A ticking time bomb

Silly me. I thought that the longer I was in education, the easier things would be. This is year 23 for me and I have never felt so slammed by expectations and pressure to make sure that everyone passes – no matter what.

I won’t get into the specifics of it all, as you never know when your own writing will land you in hot water, and although I am frustrated by this field right now, I don’t want to leave it just yet. However, there’s a nagging little voice in the back of my head that has been growing louder day by day with a catchy little chant: What else can I do? How can I do what I love to do without this immense pressure to be a grading machine, a super motivator, a surrogate parent, and a relationship builder — all while trying to run my own life?

The buzz word in education these days is self-care. My district focused on that last year. We actually had some good PD from it when we had Zoom meetings with a wonderful presenter based in Colorado. But the question remains – if this profession is so heavy and stressful and chaotic that we need to teach teachers how to take care of themselves outside of the work day, what exactly is wrong with this picture?

The irony remains that the pressures increase and the self-care talk is now replaced with the new buzzword: relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble maintaining relationships with the handful of long-time friends that I have, much less 170 teenagers, some of whom have absolutely no interest in building a relationship with me. We are regaled with sob stories about students who give all the credit for their success to the teachers who went the extra mile. And that’s great, really. I know I credit my own high school teachers for instilling a love of education in me, and that is why I ended up in education.

But now the mantra is that if we are not going the extra mile for every single one of our students, we are not doing our job right.

There’s a napkin dispenser in our break room that has this saying: “Every student. Every day. Whatever it takes.”

Whatever it takes? Every day? For every student? All 170 of them?

That’s more than pressure; that’s downright impossible.

I belong to a few teachers groups on the book of faces. It’s a blessing and a curse; I get some great ideas, but it is painful how vicious teachers are to one another. Once in a while, a teacher will post anonymously about his/her frustrations about the job, and within minutes, the holier-than-thou types start lashing out. Inevitably, someone starts preaching relationships. Surely that kid would not be misbehaving if you tried to build relationships. Surely you are lacking in some way. Surely it’s YOU.

It’s amazing and incredibly sad to watch the thread play out in a very predictable way. Rather than supporting one another and acknowledging that we work in a field that is not only difficult but even more so since the pandemic (for various reasons). Rather than admitting that student behavior is not just off the charts at our own schools, it is happening all over the country, we tear apart the teacher who admits that she’s at her breaking point. It reminds me of the teacher cliché of talking to another teacher about a student’s behavior in your class – then having to listen to the other teacher say that the same kid is an angel in their class and they are so surprised that the student acts out in yours. You walk away from that conversation feeling like a failure.

In my 23 years of teaching, I’ve been flipped off (with both fingers – an added treat), told to f*ck off (numerous times), told “tough sh*t” when I pointed out that I expected respect from a student, had my tires punctured with construction screws several times in one school year (no accident, I can assure you; that was an expensive school year!) and been accused of treating students unfairly in various ways. And that’s just the stuff I can think of right now. This year, I have more students than I have ever had in my entire career and now grading has gotten to the point that if a student fails, WE have to prove what we did to try to mitigate that.

Grades are due tonight. I suppose I had better get my defense ready.

I’m tired, y’all. And it’s not just me. It’s teachers everywhere who are dealing with students who have seldom been told “no’; who have zero parental support because there ARE no parents; who come to school hungry, unwashed, unloved, and angry at the world; whose only ambition is to work at the local factory so f*ck you and your English bullsh*t; ones who have been up all night playing video games and therefore can’t stay awake in class; students who get called out by mom and dad every time the kid says “We’re not doing anything today,” (which is almost always untrue); students who are really and truly addicted to their cell phones and cannot even have their phone off their body for an extended amount of time — no joke!; students who are carrying around a lifetime worth of trauma that even the best-trained teacher would have difficulty assisting with . . . the list goes on and on and on.

And now we are taking kids who are barely functioning well enough to exist day to day and asking their teachers to not only hold them to high standards but ensure that they don’t fail any of their classes.

After all, if they fail, it surely has to be our fault because teachers didn’t try hard enough. YOU didn’t contact home enough. YOU didn’t form relationships. YOU didn’t give enough grace. YOU didn’t enact good self-care and thus were not in your best form for work. YOU didn’t differentiate your lessons enough to meet all levels of learning. YOU. It’s gotta be YOU.

Add to all of this that there are students in education programs who are choosing other fields because they hear about the nightmares they will be facing once they get their own classrooms, and this country has a problem that will soon rear its ugly head.

I apologize for making this post about me and not something more fun like antiques or tablecloths or Elvis or literally anything else. This is what was on my mind on this Sunday, and I hope my next post is lighter in subject and way more fun.

Enjoy your weekend!

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School Year #23 is now in session

I have almost been back at school for a month now, and it seems surreal. After last year, which was chaotic and stressful and, therefore, not much remembered since I was in survival mode, I was determined to return to school this year with renewed energy and a positive spirit. And, for the most part, I have. I’m trying really hard not to let the few challenging students drag down my entire day, but this year I’ve been handed a couple challenging CLASSES – where a majority of the kids are super high maintenance. I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t dread those days a little bit. I have already categorized my odd day schedule as the “difficult” one and my even day schedule as my “easy” one. The odd day schedule is indeed tiring; I teach straight through with my only break being 40 minutes of lunch. From 8:15 to 12:10 I am working with students and teaching; then from 12:50 until 3:25 I’m back at it. I know people will point out that hey, I get done at 3:25! Yes, but then it’s sitting there grading and planning for upcoming days. I’m not complaining. Some years are just challenging for the energy they require from an introvert teacher, and this is one of those challenging years.

My husband and I were in La Crosse, Wisconsin, last weekend for the Elvis Explosion festival that occurs there every year. In fact, that is where we were last year when my husband ended up in the ICU with sepsis. It was a little strange to be back there in that environment, remembering the emotions that I was going through the last time I was there. I had felt like the rug had been yanked out from under me in a very violent way, and I remember wandering around feeling very lost and confused.

This year, however, we had a great experience and my husband drummed like a rock star, as always. My family was able to be up there as well, so that made it extra special. The only unfortunate thing about that weekend is not really having a lot of time to enjoy La Crosse, which is such a beautiful area with a vibrant downtown atmosphere. There’s an antique store that we love to visit there that has 3 floors of goodies. We were able to go there with my family and I kind of made a haul.

First, I found a catalog full of cookbooks from Good Housekeeping. It came in a little green binder so that people could insert them as they bought them. The binder was falling apart and missing the back of it, so I threw that away and took all the cookbooks out. These are such fun with goofy retro graphics and fantastic fonts:

I plan on scanning them all in, and I cannot wait to do that.

I am also a sucker for catalogs from the 50s and 60s, as they provide great eye candy about the stuff I could have bought “back in the day.” I ran across a 1963 Hilex catalog that was in perfect condition:

The cover alone deserves to be analyzed. What exactly is behind that frozen smile on mom’s face? She is either totally in love with dad or ready to poison his coffee.

Inside the catalog, goodness abounds:

I plan on scanning that one in too. And I want ALL those clocks at the top.

I ran across a little 1959 Christmas Cookie cookbook sponsored by Wisconsin Electric Power Co. The cover alone made me want to buy it, but inside are lots of cute graphics and ads, like this one starring Reddy Kilowatt:

And, yes, I plan on scanning in that book too. (I might have a bit of a scanning addiction. Is there a group for that?)

Finally, although I have kind of eased up on Pyrex collecting because of outrageous prices, I still like looking for bakeware, and sometimes I run across a gem that is reasonably priced. Behold, a Fire King divided casserole dish, with candle warmers – original box and material inside.

The tag claimed it was “unused,” but the melted candle wax in the warmers suggests differently. Then again, the wax could have melted while being stored somewhere warm. Who knows. All I know is that $28 was a steal for something like this. Those are the prices I am used to paying for bakeware; none of that $250 nonsense that I’m seeing in a lot of antique stores for Pyrex pieces. I mean, people are selling the turquoise starburst casserole dish by Pyrex for $800 and higher. That is simply stupid.

Anyway, I know that my “to be scanned” pile is reaching ridiculous heights. I still need to finish up my postcard project that I started during the leisurely months of summer. I only have, oh, a few hundred left to go. Maybe I’ll use this Saturday to get that cleared off my plate before I start something new.

Have a fantastic weekend!

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And now, a sense of calm

Finally – I feel relaxed. No more school email, no more last-minute grade fixing, no more worrying that I forgot to do something. Now it is time to get stuff done – although the weather and general luck (or should I personify that – “General Luck”?) seem to be standing in my way lately.

Last week I pressure-washed my deck, needing to give it a fresh coat of stain. That was on Wednesday. Thursday, it rained, so I couldn’t get much done. Friday it rained in the afternoon, so by the time I was ready to tackle the deck, Mother Nature thwarted me again. The weather was supposed to be perfect on Sunday – mid 70s and partly cloudly. When I got up on Saturday morning, I realized that someone at The Weather Channel did not do their job very well, for it was horribly humid and rainy on and off all day.

Today feels like 85% humidity and is going to be hot. Here’s our forecast for the next few days:

If I remember correctly, stain should not be applied in extreme heat, so there go the next two days. So here my little can of stain sits, waiting to be used.

So . . . back to that stellar forecast I posted above. Last Thursday, I drove down to take my son and his girlfriend out to eat and to do a little shopping. Just as I was backing out of their apartment complex, I heart a loud POP and some smoke emanating from my car. My son, who took auto classes in high school, said that it sounded like my A/C line burst. And guess what? He was right. We all went to the back of the car and saw a huge green pool of refrigerant on the ground. The car goes in tomorrow to be looked at, but I just had the A/C line repaired LAST SUMMER, and it was not a cheap job. Needless to say, I am not a happy camper. Of course the A/C breaks when it is going to be almost 100 degrees!

Next weekend, my husband’s band is traveling to St. Louis to play behind one of the best Elvis tribute artists in the country, Bill Cherry. If you do not know who he is, look him up. I will have plenty of pictures to post, I’m sure, but every time I photograph that man, I am in awe of what a great performer he is. Not only does he look like 70’s Elvis, but he SOUNDS like him – even when he talks. I know many people brush off Elvis tribute artists as being stupid or silly or “not the real thing” (um, duh?!), but I do enjoy getting lost in the moment sometimes while watching some of these guys.

Oh, and I really, REALLY hope my A/C is fixed by the time we have to go to St. Louis, otherwise we will have to take a gas-guzzling Tahoe down there, and then we will have to sell our house and all of our possessions to pay for that fuel bill.

It’s getting insane out there, y’all.

I have dubbed this summer “the summer of calm.” I have gotten into routines that not only help my physical health, but they help my mental health. Every morning I get up pretty early, drink some dandelion tea, then head out on a walk, weather permitting. If I can’t take a walk in the morning, then I take one in the afternoon, but I try to go for at least one, if not two, walks a day. In addition, I’ve been making a conscious effort to cook more healthily for my husband and me. My latest obsession has come from the Weber line of marinade seasoning packets. They are so yummy and easy and make it seem like I did something a lot more impressive than just a marinade. This is in no way a paid advertisement; they’re just really, really good. And of course, since I like them, I cannot find them in my favorite grocery store anymore. Happens every time.

I don’t know how much antique shopping I will get in this summer, as rising prices of everything has made it necessary to cut back elsewhere. I’m sure, however, that I’ll be able to pop in to some shops here and there. In the meantime, I hope your summer is wonderful so far and that you are also able to find a way to enjoy a “summer of calm.”

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I’m here, just limping

Ok, I’m not literally limping, but I am most definitely limping in a figurative way. This school year was hard. I don’t remember having a year where the ending was so chaotic, and then even when everything should have ended, it still didn’t. I am still dealing with outstanding assignments (as in, not handed in – not wonderful) and last-minute panic that should have happened a month ago.

But I digress . . . y’know – from the point I wasn’t even making yet.

Two weeks after school has ended, I am finally getting some downtime. My back would like to tell you that my carrying 5-gallon buckets full of black dirt and bags of mulch yesterday was a bad idea. A very bad idea. However, I spent a good chunk of yesterday trying to finish up the planting and preening of the perennial garden, so such deeds must be done.

I took this picture soon after getting the pond filled and operational for the season. Flowers were bought, mulch was put down, and I still had not moved away all my leaf piles, as evidenced from the background.

The pond has been operational for a little over a month, although I was frustrated with how long it took to get it up and going again. This spring was cold and wet for far too long and it delayed everything. As a result, the toads took a while to start their singing and laying eggs, and the frogs never showed at all to lay theirs. It was definitely a weird year. Even without the frogs’ additions, though, the pond is full of little squiggly tadpoles. Up until three days ago, the water was crystal clear, and then I noticed it started to turn murky. Part of this problem involves the copious amount of leaves at the bottom of the pond, blown in during one of our many windy days. I’d fish them out, but doing so would also scoop up hundreds of tadpoles, and I do not have enough hours in the day to sit there and pick them all out of there. The other issue is a lovey cloud of green algae that has very quickly grown throughout the pond. The tadpoles love to hide in there, too, so removing it can be tricky.

I know – it’s just a tadpole. But the animal lover in me just cannot bring myself to knowingly fling a living thing into the grass and then walk away. It may be stupid, but that’s the way I’ve always been.

I had to do a little replanting of some plants that didn’t make it last year, such as 4 out of my six rosebushes that the deer could not leave alone last year. Having never grown roses before, I was unprepared for them being a favorite snack of the pesky deer, who have been mowing down my flowers relentlessly this year, thanks to the late spring. For whatever reason, the unique grass that I had planted on either side of the waterfall decided to die over the winter as well after surviving the past 5 winters, so I had to decide what other kind of grass to plant there. (I wish I was good about remembering plant names, but I most certainly am not!) This past weekend I was in the Chicago ‘burbs and stopped by the wonderfully amazing Alsip nursery in Frankfort. What a plant lover’s dream that store is! I looked around for a replacement for the waterfall grass and decided on maiden grass. I hope it ends up looking nice.

Also found at Alsip Nursery: these goofy looking items. I am a sucker for things that are a good mix between funky and cute, so these had to come home with me. My husband has named the two in the back George and Lennie (Of Mice and Men reference), and the English teacher in me loves that.

I haven’t gotten a chance to do any antique store hunting lately, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this piece of retro design in our local grocery store. The pic is a little fuzzy since I took it quickly, not wanting to be that weirdo who is taking pics in the grocery store, but you get the idea. I was tempted to buy it just for the design, but given the fact that it was about $6 for four cans, and given the fact that I do not drink regular soda anymore, it was a pass for me.

I have been trying to take a walk in the early mornings – even when I am out of town – to keep myself accountable for exercising. When I walked yesterday, I noticed two different does with fairly new fawns. It may say something about my frustration with trying to grow flowers that keep mowing down that all I could think about is how much destruction these two little squirts were going to do to my landscaping.

Good thing they’re cute.

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Well, that just about killed me.

Install laminate flooring, they said. It’ll be easy, they said. Just click it together, they said.

Good god.

Perhaps for Stan the Handyman, installing laminate flooring would be a breeze. For me the English teacher and my hubby the graphic designer/drummer, well, that was a different story.

The morning after the bulk of the flooring was put in, I arose at 4 a.m. because my entire body was so sore (especially my back) that it felt that I had malaria. Ok, I will admit that I do not know what it feels like to have malaria . . . but I think it probably feels like that. The constant bending over, measuring, placing, crawling around on my knees and pounding in the boards got to my aging body. Plus, I only had a vague notion of what in the hell I was doing, so there’s that too.

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An adventure in home improvement

I think I have a curse when it comes to tackling home improvement projects.

It never seems to fail: I get a great idea, I get the gumption to tackle the project, and then something goes horribly, horribly wrong. I don’t have the right tools, sometimes. Or, more often, I do not have the brain needed to know what in the hell I am doing.

My husband and I decided to refloor my breezeway area – which for the entire time I’ve lived here has been an ugly brown indoor/outdoor carpet. However, it was durable and stood up to the muck and grime that inevitably got dragged into that area day after day, so I kept it.

We had recently made an effort to turn that area into more usable space. We purchased a small square table from a local furniture store and put it in there. However, the area was also inhabited by my husband’s numerous drum cases. He’s a drummer, hence the cases. And when he plays gigs as often as he does, it is preferable to have the cases in a location where you can just grab and go. Some of that stuff is darn heavy. The breezeway seemed like a great place to put that stuff.

But now we have tired of the brown “turf” carpeting and we wanted something that made the breezeway a place to hang out, if one desired. We went to Menards and picked out some Mohawk laminate plank flooring (Lexington Pine) and loaded up our cart with everything we needed, and we picked a day to get the project started.

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Antique store scores!

Yesterday my husband and I ventured out to Okoboji, Iowa, which is about 1.5 hours away from where we live. We had visited an antique store there a couple weeks ago, but because we had gotten there so late in the day, we did not get to visit all the antique stores that we saw. There is one store in particular that my husband fell in love with because of one simple reason: vinyl. Lots of vinyl. Even better, there was lots of mint-condition vinyl.

Actually, we both discovered stores that fed our little addictions because I discovered a honeypot of tablecloths in one of the stores. Even better, they were fairly priced. I had about 30 of them to look through, and I made off with 5 of them, including a Wilendur. It is has some faint yellow stains, but I am determined to get this baby looking like new by soaking and scrubbing until it gleams again. Once I saw the tag on this beauty (plus it was 50% off), I knew I had to have it.

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Let him fly . . .

I am in the inexplicable position of having to watch my oldest child go off and be an adult. I say “inexplicable” because there is no possible way that 18 years has flown by so quickly. I know it’s a cliche to sit here in stupified silence, reminiscing that an oldest child is “of age,” but here I am.

My oldest is a “textbook” oldest. He is the most stubborn person on the planet. He likes to control the show, not be a spectator. From the time he was a toddler, I knew I was in trouble. Looking back on home videos from his toddler days, there were many times when I would be telling him “NO” when he’d reach for something and he would just turn and look at me with that sparkle in his eye, seemingly saying, “Oh, yeah? Try me.” My bookshelf began to get overtaken with self-help books about parenting a strong-willed child.

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A most colorful fall

Fall is my ultimate favorite season, and this year we are having a storybook fall so far in regard to the weather and the colors.  The past week we’ve enjoyed mild temps in the 70s and virtually no wind, so the trees are holding their beautiful hues.  Some years we’ve barely had a fall, as the cold weather moved in too quickly, or the wind blew all the leaves off the trees.  After the extraordinarily hot summer we suffered through this year, it’s nice to have some mild temps and an incentive to be outside.

Yesterday was a perfect fall day.  My boys had football games in the morning, so I had the privilege of watching elementary kids play games against a backdrop of fall foliage.

I have an added incentive to walk my Jack Russell, Nick, during these beautifully mild days, as the scenery just cannot be beat.

This is the first fall that I have had Nick with our family, but I think he likes it quite a bit.  🙂

Normally around this time, I’d be heading back to South Dakota to enjoy some of the bounty of my parents’ apple orchard.  However, this summer left no chance that a non-irrigated orchard was going to produce anything, so I’ll have to wait patiently until next year.

This is the season of leaves, colors, apples, pumpkins, bright blue skies, and coziness.  Enjoy it!

 

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