Concentric Circles of Grief

One morning last week, in a meeting I almost forgot to attend, my coworker was too wired to focus on our meeting agenda. She’d been out walking her dog the night before, chatting with a friend she hadn’t seen in a while. They were about a mile from home when they heard gunshots and a woman screaming.

“I’m calling 911!” She reached for her phone.

“We could call the non-emergency number.”

“Gunshots? Screaming? I’m calling 911.”

The 911 officer heard her report and immediately responded, “Ma’am, I can see where you are located. You need to take shelter. Now!”

They ran to a nearby house and knocked on the door. An elderly couple let them all in – both women and the dog. My friend phoned her husband, explained the situation, and asked him to come get her, her friend, and the dog. He had a hard time getting into the neighborhood, weaving his way in between the cop cars and ambulances and even the SWAT team truck. Their 8 year old, riding along in the back seat, was visibly shook.

There was a terrible tragedy in our community that night – a murder suicide fueled by domestic violence. My friend had not seen the violence, but she heard it. She was touched by it.

Imagine a pebbles dropped in water. The woman’s family, the man’s family, and their surviving children are in the middle circle. My friend, her friend, and their families are in a close circle. They witnessed the action indirectly and felt the violence that disrupted their peaceful evening.

I’m in an outer circle. I listened to her story, held her and listened again when she found out that the couple so violently killed were friends of hers, neighbors down the road until a few months earlier when they’d bought their first house. Her children knew them, knew their children. Her tween-aged daughter had babysat for the youngest children in the family. The near-inner circles were growing now, making room for these three young people facing this unspeakable tragedy.

Once again it’s Brahms. Remember my piano teacher’s wisdom, shared when I was a teen? She never knew what to say at funerals, and she struggled to play Brahms. After her husband died, she learned that there is nothing to say that can help. All you can do it be there. And then she found she understood Brahms.

I can’t take away this grief that sudden and terrible grief my friend has suffered. The memory will stay with her and with her husband and her children forever. All I can do is be there. She is organizing a fundraiser for the surviving children. It won’t replace their awful loss – nothing could. But it gives people a way to show that they care. It gives people a chance to be there.

 

Looking Back (2013) and Looking Ahead (2018)

Oh, Facebook. Those “memories” can be good, bad, humorous, and even painful. Five years ago today I posted this:

2013 is not a year for Resolutions, per se. It is a year for goals.
Recover from “stroke” that wasn’t really a stroke: gain enough strength to walk to work again.
Publish our (Chuck’s & my) book.
I said two, but a third: continue to learn and grow as a teacher in the online education world.

Where to start? The “stroke” turned to be a true stroke, visible in a later MRI with updated technology. Finding this led to another procedure that discovered a nearly completely blocked artery – a major one – and placed a stent in it. That stent is still operating well, and the aneurysm on the opposite side of my brain has remained stable. All things considered, life is precious.

Chuck and I set the book aside for a while. It’s time to pull together and get back on it. Now that he is settled into a new job with a lower stress level, he can take a deep breath and put in some time at the computer writing and editing.

Five years later, I am still teaching in the online world. I’ve stretched my learning and taken on leadership roles within my department and working on curriculum with the national (corporate) people as well. The best teachers are lifelong learners; I hope I fall into that category.

2018 will be a year to increase my activity in the political and societal realms. There’s too much negative in the world to sit back and let it happen. My word for the year is “Action” and the corresponding goal is to speak up. Postcards, emails, letters to the editors – every voice counts.

Happy New Year, friends and family. Let’s make it a good one.

Teaching Peace – The Elevator Pitch

Teach Peace

Mine is purple, a hooded sweatshirt, and also has a small peace sign below the words. It’s a soft and warm sweatshirt, perfect for a below-zero bitter cold day.

And so it was that I was seated in the alcove next to our pharmacy awaiting at long last my annual influenza vaccine, alongside an elderly gentleman apparently awaiting the same. He asked me about the message displayed on my comfortable hoodie.

“Tea? Peach? What does that say?”

“Teach Peace.”

“Oh.” short pause “What does it mean?”

“It means teach people to get along with one another.” Phew, that was quick thinking. 

“And so, um, what do you do?”

I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant, so I answered the question I hoped he’d asked. 

“I teach middle school, so there are many opportunities to teach young people how to work together and be kind to each other.”

And before he could ask another question, the pharmacist arrived with her syringe and my paperwork. She slipped the needle into my upper arm with only the slightest of pokes – she knew what she was doing! – and away I went.

I came away with a feeling of relief that I’d finally been able to get the shot in the arm I needed to help me stay healthy. I’ll keep on washing my hands and taking other precautions to prevent these nasty viruses from entering my body. This visit was also a reminder that if I plan to wear my philosophies on my chest, I need to be ready to explain those philosophies. Wearing my “Teach Peace” sweatshirt today kept me physically warm and mentally sharp.

When school starts, I’ll be sure to follow through teaching kindness and peaceful behavior.

All Things Potter

You might be a Harry Potter fanatic if:

  1. You mutter Alohamora as you turn a key.
  2. You think Lumos as you flick a light switch.
  3. Your Harry Potter collection will never get swapped or donated to a Little Free Library.
  4. You get irritated when the family wants supper because you don’t want to stop reading.
  5. You’re nervous leaving the house without a wand. After all, there’s a war on!
  6. You find yourself quoting Albus Dumbledore at the strangest times. “Nitwit. Oddment. Blubber. Tweak.”
  7. You watch the movie The Patriot and wonder when Lucius Malfoy dyed his hair black.
  8. You go to cash a check and wonder why no one else notices that the goblins have the day off at the bank.
  9. You try to find 4 Privet Drive and 12 Grimmauld Place on Mapquest.
  10. The waiter looks at you strangely when you order “elf-made wine”.

It’s bitter cold outside – below zero wind chills, day after day. I might as well stay indoors, curl up in a blanket, and watch the Harry Potter marathon on FreeForm. It’s fascinating to look over  the details – the foreshadowing, the creation of this amazing parallel world, J.K. Rowling’s craft as a writer. So despite the cold, I’ll stay warm and cozy. As my idol Albus Dumbledore once said, “…now, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

This is an encore from a summer day several years ago as Amigo and I read the final book in the series: The Deathly Hallows. It is truly fascinating to reread and rewatch the Harry Potter series. I still wonder if I’m more like Professor MacGonagall or Professor Sprout. 

Teaching Today and Me

Once in a while, the PR arm of our charter school calls on me to help publicize the school by writing a little something. This time around, it was all about keeping the learning going over winter break.

I feel strongly that breaks serve a purpose in schooling. Students, parent-learning coaches, teachers – all of us need a mental and physical break now and then. However, curious minds can keep on searching for new information and fascinating ideas.

So anyway, readers, family, friends, and internet acquaintances, here you have it: Daisy’s take on learning in winter. It starts, of course, with a literature reference. Enjoy!

Flu, Flu, Flu. Flu shot? Not yet.

Due to an illness in October (vertigo, big time, scary, painful, the works) and the medication to treat it, I could not get my flu shot in the fall as I usually do. Last week I messaged my doctor and his staff and asked if I could consider myself in the clear enough to get the vaccine. He said yes. Yay! Yippee! As soon as I can make it into the pharmacy, I’ll get me a shot in the arm!

But now I have a cold. Ugh. Not a bad one (knock on wood), but still a factor that puts the influenza vaccine on the “not quite yet” list.

A coworker two cubicles away had a bad case of flu-like symptoms last week. He missed three days of school, and didn’t look good when he came back. I’ve been avoiding him, but given the proximity of our cubicles, I’m still breathing the same air he does.

There are others in the office coughing and sneezing. Despite the lack of kids with runny noses in the room with us (we’re an online school), we are still sharing more than our share of germs.

With that in mind, I’ve set up a humidifier in our bedroom, poured myself beverages all day long, and I plan a Neti pot reunion before bed. I have cough drops next to the bed, and I might just take a dose of Nighttime Cough Medicine before my head hits the pillow.

Stay tuned, readers. I hope this virus doesn’t morph into anything serious. Meanwhile, I’ll keep fighting.

Copy and Paste is all too easy.

Plagiarism. Copying. Stealing someone else’s words. Plagiarism is getting worse and worse. Last year felt like the worst year ever for honor code violations. Now, it’s starting up again.

One reason plagiarism drives me buggy is the pure dishonesty of the students passing off someone else’s work as their own.

Another reason plagiarism drives me into a minor tantrum is the sheer amount of my time that gets wasted every time I see it happen.

First, I check the report from the plagiarism checker (Think Turn It In dot com). For students who followed directions and submitted their papers before turning them in to me, it’s easy. I click on the report link and check to see that their work is reasonably original. Those who don’t follow directions lose a point in their grade, and I still check their work.

But back to the wasted time. I spent an hour and a half yesterday afternoon dealing with one case of copy/paste plagiarism. The student had copied verbatim answers to two test questions. The answers had words like “pathos” and phrases that no ordinary or even extraordinary sixth grader would use. I submitted the work to the plagiarism checker. I verified that the answers were stolen from an Internet source. I called the parent. I talked to the parent. I emailed the parent and student a copy of the checker’s report – 97.35% copied. Ugly. Pure ugly.

Then I logged in to teach a class. During that class, the parent called me and left a voice mail. After I’d finished class, logged attendance, and finished the rest of the tasks involved in a virtual class, I called her back. No answer. No voice mail. That meant more time wasted logging the attempt to call, emailing the parent and asking “Is this phone number current?”

I found out she’d called the principal. Principal was out at the time, so parent didn’t make contact. However, just knowing she’d thrown a fit (according to secretary) meant I had to spend MORE TIME doing unnecessary CYA research. I found the original source web site for each of the student’s copied answers, documented both with screen shots and URLs, and sent my evidence to both the principal and the dean of students.

And then the virtual bell “rang” and I headed home, knowing that I would have to catch up on 90 minutes of other responsibilities the next day in addition to tying up the loose ends of this young person’s attempt to better a test grade through cheating.

And that’s the main roadblock. It’s too easy, so easy to copy and paste and call it “done” that too many students don’t realize it’s wrong. I can teach the honor code and review how the importance of the plagiarism and some kids won’t get it until they have to redo and assignment and face the warning that the next time, the consequence will be more serious.

To make a long story short, the family had calmed down by the time we talked the next morning. The whole thing left me drained and frustrated and behind on my work, something that’s happening all too often.

Frankly, plagiarism stinks.

Sounds of Christmas

Actual workplace conversations:

I was playing Philly Brass Christmas between 8:00 and 8:30.

Email from a teacher across the room: “Turn up the music!”

My reply: “But they’re playing Silent Night!”

I did adjust the volume. She was laughing out loud.

Later, during a department meeting:

Me to new teacher: “If the music is too loud for you, let me know. I’ll turn it down.”

Him: “I want you to turn it up!”

So anyway, no complaints here. Falalalala.

 

And So It Goes.

It’s one of those days – one of those days when I wonder why I keep saying yes instead of no, one of those days when I’m really not sure if I am caught up or can get caught up at home or at work, just one of those days.

Meanwhile, I plug away.

Laundry. Why does Mount Washmore look taller than usual? Oh, yeah, I dug out another pair of jeans for myself and picked up three or four items at a thrift store. It’s Sunday, too. I normally get the clothes washed on Saturday. One day, amazingly enough, makes a difference.

Linens and things. I finally folded the tablecloths and napkins from Thanksgiving and stored them with the big roasting pan and the gravy boat. I use these once a year. If they took up more space, I’d toss them on the rummage sale pile and sell them. As it is, the gravy boat, tablecloths, and the matching napkins all fit inside the roasting pan. Perfect.

Rummage sale! I have all the curtains we took down before putting new windows in the great room. I washed them, but they still need to be measured. These are worth buying, if the right buyer comes along, and the right buyer will want to know the sizes. I have all the curtain rods, too. More to measure, more to sell.

I was asked to write an article for Teaching Today, a state publication. I said yes. I could have said no, sorry, please ask me again when my workload is lighter. I could have even asked for pay – but asking is harder than it seems. I have a skill: writing coherently. When I use this skill, I make my employer look good. I enjoy the process and the results; but working for free feels, well, cheap. Readers, I’ll link to the article when it’s up and running. I’ll consider the feedback to be my reward.

The last time-taker lies on my own shoulders. Once again I’m applying to be a teacher curriculum reviewer for the national level of my school organization. I’m investing in this time because 1, I believe I can do the job well; 2, it looks good in my files when I’m up for observation; 3, this position actually pays.

In conclusion, I can get caught up on the laundry and set aside the rummage sale items for spring. I wrote a draft of the article on Friday between classes. It needs revisions and tweaks; it’s kind of boring in it’s first incarnation. Maybe I can make reference to a children’s book or a seasonal song in each paragraph to keep the readers’ attention. Yes, that could work.

Oh, no, I forgot something: holiday shopping! Aaargh! I might never get caught up!

Readers, what’s on your minds? How are you keeping up?

 

Apple Cider and More

Once again, we were too busy making apple cider to take any pictures and document the process. The end result is delicious. In fact, even though it’s almost November, I might keep my eye on the orchards that advertise windfalls and “not quite perfect” apples. They would still make delicious cider.

Coming up soon: Amigo and his barbershop chorus are warming up for their next level of competition. Take it from me, folks, these guys are sounding good. I’ve helped out a little here and there by assisting with sectionals (when the guys split up to learn their own parts), donating my homemade goods as raffle prizes, and mainly by getting Amigo to rehearsals. I’m looking forward to hearing the chorus sing next weekend!

It’s All School Field Trip Day on Tuesday. I was ready to go to a planetarium and earth science museum. I chickened out. Seriously, sort of, in a way, because I feared settling into the planetarium and having the world start spinning around me again. It might be a meaningless fear, but I just didn’t feel up to chancing it. Since there were plenty of teachers signed up to go, I passed on the Person-In-Charge paperwork to another teacher and put myself on a different trip. I’ll be going on a hayride, picking up a pumpkin and maybe some apples (woot! more cider!) and having a relaxing and fun lunch afterwards with a few teacher friends.

To summarize, it’s been a busy weekend and it’ll be a busy week, too. And if anyone asks me “How d’you like them apples?” I’ll say “As cider, of course.”