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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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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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It might be like sneaking into a prison disguised as a guard or a prisoner, hoping I don’t get caught

Again I observe that I dread the responsibility of being in charge, but work very hard to craft a high quality lesson, one I can stand behind and which contains personal elements and something to truly engage. I spend too much time–will I ever get more efficient at this? I gather the best materials I can, write out the plan, create props and examples, envision active, enthusiastic students who want to go deep and do their best. I mix it up, with art or music, reading aloud, questions for discussion, and food if possible.I overplan, but then flex toward teachable moments so things often take a different direction–the path of most engagement with what turns out to feel most important for these particular students.

Also I doubt, and ask myself, what do I think I’m doing, all this for one hour, even half an hour, and not even to get paid and shouldn’t I get back into that? I question my ability, question any possible positive impact I might have, wonder if I should call in before next time and suggest they find someone who can wholeheartedly sign the statement of faith or be more less likely to suggest a different translation, someone who can stick with the program, pass out the colorful worksheets and follow the idiot-proof plan and above all, stay organized.

On the way I energize, talk to myself, mentally prepare, pray for a clear mind and a big heart that the students can feel. The radio is off and I review my introduction and check the flow of ideas and processes. I arrive early, jot down the general structure on the board so I can keep track, write my name up in the corner in case anyone needs it.

It’s a big group today, and an assistant has been sent. Good, I suppose, since I don’t always remember to use the discipline plan for the hyperactive boy, or even remember that’s it’s supposed to be a problem that he wants his drawing to be different from all the rest, or wants to sit on the spinning chair or say bunny is spelled b-u-t-t. I forget I was told that someone doesn’t like to draw, and never do notice who that might have been. When I’m teaching I mostly forget what was in the individual files and briefings–previous convictions, behavior-modifying medications, persistent attitudes toward authority figures. They are fresh humans, and I’m ready to look for the best they have. When adult helpers are in the room I mostly ignore them, though I’m getting better at asking for assistance with materials or engaging them in the discussion too. I give no special acknowledgement to my supervisors and overseers, though I suppose they must come around sometimes.

I love teaching. I can almost always find a connection with the kids on some aspect of the material. They ask questions, they tell stories, they create, they bring us in unexpected directions. Something good usually comes if it. My own children love to hear about my lesson, how it went, the challenges and how I handled them, the funny and interesting things that went on. They see my energy, probably wonder why I wasn’t always so uplifted when I was homeschooling them. More than one has already expressed interest in being a teacher themselves. And there I go again, I can’t give it up. I think about the moments of connection, each interesting person, and wonder what more can I discover, what more do they want to learn, and what will we do next time. I get caught up in the grand scheme, think of the possibilities, wonder how I can incorporate more richness.

And yet, when I think of what I’d have to go through as a teacher returning to the public school after all these years away, I am daunted. Study all my core subjects and take the West-E tests, update my endorsements, get enough teaching hours to work on the next level of teaching certificate. Make sure I fit the criteria for Highly Qualified. Solicit other teachers and administrators to observe and evaluate me, gather fresh references. Learn about the latest legislative developments, trends, fads, and take all the trainings. Learn to respect and submit to administrators simply because of their position of power and even though they left the role of classroom teacher and the opportunity to gain experience that would have made them worth listening to as a mentor and guide. Plan lessons for large groups of students rotating through in several subjects with an hour or two of prep time plus whatever I can carve from family time, sacrificing some of the support I would have provided to my four children in the mornings and evenings in order to hole up with classroom assignments and grade to the rubrics, quantify outcomes. Try to meet impossible expectations, be everything to everyone. Go to staff meetings that might be less than relevant, less than efficiently run, less than democratic, discussing ideas about things other than ways to improve our service to the children in our classrooms.

And so, while I continue to work on the projects that engage my attention and time at home and try to be a good mother and spouse, I try to find that opening, both in the field and in my own mind. Read all I can, try to get enthused and not discouraged or outraged, try not to create castles in the clouds with my ideas about itinerant teaching in the classical style, offering students after-school classes in the history, politics and economics of American public education, creating useful skills classes, converting school lawns into gardens and jackhammering paved play yards and strewing them with logs, boulders, digging mud holes then letting children jump in them, planting trees and letting them climb.

I think I just might become an emotional wreck if I go back. The beautiful moments–and there always will be those–would stand in such stark contrast to what I perceive to be the soul-grinding conditions of the modern public school teacher who wants to do his or her best for the students, I would be bursting into tears at the end of each day, and sometimes in the middle.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Education

 

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A stay-at-home-mom looks toward the future

A stay-at-home-mom looks toward the future

Am I missing a strategic time to get back into a paid career path, by taking yet another year at home with my children? I’m back at home full time this year, with one son who is learning at home. My other three went back this year–one to community college (in Running Start, so technically he’s still in high school), one in regular high school, and one in middle school.

I enjoyed the work substitute teaching last year–it was a confirmation for me that I do want to keep working with teen people and that I have something to offer, if I can keep it alive. I keep coming back to that drive–to help kids busting into that abstract thinking, individuating stage figure out who they are as learners, knowers, feelers, doers, communicators. It’s a charge just to be with them–they’re so interesting, so varied, and so important to this world–not just in the future, but now. And they need all the help they can get as they develop their ethical principles, ’cause without ethics, how can they keep from adding to the mess this world is in, let alone be useful, or genuine leaders and heroes of all kinds? Over and over, when I read and hear of corruption and dishonesty in our leaders, and bovine acceptance in the workers under them, I get fired up about it–ethics! Ethics! And I mutter under my breath with Uncle Digory, “I wonder what they do they teach them in these schools.” And at home. Fresh-faced young people, some of whom are not so fortified against the temptation to incorporate cheating, meanness, theft, bigotry, conformity, laziness, exploitation, tyranny, arrogance, … into their personal repertories in some effort to succeed, rebel, or make a mockery of the best intentions of educators. So we work at that, questioning, encouraging, setting examples before them of greatness, and ask that question: Who do you intend to become? Not just what.

I still have the appropriate teaching license, and still feel young enough, though I would need to update my skills and learn a new groove–regular schedule, call in a sub when I’m sick, rules, paperwork, accountability to lots more folks. Coursework in the new technology, latest educational research, current cultural and psychological considerations. An internship or two would be great, and I need to make contacts in my home district, which was closed to new substitutes for several years so I had to commute.

But I am just not done with being a stay-at-home mom yet. Nor could I imagine having enough left over after teaching all day to keep up with home management and staying connected with my kids. Even with three in school full time, I’m amazed at how much of a challenge it still is get the house clean (they all still make messes, and have hardly any time now to pitch in), the pantry stocked and a bit of yard work done, organize bills, accounts, inputs and outputs, supply clothing, school supplies, and so on. And of course there are the roles of homework helper, proofreader, sounding board/consultant, after school driver, and planning assistant. I don’t do near the job I’d like to, though I’m making progress, and the kids are more independent, which counts for a lot. The older ones actually liked to hear about my substituting experiences, and were tickled to see me so energized.

I’ll take it a year at a time. My husband is currently shouldering the money burden so I can be at home more, and homeschool our youngest boy. We weren’t in a financial position to do that for several years, so it’s a privilege now. I feel very useful in my current position, for the housework and logistics even, but more for the homework help, support, just being there, having enough physical and mental energy to field concerns and questions my children bring to me, the ways I can try to fortify each young person in his or her individuality, sense of responsibility, commitment to becoming equipped to use their skills, knowledge, gifts to be a blessing. I get to ask them in various ways who they want to be, remind them they’re practicing with the folks at home who they’ll become. Not so pretty sometimes, and I’m not so proud of my own example sometimes.

On occasion I’ve try\ied to get out there, volunteer a bit, go to a few meetings, but when it comes down to adding more responsibilities, I have had to back off. I don’t want to hear myself turning a kid down for homework help, a tea date or invitation to walk the dogs together because I have to do a write-up or make a poster, head out for an event or make a bunch of phone calls. All I can manage is a few late nights to myself blogging, to see if I have anything to say, and learn to say it better.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Parenting & Family, Personal Growth

 

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“It’s a shame they have to move away from home just when they’re starting to become such good company.”

“It’s a shame they have to move away from home just when they’re starting to become such good company.”

My sister-in-law, mother of four now in careers or college, said this a few years ago, and I’ve been thinking of it lately as my oldest child starts figuring out study and career choices. Although I’m excited for him and his big launch, I wish he could stick around here, because we’re becoming friends. I am proud of him (most of the time), enjoy talking with him about serious and intellectual topics, about the ways of humans, and trying to make him laugh. I love witnessing the special moments he shares with siblings: listening to his little brother, seven years his junior, talk excitedly about science fiction worlds they know together, playing Legos with him when the homework and athletics load is light enough; encouraging or instructing his sister on swimming or discussing relationship and school experiences; thanking his younger sister for a treat she has made for him.

Shepherding him through this process involves a lot of self-restraint. If he can’t listen to his heart and make some good choices by now, I guess I missed my chance or have no wisdom to impart anyway. All I want is to make sure he listens and learns all he can, makes well thought-out decisions, and remembers to ask God for wisdom. Meanwhile I’m strewing information about that I pick up from books and other means–the benefits of a start at community college, the importance of a grounding in liberal arts, the great things to be gained by studying languages and cultures abroad, the options of job shadowing and internships, ways to get an education without paying much or any tuition. In years past we have discussed the importance of training for work that will use his gifts, support a family, and benefit the world in some way, of maintaining integrity and being a blessing rather than part of anything useless or worse. Our several years on government assistance while work was scarce and we were broke from our sabbatical years overseas gave him an appreciation for the usefulness of money, so I’m sure he will be practical enough on that score.

There were times when I stressed about his and my other kids’ future. Did they lose something important by our decision to live overseas for several years without any formal schooling in English and a distracted homeschool mom? So-and-so already has her kid the same age part way through community college and the PSAT! Will they be able to get scholarships?Oh-oh, no Washington state history in 7th grade–have to have that to graduate high school!

I’m much more chill now, and really, chill is more my nature. I lost touch with that driving, overachieving parent and listen more to my neighbor, none of whose post-high school children have officially “graduated” and for whom that never posed a problem in higher education and career. I’m letting go, watching my kids ask good questions, think intelligently about their futures. My ego must stay out of it. The book The New Global Student by Maya Frost reinforced that well for me this week. She talks about parental fego, which equals fear + ego, leading us to pressure our kids to go the same route as everyone else, keep up the scores, grades, athletics and so on, causing us to fear the idea of time away from academics on some other path, an unconventional approach, non-accredited, independent paths of learning. Already my son is interested in living somewhere in the Middle East so he can learn Arabic (he learned Hebrew when we lived in Israel for several years, and they are not very different) and studying programming and other cyber-technology. I hope he’ll continue some of the things he used to enjoy–making stuff, drawing, music, memorizing poetry. Currently I have up on the wall near the fireplace Tolkien’s “I sit beside the fire and think,” and I think he’s allowing it to sink in.

 

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Love that coffee shop writing time, but it will soon be time to get to work for real

Every week at this time I drive my daughters to their riding lesson, which is far enough from home that it’s better for me to hang out with a latte at a cafe and use it for a writing studio. Morning energy, a few shots of caffeine, and no one needing me for over an hour–lovely. I have a prepaid coffee card and the barista now knows my name. Background of voices not addressed to me, inoffensive radio, banging espresso tools. I read a favorite blog or two, then get working at those draft posts.

What’s great about blogging is that it’s (pretty much) free, offers access to a huge readership, and the folks who like your work often have forgiving standards, many being aspiring writers themselves. Reminds me of busking–no booking, no stage, no reputation, just walk downtown, open the guitar case, and start singing “Heart of Gold.” Passersby may or may not respond, but if a few stop to listen, even just at the edge on the line of vision, it’s worth it. Some even drop money in the case. I used to do that back in Halifax to earn pocket money in my undergrad years. Blogging is a lot like that–you put out what you have, get some visitors, a few readers Follow, Likes pop up in the mailbox.

But there’s a nagging feeling it’s time to get serious. Blogging is therapy–God knows I need that, but where will I go with this writing thing? It’s too easy, too eclectic, too occasional. Yes, I left Facebook behind and am trying to write something more substantial, but I know I need to put more thought and planning into this. What’s my niche?  I ain’t no fresh-faced grad, free to go wherever, spend 24/6 building a new career, do an internship. Going to school to hone my writing and publishing skills and give me an expert status in my field is a possibility, but not so simple these days. Money issues, commitments as a mom and home manager, and I have friends I haven’t called in months. It’s not that I need to support the family financially, though I can help with that a bit now. But neither can I take the family off to New York so I can do a masters at Steinhardt. Got to build something here.

I need mentors, and to somehow find more undistracted time to set out my goals and refine my vision. Lots of mentoring available on the web, but I feel the need for real people. I’m interested in so many things, need help distilling my stage one writing purpose. Should I go to one of those “unleash the creativity within” workshops? Maybe they’re not so flaky after all.

That’s the season I’m in. I hope it bears fruit.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2013 in Writing

 

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Substitute teachers who are still fresh and idealistic, beware

A comic strip for us

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Culture & Society, Education

 

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