Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Obligatory "Thankful" Post

So it's that time of year again. Everyone is always so darn thankful. At church, it seems like every single talk for the entire month of November is on "Being Grateful." Many of my friends have made a point to put a reason they are thankful in their status on Facebook. Really, we're all just waiting for the stinkin' holiday to be over so we can get on with Christmas. But then, I guess there is always a reason to pause and reflect--which clearly I haven't done this season. I realized a few days ago that all my posts this month have not only been ungrateful, they have been down-right negative. I don't take back anything I wrote--they were valid feelings and true ones. But...I guess it wouldn't kill me to do a positive, "grateful" post, because honestly, I have MANY things to be grateful for.

1. Lindt White Chocolate - What's not to love? You may wonder why I put this at the top of my list, and if that's the case YOU'VE NEVER HAD THEM. So addicting! And I wonder why I'm getting so fat...(no, I don't wonder. I know EXACTLY why I'm getting fat. I'm just refusing to do anything about it...)

2. My garage - Again, you may think this strange. But if you do, that's because you have either had a garage for so long you have forgotten how amazing they are, or you are like the previous owners of this house, who used it as an additional storage area. Not us. We pack both our cars in there, and it's a tight fit! But as I get up to go to work on a cold winter morning, I remember that I don't have to let the car warm up for thirty minutes, and I don't have to brush the snow off of it. Yes, I am VERY grateful for my garage. My whole house too, but let's not get sidtracked.

3. My Paycheck - I know that teachers are underpaid. I know that most of us are way over educated and making very little to show for it. I know that I am making less this year than I was last year, and I will probably be making even less than that next year. Who knows--maybe by 2012 I'll be paying THEM to work. (though one of my students informs me that the world is going to end that year, so I guess I shouldn't worry.) Still, despite how small it is, it is what is keeping us in this house. I am so grateful that I stuck it out in college, and was never tempted to give up. I'm so glad that I got a degree and have a job I love (most of the time!) which also allows me to help support the family while Trevor goes to school. So yes, despite how small it is for how much work I do, I'm grateful for it. Oh, and I guess for a college education, too. Thank goodness for pel grants.

4. Daycare. We were pretty stressed about daycare, wondering how we'd pay for it, especially after 7 months of unemployment. I stressed and stressed. We actually signed her up for a local daycare, but it was $500 a month! Reasonable, but still completely out of our price range. And then three wonderful women stepped forward to help me. I am grateful for my neighbor Brook, who watches Afton with as much love as if she were her own, two days a week. Brook's little girl is only six months older than Afton, and they are best friends! And then my wonderful mother-in-law, who added Afton to the brood of four she already had--my neices and nephew on Trevor's side. And then of course, my Mom, who takes her for free once a week and saves us money we so desperately need. I love them all so much!

5. Afton's Johnny Jump-Up. Man, what would I do without this thing?? I'm so glad Mom and Dad gave it to me to use for her. She LOVES it. She spends forever in it. Though she tends to poop a lot when she's in it. Still, it's worth it to have her happy, contained, safe, and busy while I get stuff done. And now she makes the CUTEST sounds while she's in it--Trevor and I just die laughing. She had no interest in her baby swing at all--what a waste of money--so I was so glad that there was SOMETHING that she likes. She's so good! Hooray for Johnny!

6. Reba. Ok, I'm not actually grateful, I'm pretty ticked. I got really addicted to the show Reba and I watched it every day when I got home from school. Like EVERY DAY. Like SEVERAL EPISODES. I was so grateful to Reba, because it was nice to have something to watch when I got home other than the formulaic and scripted Family Feud. And then? THEN? ION TELEVISION MOVED IT!!! TO 3:00!! DON'T THEY KNOW I DON'T GET HOME UNTIL 4:00??? And they replaced it with GHOST WHISPERER? (I liked it at first, and then it pretty much all became about how wonderful Jennifer Love Hewitt is, and then the ghosts tell her what to tell their relatives, and she totally paraphrases and leaves stuff out. Now, if YOU were communicating with a loved one who was dead, wouldn't you want to know what they said WORD FOR WORD? Stupid Jennifer. Reba is WAY better.)

7. My Friends. Generic, I know, but how can I NOT mention them? I have some seriously awesome friends. Like DeLayna--who comes over and we pig out and watch Battlestar or Star Trek or we just gab about everything from how fat we are/are not, were/will be, or serious political issues, or about nothing at all. She was with me when I went into labor, she counted the contractions with me. And then Heather, my favorite mission companion, who is always there for me and always so encouraging and kind. And hilariously funny! I have four awesome sisters who are best friends to me--so supportive, teasing, but loving too. When I grade the power points my students turn in (140 of them EVERY QUARTER!) they have a "friend" page, and some of them will go on and on about how MANY they have, and how they can't count them all. I've never been like that. But the friends I have I worth more than a thousand acquaintances. Some of them I've known all my life, others are new, and still others I've just reconnected with through Facebook. Yup, I am grateful for friends!

8. Divine Intervention. I am not one to bear my testimony on a public blog, so I won't go on and on I promise. But this year has been full of big changes, trials, ups and a lot of downs. How we were able to survive seven months unemployment, and then a huge pay cut when Trevor started working (yes, it IS more lucrative to be on unemployment than to work, apparently) plus a drop in my pay this year, is beyond me. Just when I thought we wouldn't make it, something always comes along and we have enough. If that isn't Divine intervention I don't know what is. And I don't even deserve it. I have't been to the temple in ages. I skip sacrament a lot, using the baby as an excuse. I haven't done my visiting teaching ONCE. And--worst of all--I have NO FOOD STORAGE! Not even a CAN! It's amazing the Lord can still love me.

9. Aquaphor. How have I missed this one until #9? We orginally bought it, of course, because of the baby. I got chapped lips in about August of '08 while pregnant, and they just didn't go away. I had chronic chapped lips my whole pregnancy. I mean BAD. I figured it was a pregnancy thing. After Afton was born, they STILL didn't go away. If you look closely at my family picture on my blog, you can tell I still had chapped lips--that was taken in August of '09! A whole YEAR of chapped lips! Can you imagine? Then the hygenist at the dentist office told me to use Aquaphor. It saved my life. Chapstick? NEVER AGAIN. I'm all about Auqaphor.

10. Ok, I'll do it. My family. Of COURSE I am grateful for my family! There's rarely a day that goes by that I don't have a thought somewhere along the lines of: "Why am I so lucky?" It was comforting to realize, when I was single, that marriage has nothing to do with deserving it, and everything to do with sheer dumb luck. If that weren't the case, then several of my single friends would have been married ten years ago. My husband is so perfect for me--he's annoying and stubborn and gorgeous and a total Lord of the Rings geek. But he's MY geek, and I love him with all my heart. As for my baby--well, she's absolutely the most beautiful, amazing thing I've ever seen. I am always fascinated with every little thing she does, and she is clearly the most amazing child that ever lived. Don't even try to rebutt that. I'll never believe you.

So there are 10 things I'm thankful for. I know some of them are silly--but sometimes those small things are what makes life bearable! So there you go--a POSITIVE post from me (though I couldn't stay totally positive when I got to Reba, but can you blame me? I mean, Ghost Whisperer?)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why Teachers Don't Care

When I first started teaching, I was apalled by the number of jaded teachers I saw. Women and men who do nothing extra--they come to work, teach the bare minimum, and get their paycheck. They don't go the extra mile, they hate their jobs, and they become total jerks. I had teachers like that in Junior High, and I've seen many like that in my work. I did not want to become like that. I was enfused with the excitement of my new career--planning activities for my students that took extra time, but were so good for them and taught them on a higher level. I didn't care that it took me hours more to prepare. And then I started the ballroom program at my school. The first year I did it completely for free-just because I wanted to. I wanted to give some kids what was given me--confidence at an age where it is so desperately needed. I knew that ballroom was a great way of doing that. My second year I was paid for my ballroom program--not much, but I was happy to get it. I took great joy in what I was doing. It was extra work, sure, but it was worth it. I watched these kids grow and learn and start to become a different person.

But now, after six years of teaching, I'm starting to turn into one of THOSE teachers. And I'm starting to figure out why they get that way. Of course there's just the wear and tear that Jr. high kids give you--you seem them making the same mistakes over and over again, and they never seem to learn. They move on to high school and most of the time we never see them again--we never see the finished product. We just get another batch of adolescents making the same mistakes the previous batch did, and it just seems lik the never learn. The DO, we just don't see it. Then you get a family, and you realize that every extra minute you are spending beyond your contract time is a minute away from them. And you wonder--why am I giving so much to someone else's kids instead of my own? Then you get some random cruel letter from a parent, and you feel like throwing up your hands and saying, "Why do I bother?"

And now, I feel like the school itself is against me. I get the feeling from my "superiors" that my extra work is nothing more than an annoyance for them--it might mean an extra signature or a minute or two of planning or making some phone calls. It's too much work FOR THEM. They'd rather I just don't bother. Purchasing rules in my district seem to be set up just for that reason--to deter any teacher from trying to provide a great experience for kids. No, just stack 'em deep and teach 'em cheap. 'Cause apparently the goal of my district is to take away anything fun for kids and give it to the high schools. Make junior high suck as much as possible.

I'm so tired of banging my head against this wall. I'm tired of going the extra mile and getting nothing for it. No apprecation from my boss, my district, the parents, or even the students. They forget--they don't even realize what you've done. They just take, use, and forget. They might realize years later what you've done and even thank you--I had a student and her parents in just two days ago thanking me for my ballroom program--but it's hard to continue justifying all this work.

And so what do I do? I drop all extra work. I come, get my paycheck, and go home. It's easier for everyone that way, isn't it? The kids might not get as rich of an experience or education, but does that REALLY matter, when compared to the prospect of inconveniencing other people or rocking a few boats? Teachers can't afford to care. If we care, there is always some rule or regulation to prevent us from doing something great. And parents complain, and who knows what kind of accusations could fly? That's not a risk I can afford to take.

I'm done. No more ballroom next year. Maybe I'll even drop the talent show. I can't afford to care anymore. I'll do the bare minimum--it's the same paycheck, after all.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Your Online Integrity


I'm having a hard day.

We got this unfair bill in the mail this morning. It threw me. I'm sure you've all been there--so financially tight you can't buy a new shirt or an extra gallon of milk, and just when you think you are gonna make it, you get some unexpected bill. I was REALLY mad. I felt it was totally unfair and almost sketchy, what they were charging.

And then I did something stupid. I turned to the peas. Why? Why do I keep forgetting what jerks are on that site? It's an online message board with traffic from people all over the U.S. and abroad. If you have a question, there is bound to be SOMEONE with the answer. There have been times when I got some really good insights and points of view I hadn't considered when consulting with the peas. (The website is twopeasinabucket.com and all the posters on it are refered to as "peas.")

Now of course, there are people who are chronic posters. People who MUST be glued to their screen 24/7 because they have thousands of posts and they remember everything about you if you post. It's really creepy. I'm sure the majority of them or normal--but you know, the crack-pots always post fifty times more than everyone else.

So I posted about this bill, and I was shocked at the cruel, judgemental and out and out rude comments I got. Most of them were fine--I might not have agreed with them, but they were giving their opinions about the subject at hand, and that's what I want. And then you get the jerks--the people who seem to have nothing better to do than pick apart everything you say and take exception to it--making awful comments that make you cry. And don't bother defending yourself--this will cause ten other jerks to sniff out the drama and come after you.

This is what happened to me today. I was a gold fish in a sea of piranas. Same thing happened the last two times I posted, which was like the only time I've posted all year. I feel just awful. It's amazing the toxic atmosphere a few comments can make, and though I know I should just ignore it, it's not in my nature to do so. I'm not used to dealing with openly rude people--and I teach junior high for heaven's sakes! Even JUNIOR HIGH kids have better manners than these people.

And then I thought--this woman who made this comment--she could be the parent of a student. She could be my next door neighbor. She could be that lady helping me at the store. She could be ANYBODY, because when you are online, speaking to strangers under a false name--you can be ANYONE. What kind of integrity do you really have when no one knows who you are, and there are no reprecussions for your behavior? How many of these catty women are sitting at church on Sunday, serving up dinner to a gaggle of smiling children, or teaching kindergartners their ABC's? They aren't some ugly depressed psychopath--they are normal people who have figured out that HERE is a place where they can REALLY say what they think.

What kind of online integrity do I have? Am I tempted to make that snarky comment, because I know no one who matters can call me on it? Am I the kind of person who would seek out an opportunity to hurt someone, just because I CAN? Disagreement is one thing, but personal attacks are another entirely. I am glad to say I never done this, though I have done it in retaliation. Which I shouldn't do, no matter how tempting. Just as I don't know THEM, they don't know ME. They can make all kind of judgements about me based on the one paragraph of information they have. And I can do the same--one snarky comment, and I'm certain they are visible jerks to all. But maybe they aren't. Maybe they are normal people having a bad day. (Though I STILL can't beleive that...) I can't change my ignorance--I can't know. But I CAN make sure that my own online integrity is not compromised.

And I probably ought to start by boycotting the site entirely. I simply can't take the temptation to strike back. This is not the first time I have made this resolution, but a year goes by and I find myself wandering back out of sheer boredom. It is in my nature to forgive easily and not hold grudges, but that downside to that is that I literally FORGET what wrongs have been done me. And I tend to walk into the same trap more than once. Well, I hope I've learned. And I hope I can make my own resolution to be the same person online as I am every day.

Well I feel better now. They got me so riled up, and I knew that if I responded anymore it would just get worse. So now I feel better having expressed myself without interuption. Ignore this post--its more for me than you!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Useless Talents

In junior high I remember that the kids who had physical talents got a lot of attention. I was sometimes one of them--whenever I felt self-conscious, I would pull out paper and pencil and start drawing. And then I'd make sure someone saw it and BAM--immediate acceptance. Well, to an extent. Until my inherant ability to irritate got in the way. (I've seen few 7th graders in my career that are more annoying than I was at the age--but there have been a few...)

Now I teach junior high and I see the same thing. The kids with talents for athletics, music, dance, and art get attention. Everyone praises how wonderful and talented they are. We just had auditions for the school musical, and I had a hand in casting it. At the rehearsal today, I sensed a reverence the other kids seemed to feel when around the leads--they were talented.

It's strange how those things can not only matter very little when you become an adult, but can also become a detriment. It's easy to get sucked in to the selfish world of music and drama--which requires so much time and gives nothing practical in return--only the self-satisfaction of feeling good. I suppose that must be addicting, and a part of me longs for it--standing on a stage, the world at my feet, with all in awe of my talent. But then I realized two things: I'm not that good, and I'm too practical to go that way. Basically, unless you are really lucky, physical talents don't get you jack in the long run. I'd rather be good at Math, or have a knack for making money. Yeah--I want THOSE talents...

It made me think of the physical talents I have been blessed with. I have many physical talents and I'm mediocre at all of them. Which is actually fine with me. I discovered art first--drawing in church, and on every scrap of paper I could muster. Here's a picture I drew in the 4th grade. I value this greatly, as it's the earliest drawing of mine that I have.

Drawing sustained me for years--I spent most of my youth improving my skill, finally settling on a Disney style I can't get out of, as a result of an obsession for the Little Mermaid in the 7th grade. If you knew me then, you know what I'm talking about!

Over the years as I've gotten older, drawing has become less and less important. In fact, the only time I draw at all is when I'm bored--in church or in meetings, sometimes in school assemblies. It's a way out of boredom and no more. And actually I like it that way. I had no real desires to become "an artist" not after my sister Cindy told me when I was five that "artist's starve." Stark but true, and apparently I listened. My only outlet now is occasionally working on my paper doll set--I have several that I work on. I've made paper dolls ever since I can remember, and it's something I still enjoy from time to time. One day, Afton is going to have a KILLER set.

I just scanned these in--this set has 12 different dolls and over 200 outfits! I started thet set in 1998, and I just keep making new dolls and new clothes and throwing out the old. The pink dress was actually designed by my neice Millie (6) who told me what she wanted and then I created it. She was thrilled.

Other talents? I went through a writing stage. It started in 8th grade when I went thorugh one of those periods where all my friends hated me. I was lonely so I started a book. And actually finished it two years later. Sucks, but it's finished. Then I wrote another one my senior year. And then I started a third before my mission and finished it when I got home. That one, Gifted, is actually quite good and I wish I could publish it, but I have no aspirations to be a writer, and therefore no real motivation to go through the hell that is publishing a first novel. I've written poetry here and there, and short stories. But always I knew that I just wasn't a natural--I just liked to do it for a hobby and nothing more.

Singing. Discovered this one in 9th grade. I have a good voice, once a solid voice, and was thrilled when I found I could sing. But it's proved to be a rather useless talent as well. I'm no where near good enough to be the lead in a play, and teaching has completely ruined my voice anyway. I got nodules on my vocal chords after a breif stint in Little Shop of Horrors, which I had to drop, and my voice has never really been the same since. Now I can hardly sing in church after a week of teaching my classes and ballroom. There goes that.

Which brings me to my last talent--dance. Again--not one I'm all too good at. I danced on a ballroom team in high school--more for the social life and the high of performing than for a love of the art. If I'd known I'd end up teaching it in junior high, maybe I would have bothered to learn it better. Dance is one of the most useless talents of all--there is NO future in it.

So here I am, this artsy fartsy girl with mediocre gifts--and where have they gotten me? Why do we give such praise to them, when they are impractical and so impossible to make a career out of? I'm better of with my computer knowledge, my talent for teaching and handling students--they have been far more useful to me than singing or dancing or any of the others. But I guess it's those little talents that make life interesting--that give you a little something more to offer, to spice up your life. As always, my practical nature wins out. I'm glad I was given these gifts--and I'm even MORE glad that I'm only mediocre at them. I don't want them for a career--I want them to be dessert--something I dabble in occasionally for pure fun rather than to make money.

I suppose no talent is truly USELESS, so long as we are learning from it. It's not like all those years and money spent on ballroom are wasted because I'm not on Dancing with the Stars. I learned to socialize--I changed from that obnoxous 7th grader so a slightly more tolerable 9th grader, to the amazing humble person I am today ;) But still, I see talents in my students that they don't even know they have, or don't really appreciate. They are wasting their time wishing they could sing better or dance like that girl or play football as good as so-and-so. And in ten years, it won't really matter who was the better singer. There are those rare shining exceptions who manage to make a career out of their physical talents, but the rest of us are ordinary people living ordinary lives, and the talent for just getting through it with a smile on your face is far more prized.

Anyway, I'm done now. What is with the long thoughtful posts?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Waxing Philosophic About Teachers/Parents

Tonight I was at my school doing the audition callbacks for the school musical. We had a parent come, very upset about some issues with her child. I was not the one under fire--but it made me think about the whole parent/teacher relationship in the public school system.

In elementary school they're all friends. Parents come to help in the classroom--they read with their kid and other kids, help with math, and do all sorts of things to make the teacher's life easier. It's a wonderful partnership--and much needed. I subbed enough for elementary school teachers to know that they have it as rough as we junior high teachers do, if in a different way. I guess it depends on what kind of "rough" you can handle. They get no breaks! They can't get stuff done while their kids work! If they mess up, their kids CAN'T READ. I mean, they have a tough job.

Anyway, then Junior High comes along. And suddenly the parent is the enemy. We don't want them in our rooms, and they don't want to be there either. They don't know how to handle the swearing, the crowded hallways, the chance that there will be a confrontation with a student. They don't know the advanced subject, they just don't seem to BELONG. We don't want them to know how much we get frustrated, how often we have to yell, and listen to any critism from someone who just doesn't understand. We don't really know what to DO with them. I imagine it must be a shock for them, this sudden change in attitude. I guess one day I'll find out.

Most parents I deal with are awesome. I'd say about 95%. And honestly, I have very little interaction with them other than an occasional email, a phone call with a question, parent teacher conferences. I teach an easy exploratory class, where most kids get an A to a B. I have very few parents mad at me. I really feel for those Math teachers, man. I make a point of answering every parent email immediately, I try to be as respectful as I can. I know they've got a tough job too, raising teenagers.

But parents can really be the enemy sometimes--I try not to feel that way, but every now and then you have an experience that just makes you wonder why you bother. On Monday we had play auditions--I was there from 7:00 to 5:00. Then I drove home, gulped down some food, picked up Afton, and returned to school for our Literacy Night. (you are supposed to bring your families to it.) I was tired, hungry, and cranky. I had a baby to take care of. I had to be at a booth all night and take pictures of the event, and I had let my battery run down in my camera and had to run to my classroom to get it. They blocked all the hallways and the only way to get to my classroom was through the libary--where a line of parents and students extended forever, waiting to get their Fablehaven books signed by Brandon Mull, who was visiting our school. I was tired, hot, and overwhelmed. I tried to get past the line to get to the far doors that woudl lead me to my hallway. A student was standing in my way and I called out, "Excuse me!" she didn't hear me. I raised my voice, trying to get my massive baby stroller past her. Again she didnt' hear me so I raised my voice again. I imagine I sounded exhasperated. I didn't want to just tap her with the stroller. And some old bat mother says, "Just CALM DOWN!" (telling someone to calm down, by the way, is a SURE FIRE way to wind them up even further...) I turned to her and apologized, saying something incoherant about how I had to get through to get my battery. "WELL," She says again, totally rude, "You can just calm down!" I turned again and said I was sorry. A student next to her nudged her and said under her breath, "She's a teacher!" I didn't have my badge on, see. Then she says it AGAIN all rude. And I got all quiet and said, "i'm sorry--I've just really worked hard for tonight," (and I HAD. I'd made the passports we used on Photoshop, printed 800 copies, sliced them into fourths, made the posters for the school, etc) And then I left. And started crying. Because I'd worked so hard, for free, to make that night possible, to help with the school play, to do ballroom team--all this stuff, and some old BAT yells at me like that? I was so upset. It's parents like that that I dread. (CLEARLY it's been a long time since SHE had to maneuver a stroller...)

Do parents realize that we are PEOPLE? That they can cause us just as much emotional damage as we can cause their kids--MORE? I had an email from a parent once--totally unprovoked, totally unfair, which accused me of everything from being the worst teacher in the school to destroying her daughter's confidence. She even threatened to get me fired. Why? No idea. Had her student 3rd quarter, (this was the end of the year) and she got an A. Never had a trouble with her. Not a THING. It was such an awful email I went into my back room and cried for twenty minutes. I called one of the administrators who talked me through it. And to this day, every time I open a parent email I think of taht woman--I remember those awful, cruel words. I'm afraid it's another one like that. It doesn't matter that she later apologized, that she spoke to one of my former students who praised me to the skies and explained what kind of teacher I really was. It doesn't matter that she was wrong and admitted it. I've been emotionally damaged. I'm terrified of parents. And her kid is FINE.

It's a scary profession. Good thing I love teaching. I love being in front of these students, being a part of their lives, having an influence over even small aspects of their world. I am fascinated to watch them become who they are going to be. They come to visit you from the high school and they've grown so tall and gotten so grown up. It's the beautiful thing about my job. But parents scare the tar out of me.

Sorry. This was SO LONG.