Friday, October 24, 2014

I Don't Know Where This Post is Going but It Will Get There

Can you believe once upon a time and for several years I posted five times a week? My how times change.  Back on October 12, Hugh Jackman and I shared a birthday and this blog turned 9 years old.  I certainly never imagined I'd be doing this nine years later and although the pace of my output has slowed considerably I don't want to stop completely.  This forum has provided me with people whose friendships have sustained me through some of my darkest days and who have rejoiced with me in great triumphs.  I like to think I have reciprocated that to some folks as well.  I am grateful, so very grateful for the friends who have become like family and the little community we've been able to form.

In other files marked "the times they are a changin'" I offer two examples of educational anachronisms.  This week  in one of my libraries a little boy ran to my desk carrying a book so he could alert me to the "bad word" contained in the title.  The book in question was Dick and Jane: a Christmas Story.  I had to explain that it was a nickname for Richard that has fallen out of favor. 

Later, a fourth grade class came in with their brand new math workbooks for a new curriculum aligned with the mandated Common Core standards.  As a table full of students hunched over their workbooks crunching numbers I happened to notice the two pages contained several word problems using a stamp collection as the main reference point from which to derive information.  Let me repeat that.  A stamp collection.  A fourth grade class.  A poverty-stricken, inner city school.  In the year 2014. Cuz, yo, that's how we roll in da hood.....with our postage stamp collections.  Bitches be all up in my face wantin' a British Guiana 1c magenta. 

Sweet mother of irrelevancy, if we have to stop a math lesson to explain what the hell a postage stamp is and why on earth someone would have an entire collection of them because the kids are all giving that cocked head, confused puppy look I think we've derailed ourselves a bit here.  Could we perhaps enter the 21st century and provide appropriate examples of things the kids might actually come in contact with so they can grasp how math affects their daily lives?  If you want to introduce stamp collecting as a concept just say so and I will come up with a lesson integrating vocabulary, geography, history, art, technology and even math.  Furthermore, the kids will be on the edges of their seats and learn something that may actually spark their imagination and intellect because it will be cohesive rather than random.  This?  This is just plain stupid.

We've also had all sorts of automotive traumas.  In the last three months each of my three children has had an accident.  Thank God, no one was injured.  That's the most important thing.  The cars have fared less well.  Two were totaled, one sustained minor damage.  Calypso's car has had transmission problem and is back on the shop for more of the same. Mr. Lime's Clampett-mobile style truck had the brakes go and tries to slowly poison the driver with carbon monoxide unless the window is cracked open.  It's now in the shop for a new muffler and brakes.  I'm just wondering which automotive gods I have pissed off and if an offering of motor oil and Turtle Wax will help appease them.  Then again, one could say a Higher Power has had my back since the people I love most have been spared injury.

In happy news, I've been able to teach my series of free community yoga classes as practice of my new skills. Did I mention I was the first among my large class of teacher trainees to have to teach the public?  How about that it was before we'd had the classes on sequencing or providing physical assistance to students?  It was nerve-wracking to prepare for but fun to do once I was there.  My mantra for nerves was, "It ain't cancer.  It's yoga."  Very zen, huh?  I'm sure the ancient gurus chanted that in Sanskrit or Tibetan.  I was so encouraged by the two teachers who came to my classes, as well as my fellow trainees.  And then there were the two ladies who were brand new to yoga and who told me they were hooked immediately because of the message that there is no competition and that they listen to their own bodies whether what they do looks like the teacher or the person on the mat next to them or not.  I was THRILLED that they "got it" and were empowered by that.

So here I am nine years out, working in two urban schools running libraries, working toward being certified as a yoga instructor.  I've been through a child's serious illness, my own serious illness, five surgeries, and more cars than I care to count.  My three children who were in elementary school and junior high when I began this blog are all graduated from high school and on to the next steps of their lives.  One is in Georgia, one in a local institute of higher learning, and one is preparing to go to Haiti next month in preparation for a later 1-3 month internship there.  Mr. Lime is counting the years to retirement and I am embarking on new adventures within new communities of friends.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Flexibility

First, an update on the aftermath of last week's post.

After being told I'd have to do "library on a cart" I spent a considerable amount of time gathering scholarly articles correlating library access to various measures of student achievement so I could fortify my arguments for the students having access to the full library collection, not just the couple hundred books I could fit on a cart and drag around the school.  So as to not overstress the admins I highlighted key passages in the several dozen pages I printed out.  Folks were unswayed though one noted I had come prepared, to which I replied, "I work in a library.  I know how to do research."

However, I am glad to report an acceptable compromise was reached.  Our school is bursting at the seams.  I had to give up some geography in the library to accommodate another class being moved up there.  I was able to convince the principal that library on a cart  is such a piss poor excuse for library service that we cannot justify it.  He offered the suggestion of only having part of the class come to the library at a time since an entire class can no longer fit in the remaining space.  I agreed because the most important thing is that the kids have access to the full collection.  We've already lost librarians and library instruction.  We cannot afford to lose access to the collection.  So a certain degree of flexibility from both the principal and from me has allowed for some semblance of a solution.  It's not optimal or even desirable but it's preferable to library on a cart.

In other news, I spent this weekend of yoga teacher training learning how to safely give hands on assists to deepen stretches....so flexibility can be increased.

Bending one classmate in half.
Asking another classmate to walk all over me.



















I am learning flexibility in all sorts of contexts but I'd  still like to tell the people decimating urban public schools and their libraries to get bent.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Disheartened

I'd like to open by asking you what exactly you think would posses a person with a B.S. Ed. and who holds state certifications in Special Education and as a Library Assistant to put 80 miles a day on her car to earn $8.41/hr in order to provide book circulation to two urban elementary schools with a combined collection of 21,000 books and a combined population of roughly 1600 students and 75 teachers?  Allow me to remind you this person performs the job alone.  There is no M.L.S. credentialed librarian.  The folks with advanced degrees were furloughed so those of us hired as "assistants" are doing this job alone....in two schools.

God knows I could find a Special Ed job tomorrow and be paid many times more than what I am currently paid so we can assume it's not the generous compensation for this job.  The thing is, I burned out on the bureaucracy with that job.  I love the kids who struggle for one reason or another.  I love empowering them and helping them find ways to succeed.  I just can't cope with the exhausting amount of legal documentation.  It saps the energy that the kids need in order for me to be effective with them.

I am not enamored of long commutes and even less so since our family has had multiple major automotive issues in the last two months.  I certainly don't enjoy filling my tank two or more times a week and honestly, my pay doesn't really help me do so.  The travel route is congested with a great many aggressive drivers and several construction sites.  Neither of those things help endear the drive to me.

At my two schools I lack basic necessities for my job such as an adult-sized desk and a chair with doesn't collapse under me every time I sit in it.  I've become very adept at the art of the careful landing.  I also sit in a moldy basement in one of the schools.  Hey, who needs air-quality?  What an unnecessary luxury.  Oh right, the air is fine according to all reports (how many palms were greased for that and how many salaries could have been paid instead?) only it's not.

Of course, a case could be made for insanity being the motivation.  These conditions are crazy-making.  It also unnerves my husband on a daily basis that I drive as far as I do to park my car in less than safe neighborhoods to work for so little.  My sanity certainly has been questioned long enough and in multiple contexts by many people so there may be sufficient evidence to convict on that charge.

I submit the main motivation is a soul-deep concern for vulnerable kids and for being involved in their educational process in a way which doesn't suck the life out of me, a desire to support a bone-weary faculty in their daily efforts, and an abiding love and appreciation for the power of books.  There's also the satisfaction that comes from bringing order out of chaos, being able to provide efficient systems for accessing literature and information, and making both students and faculty aware of resources they never knew existed.  Watching a child's eyes light up over something which engages his imagination or answers her questions gives me joy.  Seeing a teacher breathe a sigh of relief over being saved a little time in searching for materials to use in augmenting a lesson gives me a little more energy to continue serving.

I don't see myself as a great savior but I do believe I provide an important service and provide it well.  I believe the context in which I serve is critically important as I am serving students who begin life with too many strikes against them already.  The students in my two schools are the poorest in the city.  They come from homes full of violence, substance abuse, and transience.  They come from homes with a lack of stability, food, and books.  That's not to say every home represented is like this but certainly the demographics indicate there is a disproportionate degree of these attributes.  There will never be a lack of people willing to work in comfortable suburban schools.  It's important to attract capable, hard-working people to the worst situations though.  I am capable and if showing up to do my job well in the midst of dealing with cancer doesn't demonstrate a work ethic, I don't know what does.

Our schools spend a great deal of time and money providing free meals, health clinics, food pantries, clothing closets, after school activities, and other services.  These are important and can make a big difference.  I am in no way suggesting these services cease.  I will say we  must not forget our primary job is to EDUCATE children.  I am deeply concerned that the lack of value placed on our libraries indicates we have forgotten that responsibility.

We have already furloughed the librarians so our students are not receiving instruction as to how to properly use a library and access its treasures or literature and information, nor how to conduct effective online searches for digital information.  We have completely failed them in providing the tools needed for them to engage in self-directed learning in the most expansive resource, the library.  Ray Bradbury said he could not afford to go to college so he went to the library and "graduated" at age 27 after he had read countless volumes.  Our students, who may never be able to dream of affording higher education, will not have a concept that they have the power to educate themselves.  Hell, they probably won't even find out who Ray Bradbury is or have the chance to consider his works for that matter.

Still, I strive because it matters deeply for our students.  When I interviewed for this job I said aside from providing excellent service I wanted to cultivate the library as a safe place.  I am given 20 minutes every other week per class (which is pathetic to begin with) to allow them a sense of this haven, this sacred space for knowledge and imagination.  It's a challenge but one I believe I have risen to.  I cannot contractually provide formal instruction but I can take 20 minutes and do everything in my power to convey that this is a place for hope of finding solace or building a better future....until you evict the students and me from this place.

I am told I am now to "do library on a cart."  I am to distill a 10,000 volume library to a cart which holds fewer books than the average teacher's classroom library, push it from room to room, and call it library service for 900 students and 30-40 faculty.  We've already abandoned library instruction.  If you want me to abandon proper circulation service then you are more insane than I am.  This is a horrendous failure of educational leadership.  If you want library on a cart stop pretending it matters at all.  Delete the entire collection from the catalog, distribute the books to the students and teachers, and take the shelves apart.  I have no interest in perpetrating the fraud of saying library services are provided to our neediest children under such conditions.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Just Give Me the A Already Because My Other Classes Are Killing Me

School has resumed.  It's been an odd start to the year.  t was very strange not to have to engage in the typical back to school preparations for children who are still in public school.  Very weird indeed since Mr. Lime and I still had to get ourselves ready. 

That said, Calypso (who would like me to post some touching sort of post about her...sheesh, kid discovers your blog and all of a sudden wants to be the star!) has begun a program at a community college.  After a couple of online classes in which she did very well she has begun attending full-time on campus classes this fall.  Here then, instead of a warm and fuzzy Hallmark sort of post, I present some observations on school.

She is not loving Statistics.  I can't say as I blame her.  If you recall, I burned my stats textbook when the class was over. She has a particular classmate who is driving her even crazier than the topic itself.  The classmate is a middle-aged woman who has just returned to school for the first time in decades and is understandably insecure about it.  What annoys Calypso is not the insecurity but her inclination to ask the same question repeatedly because she can't be bothered to actually listen to the prof when he answers her. The incessant questioning is so constant a disruption that other members of the class and the prof himself are finding their patience strained to the limit.  Calypso, though she is struggling with statistical concepts seems to have grasped at least one in assigning a nickname to this one classmate whose age is no where near the range of fellow classmates and who doesn't seem to grasp any of the social cues within a polite classroom.  Said classmate is now referred to as Outlier.



Here then is what she related as the conversation with her Literature prof who said genres won't be covered individually but rather under themes such as Death, Alienation and Loneliness, Nature, Love and Desire.  Under each theme there will be poetry, short stories, and dramas relating to the theme.

C: I was looking at the textbook and the syllabus and noticed there's a TON of Poe in the textbook but none was listed in the syllabus so I was wondering why.

Prof: Oh?  You think we should?

C: Well, um, since you mentioned he's pretty much the father of the short story and we have a theme of DEATH, I thought his work might be relevant.

Prof: Hhhmm, good point.  Which works do you think we ought to use?

C: (incredulous) Well, it's a safe bet that anything he wrote would work but how about a short story AND a poem?

Prof: You may be right.  I'll add that.

C: Well, and I also noticed a lot of Plath in the book but none on the syllabus.

Prof:  You think I should be covering Plath?

C: (looking around for Candid Camera) Well, uh, yes.  She seems a good candidate for alienation and loneliness since, you know, she was feeling alienated and lonely enough to literally stick her head in an oven and all.

Prof: Hhmm, another good point.  I hadn't thought of that.


Calypso then told me she needed to write a thank you note to her ninth grade English teacher who loved nothing more than when a student found death as a theme in any of the works discussed during Lit Circles (something Calypso found a real challenge at the time).  I'm sure such a note will make that teacher's day.


Monday, September 01, 2014

It's All Happening at the Zoo

The week I was going back and forth to Philadelphia for my testing I decided to make a trip to the zoo one day.  I've always loved the Philadelphia Zoo, which has the distinction of being our nation's first. I met my friend Gwen and her little one, Sweet Pea there. Join us.

 Flamingos always make me giggle.
There were a couple of women discussing this position with the little one they were accompanying.  We all agreed it looked like giraffe yoga.  Downward giraffe anyone?
 I was following my prep diet for the scans while at the zoo.  Last year I may have fought the otter for the fish.  This year my cravings were all about cheese, so I could just enjoy the otter's antics.  We also had an extended discussion with the otter's keeper.  We learned a lot about the breeding programs.  Essentially the worldwide zoo population of these river otters is descended mostly from the same mother and there are more hoops to jump through to get your otter laid than any sane person would even want to imagine.
 This bear seemed wholly unconcerned with any of that.
 We were hoping the peacock would give us a show.  He did not oblige.
Getting ready for a date and checking his deodorant?
"Listen, Glen may have on his aftershave but he still can't dance.  Just look at that ungainly display on the dance floor."
 GQ Lemur edition.
 The beauty shop at the primate house.
 Cutie
 Deep in thought or needing a smoke?
 Whoa, Mama!  the ground is waaaaaay down there!
 She seemed fairly annoyed by the people around.
 Sweet Pea's favorite toy is her stuffed lion.  It goes everywhere with her.  She wanted this lion to meet her lion.
Majesty
If you've ever read E. B. White's Trumpet of the Swan you may recall the main character Louis lives at the Philadelphia Zoo for a time and plays his trumpet for tourists.  The swan boats at the zoo are in honor of the book.
 Sass
 Just inside the entrance is this fountain.  I've loved it since I was a child.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Good News

It's possible I may have
underestimated the importance
of having someone with me
when receiving good news.

I knew I'd need you
to break the fall when
I heard the words,
"It's cancer."
Sure as I was
of what would be said,
I still wanted
your hand in mine
and was grateful to feel
your grasp.

I was sure this day would be different
and you had many responsibilities.
You'd done enough.
I didn't want to interfere further.
So I told you to see about your duties,
mine was just a formality.

How foolish I was
in my confidence
of hearing about clean scans.
I learned too late
I needed someone
beside me
bearing witness with me
to the light in the doctor's eyes
when he was a messenger of pardon
rather than execution.

Who knew joy loves company
more than  misery does--
or needs it to take up the space
where doubt may try to seat itself?


According to the doctor I saw yesterday the final test confirms I have passed by first full year cancer-free.  We are greatly relieved!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Critters

I've been shooting all sorts of critters this summer....with Boom-boom my Canon....not boom-boom a gun.  It's a habit I picked up ears ago when Isaac was small and collecting the various insects, amphibians, and reptiles he could find in the yard was his favorite thing.  We'd take a picture, marvel a bit, look up the species, and put it back.  As I am lacking time to come up with a reflective or humorous post and as this past week has been a sucktastic one I am sharing the local fauna now in attempts to make myself think of more cheerful or peaceful things.  First up, the chipmunks.  As a kid I spent a lot of time in the mountains with my grandparents and feeding the chippies by hand was a favorite past time.  Since Mr. Lime and Isaac chase them off I was pleased to be able to sit in the yard peacefully with them one afternoon as they scampered around looking for seeds.


You talkin' to ME?  This little one cracked me up when I downloaded the picture off  my camera.
While I was in Maryland I was able to enjoy the goldfinches.  We get them at our feeder occasionally but I was able to get much closer to these and since I wasn't contending with the shade from our feeder their colors came out more brilliantly.  Here's Mrs. Finch.
















Mr. Finch.  You can certainly see how much more brilliant his plumage is.  Again, as a kid in the mountains, I was reminded of my grandfather. We kids could feed the chippies by hand but only my grandfather could draw the wild birds to his upturned palms as he sat in zen-like repose on the back porch.  I always thought he and the birds had a special relationship.  My aunt confirmed that with this story.
Back at home we found some other little friends.  This frog  has made a home in a hole in one of our fence posts. His drowsy look and his hiding space just sort of make me giggle.










Not far away from the fence post, Mr. Lime built a bird bath out of an old claw-footed tub.  About the time we found the fence post neighbor we found this little one had taken up residence in the birdbath.  He just seems a bit more outgoing and I can imagine him calling the other frog enticing him to come play while the other one moans about wanting a nap.
Finally, I nearly stepped on this little red eft one day on my way out to the car.  When I noticed him I had to go back in for my camera.  I can remember scooping them up and carrying crowds of them...um, herds...er, wriggles....whatever the collective noun for a salamander is...in my shirt by folding up the front hem and using it like a pocket.

Happy memories of years past and peaceful times this summer...aahh, that's better.