Tuesday, July 30, 2019

F is for Freaked Out

I did something crazy this summer. I signed up for a writing conference and a critique session. I admit I don't really know what a critique session will be like. I'm supposed to bring 5 pages of my manuscript. The problem is, I don't actually have a manuscript.

So, on Saturday I started one. It feels more memoir than fiction, but I actually like it and by Saturday evening I was picturing a rogue editor noticing it at the conference and offering me cash on the spot for it.

But, that won't happen. I've been reading different blogs about how much work writing is and, well, I don't know if I want to work that hard. I don't know how badly I want to be a writer. I don't even know if I do want to be a writer.

It's one of those things like I'm standing in the forest and all of these signs are guiding me and a lot of them point toward writing. But not all of them do. Some of them point back to classroom teaching and a few point to college for a computer science degree and one little wimpy one points to the road that lets me retire from teaching in 10 years. But, as I stand here right now, I feel like I have to a least walk a mile or so down the writing road. 

Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

F is for Fast

Summer is almost over. When you are a teacher most people politely ask, how is your summer going? I should add that if they are not also off for the summer, it's a good bet that they don't really care!

I always say too fast. Because it is always too fast. I love my time off -- or as I prefer to call it "self-directed" time. Some people say they would not know what to do without a job. I am not those people. I have plenty to do. And if I don't have anything to do, I'm pretty happy not doing anything.

Did you read the previous post? About my evaluation? Just a week ago I had to look for my daughter's Social Security card so she could get her learners permit.  In the process, I stumbled over all of my old papers and evaluations from my previous middle school and a few letters of recommendation from before that. After reading them all (see I can keep busy with the craziest stuff!)  it is 100% clear that last year's teaching evaluation was the *worst* *ever*. Yes, let that sink in, I have an MA and nearly 20 years of experience as a middle school educator. I worked more hours and served more students than in any recent year and I got my *worst* *ever* evaluation. 

I think that gives me a couple choices. 1) This year I could work harder -- I could spend more time and energy -- I could get there earlier and leave later*. I could try to read more books and join more committees. Or 2) I could recognize that it's not me but them. And I could do the best work I can for 40 hours a week and then go home! 

I choose 2. But since I'm not sure how rewarding that will be -- I know myself well enough to know when my eval is even worse, I will be sad. I will probably cry (again). And I will not feel good. So, in addition to #2, I've decided to pour my extra time into writing. I just signed up for the SCBWI conference in October. Including a critique that will require me to share 10 pages of my manuscript. 

You're wondering, do I have a manuscript? Nope, not yet. But it looks like I'll have one by October 12! 

Wish me luck! 

By the way, I've started using Grammarly and I should mention, I love it! If you are like me and your great ideas are plagued with pesky errors, please check it out!

* A good friend from school was sort of  "forced" to retire early this year. She had a conflict with admin and decided she simply couldn't deal anymore. It's not entirely a bad thing. I believe she has been unhappy as a teacher for many years. But, I think of her often.  She was an incredibly hard worker. She was there every day way before me and way before the first bell. She often left way after me. And she came in on weekends all. the. time. The thing is, all that work never really translated to success for her. I never met anyone who worked so hard and accomplished so little. This is not to say she was a horrible teacher, she was not. But kids never really seemed to gel with her and the admin was always on her case for one reason or another and she was never happy. She is a bit part of why I'm choosing #2. I suspect that working hard will not do anything to change my eval. I suspect that no matter what I do, the world is going to want more or something else. And, I'm tired of playing that game. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

F is for Effective

50. The number of young adult books I've read this year. I'm a school librarian. I truly enjoy young adult books. But. It is unlikely I would read 50 a year unless I was doing it for work. Even if I was just reading with my own kids, I bet it would be more like 10 - 15.

I looked up "average times to read a YA book" and of course, it's complicated.  However, if you assume that on average it takes 4 hours (and for me, I think that is low) to read a YA book.  Then, you multiply that times 50. I have put in an extra 200 hours this year. That's for 5 weeks. 5 weeks. And I bet it is a low estimate.

So, yeah.  I've worked 5 extra weeks this year.  Now, I should tell you that I think reading these books is perhaps the most important thing I do at work. It is incredibly powerful to be able to chat with kids about what they are reading and what they love. It is incredibly powerful to recommend all different kinds of books for all different kinds of kids. Those 5 weeks are perhaps my favorite part of the job.  But mind you -- I did not spend ANY time reading at work this year.  None.

Now, let's talk about lunch. Sure lots of people work through lunch. But, my contract says I don't have to. So -- I sometimes take a lunch and run home to let the dog out or get something I forgot -- 30-40 minutes max! But mostly I sit in my office or eat at the circulation desk.  I'm supposed to get 30 minutes a day.  I probably *on average* take about 10 minutes a day.  That's about 100 extra minutes a week. If I look at that for the year, it is an additional 1.5 weeks of work. My modest estimate is up to 6.5 weeks of work.

I know, I know.  Everyone knows teachers work more than 40 hours a week. Everyone agrees that it is expected. Right?  But why?  Oh yes, summers.  I don't agree with that thinking, but I digress.

Now, this year. My own kids are at my school and because they had after-school activities, I would stay and work while they finished up.  These activities were 4 days a week for 45 minutes.  It's only January and I've racked up another 4.5 hours with just that.

I think you get the picture, right?  I also do some planning on my own time and often have evening community events that are at least "semi" required. Never mind that I buy all of the books I read.  I don't HAVE to but it is helpful, so I do.

My point?  Well, I had my evaluation post conference and out of 18 indicators, I was only rated "highly-effective" on 3. The rest were effective. I've been teaching for 22 years. I've put some blood sweat and tears into this profession.  I frequently give away my time.  My personal time.  And I'm mad. What on earth do they want me to do?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

I See You

Yesterday I attended an event where Jason Reynolds spoke to teens. I admit freely to already having an "author crush" on him.  His books have spoken to me in a way no others have. And, he is beautiful. Yup, I said it. My husband, who is also a successful writer and graduate of the University of Maryland, knows that Jason is my second choice. And, being the wonderful man he is, he accepts it.

Jason shared his story and he said so much. But what spoke to me as a school librarian and teacher was the part about how he needed to see himself in literature.

He mentioned his well-meaning teachers who couldn't make him read. It made me think back to my early teaching career in St. Louis where I worked with dropouts. I have long considered this part of my career the most meaningful part  -- but I also know that I probably did very little to help the kids I served.

Yesterday wasn't the first time, recently, that I've reflected on my work at YouthBuild. When Michel Brown was killed, I thought of my students, any of whom could have been him.  I grappled with silent grief that anything like that could happen at all and that it happened in my "home town" and that I felt sad for every. single. person. involved.

Jason's books, in particular, All American Boys, brought those memories flooding forward.  Yesterday, he also reminded me that I love to write poetry. I don't share my poetry much but since no one is reading this anyway (yet?), I thought I'd share this one: 

I see you
I hear you
I've taught you
I've failed you 

It sits heavily on my mind
It sits heavily on my mind

When I can't teach
When I can't reach 

Not far from where Michael Brown 

Was murdered

I started my career with
Were different from me

I walked into a room young, shiny, and white
To teach

Every single day I got taught

Ms. Crews "you one of tha niggas"
Crews, "I don't like many white folks"
Crews "why we gotta do that?"
Crews "why is everything we read so dark?"

Julian with his "intimate contemption"

Sean calling Reno* a dude

Donald Brown graduating
Glowing on stage

Reggie telling me he stashed his drug money
For later
Telling me he was going to be all right
Convincing me
Convincing himself
He was going to be all right
Going to be all right

Everyone showing me "where I got shot"
Everyone telling me "when I got caught"

Laughing about jailhouse bologna
But not really laughing 

Laughing about being 'fraid of possums
Afraid of possums
Laughing, really

I know who the teacher was
I know who learned the most

I still fail
I fail the Donalds, Reggies, Julians and Seans
I fail

I see you
I hear you
I've taught you
I've failed you

It sits heavily on my mind

*true story, Janet Reno visited YouthBuild on MLK day in the 1990's

I welcome encouraging and constructive comments. But, I'm not in this for hate. Save hate for some other place or better yet, work on it!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

F is for I Told You So*

Funny, right.  Crazy school librarian lady wants to tell the testing company to f off.  But, she's too scared to just post it already and puts all kinds of code in the text.

OK, I was clearly feeling cruddy about P3arson in last post.  Their faux nice e-mail promising to make the testing experience better if I complete their survey had me muttering and spewing and even f-ing.  Once I vented, here on the blog that no one's reading, I felt better -- but I worried about the internet trolls.  I've been told they're out there by reliable sources, even though my logical intelligent self was like "really? That's a bit over the top." Still I did my fancy home grown encryption, just in case.  Well then, today I read this.  Should I take my post down?  Will it disappear? Will I get fired?  All good questions.  But none of those is the most important question.  The most important question is this: Should this company in the UK be allowed to administer hours and hours of tests to US students and keep the content top secret?  Further should this very profitable company be able to intimidate teachers?  Have I mentioned tenure? Now who is fighting for your kid? Guess I'm still feeling cruddy!

*I told you so, has nothing to do with F, but I've been liking the "F" titles. It reminds me a bit of my neighbors and I when we have "Wine Wednesday" it's almost never on Wednesday, but we like the alliteration of it!  Amused?  Follow me!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Just F


I'm on a roll with F posts.  In fact, I've got some more in mind.  F is for Friday -- I love Fridays!  F is for Fantasy -- only I'm not writing *that* kind of blog.  At least not yet.  F is for Fat -- I actually think I kept a Weight Watchers blog with that title for a while, but as I've done many times in the past, I quit before it took off.  I could go on all night, but the stated purpose of this blog was a bit more than just ramble.  I promised (among other things) to provide a place for more serious discussion of the issues and challenges facing public education in 2016.

So, in the spirit of being true to my word, I thought I would share this.  I received the following in an e-mail this week.  But I should caution, I do sign some sort of non-disclosure paper each year but I don't pay too much attention to it.  I sign it every year, reluctantly.

In fact (if I may digress) every year, I imagine myself brave enough to refuse -- I picture myself standing up in the middle of the staff meeting and ripping it up and starting a chant "no, no, no."  Then my colleagues would stand up with me and rip theirs up (or if we were brave, burn them) and we would end testing as we know it.  Only that wouldn't happen, my colleagues would just stare at me or maybe even avoid eye contact.  My boss would look bewildered, because even though he doesn't completely disagree, he isn't willing to risk anything.  I'd probably be offered some faux empathy and another copy to sign when I calm down and feel better. It's possible the people in the room would never speak of it or at least whisper.  I don't work with Norma Rae, that's for sure.

After that fantasy, I have one where I sign "Mickey Mouse" to the agreement then I leak all of the information I can and the Washington Post or the New York Times publish it and they are grateful to me for exposing the dark secrets of the testing world and when my district realizes it was me, and they try to fire me for violating the non-disclosure,  but they are humiliated because I signed "Mickey Mouse" and they didn't catch it and they have to let me keep my job.  Yes, I know that's a run-on -- dramatic effect!

But this won't happen either.  Because despite a really competent Civics teacher, I'm just like so many other teachers I know, I need to keep my job and I can't justify putting my family at risk to take on the testing system.  In fact, I don't know if I can risk what I'm about to paste.  I got this e-mail.  I read it.  I've spent the last 30+ days supporting and administering tests that I don't believe in -- that are used to gather data that I don't think is accurate -- to kids who aren't learning what they need to learn because they're spending so much time taking the tests that don't mean anything.  Again, I could go on and on.  Anyhow, I got this e-mail.  And my (unofficial) answer to the people who sent it to me is.... F is for Fuck You!

*Thank y0u for partic1pating in the Spr1ng 2016 xxxxxxxx M####### of AcadeXXX ##ccess (C#####): EnXXish LanXXXge AXXs/M-atics and ScXXX/S S a**essment admin1stration.  The XXXXXXXXXXXXX Survey is now ava1lable.
The purpose of the survey is to gather feedback that will help us to create system-wide 1mprovements for future adm1nistrations.  A!! survey resp0nses will be an0nymous.  Feed6ack is requested by Fr1day, May 2-th.
Thank you, aga1n, for all of your hard work throughout the spring ass3ssment admin1strations.  If add1tional ass1stance is needed, p!ease contact...

But on Monday, I'll probably just go fill it out and be as honest as possible without getting in trouble. And next year I'll probably sign my real name again and make sure it all goes smoothly just like I did this year.  Did you ever wonder why Teachers used to have Tenure?  This is it people.  This is it!

*and yes I altered the text because we've all heard that p3arson has trolls that surf the net looking for people who violate the terms.  While they probably are looking for actual test items and not the survey e-mail, I still feel the need to be cautious!

Tune in for my next blog post, F is for Fired!

Please share your thoughts on testing.  I would especially like to hear from people outside of the US!  But any testing discussion is appreciated!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Finding my Flourish

I am devastated that there are so many blogs titled "F is for Failure" already.  I wanted to be original, but I admit, I didn't try too hard.  Nothing worse that writing that sounds like the writer is trying too hard.  But then, there is the writer who doesn't try enough, too.  I'm just getting started (did I mention you should follow me).   I feel like I'm floundering too much.  The thing is, if I don't flounder I will have to quit.  So, on I go.  Failing & Floundering and trying to find my flourish.  Perhaps  F should be for flourish, but can flourish happen without failure, floundering and fretting (like this post seems to be)? Awe, forget it!