Teaching

brrrrrr

School has been called off again tomorrow due to cold weather. It's too cold to snow and the roads are cold enough to be free of snow and dry for the most part. Not so much a snow day but a cold day. And yes, it really is cold. Negative 17 in the morning with wind chills predicted to be in the negative 30 range. Too cold for kids to be out waiting for buses or walking to school. Maybe the kids are enjoying the extra weekend in the middle of the week. Unfortunately, standardized tests don't get pushed back at all, so that means two less instruction days for Rhiannon in the classroom before testing. Things I never considered when I was a student myself. Of course, back in the ancient days, standardized test results weren't quite the deal they are now.

times are changing (earlier all the time)

Rhiannon went back to work today after a couple of solid months off. I’m sure you know that teachers only work nine months a year (185 contracted days plus a few holidays minus some possible snow days, and you actually come in just shy of full months.) What I think that a lot of people assume is that this roughly translates into three months off each summer.

Not true.

For teachers on a traditional calendar in our district, it works out to about two months off over summer (June and July), a week off in the fall and spring, and two weeks over summer. Note that as we are now firmly into the second day of August, it does in fact indicate that Rhiannon is back to work.

She’s changing to the third school of her career, and, when I consider the fact that I’ve had a grand total of two desk locations in the same building at my job, I can’t really empathize with having a “first day” feeling when performing approximately the same job.

This move is a little different in the fact that she’s transitioning to a middle school from an elementary, and as with any change, there are both good and bad points. The following are the early major home impacts that we’ve already identified.

Good: She’s going back to work and so is provided with a district laptop. Schools know that their employees take work home with them on a regular basis and provide accordingly. I don’t always like the fact that Rhiannon does need to work nights and weekends to get grading and planning done, but I do like the fact that it brings another computer back into the house.

For the past 6 weeks, we’ve been down to just two computers, and one of those is a little computer in the basement that drives our home theater. The second is a laptop usually sits on my desk and is attached to things like external hard drives and a second monitor. So it’s kind of a hybrid desk-lap/top and not always portable. Really, it takes at least 20 seconds to unplug it and start walking around. Unacceptable.

And so we were left without a permanently mobile computer floating around the house and there are times when one of those is vital. I mean, imagine a question with life-or-death significance arises and you find yourself with no easy means to query the vast knowledge of the internet. Perhaps a question like “Was the first commissioner of professional football really appointed in the 1920s?” I’m sure that you can now see how important some of these inquiries really are.

(No, the first official commissioner was named in 1941. Now you can rest easy at night.)

For a little bit, I thought we were going to have to get an iPad just to handle situations like this. Luckily, we survived the extreme depravation.

Bad: The new school starts just a little bit earlier than the old one and is a few miles farther away. While there is a small benefit in the fact that I can be around to help everyone get out the door and still make it to work on time myself, it also means that everyone gets up early.

I’m not going to complain about getting up before 5:00am, because I’ve done it before and it’s something we get used to after a little while. It will just require us going to bed at a decent time during the week. What I will complain about is the fact that it will get Brooklynn on a schedule where she wakes up around 6:00am everyday because that’s when we get her up.

She has transitioned into sleeping in until 7:00 or 8:00 each morning, which is really nice on the weekends when both of us can sleep in until she’s up and ready to go. Considering we're aiming at having dropped off at daycare a little before 7am on workdays (sorry, Jamie), we’ll also see how quickly she transitions to early mornings during the week.

This morning, I went to get her and found her still sound asleep and sans diaper. She has taken to sleeping curled up on her knees and her naked bottom was perched high in the air for all to see. Apparently, sometime in the night, her diaper either came loose of was removed by the baby and she went back to sleep. Luckily, it came off late enough in the night that she didn’t wet the bed. We had her dressed and downstairs with a cup of milk before she really knew what was even going on.

I can’t wait until Saturday when she decides that 5:30 in the morning would be a perfect time to have some breakfast as revenge.

change isn't always for the better

I don't like to get into politics too much on this site, because, when it comes to opinions, I think everyone is entitled to one and, last time I checked, arguing on the Internet rarely solves anything.  However... We found out that the school board election in Rhiannon's school district, the one in which over half the school board was up for vote, did not go the way the teacher's union wanted. The new members are conservatives who ran on a platform that teachers are overpaid and schools would be better off as charter schools run by parents.

I think it might be time to consider a different school district. At least we have a few years before Brooklynn actually goes to school; we can assess how much things have gone downhill at that point.

smarter than a 6th grader

When I was in school, I was good at math. I'd dare say (at the risk of coming off a little egotistical) I was really good at math. How things change...

Smarter Than a 6th Grader from Chris&Rhiannon on Vimeo.

8 * 6 = 48, not 64.  That only took me about 7 seconds, or over 10% of my allotted time.  In my defense, the students only have to get a 70% to pass, so I was being held to a higher standard. Something about Rhiannon remembering how I think I'm good at this sort of stuff or something...

big night out

Last night, both Rhiannon and I played volleyball, which means someone else watched Brooklynn for the evening for the first time since we had her. You know the TV shows where a couple goes out for an evening for the first time but calls the baby-sitter 70 million times just to check in and spends the entire night wondering what is going on at home? That was not us.

  • Brooklynn is not old enough to run around, take off her pajamas, hide in a closet, or break things. She is also not scared of people who are not Mom or Dad.
  • We already gave her a bath, so all that was left in the pre-bedtime routine was to eat. Brooklynn loves to eat. This was not a problem.
  • After she eats, she’s almost always happy and then she falls asleep for the night.
  • Finally, we left her with Rhiannon’s aunt and uncle (parents of the former baby-who-doesn’t-trust-me, now morphed into a very polite kindergartner with 30 minutes of homework each night including math and reading).

30 minutes of homework each night for a kindergartner? They don’t even go to school full time. Sixth graders aren’t suppose to have much over an hour each night. I think when I went to kindergarten for a half day, a good chunk of it was recess, naps, and snack time. And we would do something really challenging, like learn about the letter “C”. Amazing what happens when you expect kids to be taking AP Differential Equations and Advanced Cellular Biology by the time they finish high school.

/end rant

  • We left Brooklynn with Rhiannon’s family, who have raised a child of their own successfully up to this point and went through the baby stage not that long ago. We felt confident in them to handle our easy-going daughter for an hour or two of wakefulness.

And it went wonderfully. She was sleeping when we picked her up (and at 10:30 in the evening, we really hoped she would be). Frankly, since we are planning on asking them to watch her again, we were more worried about Brooklynn behaving badly and them not wanting her back.

Yes, she spit up on Mark. That’s kind of what she does at this stage of her life and really, it just shows how comfortable she was there. Or how uncomfortable she is until she burps after eating. I still can’t tell if she just thinks it’s funny to soil as much laundry as possible.

bring on the flu

Maybe you’ve turned on the news or listened to the radio sometime in the past week and heard about the “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, THE PIGS ARE COMING!!” disease, better known as the swine flu.  I admit, it is something that needs to be made known, and for small children or the weak and elderly, it can be very dangerous.  But really, talk of closing the border between countries? Pandemic conjures up images of widespread panic, irrational fear, and a very dangerous situation.  Ok, two out of three of ain’t bad.  I know that people have died and that it is slowly spreading around the world, but people die every year from the flu.  Is it a new strain that has never spread human to human before?  Yep.  Is it a super virus destined to wipe out the entire human race and/or irrevocably alter the course of history? Um, at this point, all indications point to no.  People who have the disease got on planes, and a pandemic to me means that everyone on that plane now has it as well.

Ok, I watch and read too much science fiction.

According to the World Health Organization, we are reaching pandemic levels, but we have much more pressing diseases to worry about close to home.

Like Fifths disease and Scarlett Fever, or as I like to call them, Parvovirus B19 (aka erythema infectiosum) and toxic streptococcus bacteria.  Kids in Rhiannon’s school have had both of these diseases recently and saying the scientific names make it sound much more panic-inducing.  Sure, about half of all adults have had the virus that causes Fifths and most don’t know it, and Scarlett Fever is essential a bad case of strep throat, but you worry a little with tiny unborn people who are little and precious like Beta.

The doctor says nothing to worry about anymore this late in the game and carry on like normal.  I say keep Beta away from nasty, germy hobbitses school-children, but we’ll trust the incubator to do its job in these cases.

Rhiannon did say one of her co-workers gave her an economy sized jar of hand-sanitizer to use in her classroom.  Take that, pigs.

funding is not coming

Another election season has come and gone, and I for one am more than happy to bid farewell to the political advertisements and phone calls.  In the last few days before Tuesday, and after we had already turned in our mail-in ballots, we were averaging about 5 phone messages a day telling us why to vote for various candidates and amendments. While I’m sure that there are many opinions about the national election results out there, and most of you reading this probably know what side of the line I was on, there were some local results that I was disappointed in.

We had three measures up in our county that would have increased property taxes a little and benefitted some of the public services.  Two were about the school district and one was for the public library system.

All three failed to pass.

I admit that I am more than a little biased on these issues. With Rhiannon teaching in the public school system, we would have seen a nice mid-year increase in our household income had the school bonds and mill-levys passed.  Last summer, the teachers received a 0.5% salary increase to cover cost of living expense increases.  Ok, I know that the recent job reports have seen a huge number of layoffs, so I won’t push this issue when she still has a consistent and steady job.

The part that gets me is that our county is, on average, one of the richest in Colorado based on per household income, yet the school system has one of the lowest budgets based on dollars per child in the entire state (these are figures directly from the school district).

Because the school systems are spending more money to supply food and to get kids to the school, they don’t have money for classroom improvements or new carpets that are walked on by hundreds of feet every day.  Non-classroom positions like technology specialists and resource teachers to help plan curriculums may be cut.  We expect our educators to work magic with kids who aren’t taught respect, courtesy, or any sort of work ethic at home and then we refuse to give the education system and money to work with.

I know that some people think teachers are glorified baby-sitters and are overpaid.  I looked on Craigslist at some common rates for baby-sitters in the area.  $10/hour seems like a pretty common if even a little low number.  I’ll even put in 2 kids for that rate.  7 hours a day by $10/hour by 10 pairs of kids in a classroom (I’m rounding down since there are more than 20 kids per class but other people in school as well).

$700 a day for a babysitter.  And while their at it, teachers should prepare kids for the future and educate tomorrow’s leaders.  I think that’s a little more challenging that making chicken nuggets in the oven.

Yes, I’m biased.  Yes, I think the schools need to manage their money better.  I still think education should be public and free to attend.

But I also think that the general public doesn’t understand what goes in to a classroom today.  It isn’t a curriculum that involves reading from a text book, handing out a worksheet, and grading a test.  Things are suppose to be fun, creative, engaging, active, authentic, and advanced.  Between the parents who can’t understand why their child isn’t at the top of the class and the parents who couldn’t care less about their children, I don’t think teachers get to spend nearly enough time planning and working with the kids.  They have to play politics as well.

Ok, I’m off the soap box. I know the education system needs work, and I don’t have any solutions. But I’m disappointed in the community I live in this week. I wrote that I felt like a part of this community on Halloween. The county is more than the people on the streets around us, but I can’t see the other side of this issue.  Maybe people aren’t as much like us as I thought.

Apparently, Intent Doesn't Matter

"She called me the B word." "No, I didn't."

"Missy*, did you call her the B word?"

"Not really..."

"How do you not really use that word?"

"I added an "O" to it."

"So you said...?"

"Bi-otch. It's not even the same word."

*Name changed to protect the, well, in this case, the not so innocent.

Happiness Is When The Right Team Wins

Maybe you heard that yesterday was the Super Bowl. It’s sort of a big deal to some people, and even those who don’t follow football usually know when it is going on. I had a passing interest in the game yesterday. I was cheering for the Colts. I like Peyton Manning and was glad to see him win the big game, but more than that, I have a hatred of the Bears for some reason. Some sportswriters have complained that the game was sloppy and not played very well. The fact that the Bears helped give away the game made it all that much sweeter for me.

Rhiannon also had an interest in the outcome of the game. We were cheering for the same team. She has a slight crush on Manning. If he was available and looking, I don’t know that I would have much of a hope of keeping her. Of course, if he was available and looking, she’d have to beat me to him. I think he’s ok too.

If the Colts had lost the game, Rhiannon probably would have stayed at home today. It turns out that sixth grade boys in our area have some strange love for the Bears. I can’t explain it. Rhiannon has been talking up the Colts for the past two weeks to the point that her students were bringing in Bears towels and hanging them in the room.

When the Bears returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, Rhiannon got an email from one of her students with a little taunting. Sixth graders, however, lack an appreciation for the length of a game and the ability to come back in the rain. Their small minds jump to conclusions rapidly and they open their mouths (or fingers) before the outcome has been decided.

Rhiannon was looking forward to going to school today.

Sometimes I Feel Like I'm Smart. Sometimes I Don't.

There have been a lot of changes in teaching since I was young and naïve, changes made to ensure that all the diminutive people of the nation get teached at real good, and get all growed up and start a website to use incorrect grammar and sentence fragments and not even care. Changes to ensure that all the wee ones learn what they are supposed to be learning. As part of some of these changes, teachers are supposed to know what they are teaching. I would consider this a good thing. In fact, there are programs that take technically trained individuals and put them in a classroom to teach math and science to the underprivileged. The popularity of these programs has skyrocketed. I would have qualified for such a programs. Based on recent personal experience, I don’t know if I would have been quite what they are looking for.

---------------

Rhiannon is a little busy right now, being a good teacher and caring about her students and the quality of education she can provide for them. I try to help out when I can, because I, too, care about the quality of education in this country. (This also qualifies me to bump my fist twice to my chest, tilt my head down and to the side and say, in my most sincere rapper voice, “Is fer the kids.”)

Last night, she was a little extra busy doing teacher-type things like going to the library and reading papers her students had written. You know, the important tasks. Teacher things.

She asked me to make cupcakes.

Sure thing.

I don’t really remember the last time I made cupcakes, if ever. I find that, much like cookies, my attention span becomes very short after the mixing in a bowl is over. At that point, I want to but the whole conglomeration in the oven in one large mass, like a cake or a ban of bars, or, in the case of cookie dough, sit down and eat my way though a third of the batter, knowing in the back of my head that there is raw egg and I shouldn’t eat any more and in the front of my head fully enjoying each and every savory spoonful.

I always feel bad later. That kind of feeling you get right after you eat about two dozens cookies worth of raw dough. I’m never exactly sure why.

So Rhiannon wanted me to make cupcakes. I’m a semi-intelligent person on occasion. What I lack in common sense, I’d like to think I make up for in my ability to score well on standardized tests. I can read and follow directions. It seems as though I would be a prime candidate to make cupcakes.

But these weren’t just any cupcakes. They were the world. Literally. (Figuratively.) Layered cupcakes. French vanilla batter, precisely measured (eye-balled) into four equal parts. One left plain. One with chocolate syrup, the last two with red and green food coloring, respectively. Four batches, four different colors. My mission, should I have chosen to accept it, was to make 24 cupcakes with two or three colors in layers in each one, with two or three of the cupcakes being identical in layer order. 24 cupcakes. 4 colors. After being frosted, the cupcakes would be stabbed with clear straws to form core samples. The students would then attempt to locate the other students with similar core samples. And, regardless if they succeeded or not, they got to eat the cupcake. From this, they learn about continental drift. (I know, it seems crazy to me too, but I’d go along with it if it meant getting a cupcake.)

In the end, it was just a round-about way to make cupcakes like any other time. I was smart. I read the instructions on the box (even the high-altitude instructions in tiny print.) With 18 cupcakes completed, I realized that I had nowhere near the needed amount of batter remaining to finish the last six.

“Honey, Houston just called. We may have a problem.”

“Your making cupcakes. I think you can handle it.”

“No, really. You should come look at this.”

She came. She looked at the completed cupcakes. She looked at me. She looked at the box. And then she realized that maybe common sense is a little more important than standardized test scores when it comes to simple things, like quantum physics and cupcake making. (In my mind, they are about the same level of difficulty.)

“You see here on the box, where it says to fill two-thirds full?”

“Yes.”

“You see this little tinfoil cupcake wrapper?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think you put a little more than two-thirds should be?”

“The batter is pretty colors.”

At this point I was left alone to “do the best I could” with the remaining batter and please come up with something useful. I did what I could and placed the cupcakes in the oven.

I don’t know if you’ve ever sat and watched a cake or bread bake in an oven and physically rise. Most people wouldn’t take the 10 to 15 minutes it takes to see things really start to happen. My full cupcakes where making a break for it three minutes in.

I begged. I pleaded. I curled up in a tiny ball on the floor and sobbed like a small child whose pacifier has just been thrown away on a McDonalds tray. The cupcakes relented slightly and at least refrained from mingling into one large cake on the top of the pan.

I looked at the box again – high altitude directions say to make 30 cupcakes.

Do not ask me to bake for you.

We ended up cutting off the extra pieces that hung over the edges of the cups. The point of the frosting is to obscure any clue of what colors are underneath it. If you’ve ever frosted a crumby cake and tried to keep all the crumbs out of the frosting, you know this is not easy.

I got vanilla frosting. White vanilla frosting. It doesn’t do much to hide green crumbs.

It was not my day.

I am not a teacher. I am not a baker. This is probably a good thing. Give me a call if you’re interested in quantum physics. From here on out, I’m sticking to the simple stuff.

If You Don’t Have Anything Good To Say… Find Something To Complain About

It’s early August, and with early August come the supposed dog days of summer, whatever that means. (I could tell you that the dog days of summer refer to the period of time around which Sirius, the dog star and the brightest star of the Canis Major (big dog) constellation, rises and falls with the sun. The dog days are 20 days before this lasting until 20 days after. This varies from place to place and over time, but it currently is accepted to be July 3rd to August 11th. I could tell you this, but I won’t. Because that would make me a nerd. Which unfortunately I am. Back to your regularly scheduled topic.) I like to think of it as a little bit of a lazy time of the year. I’ve been a student the majority of my life and being about 14 months into the full-time employment phase of my evolution, I’m starting to realize that those summer breaks and the return to school time weren’t such a bad thing. One thing I might have subconsciously looked forward to about being married to a teacher was getting to experience summer break every year vicariously through her. I’d get to grumble about how people who have the summer off are lazy. I wouldn’t have to cook supper as often and we’d go do stuff outside and not have any chores because Rhiannon could keep the house a little cleaner during the day along with whatever else she wanted to do. These are the terms of getting to sleep in and go along with being a teacher.

I think Rhiannon teaching in a year-round school is affecting me more than her. She gets up about the same time I do and leaves the house shortly after me. I often beat her home at night and I’m still doing cooking and cleaning and occasionally helping with a little schoolwork now and then (or at least offering my opinion). (Or at least saying whatever it is she thinks is fantastic to avoid having to have an actual opinion.)

It’s early August. I’m okay with working year round. (Ask me again in 40 years.) The paychecks are nice and slightly required with the purchase of our house. I have had many years of knowing I would be working during the summer to mentally prepare for it. I had around 2 months to come to terms with Rhiannon teaching during the summer. I’m getting a little older and I don’t deal with change all that well.

I looked back at my recent writings and realized that they have been a little few and far between. I always expected that over summer, I could complain about how life isn’t fair that I have to work and Rhiannon doesn’t. And then I could wax poetic on how I should be used to it since my mom was a teacher and I chose the field I work in, etc. And now since that planned source of downtime has been taken away, it has taken me a little while to adjust. Maybe you noticed.

Luckily, I have figured out how to complain about the source of my complaints being taken away. I’m back.

We All Slept A Little Better Last Night

As you may have gathered from my early morning post – Rhiannon is indeed employable once again for the foreseeable future. We’ve heard all along that the first job or two can be tough to find for a new teacher – especially in the area that we moved to. It’s a growing school district, but that growth and the upper-middle class type suburbs also attract a lot of applicants.

Last summer passed without nary an interview until right before school started – Rhiannon was actually hired after the first day of school. When she started interviewing for jobs over a month ago, we felt pretty confident she would find something without two much trouble. After all, (and this is my own biased opinion – but supported by others) she is pretty good at what she does.

She sent off a huge pack of applications off to start and then a steady 2 to 4 more per week as new jobs came up. Slowly, calls came in to interview, so she started driving around after school, going from interview to interview. We even went to one on a Saturday morning.

Everyone she interview with said about the same thing. “You had a wonderful interview, you seem like a great teacher that we’d love to have on staff here, we’re going with someone with more experience.” Like an additional 5 to 15 years of experience.

I understand teaching is a little different than other jobs – you don’t necessarily start at the bottom and work your way up the corporate ladder of responsibility. In engineering, as an entry-level worker, I was not asked to interview against someone with 15 years of experience. If I could do their job, there is a problem with the system. In teaching, however, this is exactly what happens.

One principal told Rhiannon that out of over 150 applicants, they interviewed 8 people and she was the only one with less than 7 years of teaching.

Moral victories get old after a while.

And the job postings where starting to become less frequent each week. We hadn’t entered panic mode yet, but it was getting there. We have some plans for the rest of the summer that keep getting pushed back until we know for sure what our schedule was going to be. We have things we want to do in the house that we said, “We’ll wait and see about a job and then think about it.” We would have managed with Rhiannon subbing. There are certainly people in a worse situation than us.

Still, a little tension lifted from the atmosphere last night. When went out for a celebratory dinner and I think that was the most I have seen Rhiannon smile for about a month. She was relieved/happy/thinking about how she could enjoy the house and stop worrying about interviewing everywhere, and I was happy for her for all of those reasons.

Congrats Rhiannon. I knew you could do it. Finally someone else saw that too.

Celebration #2

From the "I wanted to post this last night but the computer was being stupid" file: 2 bottles of Champagne down in three nights - all weeknights. We are, once again, officially party animals.

Congrats to Rhiannon and her new teaching position in Douglas County.

Can you say unpaid overtime?

That’s in reference to teachers and the sometimes obscene amounts of time they put in outside of the normal workday. Granted, my sample group is only two people. I put more work into Rhiannon’s teaching job than I do my own sometimes. At least that’s what it feels like. I will admit, she’s the over-acheiver everything-has-to-be-perfect personality and this is her first job, so she doesn’t have files and resources and lesson plans socked away for when things get busy.

I realize that teachers grade assignments outside of school. I’ve also heard people say that if teachers expect kids to do work outside of school as homework, then they should be willing to do the same. I’m also pretty confident some of these people site at their jobs and count the minutes until they can go home and not think about work until the next day. But there are some teachers who put in way more work than any student would dream about.

So why do teachers do it? The standard is answer is that you don’t go into teaching for the money. Honestly, that’s probably better in the long run. There are some jobs you can half-ass and get through just to make a buck. Teaching isn’t one of them. I don’t have kids, but if I did, you can be sure I wouldn’t want them to be with someone who doesn’t care every day of the week. Growing up I had teachers who were getting close to retirement and you could tell they were to the point of just putting in the time. They didn’t do anything new, didn’t learn anything themselves, and generally didn’t care; the sad part is that is was painfully obvious. On the other hand, I had some older teachers who were wonderful and used their years of experience and knowledge to reach as many students as they could. Those are the people who put in too much time in school and take too much home with them.

And those are the people who the U.S. needs in charge of our youth. Thank you to all the teachers who do the things I know I never could.