The Exceptions, Thank Goodness.

I’ve been overheard at school saying, “It feels like I’m continually bringing my horses to water, but they just won’t drink.” I’m reaching out, making calls, sending emails, and I have to admit that most of my efforts are working. I’ve gotten through to parents and students by phone and by email. Several respond well when I invite them to a small group session, and those who attend and participate seem to get the material and improve their work accordingly.

And then there are the exceptions. Those who plagiarize. Those who make things up. Babble on aimlessly. Have no clue, but write a goofy answer.

Here’s an example. The student was supposed to compare and contrast the book she was reading on her own to one of the selections she’d read in class – any of the selections she’d read since January.

the story grabbed my attention because it was a good story and it had good words and good verbs and the story was a good story for kids.

Yeah, you guessed it. She earned 0 points for that answer. Another student tried, at least.

This book has garbed my attention

I’d chalk it up to a typo, but she wrote “garbed” again later in the answer.

Then there was the youngster who wrote an essay about playing soccer and ended it with “Trump: Making soccer great again.” Huh?!?

It’s plagiarism that gets me the most. We use a plagiarism checker to seek out and reveal work that may have been copied from Internet sources. Whether it’s the dreaded Wikipedia or a paper mill that writes and sells essays, Turn It In dot com will find it. In the past three days I’ve had three major incidents of plagiarism. At 53%, 87%, and 92% copied, I couldn’t let any of these go. Had they been borderline, with the only copied material names and places and direct quotes, I could have pointed out the results and reminded the students to give credit where credit was due. But with more than half of an assignment taken directly, word for word, I had to go through plagiarism protocol with each student. I called each one, spoke with the student and the parent learning coach, and then told the students they needed to redo the assignments. And then, to make it official, I recorded the offense in our google sheet for such offenses. Thank goodness, each was a first offense.

I cope with the stress of these incidents by taking breaks from grading. I’ll deal with a difficult situation, and then I’ll take a short walk away from my desk. I’ll pick up any printing, rinse my coffee cups, refill my water bottle, and then head back to my computer. I’ll take a deep breath and then attack the grade book again.

I’ll also remind myself that these kids are the exception, not the norm. Out of 45 essays and 45 Social Studies projects, if only three are copied, I ought to consider it a decent ratio. Maybe. The truth is, I’ll be satisfied when we reach 0% plagiarism. Zero.

As for the others? I wish they’d stick to making their own writing great, much less great again.

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What Free Lunch Really Means

Subtitle: a story told through experiences

I once worked in a child care center that served several programs for low income families. Some of our kids had parents in prison. Some children were in foster care. A fair number were living in what we called “risky homes” – families where abuse and neglect happened, but not severely enough to remove them from the home.

These children were hungry. On Monday mornings, they dug into their breakfasts like they hadn’t eaten in days – and sometimes that was precisely the case. We planned our Monday morning meal accordingly – often oatmeal, because it was inexpensive, nutritious, and filling.

Fast forward several years to my first teaching job, in which I learned about free and reduced lunch. One indicator of the importance of this program showed on half days – those days that dismissed students before lunch and had meetings and training sessions in the afternoon. Attendance was weak, very weak, on days that the school did not serve lunch.

Fast forward again, same school, same neighborhood, same large number of low-income families. Our school meals program earned a grant to provide Grab and Go lunches on half days. These were essentially bag lunches with a sandwich and fruit and a small juice box or milk. Do you see where I’m going? Half day attendance picked up in a big, big way. Kids who straggled in late would greet me with “Can I still order lunch?”

I learned even more as I became aware of the McKinney-Vento Act, a program for homeless students. When a family becomes eligible for services through McKinney-Vento, one of the first things that happens is automatic free breakfast and lunch. The family doesn’t need to jump through the usual paperwork hoops required to qualify for free or reduced meals. When a family’s housing is insecure, schools make sure that the students in that family have at least two meals a day.

I’m not quoting numbers or dry statistics, my friends. I’m speaking from my own experiences. Now imagine: if this is my experience, in a relatively stable community like Happy Valley, the need that we label “food security” must be even more widespread in inner cities and poor rural areas.

And in Betsy DeVos’ experience? I’ll rephrase that. Betsy DeVos, the completely unqualified Secretary of Education, has no relevant experience. She has no idea how important free and reduced meals can be for families. She has no idea how feeding a child makes it possible for that child to grow, to feel safe, and ultimately, to learn.

Free meals matter. That’s the bottom line.

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Off the Web, Off our Minds?

IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is a law that guarantees disabled students a Free Appropriate Public Education. We knew that law inside and out by the time Amigo turned 21 and graduated from both our local public high school and the state school for the blind. Our state department of public instruction (Wisconsin DPI) and the federal department of education both had extensive information on the law.

On Wednesday, a search for information reached this message.

I tried again later. First, I found a page that suggested “Information about the regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that was posted on this site has now been moved to a new location. To access this information and much more, please visit: http://idea.ed.gov.

On the idea dot ed dot gov, I found this message. The servers hosting our idea.ed.gov website are experiencing technical issues. We are working to resolve this issue, please check back later.

These two might be outdated, I thought. The first site references the year 2004, after all., the year of major updates to special education law. The links could be 12 years old.

I found an archived report from the 25th anniversary of IDEA.

I found a text file with a copy of the law as it was updated in 2004. Maybe I should bookmark that one.

I found an intact reference to FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The link on the Department of Education page has a red box announcing “Disclaimer!” and leads not to an official page, but this one. It’s sponsored by a group called the Center for Parent Information and Resources. I’d have to look more closely at the organization before trusting their information.

I then found a pdf document 159 pages long with the same information in Major Legalese as the earlier bookmark.

Every other search I made landed on the tech diff statement.

This follows censorship (yes, censorship) of other government informational pages such as information about human causes of climate change. Some of Wisconsin’s “official” web sites have also pulled information that doesn’t jive with our governor’s narrow mind or that of his sponsors.

What’s going on? I’m not sure I want to know.

I know this much, though. We, the people, in order to maintain a flawed but functioning republic, will continue our quest for information. We’ll continue seeking information, and we’ll continue providing information. We’ll also continue verifying and confirming statements. For example: just because Ms. Conway makes a statement on camera three times doesn’t make it true (RIP, Bowling Green massacre victims). 

In this case, out of sight (or out of website) doesn’t mean out of mind.

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The Book Club – Dystopian or Apocalyptic?

It’s not an annotated bibliography, but a short plot summary for each should do.

Phoenix Rising, by Karen Hesse. Nuclear meltdown in a nearby power plant puts a whole community at risk of fallout contamination. Told from the perspective of a teen girl, this story will both touch and frighten readers. Masks, Geiger counters, and other protective gear become everyday items. When her family takes in a boy with radiation sickness, the girl starts to see the disaster with new eyes.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you’ve seen the movies, you’ll like the books even more. By telling the stories in first person, Collins helps readers understand Katniss’ point of view and how and why she becomes the reluctant role model for the revolution.

1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale would have to be on the high school or college list. The more recently published Cyberstorm could join those. If you’re really brave, try Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and don’t forget Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Are you with me so far? Required reading for facing a Trump presidency will show the frightening ways that life imitates art.

I asked some of my friends on social media for suggestions.

Animal Farm becomes more relevant as Russia leans more toward its Soviet Union past. We the Living by Ayn Rand; One Second After. by William R. Forstchen. Brave New World, of course. They listed A Clockwork Orange – shudder.

Why the book list, people might ask. Why? Well, folks, I suggest that reading a few of these, followed by some serious thought and observations, might open some eyes. More than that, analysis of many of these plots has the potential to open minds.

Friends, family, readers, can you suggest other titles?

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Walk a Mile in my Shoes Empathy Book Club

Sanctuary cities. Executive orders. Airport detentions. A border wall. The news is full of negatives, stereotypes, anger, and fear. What’s missing? Empathy. Here’s a book list to encourage empathy for those who come to America from other cultures, whether voluntarily or as refugees. With the exception of the first title, all are suitable for young people.

  • A Step from Heaven by An Na
  • A Korean family moves to America, and the daughter has to find her inner strength to keep herself and her family whole. Despite her intelligence and ability to learn the language quickly, the girl encounters racism and sexism as she adjusts to her new home.
  • The Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang
  • The Hmong people were recruited to help American troops during the Vietnam war. After the war, when the new government began to persecute them, the United States provided a safe haven for Hmong refugees. Kao Kalia tells the stories of several generations as they flee Laos through camps in Thailand and eventually settle in the Midwest. The first person accounts make for a powerful read.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Esperanza is forced to leave Mexico after a tragedy takes her safety and her family’s wealth. She is unprepared for the challenges of living in a new country with no money and no home. Esperanza is Spanish for hope, and 13 year old Esperanza finds her inner strength as she follows a path that leads to hope and a better life. This book won the Newbery Award in 1999.
  • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhja Lai
  • A new home in Alabama means safety from the Vietnam war, but this family misses their old home in Saigon as they adjust to the new culture, new landscape, and strange foods and customs. Discrimination is rampant for their Asian appearance and poor English skills. A Newbery honor book in 2012 – well worth the time for the amazing writing and heart felt story.
  • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
  • The story takes place in Brooklyn, NY, during 1947. The backdrop of Major League Baseball’s integration helps Shirley Temple Wong and her family adjust to being recent immigrants from China. Winner of many awards, this is a valuable read.
  • Grab Hands and Run  by Francis Temple
  • Felipe is twelve when his father is killed and he must grab hands with his sister and mother and flee El Salvador for safety in Canada. This book follows their long and difficult journey, and includes the dangers they face and their doubts about leaving their home.

Readers, what are some other books you recommend – for young adults or those who are grown-ups?

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Next…moving along, not moving on

I couldn’t watch the inauguration. Late in the day, while we were on the road to take Amigo to La Petite’s for the weekend, I scanned my Facebook page. I kept getting choked up – but not sadness this time. My Facebook newsfeed was filled with friends and acquaintances determined to make themselves heard.

Several showed off their pink knit pussy hats for the rallies and marches. Those pink hats on display say very clearly “We are women, hear us roar!” and “Hands off my body, you jerk.” Their presence at rallies and in marches shouted out a reminder of an inspiring woman: women’s rights are human rights.

Now here it is, Saturday, and I’m not marching. I worked on grades for progress reports, and then I started the weekly task I call laundry. Meanwhile, my friends marched. Several in Madison, at least two in Washington, D.C., a significant handful in Chicago, a few in California and Washington state – and more.

And before I forget (yeah, right), I have one more quote to share. It’s a wonderful moment when the student surpasses the teacher. This statement came from a former student, a recent college graduate. She has the right attitude.

Today, and for the next 4 years, I will show love. I will fight for equality, for human rights, for women, for science, for education. But most of all, I will use the privileges I have been given to show love to those who will need it most, so that their world may look just a little bit brighter.

Well said.

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Snow Day – Ice Day prep

We had an inkling that a day off might be in the works. Toward the end of the school day, we saw an email from downtown – the Powers That Be had cancelled all after school and evening events, and the morning wellness appointments had been rescheduled. I slid a little in the parking lot; the freezing rain had begun.

By the time I saw the announcement that our local schools would close the next day, I had already prepped for the possibility of power outages. Sometimes, the two go together. Ice, power outages, kind of like chocolate chips and cookies, Romeo and Juliet, or birds of a feather. It’s not a panic situation, but we’d rather not be forced to travel the slick roads in search of eggs or bread if the trip can be avoided.

Our pantry is pretty well stocked as a general rule. A quick stop for bunny food on the way home from work, and we can feed everyone under our roof.

Blankets: if the heat goes off, we’ll need to double up on blankets. We have plenty, and at any given time most are reasonably clean. Most.

Bean bag chairs. Just kidding – sort of. Amigo has several. Bean bag chairs plus blankets equal a cozy corner for relaxing and keeping warm.

Firewood: Bring in a good stack of dry or relatively dry wood. If the heat is off, we’ll huddle up in the den near the fireplace with bean bag chairs and blankets.

Charge everything that needs a charge. That’s probably the biggest challenge on the list. If I can’t plug anything in during or after a storm, I need to be ready to keep the major tools of life charged. To give you an idea, here’s a list.

  • Smart phones – three
  • Kindle
  • Laptop
  • FitBit (it keeps my vibrating alarm on time!)
  • Is that all? No, but those are the high priority items.

I don’t have a battery operated coffee maker. If we lived in a place where power outages were more common, I’d probably get one. A generator for the freezers would be useful, too. Our two chest freezers are full of vegetables from last summer and meat purchased on sale and a full stock of soup broths (haha). In a short outage, we just leave the freezers closed to maintain their temperatures.

So, folks, how did I spend my bonus day? Power stayed on. Heat stayed on. I relaxed on the couch, watched some HGTV and DIY (no news; after I had the closing confirmed, I didn’t want to see any more news), put a loaf of bread in the bread machine, cleaned a little, sipped my coffee, ran the dishwasher, and a whole batch of small chores. A day like this is a gift, when we’re prepared for it.

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“That’s how (blank) felt when…”

We were bowling Friday night. Picture this: a group of teachers and spouses, most dressed in their Friday Green and Gold, gathered at the local bowling alley (and Pokemon gym) for a post-holiday party. I managed to catch several Pokemon critters while we were gathering. Chuck captured a local craft beer for himself and a glass of white zinfandel for me. And then we bowled.

None of us – okay, few of us – were any good at it, so spares and strikes were exciting. It was reminiscent of the Pepsi commercials featuring Odell Beckham and some ordinary everyday folks celebrating their own achievements. Remember “This must be how Shelly felt when she won that purple bear”? I came back from a that’ll show ’em spare announcing to my team “This must be how Aaron Rodgers feels when he throws a Hail Mary!”

And it built from there.

Strike! “This must be how DaVante Adams felt when he scored that touchdown!”

Spare! and a strike to follow! “This must be how Clay Matthews felt when he caused that fumble and recovered it himself!”

Gutter ball. “This must be how Brett Favre felt when he retired – the first time.”

A missed split for a missed spare: “This must be how Odell Beckham felt when he punched a hole in the locker room wall.”

You can imagine the inspirations for these.

 

This must be how Richard Rodgers felt when he caught that Hail Mary against the Lions.

This must be how Mike McCarthy feels every time Aaron Rodgers throws a Hail Mary.

This must be how Jordy Nelson felt when he got speared in the ribs by that dirty hit.

This must be how Mason Crosby felt when he kicked off and then had to tackle the receiver.

This must be how Tom Brady felt when he got caught deflating his footballs.

Yeah, it was getting lamer than lame as the beers and the gin and tonics got tallied up and we returned our ugly shoes to the counter. In our defense, it was Friday the 13th, a full moon, and we’re teachers, for heaven’s sake!

So readers, let’s leave it at that. Play the game with me. What would you say to fill in the blanks? “That must be how (blank) felt when (blankety blank) happened.” Now put your Diet Pepsi down, and think on it. If it takes a little while, just remember that the 23rd time is the charm. Hey, it worked for Shelly.

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Potential Violence – Too Close to Home

It can happen anywhere. That’s the scary part.

Earlier in the day, Amigo mentioned he’d heard a news update of a suspicious package at Trump Tower in New York City. The situation cleared up shortly after that announcement. I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t want to live in a Trump property right now.”

In the early evening hours, as I was texting with my sister-in-law, I saw an update come up on Facebook. It was from a teacher friend.

Scare at the mall. Got a call from daughter that everyone was to evacuate and police are there. Anyone know what’s going on?

Over the next hour, we learned that police had been called to the mile-long shopping center we locals call The Mall. Stories varied: evacuation, shelter in place, welfare check, possible suicide attempt. One, two, or even three people with weapons, thought to be guns.

It seemed each and every news outlet had a statement. Limited statements, of course, were released because there wasn’t a lot of official information. I thought to myself, “As teachers, we train for incidents like this, but danger can happen anywhere.”

I’ve trained in Non Violent Crisis Intervention. I’ve intervened in fist fights between kids bigger than I am. I’ve taken what we call “ALICE” Training – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. In terms of a large place like a mall, with crowds of individuals and strangers, it’s a whole different situation.

A woman who had been in the mall’s food court mentioned two groups of young people arguing and flashing “signs” at each other. She moved her young children away from that area, and soon afterward heard an emergency announcement. Gang fight? I thought to myself, “I know we have gangs in our city. I’ve worked closely enough with our liaison officers to know they’re here.”

Another statement came out – rumor? Maybe? – that two people were in custody, and police were looking for a third. And then we heard that police were seeking a man who might have had a gun and might have been headed for the mall. That individual was not found, or wasn’t at the mall to begin with. I thought to myself, “A crowded public place, seeking an individual who may or may not be dangerous, and in the meantime hundreds of folks are scared to pieces.”

Eventually, my friend posted in large font that her daughter had been evacuated and was on the way home. It’s a relief to her, to her family, and to all of us who fear the growing violence in our world getting all too close to home.

I’m not a mall shopper. I’d rather browse the clearance racks at a local department store that doesn’t anchor a mall. I’d rather support our downtown’s small businesses. I’d rather shop vintage and even thrift stores. And now? I’m even less likely to head to our local mall.

I fear – well, I’m less fearful about the random shooter style violence and more fearful that nervous people will take the law into their own hands. I fear that folks who celebrated the passage of a state concealed carry law will carry weapons with them when they go shopping. I fear that those carrying guns will cause more violence rather than prevent it.

I’ll pick up a newspaper tomorrow morning, but the most important news came over Facebook minutes ago. My friend’s daughter arrived safely at home.

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It’s all in the fortune cookies.

Chuck is a tolerant sort. He knows I have trouble throwing away the fortunes from the cookies that come with Chinese take-out food. When I cleaned out my work desk last spring, I found two (only two!) in my main desk drawer. A few days ago, we ordered Chinese for lunch at work. As we gathered together away from our desks, we shared both the humorous and the thoughtful on the little slips of paper in the cookies.

Mine.

Mine.

I might have more faith in it if there were more than two weeks left in the current year.

2016 has definitely been a roller coaster. The apocalypse of November 8 was a highlight, er, lowlight on the calendar.

Now, to the future. 2017 has the potential to bring to reality all the fears of 2016. The question: how can I resist the negative? Where are the best opportunities for activism, opportunities that will have an impact?

Meanwhile, I’ll settle for a photo of this fortune. I don’t need to keep it any longer. In two weeks, it’ll be history.

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