Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Video Blogging with the Wee Man

Hello ladies and gentlemen. Just thought I would share a typical conversation between me and my son. He says as little as he can get away with when I want to know how school went on a given day.

Today was Snow Day in TK (transitional kindergarten). We don't get actual snow here, so they made some from this polymer thing -- you add water, then keep it in the fridge to get cold. His teacher sent me a couple of pictures to prove that Cam actually dug in with his hands and played along. (He doesn't like to get stuff on his hands.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

The day I met Scott Budman

Okay, so this was originally from June 28, 2006, which is before I ever HAD this blog, I think. But I was reading it, and I thought it was funny, so I decided to post it. (FYI: Madeline is my MacBook, or rather the one my husband has now since the HD crashed last summer and had to be replaced under warranty.)

Yes, I know. You have all heard my exciting news. But I need to recap my day so that you can see the exciting part in its proper light.

At 6:43 AM, my son Cameron, who was NOT already in our bed for a nice change, started whining from his bed in his room. It's a crib, actually, and for all his apelike climbing prowess, the little urchin has never climbed out of the thing. The game was afoot. I tried to get him to snuggle and sleep in my bed with me. He normally likes that. But NO, he was up and that was that.

Okay, so I am supposed to drop him off at nine for his last day with this home childcare provider, Mrs. H. Despite screaming in freakin' agony whenever we drop him off, he LOVES Mrs. H and talks about her all the time. ("Mih AAAYYCH") It was his last day because she's awesome and you get what you pay for. And we don't have the "pay for" part so much. Plus, tomorrow, my step-daughter returns and gets to spend the summer babysitting her precious lil' bro.

Okay, so, as I am going in for my shower, some time later, I recall that I have an appointment at Kaiser to discuss the discouraging results of my follow-up blood testing. Turns out that I have rather high cholesterol. Oops! Good thing I remembered.

So, I drop Cam off closer to 9:30 and think, oh well, if I get there early for my 10:30 appointment, perhaps I can get in to see the doctor a little early. What on earth was I smoking? This is KAISER we're talking about here. Where was the "smack me when I'm gettin' stupid" committee when I needed them?

My special Kaiser timeline for June 28, 2006:
9:50 A.M. Check in for 10:30 appointment.
9:50 - 10:20ish A.M. Worked on brilliant plan for getting all the bloggers to tell me when they can do CG chat meetings . . . in a format my brain can handle.
Some time around 10:20? A.M. Get blood pressure, weight, and temperature taken. All that is fine, except of course my weight. Which I check every morning, sans clothes, before I shower. And which number I prefer to their psycho scales with all your clothes AND sneakers on. (as if)
Shortly thereafter: Back in waiting room.
After that: Read comics. Solved the Jumble in my head. (It was an easy one.) Did my first ever Sudoku puzzle, rating "gentle" -- all these were from yesterday's paper. And am I a good waiting room citizen or what? I copied the puzzle into the back of my IISME notebook and worked it out there.
11:00ish A.M. Go remind nursing staff that I exist, that I need to work to earn back that insane deductible I just paid, and that I had an appointment a HALF HOUR AGO. (Of course, I used all my charm and poise.)
11:40 A.M. Finally get called in. Doctor tells me what I already know, since I viewed the results of the most recent blood testing online last week the night I had the blood drawn. (TruGeek wif high cholesterol in da hizzy!) I am told about the medication I will go on, since a combination of my British fried-food eating genes and my extremely poor lifestyle habits (or lack thereof) didn't improve my numbers much in three months. I get to go back in October to play human pincushion again to see how the meds are working.

OH, and then I went off in my politest way about the wait I had to endure. Apparently they had a lot of walk-ins. Well, had I known that, they never woulda walked out! But the conclusion is that I will be switching primary care physicians to someone at Campbell, where my kids already go to Pediatrics. It is closer, smaller, and less like a factory than Santa Teresa. (I made my baby in their factory.)

Now ya gotta love this part of the timeline: 11:50 A.M. (yes, only ten minutes later) I am in my car, phoning my husband to rant. That's why people get married, you know. To have a built-in audience. Well I didn't get thru, but he called me back right away. (See, they can run, but they can't hide.)

So, now I have lost most of my Cameron-free day, as I have to pick him up at two.

Back up to WG and I stop at Elva's Coffee Stop on Lincoln. I thought I read online that they had free wifi. They don't. But I bought a bagel, since I have not eaten at this point at all today. Up the street to Monsieur Beans, former Willow Glen Coffee Roasting Co. I know they have wifi, free with purchase, but the girl behind the counter was not so sure. Then she's like, well, yeah, if we do it's free with purchase. I purchased a banana-strawberry smoothie to go with my bagel.

Wifi was good, but started lagging later on. Found out that Vin Santo, a restaurant across the street, has a stronger signal than the cafe I'm in. And you know (I digress), we took "friends" there years ago and it cost us a bomb, and they never reciprocated in any way, so I feel like I should start getting my Vin Santo money back in wifi. I shall return.

Quarter to two I pack up and head over to get my kid. Come to find out that after lying down since 12:30, he only finally fell asleep at 1:45. Well, I've got an errand to run, so I don't want to wake him up only to have him flake out in the car, so Mrs. H offered to keep him and call me when he woke up. The planets began to move into perfect alignment just then.

Over to SVCN (Silicon Valley Community Newspapers) to humbly request a couple dozen copies of yesterday's WG Resident starring . . . . Alec Main of SoccerMainia! (bugle fanfare here) They gave me 25. I've still got a Starbucks card burnin' hole in my pocket, so I'm off to the corner, across from Peet's and not far from a third coffee joint. And here I am, not a coffee drinker.

I've done far too much Vanilla Bean Frappucino recently . . . with whipped cream . . . because I mean, come ON, you're already basically having a milkshake, you might as well go for it, right? Oh yeah, so I get a venti iced tea lemonade (passion), thinking there's free wifi and I'll be here a while. The girl's like, no, there's this T-Mobile thing, but you have to, like, subscribe or something. I love it when the staff has been fully trained on all the available services at their place of employment. I will not be asking HER any more questions. Especially ones involving technology.

So, I get my beverage all Splenda'd (yes, it is now a verb) and I turn to the tables.

It was then that I saw him.

Scott Budman and . . . . some guy . . . sitting at a table. Yes, I admit it, I chose my seat for optimum proximity. They were kinda talking shop and kinda talking just friend stuff, so I don't think he was working.

I peruse the T-Mobile handout on how to get wifi. Okay, so you have to get online to sign up for it. The logic escapes me. I give up (far too easily . . . more on this later). I start working on the CG chat schedule thing, based on the first handful of spreadsheets I got back.

Scott and friend are clearly about to leave. They stand. I say, "Hey Scott, I love the show." Okay, so I don't tape it and watch it, and I miss it more than I catch it. But I do enjoy it. I was making small talk, people! He turns to thank me, and looks at Madeline. (I had seen him glance over before. Clearly she had already caught his eye.)

He asks about my new MacBook. (I didn't tell him her name was Madeline. It felt a bit premature to do formal introductions.) We talk features. His friend's iBook was about three years old, but the silver body made it look distinguished. And it still gets the job done. They drool a bit over Maddy's features. I offer (jokingly . . . sort of) to take our picture with PhotoBooth and the built-in camera. His friend says, "Or how about I take it with your camera phone?" Smooth. TruGeek all da wizzay.

They go. I immediately send the pic to my gmail account. And my husband's cell phone. His response: "Why" I had to text him back to explain about the geek bonding. He still doesn't get it. Whatever. Go kick a ball.

Then, I decide that since I have some offline time, I will figure out how to make the special c with the cedilla for Wanda's name on Madeline. I know it's Alt-0231 (keypad only) on the PC. The help won't run properly, as it requires online stuff. But in the help window . . . . . . T-Mobile. Asking me if I want to sign up. I had noticed that I was able to get their airport, but not get it to do anything. Or so I thought.

A few minutes and six dollars on my credit card later, I am surfing, blogging, e-mailing, IMing, and making sure everyone in my IISME circle of peeps knows about me and Scotty B.

Of course, I have, by this time, forgotten about Wanda's special c . . . but I'm on that as soon as this blog is done. (Which is longer than I had planned . . . sorry!)

Long story short, worked till 3:45, went to get my kid, hung out at Mrs. H's house for a while, came home, changed into shorts, took kid for walk on which he demanded to be carried but I did not give in and ended up coming away with a hug, a kiss, and a walking toddler. Blah blah blah. Did some stuff. Watched Jeopardy! Back online. Working to make up for all that lost time today in the Kaiser Zone.

Now I gotta go find Wanda's special C.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Another sample essay I wrote

This is originally from March 1, 2006. At the time, my teaching assignment was 6th grade language arts and math, and I had about 75 students in 6th grade that year.

The following is a sample five-paragraph essay I wrote for a topic I assigned my students. They have to write about three life lessons they have learned during sixth grade. (I gave them a brief summary of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" for inspiration.) Since I've been out of sixth grade for more than twenty years, I wrote about three life lessons I've learned during my career as a teacher.

What’s the Difference?

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” These words are the end of my favorite Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” I like to think they describe so many points in my life when I have decided to go against what everyone else was doing and do what I knew was right for me. I have had these words, on a small poster I made my first year in teaching, near me during every teaching position I have held since I began my career in 1992. Where I have had my own classroom, the poster was stapled to the wall. Where I was a “traveling teacher,” the poster was taped to my cart or my crate of supplies. When I moved from New Jersey to California, my poster moved with me. And I can see that poster right now, out of the corner of my eye, as I type this on my computer at work. During all these years, at all these different jobs, I have learned some important life lessons. Among these are to be respectful, to avoid over committing myself, and to never stop learning. These three concepts have served me well in my life as a teacher and in my time outside the walls of school as well.

I start every school year telling my students that if I had only one rule, it would be one simple word: RESPECT. Respect God. Respect others. Respect yourself. Deserve and earn respect, and others will give it to you freely. Command respect, as I try to do every day, and people can’t help but respect you. The key, however, is that you only get respect when you give it to others, and if you don’t respect yourself, no one else will either. During my first two years as a teacher, I worked in an inner-city junior high school in New Jersey. Race is a huge issue there. All of my students were from different racial groups than I am. And a majority of the students were all one racial group. Those kids who were different from the rest had to almost prove themselves to get respect, which is not the way it is supposed to be. Some of the other teachers even taught their students to only show true respect to the teachers who were their same race. This is blatantly wrong too. But the students could see through all that. They respected the teachers and other kids who gave them respect first. As my basic life rule is respect, I made a big deal out of making sure everyone in my classroom showed and was given respect. The reward was that, despite what some of their other teachers may have told them to do, my students and I had a bond. Did they always do their homework? Were they perfect angels every day? No, of course not. But they knew that I cared about them, and they and I were sad to part ways when I moved on.

I did eventually have to move on, because the school where I worked was fifty miles from my home, and two hours or more in the car every day was beginning to wear on me, as was the stress of urban teaching. I had to begin to see myself as a person who was a teacher, not a teacher who happened to also have family, friends, and interests of my own. No matter what a person’s career, she has to make time for the things outside of work that are truly important. Even though I now work in a Christian school and get to pray and read the Bible at work, I still need to make time for God, prayer, and church in my regular life. I am now a wife, mother, and step-mother. Each of those relationships demands time from me. If all I ever do is work, I won’t be good at all my other roles. That means that if I am asked to do more than I can handle, I have to politely decline. That is not always easy to do, especially at work, but sometimes “no” is the only correct thing to say. There are classes I want to take, books I want to read, and hobbies I would love to take up. But what could be more important than just having the time on a Saturday to take my son to the park to play on the swings? In my time as a teacher, a very important lesson I have had to learn is to avoid over committing myself, especially to things that detract from my family life.

Even though I may not have enough time to take classes, that does not mean I have to stop learning. Some people may even think that by working in a school I have more opportunities to learn than most people do. That’s not really true either. But working with students means I have to keep on top of a lot of information. My students know more about pretty much everything than I ever had to when I was their age. And there is so much more information available now. I challenge myself to learn as much as I can, about all the things that interest me, so that I can be a better teacher. It also makes me a better parent and a better person all-around. When a student asks me a question I can’t answer, at least I can tell him or her, “I don’t know, but I know where we can look to find out.” Hopefully, I am modeling my love of learning to my students. There are subjects that have nothing to do with school that I enjoy pursuing also. I have been researching my family history since before I was a teacher, so British history is a topic of particular interest to me. I love computers, and I use them for keeping in touch with friends and family back East, editing the family pictures I take with my digital camera, and keeping track of my genealogy data. I’ve had to learn a lot to use my computer as much as I do, but I love it. I find learning to be immense fun, and I intend to stop only when I leave this world.

Whenever I look at that poster with the final lines of my favorite poem, I am forced to ask myself: have I followed the best path for my life? Have I made a difference? Did each of my decisions lead me to where God wants me to be? I don’t really know for sure, but I do know this: I have learned a lot along the journey. The lessons I have learned as a teacher are not just lessons for the classroom. They apply to every area of my life. The next time I am at a fork in the road, which road will I choose? I will draw on all these experiences and lessons learned, even the things I have learned from my mistakes. And then, that will have “made all the difference.”

Word Count: 1201

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Grading Student Essays Is So Difficult (a five-paragraph essay)

This is originally from February 21, 2006. I was teaching 6th grade language arts and math.

Why Grading Student Essays Is So Difficult

Do you enjoy hearing what the younger generation has to say? Would you like to take a look inside the mind of an eleven year old? Have you ever graded an essay written by a sixth grader? In my career, I have graded thousands of student essays. This is a much more difficult task than one might think for several major reasons. The pre-teen seems to be locked in a never ending battle of refusal to follow a prescribed format. Young people just entering adolescence also resist deciding upon and committing to three concepts to support their arguments. And reading their essays to someone who might help them find and fix their mistakes is taken as a scandalous suggestion. When facing these obstacles, it’s a wonder we ever ask these children to put pen to paper at all.

My sixth grade students spend quite a bit of time, during the first few months of school, learning about the structure of a five-paragraph essay. We spend weeks on introductory paragraphs alone. Once we have practiced the introduction, we learn to develop the entire essay, finally focusing on the proper way to conclude the essay. We have visuals, handouts, and memory devices. We have six different tried-and-true methods of coming up with attention-grabbing introductions and equally gripping conclusions. Yet as I pore over the fourth assigned essay of the school year, I find that far too many of my students have thrown format out the window and have just decided to “wing it.” Introductions lack that attention-grabbing quality. Body paragraphs, if they can be called that, blur together in a sort of “stream of consciousness what do you expect I waited till the night before it was due” muddle. Conclusions conclude only that someone was not listening (or reading the detailed handout) that week in class.

Perhaps their reasons for abandoning the requirements has something to do with the trouble they have coming up with three different ideas to support their theses. Now, don’t get me wrong: the average eleven year old has plenty to say about things that really matter, such as why life is so unfair, popular culture, why life is so unfair, how uncool adults are, and why life is so unfair. Of course, they will not put these ideas down on paper; they will simply “instant message” them to their friends, “text” them over their cell phones, or whisper them over the phone when parents have just left the room. But ask the same young people to give three distinct, separate reasons why they strongly believe something, and they fall apart. Or perhaps they can come up with three supporting details, but those details, like the wild creatures they are, simply will not stay neatly confined to their assigned spaces in the essay. It becomes a kind of “free for all” of subtopics scaling the walls of their body paragraphs and raiding a neighboring paragraph village, where they sometimes settle, giving up on a life of pillage and plunder, even if they know darn well they don’t fit in there.

All these issues might not be so bad if each student found a responsible, mature user of our precious language to whom they could read their writing. Or perhaps they could simply use the spell check and grammar check options of their word processing programs. Ideally, each student would find a writing “mentor.” This could be a parent, an older sibling, another relative, or even a peer their own age. As long as the person can hear and has a fairly good grasp of the English language, another brain thinking about the ideas being produced is twice as much intelligence. Another set of ears to hear when things don’t sound quite right is a powerful tool. But what really happens is that students reading their own work out loud finally notice those things that never popped out as being incorrect before. The student actually ends up clarifying or correcting their work with very little input from the mentoring individual. However, for some odd reason, young people refuse to pursue this very effective option. They prefer to throw away the essay grade rather than experience a little awkwardness the first or second time they read their work aloud. I worry what will happen to them when they enter the work force. You can’t even ask “Do you want fries with that?” if you’re not willing to speak up. Forget about the corporate world.

The generation who will decide on the rest homes for my generation does have a lot going on in their minds. They are creative, they have good ideas, and they are very funny. But for some reason, they prefer to hide these talents from us old folks by ignoring proper essay structure, obscuring their fantastic ideas in bland body paragraphs, and including as many errors as they think will cause my red pens to run out of ink forever. Therefore I beseech the middle schoolers of America: Trust the English teacher. Plan the essay. Stick with your plan. And then get someone to listen to your essay before you hand it in. Your teachers forevermore will thank you for it. (And please type it. We really like that.)

Word count: 872

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sample essay about adjusting to parenting

This is from October 22, 2005. I had my students write an essay about having to adjust to something, such as sixth grade.

I just wrote this for my students to have a sample. And I graded some more math tests today. So I totally rock. Okay, here goes . . . .

“Well, ma’am, you’re having this baby tonight.” I could not believe my ears. I had only just finished work that day. I still had three and a half weeks to enjoy my maternity leave, get ready for the baby to arrive, finish childbirth preparation class . . . I hadn’t even finished childbirth preparation class! All we had in the house was the car seat and some things people had given us at the baby shower. Where was this baby going to sleep? I had not really had any time to adjust to having the baby. Little did I know, giving birth was just the start of a whole new life, and I would have a lot more to adjust to than I had ever realized. I would need to plan out all my time differently, I would need to budget our money more efficiently, and, most of all, I would instantly begin putting someone else before myself, all the time. Becoming a parent is the biggest adjustment I have ever had to make.

The first major change to my life was in the area of time management. Babies don’t really believe in or adhere to schedules. Even when they eventually fall into a routine, a new developmental stage comes along and messes all that up again. For example, Cameron did not sleep through the night at first. I was still recovering from my surgeries, so my husband got up with him a lot, which made him really tired during the days. When Cameron finally did sleep for longer periods, his nap times during the day changed. The only thing that never seemed to change was that he needed his diapers changed . . . a lot. After two and a half months at home, I had to go back to work. That meant we had to learn to juggle our different schedules. It also meant that my husband could not work much at first. When he did go back to work, we managed to find a friend to watch Cameron those few afternoons my husband had classes to teach. And now that I was back at work teaching, the demands on my time increased. But I also had to make sure I set aside time that was off-limits to everyone but my family.

My being a teacher, and my husband being self-employed, means that we don’t have much money. And the more my husband works, the more need we have to pay someone to babysit Cameron, so that cuts into our finances as well. Babies bring an extra financial burden into the picture. There were so many things we had to buy that we never bought before: diapers, formula, baby clothes, baby food, baby toiletries, baby everything . . . and a lot more paper towels. We went through so many paper towels that I wish we had owned stock in Bounty. Fortunately, my step-daughter came to live with us when Cameron was one year old. Not only was it great to add another family member (without surgery this time), but she’s old enough to watch Cameron from time to time when the adults in the home are both working. But she is also another person to feed, clothe, and house, so it adds to our expenses. We’ve had to learn to do without a lot of things in order to save money.

It may sound like having a baby is a negative thing, when you consider all you have to adjust to. But just the opposite is true. The biggest adjustment I had to make came naturally. When you’re married, you are part of a team, and you don’t put yourself first, but rather “tied for first” with someone else when you prioritize things in your life. When you have a baby, however, you and your spouse move over and put the baby’s needs first . . . all the time. You learn pretty quickly that if you only have a certain amount of money, you can eat less, put off buying some cleaning supplies, and buy nothing extra, but you will buy all the diapers this kid is going to need. You can’t cut them in half or only use them a few times a day. When you look down at that baby whose diaper you’re changing, it hits you: this little person depends on you for everything. You are in charge of another person’s life. And instead of feeling super-powerful, you feel weak and doubt yourself. But you get through each day, mainly driven by the knowledge that someone special is counting on you. The way you look at life is never the same again.

Eight days after that night when I went into labor, our son was finally released from the hospital and could come home with us. He was tiny and helpless, and he was beautiful. He has grown and changed so much since then. He just passed twenty-one months of age earlier this week. He walks and runs all over the place, and he talks a lot – but not in front of strangers much, and not really in English words yet. Our lives have changed immensely since Cameron was born. And even though it’s harder in some ways, it is definitely better. As I approach my son’s second birthday, I can’t help but reflect on how much life changes when a baby enters the family. I guess what you really have to adjust to, when you have a baby, is that every day there is something new to adjust to. Next, it will be toilet training and preschool. After that, it will be kindergarten and learning to read. And someday, it will be college graduation, and perhaps marriage and giving me grandchildren . . . and my son learning for the first time what it really means to have something to adjust to.