Education: valuable or dangerous?

I went to the post office one day to mail a book. The clerk was one who knew me as a regular, often mailing my Paperback Swap books on to another reader. As he went through the standard script and asked, “Does the package contain anything potentially hazardous?” I replied flippantly, “No, independent thought is still legal.”

He laughed, thank goodness. I can just see the post service suddenly searching my mail because of my slightly sarcastic sense of humor. Oops.

There have been a few changes since that day.

  • This guy, one of my favorite clerks, has since retired.
  • There’s a new majority on Capital Hill.
  • A recent poll indicates that the new majority, the Republican side, doesn’t value education in general. Worse: the Republican caucus thinks higher education is a waste of time and even bad for the U.S. (See the Pew Study results here)

Independent thought may still be legal, but learning and thinking are less and less valuable to our government. In fact, the impression I get is that the current folks in charge want to keep the populace ignorant, malleable, and easy to control.

This is scary, people. Very scary. Dare I suggest – keep reading, keep learning, and keep connecting with your legislators. Remind them that they work for all of us, not just those who voted them into office. Call, email, send postcards, attend town hall meetings. If you dare, participate in rallies and protests.

Independent thought is still legal. Let’s keep it that way.

 

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Goals – inside, outside

It’s summertime – the approximate ten week period that passes for a “break” in our oddly outdated agrarian school calendar. In the old, old bygone days, students would help at home on the farm in spring, summer, and then harvest season in the fall. School terms might be limited to winter or some of the town and city kids might come in early fall while the farm families kept their children home to work the land.

But I digress.

It’s summertime, and the living is relatively easy. I can sleep in, but I don’t. My body clock is set firmly between 6 and 7 A.M. I’m up and at ’em, coffee cup in hand. Up and at what? That’s where the goals come in.

I’ve decided to make one indoor goal and one outdoor goal. Daily tasks such as loading, running, and emptying the dishwasher don’t count. Watering the garden and the containers doesn’t count, either. It’s a necessity.

Yesterday the outdoor goal was to fix up the rock garden. That entailed getting rocks and sculptures and misc. from the garage and placing it strategically in the rock garden. Inside? Clean the bunny cage & replace used litter box with clean box.

The goals are a minimum. I don’t stop there. Having definite goals, no matter how small, keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. “I must get more done! Must accomplish! Must do, go, achieve!” Nope. It’s a long break, and it’s a break. Setting and meeting goals is good for my mental health. Meeting goals allows me to let go of the gotta-get-it-done attitude and relax.

That said, here are today’s main goals. Indoors: laundry. Outdoors: lift pallet garden to a steeper angle. Chuck helped with that one.

And now, while I wait for the first load of laundry to rinse and spin, I can relax.

Readers, do you set goals? Give yourself permission to take care of yourself? Leave comments. I’d like to know.

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Last Week of School – encore

Years ago, when I was still teaching in a traditional classroom, the chalkboard provided all kinds of opportunities. My fourth graders loved to create their own drawings with this simple medium of chalk on chalkboard. This one went up on a muggy, drizzly day. The blurry writing in the middle states, “Rain, rain, go away!” Earlier in the day it said, “Rian, rian, go away!” until someone more astute took eraser in hand and played editor.

 Over the weekend, La Petite came with me while I cleaned up my classroom. This was the work of La Petite, age 21, art minor, in colored chalk. 

In truth, the wild bunnies eat my vegetables more than they do the flowers – with the exception of the coneflowers last year. The flowers in this picture lasted longer than the coneflowers did.

Note: the plethora of encores may be due to the fact that it’s the last week of school and any creativity of my own is getting poured into progress report comments. 

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Another encore, on a counseling tone

from spring, 2013

My email has been overloaded with courses lately. I’m not sure why. Are the trainers and higher-educators getting desperate for business? I know few of us are taking extra courses or earning higher degrees now because we can’t afford it and because additional training and education no longer pays.

But reduced pay scales aside, this offer came through recently. There’s a lot of public attention to mental illnesses these days, so I actually read it instead of hitting delete.

Dealing with Metal Illness in the Classroom

I could have used this a few years ago, or a few years before that, or – the list goes on. Or could I? Let’s look more closely.

This course is designed for teachers, support staff and school counselors.

Okay, the focus is good. School counselors have been cut way back, though, due to the usual and customary budget constraints. When a student needs counseling, the teacher is the first and sometimes the last to handle it. If the student is lucky, his/her teacher will have had at least some counseling training. Next, please.

Participants will learn about the diagnostic characteristics of the various types of mood disorders and the other types of mental health disorders that mimic the symptoms of each.

Now they’ve lost me. Teachers can’t and don’t diagnose illness, whether physical or mental. We may recognize head lice and flu, and we might be the ones monitoring behavior that suggests attention deficit disorder, but we do not diagnose. Training us in “diagnostic characteristics” isn’t the right direction at all.

If we teachers are to help students with possible mental illnesses, we need to have opportunities to refer these students for real diagnosis and treatment. We need to have the connections with medical professionals, and we need permission to contact them. We need administrators who take our concerns seriously, and we need time – yes, time – to meet with and call parents so we can work as a team. We need school psychologists who take our concerns seriously, school social workers who do more than push papers, and most of all, administrators who care about our safety and well-being.

We need coworkers and support staff that will work with us. We need the public to respect our knowledge, our experience, and our observations.

Most of all, we need this because the students, the ones who need help, need us.

 This is an encore from 2013. All, for better or worse, is still very true. Public trends are leading toward the need for more services in schools, but budgets don’t match the need. Until then, we teachers will still be the front line for those kids who need help.

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Cleaning the Classroom – Encore

I attended a graduation party for a former student, a girl I’d taught in fourth grade. She had just graduated from high school (my alma mater, no less), and was preparing to head off to college. I reminisced on the way home. 

One year my fourth grade class decorated the chalkboard with flowers during the last few weeks of school. I liked it so much that this year, I assigned them the task. We were gearing up for a field trip to see a play based on the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. I helped prepare them for the story by reading about urban gardens, learning about plants, planting their own tomato plants in little pots made from toilet paper rolls, and more. One day I presented them with several shades and lengths of green construction paper, told them these were their stems, and challenged them to create flowers using our bin of paper scraps.

They outdid themselves.

The flowers were lovely, each as original as its creator. My young students (ages 9-10) decided to write their names on the board to claim their work. They wrote and drew and made more flowers, and I was glad to say Yes to saving their work from the cleaning staff. I knew Di, the cleaner who keeps my room spotless, would love the classroom flower garden as much as I did and would be glad to leave it untouched by rag or vinegar cleaning spray.


When a student moved the week before school let out, she made sure to pick her flower from the board. On the last full day of school, plucking the flowers was a high priority for the young paper gardeners. By then the chalk was getting dusty, but the paper work was as unique as ever. High art? Nope. Just right? Absolutely.

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The Twenty Minute (Vegetable) Gardener

I was gifted with the book The 20 Minute Gardener a while back, and I finally found the time to read it. Despite being more about flower gardening than my forte, growing vegetables, I’m thoroughly enjoying the stories and the advice. It’s a little like Click and Clack Grow a Garden, if you’re a Car Talk fan.

I spent much more than 20 minutes a day over the weekend. I came indoors Saturday night tired and sore, very sore. Sore legs, sore feet, sore back, sore thumbs – you name it, it hurt. A tall gin and tonic eased some of the pain and provided some much needed rehydration, and a Harry Potter marathon let my mind settle.

Sunday, silly me, I did a lot of the same. It’s been crazy busy and crazy cold in the past two weeks, so I grabbed hold of the weekend sunshine while I could.

Monday I did a lot of walking, but not so much bending and twisting. I joined La Petite and her friends in a visit to Hippie Tom’s Serendipity Farm. We had lots of fun and found (surprise, surprise) lots of crocks! Anyway, Monday was a short day (or evening) in the garden. After a 2 hour drive home and a short break for supper (Chuck’s German potato salad – Yum!), I finished planting the tomatoes and spent some time watering.

Back to the book title: The 20 Minute Gardener’s philosophy is that a lovely garden is potentially possible with an investment of only 20 minutes a day. It’s the end of the school year, and that means that 20 minutes is all I have most nights. In Tuesday’s twenty minutes I planted herbs in some of the smaller crocks. Thyme and two kinds of basil took up the 20 minutes between arriving home and starting to cook.

Tomorrow I may have more than 20 minutes (no barbershop rehearsal on Wednesdays). Watering everything, turning a little more soil, planting lettuce and root crops, spreading mulch (a.k.a. pine bedding that the rabbit no longer needs) – that plan sounds like more than 20 minutes.

The main reasoning behind the 20 Minute attitude is to lessen the stress. If I can commit 20 minutes a day, I don’t have to feel guilty about not spending more time at it. I can feel good about what I do, rather than feeling down about what I didn’t get done. If I only get the mulch spread and the tomatoes watered, that’s enough.

The side benefit? Simple: I’m away from the computer and the television news for at least 29 minutes every evening. That’s stress relief right there.

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We can’t make this stuff up.

I knew the minute I read the first line of the email that it would be — well, I’ll let you see it.

Actual parent email opening: I just seen “Molly’s” grade, and…

Oh, dear. I seen? No, dear parent, you saw. Or you have seen. Frankly, “I seen” is a dead giveaway that you ain’t seen nothing yet.

She argued I shouldn’t have taken off points for her use of Pinterest as a resource for her research. The mother’s reasoning?

Also I know that one of the picture was from Pinterest, and that is not a credible source. They have alot (sic) of pictures on the official (insert topic here) website but they also have this posted “All images and photographs of the interior and exterior of the theatre on this website are under the copyright of the (insert organization name here), Inc. Reproduction of any images or photographs whether electronically or otherwise is not permitted without the prior written consent of (insert organization name) Friends.”    So we didn’t know if we could use them for a report or not without permission.  Could we use them for a report?  

It was late Friday when this appeared in my inbox. I haven’t answered yet. This was a definite Wait ‘Til Monday type of event. Any advice, readers?

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It was inevitable – viral, even.

I was already feeling lousy when I walked into the post office extension to mail a book. The clerk was in a corner blowing her nose. Her nose (the aforementioned) was red and so were her cheeks. I thought, Oh, No! Then she reached for hand sanitizer before she checked me out, so I thought, Maybe It’ll Be Okay.

I headed to rehearsal with Amigo and helped out for a bit. Then I headed into my private room (the Sunday School room where I hang out with my laptop), and almost fell asleep. Yikes, I thought. This is Not Good.

Long story short, I took the next two days as sick days. Chuck had felt ill over the weekend. In fact, he woke up that morning to a coughing jag so rough it pulled a muscle in his back. I am not making this up. He missed work for two days, too.

Now Amigo is feeling under the weather. We’ll do our best to keep him hydrated and resting (the second one is easy) to preserve his voice for the contest coming up. Most of all, we’ll try not to spread this crud anywhere else – or to anyone else.

Cough. Cough. Ugh.

 

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Teacher Appreciation Week

I was taking advantage of a teacher discount last night. Papa Murphy’s Take and Bake Pizza offered 50% off to teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day. Chipotle had offered a Buy one Get one (BOGO) the day before. Once a year, a handful of businesses let us know we’re valuable.

So back to the story. I was sitting down, feeling fatigued from this nasty virus that hit my family this week, and a teacher pal came in. After we greeted each other, I had a flashback. This incident happened when Teacher Pal and I (and three others in our building) were in the midst of our graduate program. I needed to send a fax to the university’s registrar, so I was in the school office asking the secretary for help. Principal overheard me telling Secretary to let me know what the cost would be. At this, she called out loudly, “There ain’t many perks in this job, Daisy! Send the damn fax!”

That, um, “conversation” took place more than ten years ago, and the memory surfaces all too often. When I’m pulling out my school ID to get 50% off on pizza and cheesy bread, when I picked apples from the tree in front of our office, when I planted milkweed from pods I salvaged when our office landscaping was dug up – I’m always hearing that comment in my mind. “There ain’t many perks in this job!” And even thought it’s true and it’s not a good thought, remembering that moment makes me smile.

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Just another plastic bag of produce.

Sometimes I have to help the grocery store cashiers when I’m buying bunny food. Red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, or Romaine. Curly parsley or cilantro or maybe even flat leaf (a.k.a. Italian) parsley. On my way home yesterday, the cashier and the staffer bagging my purchase needed more help than usual.

I almost, not quite, but almost felt sorry for the cashier. She seemed new at the job. I suspect she has a hearing loss, too. Trust me; I recognize my own hearing-impaired behaviors when I see them in someone else. But where were we? Oh, I was checking out at the small grocery store on my way home from school.

The woman ahead of me in line was buying a six pack of bottled water. The bottled water ended up in a plastic bag. Huh? Put a sticker on it, people. I mean, really.

So I came in prepared; I handed over two cloth bags I always carry in my purse for times like this. Between the bunny food and hamburger buns, two bags should have been sufficient. But then, nothing seemed to go the way of “should” on this trip. First of all, my cloth bags didn’t make it to the end of the checkout right away; they got tangled in with the plastic produce bags. The first bags of lettuce ended up in a store plastic bag anyway.

While that was happening, I was distracted by a clueless clerk. “Is this kale?” “No, it’s parsley. Curly parsley.” She rang up kale. “Excuse me, that was parsley. Curly parsley, not kale.” Oops! She fixed it. And then – “Red leaf lettuce?” “No, it’s Romaine. That’s red leaf, coming up next.” She rang up red leaf. “Excuse me, that was Romaine. The red leaf lettuce is there.” I pointed. Ugh. She was lucky Chuck wasn’t in the checkout with me. He would have identified everything else on the conveyor for her. “And those are carrots” is his favorite line when faced with produce identification problems.

Finally, when I could look down toward the bags, I realized she’d packed my two bags with a few items, a store plastic bag full, and was reaching for another store plastic bag for two small packages of cookies. It was right after school, people. Don’t judge me. Sometimes a teacher just needs cookies. This was really ridiculous, though. I ended up bringing home way more single-use plastic than necessary.

Next time I’m stopping at the nearby grocery on my way home, I’ll avoid this particular pair of employees. If I have to deal with them again, I might react badly. And by badly, I mean I might loudly announce, “That’s curly parsley. That’s red leaf lettuce. That’s Romaine. And that’s celery, by the way.” Or I might glower at the  person bagging my groceries in twice as much plastic as needed. Growl.

If the produce is problematic, maybe the solution is to just buy cookies. Cookies might check out smoothly. Well, they “should”. However, we all know that “should” carries no guarantees.

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