative words here are "in theory." Because that is not what actually happens.

Most people do, in fact, follow through. Kids whose families are barely paying their bills go out and purchase gifts for even-less-fortunate families. Alumni who are just getting on their feet financially message me and bring gifts. I am always touched by the generosity of these people.

And then there are the things that actually happen. The people who buy the gifts but lose the tags, so we don't know who the gifts are for. Others wait until the last minute to return the gifts so that we are left wringing our hands, wondering if we will have to send away a child without a gift. And then there are those who just don't purchase the gifts at all, which would have been fine if they had never taken the tag to begin with. Somebody else would have bought that gift!

But the thing is, for every absent-minded, or tardy, or just irresponsible person who causes the annual rise in my blood pressure, there are many more who step in and fill the gaps. There is the alumna from the Class of '64 who wants to know what she can do to help, and provides a box full of towels for a family. There is the teacher who forgot, but comes back just in time with not only his gifts, but two sets of pots and pans for two other families. There is the teacher who is fostering and comes in with extra gifts that were given to her kids, but that they just didn't want or need. There is the student who just wants to help and shows up with a baby blanket. There are alumni who live too far to help, but send money or blankets or backpacks. And there are the many teachers who don't have time to shop, so they happily give us their cash so we can fill in the missing pieces. Somehow, magically, it all comes together.

Adopt-an-Angel is community service crack. I want to quit. I need to quit. It's NOT good for me. But that moment when little Naomi sees the piles of gifts for her family makes all of the stress worth it. The beauty of the end result outweighs all of the disappointment and confusion and stress. And that is why I keep coming back for more.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


August was a month of recovery.

For all but five days in July, I was gone. Gone to Mexico to spend time at Miracle Ranch, one of my favorite places. Gone beach camping. Gone to Minneapolis, MN to work at Redeemer Lutheran, and then to Wisconsin to paddle the Namekagan River in canoes while cleaning it. It was busy, it was fun, it was fulfilling, and then BAM!!! Home on Sunday, tests on Monday, and then on July 30 they cut my girl open and inserted two titanium rods and thirteen screws into her spine. And just like that, things got serious.

Of course, we knew this was coming. We were very good at distracting ourselves from the reality of what was about to happen. Because if we thought too hard about it, we might freak her out. We might even freak ourselves out. So we kept her busy. She even took an additional trip to Alaska with her grandparents between school letting out and the trip to Mexico. She had NO down time this summer. And since July 30, that's all we've had.

She's doing extremely well. I was worried about the surgery (of course), the pain (of course), and the attitude I would get from someone who was miserable with pain (because, you know, she's seventeen). But everything went beautifully, and we've even had minimal attitude! And now that she is four weeks post-op, she can bathe herself, dress herself, wear real clothes, and even stay home alone again. In four short weeks, she went from completely helpless and unable to walk to a near-normal teen who is a little stiff but is ready to try driving around the block for practice and spent two hours at the mall with her friends. My brain, which was the consistency of oatmeal for about three weeks from what I could surmise, is slowly reviving. So now that we are getting back to normal, it is time to go back to school.

We are so, so blessed to have the summers off with our kids, and most especially this summer so that we could be there for every step of Nikki's recovery. Soon we will be back to homework, and grading, and late nights, and ridiculously early mornings. Normally, the the loss of the lazy, unstructured days of summer stings. But because of everything that happened in August, I am grateful for normalcy, and that even includes the return to school. Perhaps it is because I visited with a friend whose daughter spends a great deal of her time in the same hospital we inhabited for five days because she has cystic fibrosis. Perhaps it is because a family at our church just lost their not-quite-two-year-old son to cancer at that same hospital. I have the luxury of looking forward to being a normal family with normal gripes. Our brief foray into the world of Children's hospital was just enough to ground me, to make me so grateful for awesome healthcare, for healthy children, for our brand of normal.

We're almost all better now. Time to get back to work.

Friday, January 25, 2013


I am a very, very bad blogger. I am perhaps a worse teacher, since I am blogging instead of reading the research papers that, no matter how much I want them to, will not grade themselves. But things are happening around here, and I feel like writing about them. So here goes.

Nikki is driving! She got her license on January 9 and has rapidly embraced the freedom that transportation brings. Also wonderful is that she is now caring for Caleb in the mornings, getting him up and taking him to school before taking herself to her school. This arrangement enables him to sleep an extra hour in the morning, which is such a blessing. Also, because of this, we were able to move him to a different after-school program. Instead of being told to sit down and be quiet, he gets to run and play for two hours until we get home. It's also saving us over $400 a month. Generally, when things seem too good to be true they are. We're hoping that's not the case here!

Since Nikki began driving, both cars have been in for service to the tune of $500 (totally unrelated to her driving). Also unrelated to Nikki, Scott was t-boned by an out-of-control teen driver while sitting at a stoplight yesterday in the van (Nikki's primary ride). It was not the accident I was expecting in the van, but I am grateful that it was not Nikki!! I generally pray in the morning and then feel good about her getting herself around, but tonight was an exception. It's raining hard in San Diego, and she drove herself to her play tonight. I started feeling really nervous, so I texted her and told her that I would drive her to the after-play Denny's feast. She informed me that she had nearly hit a pedestrian who was walking around in dark clothing in the rain. She didn't see him until it was almost too late, and she was still shaking thirty minutes later. I guess mother's intuition is real. Regardless, she will be coming home and I will be doing the driving in the rain tonight.

Caleb had a rocky start to the school year again. He struggled in math. A lot. We were concerned. We modified his assignments, I bought additional resources, and we felt frustrated a lot. Even so, we knew he would eventually get it. Then he forgot to wear his hearing aids for a week, and magically everything clicked. Although he had struggled with adding and subtracting single digits all fall, adding and subtracting double-digits, even re-grouping, was a piece of cake for him. We just got a progress update based on a standards-based test, and he scored proficient in reading, but ADVANCED in math. I will never understand how this boy's brain works, but I'm finding it easier not to panic when he gets off to a rocky start.

So here we are, finishing semester one, beginning semester two, and looking forward to more new developments. Change? Bring it on!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Legal. Again.

Tomorrow I start my 21st year teaching at Crawford. I am now not only long-past-legal in human years, but also in teaching years. And this year, I'm feeling it.

I had a sad back-to-school in Fall 2009. My kids I'd had for four years had graduated, we had lost half of the CHAMPs staff, and my husband had joined them in moving to another school. I cried on the way to school. But in the end, it was a great year. Emma came to stay with us, Scott's new job gave him more time at home. In the end, it was fine.

This year, CHAMPs is gone. Not just staff, but the actual school. We are now back to being one big Crawford with two "learning centers", each comprised of half of the remnants of each of the four small schools. Instead of starting tomorrow with the kids I taught in the spring, I will walk into a classroom of 40 students, 2/3 of whom I have never met. Our secretaries are gone, our school is gone, key staff members have retired, and once again, my husband is gone (but just across the street this time).

I am trying really hard to be positive, to cling to the fact that the kids will be awesome, as they always are. But a part of me wants to quit. They killed CHAMPs. In spite of all of our successes, in spite of the kids in college and the 1.6 million dollars our seniors earned in scholarships last year, they killed CHAMPs. Which just proves that, no matter how much you succeed in this district, they will always find a way to kill your dreams. And it's not about kids; it's about money.

But at the end of the day, I am still a Colt. My students are still Colts. And I have some great kids to work with, many of whom I haven't met yet. Tomorrow, when the kids are there, I will be fine. But tonight I am sad. Sad, but legal. Again.

Friday, July 20, 2012


We are so blessed to have an open adoption, so Caleb will never have to wonder if his birthmom loves him. I was so moved by this artist's struggle, and I thought it was worth sharing here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's Been Awhile...

since I posted and since I had anything to post about!

But our wonderful pediatrician moved from Children's to Sharp and a whole slew of interesting developments have come about because of that.
  1. I learned that not all healthcare networks are a hot mess like Children's. At Sharp, when I call they either help me themselves or transfer me to a real person. WOW! Also, our pediatrician apologized when we had to wait ten minutes because he had a two-year-old with a fractured arm ahead of us. This is the same man we used to wait 60 minutes for when the kids were well, 90 when they were sick. Again, WOW!!
  2. The pediatrician noticed that we hadn't been to the ENT since Caleb was diagnosed at almost-four. He decided to refer us to see the ENT with Sharp. THEY called US to make the appointment once the referral was approved. Again, WOW!!
  3. We saw the ENT today. We learned several things. We learned that Caleb's ear pits are actually cysts connected to the cartilage in his ears. Apparently, most people with ear pits have trouble with infections. Who knew? Also, he looked at Caleb and asked me if I was interested in knowing what caused his hearing loss. What an interesting question that nobody has ever asked me (well, at least not any medical professionals). Um, sure? But what difference does it make? Well, in fact it DOES make a difference because we would then know whether to anticipate a decline in his hearing later on, or whether he should avoid impact-prone sports to prevent further loss. Have we had a CT scan? Why no, we haven't. Have his kidneys been checked? Why no, they haven't. Has he had a blood test to determine whether he is a carrier of a gene that causes hearing loss in 20% of cases? Why no, he hasn't. What did the other ENT do? Why, she told us that once he had hearing aids we'd be able to rip up his IEP. Not so much!! So he scheduled a CT, ordered a urinalysis to check kidney function (which we were able to do on the way out), and said he'd rather hold off on the blood test since it is unlikely that Caleb's hearing loss is caused by that gene (he's probably in the 80%). Well. Just. WOW!!!
So it's likely that we will once again have some answers. Answers to questions we didn't even know to ask.  WOW!!