Monthly Archives: September 2007

When the DSL goes down, the world stops

I know I said this blog was moving way down my priority list, but last week I actually had a few free moments and wanted to write. I didn’t get to though because our DSL line decided to go down. It was down on Tuesday, came up briefly so I could write on Wed. and then went right back down again (while I was reading my favorite blogs).

My husband spent at least an hour over the course of several days talking to service reps over in India about how to get the DSL back up again. They finally sent someone from the phone company out yesterday to see where the problem was, and after a good half an hour, he concluded it had to be the modem. Another phone call today, some crafty computer work and a lot of uninstalling later, it appears the internet is back up in my home and boy am I thankful!

See, my best friend decided to go out of town this weekend. My husband invited a bunch of his card buddies over and they ended up spending the entire evening and sometime after I went to bed playing cards on the porch. After I got my son off to sleep and finished grading my second set of vocab tests, I was really bored. The internet wasn’t working though, so instead of catching up on blogs, sending out the latest pics of my son or just surfing around for things that interest me, I instead turned to TV and started watching some crappy movie with Jessica Alba and that guy that was in a Fast and Furious movie (I think). On the plus side I got all of my student’s journals graded, but I also spent about five hours grading yesterday and wow, that’s a lot.

We’ve only had DSL for a few months now. The phone company still claims we can’t get it here, despite being less than five minutes from a major metropolitan hospital and less than one minute from a school. So for the last two and a half years we’ve had dial up. If I hadn’t had enough daily frustration, I would get online maybe once every couple of days. Most days I just waited until I went to school since we have a super fast connection there. The only problem with that is that we also have major filters and so if it functions as entertainment, it’s out for me. For a couple of weeks I couldn’t even get my email to work because they blocked all outside email access. That was hellish.

Since we got DSL a few months ago, I’ve spent a lot of free time playing on the net. I’ve reconnected with old friends, found fun websites and taken up blog reading. These last few days have been awful. Even this morning when we wanted to take our son to the zoo, I couldn’t mapquest it, so I had to drive there from memory (I’ve only been twice before). Luckily I have a really good memory, but I hate driving places unless I really know where I am going. It makes me anxious.

But now that’s all behind me. I have the internet again and since I have all my tests and essays graded, I can once again tool around in cyberspace. Of course, I get a whole new crop of essays tomorrow, so my joy is sadly short lived.

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Something’s gotta give

Right now I am overwhelmed. We are quickly approaching the end of the first nine weeks of school. For many schools all this means is sending home some progress reports. Since we are on block 4, it means our first “semester” is ending. That means I have to get all the essays I currently have graded in order to get the next batch on Monday. I’ll have to have an even quicker turn around on those as I still have one more writing assignment to assign/grade, a novel to start, and finals to write and grade. That is, of course, in addition to the other small tests, projects and homework assignments I’ll have to give in the next two and a half weeks. Oh, and that’s just for my sophomores. I have AP to consider too and we have to finish a novel and a short story unit on top of the two major projects that are due and the AP tests and writing prompts I need to assign/grade.

Did I mention I haven’t planned anything at all for the next nine weeks yet? I have a lot of lesson plans to write as well.

Plus, now that I only get to see my baby for about 3 1/2 hours each day (and about an hour of that is a car ride), I don’t even start any work until he’s in bed. Somewhere in there I have to fix/eat dinner as well.

I’m acutally not complaining or trying to get much sympathy. I’m just realizing that some prioritizing has to go on.

My son, is obviously number 1.

My husband, is number 2. When can hang out after the baby goes to bed, and he’s used to school making me a little crazy. He deals well considering.

I’ve gotten off to a great start with my students this year. I’ve put in so much time and effort and really built relationships with them, so I know that has to be at the top of my list.

So, what has to suffer? I’ve come to terms with the fact that all of my dinners are going to be coming from my deep freeze, various take out places or store bought boxes. This I can live with. I’m ok with this and luckily, my husband will eat anything, so he is too.

My house is the next thing that has to go. This is not a great hardship as I’m not exactly a neat freak. As long as there is no actual filth, I’m ok with letting the clutter pile up a little. I’ll have to resign myself to the fact that the laundry and dishes can wait a little bit if need be. Lord knows I have enough clothes (even with the extra baby pounds), so just because the top I want to wear isn’t clean, who cares?

Sadly, the third thing I’ve realized is that this blog is probably going to have to suffer a bit as well. I’m not giving it up. I like complaining and spouting off about things way too much for that. What it probably means though is that I’ll only get to write a couple of times a week at most. That’s probably a relief for my nearest and dearest, many of whom have started back to school and realize they too have few moments to spare, but as this is a slice of life sort of blog, daily updates make me feel more productive. I’m trying to look at the bright side…I’m saving my friends time as well.

So, who knows when I’ll have time to spare. Maybe when I get these last ten essays graded. Man, if more of my kids were slacking this semester, I’d make this grading thing so much easier on myself. Sigh…maybe I should let that teaching thing go, just a little.

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Standardized testing makes for a long day with no naps

Ding dong ISTEP is dead. At least for this year. On my way to school I pass by four different elementary schools, each toting a sign that reads something to the effect of “ISTEP 17-28, time for good sleeping and eating habits.” I have to laugh at this because on the eve of sophomore testing, I encouraged my students to have a breakfast high in protein (and had to explain that neither pancakes nor donuts fit this description) and to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Despite this I saw kids scarfing down Pop-Tarts on their way into testing rooms and overheard one tell a friend, “Yeah, I tried to call you last night at 1 am.” Good thing to know they take the tests so seriously.

I feel sympathy for the elementary schools who have nearly two weeks of testing. It’s their own fault, of course. They take the slow peel approach to standardized testing. They take just a small portion of the test each day hoping to spread out the pain. In high school we grab hold and rip that sucker right off. Who cares if it leaves a welt? At least it’s over. I say that now that testing is done, but for the past three days when we had 4 hours of straight testing*, I would have loved to take our time and pepper testing with actual class time.

My current school has a decent approach to testing. Since the entire 9th and 10th grade classes have to take the tests (as do about 90 juniors and seniors), we do all our testing first thing in the morning and allow upper classmen who have passed it to seek out “educational opportunities” outside of our building. These opportunities officially go down on paper as job shadowing, study tables at the library and club meetings, but in reality they would better be described as sleeping in, going out to breakfast and watching TV. All the teachers are divided and split up to proctor the tests to the remaining students. For the past two years I’ve gotten lucky and had someone absolutely useless paired with me so that I have to do all the testing work. Not that there is too much to do, I realize, but I have to read all the materials, monitor the kids, collect all the materials and tote that damn box to and from the office.

I’m not even going to get in to my gripes about the actual uselessness of the test. Instead I will say that proctoring a test is a bit like putting your brain to sleep for a few hours. If I hadn’t had been hopped up on cold pills I might have been more annoyed with the fact that even though they’d just finished a test and hadn’t moved an inch from their desks I still had to tell them to check to make sure they had the test booklet with their own name on it. I also got to remind them no less than 8 times that they could only use a #2 pencil to complete their answers, despite the fact that the test booklets are all hand graded and don’t got through any sort of scan-tron. Not that it matters as I had to give nearly all the kids pencils anyway. They came to a three full days of testing without anything to write with. I also had to sit and constantly watch for the clock to run down their time. Not a single kid cut it closer than 15 minutes before the test was scheduled to end. So, we did a lot of sitting and waiting. They did a lot of sleeping. Damn kids.

But it’s all over now. Tomorrow instead of 30 minute class periods where I can barely get attendance taken and introduce a subject before the bell rings, we’ll go back to 90 minutes of classes that will no doubt still fly by. That is, of course, if I go to school. I still feel sick and think an official sick day might be in order. Especially since my in-laws arrive tomorrow night.

*We only actually had one four hour testing day. The other two were closer to 2 1/2.

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I am a walking puddle of disease

I’m sick and it sucks. I know sucks is not a good word for an English teacher to use. There are tons of great adjectives out there just waiting to dot the paragraphs of my writing, but like I said, I’m sick and to be honest, I don’t care about poetic language. I mostly care about sleeping. Oh, and breathing. I’m hoping tonight I’ll be able to do both at the same time without waking every few minutes because my throat has gone dry again. I hate when this happens because inevitably when I go in search of the water bottle I set on my bedside table I end up knocking my book or worse, my glasses over and then I either risk searching for them when I’m half asleep or waiting until morning and forgetting they’ve been knocked on the ground. Either way there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll step on them.

My students took a bit of pity on me today and tried to be good. I got sympathetic head nods when I described a pressure building in my head that made me warn them to be prepared to duck when it exploded. They promised to be quiet so we could all have nap time together. I smiled, momentarily considered it and then remembered that they can’t be quiet for two minutes during the announcements so there was no way they’d make it through an entire class period. Nope, no napping for me.

It’s funny (and not funny ha-ha), before I became a teacher I never got sick. I hardly missed any classes when I was in high school. In college I can only remember one actual cold and that’s mostly because I went to the health center and got a perscription for some lovely cough medicine with codeine in it. My hubby at the time was sick with the same symptoms but instead of going to the doc himself, he just kept taking swigs from my bottle of liquid happiness. It ran out before my cold did and I couldn’t get a refill. That also sucked.

As short as this is, I must sign off. My goal is to be in bed by 8:30 so I’ve only got 15 minutes left. I still have to make my lunch for tomorrow, get in my jammies, brush my teeth and take my contacts out. It’s pathetic when my bedtime is only 30 minutes after the baby’s, but I can’t help it. I’m sick and I don’t have any of that tasty codeine anymore. I just have to hope my nose will decide whether it’s going to back up worse than my pipes in Florida or continue to drip at a rate that makes tissues obsolete. Either way I have a feeling it’s going to be a rough night.

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So much for my backyard wonderland

In an attempt to appease the rain gods my backyard has been decimated. The once beautiful trees that until this morning towered behind us now lay in broken piles lining the soon to be expanded drainage ditch. What was once a haven of cool breezes and shady spots under which to read a good book is now a part of the great Sahara. Just like my front yard, it is now a barren wasteland.

Ok, so maybe it’s not that bad, but the gargantuan trees that used to safe guard my backyard from the field behind it are now no more than firewood. A little less than a year ago the city called a meeting for any interested members of my neighborhood to find out about the improvements to the drainage ditch which runs behind my house. We sat and listened as people from the department of public works explained why we needed the improved ditch (most notably because the entrance to our neighborhood has enough standing water after even a mild rain to infect the entire Western hemisphere with malaria if the right mosquitoes came along), where the changes were going to be made and how it was going to impact all of us. The engineers assured us that while some of our trees would have to go, they would only take the ones in the way. They said they’d leave plenty behind. They lied.

When I called home to ask my husband to get me some cold medicine, he joked about the new tanning bed in our backyard. The way he made light of it, I thought it was a joke. It turns out his sense of humor is more sardonic than I thought. I put the baby down for his evening nap and ventured outside. As I surveyed the damage I was in utter shock. My trees were gone. Sure, not all of them were technically on our property, but they’d been my view for nearly two years and without them my backyard isn’t the same. Part of the reason we loved this house so much was because of the backyard.

I noticed one of our neighbors walking out of the former woods back into his yard. I hurried over to get his opinion. He’s raised an entire family in his house and now has grandchildren over nearly every weekend to play. He looked across his yard to the little path and bridge he’d built for his kids to play on. He sighed and said it could have been worse. I watched with him and his wife as the metal monster crashed through the wreckage in search of its next victim. I shuddered as the treacherous jaws clamped down on the unsuspecting branch. It was a cruelty I could only associate with the hungry T-Rex from Jurassic Park snatching that sad little goat. It was savage and I had to turn away.

I walked back to my yard sadly shaking my head. The laughter of the men working the machines filtered down to me. Whether they were reveling in their cruelty or just having a good guffaw at a raunchy joke I have no idea. All I know is that the second they finish their work on the ditch, I’m sneaking back in, under the cover of night if I have to, and planting some beautiful new trees.  

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The most wonderful time of the year

Fall is here and I couldn’t be happier. Fall is the perfect season. It’s cool enough to dig out all of my cute sweaters which help hide the extra baby fat I’m still working on losing. Scarves are used as cute fashion accessories I can wear on a whim rather than necessities used to wrap my face so only two tiny eye slits can be seen between my hat and my parka. Jackets are of the light variety and hoodies often suffice. And while I have to give up my sandals on most days, I can cope because I get to wear fuzzy socks to bed which make me feel extra snuggly.

 

Fall also brings the changing leaves and since my husband and I have the bargain that I do all the indoor work and he does all the outdoor work, I don’t even care that those beautiful leaves will clutter up our yard. I just get to sit inside or on the screened in porch and marvel at the colors. It’s that wonderful time of year when hot apple cider starts creeping on to all the coffee shop menus so I actually have three things I’m willing to drink. We make our annual trip to the orchard to get pumpkins and usually pick a peck or two of apples which I deftly make into various cobblers and pies. Plus we have our annual pumpkin carving party and even though my artistic skills are probably about equal to those of my 6 ½ month old son’s, I don’t care because we all hang out, toast pumpkin seeds, eat my cobbler and drink cider. It’s fantastic.

 

Fall, it turns out, also means football season, a phenomenon I have, until recently, been unfamiliar with. I am not a sports person. I don’t actively dislike most sports, although the idea of sitting down and actually watching a game on TV is akin to getting a root canal in my book. I don’t really come from a family of sports enthusiasts. My mother, who spent most of my childhood days with me, detests sports. My father actually likes sports, but I don’t really remember him ever watching them when I lived with him. Then again, I had a TV in my room, so maybe I just left the living room when they came on. My husband thankfully, is also not a sports guy. I just bought him his first Colts’ shirt last weekend and the only reason he really wanted it was so he could wear it and blend in with his co-workers when they play. He would much rather geek out with me by watching Heroes, Doctor Who or reruns of Buffy. This is just one of the things that makes him perfect for me.

 

Now even though we don’t want watch it at home, having gone to a high school you’d probably expect I’d be a little more aware of the start of football season, however, my high school was so small that we didn’t have a football team. Our homecoming was in December during basketball season (which I can tell you lasts late October to mid-March, at least in high schools). It wasn’t until I started teaching at my current school that I had any idea as to how important football really is.

 

Friday night I decided to make my obligatory appearance at a high school sporting event. Since I live 45 minutes from work, even before my son came into the picture, I didn’t spend much time at school outside actual school hours. I’ve always preferred to grade at home, so there’s no real incentive. I have a lot of football players in my classes and to shut some of them up, I decided to make it to a game. As a bonus this was homecoming weekend so I got to see some of my former students, the crowning of the court, the float parade and (and this is the real reason I chose this game) the PTO sponsored a free tailgating party for all staff members complete with burgers, Cool Ranch Doritos and delicious super fudgy brownies.

 

I didn’t actually get to see much of the game. One of my friends had to take tickets at the gate and since I’d already eaten and the game was still 90 minutes away, I went along to keep her company. People kept trying to hand me their tickets and they were short staffed so I donned a black apron and started tearing right along with her. Since the real reason I went to the game was free food and socializing, I didn’t really mind missing the game. Bleachers are cold and all the teachers stand around and talk anyway. It’s hard to see the kids on the field. Besides, they let us know every time we got a touchdown by exploding something in a terrifying cannon. It was a lot of fun, but as soon as the sun went down I was reminded that Fall was definitely here in force. I had on only my long sleeved staff shirt and by half time I was shivering. I didn’t even have a jacket in my car. I ran to the concession stand but was disappointed to find the “hot” chocolate barely lukewarm. I tried microwaving it, but it was so busy and I wasn’t paying for it, so I felt bad getting in the way. Standing in the stand did warm me up a bit, but not enough to make me stay for the second half of the game. Besides we were up by 23 points.

 

All and all it was a pretty good night. I got to hang out with friends, eat some free food and for most of the time enjoy the crisp fall evening. Plus, I got to do it all by myself, a rare treat these days. If I only have to go to one game a year and it’s just like this one, I think I could start to like this football stuff.

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It’s good to be a teacher

Today I had one of those days that reminded me why I’m willing to put up with making mere ducats at a thankless job. Today I got thanked.

Before I went back to school this fall, I decided I wanted to do things a little differently. I changed up my lesson plans (a little), but more importantly, I came in with a super positive attitude. I decided I was going to give all the kids a real chance. I didn’t listen to what any of their previous teachers had to say about them. I gave them the clean slate speech, but more importantly, I meant it. As part of this positivity campaign, I also decided I was going to start emailing parents about failing grades the second week of school. That way I wouldn’t have to wait for them to start leaving messages for me. I also took great pains to emphasize that the reason I was emailing them was because I really wanted their kid to succeed and get “back on the right track.”

Amazingly, I think it worked.

For the first time in my teaching career (I think), at midterm I only had three kids failing. One was because he didn’t turn a paper in, one turned in a paper from last year (even though he’d had me last year when he failed the first time around) and one had a string of missing homework, but was working hard to make it better. I don’t know if I just got a great crop of kids or my new positive responsibility kick is working, but I don’t care. This teaching thing has been relatively peaceful so far.

All this, while motivating and somewhat rewarding is not the thanks I’m talking about. See, one of my girls got off to a really bad start. She was a transfer at the end of last year and she made it clear she did not want to be here. She told me flat out that she didn’t like school in general, especially our school and especially not English class. I sighed. Then I sent home an email to her mom about her failing grade. Through a series of emails that resulted in her getting quite the earful at home and a grounding to boot, she started trying to bring her grade up. Each time she did something good, I praised her. I also sent an email home to her mom telling her how proud I was. She started joking with me in class. She’d refer to the emails and ask me with a smile if I told her mom about whatever her latest accomplishement was. She said it in that way teens have of acting annoyed but being secretly glad about it. I’m happy to say that her grade has been steadily going up but by midterms it was still a D. A high D, but a D.

Still, I emailed her mom about all of her progress and how I knew she was going to keep improving. Then, out of the blue, in the middle of the computer lab while the whole class listened, she said, “Mrs. Schiller, you’re my favorite teacher.” I teased her by asking what she wanted. Her reply? “Nothing, you really are. I’ve never liked an English teacher before, but you’re great.” Wow. I was taken aback. I mean she’s a nice kid and I like having her in class, but I never thought she’d say something like that.

I graded her project first because I knew how hard she worked on it. It was fantastic. I was so happy to put 100% in the grade book, especially when I saw it brought her grade up to a mid C. I jumped online and started typing. Her mother sent me the nicest email back. She told me her daughter was sincere in her like for me. She said she’d never connected with any teacher, let alone an English teacher, because she never felt she was smart enough. She raved about how I made her daughter feel smart and valued. She then asked if I taught other classes her daughter could take. If not, she wanted to know if I might help her daughter through her next two years of high school. At the end she thanked me for caring so much.

It’s wierd to be so happy about something so small as someone telling me they like me or saying thank you. Sometimes in all the administrative frustration and grading I get sidetracked and forget that I can really make a difference in someone’s life. I may not always turn them in to model students, but maybe I help them believe in themselves just a little more. Maybe I give them a boost of confidence. Maybe I show them someone cares. Maybe I encourage them just a little.

Maybe I’ll stick with this teaching gig a little longer.

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