Category Archives: bad people

Free Reading Friday: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleIt’s very hard to read memoirs of absolute deprivation, especially when they involve children. Even before I became a mother I found it hard not to cringe when reading stories of abused, neglected or forgotten children. Now that I am a mother, I find it even harder. I cannot imagine anything that could induce me to allow my children to suffer. I would give up everything I have in order to keep them from experience true hunger or pain. When parents are not willing to do the same, I find it hard to understand.

I knew nothing about Jeannette Walls’ life when I bought The Glass Castle. In fact, other than the fact that her memoir had been turned into a movie (which I have not yet seen), I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked her book off the shelf in the airport bookstore. However, I was getting ready to board a flight to South Carolina to spend a long weekend on the beach with friends and I knew I’d need something to read. I also knew that my Pop Sugar book challenge for 2017 included a book bought on a trip, so I purposely did not bring a book with me on the trip so I could buy one. Ok, I’ll admit I brought my Kindle, but I didn’t bring any paper bound books with me, so I would be more inclined to read whatever I picked up at the bookstore.

Since I am always on the lookout for interesting non-fiction books to bring back to my AP Language and Composition students and since I knew some of them might see this movie and want to read the story behind it, I picked this book over several other interesting looking fiction works.

I’m glad I did.

While stories of abuse and neglect are hard to read, I think they are important to read. I think it is vital that we read stories like Walls’ so that we develop better empathy for our fellow man. Stories like the ones Walls tells help to make it harder to dismiss the homeless woman we see digging through the dumpster, or the children who come to school dirty and without food. Stories like these remind us that small acts of kindness toward those who may be in need go a long way.

Of course, those lessons don’t make Walls’ stories any easier to read. Her tales of her parent’s complete abdication of their parental responsibilities are cringe worthy. Like Walls, my children were also very precocious, however, the thought of allowing either of my children at age three to operate the stove, let alone cook their own meals is appalling. The idea of allowing my children to sleep in cardboard beds under roofs that are caved in and allow rain and snow to fall into their bedrooms is hideous. The mere thought of taking my children into a bar to help me swindle people out of money at pool and then allowing grown men to take my teenage daughter upstairs is disgusting.

But there are parents who do these things and as a teacher I am thankful to memoirs like Walls’ because it makes me look harder and with more compassion toward many of my students. Because of books like these, I find myself listening more intently to students I think may be being neglected or abused. I check in with those I know have difficult home lives.

Although a great many tragic events happen in Walls’ life and in the book, she manages to keep her memoir from being too dark. She does fill it with lighter moments. And while she clearly sees the neglect and abuse her parents committed against her, she also shows a sort of understanding for them and a deep love for them.

How she managed to write so kind a memoir after finding out what her mother’s land in Texas was worth is beyond me.

This is an engaging and well-written account of Walls’ life that I am glad I read.

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Teaching Tuesday: ISTEP is the bane of my existance

I hate ISTEP. I mean, I really, really, really hate ISTEP.

I don’t understand how the powers that be believe a student’s ability to graduate high school should depend upon a single standardized test. I won’t even get into how asinine it is to boil every single kid down to one test and stake their entire educational future on that test. I won’t even talk about how absurd it is to focus this fate deciding test on only two academic subjects in school, completely ignoring all of the other knowledge they have accrued and the skills they possess. Nor will I discuss the fact that the people making the decision about the test have next to no educational background.

No, these are not the reasons I currently hate ISTEP.

I don’t understand why my effectiveness as a teacher depends upon a student’s ability to pass this test. I won’t bring up the fact that all teachers in the entire school, regardless  of what they teach, are judged by how students score in math and English. I won’t even dig into the ridiculousness of judging art or music or PE or history teachers on scores students get on math and English tests. Nor will I point out that at the high school level, only 10th graders are tested, so really, every single teacher is evaluated based on how one grade level does on tests in two academic subjects…even teachers who have never taught those students for a single day. Sure, I do teach one of the two tested subjects, English, but why is part of my evaluation (and therefore my salary) dependent on how students do on this test? See, I may teach English, but I only teach juniors and seniors. I don’t teach a single 9th or 10th grader. I don’t have any chance to help those students gain the skills they need to pass that test, but the state says that those kids’ scores help decide whether or not I am an effective teacher.

No, these are not the reasons I currently hate ISTEP.

Currently, I hate ISTEP because since we have no choice in when we give the test, the state has scheduled the test one week before our finals. I teach at a school that is not only on the balanced calendar, but also on a block 4 schedule. This means that students take 4 classes for an entire grading period for 85 minutes a day, basically finishing what would be a semester long class on a traditional or block 8 schedule in one 9 weeks OR a year-long class in one semester. So, right when I should be wrapping up my semester, getting kids started on reviewing materials and prepping for finals, BOOM! Here comes ISTEP.

Now, I know I just mentioned that I don’t actually teach any sophomores. I don’t. However, since only half of our sophomores are in an English or math class this semester (the other half took the classes first semester) and even those who are have their math and English classes spread throughout 4 different periods, we have adjusted our schedule to accommodate the 10th grade class.

That’s right, every single student and teacher in our school has had to completely change our schedule for four days to make room for ISTEP. That may not seem like a big deal, but our administrators decided the easiest way to make room for testing was to have all kids report at the start of the day to their SRTs (student resource time–sort of like a short study hall where kids can actually get help from their classroom teachers if needed). Instead of being the usual 26 minutes, these SRT periods are anywhere from 1:15 to 1:45. When testing finishes, kids resume a shortened version of our regular 4 block day.

This still may not seem like an issue, but one of my senior English classes which normally meets from 10:05-11:30 is now not even starting until 11:30 or 12:00. This time change means that my students who leave half day to either to go to vocational school or to go to the job program (ICE), still have to leave at 11:30.

What this means is that over half of my students will miss my class for four days the week before finals begin. We are currently half way through a novel, and my students are going to miss the bulk of instruction over the second part of the novel. They are missing classroom instruction that is critical to their final. Today in my class of 21, I only had 9 students. Until Friday, this looks to be reflective of the rest of my week. So, in order to accommodate testing for one grade level of students, we put other students at risk.

Have I mentioned that I hate ISTEP?

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Teaching Tuesday: Parkland

I have more thoughts and feelings about the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida than I am currently able or willing to express. I’ve spent way more time over the last few days engaging in debates with people who haven’t set foot in a school room since they themselves were in school about the “answers” to the problem of gun violence in schools. I don’t want to turn this post into a rehash of those debates.

For the moment, I will only address one, which was from a gentleman who declared that we really need to stop blowing this out of proportion as there have not really been 18 school shootings in 2018. In his opinion, if the firing of a gun was not during school hours and did not result in death, it should not really be called a school shooting. In his opinion there have really only been three school shootings this year. He then went on to say that we needed to stop making a big deal out of school shootings because kids shouldn’t be having panic attacks about going to school, especially since students were more likely to be attacked by a shark than to be involved in a school shooting.*

I side with Everytown for Gun Safety when they define a school shooting as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds, as documented by the press and, when necessary, confirmed through further inquiries with law enforcement or school officials.”

The reason I use this same definition is because any time a gun goes off in a school, whether it is with the intent to directly harm students or teachers, an accident which happens because someone brought a gun illegally to school or an accidental discharge from a gun carried by school personnel, there is the potential for real harm to come to students. Whether that harm is physically from a stray bullet hitting a student–like in the case Castro Middle School in LA where a student brought a gun to school which accidentally went off and injured four people–or emotional from a child hearing gun shots in their school and worrying that someone is trying to shoot up their school, the potential for damage is still there and it is still great.

So while there have only been 7 intentional shootings at school during school hours–five of which resulted in injuries or deaths–there have been 10 additional shootings on campuses across this country, four of which resulted in injuries or deaths. According to many, these 10 shootings, which resulted in three deaths and four injuries should not be classified as school shootings because they didn’t take place during regular school hours with the express intent of causing injury. Of course, since four of those 10 shootings took place on college campuses, it’s harder to identify “school hours.” After all, students are on those campuses 24/7 and just because no one was injured doesn’t mean no one could have been injured.

People who are arguing against the label of 18 school shootings seem to want to downplay the reality of guns in schools because in some cases no physical harm was done and even in the cases when harm was done, it was often only to one person and often just an injury, not a death.

As a teacher, I find this idea appalling. The idea that anyone wants to downplay the mental of physical damage done by guns on our campuses is disgusting. Just because miraculously no one was hurt in some of these shootings that have gone on this year, does not mean we turn a blind eye and pretend they didn’t happen. Nor should we only count mass tragedies like what happened at Parkland as a school shooting.

The reality is that we have too many guns being brought onto our campuses. Each gun brought into our buildings, regardless of the intention of the person who brings it in, has the potential to do both physical and emotional damage to our kids. Rather than make semantic arguments about what constitutes a “school shooting,” we need to be addressing the bigger picture and making sure that our students and our teachers are safe.

*I did the research on this and according to National Geographic, the US reports about 19 shark attacks per year and has one fatality once every two years. This is an average for the last several years, but even so, so far there have been 23 people killed by shooters on school campuses this year and we haven’t even completed 60 days yet, so his logic is ridiculous.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Please stop parking on the sidewalk

Today we finally got a dose of fall weather. It’s still not our usual late September sweater weather, but the dip into the 70’s was very welcome after a week spent in the 80’s and 90’s. In honor of the gorgeous breeze ruffling the trees, my daughter and I decided to go on a walk around our neighborhood.

Well, I decided to go for a walk. She wanted to go for a bike ride. Once I got her all suited up in her helmet and pads, we headed off.

Our neighborhood is not very big. It’s basically one main road, which makes a circle (and therefore gets 4 different names depending on which curve of the circle you live on). I mapped it once to figure out how many miles an hour I was walking and found out that one lap around is .8 miles.

My daughter loves riding her bike, but she’s still a bit unsteady on it. She’s 7, but her training wheels just came off in June. Since our circle has sidewalks and the few people who enter our neighborhood tear through it like it’s the Indy 500 Speedway, I make her ride on the sidewalk. I think this is perfectly acceptable, especially since I walk along behind her. She has to stop every so often to let me catch up so I can scan for any hazards like cars backing out of driveways.

For the most part, our neighborhood is pretty great. It’s off a major road, but since it is small and only has one entrance/exit, only people who live in or are visiting come in. There are lots of old growth trees all around it. In fact, the entire neighborhood has an outer ring of trees separating it from various fields and apartments. Things are pretty quiet and there is almost no crime. Unless you happen to be on the main stretch of the road looking out to the busy entrance way, you’d never know we are in the ciy.

My only real complaint about my neighborhood is that people park their cars on the sidewalk.

Now, I don’t mean they jump the curb and park on the sidewalk. They park in their driveways, but instead of parking their cars next to each other (or in their garages), they park bumper to bumper so that the backs of their cars block the sidewalks.

When it’s just me out walking, it’s not really that big of a deal. It can be annoying if the grass is wet and muddy, but I can pretty easily step around their cruddy parking job and still stay out of the street. My daughter, who is still unsteady on her little bike, however, has major navigational problems.

Tonight she wiped out about a dozen times. About half of those times were because she’s also not very good with her hand breaks, so when she needs to stop, she just sort of slows down, lets the bike wobble and then falls. She’s generally good about aiming for the grass so while she may get a few stains, she doesn’t do any real damage.

The other half of her crashes were trying to avoid cars. And she wasn’t always successful.

She crashed into two cars, both of which had their tails sticking out over the sidewalk. The first one was just barely over the sidewalk, but it had a big wheel cover for a spare tire which hovered a foot or so over the sidewalk. She tried to steer herself onto the grass. She almost made it. Her handlebar didn’t quite clear it though and she sort of bounced off the tire cover and landed fairly hard on the sidewalk. I was proud that she didn’t cry. She was hurt and unhappy, but she got right back on that bike to try again.

Three houses later she was met by another car. This one covered the entire sidewalk and was on the bottom part of the driveway. I told her to get off her bike and walk it around, but she thought she could make it.

She didn’t.

This house was a particular nightmare to maneuver because they had those scalloped bricks lining the small grassy area around their mailbox, so when one side of her bike hit the back of the car and started to tilt, she was driven into those damn bricks.

To her credit, she didn’t cry this time either. And she did learn her lesson. Every time I saw a car hanging over the sidewalk I’d call for her to get off her bike and walk it around. She did. In fact, with each car hanging over the sidewalk, she started getting off of her bike just a little sooner to guarantee there was no way she’d run into another car.

I realize that there are situations where blocking the sidewalk might be temporarily necessary, however, when you live in a community, it’s kind of a jerk move. The sidewalk is there for people who want to walk. It’s there for small children on bikes or roller skates. Be kind to your fellow neighbors. Keep your car in your driveway, but not on the sidewalk.

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Teaching Tuesday: Sub plans

Sub plans: The bane of every teacher’s existence. After nearly twenty years of teaching, I have come to the conclusion that it is basically pointless for me to leave sub plans….at least not for the substitute teachers.

Recently, I took three personal days in order to meet up with my best friends (none of whom are teachers) for our annual best friend celebration vacation. As over the moon as I was at the prospect of spending 4.5 days basking in the sun and frolicking in the sand with some of the most important people in my life, before I could reach this little piece of friendship heaven I had to write three days worth of lesson plans.

Any teachers reading this blog are probably shaking their heads at the folly of this endeavor and screaming, “YOU FOOL!.” For those readers who are not teachers, allow me to explain. Taking even one day off of work is so much of a hassle that it is almost not worth it. I have come to school dizzy from vertigo, running fevers, feeling like I might vomit, and so exhausted from being up all night (from what turned out to be the beginnings of appendicitis) all to avoid having to get ready for a sub.

For a great many jobs out there, if an employee has to miss work, they have a list of other people who also know how to do their job and can substitute in for them. Many others are lucky enough to have the kind of job that if they have to call in, the work can just wait one day. When teachers call in, however, there is pretty much a minuscule chance that the person called to fill in for them has a teaching degree. On the off chance they do, the likelihood of the sub actually having a teaching license in the teacher’s content area is beyond remote. But, if for some reason they actually did have a teaching license in the content area, the chances of them actually being able to step in and teach the lesson…well, I’ve never heard of it happening (except for long term subs who take over the classroom due to long term illnesses and maternity leaves).

When I have to call for a substitute teacher, I know I am basically getting a babysitter.

And I’d be ok with that if they actually did what a good babysitter is supposed to: read the instructions I leave, give the instructions to the children, make sure the instructions are followed and then leave me notes about how well the instructions were followed. It sounds simple, right? I know from six months of substitute experience that if a class is well-behaved, it is, in fact, just that simple.

I realize that the discipline factor is the biggest variable in the situation. If your classroom is regularly a den of chaos, or even turns into a scene from Lord of the Flies every time you leave, getting even the best sub to follow the lesson plans might be asking too much. However, I have well-behaved classes. This is due in part to the fact that I teach mostly Advanced Placement courses and my kids are pretty much always on their best behavior, and generally afraid of breaking any rules. It’s also due in part to the fact that I have a really good rapport with my students. They respect me and know I’d be very disappointed with bad behavior in my absence, so they behave themselves. Nine times out of ten, my students actually complain to me that the subs hinder their ability to work by trying to talk to them. These are good kids.

So, before I could leave for my three day friendcation, I spent two prep periods getting all of my lesson plans in order. Every single assignment was put onto Canvas, our classroom learning management system. My kids use Canvas on a daily basis and know they just need to follow the instructions I leave them in order to get their work done. The only thing I actually need subs to do is record attendance and make sure no one gets hurt. They don’t even have to read directions to the students (which I tell them in my VERY detailed sub notes). The only thing the sub actually had to give the kids was a writing prompt handout and the access code to the online test. Before I left, everything was completely set up so that my kids would have no problems and all of their work could get done. It should have been a dream job for any sub.

What I came back to…UGH!

For starters, my AP juniors did not take the test. Despite giving the very easy to spell access code of Vacation, the sub apparently didn’t tell them it had to be capitalized. They were perplexed when it didn’t work and I guess no one thought that maybe, just maybe, it needed to be capitalized (as other test codes have been). He did, however, read the writing prompt–which was part of the test that they would do the next day– out loud to them. He even handed a copy of it out to a student who asked if he could see it, despite the fact that it was clearly labelled for handout the next day. He later offered to let several of my AP seniors get a head start on their writing prompt by showing it to them a day early. Luckily, they’ve all had me for two years and knew I would lose my mind, so they quickly declined and told me all about it via email.

The second day I had a different sub who did not give out test materials early. She did, however, read the writing prompt out loud to them. Since it was about honor codes, she started asking them all about our school honor code, looking up information on honor codes and trying to discuss it with them, all while they were trying to write their essays. The information she gave them was of no use to them as they have to answer the essay based on the six sources they are given, but she did manage to both confuse and distract them as they tried to concentrate and write.

She also decided to go through my desk drawers in search of a nail file (which she used). She also searched my drawers for pens, even though I had several out for her to use. In addition, she decided to yank open the door on my lockable cabinet, which was locked, and actually pulled hard enough that it opened, which is how I found it. Thankfully I could sort of fix it when I got back, but man was I mad!

As much as I desperately needed the break with my friends, the two days it took me to prepare to be absent, followed by the barrage of emails I got from my students about my subs AND the two days it took me to straighten out the messes they made, almost made it not worth it.

It should not be this much work not to go to work.


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Wildcard Wednesday: Gym etiquette

I’ve been going to the gym on and off (and sometimes way more off) for the past decade or so. For several years I was a member of Anytime Fitness. I liked this gym because anytime I wanted to go to the gym, I could. They were actually open 24/7. It was also located in the shopping plaza just down the street from my house. Even though it was pretty close, I live on a fairly busy street with no sidewalks, so although it would have only taken me about five minutes to walk to the gym, that was nearly an impossibility. Still, it was close and open after my kids went to bed, so it was a great place for me. Since I was a teacher, they even had a discount rate for me. Instead of the usual $39.99 a month, my membership was only $29.99 a month.

This was my gym for about two years and for the most part I was happy there. I only really had a few problems and they were because other patrons didn’t seem to understand what I think is basic gym etiquette. For example: I would usually come to the gym later in the evening, often not arriving until 9 pm. Since the gym was not staffed after 7pm, anyone with a membership could use their fob to get into the building and exercise without any sort of supervision. Some people really took advantage of this. At least once a week I walked in to a TV in the weight area at the back of the gym turned up to top volume. Even though the lone guy (and it was a couple of different guys who did this) working out saw me come in, he never once turned the TV down. I always brought my iPod with me, but even with my volume turned up, I still caught snippets of whatever he was watching–usually sports.

Occasionally I could tell someone was trying to play “basketball” with their dirty paper towels. When they didn’t hit their shots, instead of walking over and picking them up, they’d just be littered around the trash can, waiting for the morning cleaning crew to come in. Several of the patrons were also pretty bad about replacing the free weights when they finished in the evening. Since I mostly stuck to the cardio machines, this didn’t bother me too much. Mostly I just thought it was rude.

A few times I felt very uncomfortable there at night. There is something very unsettling about being one of only two people in a gym late at night. It only happened a handful of times, but on two different nights I actually left only a few minutes into my workout because the guy in the gym with me kept stopping his workout to stare at me.

About six years ago, I changed gyms when Planet Fitness opened up. I’ll admit that part of my reason was the even cheaper price (only $10 a month), but another real draw was the fact that there was always someone on duty. Sure, they are only open 24/7 four days a week, but the other three days they are open until at least 7, so I can fit in my workouts.

Once again, for the most part, I really like Planet Fitness. I actually like the overall atmosphere way more than Anytime Fitness simply because no matter what time I go in, there is always music playing at a normal volume and I’ve never been in when there are fewer than a dozen people in the building with me. To me, this is comforting.

As much as I like PF, it is not without some major drawbacks…once again almost all related to gym etiquette. My biggest complaint is people not cleaning the machines. I just don’t understand how anyone can finish with a machine and not clean it. Even when I use the Arc Trainer where the only part of the machine I ever touch is the keypad to enter in all of my information, I still clean the machine, just in case some of my sweat dripped on something. When I use the weight machines, I clean the machines really well. While I won’t lie and say I am in the minority, I have never once been in the gym and not seen someone walk away from a machine without cleaning it. And, I’m not talking about people who just aren’t quite as germophobic as I am. I am talking about people sitting down at one of the weight machines, where they sweat quite a bit and just walking away without so much as running a dry towel over it, much less one with disinfectant spray on it.

Once I kindly confronted a guy about it. We were both doing the circuit training. He was sweating quite a bit and despite the fact that he knew I was using each machine about three minutes after he finished it, he was not cleaning them. When I POLITELY reminded him that he was supposed to clean them after each use, he yelled at me, “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” I told the staff and they said they’d talk to him. I used to see him a lot after that and he’d always glare at me and still not clean the machines. GROSS!

Oddly, it is always men who do not clean the machines. I have never once seen a woman finish with a machine and not clean it. I’m not saying all men do this or that no women do. I’m just saying at my gym, the only people I’ve seen walk away without cleaning the machines are men. I’m not sure why this is, but I’m disturbed by the regularity of it.

Another real pet peeve of mine at PF is the circuit training area. I really like this area. I think it’s a great workout and I actually kind of like it. However, despite the fact that there are signs all over it saying that the area is for circuit training only, every single time I use it, someone (and once again, it is always a guy) pops in just to do one or two of the weight machines, even though the exact same weight machines are just across the gym in the weight area. Once, I did 19 of the 20 stations, skipping the bicep machine when I initially came to it because for the entire time I was doing the circuit, a guy was just using the bicep machine. I finally had to tell him that I needed to use it to finish my circuit. He apologized and gave it to me (and even cleaned it), but he clearly knew what I was doing and had already made me skip over the machine once, which I just thought was rude. I often have to do the machines out of order because someone has decided to just use the machine I need next.

My latest annoyance at the gym is guys–and yes, I know that it seems like I am really down on men…I’m not…I simply adore them…but for some reason the only people who break the rules of etiquette around me are men–is people who hop onto machines right next to me. In the last two weeks, I’ve had three different guys hop on the machine right next to me (one Arc Trainer, one stationary bike and one elliptical) despite the fact that the gym is nearly empty and there are plenty of other open machines in the row. Last night I was surrounded by empty stationary bikes (I was the only person on one) and a guy decided to plop right down next to me for his workout. There were 8 other bikes open and he took the one right next to me. Now, it’s not like he was touching me, or eyeing me or talking to me, but it was still odd. I could feel the heat coming off of him and I didn’t like it. When there are so many empty machines around, why pick the one right next to me? I know some people pick their machines based on what is on the TVs overhead, but he had a device to watch.

None of these issues are big enough for me to stop going to the gym or even really say anything, but I just find it out that some people seem so oblivious to basic gym etiquette, even when there are signs all over the place explaining it.

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Teaching Tuesday: Teaching is not a “calling”

I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve heard that teaching is a “calling.” Usually this phrase is invoked to criticize teachers who want pesky things like raises, better benefits or better working conditions. After all, teachers shouldn’t be in it for the money, right? It’s a “calling.” People should only go in to teaching because they want to help others, regardless of whether or not they can actually live off of the salary provided.

Once, at a school board meeting when members of our community were remonstrating against a desperately needed referendum, a member of the community actually stood up and suggested that locals should be able to pay us in fruits and vegetables rather than a standard salary, because, after all, teaching is a calling and we shouldn’t be in it for the money.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t pay my mortgage with turnips.

Despite what many people want the general public to believe, teaching is not a “calling.” Teaching is a profession, just like any other. There are teachers who excel in the profession. They go above and beyond what is needed to ensure they make education as enjoyable and as meaningful as possible. This does not happen simply through some sort of divine intervention or some inborn talent they have. It happens because they work very hard, sacrificing countless hours of their own time with friends and family in order to work on lesson plans, grading, training, etc.

Teachers are not religious leaders. They do not live off the charity of their parishioners. They do not take vows of poverty. They do not have the ability to ex-communicate any member of their flock. Sure, administrators can expel students, but it is a whole lot easier for a pastor to tell someone not to come back to the church than it is to kick a student out of a school. There are no laws telling pastors how to run their churches, who they have to serve within the community, or how long they have to allow people to stay in their congregations. Anyone who wants to can become a pastor. Although many pastors do go to seminary or have religious training, there is no mandate that they do. Thanks to the internet, anyone who wants to can get ordained. Anyone who wants to can recruit followers and set up their own church. Teachers cannot do this.

Teachers, like people in a great many other professions, have to have college degrees. They have to pass state and national exams. They have to be licensed by the state. They are employees of a school corporation. Teachers, are doing a JOB. And like members of every other profession, they deserve to be properly compensated. Yes, believe it or not, teachers become teachers because they want to be paid for their knowledge and their skills. It is our lively hood, not a “calling.” While I love my job and work very hard at it, I go to work every day, not because of some divine “calling,” but because I have a family to support. And my children deserve a good life, just like the children I teach, whose parents are doctors, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, etc.

Indiana is currently experiencing a rather large teacher shortage. While “experts” speculate on why this is, any teacher can tell you why: teachers in Indiana are not well compensated, are being vilified in the media and are being forced to jump through ridiculous hoops to prove they are “qualified.” The state keeps rolling out new tests to measure students, slashing education budges and adding more to the already overworked shoulders of teachers. Is it a wonder that articles like this one in the Indianapolis Star are popping up in newspapers around the state?

While I appreciate the Star trying to shed light onto a very real problem, I found myself getting so annoyed when they referred to those who are still willing to become teachers as people who have a “calling.” This myth needs to be put to bed. People who become teachers may be following their passions. They are hopefully going into a profession where they feel their skills will be put to good use. But they are not on some divine mission, nor should they be treated as they are.

Teachers are professionals who want to do their jobs. They want to give their students the best educations they can. They deserve respect and compensation, not sainthood and poverty.


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Wild Card Wednesday: Handicapped parking spaces

About an hour ago I ran to CVS to pick up some Gatorade for my husband who is in the midst of a rather violent migraine. He was cursed at a very early age with not just head-splitting pain, but also the inability to keep anything down, including his own saliva, whenever one of these demonic fits hits him.

The store was pretty empty and as I approached the counter, the two employees behind it were finishing up a conversation. I caught the tail end of it. Apparently one of the regular customers had been in earlier in the day and had gotten rather irate with another patron for parking in a handicapped space, even though the person he’d yelled at had had the required parking tag. According to the irate patron, who uses a wheelchair, anyone who can walk and doesn’t have the official license plate doesn’t deserve to park in a designated handicapped spot.

I interjected myself into their conversation when she waved me forward to ring up my purchases.

“I hate when people get judgmental about who deserves a handicap space and who doesn’t,” I said.

She agreed and went on to tell me that the same customer yelled at her a few weeks ago when she stopped by CVS with her daughter. Her daughter, she told me, has brain cancer, and while she can walk, she can only do it in short bursts. She tires very easily and every little bit she doesn’t have to walk really helps her. The cashier was clearly still very upset about the way the customer had acted.

I sympathized with her. My step-mom had a handicap tag on her car for about a decade and we used to get nasty looks and muttered comments all the time. Sometimes the comments weren’t even muttered. I heard more than one person comment on how being fat must be a disability now. Because yes, my step-mom was overweight.

Even my ex, who is a very sensitive and compassionate human being, did not think she was sick enough to have the parking tag. My ex initially thought my step-mom was being lazy and actually using my grandmother’s parking tag (my grandmother had died of cancer earlier in the year).

But neither laziness nor fat were the reasons she had the tag. My step-mom developed pretty crippling arthritis in her late 20’s/early 30’s. In order to combat the pain she was in, she took some pretty strong medications that made the pain easier to deal with, but damaged her lungs and weakened her heart in the process. Before she hit 40, she had both a portable oxygen tank and one at home. The one at home she used like she was supposed to. She was not always great about bringing the portable one though. Even with it, the trip from the parking lot into any store was taxing on her. But as long as she could push a cart at her pace (or later ride in a scooter), she loved going shopping, so we’d park the car in a handicap space, one of us would run and get her a cart or a scooter and then we’d head into the store. She was a bit of a menace with a scooter, but she was out and she was happy.

Many years later, after my dad had one of his kidneys removed during his first bout with cancer, he also got a handicap tag. He was more reluctant to use it because he didn’t want to give in to how much the cancer was taking out of him. But, after the second surgery when he was without his adrenal glands and down to only 40% of one kidney, he too gave in and took the parking space he needed. Although, if you hadn’t known my dad before the cancer hit, you probably would have looked at him and thought he didn’t need that space either. I could see the drastic change in him. He’d once been this sort of colossus, reaching 6’3 and weighing in at about 270. He was a firefighter and a former football player. He was a HUGE guy. While he still had the height, after the cancer he was down to about 175 pounds and his clothes hung off of him. Since he’d refused chemo or radiation though, he still had all of his hair and didn’t have the frailty that so many cancer patients have. If I hadn’t known his prognosis, I’m not sure I would have realized he was really sick either. If I hadn’t seen how hard it was for him to get down on the floor and play with his grand kids, or seen how just walking out to get the mail winded him or seen him fall asleep right in the middle of a conversation because just visiting with family wiped him out, I may not have known he was sick either.

Looking in from the outside, it’s easy to see someone with a handicap tag and think they don’t really need it. Or maybe they don’t need it as much as someone else, but to quote the amazingly wise Atticus Finch, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Before my parents got sick, I have no doubt that I was every bit as judgmental, but I have learned the hard way that sometimes those with the greatest need are the least likely to show it. I’ve also believe that as a society we need to stop trying to fit everyone on some sort of suffering scale. We don’t just have to help, or empathize with or support those who are in the absolute greatest amount of pain or have the most suffering. Just because someone may suffer more does not diminish others who are suffering. I know handicap parking is sometimes limited, but everyone who needs it deserves to have access to it and should not be shamed, and especially not yelled at for using it. Just because you may not be able to immediately see their disability does not mean it is not there.

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Literary Club: Seductive Poison

When I first started teaching at my current school, one of the math teachers sent out an email inviting new staffers to be part of a Friday evening literary club. I thought this was really cool. I mean, who knew math teachers liked books? I don’t like math, I figured the hatred was generally mutual. There wasn’t any book mentioned in the email, just the name of a restaurant I didn’t know (I work nearly an hour away from where I live). When I went to ask a long time member of my department about it, she gave me this smile that made me feel a bit stupid. Turns out that literary club was teacher code for going out drinking on payday Fridays. Now, my school is not some sort of Big Brotheresque mini-state that has me checking everything is double plus good before I send out an email. It wasn’t the administration the club was formed to fool, but rather it was cover so that a student who might happen to see our email if they passed by our desks wouldn’t realize that their teachers were all getting soused down the road.

While I am still not sure whether or not math teachers like books, I do know that some of them are fun to get a margarita with on a Friday night. In honor of the camaraderie that brought us closer as a staff, I thought it would be fun to label my Friday posts, which will all be about the books I’m reading after the hallowed event, which sadly, doesn’t happen very often anymore.

51yjNZA-5jL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_I’ve been on a HUGE non-fiction kick ever since I started teaching an advanced English class which centered on teaching students to do close readings on non-fiction texts. Up until this point I’d taught about 90% fiction in my English classes. Sure, I’d throw in some excerpts from biographies and memoirs from time to time (mostly because they were in the lit anthology and I found them interesting), but I figured since the vast majority of what they read in every other class was boring ol’ non-fiction, I might as well be the bastion of imagination and creativity. I’d read some good non-fiction (Angela’s Ashes, Confederates in the Attic, Notes From a Small Island), but nearly all of it had been for a class or thrown at me by my best friend who worked in a book store. I never really ventured out of the fiction section on my own.

At the end of the year I was allotted a bit of money from the gifted funds to purchase some books for my classroom library. Knowing how hard it can be to read a book about a subject you don’t really care about, I tried to pick stories I thought would appeal to teenagers and still have some literary merit. So I ordered stories about murder, drugs, scandals and Bill Bryson (what can I say, he actually started my love of non-fiction).

Seductive Poison by Deborah Layton was one of the books I picked up. Since I don’t let my students read a book I haven’t read first (that way I’ll know when they are trying to BS their way through their assignments), I figured I’d better get started on it. I’d read another book from a Jonestown survivor when I was in college. It was called The Onliest One Alive. I read it in college because it was assigned to my boyfriend and I thought it sounded interesting. While it offered a very different perspective than Layton’s book as Catherine Hyacinth Thrash was elderly, African American, not one of Jones’ inner circle and actually in Jonestown the night of the mass suicide, but hid and therefore avoided the laced Flavor-Aid.

Layton’s novel, which explains how someone could get so sucked into the world of Jim Jones that they would not only give him all their money and move to Guyana with him, but help him break the law, snitch on their friends and family, intimidate and threaten those who left the “church,” as well as allow themselves to be raped by Jones (and then to stand publically and say they had begged for it), left me so sad. Not just for the cruelty the loyal suffered in Jonestown. Not just for the unthinkable grief that must befall a mother as she gives her trusting infant poison and watches him die in her arms. No, it was a deeper sadness. It is a sadness that as human beings there are those of us who are so lost and so unhappy that they fall prey to horrible monsters like Jones. It is a sorrow that comes from knowing thousands of people were so alone and so desperate for acceptance and love that they believed outrageous lies (like all men are truly homosexuals except Jones) in order to be a part of something. It also breaks my heart that anyone could treat his fellow man so poorly. I’m not just talking about Jones, but also about friends who reported on each other for no real reason. I’m thinking of children who placed boa constrictors around the throats of their parents and left ailing parents behind. I’m thinking of women who were raped by Jones and then allowed the same fate to befall their sisters. I’m thinking of mothers who slit their children’s throats because they were not in the compound to take the drink.

As I was reading Layton’s story, I kept shaking my head, wondering how on earth she could possibly have swallowed all the lies she was fed and not realized they were lie. I kept telling myself I was far too smart to fall for an organization like Jones’. While I do believe that is true, I don’t think Layton was stupid. I also had to remind myself that she was still a teenager when she found herself at a meeting of the People’s Temple. She was taken there by her brother and sister-in-law, family members she loved and trusted. She’d had such a troubled childhood she’d even been sent away, and when she met Jones, he told her how loved and special she was. He made her feel important and safe and valued. Then, I remembered my own adolescent struggles. While they were not as unsettling as Layton’s, I was overweight, had thick glasses and was a total teacher’s pet. I felt like the ugliest duckling in the world, especially next to some of my friends who were truly stunning. I thought about how easy it was for me to take any scrap a boy threw me that resembled love and thrive on it. While I didn’t date much, I definitely dated boys who did not treat me right and I let far too many toy with my heart all because I thought I didn’t deserve them. While my scars were never as serious as Layton’s and I never put myself or anyone I loved in a life threatening situation, suddenly, it became a bit easier to see how someone could fall into a monster’s trap. Especially one who seemed to be sainted.

Overall, I really enjoyed the read. While Layton is definitely a victim (as were most in the People’s Temple), she doesn’t try to wiggle out of events she was culpable for. She admits her guilt and wrong doing. Definitely worth the read.


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True Education Reform

Sorry to those of you who were hoping to read about my latest chocolate treasure, but this post is about something far more important. I know, I know, that seems a bit foreign coming from my keyboard, but as much as I adore chocolate, I’ve got something a bit more serious on my mind.

I’m a teacher, and a darn good one to boot. For the past 13 years, I have worked very hard to help my students become better. Better writers, better readers, better communicators, heck, better people. I cannot count the number of hours I have spent over the course of my career revamping lesson plans to appeal to a new group of students or writing detailed suggestions on drafts of research papers so my kids can improve them. I do not know how many hours I have spent worrying about kids who I know are using drugs, going through horrible break-ups, losing parents or having trouble fitting in. I’ve lost track of the free time I’ve spent outside my work day getting to know my kids and lending an ear when they feel the world is crumbling down around them.

In short, I care. A lot. Sometimes far, far too much.

In the last few years though, the profession I have cherished has really changed. Teachers are being vilified, no longer by angry students or even parents, but by the news media. We are being blasted for being over paid and not giving enough of ourselves. We are being blamed for just about every societal ill out there and frankly, I’m sick of it. I’m also sick to my stomach over the House and Senate bills currently being pushed through the Indiana government.

The governor, for I refuse to call him my governor, and the superintendent of public schools have supposedly made it their mission to reform education. The only problem is that little of what is being purposed is actual reform. Much is supported by shoddy research (or in some cases none at all), misinformation and the need for drastic budget cuts. Very little of it has any true educational benefit behind it. Much of it seems to be a vindictive attack on teachers. Now, I don’t doubt I’m taking this a bit personally. The only political issues I ever get really, really fired up about revolve around education. Like I said, I’m one of those teachers who really, really cares.

What I can’t understand, is if the governor and Mr. Bennet want true education reform, why they aren’t actually advocating changes at the most basic levels: colleges producing teachers. If real education reform is desired, why not change the way teachers are educated?

I find it absolutely reprehensible that most colleges require a mere C average to graduate with a teaching degree. We expect excellence from our juvenile students, yet allow their teachers to be mediocre. This doesn’t make sense. Teachers should be people who appreciate the educational process. They should enjoy the classroom environment. They should have a real enthusiasm for learning, not a wish to just get by. How can they demand their students rise to expectations they were not willing to rise to? If real educational reform is what our legislators are after, why not change the way teachers are educated? Accepting mediocrity and expecting high performance is asinine.

In addition, Indiana allows potential teachers to take the Praxis tests (standardized tests all teachers must pass, which cover a variety of areas, including general education knowledge, and content specific information) until they pass it. We don’t even allow this of our high school students. Those students are given five chances to pass the ISTEP. If they do not, unless they complete a very lengthy waver process (which so far my school has had 1 student do in the 5 years I’ve been there), they cannot graduate from high school. And yet, that same child’s teacher is allowed to take the Praxis test an unlimited number of times. How in the world does this make any sense? If teachers cannot pass this test with the minimum scores required after three or four times, why should they be allowed to teach? Doctors, lawyers and many other professionals with standardized tests have limits to the number of chances they get to pass. So should teachers.

And while on the subject of teacher training, I find it amazing that college students can spend as few as 10 weeks in a classroom setting during their student teaching and still be allowed to become licensed teachers. This is far too little classroom exposure to truly prepare anyone for their own classroom. Not to mention that with the transition to teaching program, the education foundation and student teaching requirements are almost nil. People who happen to have a bachelor’s degree and have worked in the business sector can become fully licensed teachers in as little as 18 months. How in the world is this proper training?

Again, if any of the current rhetoric was about real education reforms, some of these issues would be under the microscope. So would coaching and club sponsorship. As rewarding as I find the extra-curriculars I have had the benefit of sponsoring during my teaching career, it floors me that schools allow first year teachers to take on these assignments. If real education reform was the goal, wouldn’t it be better to allow new teachers a chance to develop as teacher before they add something as stressful as coaching into their lives? Far too many people who enter classrooms are coaches first and teachers second. Maybe if they had a chance to really hone their teaching skills for a year or two, they would become teachers who happen to coach.

I could go on and on for hours, but as I have to be up at 5:15 to make it to work, I need to turn in. I’m sure I will re-visit this topic because it is something I feel truly passionate about. My dander is up because so little of the bills introduced are about reform. They are about finding a scapegoat. In this economy, it seems the public is out for blood and our governor is happy to throw us to the wolves. One of the biggest problems I’ve encountered being an educator is that education seems to be the only profession that everyone feels they have a right to voice their opinion about. It seems that because every single person in this country has had to sit in a classroom for at least 11 years of their lives, they somehow feel entitled to give their solutions on how education should be managed. I would never presume to tell my doctor, my lawyer, my accountant or even my mechanic how to do their jobs. Few people would. And yet everyone feels it is their right to tell me how to do mine.

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