Sunday, August 14, 2016

To Teach or Not to Teach, That is The Question!

With each school year comes challenges that leave me questioning my purpose: "Are my students learning?" "Am I a good teacher?" "Is it time to move on in my own personal quests?" "Am I ready for the helicopter parents and the bull dozer parents?" "Can I keep up with this spiraling technology mandate and the constantly changing school board initiatives?" It can be a mentally and physically exhaustive job where the rewards are small. As the students move on, your only measure of success comes from tests created by a company that measures their own success by the number of your students' failures. (ie: If too many of your students actually understand the middle school grade level questions, it has nothing to do with your ability to teach, it means the test must have been too easy! So the company then changes it to be a test of endurance with 12 year olds either giving up or sitting there for four to five hours.) However, just when I decide that I can't take much more bureaucracy and "parentacracy ;-)," and decide it's time to go, God hears me and sends a little angel with a direct message.

I found this in my inbox today :-) ...

"Hi Mrs. Smith! You probably don't remember me but I was one of your students 3 years ago! Today I was working on my AP Lang summer assignment where we had to use and define rhetorical made me think of you because I already learned all of these in your class. I just wanted to let you know because it meant a lot to me to have a teacher who really cared if I understood the material. Also, R----- ------ was in that class...we are still friends and we always reminisce on how great your class was. Thank you, so much."

Message heard loud and clear: Teach!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Gas at a Premium

So I finally needed to feed my brand new baby. I had noticed I was low, but was not expecting the gas pump icon to pop up and stay there at a little less than 1/4 tank. My cool graphics were replaced with a consistent message first urging me to fill up, and then asking if I needed "her" to find me a gas station nearby -- over and over again. I would return to my cool satelite graphics screen and, two minutes later, it wanted to help me find "food."

I must admit, it felt a little like being nagged by your mom or a loved one who was annoyed that I didn't do something fast enough. I wanted to shout back, "Alright! I heard you, and no I don't need your help. I know where the gas stations are."

I pulled into the next station I saw, a small Sunoco that was cramped, packed and awkward to manuver around. One island was completely taped off with yellow caution police-like tape leaving everyone jockeying for position at the other four. a man in a mail truck gave me the evil eye because I beat him to a pump. Great, I thought, I will be in and out in no time or so I thought.

First I could not figure out how to open the little door to my gas tank. Then I got out and found myself standing in thick coarse gravel that covered the entire area. Next, an attendant came over and told me to wait a moment because he had just reset the pumps, or I could move over to the taped off pumps which had been just cleared for use, which I did.

I swiped my card and it was declined, then accepted, then declined, then accepted. The oh so helpful attendant got it working, but next the hose wouldn't readily go in, he played with it a little and got it in. (I guess she was still a virgin.) I then proceeded to select my fuel when, "AHH!!!" I realized $3.00 too late that he had started the pump already... with low grade gas in my premium only tank. We immediately stopped it and canceled the transaction. I swiped my card again to add to appropriate fuel,,, and it said declined.

At that point he added how he had had a crazy day. The gravel on the ground was covering a huge gas spill from someone who drove away with the pump still in their tank. I looked at my tires  now embedded with gas gravel and knew that I would be also tracking it inside on my shoes. So, when he offered to go inside and reset it for me, I said no thank you, I couldn't wait anymore, I had a meeting to get to, and I was sure I had enough in my tank to get me there.

As I peeled out of that horrid little station all the while praying it takes more than three dollars worth to start an engine knocking, I watched as my cool graphics disappeared only to be replaced with a message, "Your gas is low. Do you want me to find a station nearby?"

Friday, January 1, 2016

Jumper Cables and S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Happy New Year! Three simple words that we shout at the drop of a ball. We celebrate next by hugging, kissing, and toasting because in a mere 10 seconds the world has changed for the better and we will now have a new lease on life that will irradicate at the wrongs of the past year or years. Or, will it?

The reality is that New Year's Day is a time of reflection, and a time for renewal which is why we get excited when the ball drops. We each have our own demons plaquing us and have decided what we need to do to change and we cannot wait until December 31st when the last year will be wiped from our slate and we can begin again. because New Year's Eve, more specifically, the Countdown, is this big gigantic symbolic celebratory Jumper Cable that will kick start us on our journeys to self realization.

As for the resolution themselves, the biggest reason for consistent failure year in and year out is the lack of a plan. Thus, this year, I am being "smart" about it - literally. I am using the same system that we use at my job. I will be treating my 2016 resolutions as S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. They will be specific enough to guide me to my success, but broad and without unrealistic daily expectations. Maybe this time they will last past January... and by the way, returning to my writing is one of them, so I guess I am off to a good start.


1. This year, I resolve to be a more patient, compassionate and caring person who is thoughtful of others, my community, and the environment (by more volunteering, donating, recycling, and gardening.)

2. I resolve to take better care of my body in regards to what I put in it (by eating more non-gmo food and using more single ingredient products in my house and on my body.)

3. I resolve to enrich my mind by reading more, doing more crosswords, and engaging in more intellectual activities (which includes less mindless time wasting websurfing.)

4. I resolve to make time to love myself so that I can truly be a better selfless person. I will do so by making time for the things I used to love to do: traveling, photography, painting, reading, writing, going to the museum, working out, and getting spa treatments.

5. Lastly and most importantly, I resolve to be an even better wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend by continuing to bestow love upon my family.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Critical Crustacean Crisis

Maine lobster? Nope, it's the elusive Northern Virginia Pond Mud lobster.

You see, I was walking my dog on the trail near the pond before work yesterday (while second guessing my decision to wear my favorite half-leather half-quilted over-the-knee riding boots, when I thought I saw a giant brown leaf. Much to my surprise, it was not a leaf but a soon to be extinct Aldie pond lobster. Immediately I hurried my dog on to her business so that I could run home and get a camera b/c surely no one would have believed me.

Back at the house I decided I also needed to save the poor thing from his soon to be extinction 10 feet away on the busy street. I grabbed my phone camera, a red bucket ('cause you know I wasn't touching it, and a yellow shovel ('cause you know I wasn't getting close). I am sure I was quite a sight for my neighbors in my thigh high leather and quilted boots with that big red bucket and yellow shovel running across the street.

As I neared the displaced creature, I pondered my rescue method. First I tried to scoop him (or her) up with the shovel, but he (or she) stood up and clawed at me. I then tried to shovel it into the bucket, and it turned its tail under and snapped his claws fighting for dear life -- or so it thought. Finally, after many attempts, I used the bucket and shovel together and got him in. Then I ran to the pond to throw it in before it tried to climb out. That’s when something small, black, furry, and fast shot across the grass just a few inches in front of me. I screamed, the bucket went flying into the pond, and I skidded across the grass. The heel flew off of my leather and quilted black knee high boots, the red bucket lay in the pond and Virginia Mud Lobster lay in the grass facing the wrong direction again. I hobbled back up the hill the retrieve my shovel while thinking about “survival of the fittest.”

My soft heart won and I decided to go back using the shovel now to fish out my bucket and scoop up the crustacean to throw into the murky water --  all while looking over my shoulder for the furry running beast. As I hobbled home with my heel in my hand, yellow shovel over my shoulder, and little red bucket in my other hand, I couldn't help but think that if it were any bigger, it would have been in my pot instead!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Pedagog's Less Than Perfect Pedicure

As the start of the school year quickly approached, I made a mental note to "get my toes done" the week before class was to begin. That week arrived and departed before I could even fathom a free moment to even call for an appointment, let alone actually go.

Two weeks out: "I'll get them done next week."

Seven days out: "I'll get them done tomorrow."

Six days out: "I'll get them done tomorrow."

Five days out: "I'll get them done tomorrow."

Two days out: "I'll get them done tomorrow."

One day out: "They are not that bad, no one will notice that tiny chip. "I'll get them done next weekend."

The morning of: "Oh no! Three of them have chips! Must have happend in the shower. I'll just do a quick one coat over them. Oh no! it's the wrong color! It looked the same til I put it on. Is it close enough of a match? No, I will just cover all of them in that color."

Ten minutes later: "Oh no! My pants have smeared them! I will have to take the bottle and do them in my classroom before the students arrive. I hope no one sees me."

Thirty minutes and 12 miles later I ran to my teacher teamate to say I need five minutes. I found her with her leg in the air reapplying polish on her own toes. We then hobbled off together all stiff legged to our morning duty.

That night after I removed the tacky, smeared, but dry mess, I applied cuticle cream which needs to soak, so I jumped in the tub were I was able to both read the 6th grade book I was using for class and soak my tootsies at the same time. I was always good at mulititasking; I just hope cuticle cream does no harm to the tushy. Once out, there was still no time for polish, so the next day I had to go naked toes to class. Finally the following day (about two weeks after the initial intent, I slapped on another messy coat of polish on my way out the door and prayed I did not bump into anything with my less than perfect pedicure. After all, it would be another two weeks till I had time to do them again.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Throw-Back Memory Jarred by a South Carolina Death

Every Thursday is considered Throwback Thursday on Facebook. People find old pictures of themselves or family members and post them for fun. However, yesterday's video of an unarmed man who had been stopped for a routine traffic ticket fleeing for his life and shot in the back and then framed with a relocated taser, brought back memories of my own scary traffic stop late one night on a wooded Fairfax County back road. In lieu of a twenty year old picture of my self I chose to post a throw back Memory:
It was 1992 and very late, perhaps after 11:00 o'clock at night. I had just returned from a full and tiring day flying across America and wanted only to go to bed. As I neared my rented room in a friend's apartment I saw a Fairfax police car pass me going in the other direction. I knew I was going to be stopped.
I was young and broke and had just been hired as a flight attendant. They based me away from my home state leaving me with $2000 to move, pay first and last months rent, and buy a car. I was thrilled to find one for $400. It was clean-- inside anyway-- with low mileage, but had a smashed driver's door.
He saw me pass, immediately made a U-turn and followed me for about a half a mile until I tapped on my brakes. That's when he saw my brake light was out. Suddenly it was red lights in my rear view mirror and then a bright white in my face. I showed him my credentials. I showed him my insurance. I showed him the receipt and the new bulb that I had tried to put in but found did not fit. I explained that I did not live here and that it was an airport car. I told him how I tried to fix it two days earlier when I had arrived from Cleveland for my trip and that I was going back to find someone else to replace it tomorrow.
He sneered and snarled. He did a walk around barking at me to turn on this blinker and that blinker, turn on my wipers and step on my brakes. The only thing that did not work was the light bulb which I had a receipt and new bulb for. I told him I did not live here and that my transfer had finally gone thru so this was truly my last week. He said "Not my problem! Take it up with the magistrate!" By then I was crying as I silently took the ticket and rolled up my window.
The worse part was that he trailed me slowly for three miles all the way into my commuter pad parking lot. He stopped with me and sat there with his lights on me as I got my suitcase out, and walked across the lot to enter my commuter pad apartment where I was renting a small basement bedroom to be used twice a month. He did not leave until I closed the door behind me.
My only crime was that the light bulb post was rusted, and the bulb would not come out. I had the dated receipt, and proof that I was moving the next week, but I was still trailed and intimidated. As a single black female on a lonely unlit back wooded area road, I was left feeling alone and terrified. I wonder what he would have done if I were male.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Clothing Clash Wars

        My mother would buy us school clothes in August and again for Christmas. Never in between nor after the holiday, and certainly not because a growth spurt had sent the hem lines soaring above our ankles like a plane above the horizon. Mamma would simply remove the stitching and let the hem hang low -- if she did anything at all. Most of the time, she didn't seem to notice, though other people did.
       There was once  the school counselor who offered me a bag of someone's second hand donations. She called me into the office and closed the door tightly behind me.
       Softly, gently, she began, "Someone gave me a bag of clothes, and I was trying to determine who to give them to." She said this while slowly opening the black trash bag treasure trove of woolen skirts, ruffled blouses, and 4 inch wide belts. 
        I had hoped my face did not betray me and give away my revulsion to the old faded linens. 
       "I hope you don't mind me asking you," she continued.  "You don't have to take these if you don't like them."
       Yes, I thought,... I was off the hook.
       "Do you want them?" she plied.
       Ever so slowly I shook my head left and then right, while squeaking out an embarrassed, "No thank You."
       Once home I was immediately greeted at the door by my mother.
       "Where are the clothes they gave you?" 
       You see, Mrs. Marlie had called my mom early in the day to get permission to give them to me, so I really did not have the choice that I thought I did. My mother, livid, went on a rampage about me being inconsiderate.  I was to never turn down anything offered to us. "Money don't grow on trees!" 
       I was ashamed for the second time that day.
       A week later, I saw my best friend wearing one of the skirts.
       After that incident, I had become rather adept at accepting these gifts and was learning to pair them quite stylishly, or so I thought.
      About a year later, Mrs. Sharpley's daughter gave me some thick beige leather square-toe boots. I never owned leather before, so I could not wait to wear them. And though they were a little big, I happily stuffed the toes. Next I paired it with a beautiful burgundy 3/4 leather coat with buttons as big as fifty cent pieces and lapels that stretched all the way to the middle of my shoulders. I was finally in style and was wearing designer quality gear. I dreamed of the compliments that would be hurled my way.
       However, instead of shout-outs and compliments, I began to notice smiles behind hands and hushed toned whispering. Instead of fighting the usual crowded hallway to get to my locker, the kids seemed to part before me like the red sea.  I did understand quality clothing, but I had no concept of the term "out of style." Though it was close to 1980, my boots were from the early 70's, and my coat looked like something from the Black Panther era of the late 1960's.
        By the time I had made it to 10th grade, I was working every summer and used my money to buy the appropriate gear -- clothes that coincided with my era. But even that was not enough to save me from being the center -- think bullseye-- of attraction. 
        I spotted the suede belted boots from aisles away and could not believe my luck. The one inch crepe sole boots that were filled with beige faux shirling (crushed pile) would be perfect to keep my feet warm while walking around the school's campus. My favorite part was the belt that kinda half tightened them around my calf yet was loose enough to leave the top part flopping down just below the knee. I loved those boots.... Until that day when I realized the chanting I had been hearing coming from every window of the male dorm was aimed at me in a tone and rhythm much like a cow mooing, "Boots! Boots!" 
       You see, I was by then attending a boarding school and the only thing remotely stylish had to come from a magazine called L.L. Bean (which I had never heard of, and once I caught a glimpse of, I realized that I could have never afforded it anyway.) It was the magazine of the rich filled with preppy gear. and since I was attending a prepatory boarding school (on a scholarship of course) everyone else was wearing those hideous rubber and leather duck shoes and boots. Not faux suede from Zayres.
     Needless to say, from that day forward I rode out the rest of the harsh Ohio winter in weathered beat down penny loafers. Even those were black, with a nickel in the slot instead the customary burgundy, with a penny, because I thought silver looked better in my pleather knock-offs.
       I suppose this is why I was so upset with my son this morning. Unlike my mother, I buy clothes at the first sight of ankle or tight thighs. I watch the male students to see how they dress making note of the cool outfits. I buy Addidas, Nike, and elite socks. I make sure each shirt has matching shorts. Yet,  at 6:30 in the morning after I have spent time digging out the correct pant to match the colored coded shirt, and ironed and hung them on his door, my son arrived downstairs wearing  wrinkled clothing with odd patterns of mismatched colors: lime green and black striped shorts with a red and blue crumpled top.
       So, yes I was frustrated. I demanded that he switch back because he clashed.  He, on the other hand was angry that I would not let him pick his own clothing. He actually claimed that he hated to match because matching was "not cool."  He wanted nothing more than to trade his color coded outfit for one that vaguely resembled a brightly colored rainbow after a storm. But our storm had not passed, it was raging right there in our living room. And I knew in my heart that I needed to let him win. So, I did. 
       In hindsight, I suppose the real conflict was not in mismatched clothing, nor was it in his fight for independence.  It was in me wanting to protect my son from the harsh words and taunts of his peers. Mean words of a childhood long passed -- that still haunt me to this day.