Saturday, September 30, 2006

Little Boys

I've spent some evenings this week over at Jack's house. As long as the weather holds, Jack is outside as much as possible, playing with his gang. The gang consists of Jayden, who turned 2 in June, Jack, who is 2 1/2, and the twins - Bobby and Mark - who turned 3 the last week of August. Jayden's baby brother is only 3 months old, so he isn't in the gang yet.

So every evening these little guys get out in the long drive that leads to the duplexes where they live. It's a wonderful location for them, far away from the busy road, plenty of grass and a drive that is paved. Jayden has a Little Tyke's police car; the twins have a Little Tyke's orange hot rod, and Jack has a Little Tyle's red sedan. Three cars, 4 boys. You can imagine. The odd thing is they never ride in their own cars. Jack prefers the police car. The twins like Jack's car, and Jayden drives the hotrod.

Sometimes they fight. Last night it was Mark (or maybe Bobby), pointing to the house and saying, "My g'ma" (grandma). Jack pointed to me and said, "My grandma."
The twin repeated his statement, pointing to his house. Ditto, Jack. We broke it up before the fight. A few weeks it did erupt into a fight over mamas. "My mama,
said the twin. "NO! MY mama!" said Jack. Each pointing at his own mama, by the way. So they're getting angrier and angrier, each pointing at his own mama and shouting at the other, "MY MAMA!!"

If you didn't know they were all little white boys by just looking at them, you'd have been able to tell the other evening when the twins brought out their music and all the boys were dancing in the carport. No one could accuse any of them of having any rhythm! On the other hand, it was a great lesson in personal enjoyment. They just wanted to have fun, and what other people might think never entered.

Jack is really the brains of the gang. Up to a point. The twins brought out their semi trucks last night, and immediately rushed to Jayden's and Jack's dump trucks. Jack pushed one of the semis up to the stoop, arranged it in front of the door, and sat on it. You could see the wheels turning in the twins' heads. Wow...what a cool idea... and there was the fight! Only two semi trailers, and three bottoms to sit on them...

So while the boys yell, chase, jump, hollar, fight, scream, race, and otherwise enjoy themselves, I sit in the lawn chair, working on a Christmas stocking that will find its way to Houston. I watch, I laugh, I kiss bumps, I visit with the moms, and I feel wonderful to be near all that energy, all that love, all that innocence.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Eight down, 172 to go...

State law requires 180 days of school. A few years ago, the state agreed to give teachers a raise, then decided we had to earn it, and required two more days of us. Not the students, just teachers. So we spend an extra two days a year in classes. I don't think anyone minds, since we do get paid. But you know that three month paid vacation we get every summer? It doesn't exist. We are paid for 182 days, and the pay is divided into 12 payments, one per month.

Nevertheless, most people go into education because they care. Mind you, most of my experience has been with elementary ed, so I can't speak as firmly to secondary educators and their motives. Still, I believe that, overall, educators are people who care about the generations coming up, who one day will take over leadership. We care about helping children to become good citizens who build society. We care about teaching children to be responsible to one another and to our society as a whole. We care about teaching children to think and to search for answers; it makes more sense to teach a child how to research Columbus' trip, than to make him/her memorize the names of the ships (the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria).

In one of my schools, our "raw material" is inconsistent. Some come from two-parent families where both parents work, have cars and insurance and own their home. Some come from single-parent families where there is a strong emphasis on being at school and doing homework. Others come from families where there is a different dad in the home every few months. Some are on Welfare. Some move every three months or so, and in their records I find a relatively consistent record of past schools, the same ones. These students will move on, and eventually come back, only to move on again. Sometimes students tell me their parent/s drinks or does drugs. I have met parents who operated as prostitutes and even one or two who pimped their daughters out. The effort a parent puts into getting a child to school daily as a kindergartener is often an indication of whether that child will later drop out. There may be acting out by students in this school as they deal with the worries and inconsistencies in their lives.

In my other school, the majority of children live in nice homes whether in one or two parent families. Paychecks are consistent, and so are work hours. Parents can be reached by phone and come in to conference when there are problems. Unless said parent is in Iraq or Afghanistan. There may be acting out by these students as they deal with the worries and fears of their lives.

BUT we must build test scores. We are mandated by the No Child Left Behind to raise test scores. We can't be bothered dealing with these petty emotional details, because we MUST raise test scores. So we hire reading coaches and math coaches and instructional staff, most of whom work with teachers, not students, because we must teach the teachers to RAISE TEST SCORES. Never mind where the child comes from. Forget the fact that the child has fetal alcohol syndrome or a parent who is a meth addict or a parent who is dead in the war zone. WE MUST RAISE TEST SCORES. The ultimate goal of teaching is to RAISE TEST SCORES. And if we don't, by golly, WE WILL BE REPLACED.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Jamie Lynn Fallon

She is only a name to me. I dont know know if she was someone with an "important" job, or if she was a clerk. I don't know anything about the family she left behind. I don't know what she enjoyed in her free time. Was she someone's wife, mother? Did she knit or waterski? Here's what I do know about Jamie Lynn Fallon: she went to work that day, expecting to do her job. She didn't know she would die. She never planned to be a victim or a martyr. I don't know if she practiced Islam, Buddhism, or Christianity.

She died on September 11, 2000. While she died, I was 3,000 miles away, getting dressed for my job as a counselor at an Air Force elementary school, and listening to the radio. When the newscaster said a plane had crashed into one of the towers, I thought he meant a small, private plane, one of those little 2-person jobbies... and when I arrived at school that morning, one of the first things I heard was a parent telling her friend, "My husband is TDY at the pentagon. I don't know if he's alive."

In my lifetime I have heard, "Remember the Maine!" "Remember the Alamo!" "Remember Pearl Harbor!" And now, "Remember 9-11!" No, I don't personally remember the first three - I wasn't born yet. Every war must have its own horror that is remembered by that generation. 9-11 will be history to my grandchildren, as Pearl Harbor was to me. And yet, Pearl Harbor touched me because it touched my father, who was sitting in a movie theater when the film was interrupted by the announcement that all servicemen were to report immediately for duty, whether or not they were on leave. And I remember a sermon one Sunday in December, 1965, on the 20th anniversary. Twenty years was So Long Ago when I was 16. Today, Pearl Harbor was 61 years ago, and 9-11 was five years ago. And both of them seem only months in the past.

We cannot forget that people who went innocently about their business that day became the unwitting, unwilling targets of others who had no respect for human life. We cannot ever forget the innocent victims in any war. Jamie Lynn Fallon is only one, and never knew she was giving her life for a cause. I pray that her family is able now to remember her without so much pain.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Water! Who Knew? And I'm an Aquarius, too.

***Your Element Is Water***

A bit of a contradiction, you can seem both lighthearted and serious.
That's because you're good at going with the flow - but you also are deep.

Highly intuitive, you tune in to people's emotions and moods easily.
You are able to tap into deep emotional connections and connect with others.

You prefer a smooth, harmonious life - but you can navigate your way around waves.
You have a knack for getting people to get along and making life a little more peaceful.

What's Your Element?

Monday, September 4, 2006


I wrote a long post yesterday, and lost it when DD called to have me look up something online for her. Today I wrote another one, and at the end, I decided to add a picture. The picture uploaded, but not the post.

The picture is a little watercolor I did one day after school, trying out a design. It is called the Hand of God, or Hamsa Hand, or Hand of Miriam. It has a number of different names, and is a middle-eastern symbol of good luck. Usually the hand has an eye in the palm; the all-seeing Eye of God, which wards off evil. One source told me that the Hand of God is Moslem, and another source told me that it pre-dates Judaism, so I'm not sure anyone can claim it.

My friend in Jerusalem gave me my first Hand of God in the late 70s, a small charm which I put on a chain and wore around my neck. It wasn't secure, and disappeared one day, never to be seen again. Several years ago I was poking around in the bead shop down at Freighthouse Square in Tacoma, and found another Hamsa charm. I bought it - just a few cents, and it resided in a box of trinkets until this past winter, when I put it on a chain. I love to wear it. It reminds me of a song we sometimes sing, taken from one of the psalms, which has a line that says, "...and holds me in the palm of His hand."

Well, I thought it would make a lovely cross stitch design, and that's what I was thinking of when I did the little painting. It was meant as a sketch more than anything, but I like the colors. My DD has a beautiful embroidered wall hanging - about 12x12, with a Hamsa hand. When the Jerusalem friend visited last summer, she brought it for DD. This friend was my roommate in college, a Detroit girl who finally decided she wanted to live in Israel, and has for 30 years. My children call her Aunt, and one of my grands is named for her. We think having her as part of our lives makes us pretty special.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Friday, September 1, 2006

Back to School

I was going to say "back to the grindstone," but that is only partly true. I spent four days this week in in-services, preparing for the first day of school next Wednesday. After 2 1/2 days with the staff of school 1, I was in tears, feeling like I was next to a nervous breakdown. I haven't slept through the night in a week, and it has been worse this week. The task is so monumental: something like taking the mountain to Mohammed, one pebble at a time.

After 1 day at school 2, today, I am eager and making plans, excited about what I might be able to accomplish today.

So what is the difference? Well, both schools are about 400 students, so it isn't the size. School 1 is largely poverty, has a high homeless population. School 2 is military, has a high population of students whose parents are in Irag and Afghanistan, fighting, with the potential of not coming home. So, demographically, they are different, but both have severe stressors.

I think the real difference, though, is in the principal. Principal 1 is a nice, gentle man, who is totally focused on the job at hand, and who wants us to see what a big job we have, and how hard we will be working to avoid being a school, next year, that is NOT making "adequate yearly progress." Principal 2 is a nice, gentle woman, who is totally focused on the job at hand, and who wants us to be able to "put the wonder back into learning." To that end, she gave us magic wands and bubbles to play with, had music to emphasize the various things we would be doing this year, did a sample science lesson with us (which involved blowing bubbles) to illustrate her point, and wore a football jersey and proclaimed herself as our coach.

What a difference!