A Writer Affair

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 6.09.27 AMA long time ago, I fell head over comfortable shoes in love with an intelligent, thoughtful, quirky guy, and it’s not who you think. Sure, there’ve been others who’ve lead me astray with their wit and sophistication, but none are quite like my long-time favorite: Poe Ballantine.

This weekend, I finished Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. It takes place in the small town of Chadron, Nebraska, not far from where my Gram lives and where my sister and a half-dozen high school friends attended college. It’s always fun to read a story and think, “I’ve been there. I know that grocery store. I’ve walked up that dorms’ staircase.” It’s a true-story-In-Cold-Blood-esque book that analyzes a murder and the possible suspects—but who had the motive and opportunity?

It has everything you need: strange bedfellows, a complicated love story, an innocent (seeming) victim, an off-beat writer, who happens to have a sketchy past, a Mexican-immigrant wife, and a possible Autistic son. Plus, Poe Ballantine wrote it—one of my absolute favorites (My Gram actually met him!! She mentioned it casually, saying, “Oh yes, he read at our library’s brown bag once. He’s very interesting!) There’s even a documentary out that I have to find.

Okay, enough about my school girl crush already. What author are you in love with?


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She Me Love

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A few weeks ago, a job opportunity presented itself. It would allow me to use all my different areas of expertise: ESL teacher, dual language supporter, and writing background. The company has a supportive community, and I already know and love many people who work there. In many ways, it’s a perfect fit that might not come around again—or at least not for a long time.

It’s been a tough decision for me, and I’ve been spending a lot of time weighing pros and cons, really trying to ask myself if I’m ready to leave the classroom. Would the lessening of daily stress level be better for my health? Not that there wouldn’t be stress in the new job, just a different kind that might not be so overwhelming—or at least so overwhelming on a day-to-day basis.

At first I thought I couldn’t give up having summers off, but then I learned pretty much everything would be the same—similar summers, similar breaks, and similar money. Everything seems equal, which only makes the decision that much more difficult.

Some days, with changes to education (tying test scores to teacher pay, funding issues, constant additions to the workload), I think about how I can possibly stay. How many more years will I have enough energy to continue working so hard and feel such little gained while testing more and more and more?

For someone who has never worked outside the bell system, even the lure of having a true lunch, where I’d have enough time to leave campus, would be an exciting proposition. Besides changing up my duties for another form of challenging work, I could have lunch with my kids or be able to volunteer in their classrooms once in a while. And, I’d be lying if I didn’t daydream about heading off to yoga on occasion with the more flexible schedule.

And then, while giving a state-mandated test—which I abhor—I looked down at a test booklet. It was for one of my newcomer students who’d only been in the US for about two months. She’s sweet and hardworking. The sentence she needed to fill in was about a teacher she liked. She’d chosen to write about me, and on the line that said, “I like this teacher because__________” she wrote: “She me love.” She’s right. I do love her. And suddenly, I couldn’t imagine leaving.

What helps you make up your mind?


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Sophie’s House of Cards

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Back in December, I had an amazing conversation with Sharon Oard Warner. Want to feel like you were there? Check out  my interview in Bookslut.

What questions have you asked and answered lately?

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Testing, Testing

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 6.41.18 AMIt’s a common misconception that the Hippocratic oath says, “First, do no harm.” It actually says, “I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.” If teachers had to swear by this oath and face consequences if they didn’t adhere to it, very few would be able to walk in on Monday morning and administer the PARCC test. Even trying to haphazardly prepare my students, all of who are several years behind grade level, feels harmful.

Next week, our school will begin a month long slog through the PARCC testing fiasco. Each grade level will be tested for a week, then there’s make ups, and the SBA science for 7th grade, and the SBA in Spanish Language Arts for students who’ve been in the country less than three years, and the LAS LINKS testing Spanish proficiency after we’ve just finished the WIDA ACCESS, oh, and end of course unit tests. There is little time to teach any more.

Yet, for ESL and Special Ed classes that are created at ability-level rather than grade level (meaning there are multiple grade levels in a class), I’ll spend the next three weeks without all my students together. Our learning is on hold while each week a different grade level isn’t in the room. Do I go on and re-teach each group? Do I create separate projects each week? There are no books to consult about how to approach teaching during testing when it lasts a month!

Here are other considerations.  We have no access to Internet sites like Discovery Ed, streaming for short videos from Youtube, or other educational sites like Brainpop during the testing. There’s no access to Ipads, computer labs, or laptops during testing because we have to conserve our broadband. Luckily, we’ve managed to keep the library. At one point, there was talk we wouldn’t even have access to the library for three weeks.

But surely there’s something to gain, right?  The information we receive will be so beneficial, so noteworthy, there’s no doubt we’ll see the great affects of this testing. Learning will be transformed and misconceptions cleared up–at least that’s what we’re told by the company and government officials who push them.

In reality, we don’t even see the PARCC scores until November, which makes them inconsequential. We don’t have the same students by that time. The kids have no consequences—except if you’re in high school and you graduate with a certificate of completion rather than a diploma, which means many of my students will drop out long before that’s a possibility.

But, I’m going to tell you a secret: I think kids learn more after the testing is over than any other time of the year. Why? There’s no pressure. Teachers start doing these amazing projects that are tied to learning but are fun. (Some might say, why don’t they do that all year long? They do on a small scale, but there’s not enough time and too much pressure to prepare for practice tests, drill students on vocabulary, complete common assessments, and take practice tests). Everyone relaxes, and it’s when you’re relaxed, you feel comfortable enough to learn. There’s joy in the students because no one is talking about tests. A colleague said in a meeting the other day he had less stress when he used to go to crime scenes and autopsy bodies than he has now as a teacher.

I’m heartened by the rumors of protest—though I realize what a headache this causes those who’ve done their best to prepare and manage the testing—because it means students are actively participating in their education, they’re as fed up with this system as some teachers are, and they want to see change, too.

Yet, I would remind them and especially their parents, none of this will change as long as people who are elected into office continue to tell voters they care for students while underfunding education at every corner, or as I witnessed on Monday, February 16, at the Roundhouse, as long as politicians extol teachers with grandiose speeches, and in the next motion vote Skandera (a person lacking any education degree or any classroom experience) into a legitimate position as Secretary of Education, thereby supporting the unfair, punitive evaluation system, which will ultimately link teacher pay to the tests.

To steal a line from Yeats, right now in the government and the PED, “the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”

Who really profits from all this, you wonder? Pearson, the UK based company who created PARCC, makes over a billion dollars a year. In fact, they make roughly three-fourths of their profit off the US alone. They probably spend a little of that money to promote a UK soccer team or two, the most American of sports. Isn’t it great that your tax dollars could be helping a UK soccer team win the Champion’s League?

Do you root for Man U or Chelsea?


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Prospero Año Nuevo!


As a brand new year heads toward us, I found an article about creating a Love List. Courtney Carver on her blog bemorewithless writes about how to avoid the guilty feelings of undone resolutions. She suggests making a list of things you’d love to do, rather than use deadlines. By writing down things you love to do, you’ll increase the likelihood you’ll actually follow through.

My friend over at PoMoGolightly posted about Carver’s list, too. She’ll be painting postcards throughout the year because she realized she usually puts up her paints during the school year when she gets busy. If you go to her website and add your address, Bev will paint a postcard and send it to you sometime during the New Year. This way, she’ll continue to do what she loves throughout the year. Perfect idea!

I won’t be painting any postcards, but hopefully, I’ll be reading books, writing poetry, learning more knitting stitches, and playing with the boys. I’d also love to take an online Spanish class in the fall, but I don’t want to add deadlines or put too much pressure on myself. There are no real surprises on this list, but perhaps this means I’m already doing things I love.

One nice thing about children is that they tend to only want to do what they love. When we toasted the New Year with sparkling cider, the boys said they want to roller skate and play soccer in 2015.

What would you put on your Love List?


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The Polar Express


Last week, we took the boys to The Polar Express in Durango, Colorado. Dressed in superhero and ninja turtle pajamas, we climbed aboard the train, which was decorated with boughs of holly and lit with twinkling lights. Ribbons and ornaments adorned the greenery adding to the festive spirit. After hot chocolate and listening to a reading of the book The Polar Express, we ended up at the North Pole where we saw Santa, who boarded the train and handed out bells to the children.

Javi jumped up and down and told us it was the best day of his life. Kiki, ever the skeptic, couldn’t quite believe we went all the way to the North Pole. Like the little boy in the book, he had his doubts. He thought it would take a lot longer to get to the North Pole. When he told Javi this, Javi seemed confused. He asked Kiki, “Why would they lie?”

He’s right; we were deceptive. But isn’t it fun to occasionally suspend belief? To believe in the magic that sometimes actually happens in the world? We spend so much time facing difficult realities as adults, it’s nice to remember a world before we had to deal with these things, before it seemed impossible to reach the North Pole on a quick train ride.

We ate our cookies, sang carols, and danced with the elves as we returned to Durango. After a snowy walk back to the hotel, we returned to our normal everyday lives.

When have you suspended belief?

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Starting Over


A few months ago, I started knitting. I’m making all the rookie mistakes and dropping stitches like Hansel and Grettle’s crumbs. Though it’s mostly relaxing, at times I feel frustrated.

The other day, I talked to a woman about a shawl I’m making. I told her I started changing the color every few inches, but I wanted to learn to seed stitch, switching from knit to purl every other stitch. I explained how I went ahead and just started changing the stitch in the middle of the shawl. Now that I’ve practiced, I’ve become more proficient. I thought it might make a funky design with the different types of stitches spread throughout the shawl.

She said once she learns a new stitch and has practiced for a while, she pulls out what she’s made and starts over. For a few days, I couldn’t bear pulling out the stitches and starting over when I’d worked so hard. But last night, I grabbed the end of the shawl and yanked it out. I knew the shawl would look better if I just started over.

This won’t be the only thing I’ll be redoing. I learned last Saturday I didn’t pass my National Boards. I’m going to have to really think about whether I’m going to pull out the dropped stitches of my work and start over. If I decide to do it, I’m sure I’ll grow, but for now, the idea of starting over just feels overwhelming.

What have you ever had to start over?


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