Monthly Archives: May 2015

Diving for treasure

All those diamonds released from rings in dishwater from gold clasps not properly maintained, caught in p-traps and eventually shoved down the drain, washed out into hidden channels under ditches. Are they all in the bottoms of aeration pools covered in algae and brown dust. Who is the one who searches them out, and how can they be discovered? A metal detector would not suffice. All just so much midden for some post apocalyptic archaeologist, or a boy swimming in a foothills stream.

Sucked up by a bottom feeding fish, carried away, angular gravel oozing through gut, carried zigzag, undulate, wait, up past bridges and urban trails and malls and farmland, up where the reeds grow and the gravel bottom is softly carpeted with sifted sediment.Deposited in the stream, tumbling down through eddies and washed clean, swept out a wide curve and dropped along a wash where a fly fisher packs up her tackle and wades out for lunch.

Sandwiches and mandarin oranges, a half hour wait to prevent cramps, and the boy is allowed to wade out and splash in the pools of the stream. “Can I use your mask and snorkel, Mom?” Chill water prickles his skin, he slowly lowers, kneels, lies face downward and the underwater world comes into view. Tiny snails clinging to swaying weeds, dappled pebbles, a spongy, sunken log with a shred of plastic waving like a flag.

He finds thatĀ  if he moves the pebbles slowly and waits a few seconds, the mud clears and he can see the ones underneath, sometimes fish eggs clinging. A crayfish darts under the log. A sparkle from the side of his vision, and he curves his body, alligator-like, to look closer, tries to pick it up between two fingers. It drops, drifts, tumbles along the bottom and he loses sight of it. It must be somewhere in front of that group of larger rocks, he thinks, where it’s shadowy, and he wonders how to search without burying it again.

Someone crashes, splashes into the pool, throws their body forward in a starfish landing. The wave tips him over part way, and his elbow hits the pebbles. He pushes himself to his knees, sees his father’s cold-shocked, smiling face, water running off his bangs and drops all through his beard, and the delighted boy leaps and both splash back down.

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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Beautiful Earth


Some days are good days.

“I think you are not unhappy here,” said my next door teacher, an intelligent, soft-spoken physics teacher with a deep appreciation for language—its potential for precision, rich meaning, and play. He doesn’t seem soft spoken due to shyness, but in order to intentionally create a peaceful space for communication. He thinks before he speaks, when he feels he can improve the silence. Another good influence to add to my development as a teacher, along with the youthful, energetic, and always cheerful ways of the teacher I’ve been subbing for while he’s on an eight day travel leave.

The variety of really lovely personalities is continually being revealed as I go through my routines throughout the building–getting my keys from inside the secretary’s office (why can’t all secretaries be like that?), attendance sheets from the office administration assistant, who is always calm, approachable, and organized, a chat with the principal in passing, who thanks me, with genuine feeling, for being there, and the assistant principal, a person of lofty stature who holds himself with a spirit of humility, and, again, approachability.

In the staff lunch room each noon I have chatted with a core of five or six who bring their lunches down–the fellow who works with special ed students is brimming with friendliness and fun, the instructional assistant with deep compassion and patience, the music teacher with a love for quality and ways of causing students to rise to the occasion. These people seem to be happy here too. I sense that they feel useful, working in their gifts and respected for what they do as well as appreciated for who they are. This is a hard job, but maybe this is a place where someone has got your back in it all, and one brings home only the kind of fatigue that is refreshed by food, sleep, and weekends.

The science teacher I worked with before is there today too, and encourages me with word that there are more science positions opening up that she has seen in a while. She has sent in several glowing references on my behalf. She’s another teacher I’d enjoy working with–I’ve seen her in action while I was sitting off in the corner helping grade papers–firm, kind, respectful, enthusiastic, consistent. I feel a little shy around her, perhaps because in some ways she reminds me of me.

Every day I work I add to my vision for how I would set up, organize, and especially–here’s where words fail me–I’m looking for an action verb sort of like “sculpt”, but applicable to the ongoing work of nurturing an essentially positive and ultimately inspiring atmosphere.I mean that–inspiring—where there is a spirit, a breath of something special–learning, knowledge, yes, but of a complex kind, knowable and able to be felt, but not measurable. As my teacher neighbor asked, will they ever realize that so much that is valuable cannot be measured by tests?

Say students like the ones I have right now show up on the first day of my teaching job in the fall. Thirty students, three with very little English, five at risk of complete disengagement for various reasons, one homeless with spotty attendance, ten highly motivated and craving challenge and intellectual connections with teachers and fellow students, four having been told they are smart but afraid of taking risks and making public errors that might contradict that claim and shatter the image, and the usual number of others with no obvious mental “tags” for me such as the previous mentioned ones, but concealing as many wonders, challenges, talents, as the rest. This time as a substitute teacher is in many ways a preparation—I am thankful to have it, as I didn’t in my first job fresh out of school–for that attempt to be useful to students, at the very least, and, at best inspirational. In the words of John Sumarah, one my former professors, it is the apparently unrealistic vision that nevertheless drives me.



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Please remain on the paths, refrain from touching the specimens, and do not remove any material from the site.

I had a waking dream yesterday, and it was about how the role of “teacher” is gone within a generation. Or, at least the kind of teacher commissioned by societies to train and inform the young so their parents and grandparents and older brothers and sisters can go off and build the economy. The specialized instructor such as the athletic trainer, life coach, or the ones who show us how to create hypertufa planters, they’ll always be around in some form or another, but will we really need people like us, people with content knowledge and pedagogical skills, when we’ll have individually customized educational software, virtual reality and computer adaptive testing, all funded by taxes shunted away from the public school system? When society will have been finally convinced that all along the teaching profession was a money grab by backward, rudderless or second career can’t do’s who want summers and holidays off, with cushy benefits and unionized job security on top of that?

The dream came just after my twelve year old son asked for the umpteenth time whether he could have his computer turn yet. I had turned him away with some vague excuse about the beautiful weather and his need to find some creative things to do. Same as I told my other boy years ago when he wanted to watch a video on a sunny day at the age of twelve. Boredom therapy–a waiting that would always end up in discovery and independence. But this time my community has let me down. I changed communities from the independent-minded, culturally rooted, inter generational, simple-living homeschooling community, where a lesson/play date involved swinging, climbing, digging or building forts if the weather was dry, or arts and crafts, reading, board games, or a trip to the museum if it was cold and wet. No heading down to the rec room to check out YouTube videos or joining global game forums like my son’s current school friends have as default mechanisms. And their parents are okay with that. They have organized sports for other times, after all, and isn’t that enough? Who wants a kid dragging dead branches around and messing up the landscape?

In some of the classrooms where I sub the students do all their work on laptops, or type into their phone apps (with furtive forays into online videos and social media sites, expertly timed so mostly undetectable by the “teacher”). Math is a self-teaching series of screens with tiles to drag and drop, multiple choice, immediate gratification and mentally digestible bytes. Language artsĀ  is the reading, highlighting and cutting and pasting of textual evidence. Technology is how to use Microsoft software and write basic code. Will biology and chemistry soon be transformed also? Will there even be a vestige of the elements of natural history in all the data crunching, content-rich video lessons, and online research? How long until each school graduates the last child in the woods, the last young adult to have regularly had a moment alone with her own thoughts?

I have big plans this summer to drag out all the camping stuff we used at our woods property many years back, set up a big tent under a tarp, a place to invite family friends to just to mess around in the woods (with all the basic conveniences like a barbecue, fire pit,a plug in, rinse water, portable toilet and solar shower) try to entice some people away from their WiFi networks to enjoy the unrolling of the hours under the sky, overlooking the sea, alongside the shadows of ferns and animal homes under boulders and logs.


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