Closure

There is no good excuse for my prolonged absence. Really, there is just one word: overwhelmed. That describes what my dominant mood has been for more months than I care to count. In fact, I can just now say, not that I am no longer overwhelmed, but rather that I can finally imagine the possibility of not being overwhelmed.
I’ve learned firsthand the perks and difficulties of single parenthood, and I have gained much respect for those single parents who manage it all without the strong support system I am lucky to have.
I realized that quality time with my son was not worth sacrificing for another couple hundred dollars and quit my second part-time job. Once that was gone realized that my sanity is also worth much more than what they were paying me.
I had to give up some things that brought me joy, and take on some things I dislike, because I am literally responsible for everything.
I also dealt with a lengthy and pricey divorce, and discovered that they only thing more fun than divorcing the person with whom you thought you would spend the rest of your life is going through a divorce when the other party has a diagnosed disability that affects his socio-emotional development. Fun times indeed.
At least, despite the turmoil, I have found some much needed clarity and made some plans to move forward. Unsurprisingly, the conclusion is that I am more interested in doing and living than working and having. And the most logical place for me to look then is the List… which no longer seems to fit my life. Some of the goals are no longer relevant, and others are no longer reachable based on my current situation. Instead I want to focus on the things that truly make me happy: wandering (both literal and metaphorical) and my son. I’ll be writing about that elsewhere.
Thank you to those who read this blog.

Live with passion always.

~ Elle

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Getting ready for the first day of school

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… although the first day of school was two weeks ago.

I’m lucky that I had enough sick days saved up to afford to miss pre-planning and the first two weeks to stay home with Baby Bigfoot. I must say I’m a bit sad that I no longer will get to spend the whole day with him aside from the weekends; it’s moments like these that make me miss living in Europe with its evil social welfare systems that include paid maternity leave. Anyway, I thought I’d distract myself by getting ready for work on Tuesday.

To start, I decided to catch up on some education news from the summer. Two stories caught my attention. First, I was glad to hear that the state passed a new law that makes it illegal to evaluate teachers based on the standardized test scores of students they never taught. Why would we need such a law, you say? Well because of course, Florida was doing just that, and it required a lawsuit for the legislature to see the light. Speaking of the legislature, Florida lost its Commissioner of Education… again! We’ve gone through 5 in the last two and a half years. Incidentally, the latest one resigned amidst allegations that he manipulated test scores in his previous state to benefit a charter school. Classic.

Well, that’s enough foolishness. Let’s move on to people who have more sense. My 8th and 9th graders from last year.

The second part of my getting ready consisted of reading the end of year surveys I have the students fill out during the last week of school. They are anonymous, and I always read them during the summer to guide any changes for the following year.

According to my 9th graders, this is what I did well:

  • Always provided feedback/critique
  • Graded on quality, not just on turning work in
  • Little homework due to so much work done in class
  • Open-minded as to my teaching methods
  • Read their rough drafts
  • Had high standards, which made them work harder

They disliked:

  • Taking notes from the textbook
  • Bookwork
  • The District Assessments
  • That I sometimes gave notes and then did not revisit the topic

They had a love/hate relationship with my Power Points. Several students said it was what they found least helpful to their learning, but several others said it was the most helpful element of the class.

Funny quote from one of the surveys, under the “suggestions” category: “I suggest that you lay off the souls.”

My 8th graders had a fill in the blanks version of the survey. Aside from several creeper comments about my pregnancy (ex.: “I wish I got to touch your belly”) and sweet ones (ex: You’re going to be a great mom”), their feedback was pretty similar to that of the 9th graders.

Pluses:

  • No pointless work
  • They had to earn their grades
  • High expectations
  • Teach in a simple manner

Minuses

  • Bookwork
  • Allowed too much off-topic talking

Overall, there weren’t too many surprises. I really feel that due to the pregnancy, I wasn’t really on top of my game last year, so I am glad students still felt like they were taught well. Many of my 8th graders even said they hoped to have me again this year as 9th graders.

I do find it quite interesting that they gave me an accurate and useful evaluation… more than the state of Florida seems to be able to do for teachers.

Motherhood teaches you things

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… like stating the obvious.

Seriously though, it’s been almost 12 weeks since Baby Bigfoot’s arrival, and I have learned more than can fit in a blog post. So, since I like lists, here are the top 10 things motherhood has taught me so far.

  1. You will do anything for sleep – both the baby’s and yours.

For example, I heard about some lady who put her 3 week old in his car seat at 2am one morning and drove around the block about 12 times to lull him to sleep. After feeding him, changing him, and rocking him non-stop all night, I she was really desperate.

2. Everyone has advice and is an expert.

No, really, everything you’ve read is wrong, doctors and researchers know nothing, and you’re doing it all wrong.

3. Books can’t really prepare you, but they can relieve midnight first time mom paranoia.

4. There is no such thing as “your” schedule. There’s a new boss in town, and he wears the diapers.

5. Baby smiles make it all worthwhile.

6. Breastfeeding is not as easy as you would think.

7. Post-baby fat isn’t the same as just being fat. Deflated bellies are weird.

Which means trying on cocktail dresses two months postpartum is a stupid idea.

8. Ambidexterity is a side effect of new parenthood. So is the ability to do almost anything with one hand.

9. You’ll find out who your true friends are.

10. You’re far from perfect, but you’re good enough.

Baby hand

 

 

*Note: This post was typed with two hands, thanks to my Boba wrap

 

Birthing Bigfoot

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Item 21 has now been crossed off The List.

On June 1st, I became the mother of a healthy 8.4lbs, 20 in baby boy… with giant feet. At least that seems to be the consensus. As she handed me the bay, the nurse said “Look at those toes; they look like fingers!”

In all seriousness, everything went well, despite a C-section-obsessed doctor. I did win that battle and avoided major surgery.

Baby Bigfoot and I get to spend a few months together until I have to go back to work, so I’m just enjoying the moment.

Baby's Big Feet

Damn Dedicated (or Just Delirious)

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So, at this point, I am 40 weeks pregnant. In fact, my doctor-assigned due date was the 29th, and the one I calculated myself is June 1. My last day at work was last Friday, as the thought of starting labor in the classroom is not one I wanted to entertain.

Although I’m on leave, I am permitted to continue teaching my virtual school classes so that students can actually finish the semester (only one more week), as the chances of finding a substitute for them are slim to none. I have one student in particular, who has been ignoring my phone calls all semester, meaning she had 7 oral assessments to do all at once. After involving the principal, I got a text from the kid’s mom earlier this week, asking if her daughter could call me this weekend to get them done. I reminded her that my virtual school office hours were 4-8 on weekdays as they had been all year, and that I would likely be in the hospital giving birth over the weekend anyway.

Fast forward to today. I’m feeling quite worn out, my back is killing me, and I am discovering the joys of intermittent, but quite strong contractions. 8pm comes and I haven’t gotten a call, so I go use the bathroom. As I am trying to muster the courage to get off the seat (as it seems to trigger contractions), my phone rings, and it is that student…. and I actually drag myself out (yes, washed my hands first) and go call her back. I then squirm, walk and breathe through contractions as she butchers a semester’s worth of French.

Yep, that’s dedication right there. Either that or delirium has set in.

The Cat that Killed Curiosity

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If you think gators rule the land in Florida, you’re wrong. Let’s talk about the big cat that rules around these parts. I’m talking about the FCAT, the big high stakes standardized test we worship prep for around here.

Thankfully, it’s now come and gone, but just like an encounter with a big cat in the jungle leaves a lasting impression on those involved, no one escapes the FCAT. In fact, it is so important that you have to take it even if you don’t have a whole brain. You know, so the state can hold teachers accountable. After all, students knowing what’s on the test is what matters right?

Now I know, I’m probably just scared because I’m a bad teacher, I hate change, I don’t care about kids, etc… Still, the results of the Writing FCAT for my students just came in Friday, and my brother was asking me why I didn’t seem nervous or excited when we got the announcement that they would be out. The answer is simple: because it means nothing more than whether or not I was able to teach them the formula. The think is, I already know that I do that well (based  where my lowest pass rate being 86% over the 6 years I have taught 8th grade). It tells me nothing however, about the students’ actual writing skills or growth (since the previous time they took the FCAT Writing was in 4th grade).

Now, you might say, “well it’s just one little test, get over it”. It’s not just one little test though. It’s two weeks of testing, disrupting the entire schedule for the entire school. It’s security measures that rival attempting to enter the Pentagon. It’s a whole class period wasted showing kids how to scroll through pages and click on things in 9th grade and then having them sign a statement saying that we did. It’s complete meltdowns when the power fails while the students are taking a test the state insists on having computerized, even when many of the kids maintain they can’t interact with the material as well this way.

With all this emphasis, it’s no surprise that the message students are getting is that testing is what matters. So now, instead of the old “why do I have to learn this? I’m never gonna use it in life,” we get “why do I have to learn this? It’s not gonna be on the FCAT.” There’s little time left for exploration or discussion, or thinking really. Ironic that we’d let the cat kill curiosity at a time when all findings show creativity and adaptability are the skills our workforce needs in order to stay competitive. How are we expecting that from a generation that is learning there’s only one correct answer choice?

Dancing Baby (not that creepy 90s thing)

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Well, first let’s talk progress. By October, my splits were getting pretty close. My right was done, though uncomfortable, on days when I had time for a good warmup, and my left was pretty good.

October Left Split

October Left Split

October right split

October right split

Well, that went down the drain pretty quickly as the pain from my shifting hips came along. I kept up with class nonetheless, but I sure learned to appreciate my body in the process. First, I’ve often felt life the chubby ballerina in the class. Well, you haven’t seen chubby until you’ve seen your pregnant self in a leotard!

Being pregnant in a leotard is awesome

Being pregnant in a leotard is awesome

Actually, since I’ve been lucky to only gain belly and boobs, I didn’t even look chubby, just sort of alien-like. I also got to see just how much of my progress I’d taken for granted as I lost various skills week after week. My battlements got lower, my turns went to strictly single, my balance became iffy and I got progressively slower. I called it quits at week 30, because I felt like there was no point in paying for class when I had to sit out half of it. My goal is to go back by September, even though I’ll have to repeat the grades I was in. I definitely do not want to give it up.

Well, at least I still get to do belly dance, and believe me, I bring all the belly. I’ve got just 5 weeks left in the pregnancy, and I plan on continuing to attend this class for 4. Who knows, I may even do a move or two in the delivery room to ease the pain.

Bad Blogger Blues (an incomplete title)

I’ve been a bad girl

Got the bad blogger blues

 I’ve been so lazy

Wrote no updates or news

Yeah, I’ve got the bad,

got the bad blogger blues…

Lucky for you, you can’t hear my blues singing voice. Let’s just say I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon.

So, obviously I have been gone for quite some time. Part of that was overwhelming craziness with regular work, virtual school work, Common Core training (about 10 days’ worth!), and spending most of the time not taken up by the aforementioned activities sleeping whether or not I wanted to.

The good news is, the excessive sleep is due to progress on item 21. Oh, right, the full title to this post is actually “Bad Blogger Blues and Baby News”!

September (4weeks)

September (4 weeks)

April (34 weeks)

April (34 weeks)

That’s right, I’m expecting, so that’s added quite a bit to the whole “overwhelmed” thing.

Anyway, I’m back, and I have plenty of stories to tell, from ballet progress, to teaching interesting books, to testing season in Florida, so stay tuned 🙂

Ballet & the Classroom Teacher

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So, if you’ve been reading, you know that I love ballet, which is why three of the goals on my list are ballet-related. You also know that I am a classroom teacher highly frustrated with the state and direction of American education. In today’s post, I ponder the connections between these two loves of mine.

First, I truly believe that ballet makes me a better teacher. There are several reasons for this, the first one being simply that it keeps me sane. When I leave work and get to the barre, my worries and frustrations have to be left at the door, as ballet requires complete mental and physical concentration; it simply is not safe to think about test scores and Violin-Armed Monkeys (aka the value-added model), while trying to do grand battements in relevé. In other words, the barre keeps me from needing to visit the bar in order to cope with the emotional demands of teaching.

Aside from keeping me sane, ballet makes me a better teacher by giving me a student’s perspective. I get to feel lost when I take class with more far advanced students (to make up for missed classes) and struggle to keep up as the teacher continues to teach at their level (as she should; why else have leveled classes). Despite what many say is the advantage of placing struggling students with high performing peers, I do not suddenly and magically become a pro dance, but rather feel the entire time like I am a complete failure. In other words, I am reminded that rigor alone does not increase learning. In ballet class, as a student, I am also reminded of the power of genuine praise. I have had substitute ballet teachers, usually the younger ones, who praised us for everything, no matter how it looked; I quickly began to feel that their praise had no value. My regular instructor however, offers precise corrections and little, but honest praise. So this week when she said, “Elle, those splits are really coming along,” I was beaming (might cross off item number 14 this yea!). Likewise, as a teacher, I try to teach in a way that reflects my belief that every child deserves to be valued for existing, but rewarded for accomplishments (big and small).

Beside making me a better teacher, ballet is my source for many analogies, including some about education. I was recently off on such a tangent, wondering what would happen to ballet if we treated it like education, when I saw this video, which sent my mind spinning further. If didn’t have time to watch the whole video, you just need to know that it basically shows the idea of a dance objective test. That video perfectly mirrors my thoughts. What if we did reduce ballet to a standardized test? To be honest, I have no natural talent for ballet, not to mention that years of mistreating my body in various ways have left me overweight and stiff in some of my joints. On the other hand, some of the girls in my ballet class have true talent in addition to having youth on their side. Yet, if ballet was a bubble-in test, I guarantee that I would score above proficient, while some of them would barely make proficient, and others, despite their obvious gifts, would score below basic. Just like kids who grow up in a house full of books with educated parents have a massive head start on reading, I have a massive advantage in learning ballet vocabulary because I speak French fluently. This means that while the other girls are trying to associates meaningless (to them) sounds to specific movements, I simply have to hear the name of most steps to know their basic requirements. So while these girls could execute a dance that would bring tears to your eyes, I would be the one reaping bubble test glory, even though I am a very average ballet dancer. I know what you’re thinking: wouldn’t such an approach to ballet suck the art out of it? The answer is obviously yes, just like it’s sucking the art out of education.

The More I Teach, the More I Want to Home School

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Standardized Test

First, I should specify that I have no children yet. Still, I have been thinking about having one or more, so as a teacher, it’s inevitable that I would think about the education of my future children.

I’m sad to report, I think I want to homeschool them.

 

Now this is not a criticism of homeschooling, but more the crystallization of my disenchantment with the direction of American Education. What I see ahead is a model of education that is increasingly narrow, developmentally detrimental, disparate, and corporate in both process and product (the children). I know eventually, that is what will drive me out of education, and what will keep my child/children out of it.

Perhaps, I am biased because I actually teach children instead of pontificating about education. Or maybe I am spoiled, as my own education, which before high school was completed in Europe, included in-depth projects, cross-curricular connections, experiential learning, and no bubble-in tests. Maybe it is simply that as much as I try to stay true to what research and experience show is best for children, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so without risking being labeled a trouble maker, even at a highly successful school like mine, which has up to now enjoyed a lot of room to be creative.

 

This past week, I think the students in my Gifted class have contributed to my feeling that I have not resisted the new direction as well as I like to think I have.

 

Incident 1:

Student: Ms. Elle, I’m working on a fan fiction story. I was wondering if you could critique one of the chapters for me.

 

Me: Sure. Just give it to me about a week before you need it.

 

Student: Thanks Ms. Elle. I want you to judge it harshly; not at a high school level. By the way, why don’t we write any fiction?

 

Me: Well, last year I had to prepare you guys for the writing test, so there wasn’t much time left.

 

Student: So, we only have time for what’s on the test?

 

Me: No, but there’s so much that isn’t on the test, I have to pick what we can do in the time we have. I’ll try to fit a story in this year.

 

In truth though, as much as I didn’t plan it this way, I do feel like writing fiction got left out because I was so focused on giving them enough practice for the state’s FCAT Writes. Corporate Reformers: 1, Elle: 0

 

Then there was incident 2, after I finished explaining to my students how to fill out their district data charts based on the assessment they had just completed. I should specify that the assessment is useless to me, since it assesses all benchmarks each time, so it does not tell me if students have mastered the ones I actually taught, thus requiring me to give them a separate assessment on it. Additionally, this particular assessment contained about 5 errors (typos, no correct answer, question not matching the reading passage) out of 13 question.

 

Student 1: Ms. Elle, what was the point of that?

 

Me: Well, it’s so that you know how you are doing on your benchmarks.

 

Student 2: But it only has one question for each benchmark. How does that tell you if we get it.

 

Me: That’s why I give quizzes.

 

Student 3: Well, if the quizzes tell you if we get it, why do we have to do this chart?

 

Me: The district requires it.

 

Student 1: You know, in the time we just spent learning about these charts and coloring them, you could have taught us something.

 

Yeah, I don’t even want to keep score on this one. Basically, as things stand, I have a district assessment that tells me nothing every two weeks, then I have to do remediation for students who didn’t show mastery (though I have to give my own quiz to know which ones), then I have to retest. Of course, the also have to fill-in their charts. With all the time that is spend on these things, teaching takes a back seat, which is really sad. However, I am sure this will produce just the right product: graduates who have been taught to think within the confines of a Scantron sheet.

 

I just know my future child won’t be one of them.