Here We Are Again

We are starting our annual ELL testing on Monday.

This is kinda a teaching post…but maybe not entirely. I am dealing with some sh*t, y’all. First, I have two new students with zero English. This is not new and I love the challenge. They have, however, vastly different educational backgrounds. Both require full-day ESL instruction. Neither is getting it.

They need it. I want to provide it. We do not have the Human Resources necessary. This is not the fault of our central office or administration. No one who is qualified for this job has applied to do it.

So in these weeks of testing, not only are these students not receiving the instruction they need, they are also being asked to complete testing tasks that are completely inappropriate for their level of English acquisition.

Can we please give our recent newcomers a break? That would be a much warmer welcome to the United States.

Again, I am not laying blame on our CO or school board, because a baseline and current acquisition are appropriate, but for all that is good and holy (regardless of who/how you worship), why must we torture the newcomers who have shown us mere weeks or days ago that they do not yet know any English, with these tests which will frustrate them and provide us with no new information?

Here We are Again!

First, forgive me any typos, please. I am doing this on my phone. Apparently I have not posted since April, yet I feel like I have yet to come up for air since that last post.

My granddaughters remain a constant source of inspiration and delight. Likewise their parents and my son who chooses his dog as next of kin. How blessed am I?

My novel is paused, my retirement is in negotiation, my career is a constant self-test. But others are far more deserving of our concern. Colleagues have lost parents, spouses, and nieces. Students have arrived from countries torn by violence and intolerance, and many of them are in deportation proceedings at the onset of their arrival. Really the focus should be on how to support these brave souls in the face of these obstacles. And truly, everyone in the face of their obstacles. We need to acknowledge and be sympathetic to others’ pain, even if we don’t understand it.

Here is what I can and will do: welcome those brave enough to come here even though they have been made to feel unwelcome. I will help them to grow in this new home by teaching them the language and advocating for them within the community. I will make sure they know they are welcome and have a home in my classroom.

Here is what I wish all people would do: welcome those new to our country as the change-seekers that they are. Understand that although these new residents may not hold professional jobs or be on the honor roll, many of them are a big deal in their home countries. It is not unusual for a doctor from another country to take a position as a telemarketer here in the U.S. Education levels may not transfer between countries.

Finally, that elephant in every room, (poor elephant, as it has done nothing to deserve this distinction), “How do I communicate with someone who doesn’t speak my language??!”

First; smile. Say hello. If you have any vocabulary in their language, attempt to communicate. If not, just smile and be inclusive!

If there are others who speak the language of your newcomer guest, introduce them to each other!

If not, do not abandon your new friend. You can easily access Google Translate on your phone. It isn’t perfect but it is a great communication tool.

Your international classmates are a lot more like you than you realize and often more interesting than people who have been here all of their lives (not hating on the locals, who I love). Learn their stories. Tell them yours.

This is how we maintain, assimilate, and grow our culture.

About Teacher Appreciation…

We love that you want to thank us. Really. But Teacher Appreciation Week is a really bad time to do so.

First of all, it highlights the students whose families have less income. Especially in the younger grades, this is divisive. One of my best “teacher appreciation” gifts was a small constructed tube of Saran Wrap containing the marshmallow pieces in my student’s morning Lucky Charms breakfast from the school cafeteria. Other favorites include notes or emails from parents telling me that they or their children appreciate me. This is so much more than enough.

When I taught in an affluent district, I asked my room parents not to send out any info about Teacher Appreciation Week. I never wanted any of my students to feel that they had to produce some material token to show their respect or gratitude. For the most part, this worked but in an affluent district, parents know about the school’s weekly or daily themes and I would have to downplay it in the classroom while writing notes of extreme gratitude to the students and families who participated without provocation.

For real, though, what teachers want in order to feel appreciated costs nothing. Come to school board meetings and speak up for less testing and more support personnel. For more counselors and fewer suspensions. Volunteer in your child’s school to read to struggling students, to tutor in math, to supervise lunch. Whatever your work schedule or skill set allows. And if you, like so many of us, are not available during school hours, you can still help! Consider supervising your child’s morning bus stop. Get to know the kids in your neighborhood and their parents. Empower yourself to speak up when you see excellence or insufficiency. Even if you cannot tell the parents, you can tell us and we can monitor the situation (not a long-term solution but the more eyes on a potential problem, the better the potential outcome for the children).

So if you want to show me appreciation this year, please let me know that your child is happy. That you are pleased with their progress in my care. That you understand that my job is difficult and that I take it very seriously, even though I strive not to put that stress on your student.

And know, above all else, that your student’s well-being, their confidence, and their self-esteem will always be more important to me than a grade.

Super What?

I hear there is a popular sporting event happening today. Far be it for me to ignore a snacking occasion or a great TV binge but…this is not important to me or to my mission.

I am teaching six students newly arrived in the US that not only are they safe here, but they are wanted. I am teaching them to speak and understand English. To navigate middle and high school peer relations. To become part of their new community.

Further, I have three granddaughters to whom I want to teach critical thinking, empathy, and I am so grateful that they are learning this from their parents since my time with them is so very limited.

Some of my school kids are taking standardized tests in English that will determine their eligibility for a diploma…for example, the same English tests that their native English speaking peers have to pass…even though these kids have been learning English for only the past 1-30 months. I have students who have been here for almost three years who still speak almost no English. I have students who have been here for six months who are earning straight As and surpassing their native speaking peers. There is no one way to teach them.

So when you struggle to understand someone with an accent, remember, they are learning a second language. When someone mispronounces a word, they learned it by reading. When someone mixes two languages in a spoken message, that person is bilingual. Encourage them. Most of us only know one cultural reality for the entirety of our lives. This does not make you superior to others who live in many.

Just Sayin’ (Teacher Specific)

Here we are, in the oft-predicted teacher shortage and a substitute shortage to boot! In fact, I have even seen it reported that schools are so desperate for emergency classroom coverage that they are recruiting parents and others who possess a high school diploma to come and substitute teach in our classrooms.

I do understand the dedication of parents, and totally get that there may be many high school grads to whom a substitute gig may appeal…but please…no.

We love our local graduates and understand that they have advice for our current students that will be digested and respected. We appreciate this! Your support is always welcome. However, if you are not highly qualified in your subject area (Master’s or higher) and not certified to teach (through the Department of Education in your state), and have not completed substitute training, then respectfully, you are not yet qualified, however well-intentioned you may be.

I do not mean to discourage those who have completed the required number of college credits and the security check/training to substitute in any given district. We appreciate and revere you! The problem, as I see it, is in memes and the like who invite complainers and know-it-alls to apply to sub due to the tremendous need. We, as staff and students, do NOT need the input of those against public education and public safety in our classrooms. When a teacher has to be absent, they hope that the sub for their class will be safety-conscious and attuned to student needs. If you are here to promote an agenda, you need to find another part-time job.

We are desperate for substitutes because teaching as a career has become so very maligned, vilified, and micromanaged. Who wouldn’t sign up for that?! But please, for those who want to substitute and those desperate to hire subs…search your motives? If students are not at the top of the list, you both need to look elsewhere.

Well, That’s Been a Hot Minute!

Seems the last time I wrote was just before school started, and here we are about to end our winter break. This is not a teaching post, though, except to how it applies to my work life. Maybe yours.

We are all tired. As a nation, we have battled a pandemic that keeps changing the rules of the game. We were responsible, we got vaccinated. Then we got vaccinated again. Then again. We saw our anti-vaxxer family members and friends struggle with Covid, die of Covid. We have mourned, we have honored our deceased, we have tried to be part of the solution. Now we are faced with yet another variant, far more transmissible, although less deadly. For us, that is. How about our most vulnerable?

Due to a potential exposure, through no fault of anyone, we now are not able to visit grandchildren, go to church, deliver groceries to friends (other than by leaving them on the porch), and quite possibly not return to work for the next several days. Who among us has no contact with the elderly? The youngest? The compromised? And who does but doesn’t know it? I don’t have to tell you that you are exhausted but I want to tell you that this is exhausting. What you are feeling is appropriate. I won’t say normal, because this should never be the norm. But in this circumstance, exhaustion and a certain amount of despair is appropriate.

We are adults. It is our job to set an example for how to deal with life’s curveballs, like this one. But we have no experience with this one. Your fear and despair is expected. Mine too. We are all witnessing terrible social and emotional breakdowns among those we love. Again, expected. Not normal. My fervent hope is that we will embrace those who are most affected by this trauma and continue to project the forgiveness that will never be requested. Let’s be gentle with one another. Happy New Year.

An Open Letter to my Family and Friends

School starts tomorrow for our public school students in the county. I have missed them. I look forward to seeing them. I will be potentially exposed to Covid daily so I won’t be able to safely see any of you for quite some time. This is especially painful because my youngest granddaughter was born in August and I don’t know when I will be able to see her again safely.

We are still taking temperatures at school (yes, that’s one of my duties…) but social distancing is relegated to “when possible.” We still have a mask rule but by the time we remind students that it needs to be over their nose who knows how many people they have exposed? Several of my colleagues and students have had Covid despite being vaccinated. Buses are filling up again. Sports are a go. We are a nation exhausted by the restrictions of 2020 and encouraged by the brief time between unmasking and the Delta variant surge. Many do not see the value in going back to protective safety measures. Now, apparently, there is at least one additional variant of concern.

To be honest, I didn’t intend to post today. I don’t have time to post today. I still have to finish 7 hours of coursework online (which only became available on Wednesday) in order to qualify to complete the necessary testing of several of my students within a very narrow time frame. And this is what is supposed to be foremost on my “to-do” list. For sure, I will spend my evenings preparing and will get it done. At the expense of my down time, my family time, my personal needs. How many of our professions require this? I know for sure that teaching does, yet I am sure we are not the only ones. I see my children and in-loves working at all hours of the day to make sure something with their name on it is done to the best of their ability. This time is not paid, and in many cases does not contribute to their quality of life. Yet who am I to point this out to them, since I have spent so many years putting the needs of my students and the demands of my districts above the time I should have been spending with my family?

To be honest, I have no cheerful and inspirational takeaway from this post. I love my job, I love my students I love my family. I want balance. If you have found it, please weigh in.

You Had Me at Hello

Today I have three granddaughters. Yesterday I had two. How blessed am I? Are we?

This is not a surprise, of course, we knew Chloe’s arrival was imminent, but the pictures of this new and perfect creature full of a future we hope to be a part of…we are so blessed!

Is there anything like the birth of a grandchild to bring you right back to the births of your own children? We thought we’d invented parenthood, everything was so new, so perfect, so difficult!

Turns out, our parents had lived that story before we did and our children are living it also thinking that theirs is a unique experience. And do you know what? It is. Every birth, every child, every breath is a miracle!

Celebrate your miracles, whether or not they are relations. Love is love.

Nailed it! Maybe!

Gotta admit, I’m feeling pretty smug about my New Year’s resolution this year. My regular readers (shout out to both of you) might remember that this year I did not go with my more predictable ‘eat healthier food,’ ‘lose five pounds,’ ‘reach out to someone far away by phone at least once a week,’ ‘cut back on your wine consumption.’ All, in their way and for various reasons, doomed to fail by March. Not this year!

I resolved to begin my first book for the last time, and further resolved that I would complete the first five chapters in 2021. Well, friends, (again, shout out to both of you) I have written my first five chapters! Granted, they are only twelve double-spaced pages in total, but I did them. Further, I like them. Admittedly each time I read what I have so far I change something ever so slightly, but I feel like I have the beginning of a book I would want to read. In fact, I can’t wait to see what is going to happen next.

Being a somewhat balanced individual, though, (stop laughing, you two!) an alternate reality presents itself. What if it’s shit? What if no one wants to read it? What if it gets shredded in a critique by the writer for the local free coupon flyer? Who in the world would want to represent, let alone publish, a middle-aged plus school teacher with a laptop and a dream left over from her undergrad days? How much more good would this time have done if I’d spent it volunteering at the food bank or advocating for better mental health care options in the state? We’ll never know.

Y’all, I’m writing a book!

Welcome, 2021

We’ve been waiting for you. Who would have thought when the fall holidays began that by now COVID would be reaching new records, four thousand Americans would lose their lives to the disease daily, and our beloved Capitol would be the site of a failed coup attempt…in 2021! This is not a political piece, though. There are others far more qualified than I for those. This is our current situation, our daily lives.

The new year finds our humble abode much like last year, but there have been some changes. We remain at home more; working and teaching remotely. After a two week quarantine when my building closed we made the trip to see our also-quarantined oldest and his family. We got our first grandchild hugs since August. There will be no more until we are vaccinated, as I am scheduled to reenter face to face teaching next week. We have been masking up for groceries, but have made some pretty incredible meals while home-bound. We miss restaurants and support our locals but we will eat at home far more often than we used to on the other side of this. Our pets have never been happier. We’ve had time to explore new hobbies and practice old ones. We have watched movies and shows that we never before had time for. We’ve read…a lot.

And after years of threatening and starting, I believe I have started my first book for the last time. It is in its infancy right now but is taking shape in pages of characters, connections, and notes. Research is being done, ideas are forming, and very soon there will be a chapter written. The process will be slow because I do work eight-plus hours per day, but mornings and weekends will add up. Working on this dream after so many years is energizing (not like I have enough energy to take down the Christmas tree or scrub the bathroom, but you know…excitement). Why did I wait? Why did it take almost a year of being close to home to start something I want to do, and have wanted to do since before I can remember?

I know I am not alone in this. We all jumped right into our kitchens and organized closets (not me, but you get the idea). We stocked up on reading material and spent more time watching the news. We changed the way we worked and spent, we eliminated travel, we reconnected with good friends and appreciated our families. Artists found new and creative ways to bring us theatre, movies, and music, perhaps changing those industries forever. But do you have a long-held “someday” dream? Have you used any of this time to build a foundation for it? To nurture or encourage it? No judgement here, but since I have been asking myself why I haven’t, I encourage you to take a socially-distanced step toward the thing or things you really want someday. If you have achieved all you have ever wanted, I applaud you (and kinda envy you). If you have extra time, though, your expertise would be an incredible gift for someone else looking toward similar goals. Take a step if you have the time. The energy will come. To those like me, just getting started or thinking of starting, let’s encourage each other. Every journey begins somewhere. Why not here?