31 January 2005

Ghosts of Students Past

I think sometimes that the public must wonder how teachers don’t notice certain things about students. There are truly some terrible things that happen in homes—and as long as a kid isn’t vocal about it, it will definitely slip beneath our radar. Why is that? Don’t we care about these kids?

Of course we do. But being in a classroom is not as simple as shutting the door and getting to be each student’s mentor and guiding light. I wish it were that simple. Connecting with kids is the rewarding reason we keep coming back to the classroom. But as much as we might try, relationships with every single child are not built with every teacher. At the high school level, I have come to accept this, as I see that nearly all kids find one adult in the building with whom to identify. If I can’t be the best reason for a kid to be in school on a given day, there is someone else here who fulfills that need.

However, I have one kid in my past who has haunted my mind over the last two years. I love to read, both fiction and non-fiction, and I happened to pick up Sickened after reading a review. The author is a Munchausen-by-proxy (MBP) survivor.

According to http://www.mbpexpert.com/ MBP is a "label for a pattern of behavior in which caretakers deliberately exaggerate and/or fabricate and/or induce physical and/or psychological-behavioral-mental health problems in others. This pattern of behavior constitutes a separate kind of maltreatment (abuse/neglect) that manifests as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, or a combination. The primary purpose of this behavior is to gain some form of internal gratification, such as attention, for the perpetrator."

In other words, a parent causes a child to be ill in order to gain some attention for themselves. Julie Gregory (the author of Sickened) had a parent who did these things (and continues to do them to foster children, believe it or not). Her memoir is powerful reading.

As I read the book, I was reminded of Lisa J., a student I had 7 or 8 years ago. She was a sophomore in my Honors Biology class; a soft-spoken blonde girl with glasses. She was ill a lot, which in and of itself, is not all that noticeable. I almost always have a student with health issues. But what sticks in my mind is an assignment I gave the class. They could either choose to research a genetic disease, or they could write about their own medical history. Lisa chose to do the latter. When she turned in the assignment, it was three full pages of tiny font, detailing all that had happened to her body since birth. For a 15-year old, she had a formidable health record. I was absolutely stunned to see all the medications she’d had and the hospital stays she’d endured. But instead of raising a red flag in my mind, it induced a great deal of pity. This kid had been through a lot.

I was always very sympathetic when mom would call and ask for homework. Gee, Lisa was out again. The poor thing. Mom was going to take her to Seattle to see a pediatric neurologist. She might have to have an operation. Or perhaps mom was taking her to Mary Bridge in Tacoma for testing. Mom even told me that she herself had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. What a tragedy for this family, I thought.

This pattern continued a second year, as I also had Lisa in my chemistry class. The second year, she was absent even more. I don’t believe she even attended our school as a senior.

Perhaps Lisa’s story was completely accurate, but after reading Julie Gregory’s book, I really have to wonder. Was Lisa a MBP kid? Had her mother been creating reasons for Lisa to spend so much time in doctors’ offices and in hospitals? These are the questions which haunt me. What could I have done for this girl, if anything?

I looked once on classmates.com and saw that Lisa was registered. I have thought at times about paying the fee in order to get her e-mail address. I just want to ask and see if she’s all right. I wonder if she might have advice for me. Maybe even absolution. But I haven’t taken that step yet and don’t that I will. For a girl whose been poked and prodded as much as she has been, maybe her adult life has given her a fresh start and no reason to look back. I certainly have to hope so.

30 January 2005


Schools and districts are interesting beasts. They rarely live in the present. It's all about the future: How will we raise scores next year? Will enrollment be enough to keep all the elementaries open? Who's retiring and when will we start replacing them?

For example, Thursday marked the end of our first semester of the 2004 - 2005 school year. And by the end of February, we will already be registering students for next fall. By the end of March, I will know how many kids will be sitting in my classes in September, along with the schedule of courses I will teach.

I also already know what the school calendar will be for the next two years.

The calendar, like most decisions, is driven by money. The way in which funding for a district is determined varies from state to state. Many use a headcount from the 20th day in order to calculate how much money a district receives: (x #students * $ = big chunk of budget). If you live in one of these states, starting in early or mid-August is no problem. If kids are still on vacation, they'll be in school on the 20th day (sometime after Labour Day). Washington, however, funds based on the average attendance for days 1, 3, and 5. This means that we have to have as many warm bodies as possible at school from the very beginning. It also means that we start late compared to nearly every place else in the U.S.

In the fall, our first day of school will be Wednesday, September 7. On one hand, this doesn't sound so bad. We get out on the 16th of June this year---and will have about 2 more weeks of summer vacation vs. last year. The bad news? We don't get out until June 21st next year, too late for most teachers to take advantage of summer programs that they need to retain their certification. A late start (after a long summer) means more reteaching of students in the fall...and less time before state and national assessments. It also means that days we teachers used to have for planning together are now gone.

Teachers and other school personnel had input on 4 possible calendars for the next 2 years. It's interesting that the school board chose to adopt the one which had the least amount of votes from staff. It seems like so many "decisions" happen that way in schools: you are asked to voice your opinion...and then it's never used. I'm sure "they" think we're appeased by at least having the opportunity to vote.

The fallout from this feeling of powerlessness will be seen, I'm sure, in the district committee I'm running in a few weeks. We are charged with determining what our district scope and sequence will be for secondary science. I am already hearing questions from teachers as to whether or not this committee is so much window dressing...have the decisions already been made by someone else? What have I been told to do? I keep reassuring them that their expertise is meaningful and they have the power to make the choices, but I also understand why they may feel like eunuchs even before we begin.

It is the time of week when I follow the pattern and look ahead. Class is back in session tomorrow and I need to make sure plans are in place. I hope to finish up the past today: there is one set of first semester finals left to mark. Maybe moving on won't be as difficult as it looks now.

29 January 2005

Nature vs. Nurture

Before I start along my next topic, I wanted to share a link for a great article by Olivia Judson. She is an evolutionary biologist who spends a lot of time with sex: everything from gender differences to mating strategies to sperm size and number. She had an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times regarding the Harvard president's statements about women in math and science. Have a look at the article when you get a chance.

Today, though, the Goddess is thinking about this piece of news from the University of Chicago: "In the first-ever study combing the entire human genome for genetic determinants of male sexual orientation, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher has identified several areas that appear to influence whether a man is heterosexual or gay."

These sorts of studies continue to pick at our common beliefs about what is "natural." Some of this is likely going to be good. Like most people, I have friends and family members who are homosexual---and perhaps having genetic markers to point to (just like sex determination or eye colour) would help stop a good deal of discrimination against these people. I do think that it would be years before this would happen. On the other hand, I remember reading an article in the last year which described a man who was suing a casino for not keeping him out. Apparently, the man had an addiction to gambling and his family and he had set it up with the casino to keep him away. But they didn't. The lawsuit claimed that since the man had a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviour, that he couldn't control himself, and therefore the casino should have. This one makes me raise my eyebrow (the left one). I am sure that as time marches on, we will see even more suits like this.

My own experiences with "nature vs. nurture" have been interesting because I'm an adoptee. I was raised with "nurture" only...no comments about how my nose looked like my dad's or how grandma had the same mannerisms. Nature never mattered while I was growing up. But when I met my birthparents, I was surprised at just how strong Nature can be. Bmom and I both cross-stitch---but we even did the same pattern at the same time during the summer before we met. It is not unusual for us to show up wearing similar outfits or select similar items while shopping. Is there a gene for cross-stitch? Certainly not. For choosing certain clothing on any given day? Nope. But our genes do encode how our brains are laid out, even if our environment influences some of the connections. And half of the information contained in my neurons is hers.

I have had several gay students in my classes over the years. High school is not especially kind to them, but things do seem to be getting a bit better. I am always hopeful that the nurture our society provides them will be more tolerant and welcoming. Maybe if it understands that nature made them as they are, it will be.

28 January 2005

Cod Liver Homework

Perhaps you saw in the news last week that a student in Wisconsin had filed a lawsuit because he was required to complete three assignments last summer for his pre-calculus class this year. Apparently, these three assignments constituted an unfair workload and caused undue stress, especially in light of the student’s demanding job as a camp counselor.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

There are some teachers at my school who ask students to complete a summer assignment. These are usually for Advanced Placement (AP) classes and the assignment is designed to help the student review the basics of the subject before leaping willy-nilly into the college level version of it required by AP. I do teach an AP course, but I have yet to use a summer assignment. I would say that it is far more common for teachers (and not just those with AP classes) to assign homework over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring vacation times. I have rarely done so. It just doesn’t suit the way I do things. Weekends, though, I don’t have a problem with asking students to finish some work or do some studying.

However, I really can’t side with the Wisconsin student. I can’t see that having 3 assignments to complete in 9 weeks (vacation time or no) is such a burden. He probably has that amount of homework each evening during the school year...and I bet he has things to do over the weekend. If he wants to complain, why not complain about how much of his free time is taken up by work outside the school day? This case is also another example of a parent encouraging his kid to do the bare minimum. (I seem to have my share of those, even without summer and holiday assignments.) What a great lesson to teach your kid before they get out into the working world. Gonna sue your boss because you had to stay late one evening for a meeting? Or because you had to spend your weekend completing a big report?

People need to realize that the way schools do business in America is undergoing some significant changes. Kindergarten - Second Grade, for example, are no longer periods of fun and naps, punctuated with some basic skills. Second graders are now expected to be able to write paragraphs, create charts for mathematical data, and make inferences from written information. I can think of any number of adults who can’t do those things with any proficiency. Schools are becoming more rigorous and expectations for student performance are much higher. And schools who do not improve their performance are punished by the federal government. So it is incumbent upon us to make sure that students are making their very best efforts. Perhaps summer homework isn’t very motivating, but the purpose is to have a student keep up their skills and be ready for the next step.

Kids? Buck up and do your homework. It can help improve your achievement in your classes. Teachers? Design well-structured homework assignments that require students to deepen their understanding of the content and provide evidence for that. And parents? Love and support your kids above all else, but don’t forget that you cannot always be there to hold their hands. Help them acquire the skills they need to stand on their own two feet.

26 January 2005

Inching to the Finish Line

The goddess has been feeling very mortal the past 24 hours. Some sort of stomach ailment and I'll save you the details beyond that.

Tomorrow marks the end of the "fall" semester. Finally. I have several kids leaving my classes. For once, I'm not fighting it. Usually, I call parents and check to make sure that this is really what they want and that they know the full story. Usually, I spend some time with the kid to find out what the problem is...because most of the time, it's "winter blahs." It's been a long time since summer vacation and we still have a ways to go until the finish line. They feel like they need a mulligan on the year, but after talking about it, they're ready to keep soldiering on. But not this time. This time, I am signing their schedule change forms and sending them out the door without a word.

Perhaps it is the virus I have. Perhaps it is just my own exhaustion from the semester. Perhaps it is the realization that most parents and (all of my school's) "guidance" counselors don't realize what a fabulous opportunity a public school education can be.

What an amazing system we have. Every child is guaranteed a place at the education table. And it's free. All they have to do is show up each day and participate. What a wealth of course offerings---vocational, technical, academic, physical, and more---that are all here for them. And yet, I have kids who would rather sleep later in the morning than make an effort to come to school and take full advantage of their opportunity to learn. The parents say, "Okay." The guidance counselors say, "The parents signed the form."

Sigh. Fiddle-dee-dee. Tomorrow is another semester.

24 January 2005

Battle of the Sexes

On Friday, I left the safety of my portable building to head inside and have lunch with my science colleagues. A discussion started around the comment made by the president of Harvard last week regarding women being less able to succeed in math and science because of "innate differences."

I'm not sure that President Summers is entirely off base. In fact, none of us were sure.

There is plenty of brain research out there to support the idea that males and females use their brains in different ways. Most recently was this article that included the following:

"Researchers say it is all down to differences in the reliance of the sexes on either grey matter or white matter in their brains to solve problems. They found that in intelligence tests men use 6.5 times as much grey matter as women, but women use nine times as much white matter. Grey matter is brain tissue crucial to processing information and plays a vital role in aiding skills such as mathematics, map-reading and intellectual thought. White matter connects the brain's processing centres and is central to emotional thinking, use of language and the ability to do more than one thing at once. "

But there are plenty of other studies and data sources that all point to men and women just being wired differently. For most of us, this news is greeted by a resounding "Duh."

How does this translate to the realm of the classroom? American schools have been so concerned with "equality" for girls over the last 30 years, that they have more or less forgotten that boys should continue to have the same opportunities. And it is starting to show. Who performs best on standardized testing? Who is most often at the top of a graduating class? Who is accepted to and completes college in higher numbers? It's the sistahs, doin' it for themselves.

I suppose it's a bit of "the pot calling the kettle black." Here I am---a woman of science, even with my inferior grey matter. I'm here because other women paved the way. But I look at the boys in my classes and I really have to think about the way I teach them. Cooperative learning? Not really a guy kinda thing. Reflective thinking...journaling? Making a puppet show about a cell organelle? Girl-friendly sorts of activities. And yet, these are the kinds of things which are promoted to teachers to use in the classroom.

How will I inspire my young men? How will I encourage them to achieve?

I'm sure that I will continue to ponder those questions. My guess is that Harvard's president will be pondering gender education, too.

23 January 2005

What's a nice girl like me doing in a job like this?

It was my fate. But I did fight it for a very long time.

I'm a bastard. No, really. My birthparents were unmarried. Bdad was a music teacher and bmom was a classroom teacher at the same elementary school. One thing led to another---I stand as proof of that. Bdad had no desire to marry bmom and she didn't feel like she had an option other than putting me up for adoption and get on with life.

I was adopted by Americans who were living in Canada while a(doptive)dad was getting his PhD in entomology. They eventually moved back to the states, bringing me along. When I was 9, we settled in Alpine, Texas. Adad taught at the university there. Amom worked in the News and Publications office. Teaching might have been encoded by my DNA, but it was adad who inspired me with science.

I went off to college with no clue as to the direction I should take. I was all of 17 and a half. It's no wonder I was clueless. The spring I was to graduate (by now I was just barely 20), I applied to "Teach for America." This is a program which recruits graduates with no teaching credentials to teach in inner cities and rural areas that have a difficult time getting teachers. It was the first year of the program and miraculously enough, I was accepted. I finally had a plan. But Fate does enjoy a good belly laugh now and then (Who doesn't?). I found out I was assigned to teach in East L.A.

Alpine is a small town. People still ride horses down the street. When I was growing up, the closest McDonald's was a three-hour drive. Each way. I had friends who came to school via the longest school bus route in the country: 140 miles roundtrip. There was one radio station (KVLF) which primarily played cowboy music from the '30s and '40s so that the owners didn't have to pay money for royalties.

There was no way I was going to make it in East L.A. I withdrew from Teach from America and a few hours later, I had enrolled in the education program at Sul Ross State University. The rest, as they say, is history.

I can't claim to know even now what I will do when I grow up. I must admit that time keeps marching on and I seem to keep marching back to the classroom. I enjoy my work most days, and perhaps that's the best anyone can say about any job.

22 January 2005

The First Year (or "Why Teachers Need Therapy")

In the olden days, when I was a freshly minted teacher, I lived in Carlsbad, New Mexico. I know most people have some sort of idealized vision of the state. However, I lived there. And I am here to tell you that it is the state where family trees don't fork.

It's difficult enough to be a first year teacher. Most any teacher will tell you that it was a year from hell for them...and it is no surprise that 50% of new teachers are no longer in the profession 5 years later. Many of them are gone after 2 years. There is no substitute (including college training) for just getting in the classroom and going for it. It is an experience after which I have seen even grown mean weep.

I was all of 21 when I stepped into the classroom, and I looked even younger. The school was P. R. Leyva, and was the largest junior high in the state: 1200 eighth and ninth graders. I was frequently mistaken for a student. Considering that we had some 18-year old ninth graders, maybe that wasn't such a stretch of the imagination. I was assigned to teach physical science and life science. Each one was a semester course.

By October that year, I'd had two of the most gut-wrenching experiences I've had in my (now) 14 year career. In the first case, it was the end of the school day---maybe 10 minutes before the final bell. A boy I had never seen before walked into my classroom. (My room was open to the outside. It wasn't in the main building.) My kids were finishing up a lab and this other kid walks up to one of mine and starts pounding him. Students scattered like cockroaches with the light turned on. I certainly couldn't make them stop and really, my professors never covered anything like this in college. I at least gathered up enough of my wits to send a student next door to get that teacher: a big man who came in and had no trouble separating the two boys. When all was said and done, there were teeth on my floor and blood was everywhere. It turned out that the boy who had come into my room had been kicked out of the room next door---and on his very first day of school.

Not too much later, we had Open House. This is an evening event where parents come to school and go from class to class as their kids do, in order to meet the teachers and hear more about what happens in class. During "second period" that evening, a girl from my 6th period class showed up with her mother and stepfather in tow. I did my song and dance and had maybe 90 seconds left. I asked my small audience (which did include maybe 4 other families) if they had any questions that they'd like to ask me. Big mistake. The stepfather raised his hand and asked about his stepdaughter's grade. I told him that I wasn't permitted to discuss grades this evening, but if he would like to make an appointment, that I would be pleased to sit down and go over that information with him. He blew up. He yelled at me and swore at me. He had a conniption fit. And when the bell finally rang to end that session, stunned parents scurried away. Eventually, I got to go in and check with my principal, who reassured me that I had done the right thing.

A couple of months later, it was discovered that the stepfather (currently on parole) was having sex with the stepdaughter. Her mom found out, took the girl, and ran. I always wonder what happened to her. There are so many kids that I wonder about.

The hardest lesson I learned as a first-year teacher is one that each of us who stay in the profession have to discover: You can't save them all. You come out of college feeling like you can make a difference...that you can get out and inspire the world to change. And you can do so in very tiny ways. The other part of the reality of this is simply that there are too many problems that kids have that can't be solved in the classroom.

For many reasons, I just had to get away from teaching in New Mexico, although I did make it for five years in that environment. But I have to say that the experiences I had while I lived and worked there shaped the way I work with kids, as well as my drive to improve the educational experience for everyone involved. Now, I live in a place and work an environment that feeds my mind and teacher soul.

21 January 2005

Blogrolling Along

I did it! I added a blogroll. Okay, so it's not like I've saved the world or learned to do open heart surgery. Small steps are important, though, in life.

Today was as nutty as anticipated. And no, it didn't feel like a Friday.

By 6:30 this morning, I had at least a half dozen kids in my room and lab. (See? I'm not the only nut at school at that hour.) I was trying to set out another lab for my sophs. For their fall final, I have them solve a murder. There are 10 labs (fiber analysis, blood typing, DNA sequencing, etc.). I set out 1 a day to keep the kiddos going. Anyway, after being gone for 2 days, there was a mess to clean up in the lab. I share my portable with two other teachers, neither of whom are neatniks. So, I cleaned up, set up the next lab, got the exam ready for my seniors, played hide-and-seek with the stuff the sub left (don't ask), and tried to organize all the stuff I picked up at the conference.

The wave of kids hit. My classes went very well---I do enjoy my students and it was nice to be missed. After lunch, I had a meeting with the principal, and then another meeting with staff. Eventually, I got back out to my room to meet some kids who needed the lab (again). But I kicked them out by 3 and came home.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned something related to my contract. Let me just say here and now that I hate the NEA. Due to the law in the state, I am required to belong to The Union. It is a closed shop. And as a result, nearly $700 a year is raped from my paycheck. Seems to me that if The Union really gave a rip about how much I make, they wouldn't take so much. I am not "anti-union," in principle. But I tell you, as long as teachers act like blue collar workers, they will be treated as such. If they want to be treated with the kind of respect accorded to other professions---like doctors and lawyers---then they need to act like professionals.

I brought home a veritable poopload of work to do this weekend. I will try to make it through as much as I can, but I'm also tired. And with that, I think I'll drag out some of this work.

20 January 2005

Ordinary People

Home again, home again. I must admit that I really am a homebody kind of gal. And as much as I enjoy getting to the city now and then, it is always nice to be here at home.

There seems to be a fair bit of the public who doesn't quite believe that teachers are ordinary people. We are paragons of virtue in their eyes. And perhaps we are different in some ways, but it isn't like we are high priests or something. It is as if people never get over their kindergarten perception that teachers sleep (alone) in a desk drawer at school and devote every waking moment to thoughts of our job.

"High priest" is too lofty, but perhaps we are nuns, of a sort. People who have responded to some sort of calling to pass along the wisdom of (or lack thereof) our culture to the next generation.

I would agree, however, that teachers are semi-public figures. Regardless of the state of moral decay in the world, educators are supposed to be above all of that. We aren't supposed to drink, smoke, swear, have intimate relations, or bodily functions that aren't polite. But the reality is that we are human. I have rarely worked with anyone who didn't act professional in the classroom, regardless of whatever personal failings that they had.

Mind you, I can think of plenty of teachers who didn't act professonally with one another. But those are stories for other posts.

Anyway, when I was a younger teacher, I hated to be "caught" buying wine, toilet paper, tampons or anything else that might raise an eyebrow. And trust me, every time that I have encountered students (or parents) while running such errands, they are at first surprised (Why aren't you chained to your desk?) and then get kind of a "shame on you" look when they peek in my cart. These days, I just hold my head high. Maybe it's good to burst their bubble and demystify The Teacher.

The fact is, of course, that we teachers are just like anyone else. We are just as moral/ethical as the general public. I think that idea frightens people. They want us to be more spiritual than they are...to be those edu-nuns. But it is such a lonely job to do. I am alone with my kids. If I don't have a reason to see or talk to another adult, I don't or can't. And this additional barrier that society places...this expectation to be a paragon...is further isolating. I do enjoy my job. No doubt about that. But it is my wish to be seen as a person...and not simply viewed as a job title.

Earlier this year, I had a kid ask me why none of the teachers live close to the school. I said that I didn't want to insult her...we really like our students and honestly enjoy working with them, but that we also need some anonymity now and then. We need the capacity to have the same human frailties as everyone else. Having a home outside the school boundaries provides that for us. She seemed to understand.

My other favourite scenario is in seeing former students, who always ask, "Are you still teaching?" I resist the urge to be catty and tell them that after they graduated I just didn't have the will to go on anymore. But I am polite to them and shake my head after they've moved along.

Teaching is a challenging and amazing profession. Just remember that we are like everyone else you see around you. We wear leopard print lingerie now and then. We eat pizza and drink beer. We pass gas and have "bed head" first thing in the morning. We get eye boogers. We masturbate with a vengeance. If that shatters your memories of your kindergarten teacher, too bad. Chances are, she'd thank me for it.

19 January 2005

Of Parents and Conventions

Ah, the life of a Science Goddess. And, oh, the frustrations of Blogger when your post is eaten and you have to try to recapture your thoughts.

It's been an incredibly busy two days this week.

Last night, we held an information session for parents about how they could help their kids "Spank the Standards" on our state assessment. We have about 400 sophomore students at our school, all of whom will be taking the tests. We sent invitations via postcard to all of their families. We also invited parents of 9th graders who will be coming to our school. Passing the tests is more critical for them, because if they don't, they can't graduate. We also extended an invitation to Juniors and their families, as those students can elect to retake the tests for better scores. The scores appear on their transcripts, even if they aren't required for graduation. And, we even advertised the event in the local paper. So, let's say that 1000 families were invited to attend.

We had representatives from 4 of them.

I really could go off on a rant here...and perhaps will at some point in this merry blog...but I refuse to believe that parents aren't interested in the education of their children. I have to think that whatever we're doing to encourage parent participation just isn't cutting it. Why is it so hard to get parents of teens to engage more with the school? I know that kids don't always think it's "cool" to have mom and/or dad show up at school...but at a parent night, the kids need not even show up. Nobody has to know whose parents are whose.

Anyway, I got home about 9, had a few hours of sleep, and then took the bus to the ferry...across the sound to the big city for a 2-day conference. I went to three sessions today, one of which was wonderful. I slept through about half of the third one, but by that point, I already knew I wasn't going to miss anything.

Meanwhile, I've left my charges in the hands of a substitute (a/k/a "guest") teacher. That is always a real crapshoot. In this state, they have to be certificated teachers...people who are actually licensed to be in a classroom. But let me tell ya', in most cases, it's pretty easy to see why they don't get a permanent position. Most are unorganized...they don't follow the plan that is left...I've had several that don't like kids and are rude to my students. The one I usually get these days is a retired teacher from our building. He's deaf as a post and proceeds to fill the kids' heads with a lot of misinformation...because he doesn't bother to stay current. Ugh.

Due to my Science Goddess position, I'm out of the classroom a lot more than I would like to be. However, I try to never be gone during the first month of school while I entrain the kids. Being out a day here or there for the rest of the year is usually not too much of a problem. Two days? Not the best option (as I am doing this week), but with some preparation, it can be okay. And as for three? Don't even think about it. If you miss three days in a row, you'll never have the classes back as you would like them.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow will be very worthwhile in terms of conference sessions. For now, I'm going to lie down on the cushy bed here in the hotel and try to relax.

15 January 2005

Gotta love a 3-day weekend. :)

I brought home a ton of work to do over the MLK holiday, all of it having to do with the district part of my job. I must admit that there are many days when I long for a "regular" job---some sort of role where I show up, do my job, and come home without homework.

The general perception is that teachers get summers (equating to 3 months) off, in addition to a significant amount of holiday time throughout the year. This is not completely accurate. It is true that teachers usually get time off at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other national holidays. And it is time off that has been scheduled for us---we don't have to ask for it. As for summers? It's not three months: it's usually about 6 weeks. Six weeks? That is still a lot of vacation time...except for a couple of things. First of all, many teachers are required to take courses (on their own time and at their own expense) in order to keep their certification. I don't know that there are many professions (such as doctors and lawyers) which make that requirement. Secondly, an average work week for me is roughly 60 hours. If the "average" work week is supposed to be 40 hours, then I work the equivalent of 54 40-hour work weeks per year---no vacation time included. "Summer" doesn't even cover the "comp time" I might be entitled to.

Now, it's true that I don't have to work so hard. I could just put in the hours I'm paid for and call it good. I'd get paid the same either way. I've known several teachers throughout my career who had figured out that much. They'd put the students' assignment on the overhead, then sit back at their desks and read the newspaper or something. But I can't bring myself to do that.

In my district role, I am assigned to helping science educators and students at 6 different secondary schools. This roughly equates to 50 teachers and 6000 students. This makes me a little more high-profile than just being a teacher and so I can't slack off, even if that was my predeliction.

Which brings me back to my weekend. The length of my "to do" list is frightening. I have several small requests from schools and individual teachers to fulfill. It has always been my personal policy to take care of these requests as soon as possible. I want my colleagues to know that I value what they do in the classroom and that I am available to support them as best I can. This means doing things efficiently and with integrity.

Meanwhile, I am in the throes of planning for our Scope and Sequence meetings. We are (finally) going to lay out what will be taught and when. These are the first large-scale meetings I have been asked to lead and the content represents the most important decisions made in this district (for science) in many years. It is crucial that they be the best that they can. I have worked on building trust with other schools in the district. These meetings could well be the final part of the foundation needed to move forward as a team.

I have been consulting with someone at our Central Orifice about these meetings. She is a staff development specialist who knows about group dynamics and running meetings. So far, I've really been struggling. I've asked for help with several items (how to set group norms, establish a common vision, etc.). Sigh. I'll keep forging ahead. I do so want this to be good and for people to feel good about what we're doing.

12 January 2005


I own a home with two other women. No, we're not lesbians. Merely 3 poor school teachers who could not each afford to buy separate homes. In pooling our money, we have been able to get a dream of a home near the water.

I have a boyfriend. We met on-line 5 years ago. He lives many states away and we don't see each other very often. I wish very much that things were different, and it makes me sad that they aren't. But I can't give up on the most wonderful relationship I have ever had. I believe in starting from hope and living dangerously.

Beyond that, there may not be much to tell at this point. I have lots of people that I see and interact with at school. I don't have any family in this area. They are all very far away and I like that. I have other friends that I enjoy spending time with occasionally, but the truth is, I live a very quiet life. Not much happens beyond the realm of work.

Tomorrow begins a large-scale semester final in one of my classes. I ask my sophs to solve a murder---and I have been doing this since long before the advent of "CSI." It is always a wonderful project to have them do. They get a real kick out of the whole thing. And for me, it is a mountain of work. Setting up 10 labs for 80 kids (another teacher's class is participating, too) is quite the challenge.

Wish me luck.

11 January 2005

Back to the Salt Mines

It's been business as usual this January at school. My classes are moving along swimmingly, but I am overwhelmed with things to do in my Science Goddess role. I feel like a deer in the headlights.

I had a big presentation to a school committee last night and there is another big night for parents next week. I am trying to help a variety of schools boost their scores through literacy initiatives. I have one teacher at another school who has had it explained to her several times what the procedure is for materials adoption---and still doesn't get it---so I have spent countless hours trying to get it through her head. And the list goes on and on.

In the grand scheme of things, I'm supposed to be orchestrating a complete reorganization of Scope and Sequence for secondary science in our district: what will we teach and when? The thing is, I've never participated in anything like this, much less led it. And, I haven't talked to anyone in our district who has done so. It's very important that this whole project be done in the best possible manner, but I'm working blindly. Makes me very nervous.

Did I mention I'm trying to teach my classes, too? The end of the semester is in just over two weeks. I suppose I am a bit stressed, but that seems to be typical of most working Americans. There's no point in having a pity party. You just haveto move forward.