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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Under new management

My favorite coffee shop is not making the transition all that well–they were out of most pastries and only had one type of quiche, the internet was slow, the tables were not very clean, and the fire had not been lit. But I was just glad it was open again, so I asked for a rag and offered to get the fire going. I’m sure they’ll get it together–the customers are loyal, and it’s a great atmosphere, with the fireplace, a windowsill for cooling muffins, a vegetable and herb garden along the outside wall, and an attached dance studio/performance space.

At home, I’m turning one third of the household chores over, officially, to my resident son and daughters, which I see as more than fair, as there are three of them and only two of us parents, and now we will all be working. I have been warning them, pleading with them, and finally reinstated a chore chart, in anticipation of my getting a teaching job, but they weren’t convinced of the urgency of transitioning early. Today I was offered and have accepted a just over half time position, taking over the the teaching of two biology classes and one environmental science at our local alternative high school–my dream job. The previous teacher, whom I have only seen in passing as I headed to the job interview the other day, has decided that this position and where she is at right now in life are not compatible.

The interview was relaxed and the scripted questions were interspersed with banter. Joining the principal, were a para-educator, and the secretary/certificated sub/para ( and all around school anchor person, according to a colleague who had worked there before). The principal confessed that he had removed about eighty percent of the questions. Those remaining weren’t particularly evocative. I suspected I was the only candidate, though I did not inquire. In lieu of a portfolio, I had brought snacks–a mix of dried fruit I had produced myself. They joked that the para, hired the year before, had neglected to do that. I could see these were a neat bunch of people–all very different in personality, but cohesive and mutually supportive. In comparison, the three who had interviewed me at a different school weeks back were lackluster.

They turned to the questions on the handout. I didn’t feel very clear in my mind, and what I had wanted to say did not fit the script. The rehearsals¬† with my husband in the days leading up, in contrast, were inspired—for example, how one of my goals as a teacher—here I choked up–was to inspire some of my students, especially those with a different way of viewing the world, and those who knew about hard knocks, to be teachers themselves. How the students in alt ed programs were the ones who had driven the process of creating them, and were to be heartily thanked, not seen as failures. How I am uniquely suited to this position because I am both creative and purpose driven. But my solo monologues in the car got more muddled as the time got nearer, and so I busied myself with other things–getting the house clean for a team dinner, making apple cider, paying bills. Que sera sera.

As I waited to see if I got the job, I didn’t quite know my own mind. Tired from an extra workout, feeling a pain in the neck from using my laptop in bed, doing chores, running errands, wondering when the word would come, and even how I felt. It would be a tough transition, from choosing my days off to mandatory daily work, from following sub plans to scoping out my own from whatever resources were available, sharing a classroom with three other teachers and subjects, and connecting with a classroom full of students who were there because of problems they’d had in the regular school setting. The students themselves would have to process the change, surely wondering why and how it had come about. I felt unfazed by the relationship part—that’s changed for me from the old days—but I would have to be more organized, protect my health and sleep, help my family adjust, get all the paperwork done and be ready to come home and pitch in. And of course–this is a given–I would give it my all, in the way of working smarter (or more wisely), not harder. First year back would not be anything like my crazy first year teaching, but there would be some of the same challenges. One challenge would be to be selective and realistic about the wild, ambitious ideas coursing through my brain about all the field trips, experiments, cool projects, special speakers, and community service opportunities I wanted to do with the students.

It was dinner time when I got home, and I still hadn’t got any calls. Had they seen my letter to the editor on testing opt out and got cold feet? Why would that matter to the staff of this school, of all schools? Then I saw the email offering me the job. I began to know my mind. A sense of gratitude, anticipation, excitement, and peace. My family were all so glad, feeling this really was the right place for me to begin work. While I got my mind around it, and so I wouldn’t rush about filling boxes with stuff to bring to my classroom which there might not be room for anyway, I took on a major apple juicing and canning task. By the time that was done I was ready to make a few prep notes and questions and email all the people who needed or would want to know the news.

I take over Monday, and the principal said he would just pretty much let me alone while I got things started, which I want. I’ll spend time this week meeting other staff, getting paperwork done, planning, organizing, and making more dried apples.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2015 in Education, Places & Experiences

 

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Wow!

A cool position just came up–alternative high school science, a little over half time. Same position that was up at the end of the school year, so apparently their person didn’t work out. I applied, and the principal emailed me the next morning inviting me in for a “very informal” chat. All thoughts of being on someone’s black list slipped away–things are moving again! I called the teacher who had worked there a few years ago, who is also a professional reference, and it turned out she had been trying to call me. She’d got a phone call by that principal, who asked for her opinion, and told him she had no idea why I hadn’t been hired yet, and he should hire me in a heartbeat. You know that expression, “to be humbled”–seems not quite the right one, but you know that flood of thankfulness, of being appreciated, seen as capable and even more. Makes one, yes, feel humbled, not puffed up. I thought, okay, who are you comparing me to, anyway, to see me as such a good candidate? But please keep it up, while I compare myself to the greats, the teachers of the year (whether recognized or not), the ideal in all of the above. Sort of frees one up to aim that high, with some wind beneath one’s wings.

I didn’t prepare. I thought about it, but felt that this was what I wanted to do, and I know why. Don’t need to rehearse, don’t need to do anything but review the names of folks I might meet, think of some questions, and dress for success. So I watched “Much Ado About Nothing” and went to bed.

The meeting was mainly to hear about the school’s philosophy, mission, program, aspirations, and plans. So exciting–they’ve built a community there which is so welcoming and supportive that students want to go there, unlike in the past when the alternative school was considered a sign of student failure or last resort. The team is solid, relatively new but experienced, and transitioning between not having much in the way of lab resources or science curriculum to building a state of the art new facility with a focus on project based learning. There will be a rooftop garden and greenhouses, an aerospace technology workshop, facilities for all the agencies that help support youth at risk, their own gym and theatre. They’ve checked out other project based high schools all over, attended trainings as a staff, and now other local high schools have come to them to find out more about the cool stuff they’re doing. All because these special students didn’t accept, or weren’t able to succeed in, school as usual. They should all personally be told, “Thank you for helping us grow.”

After talking to my biology teacher friend about how shallow and rapid (sounds like a pulse when you have a virus) was her curriculum, I was wondering what i might be getting into in applying to teach high school science. But at this school, the normal is slow, deep, hands on, and creative, which really sounds like my style. They’re even willing to morph the current chemistry into environmental science if the teacher is stronger in that area.

When I got home I told my daughter all about it, and she said she’d known all along that I’d find that kind of job opportunity, and wasn’t worried at all when I didn’t get the other one. So a few more days, an official interview, and I’ll know. Meanwhile, I’ll be re-reading my biology and environmental science texts, and expediting the house projects in anticipation of not having much spare time for that sort of thing.

 
 

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Friday through Sunday as the world turns

I finished out the week with a half day subbing with 7th and 8th graders, starting each class with a solid fifteen minutes of silent reading, then supporting them as they worked on stuff, the first being a reading evaluation, which I figured was some sort of response to what they were reading, but turned out to be a self evaluation rubric on which they ranked their attitudes and proficiency and several other aspects of their reading. That irked me somewhat—another item that I’d be tempted to forego, if it were me teaching, or against the negative effects of which I’d try to immunize them. There was a wee box for their comments on what they were currently reading, which might have some merit, I suppose, if used in some way to deepen their experience. As we finished up the last minute of reading, I asked them, on a whim, to trade books with someone at their table and take a few minutes’ taste of someone else’s literary diet. The boy who worked through a few sentences of my Aldous Huxley novel labored with a perplexed expression.

Tutored for an hour in geometry, with some conversation about “Much Ado about Nothing” and grammar review, then home for supper, picked up some apples fallen from the tree in the back yard, cut some for drying and made a jug of cider. That’s become an evening ritual before bed time–the hum of the juicer and the repetitive motions, sometimes with the companionship and assistance of my twelve year old, is pleasant after a busy day among the young.

Saturday morning I joined a biology/chemistry teacher colleague and helped her get caught up in grading, for which she compensated me, saying it was money well spent for the mental health improvement it provided her. We worked five hours straight, going through three classes of lab books, three lab write ups per student, and poster projects, reading, scoring, adjusting expectations for students with I.E.P’s, taking breaks for tea, fruit, and pastries. So wise, I told her, to ask for help instead of feeling the ever increasing weight of that burden, and knowing students needed to get the feedback before the opportunity to improve the next time around had gone. She’d just changed schools and was using a completely new curriculum, which was being fed to her in chunks with not much lead time, so that tests would come up–with all teachers giving the same one, for which she hadn’t been able to adequately teach all the concepts. At her previous school all the science teachers had been autonomous, though of course sharing materials and a common set of core concepts. Also at the new school there were half the number of long class periods, and the pace was so fast there wasn’t much opportunity for review or to go deeper with concepts and application. Still, she said, “It is what it is, and I’ll learn it.” She has such a desire to serve these students, including a large number of special needs students–nine in one of her class periods!–who learn differently, have limited capacity, or have communication problems. Had to plead for extra support, got some by having the assistant principal observe what was going on in the classroom. I told her I appreciated the work, but had also gained just hanging out with her and hearing her perspective.

She also told me the story of how she had been hired for an additional half time of biology position the previous year at the other school, at the tail end of my subbing for a sick teacher for several weeks, how she had pleaded with the higher ups to hire me for the opening, that she didn’t want the job at substitute rate and I would do a great job. She said they kept calling and texting her until she said she would only take the job if she got the curriculum rate, and so consented and she couldn’t refuse. She said that’s how it works–it’s still cheaper in the long run, and less bother for them, to hire a teacher already in the system than go through all the process to hire someone new. Gave me an idea of the activation energy, the startup costs, in other words, that keep new teachers out of the loop, until demand gets high enough. It was encouraging to hear how she had rooted for me.

That evening I took a few hours to finally watch the presidential candidate debates, was so energized by Bernie Sanders, as was my husband, who rolled up a chair to join me at the computer. We even decided to donate to his campaign, and I started thinking again about going through the citizenship process, just so I could vote for him–that would be four of us. Surprised to read the next day that commentators were declaring Hillary the winner of the debate, but then my son told me that CNN is owned by a company that donates to her campaign. As Bernie said, it will have to be about millions of people coming together to counter the billions of dollars coming from the PACs.

Final item for the weekend was to take a second look at a house that has shown the most promise of satisfying all our main requirements for a new home–not too big to retire in, not too small to fit us all now, a second story of some kind, several acres of land, privacy, garage and shop, a quality, artful house with character and no major work to be done, good enough location, and a decent price. The three kids that live with us all approve, though the oldest said she finally loved her (adapted garage) bedroom and now would have to share or have a smaller space (only for part of a year). My oldest son, away at college now, weighed in that he’d rather come home to a different house than come back to the old one painted a new color he didn’t like (not cheerful enough). Which I thought was interesting–I’d been concerned he’d feel that the rug had been pulled out from under him with this deal. Still lots of conversations to be had–what rooms would be used for what, which would be temporary bedrooms when the kids were home for the season or we had visitors, where all our books, now in storage, would go, where I’d do my sewing, whether the much smaller kitchen was adequate, and where the barn, with a welding area and foundry, would go. And how to do the money thing–sell our house, or take a risk with a bigger loan and make it a rental to preserve as a retirement investment. Our realtor advised us to consider that rather than selling, which is a credit to her integrity and good will, since she’d lose revenue by that option.

Down side is that it’s not easy to bike or walk that busy road and the ones it’s connected to, no fence yet to keep in the dogs, and the small kitchen. But somehow, as I just love the house, and know how rare such a thing is, having kept my eyes open for years, those things just don’t seem to matter.

 

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No deal

I get the call while I’m tutoring a student in geometry, tell him I’d have to take it, as it’s about a teaching job. The principal thanks me for applying and says they’ve chosen another candidate; she has a stronger knowledge of content. Assuming that would be earth and space science, as I had unwisely confessed that those were not my best areas, compared to biology and chemistry. Not that 6th grade geology and astronomy is rocket science anyway–simpler than biology and ecology at least at that level–all gravity, heat and tectonic plate movement and barely a mention of dark matter and neutrinos–nothing I can’t teach very well, thank you very much. Which is more like what I’ll say next time. As I hang up I feel a heaviness somewhere in my gut, but it helps to keep on going through the geometry screens with my student, let it go for now. Make an appointment with your grief, the counselor said, that time.

Driving home, I am feeling small, past my prime, and a little angry. Consoling myself that surely they really have found someone better, knowing there are lots, after all. Suspecting that I got Googled and found out about my expressed opinions about the Smarter Balances standardized tests. Wanting to accept the stated reason, still. Also reminding myself that I wouldn’t have to commute or move to another county just yet, that the property we were looking at was looking like an even better prospect. I role play in my mind as I drive, requesting a followup chat, asking what in particular made them decide I was not a good fit…anything in particular, anything at all? And then going to the HR department of my own district and asking the same question, about not being selected for an interview for any of the science or math positions for which I had applied. Had the vetting process been impartial and fair? And if so, I’d appreciate some insights, please, some suggestions as to how I could improve my qualifications, besides more experience and references from administrators.

But I’m not very good at maintaining a fighting spirit, for myself, anyway.

I pick up my library holds and head over to the track to watch my youngest son do his shot put. He’s little, feels he’s not good at anything, but keeps up a cheerful banter with his friend in the lineup and does his best. Seems at the moment unfazed that his less developed arms can only put fourteen feet, while the girls and older boys are putting balls out to the twenties. On the way home I encourage him to enter more events, maybe running too, and as usual we get into an argument because he says he’s no good at it, and I say you can’t improve without the work, adding Grandpa’s comment that he has good running form. But he won’t listen, and I’m not really listening either. I know that he’s likely to become a big, strong guy in not very many years, and want him to keep his hand in the game, learn all he can, keep his options open, get used to the discipline and effort and all that, build character.

Can I really be a teacher? I can’t even influence my own kids, get them to learn a can-do attitude, to pick up after themselves, and grasp what goes into the compost and what’s garbage. But then family’s like that. Some things take a generation. I can do this. If I can just master the art of the interview, in its current form.

I forget to get milk from the corner gas station, drive on autopilot along the bay, across the bridge and home. Pulling into the driveway, I think at least my house looks sleek and professional, in its new dark paint with cream trim. The yellow was cheerful, but outdated. My boy has scampered into the house. I sigh, maneuver out of the seat, shouldering my teacher tote, laptop bag, purse, and travel mug, head into the house. The house I’m tired of fixing up, keeping up, having nowhere to escape the T.V. or do any sewing, and where everyone just leaves their breakfast mess and takes off in the morning. Laundry piling up, dog fur on the couch, broken oven… Realize I’d better have some down time, or someone was going to get chewed out. Not in a good frame of mind to tackle home management problems and assign chore duties. Still, I remember that my daughter has asked me to extend a dress for homecoming, and it has to be done that night. I set up the serger, do the first part, but she’d not home to try it on–out at a game with a friend.

Dinner is a salad from the garden and oven chicken strips from the frozen food section—I had to call home an hour ahead to have someone pre-heat the failing oven. I growl at everyone that this is a sit down meal, so they’d better come, and wait until everyone is there. I’m not very good at making family meals happen any more. As we dish up, my husband tries to console me about not getting the job, reminds me that it takes more than one interview, that it’s probably for the best, thanks me for the wonderful dinner. But I feel prickly still. The fact that everyone bolts after eating, one to do homework, one to watch the game, one to take a shower, doesn’t help. For some reason no one wants to linger to help clear the table.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2015 in Places & Experiences

 

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It’s never too late for a literature virgin

What a fine thing that I never studied English literature beyond high school. It was a slog just to get through that, and after tenth grade I refused to take honors English, because there, not only was one told what to read and write and by when, but there was a greater quantity of both!

And so when I went to university, formal English Lit had made very little impression on me. All that lingered was a few Shakespeare soliloquies and the definition (and spelling) of soliloquy. In college I had a few friends who were majoring in English, but I really couldn’t understand why, at the time. It turned out that one became an actor and the other an English teacher. So I really can’t blame them. And I understand now that they were ready and willing at that young age, while it took me another twenty years to want to take college English. I even managed to side-step the college first year “writing requirement” class—usually English—by taking a German class with a once-a-month off-the-top-of-your-head one hour essay on one’s choice of a list of topics. My favorite kind! I’m sure you couldn’t get away with that now.

It’s not that I didn’t like to read or write. On the contrary, I did so voraciously, since my love for the Word survived those few years of formal study intact. I’d go to the college bookstore and pick things out of stacks for courses I wasn’t takingnot being required to read them made them even more attractive. I went to second hand bookstores, book fairs and tables, wandered outside of my major’s zone in the library stacks. I read with attention, to enjoy and learn, not to highlight, memorize, critique or dissect. I sometimes neglected my lab write ups, stayed up too late reading other things, and spend too much on books. On holidays I started to pay more attention to my parents’ library, beyond stringing the titles together to make funny sentences, and asked Dad for recommendations.

It was a happy alternative to the kind of analysis English majors have to do. Seems now to me that most are too young then to have much of the life experience to really see what’s there, what themes one lives and conflicts arise worthy of literary interpretation. They should just be absorbing, offering commentary only when they feel like it.

I still enjoy a sense of wonder, sometimes warming, sometimes joyful, sometimes piercing, in reading. Especially when I rediscover thoughts penned decades (Huxley’s After Many a Summer Dies the Swan), centuries (George Eliot’s Romola), even millennia (Plato’s Republic) ago that are so timely, fresh, and relevant they could have been written yesterday. When I think of this generation missing that because of much readier and more entrapping entertainments, I want to stand on a high school cafeteria table and exhort everyone to Repent and Return to the Word!

My ignorance has often led me in interesting directions. Other than following up on recommendations that arise from a great conversation or a previous book, one of my favorite methods for finding new material is to randomly peruse the library stack. Bookstores are great, but expensive, and are intent on moving the product, so have to get a bit “in your face” with displays of the newest stuff, the best sellers. I guess there’s some validity to choosing from best seller lists, a bit more than in the realm of grocery shopping or Christmas gifts, but I’ve never been keen on trusting Most People, even Most Readers.

I’m not really against studying English literature–all this is meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Somewhat. One ought to do formal studies carefully, especially when young, preserving one’s sense of wonder, one’s right to enjoy and learn from and share independent of course requirements.

It occurs to me that this sounds lie the warning on-fire believers give to seminary students–don’t let the love become merely academic. Also of the envy “believers from birth” feel at the wonder they see in those encountering the Word for the first time.

Maybe there’s hope in that thought—that some day there will be a longing, a Word-shaped vacuum waiting to be filled, in this generation as they grow older and sense a gnawing emptiness in a lifestyle of regurgitation of online content where nothing turns out to be new under the sun. Might they rediscover of how smart writers of old were, how beautiful their language and enjoyable to decipher, and how enriching for the soul, for the mind, for the community to become a self-motivated student of those literary arts once again?

 

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A serious possibility of a teaching job

Friday was a big day for me–my first job interview in over twenty years, except for one minor one in a side line area where they hired someone vastly more qualified. This one I felt pretty ready for, as if I could do a good turn there. I made copious notes answering the anticipated questions, practiced with family members—including goofy versions. Tried not to overthink, and just concentrate on storing the main points that would show them what they would be getting if they hired me. It’s a half time middle school science position, perfect, I think, for the year in which I would begin having my own classes again, to ease into things. Too bad about the half hour commute, but there’s the possibility of moving there if it turned into something long term. I would definitely want to learn Spanish, including formal studies and a summer immersion experience–the student body is 60% Hispanic, way above average even for this area of Washington. Lots of of migrant kids, most of whom, they told me are in some stage of getting up to middle school level in English, about a quarter at the very beginning. Going for me is that I get what it feels like to be learning and trying to function in a new language, so I wouldn’t be raising my voice to anyone who doesn’t understand me, but trying to find translations, using creative non-verbal communication, prepping lessons as bilingually as I can, and helping students build up their classroom and science vocabularies. Main weakness: Yes, I’m not yet fluent in Spanish. Strengths? I learn fast, especially by necessity.

Met with the principal and assistant principal, who were male, and two female teachers, in the conference room, I at one end the principal at the other, Principal a businesslike, administrative type, assistant a smiling, relational type who nodded encouragingly when I said appropriate things and took the time to chat afterward. The two teachers just listened and wrote mostly–everyone took down my answers to the questions we all had on a handout, and would be ranking by desired elements of content, I gather. Proprietary material, said the principal, when I was about to fold mine and tuck it in my bag after the interview.

Took about a half hour, but most of the time I made sense. I thought of some perfect responses afterwards, such as the story about the student who came in ready to defy every command, and by the end of class had done his work and referred to me as a “homie”. That would have been a good response to three of the questions: What do students say about you, What would you do if a student refused to do an assignment, and what’s your approach to student discipline. I talked about listening, appealing to a student’s desire to do what would benefit them, and respecting a student’s right to choose.

I wish I hadn’t voiced concern about security of student data with the use of Google Chromebooks, that I’d had more ready knowledge of the “big ideas” of Earth and space science, and knew more about accommodating special education students, and remembered all I’d meant to say, but over all I think I’m still in the running. The job would be would be a challenge for sure, but that’s what I want. Hours are all day every second day, long class periods, which would fit in well with the rest of my life, and give good opportunities for in depth science inquiries. Then the opportunity to be in a mild form of Spanish immersion, the best way to seed the brain for learning oral language, and tell it to shelve the French and Hebrew so it won’t pop out in the middle of efforts to speak Spanish, which tends to happen now.

Okay, I might not get it–I have no idea how many candidates there are, nor their qualifications. I’m okay with that, because at least I finally got an interview. Should hear back in one to two days, so I’ll wait until then to go dig out my favorite science and classroom supplies.

 

 

 
 

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“When you use Google services, you trust us with your information.”

Google privacy policy. Here I am again at the hurdle I have so far refused to jump, of, more aptly, the hoop I have refused to go through. Thought I could download an app from Verizon called Family Base which gives parents control over their children’s use of the internet and apps, allows them to turn access on and off, create a schedule, curfews, etc. All for the good of the children, to follow up on research that shows that too much screen time decreases their ability to concentrate, makes them read less, interferes with their sleep, and so on. The protections against cyber bullying and access to developmentally inappropriate or generally inappropriate content being a part of that, in case trust and integrity in those areas lags.

But to get the app, even for the free one month trial, I need to have and register a Google account, which means giving Google access to more information about me and everyone connected with me than I want. Always it comes down to that, and there isn’t an app to deal with it.

I share my dilemma and objections to my loved ones, who are in the living room watching a football game and the advertisements (which are now as entertaining as the game, if not more, so why bother with leaving to get a bite to eat or change over a load of laundry?). I get an annoyed look from my daughter, who suggests I drop it and get over it. My response is that smarter people than I objecting who have objected to what “everyone else” was doing had been told exactly the same thing, but they’d gone on to change the world, so why should I listen now? You can’t change the world, Mom. No, not by myself, I answer, but why not try, and see who might be interested in helping? How about coming alongside those who see the danger, and help them change the world for the better, or at least slow its slide toward chaos or bondage?

Back to the privacy policy. I’ve never read the whole thing before–never had to, before a blatant breech of privacy rights was named as part of the agreement. All in terms like, “We collect information to provide better services to all our users” and even “”like which ads you’ll find most useful [definition of ‘useful,’ please?], the people who matter most to you online [Celebrities? Candidates? Relatives? Political dissidents? Religious leaders? Thinkers, writers and activists who threaten the power of the corporations?]

Info Google lists as collectibles (some optional, but required for enhanced access to services):

  • Name, email address, phone number, credit card information
  • Google profile with name and photo (Google may use face recognition on all posted photos and analyze associated info)
  • What you look at, how often, and for how long
  • What you search for online
  • Information about your device, including unique device identifiers
  • Whom you call, when, types of calls, locations, and duration
  • Your location, by using IP address, GPS, other sensors, Wifi network and cell towers used
  • Information on how you use your computer (by means of cookies, pixel tags, etc.)
  • Detailed information on how you use your device, including apps and online sites, by complex analytics programs (Google Analytics, etc.) that accurately infer more about who you are, what you think, how you feel, what is going on in your life, and how you are likely to or can be induced to think and act in the future. This information is sold to other customers for their own purposes, leaked by hacking, and/or yielded to government intelligence agencies on demand. Also may be published for purposes of advertising services and products of Google and/or its business customers, with your photograph
  • Contents of your emails

All information collected may be processed outside the country

How to limit the collection of this info:

  • By not using the internet for searches or viewing content
  • Not sharing information with others using your electronic devices
  • Not clicking “Like”

Google concludes, in large print:

“We keep you personal information private and safe — and put you in control.”

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Culture & Society, Technology

 

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