Mom to the Left

I'm a mom who tends to live just to the "left" of most of the people around me here in Indiana.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

When you love what you do

My sister has been an elementary music teacher for 11 years and she's burnt out. She has already filed papers to take a sabbatical next school year. She's going to be a Stay-at-Home Mom and In-Home Daycare Provider at her house. I have another friend who is a teacher in another country and she has gotten so fed up with her situation that she walked in and resigned this week. I hear grumbling in the teacher's lounge about this or that policy or lack of administrative support or whatever. There are grumpy teachers everywhere and to some degree I can't blame them. It is really hard (and often thankless) work.

But right now I am absolutely loving what I'm doing. I'm not even getting paid a full teacher's salary yet and my position is only temporary. But I so love the challenge of figuring out what each individual kid needs and coming up with a plan to give it to him/her. I love gathering the resources that'll help it stick with them. I never felt this thrill when I worked in a library and now that I've found it, I can't imagine doing anything else.

This week I had visions of my dad working through me as I sat at a table working with one of the girls. My dad was a classroom teacher for over 30 years. He is also a silly and goofy person. He'd come up with all of these silly stories to help kids remember things. One that I remember is the Gozintas. He taught 6th grade math and he'd talk about the Gozintas. When someone would ask him who are the Gozintas? He'd say, "You know, three Gozintas twelve four times and two Gozintas six three times." High school kids would come back to visit him years later and they'd ask him things like how the Gozintas were doing. ;-) Every year the graduating seniors in his school corporation were asked to invite their favorite elementary and secondary teachers to a banquet to celebrate their graduation. My dad was invited every year. And last year was the year his last class graduated and, not only was he invited again, he received a plaque as the award for having been selected for the most consecutive years by graduating seniors. That was pretty cool. He definitely made an impression on a lot of kids.

I thought of him as I introduced Emily to writing money amounts with Dollar Sign and his partner the Decimal Point. I kept emphasizing that they work together and you never see the Dollar Sign without his partner. We did a lot of practice using a dry erase board and if she forgot the decimal I'd say, "Wait a minute...what did we forget?" and she'd grin and say, "His partner!" I reminded her that his partner had a very important job: he has to separate the dollars from the cents! I kept giving her money amounts and having her write them and by the end of class she was consistently doing it correctly!

I love this job.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Teaching is hard work

It was 6:00 in the morning, half an hour before my alarm was set to go off, and I was wide awake staring at the ceiling. My mind was racing with thoughts about the kids I'm working with. Emily needs extra help with writing 3-digit numbers and with story problems calculating dates. Abby needs extra help telling time in 5-minute increments. And the sixth grade boys are at the end of their reader. What should I do starting next week? I am starting to see what individual student needs are and I am champing at the bit to address those issues.

I got to school a little bit early this morning and went to talk to another teacher about borrowing some resources from her to use with these kids. I could tell I needed to reteach some concepts. I took a look at today's and tomorrow's plans and shifted a few things around so that I had time to concentrate more on those specific deficits. I found manipulatives to use (a must for slower learners) and kind of made games out of them. By the end of today I felt like Emily had mastered 3-digit numbers and Abby could tell time to the nearest 5 minutes! Yay! Now, I'm not so naive as to think tomorrow they will remember it all, but they did know it today. I'm going to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each class reviewing it so they don't forget.

At the end of the day today, I started to look ahead to the week after next (next week is spring break). I started to write out plans and gather materials. You can't really imagine what a huge job that is until you actually do it! I spent close to 45 minutes and all I managed to get planned and organized was 3 separate sets of math plans for the week (for 3 separate kids). I still have to make two sets of math plans (for 4 kids) and two sets of reading plans (for 5 kids) for the week. It doesn't help that the other LD teacher is so busy that I have trouble tracking her down when I have a question and I have to go digging around for answers.

I really am excited about getting involved in this. I kind of hate the fact that we'll be on spring break next week. I feel like I'm getting geared up and building my momentum. I want the chance to really work with these kids and here I have to take a week off! (I know the other teachers would kill me if they knew I thought that. Ha!)


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Can I do this?

I have taken to listening (sometimes) to KLOV which is the network of Christian radio stations. (Sometimes the talking in between songs gets to be more than I can stomach, but I like most of the songs.)

Anyway, yesterday on the way in to work I heard one of their little snippets of reflective words by Rick Rogala called Fuel for Living where they spoke about the fear we often feel when venturing out into something knew. (Uncanny how these things come to us at just the right times in our lives.) Specifically, we feel self-doubt and question whether we are up to the task we are about to undertake. Basically, the message was one of reassurance that we are where we are because we are supposed to be and to go where we are led knowing that we are the right person for the job. It's kind of like that saying, "God never gives us more than we can handle." Now, I have to admit that that saying always sounded kind of hokey to me. It was just another way for religious right to shy away from real concrete answers. But I can see now that there is some truth to it.

Fight or flight is a human instinct. As I was driving down the road Monday morning to face my first day as full-time learning disabilities teacher for the next month, my instinct was flight. ACK! What am I about to do?

But I am the right person for the job, and the job is the right one for me at this time in my life. It really is something you might call divine. This is my first full-time teaching experience since college. It is only one month long while I fill in for another teacher who is on bedrest and I'm doing it until the special education replacement can start at the end of April. I am not working with a full class, but with about 8 kids throughout each day. I will be doing minor planning and grading and I will learn how to enter grades into the electronic system. You might say I am getting the opportunity to cut my teaching teeth. I am also making a name for myself among school staff, receiving a letter of recommendation from my principal, and right at the time when they are almost ready to begin hiring for the next school year. This isn't the job that I would want long-term, but it is going to serve me well. And I hope I do the same for the job. So far the students seem to be responding well to me and I can see that I am helping them.

I'm glad I fought that initial instinct to flee.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Finally...they threw me a bone

For those of you who have known me for a while, you know that I am on my third school year working as a substitute teacher and trying to get picked up for a full-time contract position. Competition is fierce and nepotism is one of my biggest obstacles. You have to know someone in order to be assigned a long-term sub position (i.e. maternity leave) and then you have to fill a maternity leave before you'll be considered for a contract spot. If you can't get someone to give you a maternity (or similar) leave, then you keep running into a brick wall. Earlier this year I thought I was a shoe-in. A third-grade teacher was pregnant and due in February and was planning to take most of the second semester off. I was her favorite sub and she regularly requested me. She made a huge plug to get me hired to cover her maternity leave. The principal also likes me and has made me one of two people who are called first for every sub job at his school. I was interviewed along with 4 other people. Everyone unofficial though I had the job in my back pocket. But one of the candidates (who happens to be the daughter of the athletic director in a neighboring school district) was serving a health leave at a different school and the superintendent's office informed "my" principal that that woman should be given the maternity leave. I didn't really have a chance.

Anyway, a new situation has come up. Another teacher who is pregnant and due in May was just put on bedrest. The woman taking her maternity leave can't start until April 30 (this is a special ed position and they want a special ed person to take the full maternity leave which is understandable). Anyway, they called me yesterday and offered me the job for March 26-April 27. It isn't a contract position or even a long maternity leave. But it is a month-long assignment (anything longer than one week requires certification and is a step up on the hierarchy). If nothing else, maybe this will be what it takes for me to finally get my foot in the door and get an actual interview for next fall. I feel like I am standing right outside the door and am liked well enough by teachers and principals. I just have to wait for all the pieces to slide into place.


Friday, March 23, 2007

a Generous Orthodoxy

For those of you who have been checking my blog and wondering when I was going to get around to regular posting again, I think I am back. I still have a trace of a cough and I'm struggling with fatigue (especially yesterday, for some reason). But I am getting back to normal. I promise to post more regularly again.

As a substitute teacher, I have a tote bag of "goodies" that I take along with me when I am out on a job. In addition to a bottle of water, an whistle (for recess duty), a bottle of tylenol, a sudoku book and pencil, and a koosh ball (for those last few minutes before dismissal when a game of Quiet Ball is in order), I often carry along with me a book that I'm reading. During each day, every teacher gets a "prep" period when the kids are not with them (usually they're in music, art or PE class) during which time the teacher does "prep" work like writing lesson plans, making photo copies, etc. Being a sub, I have no "prep" to do so I have a 30 minute or so break. This gives me an opportunity to do some reading.

Right now I am carrying around Brian D. McLaren's book a Generous Orthodoxy. This book has been on my "to be read" list for months now but I could never get my hands on a library copy and didn't want to spend the money on it. Well, finally I decided that if I want to read this book while living in an area whose public library generally doesn't own books with a liberal view of Christianity, I was going to have to spend the money and buy it myself. To be honest, this is one of those books that I would probably want to buy anyway just because 1) it speaks to the Big Picture that I've noticed forming and making up my individual spiritual path and 2) it is so packed with information that I know I will want to reread and readdress many points several times. And I'll probably want to scribble my own thoughts in the margins.

At this point I am not quite done so I am not at a point where I could post any kind of review. But I have already come across several ideas that stand out to me and have me saying to myself, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" A couple of his statements actually brought tears to my eyes as I was struck by their Truth.

By way of summary I will paraphrase here some of the noteworthy ideas from part I: Why I Am a Christian:

* I have synthesized much of what McLaren says into the idea that a big problem with Christianity is in the language we use to describe what it means to be Christian and its subtle differences in interpretation.

* He identifies 7 different Jesuses he has known (i.e. different perspectives on Jesus) and provides food for thought about how we have been taught to perceive Jesus and whether there might be other ways to interpret Jesus' significance in ways that are more authentic and meaningful and closer to their original intent.

* He illustrates that Christianity has largely become a religion of individuals and "us vs. them" thinking and searching for "the right way to do it". This has served to pit "believers" against "non-believers" rather than focusing on Jesus' ultimate goal - to bring the Kingdom of God into the world.

* He delves into the question of salvation and Jesus' role in it. He suggests that Jesus came to save the entire world (as opposed to individuals) by bringing his message of the Kingdom of God, the spirit of Christ within each of us, and our responsibility to shine the light of Christ out into the world in order to bring about the Kingdom of God. We have gotten all caught up in individual thinking as in "am I in (heaven) or out?" which has distracted and detracted from the original message. He suggests "[a]fter his death and rising, Jesus sends his Spirit to continue the process of teaching us, creating a community across generations and around the world that is learning to live life to the full" (p.106).

* He suggests that Son of God is a phrase that means the "ultimate embodiment of God" and that Son of Man (Jesus' own name for himself) means the "ultimate embodiment of humanity" (p.80).

* He discusses the dichotomy of very differing images of God: God A = "a single, solitary, dominant Power, Mind, or Will" and God B = "a unified, eternal, mysterious, relational community/family/society/entity of saving Love" (p.84-85).

* He asks "Would Jesus be a Christian?". Here is a direct quote: "The more I study the bible and reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I think most of Christianity as practiced today has very little to do with the real Jesus found there" (p.87).

* He says, "We retained Jesus as Savior but promoted the apostle Paul (or someone else) to Lord and Teacher" (p.94). And we decided the most important thing about Jesus was his death rather than his life.

These ideas are just from part I. In part II he begins looking at various aspects of what it means to be a Christian (and the language we use to describe it). There are so many more ideas from part I, not to mention part II, that I'll have to post more in a separate post. There are so many issues to think about and figure out where you are in the discussion. Love it, love it, love it!

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Weird identity crisis

So I had a day today that has left me feeling ungrounded. Just when I think I'm starting to get a handle on the "Who Am I?" question, I have an experience that knocks everything askew and makes me scratch my head and start over again.

23 years ago I was a senior in high school. There were 250 kids in my class which is big enough to feel like a crowd, but small enough that you still knew most people you went to school with. I was the drum major of the band and was fairly involved in other activities around the school. I was pretty well-known, especially among the music people from every grade. Back then I was riding high on the hog, as the saying goes. I remember feeling like I was in my element. I was brimming with self-confidence. I was surrounded by friends and couldn't go anywhere around town without knowing most people and having them know me.

That was a long time ago. I'm not sure what it is, but I don't have the self-confidence I did back then. I don't have many friends at all and I generally feel like I go through life pretty invisibly. I feel like a totally different person than who I was back then. I don't think one is better than the other. I've kind of come to accept who I am now. At this point in my life I am comfortable with who I have become. I'm used to going out in public and not getting recognized. That's been one of the fun things about subbing. Sometimes when I go to the grocery store I run into a student who recognizes me and says hi and introduces me to their mom or dad. It's kind of neat to feel noteworthy again after all of these years.

Anyway, today I was in the role of "band parent" because our school hosted a Winter Guard contest and I was asked to help out. This is the same school I went to myself. Most of the faces have changed after all of these years. I've met the other parents as "new people" within the last couple of years. But occasionally I run into someone I knew From Before. Today I saw my Senior English teacher. She remembered me (she reminded me of the term paper I wrote that earned me the "highest grade she ever gave on a term paper"). Then I ran into the wife of the band director. She hadn't seen me since graduation. She didn't recognize me at first until I told her who I was. Then she was gushing and trying to get me to help her recruit alumni band people for next year's alumni game to honor the band director's 40th year at the school. Then later I was helping a couple of women find a seat when they looked at me and immediately recognized me. It took me a few minutes to remember that they were in the color guard as freshmen when I was a senior drum major. I couldn't exactly remember their names and I felt guilty about that, but they knew me.

It seemed strange to me the way that these people all reacted when they saw me. It took me back to a different time in my life. People don't receive me with that kind of enthusiasm anymore. It made me start thinking about how much I've changed since high school. I am the same person. Why do I feel so different? And back then I was on top of the world and now I feel like I struggle daily. What has changed?

I just feel really strange after these interactions today. Part of me wishes things were like they used to be, but I have no idea how they changed into what they are today. Sigh.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cough cough - still recuperating

Aw, Ms. Kitty was wondering how I've been. I know I've been MIA around here lately.

The flu last week really zapped me. I missed work almost all week last week. Even though I am back at work this week, I am still not feeling great. Working (even until just 3:30) has me totally worn out by the end of the day. I'm still fighting a bad cough, congestion and sinus headaches (which sometimes leads to nausea) and lots of fatigue.

I frankly don't feel much like even sitting at the computer and reading, much less posting. But I'm still out here and I'm trying to get back to my normal self. Thank you all for thinking of me. Hopefully I'll be back to rambling in my blog soon.


Friday, March 09, 2007

The flu strikes

I am crawling back to consciousness after being blind-sided by the flu this week. I have managed to lose 3 days of my life. I've been feverish, shivery, congested, hacking, etc. Not a pretty picture. I've been living in my flannel jammies huddled under blankets on the recliner and surrounded by kleenexes, bottles of nyquil, half-drunk cups of hot tea and cough drops.

Finally, this morning, I am resurfacing. I am not totally back to normal (my nose is still giving me grief). But my fever seems to be gone and the achiness has subsided. I should be able to return to work next week.

In the meantime, everything around the house has fallen apart. Big J tried to do a little laundry when he got home last night and he's loaded the dishwasher once or twice. But after working all day he only felt like doing what absolutely had to be done. There is plenty left for me to do today.


Monday, March 05, 2007

I did it!

By a strange fluke, I had today off work but didn't find out until after I'd dropped D off at the sitter. So, as I'd promised myself I would do if such an occasion ever arose, I decided to go to the gym. I changed my clothes, grabbed my keys and jacket, and was out the door before I could talk myself out of it.

I did 30 minutes of cardio on the stationary bike and then about 20 minutes of weight work on the machines. I have to adjust the machines down to just about the lowest setting, but it's a start. I only managed to go to the gym once last week, so this makes my second time to go since we restarted our membership. I am bound and determined to get this body in shape again.

And maybe it'll help me feel better emotionally too.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Out of balance

My life is so out of balance right now. I feel like I'm driving with four flat tires where each tire is one aspect of my life and they've all been punctured. Blah. I wish there was at least one are of my life that brought me joy, but right now I'm not feeling it.

I remember a few years ago when we first started attending church and I used to love it. The whole experience was joyful - from the getting up and getting ready, the drive in, the service, the kids' RE, the coffee hour, and even the drive home. I'd arrive home on Sunday afternoon and just bask in the glow from my morning.

Those times are just a distant memory at this point. I keep hoping to get that old feeling back, but it doesn't happen. I drove home from church this morning so empty and sad feeling that I felt I could almost burst out in tears. Big J and I have been trying to get back into the rhythm of going to church each week, but the heavy snowfalls scared us away for a couple of weeks. And I'll admit that we (especially Big J but me to a lesser extent) are sermon shoppers. We read in the newsletter what the upcoming services are about and decide which ones sound good. Lately it has been slim pickin's, let me tell you. So many just sound like political seminars. Next week is our annual Celebration of Learning (recognizing kids' RE) and RE open house so I will be working as part of that. The following week is about the death penalty. My God, the death penalty.

Now, I realize that we UU's are generally passionate (as much as UU's get "passionate") about capital punishment and social justice issues. But after a very difficult week (or several) of real life, I need something spiritually uplifting. I would like to be reminded of God in my life (or even the Spirit or whatever PC term you want to use). But this upcoming death penalty sermon has all the markings of something that will feel like a public caucus or pep rally. That, IMO, is fine for a Saturday afternoon, but not a Sunday morning. Rather than feeling uplifted, I have a feeling I would leave church after that sermon feeling either depressed at the hopelessness of it or angry at the injustice. Granted, these sorts of topics are sometimes needed to remind people of "right living", but I DESPERATELY need something to feel good about in my life right now and I haven't seen anything of that sort at church for quite a while now.

Maybe I'll go to the local United Methodist church that week. Sigh.