Age of fear

Your lips are tight, old man

Have you no power to ask for what you need?

No one here knows you, and your time is running out,

Why not leap into that terrifying empty space,

while you have the will?

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Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Uncategorized



I described a teacher to those middle-schoolers, and they saw what I saw, and what a beautiful sight, the kind that doesn’t quite toe the line, who knows he or she might not be pleasing the powers, but that truth and love and a clear conscience must come first, and the gift, the one they carry burning in a holy bowl within, must be passed on to whomever would receive it, the vertically- and especially the horizontally-aligned standards be damned! Young people must be nurtured, and sparked, discovered, led forth, reminded of their freedom and their power, introduced to the very thing that could be so explosive, the opposite of “classroom management,” each other.

I went on about that “each other,” each one being unique and themselves, but also in flux, looking around and asking, “That person, do I want to be sort of like that? Ew, that one, could I, oh, oh, am I sort of like that?” So that each person is in effect formed by the presence of others, and how we choose to be shaped by that. And we have the power to shape, and form, and even normalize, and dull sharp edges, but that we all ought to be careful of one another’s souls, not to damage them in the process of trying to make others be a certain way in order to make our own lives more pleasant.

As I described this teacher, their eyes glowed with understanding. The one I guess I was sort of speaking especially to, though not having planned that in advance, nodded and said, “like Mr. N——,” (who teaches a few doors down) and another, “like The Dead Poet’s Society.”


Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Uncategorized


What I like most, besides actually teaching young people important things, is the variety.

I can’t decide which part of this job I like best, but I know for sure that without Tuesdays and Thursdays, weekends, and the occasional break or professional day, I’d be burnt out exhausted by now. As it is, planning for five different courses (one  being Algebra II, which I am relearning after many years), supposedly standard in essential content but all instruction packed into into two days a week is a real challenge, but mostly I think I’m doing okay. My quieter Tuesdays and Thursdays are broken up by teaching a third grade math/science class on each, and then I tutor a mix of students, mostly in math, for an hour or so.

For a “break,” I get to plan five other classes I teach to middle schoolers on Fridays. Those ones are what is usually called “passion-driven,” with no homework and each, if I want, stand-alone within the topics. Those are hectic but leave me pumped at the end of the day, in an exhausted kind of way, daydreaming of what I could do for the next round of Friday classes. Then I drag myself home for dinner and a hot soak followed by a book or another episode of “Sherlock.”

I actually sort of dread every single class I have to teach. Maybe not dread, but feel the importance of the task and my lack of sufficient preparation, a sense of how much higher I could have aimed. Just beforehand I get psyched, feel pretty useful and engaged in the middle of everything, though rushed, with barely fifty minutes per class. Afterward think, that was okay, with a few really worthwhile moments, and I can’t believe I get paid to do this. Then I plunge back into my stack of grading and try to get a firmer hold on my long term planning, data collection and analysis, and find ways to adapt lessons for various students who need that. Every now and then I realize monthly reports are coming due, or I have an imminent meeting I haven’t glanced at the agenda for, or am supposed to be solving or finding someone to solve technical problems of various kinds, since I agreed to be the school’s tech person. Never a dull moment.

That doesn’t leave much time for a home life, though, but I guess for now it’s okay. My family has been very understanding, and no one is particularly needy right now. A walk around the neighborhood with my husband and our two dogs, a quick date in town for stuffed mushrooms, a fireside chat with my sixteen-year-old daughter or thirteen-year-old son now and then–I guess we’re holding together okay. There’s toilet paper, dishwasher soap and basic groceries in stock, and we all help keep the laundry machines going and help out on garbage day. My husband has stepped in with gusto and professionalism as far as keeping the house clean in my absence and preoccupation, and is taking over some of the banking, school/kid and doctor appointment arrangements, and is building our new fence to boot.

I think Friday classes are my favorite. They remind me of what learning should be, sort of–a teacher hanging out a shingle of what she cares about and can do, and people sign up out of interest (and a bit of wanting to get out of the house and in among peers). Some kids listen and forget and a few couldn’t care less, but most of them are really curious and enjoy finding out and learning to do useful things. A few even take notes without being told to. That feeling of choice and freedom is too rare in schooling situations.

Today, just a half day due to a workshop, the journalism students let me share some quotes from writers and a few interesting youth journalism websites, then finished off their articles and sent them to their editors, one for a publication on The Storm of ’17, one on Donald Trump, One on alien sightings, and one student, an outside-the-box thinking eighth grade girl, single-handedly created a cooly odd little paper oozing with off-the-wall ideas. I had some students review and edit for peers, others do layout, and tried to keep them driving on to the finish and not get caught up in gimmicks and web searches, sort of like a real journalist’s deadline.

Second period we looked at earthquake hazards around the building and how to secure tall furniture. Third period was a nice small group of about eight who worked on hand sewing and embroidery.

After the parent workshop, I worked a few hours more in the quiet classroom tying up a few of the many loose ends educators live with, and got a few more of my files set up. A big drawer each for biology and environmental science, one for all three maths, all ready for next year. The word is, though, that the only courses I’ll teach again will be two of the maths, and I’ll have to take on high school physics, to all ages, since it will only be rotated in every four years. Just so I don’t get too comfortable. I haven’t taken physics since 1983.


Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Uncategorized


Various self doubts

In our staff meetings I listen humbly and try to be a good employee, taking directives, adding to my “to do” list, and making whatever contributions I can, without monopolizing the floor. I am insecure–it’s only my first year, and I wrestle with self doubt often. Why can’t I move through the curriculum faster? Am I grading fairly? Should I really be giving all this homework? Am I doing all I can to customize learning for students with learning challenges and different learning styles? Am I really any good at this at all, or should I shift to a different line of work? How long will it take to tighten up my routines and know my curricula, so I don’t have to keep working sixteen-hour days? Am I showing enough appreciation and deference to the office staff who have been here much longer than I? What is the right amount of passion to show about issues affecting our students and our world?


Posted by on March 16, 2017 in Uncategorized


Planned ignoring could be the answer

As a nineteen-year-old counselor at a camp for children from inner city Halifax, I first learned about the idea of planned ignoring ( I was shocked that there could be such a technique, that being ignored could be recommended as a way to help children, that it could be therapeutic. But then I wasn’t a kid whose acting out, and only acting out, was reinforced by attention. And I suppose it wasn’t in my character anyway, since I did want more attention sometimes than I got. As a person working with children and youth, I thought that all children’s expressed needs, frustrations, complaints, and antics should be responded to in some way.

I have come to know better over the years to respond to people–my children, students, and others, on a continuum of attention, including sometimes purposefully ignoring behaviors or comments that don’t deserve a response.

Now I see planned ignoring as a possible answer to the problem of a Donald Trump presidency. The more I learn about Trump, the more I believe that the only thing that matters to him is attention, and whatever behaviors get that attention will become his modi operandi. So planned ignoring of certain behaviors of his should have the effect of extinguishing them through lack of reinforcement, as long as his more desirable behaviors are reinforced at the same time (

Most of us are only exposed to Trump’s behavior through the media, and we know that the purpose of for-profit media is to win our attention long enough that the advertisers see increases in sales. So no one can expect the corporate media, however horrified they appear to be by Trump’s words and actions, to initiate any sort of campaign to ignore him. We’ve seen that his ability to shock, offend, perplex, and provide comedy to the public tends to increase ratings and readership of outlets that cover it. And when increases to readership and viewership of specific types of stories can be tracked, as they can for online media, there’s another layer of reinforcement added, this time for the media to spend more time spreading stories of Trump’s undesirable behaviors, if they are the most consumed.

So it has to come from us. Media consumers can and should make the choice to withdraw attention from all forms of coverage that reinforce negative, attention-seeking behaviors by public figures. Not that we should ignore important coverage, but we need to distinguish between that and coverage that effectively reinforces what’s worst in human nature.

This idea could certainly be applied more broadly, such as to a move to cut down on gluttonous consumption of stories about violent offenders, terrorists, fringe elements, and copy-cat offenders. (

Is it even realistic to suggest the idea that media consumers can make the kind of concerted effort that could move a person like Trump to behave? Probably not, if it means there is real consensus about what behavior is wanted. Many people love the fact that Trump will say and do anything, and call it a virtue. But from what I can tell, if enough consumers of media did participate in a movement to avoid coverage (and intervening paid advertisements) that’s mostly spin and hype and had no practical application, it could affect ratings and send the heads to media scurrying into the meeting room to adjust their coverage (how ratings are determined:

It’s not helpful to watch five minutes, be appalled, and watch ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes more. That kind of thing gives some of the least trusted news sources the highest viewership. ( So there’s no incentive to be more trustworthy, and certainly none to provide coverage not solely designed to entertain. Personally, if I get sucked in that way as I pass through the living room, I feel defiled and stupider for it afterwords. the phrase amusing myself to death comes to mind. There’s a book that’s as relevant as ever. (

Neither is it effective, apparently, to specialize in coverage critical of Trump, since although he occasionally gets irritated by it, he probably still believes what he was quoted as saying in The Art of the Deal:

“Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”

 SO here’s an invitation to one and all. Ignore most of the coverage, and try to get the essentials from sources not dependent on corporate advertising and have excellent journalistic principles and a history of covering what’s truly important. Some diseases can only be cured by being starved of nourishment.

Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Culture & Society, Ideas, Media


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Climate Change? I dare to hope.

Already heard two people suggest that the cold weather could be an indication that global warming might net be an issue after all. I think I need to start carrying around a pocket version of the data that shows the evidence to the contrary.

We are just starting work on climate change in Environmental Science, having finished studying the carbon cycle and the greenhouse effect. On impulse I took pages from a set of slide presentations I found from a conference of Effects of Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest, distributed them one to each student, and told them to decipher their page–What was it about, and why was it in a presentation of that topic? Some had a list of figures, some had graphs, some a series of maps, and all had only basic titles, and a few details. The type of slides you need a human being to animate and clarify. They had to dig, and I hope that it will kick start a conversation about the many impacts of climate change in our own area.

I’m the only Environmental Science teacher in the district, and the course is still, in the districts I know about, an elective. How can that be? Yes, biology is important, but if you use the traditional text and don’t rush, you barely touch on ecology, which is usually located at the end of the text. Small to big picture just doesn’t give justice to an understanding of climate’s effects on the ecosystems and physical processes that protect and sustain us. And so students learn about cells and genetics and the food chain, and pass the End of Course or AP exam, take some classes in chem or physics or tech or ag. science, but never really learn that everything is made out of air, soil, water, and sunlight, and that our only hope lies in learning how to do things just like the rest of nature does.

One of the most discouraging things I heard was when a teacher said no, he never did any waste reduction projects because he had to teach to the AP Environmental Science test, and there was no time. Important, yes, but Environmental Science should never be AP. Better to teach one aspect deeply so the principles of systems and interdependence sink in, and students are moved to action on one thing about which they can really make a difference.

Next to evolution and the unit on reproduction, I’m sure teaching that climate change is real and a threat will the the most likely topic on which I’ll get some parental complaints. No, I’d put it second after reproduction, since I don’t have to teach about choices, only about biology. I ask myself whether I am likely to emphasize the importance of climate change even more, teaching in a mostly Republican community, and I’d have to say, yes.


Posted by on February 16, 2017 in Uncategorized


Out for a bit of air

Took one of my classes out for a bit of air last Tuesday, hoping they’d be able to experience the delight I did walking down by the creek–maple buds swelling, Indian plum leaves flaming upward, yellow Oregon grape flower starting to unfurl. I had heard robins, a sparrow, seagulls, seen a black squirrel and a varied thrush. Felt the mist where the stream thunders over the rocks down toward the bay.

Protocol had to be followed, with permission forms signed and returned. Only a little over half came in, the last few students probably waiting to see that it was a nice day. Some didn’t like being outside, or anywhere unfamiliar. Even then I had to tell them it was mandatory and counted for participation points, and a few colleagues leaned on my students to get those forms in. Also tried to entice them with the idea of beauty, getting out of the four walls, and the research on the anti-depression and anti-anxiety effects of time in natural spaces.

I guess the trip was a success. Can’t apply a standards based assessment on that one, but some were collecting fallen things to view back in class under the stereo microscope, others took some pictures, a few did a bit of sketching. They all stopped by the thunderous, misty rapids where the quiet, khaki stream takes a sudden leap over the bedrock. They accepted my offer to teach them the names of three plants, and used the eye lenses a little to look up close. And I think it did their souls good, though they might not say so. If I could just get them out here every week, especially as the weather warms, to see the seasonal changes, and get more at ease in the woods. Yes, a few took off without permission, one to go have a smoke, but we tracked them down, not surprised.

I am still working away approximately ten hours a day on my four and a half hour a day contract–but I know that the first years of teaching are a kind of internship with stipend. I spend hours viewing, collecting, and adapting curriculum, and write some of my own. I have to learn and do dry runs of labs, figure out what all is in my science cabinet and what it’s for. I climb the learning curve of teaching students with special needs, absorb and process the wisdom and styles of the teachers around me, get a feel for how the school rules are interpreted, learn from my mistakes.

My family is mostly supportive of this need for me to work so hard, and are glad to see me so interested and engaged. When I was stressing about the cool stuff my class budget couldn’t buy, my husband gave me a green light on using some of our own money, which was a nice vote or support. The principal also encouraged me to be creative and dream up some cool stuff. So I feel more freedom there–bought a worm composter, some stuff to build watershed models.

That was last year. I miss that job, and still harbor a wish to go back if they are looking for a life science teacher. Maybe it’s foolish to already be thinking of leaving my current job, which is long term pending a successful probationary year. It seems a better use of my skills and remaining energy to work with tougher kids. I made it though  the test year, and felt I was accepted. Didn’t have a crisis like the previous teacher, and want to leave like it’s rumored the replacement teacher is being pressured (by students) to do.


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Posted by on February 15, 2017 in Uncategorized