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Category Archives: Personal Growth

End of summer regrets and anticipations

I’m going to try to get at the root of my feelings here. I’ll have to part the complicated net of stress about various things–starting a new teaching job, not having done enough planning for the time I have left before classes start, wondering whether I will make some new friends there, if the commute will bother me much. Put aside my sense of regret at not having the time I wanted for concentrating on my two youngest children’s journey and growth, or my own projects. A sense of loss at having had to say goodbye to the school I so enjoyed working at last year.

I’ll have to brush away the awareness of my diminished energy as I age, the early signals of impending menopause. Have to put aside the sense of sadness about saying goodbye to my two oldest children as they head off to college, and the sad changes in my extended family that have begun to occur more frequently. The awareness of a need to process with my mate some of the conflicts and negative patterns that we have developed so that we can head into this new phase in the right spirit.

And now, just as I have come to place where I should start the paragraph about why I am motivated to teach after all, restoring my sense of purpose and vision, I have succeeded in disheartening myself. I have created a picture in which I am turning my back on the duties, delights and calling of my own abode to serve other families’ children in the “greater society.” And so ultimately I reveal my bias that deep down I feel that charity begins at home. But apparently I also believe if that charity is hard to muster or is not received in the way I am able to offer it, or if one has to lay up a bigger nest egg or refine marketable skills, then it’s time to go out and get a job. It’s good for a home maker to get out there and broaden her horizons, to see what she can do, to be recognized, paid for once, for her skills and service. To meet new people, try new things. And, they say, it’s good for the kids to see that you’re not just a mother, wife, home maker, domestic engineer. That you “have a life” outside raising them.

Yesterday afternoon my husband helped me put together the new cider press I bought. It sits in the living room, a handsome classic in wood and cast iron, ready to grind and juice the harvest of apples I have grown or got permission to glean.

On the floor in the kitchen sits my canning pot and two boxes of jars and lids, ready to hold sauce made from two large bowls of fresh tomatoes on the counter. Outside the basil is ready to pick and dry, the savory and onion seedlings ready to plant.

In the garage I have stored the parts of a chair I refinished and the pillows I recovered, needing a few day of labor to finish up repairs and reassemble. Also there is a laundry plunger, which I had planned to use to set up a non-electric laundry system that would get our things much cleaner than the half-hearted tumbling actions of our handsome new front loader from the big box store. My sewing and craft supplies are stored there, too, not used except in cases of necessity.

I have ideas for a writing project, a yard redo, a bicycle storage shed, an organic permaculture expansion. Somewhere I stored away my daughter’s partially finished quilt, and fabric for projects I was going to do with the kids to teach them to sew.

Out of my office window (I have to vacate in a few weeks) I see a father and small son heading past the dock on a standup paddle board. I bought one of those, too this spring, and have not yet found the time to use it. Since my foot and knee started complaining, I have been hoping to transition to more water based exercise and cycling. Last week my husband was urging me to shop for bicycles now that they are on sale, knowing mine is shot and that I’d wanted to ditch the car for a good commuter bike when I had the chance. I had to tell him it’s still not practical, since we have no bike storage, and now my job is twenty miles away up a busy route.

Outside in the boat repair yard I spy a woman sitting on her dry docked sail boat taking a break. She drove here to be by herself and decided it’s better to sit on a boat in a parking lot than wait months for the time and money to repair it and get it on the water. It’s a Sunday, and I think she expected to have privacy, to be able to feel the sea breeze, hear the lines snapping and gulls cry while she collected her thoughts, or let them go.

Let them go. Let it be. See the positive. The medicine for my soul’s illness I can find within. God is in control, and in all things he works for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Look on the bright side. Stop it, in other words.

I can do that. I have this sad ability to switch off certain emotions if I decide that they are processing badly. Not sure where they go, but I can suddenly stow them away and apparently move on. It’s been good to get them out there, and maybe that’s part of the coming to terms.

On to what I hope to accomplish this year, so as to begin with the end in mind.

The teaching of math part really doesn’t grab me, I’ll have to admit. So in my math classes, other than to help the students get the grounding and practice they need, I just want to help them get along and to know that they are valuable and important, part of a community, responsible for their own success. My job is to stay a few steps ahead, come up with various ways to teach to various students, and have a management system in place that helps them pace themselves as they get the work done at school and at home.

Preparing to teach biology (two classes) and environmental science (one) are absorbing much more of my time and energy. This is where I’d like to make a long term impact. I hope to instill/nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about life, a good understanding of how living systems work and how science works, what questions we should pursue and how, and how useful science can be to help humans make decisions about how we live personally and organize our economic, social and industrial activities on this planet. I want them to understand that technology has no merit in itself, that it is how we adapt, whether poorly or well, to the realities as we understand. I want them to see the big picture, to get a sense of the possible philosophies that can drive scientific inquiry and technological innovation. I want them to choose quality, equity, justice, love, whether they go into agriculture, nursing, journalism, or management.

And so, writing this out was helpful after all, and has sort of a happy ending, all things considered, some more than others.

 

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It may be just wind, but listen closely and those molecules are smashing into each other–can’t you hear them?

I had just read Ben Hewitt’s post “Done in Silence” when my thirteen-year old son burst on the scene.”Mom! I was thinking, I’ve earned $25 from my work so far and I do have enough money to buy —– (a computer game he wants to play online with friends) after all, so..”

I had turned to listen but was struggling to gain purchase on the concepts he was on about. I interrupted him, “J, remember I’ve told you to give a few seconds after you come into a room before launching into something you want to say?”

“Oh yeah.” He breathed in once, out once.

By this time I had a sense of the topic at least. “I also want you to know that I just finished reading a good blog post on how destructive it is to allow children easy access to screen time.”

His mouth curved up on one side, he nodded once, and turned. “I’ll tell you about it later,” he said.

Because I’d stayed up trying to organize photos from my recent trip across Canada with my daughter, I got up a little later than has been my habit lately. As usual I hung a cut out milk jug berry bucket around my neck, went to the garden and picked my granola toppings, allowing my mind time to awaken, or maybe to linger between sleeping and awake, as I let my feet feel the hard, dry lumpy ground of the dormant lawn, stepped around recent dog droppings, felt a rising wind lift the bean leaves, saw and heard a hawk hunting for birds among the neighborhood evergreens. After enjoying my bowl of granola, yogurt and berries, I pruned some branches overhanging my compost pile and shed, pulled a few weeds from the soft soil of a raised bed. Beets swelling, beans appearing, tomatoes and late raspberries ripening, apple trees sending out new shoots. Always things are growing. I laid the pruned branches in an out of the way corner, weeds on the compost pile with lawn clippings and kitchen scraps. Always things are breaking down, cycling back. Some fast, some slowly.

When I came back to the compost pile a few minutes later, a sleek brown rat scurried away under the shed. Must do something about the rats, even though I think they are handsome and admire their intelligence and personality. But for the soft brown coat, they look and act the same as the pets rats we loved years ago. But the neighbors would not agree. The rats do not compete with us for resources, as long as I keep the bone meal and seeds secured, but I suppose I should at least keep the family from growing. I made a half hearted mental note to find the snap trap and plan a humane execution. But if I find a nest of young’uns under the shed when we move it, well, we haven’t had a pet rat in a while, and the girls were crooning over the cute ones they saw in the pet store while we were waiting for a triple-A tow yesterday…

This time I had only a half hour to myself. My husband tends to launch onto the scene without warning, and I have found that an hour or two of quiet is good preparation. He lies in bed after waking up, gathers the threads of thoughts freed by sleep and coalescing at the surface, get a good mental steam up, and then out he comes. with his project plan or solution to a problem, or viewpoint on a current controversy. Like father, like son. Lately there are the projects we’re working on–leveling ground for a fence replacement, deciding how to rearrange the shrubs come rainy season, carting the wood chips from the two fir trees we had cut down, talking out plans for our careers. Will I take the job offered to me lFriday, or should I wait and for something more mainstream in my own district? When will we be ready for him to transition away from working for T-Mobile, coding for a throw-away culture, solving problems in cash flow for a large corporation, and grow our own software consulting business?

We’ve been asking these questions for years. And the one about whether we will stay at this house and put some more work into it, or seriously seek a different property. I told my husband that I have decided in any case to treat this house as the one we’re going to be living in for the foreseeable future. So I planted apple trees, long delayed, raspberries and blackberries, and have drawn up a design for the expansion of the garden and addition of a working studio/bike storage building and a tea house, to be built mostly from ReStore materials and in my spare time. In my experience, I become something close to depressed when I just wait and see and stop making a home where I’m at. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I left Better Homes and Gardens behind long ago, and ignore or scoff at the new local mags that feature interiors and improvements designed for the market and marketers who advertise in those same pages, rather than a real life.

It was good to visit the homes of my family members in that regard, for a reality check. My Ontario brother bought his place for the land and improved the house and interior with his own hands, built a hen house and greenhouse (in addition to a bat hotel). It’s heated by wood from his lot, and very little garbage is generated there. My Montreal sister rents whatever works for commuting by metro to her job and church and her modest shopping needs, and is most happy with the sound of the wind in the maple tree outside her apartment. My younger brother rents a one bedroom and seems content with his parking attendant job. My other sister and brother-in-law have improved the water tightness and livability of a house he bought for himself at a price that he could pay off quickly and so bed free from the soul-killing software industry he was part of. A wall down here to make a more open living room, an extra beam and dormer to tuck a loft up into the attic, and the whole lower floor for his mom and stepdad to enjoy until they didn’t need it any more. Meanwhile it’s cozy and full of personality, the plumbing works, meals are eaten at the living room coffee table or at the picnic table outside, and the flat is a haven for musicians and other friends from the city and beyond.

Mom and Dad’s “vacation home” is a small centuries old house typical of the village of Crow Head, Newfoundland –low ceilinged (people were shorter then), recently added flush toilet, no insulation, and a gorgeous Atlantic Ocean view almost completely cut off by the grassy root cellar mound and storage shed. The local carpenter replaced the drafty windows and added a painting studio, and Mom has pinned up her quilts, calendar and quilt magazine pages, and a Blue Rodeo poster. Back in their home in Nova Scotia, the farmhouse bought from the farmer next door, the wood stove, insulation, and garden are better, but again it’s a place to make and remember a life, not a showcase.The home is centered around creative activity, art, literature, and visitors (which include animals).

I came back from that trip and told my husband that I definitely didn’t want to pay for anything fancier than we needed. The rickety, low ceilinged place right by the lake would do, as would the fixer upper with seven acres. It was all a matter of perspective. Then why didn’t I like our own house? He wondered. I wonder it, too, but I think it has to do with the room configuration, in which I can’t seem to find a place to be creative, or a place that is truly visitor-friendly. It never, ever felt like the one to settle down in, though the neighborhood and proximity to the pool has been great, as has the large back yard. But I just want to finish up the seemingly never ending fixes and slight adjustments, painting and refinishing, never really making the changes this badly laid out house needs.

No, this is not a post in which I appear to come to terms with everything and find all kinds of reasons to be thankful. Truth is I’m heartsick, fed up, sick and tired of living in a house in which I can’t start a creative project, have no privacy, and my kids don’t feel comfortable having their friends over, ’cause there’s no place to hang out, no nooks that aren’t constantly needed for the main themes of household life. We designed an addition and backed out, had a consultation with builders and let the email checkins trail off. I dreamed of a loft above the garage, stairs up to an upstairs craft room and office, a studio in the back corner of the yard. I teased that we could rent a Simple Box or buy a camper trailer for some extra room. All I managed to do was rent an office around the other side of the bay. This has been good, but looks like the regular tenant needs it back in a few weeks. It’s full of my boxes of sewing supplies and my two machines, but all I’ve managed to make is a really nice pot holder. I’d wanted to finally finish my daughter’s quilt, started almost ten years ago, and I don’t even know where the hell it is, between stashing things in the storage unit, on top of and underneath appliances and in various crevices and crannies.

The bad news is, now that a second child is off to college and there will technically be “room” enough, we might get stuck here forever. I did say that I’d regard that as a given, so I could have a purpose to make improvements as well as permission to stop aspiring to the impossible, but to really act like I’m grounded, I’d have to set up and take on some projects that my husband didn’t sign on for. He keeps saying that we just want to finish things up to sell, but the timeline never comes to a head, and here we still are, on our third realtor, years of open houses and  web searches and special viewings and watching the interest rates and bubbling, no closer to needing those piles of moving boxes I stored, which are now smelling pretty musty. There will be no welcoming international student friends of our kids into the guest room or hosting exchange students, no fostering needy children, no running summer workshops in canning or winter book clubs.

They say anger is helpful, because it helps one recognize that there’s a problem. I get angriest when I am not obeying my conscience or am failing to act like a free agent with real needs. For not calmly insisting that others recognize and take my needs seriously (once I know what they are, which is sometimes just a best guess) if they truly want to maintain the relationship. Oh God, now I think I’m getting somewhere.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2016 in Personal Growth, Relationships

 

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Ontario Part II

My daughter and I have been away from home just over two weeks now. She’s a wonderful traveling companion, and a credit to her people, as they say. Just came from my parents’ little house in Crow’s Head near Twillingate on the north side of Newfoundland, where we spent a few days. Before that we stayed with my youngest sister and bro-in-law in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before that my other younger sister in Montreal. We’re taking a small breather at a B&B in Gander, NL before flying out to Winnipeg early tomorrow morning.

My brother and sister-in-law said goodbye to us in Kingston, Ontario, seeing us off by train for the almost three hour ride to Montreal. Just enough time for a good visit it was. Heather gave us a driving tour around town and took us out to lunch, all the while making my eighteen-year-old daughter feel thoroughly at ease and appreciated. Heather is tall and beautiful at fifty, and has that personality we in our family refer to as “mercy,” where her motivation for all she does is rooted in a desire to make others feel cared for. Every little touch to make us feel at home in their place was there–soft towels, toiletries obviously for using, half a dozen soft pillows each, both quiet time and companionship, attentive and interesting conversation, genuine words of affirmation.

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My brother is also a good host, but in a different way, his own way. He kept us active–took us out to see his goats and chickens, with eggs in incubation, and to the pond to look for water snakes. No snakes, but we did come upon thousands of tiny toads, so many that we had to walk farther away from the water’s edge to avoid stepping on them. So tiny and perfect, hopping like small crickets toward the water in waves as we passed.IMG_5610 (1)

We went with him on a hike at Dunder Rock with his dog Jack, hoping to see a corn snake, a large one having bee seen by several others in the area. Matt shook his head to see others’  dogs off leash, which would effectively prevent such a sighting. Most owners never even realize what their dogs are bothering or killing up ahead, he said, just want them to be free and happy. But they kill snakes, among other things.

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We stood and felt the height and cool breezes, watched resident turkey vultures and took some photos. After working up a sweat on the way down we eased down a rocky bank into the lake, delicious cool water but not too cold. Then back home for another array of salads and whole grain bread and cheese. We talked a little about teaching, but only slantwise and reverently, of the attachment one feels with students, the fulfillment of helping them understand, appreciate and care for this wonderful world.

On Canada Day Matt took us into Seeley’s Bay, the local village, where we caught, or rather joined by mistake, the tail end of the parade, walked around town, Matt recognized by various locals young and old and exhibiting his characteristic plain charm. In the ice cream and souvenir store he plunked down beside the owner for a chat, and soon came around to the question of whether she needed more stock of his handmade bat houses. His summer work includes humanely extricating bat colonies from attics and outbuildings and providing new quarters. Mostly these are small boxes of barn boards, erected on poles or building exteriors, but last year he built the miniature house, a bat mansion, mentioned in a recent post. We checked stand found some evidence of bat visitation–the crumbly droppings made of insect exoskeletons excreted by local brown bats.

The last evening we played Blokus, which brought out the playful teasing that Heather and Matt enjoy, him being always competitive, which tends to make everyone else, even Heather, want to gang up on him. Later Heather and I talked about that competitiveness, where it came from and its positive and negative sides. Came up again when talking to my brother-in-law on our visit to Halifax too. Matt loves to win when there’s a game on, and excel when it’s time to get to work. As well as being a well-loved teacher (Heather tells of numerous parents and students who take biology just to be in his class, and students who hate science coming out wanting to pursue it in college), he’s skilled in construction, woodworking, gardening, riding, athletics, art, and music. He’s pretty much self-taught. Indeed, Heather and I agreed, he doesn’t like to be taught or acknowledge others to be more expert than himself unless absolutely necessary. This is a quality that shows itself in various members of my family. Yes, this is really about me. So much easier to be bothered by my flaws when they are reflected by others. So this family tour is not only a way to reconnect, but to understand and improve myself. My daughter gives lots of good insight there, too, and has a fresh perspective that’s enough removed from the generational hangups to enable me to be more open.

Heather drive us to the rain station on her way to her vet clinic the next morning for the ride to Montreal.

 

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Landing at the landing – a room of my own

Here I am in my own little office, which the Master of the Universe has seen fit to provide me on such short notice. That is, when I was willing to do my part in a serious way, instead of just whining. It was a minimal part, if I don’t count all the mental and emotional preparation. All I did was look on Craigslist for something under a certain price of a certain size, and found a little artist studio on the wharf, to be vacated the next day by the local writer for the summer, terms casual and by trust, furnished and with a view of boats and a bit of harbor. I got the keys the next day from a man who reminded me of a slightly younger version of my father, also a writer of folk history.

I’m looking out at the forested hills of my town, university at ten o’clock, downtown seven o’clock, and a 360 degree foreground of dry docked boats, cranes, and shipping containers, with the demolished pulp and paper plant, a sliver of bay, and islands behind that. Seagulls and the clinking of cables against masts penetrate the silence of my nest. Out in the hall a little old tea table has been set on the worn carpet, where young artists have lined the walls with their work. All for under $200 a month, and I am told it is safe but just keep the front door locked so the homeless won’t camp in the downstairs lounge, because we can’t always tell them from the tenants.

I didn’t even know the place was here–just another dead end off the main, but now I have a key and a parking space. The regular tenant has placed a recliner on a pedestal behind the desk for better viewing of the scenery. I took a nap there yesterday.

I didn’t get the job that opened up at my school for next year. Full time, at least four preps biology, a second science, and two electives–a very heavy load, but that’s how it is at a small school, especially for new teachers.

At first I took it well. The principal was kind and affirming in telling me, and I had prepared myself with the understanding that they really wanted a more technical person, who could teach robotics and programming–that’s the drive now, where the money is, and does interest most students more than biology and environmental science. So that was best for the students, after all. I also was concerned about the many preps–two being a lot of work, let alone four or five. I would probably have taught health/nutrition, and offered a number of others as possibilities–a course of real life living skills that used to be known as home economics, a marine biology, horticulture, animal physiology.I was prepared to work several hours a day all summer to lay out the plans. I love that kind of work, truly energizing and a good use of my background and talents.

But they found just the person they needed, with career and technical (CTE) certification and robotics experience, and so I am free. I’m happy to have most of a year’s extra experience in the classroom, at this school in particular, with all the training in project based learning (PBL) and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

The next day our offer on a house we, I especially, had hoped to buy, fell through. The owner is still over valuing it for its condition, so we let it go. “Just be patient,” said our realtor, “The right house will come along.” She felt it was a wise decision, which really is a credit to her, who has been on this journey with us for over a year without any sign of impatience herself at no commission.

So I’m grieving both losses, even as I am glad to have my new office, eat fresh spinach from my garden and see the apples swell on my young trees, see the kids all getting along reasonable well though cramped in our little house without enough beds or dressers. And we all have our health.

I warned my husband, half jokingly, that if we weren’t buying a house yet, I would have to take steps to improve the space we are in now, treat it as if it were long term, because it was always turning out that way, though we were still using hand me down and second hand furniture. He felt for me, knowing I have wanted to either add on or move for years, and something always prevents that. I’m trying to embrace the opportunity to grow from it, and grow closer to him rather than the “dream.” I also choose acknowledge my need to switch things up, though in more subtle ways—a color update for the living room, perhaps, or on the more ambitious side, an addition of a bike garage so I can get a commuter and keep it out of the weather.

I feel superfluous. From my education system, from my home, from the decision making framework about my home. I know it’s just a way of thinking, and could lead me into actually being superfluous. Mindset and vision and positive action being the thing, as I try to teach my life-weary students. Yes, you can make a difference! You must, the alternative, as I said before, being to horrible to contemplate. And so the teacher must learn to be the free agent she urges her students to be, master of my fate, in charge of my choices, informed by feelings and circumstances, not controlled. Don’t you think?

 

 

 

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Tikkun olam

Here I am, still losing my religion. I had a flicker of hope, though, that it might be in order to find to again, and a feeling that a this point at least it’s not about any leap of faith or girding up of loins, but a kind of waiting, watching, and calling up of the bare bones essential truth of what I still believe.

I’m among believers at my work place–maybe about half, I’m guessing, though there’s not much mention of that, as per the Separation. Anyway, their best way of bearing witness is in the love they bear toward the least of these. I’ve come around to that after all, Dad.

A few days ago I had the privilege of witnessing something beautiful–a brief interaction between one of my students from last quarter, one of a set of twins that are carrying the weight of virtual homelessness, and the counselor. The girl finishes school each day wondering how she’ll get a drive to the place where her nearest relative is crashing, how may people she’ll have to call, whether she has a friend in the world. Also wondering how her court case will shake out, whether there will be jail time for her soon.

She was heading out of the office, and the counselor reached out with her name and a few words–I could tell it was just another part of a long effort in the same direction, to once again offer good wishes and a tone of real compassion, in case she could believe it this time. Her usually frowning countenance heard it, and also from the principal, who was there too seeing her off, and she kind of softened, took it in, as she turned to head out the door.

I notice a lot of that sort of thing around here, and it’s softening me, too. Staff catching up on news of this or that former student, whether happy in a good job or showing up on the jail report again. Talk of former students who can hardly wait until they’re twenty-one, or five years out of school, to be Facebook friends with the teachers who had their back when times were rough.

Now that I feel accepted by the students and no longer viewed with suspicion, as possibly one who might not “get” them, or might abandon them as some felt the previous teacher did, there’s more of an opening for me to give off that kind of warmth too. I don’t want to take that for granted, or offer anything that isn’t genuine. I’ve made lots of mistakes already from ignorance and lack of experience, or from wearing a mask to hide my own insecurity. Here’s to being a channel of the divine peace.

 

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Since the alternative is too dreadful to contemplate, I shall believe in myself.

I’ve been back to school a week, and am getting ready for my second, heading already into a kind of home stretch for the quarter, at which time each student must get their grade. So I’m trying to structure everything so that it fits together, includes review but variety, has a smattering of labs and maybe an outing, and is gradable. Our school operates in quarters (sixths, really) so the students have a better chance of getting at least that much credit, if they crash and burn, or come in half way through a semester.

I was so ready for winter break, needed a rest, to let the strain and stress, go, images of faces conveying less than good humor and eagerness to fade from my mind. The last three weeks, feeling so much less than adequate, not having found that balance between giving lots of second chances–too many, so the rules were being pushed too much by some and others weer getting irritated–and being tough on crime. Always a stronger backlash about that when it comes around, I find, but still I never learn. Maybe it’s what it has to be, since until I know students better, I can’t err on the side of law and order lest I do some harm to a fragile student whose circumstances and struggles don’t know. So the upshot is that they all know I am a kind person and like having them in my classes, that I have a lot of patience. And some of these students really like that, and let me know in various ways.

After Christmas and a few more enforced days of planning abstinence, I went into my quiet, sunny classroom and graded all the notebook assignments for December and started planning the rest of the quarter. Feeling bad that I still haven’t worked in another hands on or lab activity for my environmental science class–all teacher, notes, book work, and handouts. Hearing that invitation from the principal to dream up some cool stuff, but only getting that established in my two biology classes so far. Still, on that other angle I was encouraged to work, I really am learning to slow down, provide more scaffolding, refer to the text more (gives a sense of security to many students), and put off the next concept until the previous one is reasonably mastered by those willing to try. Still, I was eeling dread, and guilt, and the voices that want to pipe in with. “You can’t do this.” Just wanted to get going and not have that dreadful anticipation.

I kept thinking about those wild dogs who, when they lose a few fights, are way more likely to lose further ones and zoom down the hierarchy beyond what would be expected given their real fitness. A lot of it really is about what you believe. Humans, I hope, being at an advantage in not necessarily accepting the past as a precursor for the future, and able to visualize success, create success from the inside of the head and heart out. All things being more or less equal. Of course, that’s why for these students a big part of what we do has to be envisioning their own success, and the path there.

So I tell myself, you knew this would be difficult. You’re doing okay, and getting better every day. You’re learning. They are responding. Everyone makes mistakes and has bad days. You’ll get it–just think how much better you’ll be able to teach once you get through this, with all you’ll know. Having the lesson plans and technical knowledge alone…Start fresh, set a new tone, be clear about the rule on phone use, get them into an entry task each time they come in, make it doable for you, as well as them. Don’t take on too much at a time.

I was planning to launch right into a lab growing peas under different lighting conditions–just enough time to wrap it up before quarter end. Found the handout, adapted it for my students, thought how nice it would be to see things popping out of the soil in January. The students had really liked the box of wheat grass I grew under the lights before Christmas–sent it around for a therapeutic brush with the hands and nose-in sniff. Powerful summer smell, as if crushing new summer grass at a picnic in the park. One girl did that freshly back from a teary-eyed phone conversation, and I saw some of the tension so out of her face. Another, a very introverted student with Asperger’s, who’s also going through the health failure of her Dad, who has dementia, actually leaned forward for a second brush.

So those faces were coming forward after I got enough rest, time with my family, son home from college, and beautiful. frosty mornings. I was, I guess, ready to go back in a few days. Then I got sick. The Thursday before the Monday start, I felt the tickle in my throat, and by the next day I was down with a temperature and chills. Resolved to do just a day of that, with the help of lots of watered-down orange juice and some herbal pills. Did that, and was up and about again Saturday, but only to go into the next stage, it turned out so I had to call in a sub, and make a whole new plan that was more user friendly.

Two days at home, and I did get the second sub to at least plant the peas–all wrong, though, despite the written directions. First day back was a relief–much better than the imagined disaster. I replanted the peas in their proper depth and figured out what was what, and I guess finished out the week okay–lights set up, more work on photosynthesis, looking at water plants under the microscope. And by Thursday some conflicts, as expected, and now I have to chat with the principal about “my side of the story of what I sent referrals for six students. Thought I was finally being tough enough, but really I failed to identify the real culprits, both of whom (of course) were good at making me feel I was singling them out, so I sent down paperwork the whole batch–two in one class and three in another.

I don’t like meetings with principals. Takes a lot of effort to remember, as one staff member puts it, to “put on my big girl panties” and take a chill, professional attitude rather than feeling now I’m in trouble–I tried, I tried! He’s a good guy, I’m sure will hear me out, help me figure out a more balanced approach. No. it’s just as well, and I know not everyone in my position could say this, but his attitude is about support, to students and to staff, so I can admit what I feel I did that was not the best.

Thursday (after the referrals) I made new seating plans. I do this with trepidation at this school, wondering who will come to me, alarmed and say they have issues with people passing behind, or can’t get along with so and so, or just that they refuse to change spots. I ran it by the special ed teacher for tips for the class she works with me, tweaked a few things, and went ahead. There were difficulties (I gave candy to those in their proper new seats, encouraged, cajoles, and made minor modifications for others (vision issues, etc.), and in the end only a few had not moved, with the promise of most of them being ready next week. The way I framed it was that I needed to have some students move up so I could support them better, others because they were distracting each other, and the rest got shuffled because of that, can’t be helped. They took that well. I have yet to see how one of the classroom tornadoes, who missed the day of the new seating plan–will take it. She’s smart, talks non-stop, and has no sense of when is a good time to ask what she needs to do to catch up missed work.

I was hoping I’d feel all better from the cold, but my nose is still running (taking a pill helps) and I cough a lot. All data for the new rhinovirus investigation I have planned.

Sorry–I’m just going on and on, can’t see much in what I’m writing, am surprised at the word count, as I didn’t know if I’d have anything to say at all, and maybe I don’t. But trying to show up and write, so thanks for reading.

 

 

 

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Wondering whether…

I admit I’m avoiding things, trying not to think too much, hoping I’ll magically feel better and get my edge back, such as it was, by a blast of sunlit sky, or the sight of chickadees at the feeder, or the rhythm of my footfalls on gravel when I get out on the trail. Hormone rebalance, caffeine rebalance, and how about a good laugh–haven’t had enough of those lately. Sure, I could put on my gloves and clogs and plant a few winter cover crop seeds–gardening always cheers me up. But I just got my hair dry from the shower, and am finally warm. And there’s so much to do. Presents to figure out, would be good to put together a newsletter, and there are paperwork deadlines looming.

Oldest son home from college for three weeks–that’s a real treat. We’ve missed his calm and balanced presence, haven’t been able to connect in the best way by phone–he comes across as taciturn there, though email is a little better, as he likes to pay with words, especially when he can take his time. During his break he’s been balancing time with friends with seeking out family members for a game, a chat, his attention so appreciated by each of us. I putter about, glad and a little relieved to see those relationships intact and nurtured. No complaints from him about having to sleep in a different bed in a room full of girl stuff. But the political fallout of said girl being asked to stay in her sister’s room for the duration has been heavy. Added to other resentments and inner turmoil she’s feeling, has been feeling for months, and there’s a sense of dread each morning as I hear her stir and emerge to seek her breakfast. Everyone feels her discontent, her disapproval, and at least twice a day, her wrath. What will set her off this time? I know she’s got her own struggles–the self image thing is in her face every day, an she’s using diet tea, trying to cover a little timely acne, feel like a successful, on-point teen with all the appropriate aspects of her online identity, balanced with that ever elusive sense of truth and honesty and courage. She has her good moments, thank heaven, when she comes around, apologizes, explains why she’s been feeling stressed. Still, I’m pretty frayed around the edges by my teaching job, and haven’t the margin of emotional stability or as thick a skin to face up fully to that side of parenting. Finding myself pulling into the driveway after errands wishing I had a plan B, somewhere else I could go to have a little quiet, a place to recover from the fatigue of shopping and the last altercation at home.

The maple tree I bought for my birthday last summer reaches its startlingly red, bare branches up to the gray sky, clouds have thickened again and there should be more rain. The soggy ground still pushing up green blades, some leaves hanging onto the rose and blackberry canes. The husky dog is reading the air currents with her long nose, waiting for the master to show and play, or offer a treat. By my feet the cat sleeps, emitting a rhythmic cooing sound that passes for a snore. I hear myself heave a another sigh. Is it extra oxygen I need–did I forget to breathe, a kind of waking apnea?

At the teacher training on trauma-informed education, we watched the film “Paper Tigers.” About a school like ours, alternative, in Walla Walla, WA. Each troubled student, each one on drugs, the extremely introverted and anxious, the abused and fostered and parenting teens, the ones who flew off the handle at the slightest confrontation, reminded someone of students they’d had at our school. It was about a turnaround from an out-of-control campus to one where students actually learned and felt safe and accepted, as the staff sought training in how trauma had affected these kids and how to really help them. Then they turned around and trained the kids themselves in the science of it and in practical psychology (a term I just read in Huxley’s Island which seems to fit here), as well as curriculum content that could get them into college. Messy, grueling, draining, rewarding, but also heartbreaking. In the discussion afterward, every time one of our staff touched on the need to process the trauma we experience vicariously, everyone nodded. Afterward I went to my empty classroom thinking I could get a bit of work done, but just sat there more tired than I’d been yet after a regular teaching day. Felt the heaviness of it all, and of those feelings of inadequacy.

This is on top of a growing sense that the feeling of support I get from my principal, counselor, and others, is all part of their real attempt to help me survive this, find my footing, and start doing a better job than I’ve been able to so far. Looking back, and digesting feedback from the kids and others, I see I really am not teaching the material well at all. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, trying to pull together labs that are new to me, find ways to address all those different students’ needs without a real understanding of how to do this. Yeah, I go in there with a plan, do my power stance, and act like I have it all together, but it’s mostly an act. I had a few good days, a few good moments, and I have the beginnings of a style that can be molded into something workable. In some ways I’m starting where I left off after my very first and only year of teaching full-time, despite the other life experience I’m had since then.

The temptation is to spend my whole break planning, but I know that will just exhaust me. I’ll go in and work a few days before the new school week starts is all. Make some modest plans for labs that are doable, get some comprehensive review and practice integrated into each unit. Reminding myself that these kids have had very little science at all, and need to know even how to think about this stuff, be helped to catch a bit of the sense of wonder that’s possible. Along with acceptance, care, and support as they deal with all the stuff thats’ more important to them right now than doing the day’s work.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in Education, Personal Growth

 

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