Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Goodie! Goodie!

I looked up to find my idolized and adored SPED head standing in my room holding the master schedule for next year's classes.

"We've got a problem," she announced.

heart flew into my throat but I nodded calmly and said, "Okay. How can I help?"

She unfolded reams of paper until she found the sheet she wanted. "Look. You have no planning period for next year."

Ah. I breath
ed a huge sigh of relief and felt not just a little gratification. I HAVE A JOB NEXT YEAR! Hurray! Yippee! Bravo! Fantastic! I'll be doing just what I like with kids I adore and a staff I enjoy working with!

"Well, I know there's a problem first semester but second semester I thought I'd just take the third block that you had originally allocated . . ."

Her head was emphatically shaking. "No. No. You have a class third block."

We bent over the schedule -- and there I was, inked in teaching Senior English first semester and English 1 - 2 third block second semester. No one had told me about that.

"For these new courses that just got approved we needed someone strong i
n content area and able to handle new situations. I knew you were the one for the job."

I was inordinately pleased but I tried not to blow up like an overstuffed helium balloon. I did my best to act humble.

We looked at my schedule for next year. "Well, there really is a problem if you insist I have a full planning block. I need to be co-teaching second block with Ralph both first and second semester, if we want my kids to cope in collaborative classrooms. And I need to be with Lindsey first block both semesters. And I have the Study Skills classes the second part of fourth block all year. That only leaves a half block for planning . . . and if I carry a full caseload, too -- well, you guys will have to be patient because that won't leave a lot of time for writing IEP's."

Our eyes met. She knew it was important that I not abandon my kids who have been doing so very well in their collaborative classrooms. I knew that this woman always put the kids first in her own life so she would understand completely.

"We'll work it," she mumbled as she gathered her papers and left my room.

I did a little jig (very little, I'm not agile enough to actually hop up and down) when she had gone. I had been chosen, from all the staff, to teach two new, innovative English classes for next year. The curriculum was mine to create, the benchmarks were in place but open for interpretation, and all the content would be based on my own personal sel
ection. Sweet!

Even better, having these classes would ensure that my own students w
ould have an English program in place that would offer reasonable and realistic content to meet their needs AND I would be assured, at the end of next year, that I would have my job secured within the school.

I am truly blessed!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Taking a Shot

Sitting around in our regular Wednesday Advocacy Class, we were discussing summer jobs, the upcoming graduation, and schedules for next year.

"Do I have to take English 4 my senior year?" every single junior asked, except those in my SPED classes who knew they were going to have me as their senior English teacher.

"Miss," asked Eber, "you ever been shot at?"

All faces turned my way.

"Actually, Eber, I have been. One Friday night as Hubby and I pulled up to our house around 9 p.m. he noticed some unusual activity in the house on the corner. He drove up and flashed his brights on the house and we interrupted a robbery in progress. Three teenage boys fled the house and one ran down the street directly in front of us, so Hubby gave chase in our car. The kid turned around, pulled a pistol from his pants and fired five shots at the car. I was terrified and screamed at Hubby to turn around and take us home right away. Luckily none of the shots landed."

Kids nodded. "How about you, Eber? Ever been shot at?"

"Yeah, sure. Just last night, in fact. Probably somebody shoots at me once a week."

Kids nodded.

"WHAT!" I screeched! "EVERY WEEK?"

Eber looked a bit embarrassed, but nodded.

"How do you keep from getting shot?"

Brittany, a ninth grader, laughed. "Duck and weave, Miss. Duck and weave."

"Yeah," replied Eber. "I know how to roll to the floor of the car. You get used to it."

"My brother shot at me in our house last year, but then he's crazy," offered Amber.

"Sure, we have gunfire in the streets all the time."

Sometimes I realize it's the kids who are actually educating me and not the other way around.

Saturday, April 26, 2008 - NEW BREEDS OF DOGS - NEW BREEDS OF DOGS


My nerves got the better of me this year. Knowing I was still the newbie in the SPED department at my high school and knowing that we were down in enrollment and facing huge budget cuts as a consequence and knowing that we had a new principal that was basically pretty unaware of my capabilities, I kept waiting to hear that my position as collaborative teacher in the Health Community was in jeopardy -- or, in fact, was being eliminated.

I finally asked the SPED coordinator in early April what the rumor mill was saying and she replied, "I've not heard anything at all." The same sentiment was echoed by the school psychologist and the coordinator for the Health Community. Still I fretted and stewed and prepared myself to hear the worst. I'd been worrying since February.

At Monday's SPED meeting, the central office honchos were in attendance and it was announced that just as last year's offer to trade-off of two paraprofessionals to retain me as a full time SPED teacher had been successful, the department would like to make the same offer again for next school year. This time to add a NEW SPED teacher to the ranks.

To my delight, amazement, and utter joy, when the SPED department head mentioned my name for the first trade-off, the entire department burst into applause - and one woman even cheered "And a damn fine trade it was, too!"

So -- if the new trade is accepted -- and a new teacher comes on board -- next year I won't even be the newbie on the team. My position was never in jeopardy this year so all my worrying was just in my head, and even better, my coworkers like and respect me.

I think back to two summers ago when in May my construction job was being eliminated from under me and I was in such angst that I actually considered going back to a career -- teaching -- that I had left with finality 16 years earlier. I look at the post in August of 2006 where I wrote that I had been turned down for three different SPED positions in three different schools and that I was not going to interview one more time for another teaching job. And I realize, with great humility that I had to learn to be patient and have faith because destiny or God or fate would eventually deliver right into my lap just exactly what I needed.

Thank God I went to that one last interview that in retrospect, now that I've seen the staff at the other schools, was actually the ONLY PLACE I would have wanted to teach. Thank God that when I walked in the door of that high school I met two caring, gentle, competent professionals (the principal and the SPED head) who believed that a 60 year old woman could still meet the challenges of working with disadvantaged urban high school youth AND learn new teaching techniques in the bargain. Thank God my hubby agreed to help meet those challenges with me and provide physical support at home.

I can honestly say that I've never been happier or more satisfied in my professional life. I get physically tired and it's hard by late April to climb out of bed at 5 a.m. five days a week. I'm still building up resistance to all the childhood diseases. This year I actually used up every single one of my sick days. I dislike going back to grad school for further certification. But. B U T! The kids are everything! My days at school are worthwhile, fulfilling, and challenging -- never, ever boring. My grad school is competent and tries hard, mostly, to understand the demands of full-time teaching along with the responsibilities of a home life. My "A average" goes a long way to mitigate my dislike of school -- and every once in awhile I actually come away with new and valuable information. My coworkers are the best in the district. The district pays a fair wage and has a central office staff that respects teachers.

I have next year to look forward to. I'm extremely grateful -- and proud! This is where I was meant to be and what I am actually best at doing.

Thank God!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Eyes Have It

A couple of weeks ago I got a new pair of glasses. $635 worth of frames, blended biofocal lenses that also darken in the sun. No one but me noticed the change.

A year ago I also got new glasses -- highly stylish frames that reflected the newest in fashion for the eyes. I hated them after the initial 24 hour adjustment period. They wouldn't stay up on my face and when I got hot, I could barely keep them on because they would slide right down my nose. They weren't comfortable and wearing them in bed to watch TV was miserable. The lenses were too small and I felt restricted by them. They sat too close to my eyes and even with my minimal eye lashes, once I put on the Maybelline mascara, my lashes brushed the lenses.

So, when the year's wearing time was up, I went in and used my insurance to get new frames. I really didn't need much adjustment to the prescription but the doctor made a couple of minimal changes. This time I went back to the lenses I knew worked. Bigger, spring hinged so they conformed to my face, and nice long arms that hugged my ears.

When you have to wear glasses for all your waking hours they should be both attractive AND comfortable. I love my new glasses.

Yesterday's pair, now retired:

Today's pair, so comfortable:

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Sitting at my desk in my third floor classroom in my historic high school, my next door neighbor, the Spanish teacher poked his head into my room one day last year. "You busy?" he asked politely.

Seeing he had a guest with him, I got up and invited them in. "I wanted you to meet my wife," he announced proudly.

Every lunch period, all the teachers in my community had admired (and often actually lusted after) Al's delicious home-made lunches. Thick slabs of meat loaf on homemade sour dough; roasted turkey slathered in homemade mayonnaise on fresh baked whole-wheat. And, on special days, Al's wife would send to dessert to all of us. My personal favorite was her bourbon laced bread pudding. But there had been cakes and breads and cookies, too.

One day I had passed Al in the hallway and mentioned I was feeling low and depressed, and "Man, some chocolate sure would perk things up . . . " Ten minutes later, Al was in my room with a huge slice of homemade chocolate cake.

Like me, Al is older. I'm not sure his exact age, but he's close to retirement age. Still, he's agile and frisky and coaches the soccer teams both fall and spring. In the summer, he enjoys doing "house" things with his wife. They plan a garden but Al does the yard work. His wife pays the bills and reads novels by the bushel. He drives an old car but his wife has a newer model. They like to take car trips together. Al home-country is Italy and he translate Italian poetry, often love poems, for his wife.

Together they are a unit; married 38 years they are still deeply in love. She takes care of "Al" and he takes care of her. He's proud when he tells you she raised three sons and "Al, too."

Except . . .

This has been an awful spring around here. It's been too cold and too wet and too much snow. Spring just wouldn't seem to come. When the flu hit, we all got sicker than we've ever been.

I spent six days out of school and for a full month I feel perfectly awful every single day. Hubby and I both got the flu, not once but twice. The first round was the worst. It was an "out of body" experience, when even the strongest will could not get me up and moving. The second round just lingered on and on.

In February one of my graduate school classmates got the flu. It turned into pneumonia and then encephalitis and then he died. He was only 57 -- five years younger than me.

Al's wife got the flu last week. On Tuesday she went to her doctor, he checked her out, and sent her home. Wednesday night she began to feel much worse, so Al drove her to the ER. They were joking in the ER at 8:30 p.m. By 9 p.m. she was dead. Unknown to Al and his wife, her heart had been weakened and the flu put the final strain on it.

"I've lost my best friend," he brokenly sobbed on the phone Friday morning. "I'll see you on Tuesday . . ."

I wonder if I should bring him a lunch . . .

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I teach Special Education. Most of the students on my case load are classified as mentally retarded; the rest have behavior disorders. All of my juniors this year are MR but academically able to function in collaborative classrooms with support. This means, that as their collaborative teacher, if I'm around to help, they can succeed with some modification in material just like the "regular" kids.

We sat around in my community today and selected the students to earn awards for the end of the year assembly. I campaigned heavily to eliminate the word "scholastic" from the title of Best All Round Freshman, Sophomore, etc. In fact, I told the community they could sit until 9 p.m. tonight if they didn't ditch the word, so they did.

With the idea that the best all round student would NOT need to be the one with the highest grade point average, when we got to nominating the junior student, I sat quietly while my co-teachers went through their rosters and one-by-one eliminated the juniors from contention. "Not working to potential in algebra." "Caught cutting 4th block." And so on. After the 10th or so name, I mentioned my SPED junior who, though reading on a second grade level, had managed through great diligence to earn a 4.0 grade average the first semester and was close to that this semester. Then I made a strong case to select her, even with her academic disadvantage. Every teacher liked her -- and they realized what an honor this would mean to both her -- and her mother. She was selected.

Then we got around to selecting most improved student for each grade level. Again, as we debated the juniors, I waited until most students had been eliminated and I suggested that my student who had come in last year from the disciplinary school in our district but had never even had an office referral this year be selected. Everyone was stunned for a moment; she's a strange little girl but she has blossomed. She's tried hard and she's never given anybody any trouble. She's passing her classes and she's stopped standing in corners or hiding behind doors. She talks to us -- admittedly the conversations are a bit odd, but last year we couldn't get her to open her mouth. Every one of her teachers agreed that she has made remarkable progress.

I am so proud! Two of my juniors are going to be honored in front of the entire school! They are going to appear before all their classmates and receive the highest honor our community can award. What a great challenge for my other students to reach for! We sometimes debate the merits of collaboration as opposed to more isolated resource rooms for SPED students. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, everybody has to agree to try and adapt material and be more flexible. But sometimes, like for these two special junior girls, it works perfectly. What a validation!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spring, Where Are You?

Today is April 12, 2008. A P R I L? Outside my window snow is spitting on me. The temperature is 29 degrees and there is a wind chill index.

Fortunately, we won't get enough snow for accumulation -- but it is still cold enough for it to fall from the sky.

I cannot remember in my 61 years a snowfall this late in the year.

I want spring desperately.

I want jonquils, tulips, budding trees, and green grass. Birds should be twittering in the blooming tulip trees. The sky should be blue. We should be worried about grass mowing and dandelion removal.

Instead, we get snow.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Flapping in the Wind -- A Small Update

This has been a rough patch for our little family, consequently updating this blog has been put aside, while we managed our coping strategies.

The flu struck hard and fast and didn't leave us for over a month. Hubby still has it, while I am finally able to say I'm on the mend. We got the flu in early February (around the 5th) and we've been sick every day since. I've been out six consecutive days at school, but that was in February. Hubby weathered the first bout without taking to his bed. It was the second wave that struck him down, while I managed to keep one foot in the front of the other (but just barely) during March. First was the awful head congestion symptoms; second came the massive coughing attacks. Through it all we were totally exhausted. Other complications arose, too -- but delicacy requires I don't enumerate them. And yes, we DID go to the doctor's who told us NOTHING would cure us, just time, and offered cough syrup and nostrums to comfort but NOT cure.

Meanwhile work and school continued apace. Last week I had a mid-term take-home exam for my course in Assessment at grad school. This week we're working on a group presentation for next Thursday night -- one of two major projects for the course. At the end of this course, I'll have 15 hours toward my SPED certification.

At home Hubby had to cope with a plumbing back-up in the basement that required moving out the washer to get to the affected blocked pipe. We are also installing a new garage door and a new front door to the outside of the house.

At school, we are facing more staff reductions for next year, necessitated by a drop in enrollment that has cut our yearly budget by half a million bucks. Teachers are feeling very insecure, especially in this down-ward spiraling economy. Meetings are on-going to determine how to meet this current budget crunch, the good thing being that the administration is involving the staff in deciding on the budget cuts.

Little boy Gus ate something "nasty" in the park on Wednesday night. He threw up 37 times before the vet opened on Thursday morning. I spent from 4:30 until 5:45 a.m. (when we leave to get me to school -- lovely first thing in the morning activity!) wiping up the floor, the rugs, and the bedding. $249 dollars later the vet said the cause was "undetermined." Meanwhile, Gus had blood work, hydration therapy, and nausea injections and spend the day being coddled by the vet techs. I spent the day working to earn the money to pay the bill.

Also on Thursday Hubby attended a wonderful luncheon in commemoration of Martin Luther King's assassination. Rafer Johnson, the man who took the gun from RFK's assassin (as well as being an Olympic gold medal winner), was the guest speaker, and Hubby was enthralled. He said it was one of the best events he's ever attended -- plus all the local political bigwigs were there and Hubby got to sit at one of the head tables and meet everyone, including Mr. Johnson.

Easter was a quiet event for us because we've been so sick. One of our friends was traveling, leaving her hubby home alone (except for ALL their animals), so we met him for Easter Sunday dinner buffet. No one felt up to actually cooking.

The pastor at our little church is retiring and we are evaluating our options for moving forward. We have had what the Methodist church calls a "part time" minister ever since we have been members (over 10 years now), a retired minister who lives in the neighborhood. However, we are thinking it is time to invest the funds in getting a full time pastor and really pushing to see our little congregation outreach to the community.

Both Hubby and I got new glasses. He has the on-set of cataracts which annoyed him vastly -- the final indignity of reaching 70+. I merely got a new pair of glasses and a small adjust in prescription -- I hated the pair I got last year, so I went back to comfortable, if less stylish frames.

Hubby also celebrated, quietly, his 73rd birthday. We thought we'd spend a couple of days of spring break in St. Louis as a celebration, but both of us vetoed the idea because we felt so weary from being sick. Instead, we slept most of spring break, did a little cooking, and read a lot of good mystery novels in bed together.

Winter hangs on in the heartland. No flowers yet. Trees are mostly dormant. Friday afternoon, on the drive home from school, we saw the first tiny redbuds on the flowering trees. Today, though, is overcast and the mornings start out near freezing. Hubby has had the front yard raked and has gotten the team of mowing men in place for summer.

We are now in the last quarter of school. The seniors are excited about graduating. My juniors are trying to pass benchmarks and everyone has been accepted at the area vo-tec school. The staff is planning their summer trips around the workshop schedules. I'm hoping to retain my job because, just like last year, I'm still the newbie in the department. If a SPED staff member gets cut, it has to be me. Still, they have asked me to pick a co-teacher for next year and I've not yet been called into the principal's office for the talk we had last March (when I was offered an English position instead of the SPED job because my job was on the line).

So, our little family moves forward -- and we continue to keep the faith.