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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

 

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.

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.

Encore – Almost – for Autism Awareness

It’s April, again. Autism Awareness Month. What are the numbers now? A few years ago, autism occurrences were estimated at 1 in 88. That’s looking almost common, rather than unusual.

Well, folks, it’s time we start learning about each other, neurotypical or on the autism spectrum. Even under the old numbers of 1 in 166, the estimates indicated so many children and adults with autism that “normal” needed redefinition.

Awareness, people, is not enough. Awareness is a low form of knowledge, and knowledge itself sits down low at the base of the learning pyramid. Awareness means knowing that the student sitting next to your child in class might have autism. Knowledge and understanding come around when that child responds to gestures of friendship, perhaps awkwardly, yet making a step toward joining the social peer group in some way.

Awareness? Awareness means slapping a multi-colored puzzle-design ribbon magnet on the back of the family minivan. Understanding means that when the minivan next to yours at the red light is moving back and forth propelled by the rocking of the teenager in the front seat, you notice but don’t judge. You might offer an understanding smile to the driver if the opportunity comes up. By refraining from negative comments, a parent provides a role model for the rest of the minivan passengers. Parents can take it to the next level by explaining to the others in the car pool why it’s so important to be supportive of others, neurotypical or autistic or with no label at all.

These days, with a dangerously unqualified Secretary of Education and a potential Supreme Court justice who has ruled against students with disabilities multiple times, awareness can go to…well, anyway, awareness is nowhere near enough. During this year’s Autism Awareness month, make a vow to move beyond awareness into the category of understanding – or better.

The 40 Bag Project and Books

I’m making a serious effort to keep up with this de-cluttering project. I had a rough morning today, though. I decided to go through a box of books leftover from my classroom days. Classroom libraries are a source of joy and a major cost factor for most teachers. I managed to donate mine to a new teacher when I moved to teaching online, but there are still a few boxes in the house. I went through one this morning. It wasn’t easy.

I listed several on my Paperbackswap account. One has already been requested. I have great hopes for more to fly out the door by way of the Post Office. There were a few, however, that I couldn’t post.

Three didn’t have ISBN numbers. Yes, readers, I have books old enough that they don’t carry that magic number. Without it, I couldn’t post them on the swap site.

Then there was the domino effect. I attempted to stack the new entries in the bookshelf with the others, but there wasn’t enough room. My solution: sort through the contents of the shelf and make room. I managed to group several folders together so they didn’t take up quite as much space, and I also found ancient paperwork worthy of the shredder. I reorganized so that all garden-themed books (not going anywhere, thank you very much) have one section of the shelves and all textbook types are together in another.

At this point the table was covered with piles of books and my laptop, open to the “Post Books” tab on Paperback Swap. Craziness, eh? More so than you realize; we had a meeting scheduled in less than an hour and we’d need the table by then. I did manage to get the books back on a shelf, power down and stash the laptop, and wipe down the table before our meeting began.

And I haven’t even mentioned the books I didn’t post or set aside for an upcoming rummage sale: a Leo Lionni, a Tomie dePaola Strega Nona book, and a couple more that need to be stored with others of their kind in the attic.

Books. It’s not easy being green when it comes to literature. I might sort through the garden stack again – or maybe not. It’s a good season for selling those to Half Price Books; it’s also a good season to browse through a few of my favorites.

Books. It’s not easy being green when it comes to the written word. Heaven help me if I ever have to decide between books and shoes for shelf space.

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.