Courage Classic

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When I first found out my niece, Jessa, had been diagnosed with a leukemia relapse, I felt sick. For weeks, I’d ride my bike to work with tears streaming down my face. I’d stumble through the days in a fog of worry and then ride my bike back home, crying. I wore my “Team Jessa” bracelet everyday and grew my hair out for “Locks of Love” as reminders of her fight. But now, over two years later, I can throw away the bracelet, cut my hair, and celebrate.

In April, Jessa finished her last chemo treatment, and this past week, she rode over 100 miles on her bike for the Courage Classic, a ride to benefit Children’s Hospital. I was so excited to see her cross the finish line in such a symbolic gesture of triumph. I’m in awe of this sweet girl.

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Who are you proud of in your life?

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Summer Fallow

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For almost eight years, I’ve followed the Treadmill Journal technique. I have a special notebook with my writing hours over days, months, and eventually an entire year. There’ve been a few times where I’ve slowed down because of school commitments and other personal issues, like taking two months off when I had the twins. Because of the stressful school year (new evaluation system, completing the National Boards, and implementing two new curriculums for two different classes, etc. etc.), I’m exhausted. I’ve decided to take a much needed writing break.

Even in the few weeks off I’ve given myself, I still feel a little uneasy about not writing each day. To assuage my guilt, I’ve decided to call it “summer fallow” season. Just as my father used to rotate crops on certain pieces of land to allow the nutrients in the soil to regenerate, I’m allowing myself to rest, conserve my energy so I can refocus when I begin again. A field of summer fallow doesn’t necessarily look appealing, but the next season, the soil is rich with nutrients and the following crop is more productive.

When do you need a “summer fallow” season?

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Last Day!

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For every student who can’t wait to hit the doors at the end of the year, there are plenty more who worry about what their summer will bring. One of my students told me about her father remarrying and how she doesn’t really like her soon-to-be stepmom. There could be plenty of reasons why the two don’t mesh, but overall, this girl is dreading a long vacation at home.

When I first began teaching, I didn’t see the benefit of year-round schools. Besides  research findings that show academic growth with year-round schools, there are other reasons to consider. The students I teach have just hit an age where they can be left to care for younger siblings. Because the parents need to earn money to support the family, the students face a summer alone, caring for younger siblings, and housekeeping. With parents off working, there aren’t many options for going to the library or attending camps because their work schedule may change weekly and no one can take them. Others face bare cupboards and empty stomachs. There are plenty of programs out there to help, but now I see how having shorter breaks more often throughout the year would really benefit these students.

For some, school provides the only structured place for security. During the last few days, these students tend to either retreat into their shyness or act out so severely, they spend time in in-school suspension or are sent home early. It’s almost as if they want to control the day they have to leave school, rather than dread the inevitable seclusion back home.

There are plenty of kids who race to the busses with visions of swim-filled days, barbecues, and bike-riding when that last bell sounds, but I think people would be surprised how many students secretly long for the stability school brings. While I’m excited for those students who can’t wait for summer fun, I’m always worried about the others, making the last day bittersweet.

What do you find bittersweet?

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I Think I Can…I Think I Can…

In the midst of all the half-marathons, marathons, and other fun runs going on across the country, I’m happy to announce I’m almost done with my own form of masochism: the national boards. I submitted the portfolio section the other day. While I thought I’d feel a great relief, I mostly felt nauseous. It’s not over yet, though. I’ve been studying for the written exam every day for the past couple weeks.

Unfortunately, I don’t get any real physical benefit from my hours of work. But, there’s something satisfying in its completion. Just like runners tend to bond over running and finishing the same race, I feel like I’ve entered some kind of secret society just by (almost) finishing. I won’t find out the results until sometime in late November or early December. By then, I hope the memories of the overwhelming process will leave me.

On Saturday, I take the three-hour long test. When it’s over, I’m sure I’ll cry from sheer joy, but mostly exhaustion.

What big project have you finished lately?

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The View

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Next fall, the boys should start Kindergarten at the K-5 school down the street with 1400 other students. This is more people than the town where I attended elementary school. The boys’ local school also doesn’t have a true dual language program, so we asked for a transfer to another, smaller dual language public school. Yet, there are only 40 spots available for over 100 students. Worried the boys might not get in, we searched alternatives. I’m a huge proponent for public schools, but we did look into a charter school across town.

Last month, I went to tour the charter school that has about 200 students K-5. The school runs almost an hour longer than public schools here, but they offer violin for every student two times a week. Art twice a week, too. And, they have lacrosse, Aikido, and fencing—besides recess. They have enrichment classes after school that include cooking, art, dancing, drama, or guitar.

Most of the public elementary schools here have either P.E. or art. Classroom teachers usually incorporate art into their lessons, rather than a true art class at least once a week. P.E. happens when it can. (I’ve known middle school students who’ve never had art as an elective & only one quarter of P.E. in three years.) Unless you’re in band, you won’t play an instrument or have chorus—ever—at least in middle school, though the public elementary school we visited did not have a regular music program.either. That means no regular schedule for music, dance, or art for students.

I just don’t understand why everyone can’t have what the charter school offers. Why can’t there be only 200 students per building? Why can’t every kid get art AND P.E. AND music? Why do we insist on spending our money on a test that my colleagues and I could sit down and guess-ta-mate within a few percentage points accuracy for each of our students, yet fail to inspire kids through the arts and physical education?

As I stood on the second floor of this charter school looking out to the mesa towards my school, I couldn’t help compare the two sites. Here, this school stood with massive windows presenting the outside world like a gift. Students could sketch the mountains from their seats in every room. There are few if any windows in our building because the district worried about vandalism and the price to repair windows. Even though we have an incredible view outside, in the majority of classrooms at my school, students look at a white, cinder block wall.

There were downsides at the charter school, too, like a missing cafeteria and no real play area (they’re working on it). But overall, I was amazed at how much students received compared to my building. When we stunt students’ growth by limiting their experiences, it’s not really a surprise they’re not as proficient as we expect. Below is a picture from my barrack window. Compared to the picture of the mountains from above, where would you feel more inspired?

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Madness

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The clock is ticking, and I’ve hardly had a chance to look at my bracket. Will Wichita St. do the unthinkable and have an undefeated season and win the tournament??? Will Nebraska and Creighton win their first rounds only to face off against each other? Will the Lobos make it to the second round? These are tough decisions I’ll be making in the next few hours.

Who’s in your final four?

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I Got Kind of Distracted

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One of my favorite singers, Ani Difranco, whose known for her overtly political song lyrics has banter from a live show included on one of her albums. As she focused on writing songs about relationships, critics worried she’d moved away from politics. “No man,” she says, “it’s just, I got kind of distracted.”

Well, like Ani, I’ve been a little distracted, too. With all the work for the National Boards, I’ve been neglecting my blog. But I do have a solid draft of two of my entries (there are four total), and I found out my days of stressing about videotaping are behind me. I now have two official videos to deconstruct, analyze, agonize over, and eventually wish I’d never even looked at! This is progress.

I may seem like a wayward girlfriend right now, but don’t worry. I’m here, plugging away.

What distracts you??

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