Tuesday, November 25, 2014

thankful--the teacher's edition

It's still sort of surreal--thinking of myself as an actual full-time contracted teacher.  I've been out of the game so very long, and then just playing at it for even longer.  It feels fake, I dress up every day and go pretend in this classroom that I actually know something about educating America's youth.  I mean, the ache in my neck from staying up late to grade papers is awfully real to me, but the rest still surprises me.  Like seeing my name by a mail slot in the staff room.  Or using a key card to get inside the building.  Yesterday I brought my reading group to the library to check out books and the librarian discovered I AM NOT IN THE SYSTEM.  I was not eligible to check out books because I HAVE NOT BEEN ASSIGNED A NUMBER.  (To be clear, the library man is not shouty--he's very mild-mannered.  The computer system, however, is another story.)  I don't have a real staff ID, I'm still "Staff 001" on my generic key card.  I'm a glitch in the system.

But I'm thankful for God placing me here, for all kinds of reasons.  Here's a list of cool stuff I've discovered that makes me feel very grateful:

61. It doesn't feel like work, which means it must be something I'm rather good at doing.
62. That Keurig Mr. D got me last year for Christmas.  I know, I know, they're environmentally bad, blahblahblah.  But for my 1:30 cup of coffee, it works perfectly for my vital caffeine fix between 6th and 7th hour.
63. Teenagers.  They slay me.  Their clothes, their humor, their music, their taste in movies, their obsession with video games and social media all amuse me.  Even the eye-rolling, huffing and puffing and SO disgusted with the world ones in 6th hour.  Catch them one on one and they're each likeable in their own way and pretty harmless.  Especially if you use a low voice and say soothing, complementary things to them.
64. When I hand back papers marked up and the students read my comments and say stuff like "Thank you. Thank you for writing this about my work."  I mean, my GOODNESS!
65. Crash Course.  It's really fantastic for the quick mini-lesson before launching into meaty stuff like Founding Brothers.  I could sit and watch these videos all day long. 
66. Heck, the whole internet for the quick answers and visuals, like images of Alexander Hamilton and what's the story behind Catiline.
67. Talking about books with people who read and enjoyed them, too.
68. Seeing a student really put in the effort and nail an assignment.
69. Glossing over grading because everybody got it right the first time around.
70. To a degree, online gradebooks.  I mean, sometimes I still occasionally enter the data wrong, but at least I don't have to crunch all the numbers myself hunched over a calculator.  The program does THAT part for me automatically.  Every time.  Genius!
71. Administrators who don't bog their teachers down with red tape and committees and busy work.
72. Parents who support their kids' education.
73. To that end, e-mail.  I can reach out to a parent or student at any convenient time and they can do the same.  And for all the ways that e-mails lack the emotion of face-to-face or phone conversations.  Objective is better.  And more efficient.
74. When I say something once, everyone hears me and takes it seriously and I don't have to repeat it.
75. When the class is fully engaged and we get interrupted by the bell at the end of the hour. 
76. And even more wonderful is when the kids remark on it--"This class always feels short to me." That's great!
77. Discovering things about my students--one is a race car driver, one started a CYO basketball league, one has a young daughter, one watched their family barn go up in smoke, one sings like an angel, one has a wickedly funny twitter feed.  They each have their unique story and I have a front row seat to their lives as a writing teacher. 
78. Watching a kid do something exceptionally well, especially when I didn't expect it.
79. A Xerox machine that never, ever jams or breaks down.
80. Feeling like I did something useful every day.  I come home pretty tired, but I'm always ready to head back and face first hour the next morning.  What happens in Room 212 helps about 130 kids and I find that rewarding. 

Spill it, reader.  What are you really good at doing?  Does it make you happy to do it?

Monday, November 24, 2014

an honest fifth

I've got about 15 papers left to grade (because we totally know that if I bust my ass to get that done tonight we will get a 2 hour delay because of the snow tomorrow.  You're welcome in advance, everybody.) so here's a fast fifth of what I'm feeling thankful for before I return to the stack:

41. Snow flocking trees.  I mean, it does look pretty.
42. Shovels.
43. And boots.  Especially my brown leather ones that are super warm and comfy.
44. Perfect eyesight.
45. That validated, understood and satisfied feeling when a person next to you says exactly what you're thinking.  Especially when that thought isn't necessarily acceptable.
46. Travel.
47. Screw Iowa Writers Club--Nina Romano, MK Graff, Mariana Damon, Lauren Small.  Divine goddesses, each one of them.
48. A talent for editing.
49. Super-sharp pencils.
50. Earthy smells--compost, leaf piles, mowed grass.
51. Keeping my wind after a good run.
52. Since running came up, Disco.
53. Classical.
54. And Country music for when I feel a little red-neckish.
55. A real greenhouse from which I cut a bag of fresh spinach two days ago.
56. Learning to type.
57. Birds singing.
58. Crickets chirping.
59. ALL the BBC productions.  It's practically all I watch on TV anymore--Sherlock, Dr. Who, Inspector Lewis, Endeavor, Downton Abbey, Foyle's War.  Thank you, PBS. 
60. Pfft.  Who are we kidding?  Anything British, am I right, Jen?

Spill it, reader.  Give some more thanks.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

another tenth (or so)

Wisconsin for the win in football this weekend!  Four-fifths of the grading completed!  Getting to see The Great American Trailer Park Musical with good friends last night!  Not having to cook! A virtual book club with some lovely ladies!
See? Coming up with reasons to feel thankful can be EASY.

24. A nice visit with my family last weekend. Everyone seems to be in a good place and that pleases me.
25. Silly moments that remind me why life is special.
26. A good mousing kitten.
27. The wonderful lists my bloggy pals have left in my comment box.
28. Mercy and forgiveness from Jesus every day.
29. Snappy comebacks.
30. Springtime.  (I've already told you how I hate fall.  Now the rest of the country is starting to understand why Wisconsinites get weary of winter.)
31. BUT, there's still snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
32. A fantastic adjustment for my high school freshman. 
33. The smell of sheets dried on the clotheslines.
34. Going barefoot.
35. A good church where hope is preached and everyone feels welcome no matter what their story or status in life.  Plus the music is good.  Trivial?  Not really.  Fellow church-goers get that.
36. A safe place to live.  The only excitement involves the occasional fire or car accident or rogue steer on the loose.  Happyland ranks as the safest town in our fair state--how's that for cool?
37. Obedient children.  I mean, they're not always obedient, but they are generally and I honestly appreciate that.
38. Even more, I love how my kids get along and love each other.  They are best friends and I am thankful for that every single day without fail.  It's a marvel to me.
39. My garden.  The stuff I grow for show and the stuff I grow for eating.
40. Computers that do calculations because as you now see, I'm not so great with math.  This list wasn't a tenth.

Spill it, reader.  Keep the thankful coming into the comment box!

Friday, November 21, 2014

still counting

So many blessings--even on a long, drudge of a day when I had to confiscate a cell phone (and bicker with the kid about it, to boot!), bite my tongue when most of the 7th hour AP kids didn't read their assigned pages (I'd have gone off, really), learn all about gang symbols so I can ID them (who knew gangs were still a thing?), and haul home six folders full of work to grade.  Even with the frustrations, the bright spots included a piece of chocolate from a sweet girl in 3rd hour, the faithfully consistent, earnest efforts of 1st hour, my colleague across the hall who gamely accepted my prank on him in the spirit I intended and watching a guidance counselor ROCK it while she navigated a tricky problem with a student this afternoon.  To continue my annual list of things I'm so very grateful for:

12. Clementines.
13. A full pantry.
14. Slippers.
15. Three sons who always make me smile and still hug me.
16. Yoga.
17. Book club.
18. So many good books to read and discuss.
19. Windows.  (My classroom doesn't have any, so my appreciation of them has increased tenfold.)
20. OPEN windows.  Good grief, winter came early this year.  Early and harsh.  Have begun counting down to April when I can smell fresh air and hear birdsong through the screens again.
21. The woods. 
22.  The prairie and fields, too.
23. NPR.  (even though I had to turn it off this morning when the news made me too mad.)

Spill it, reader.  A few blessings.  What makes you especially thankful?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

the grateful season

I couldn't find the wreath on which we've traditionally pinned our "thankful leaves" this year, but a bulletin board is doing the trick.  Team Testosterone seems most thankful for food products and friends.  As for me, my leaves included sunshine, a warm house and a quiet afternoon.  I'm spread thin these days, so I'm spreading out my gratitude over a few extra days to relish the process.  Let's begin this forsooth--to wit, I am filled with gratitude for:

1. Those hotel-sized bottles of shampoo which I've used in a pinch when I ran out of my regular shampoo earlier this week. 
2. On that note, great haircuts.
3. Only two work days next week. TWO!  TWO!  You have no idea how much HOPE that's giving every teacher at Happyland High right now. We breathe it like a mantra, having had no days off since the school year started.  Two day week.  Two day week.
4.  The Momvan still reliably starts and moves everyone from Point A to Point B.  She deserves an oil change and a tire rotation and I'm going to get that for her next week.  
5.  Really good teachers for Team Testosterone.  They enjoy going to school and learning.
6. Coffee.  Especially at 1:30 in the afternoon.
7. Mr. D going grocery shopping tonight and starting the dishwasher yesterday.  It's the little things, isn't it?
8. Indoor plumbingSeriously easy to take that for granted, but I try to remember to appreciate it.
9. Fantastic co-workers who have consistently been kind, welcoming and helpful from the first day I showed up to sub last March. 
10. This one is totally indulgent--SmartWool socks.  Last night my friend Diane and I were pleased as punch to discover we were wearing matching socks and we extolled the virtues of the SmartWool sock to our fellow Bumbles.  Warm, durable, totally worth the money.
11.  My friend Nick for Skyping me into a pretty groovy jazz session at a coffee shop tonight .

Thursday, November 13, 2014

meaty issues

One thing I've noticed about this whole working overtime business is how I trim the fat from my life.  I used to troll the internet looking for interesting stuff, but now it's the furthest thing from my mind.  A hundred thirty-odd students, book choices, Lexile levels, recommendation letters and lesson planning is a much more pressing concern than what T-Lo has to say about J-Law's latest dress.  I still binge on blogs on the weekend when I find a spare hour, but the rest of the week I check emails and a bit of Facebook only because these things are easily accessed on my phone.  I can breeze through a few FB posts with half my attention while waiting for the photocopier to run next week's vocabulary quizzes. 

Food has been a bit of an adjustment as well.  The ol' crock pot slow cooks meat at least once a week--tonight it was a pork roast that I shredded with a fork and mixed with BBQ sauce.  My carnivore family requests burgers and pepperoni pizza weekly, and last night Mr. T's sole request for dinner was bacon.  Just bacon, nothing else.  The other two kids asked for Nutella sandwiches, so I acquiesced, placing a pan of bacon in the oven for one and slapping chocolate-hazelnut spread across slices of whole wheat for the other two.  There's liberation in phoning the pizza delivery dude a few times a month and I'm not stressing over serving up a main course with two sides because salad and apple slices are just as healthy as mashed potatoes and green beans. Healthier, really.

My biggest success and failure came in the form of a spiral cut ham (on special last week at the Piggly Wiggly).  I cooked it in the crock pot and glazed it according to the directions.  Team Testosterone enthusiastically ate slice after slice ... after slice.  I boiled the remaining ham and bone into pea soup.  The ham was a BIG win.  The Major Fail came the morning after I had first served it.  I'd eaten some myself and my wonky knee started to swell and ache.  Turns out salty food makes me gimp and hobble along and I had to climb one stair at a time to reach my second floor classroom that morning.  Ah, the humility!  The only comfort was in arriving early enough that I had the stairwell to myself as I groaned along, clutching my coffee in one hand and bag of graded essays in the other.  I stayed upstairs all day, and felt thankful we didn't have a fire drill.

In other meat-related news, a couple of my classes recently watched Apocalypse Now after reading Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness.  Say it with me: The horror!  The horror!  You know how Apocalypse Now ends, right?  Kurtz gets sliced up in tandem with some kind of ritual bull sacrifice occurring in the middle of his Cambodian fortress.  My students were horrified by this, which surprised me since we live in the middle of dairy farms and I know darn well my students understand where cheeseburgers come from.  I told them to just think of the slaughter as a pre-steak fry ritual.

There you have it, I'm bringing home bacon, frying it up in a pan and disturbing my seniors with images of a young Martin Sheen attacking Marlon Brando.  Medium-well, that's how it's going on the cooked meat scale.  Spill it, reader.  How do you like your steak?

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Where to begin? I was clobbered but now I'm not.  Shall I back up to Thursday afternoon when, during 7th hour, my principal told me I would be headed to a conference on Friday? Or shall I begin at Thursday night when, around eleven o'clock, I sent a giant editing job OFF my desk and to the inbox of its rightful owner? Perhaps Friday is a better starting point.  Friday morning I went to the conference (praying that the poor substitute stuck with my chaotic lesson plans wasn't cursing me too badly when they learned I wanted the kids to "Twitter the Shrew" hours 1, 3, 5 and 6) and discovered three things.  1) Lunch was catered by Panera.  I never eat fancy fast food, it was a treat.  (Bonus, I had lunch with a lovely woman who has just finished her first novel and we talked about teaching and writing and people we both knew.)  2) The information presented was RELEVANT and USEFUL and WONDERFUL.  So much so that I texted my principal and thanked him for making me go.  3) I also got some practical ideas for implementing More Socratic Method in my classroom.  (Kind of like "More Cowbell" but even cooler.)
More Socrates! Ask those probing questions, make those seniors THINK!

This was good stuff.  But then things got better.  The drive to the conference was gorgeous--all hills, valleys, changing fall colors and scenic farm fields.  The instructor suggested a half hour lunch break so we could leave earlier at the end of the day.  My children had a satisfying go at trick-or-treating despite a serious breach of tradition this year.  Happyland High won the playoff game.

I should have bought some lottery tickets, right?

This morning Mr. G had a basketball tournament, but took a seat on the bench during the second game because he couldn't breathe.  After the game (and he has a good coach, who made sure he had water and let him sit out the rest of the game), I called the doctor's office and got him in immediately.  Bronchitis.  One Z-pack from the drugstore drive-thru later, the poor kiddo was wrapped in my pink snuggie playing Madden 12 while coughing up his left lung.

I hope the sickness ends with him and Mr. G is grateful he doesn't have ebola.  Funny kid. But because he got sick and we came home early from basketball, my floor got swept, the laundry got washed, Mr. D's birthday cake got baked and frosted and I read 150 blog posts in my Feedly reader.

This was all enormously fulfilling but then I took a walk in the woods this afternoon.

It's so quiet now.  Frost has silenced the crickets and frogs.  Birds call, but no longer sing. A woodpecker steadily drums against a dead tree.  Leaves rustle.  The greenest thing I can find is moss growing on fallen logs.  I can see everything now that the leaves have dropped.  The landscape is branches and the spiky twigs of summer's nettle.  Spring's promise and summer's richness covers the ground in layers of dead leaves and seed pods.  A lone deer picks its way past on the other side of the creek.

The peace of the afternoon as the sun lowers is what I crave.  Even the creek moves slowly, barely a surface ripple, the faintest trickle if you strain to hear it.  I admire a hollow tree trunk, the mixture of red and yellow and brown leaves across the paths, the clean curve of a hanging vine and the deep prints left behind in the wet earth.  Everything is in plain sight now after the frost and a windstorm, there's no mystery in the woods, just a deep settling-in sort of sigh before winter tucks it in for a long sleep. 

Fall is not my favorite time of year, but my favorite place reflects its beauty.  I crash through the dried brush, stomped over the dying field grass and returned home, my face ruddy from cold and my spirit refreshed.

Spill it, reader.  Where have you felt a break lately?