The pre-launch sequence

03 Apr

“Oh my God,” I told my daughter, is meant to be a prayer, or at least some kind of real communication, and I asked her again not to use it like a verbal shove. Maybe by objecting I am further disempowering (spell check suggests “disemboweling”) myself as any kind of influence in that direction.

When I later realized that I was the only one in the house and that I might have another half hour of complete quiet, that prayer came up for me (How long, O Lord?).

I’ve been so busy working up schedules and itineraries for oldest son’s college visits,  filling out college applications, FAFSA, SAT, ACT and transcript related forms.Our method, instead of researching and visiting colleges in my son’s junior year and last summer summer, has become this: apply to lots of colleges just in case before their deadlines, then try to catch up on visits and further research.

Other hours spent catching up on library, bank, school, magazine, and non-profit accounts and news feeds, pecking away at the stack of receipts and other to-dos in the box I keep stashing by my bed. When I tear myself away to read or write, I always seem to have only a partial vision of any particular piece of writing, and fizzle out with fatigue. Aiming for completion, word quantity, authentic voice (avoiding of contrivance, attempt to be “good” or clever) and regularity, and achieving little. Also not liking the effect of too much screen time on my eyes and muscle tone, wondering if a voice recorder might be useful, as I walk, run, drive, sometimes hearing the voice that might want to be recorded on screen or paper.

Always a little something to write about substitute teaching: I subbed in three schools last week, three the week before. In one last week, I linked in to a middle school student conversation over lunch about how much these girls appreciated it when teachers did what they said they would do–hand back papers, post grades, etc.—and troubled themselves to be organized enough to follow through. Being nice, cool, smart, not enough.

At a high school I was surprised and pleased that I’d been entrusted with a stoichiometry lesson, along with a session on Darwin’s evolutionary theories. What a range of levels of understanding there was, and also several students not intending on doing any work at all. One I referred to admin for followup. Always wanting to follow those students myself—not out of sight, out of mind—to see if I can help them their come up with a workable plan. Something other than filling a seat. I expressed my willingness to subsequent classes to help anyone with the material—and it was challenging—and unwillingness to let anyone interfere with others’ success. Yeah, stock material, but I believe it. Later that day, showing a video on the physics of speed, i learned an interesting fact about running; that the difference between a fast runner and a slow one is not pace; that’s pretty much the same for everyone because of the mechanics of the body. It’s in the force with which the runner hits/pushes against the ground, which determines the length of time the runner is in the air, carried forward by momentum. Tonight I tested this on flats and hills, and I really did go faster, with no more fatigue than usual.

I enjoyed a day with eighth grade language arts/social studies students one day in the newly refurbished school in the center of town. Such an enjoyable day–got to read aloud and facilitate a discussion on irony. I could tell they’d been well taught, and were ready for this, and we kept digging through the layers. I shared that I loved to read and enjoy lit, but didn’t necessarily remember terminology or literary definitions, and had a distaste for excessive analysis, though I recognized it was useful to know what such things as irony were. I appealed to them to protect their time to read, enjoy, learn, internalize lit outside of “class”, where they wouldn’t have to analyze.

This last was such a pleasant day, no testiness, no student angst, everyone treating each other with kindness. I felt spoiled, that I could be of better use where more experience is needed, where I have to rise higher to the occasion. But as for the respect and kindness, epitomized for me in the way the boy with the pink tutu was just one of many people to be friends and colleagues with, to listen to, to collaborate with, I kept thinking, I like this new world. Students were writing bill proposals and at least three had to do with gender non-discrimination. Others about care for the environment, support for the homeless, gun control, silly dress codes. One student wanted to allowing semi-automatic assault rifles, and spent more time scrolling through photos of weapons than using words to intelligently present his view. I gently encouraged him to work on the content before illustrations, asked him what objections he thought people would have to his proposal, and how he planned to counter these. Hoping that the respect he experiences here, and the development of his critical thinking abilities, will be some kind of corrective for his gun love. What is he afraid of?

My favorite moment over he last few weeks was reading Chief Seattle’s speech to three seventh grade classes who had got their assignment done early. They listened–really listened, and engaged, noticed the layers of meaning that were absent in the two sentence summary on the worksheet on the giving over of the land to the whites, the resignation to a life on the reservation. In one class, I made an analogy first–what would you do if you were in your bedroom at home, and your parent came in and told you, in a tone you had not heard before, that you were to give up your room–the new occupant standing just behind–and sleep on the couch, no use arguing. Yes, the passion of youth flared up–refuse! Fight! And why did older folks often not take that approach when there was danger?

Spoke to my son by phone, where he’d visited three campuses in my home province, all alma maters of mine. As I’d expected, he valued the close knit community of two of the campuses, and liked best the one at which I’d spent my best two years–Acadia University. It has a strong program in computer science and education, beautiful campus, and a swim program. Costs half the net price of Whitworth, the private school his grandparents and dad are rooting for, because of their approach to nurturing heart and mind and mentoring students into service. Three others in the running also, U of Northern BC, which has a strong computer science program but a long winter and no pool, and two other private schools, reach schools, that would only be feasible with the right financial package. It will be interesting to see where he gets accepted, and which he chooses. The main considerations are academics, cost, culture, and distance from home, with each interested party listing those in a slightly different order. Then comes applying for more scholarships and a dorm spot, saving money, and starting to process all this emotionally, while I work on his memory albums.




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4 responses to “The pre-launch sequence

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    April 4, 2015 at 5:48 am

    I love how this made me think that my students might not be well taught in the way the piece is suggesting–and that I might be thought of as one of those teachers that doesn’t return graded papers to the students in any sort of timely manner—and so is lacking in a significant regard–so it challenged a paradigm i’ve come to hold about grades and graded papers.

    • toesinthedirt

      April 4, 2015 at 9:14 am

      The girls said this teacher would say he’d get stuff back, or that he’d follow up on a request, but it would take weeks or be completely forgotten or lost, and they wouldn’t know grades until just before his posting due date. I don’t think you could be accused of that insincerity and lack of attention.

      • jdawgsrunningblog

        April 5, 2015 at 7:21 am

        That does sound like a different situation—thank you for that. Good luck to your son.

      • toesinthedirt

        April 6, 2015 at 9:31 am

        Though when I talked to these girls I tried to help them understand the pressures their teacher was under, and how different teachers have different strengths and weaknesses. Always wondering if I can do any better, thankful for having these little insights.


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