The cicadas tell the time

I’m going to miss sitting outside in the morning with my coffee, listening to the pond. That quiet that surrounds me during those moments is crucial to my well being, I think. No other sounds can be heard except the water running from the waterfall and the fountain.

See how my fountain looks sort of wonky? Funny story.

I used to have the fountain sitting on top of a platform in the middle of the pond. It had two extension tubes at the top so it was just visible over the surface. It was lovely.

Then a new neighbor dog decided that my pond was going to be his personal swimming pool. Every day he would come over and get in one one side, swim around a few laps, then get out the other side. My fountain sometimes got knocked over by Swim Dog, and during one of those swimming episodes, the extension tube got knocked off and sank to the bottom.

As you can see, my water isn’t all that clear this year. All the products I have tried have not cleared up the algae in the pond this year, and I can’t go too crazy because I still have freaking tadpoles that are in the pond. I honestly do not remember them still being there in August, but I also know that the frog love got a late start this year due to, well, let’s just say due to 2020. That seems to be a nice catch-all for anything weird that happens.

When I dug the pond, I did so rather impulsively. I didn’t really think about how making a deep pond would kind of be a pain in the butt when it came to maintenance. The thing is about 3 ft deep in the middle, so when an extension tube sinks in greenish water, I ain’t gonna go get it. I was hoping that the tadpoles would have been teenagers by now and that I could do a water exchange in the pond, but no dice. Apparently they don’t want to grow up.

So now I have the fountain perched on one of the shallow rims that go around the edge of the fountain and I just make it do a little arc. Looks kind of Wal-marty, but it still makes the same nice noise, so I don’t care.

Swim Dog’s reins seem to have been tightened by his owners, for I have not seen him in several weeks. His swimmin’ days are over, apparently.

The cicadas are out in full force, chattering the nights away, which means school is starting soon. And they are accurate, for this whole next week will be filled with meetings as we prepare for what will probably be a very unusual school year. You know – UNPRECEDENTED. Everything this year has that adjective blanketing it. Last night at a faculty gathering, we were guessing how long it would take until we would have to shut down again after school started. We should probably start a wager on that one.

The big question of the year is, “Are you ready?” Some say yes, some say no, some say they will just be winging it this year. After you’ve been teaching for 20-something years, it’s pretty easy to “wing it” and make it look easy, but this year, that’s all any of us can really do. We could be super organized and map out the entire semester, but we don’t even know if we will be having in-person classes the entire semester, so why bother?

I will miss sitting by the pond, sipping my coffee, and not having to strategically plan my bathroom breaks. I love my job, but there is a reason summer break exists, and it’s so teachers everywhere can take a deep breath and remember how to relax again. We’ve had an extended break of sorts, and although I have been working on school stuff for the past couple of months, I am ready to be back in the classroom again. The year didn’t end normally, graduation wasn’t normal, and we never got to say goodbye to the seniors like we normal do. They were just gone. We were all gone. I had a few students stop by the other day to say “hey” before they went off to college, and I just about cried when I saw them standing on my front porch – three awesome girl whom I never had a chance to say goodbye to when school called off. I haven’t even seen them since mid-March, so it was lovely for them to take time out of their beautiful summer day to bring me some mini candy bars and chit chat for a while.

Those moments – those are why we teach. As great as summer break is (and necessary), that’s not why most teachers stick with this industry. It’s because of those kids who turned out to be decent human being and will go out to make the world a better place. It’s also because of the kids who are total shits but have a reason to be, so we stick with them until they stop being so angry at the world. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

This job is a strange mixture of soul-killing stress and joyful exhilaration and every emotion in between. I love it and I hate it (the stress, the grading, the endless hoops to jump through to prove I’m doing my job) but every fall I get that little tickle of excitement where I want to buy ALL THE THINGS in the school supply aisle and am excitedly pouring over my rosters for the year.

The cicadas are my ending bell for the summer and my starting bell for school.

I just hope all that chattering isn’t some weird code for how 2020 will get even stranger than it already has.

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Goodbye, July?

I did a doubletake when I looked at the calendar this morning. July 28? Can that be accurate? It seems like five days ago when I was just getting back from Branson.

It feels like I fell down a rabbithole somewhere, and I guess I have. I started the tedious process of trying to get my materials ready for the school year. This year is a wee bit different, of course because I have no idea what the school year is going to look like.

Continue reading “Goodbye, July?”
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I quarantine; therefore, I write

Like many people in the United States, I have suddenly become a homebody. I realized that my “Gee, I have no time to blog” excuse no longer applies, so here I am. Blogging. Thinking. Cleaning. Playing games with my family. Cleaning some more. Sneaking peeks at the CDC website to see what the newest bad news contains. Telling my kids that no, they cannot go hang with friends, although some days I am so tempted to just tell them to go wherever they want. I mean, MUST video games and movies be SO DANG LOUD? Repeat, repeat, repeat.

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Time to teach

All my travels have come to an end and I am facing the conclusion of summer.  School (for teachers, anyway) starts on Monday and the real deal begins on Wednesday.  It truly seems like summer began just three weeks ago.  I was so pumped for spending time with my kids and traveling and indulging in my hobbies … and now, I’m wondering why I didn’t use my time better.  Or perhaps I did?

I will admit it – my profession comes with some perks.  There are few other professions that allow people several weeks off in a row.  I get holidays off.  I have decent insurance.  My working hours are predictable.  I don’t have a boss yelling at me to stay late or come in earlier.  That’s stuff that most teachers do automatically because they have to. However, as the demands of our profession have risen, the time to get everything down has declined.  If I could change anything about how a school day is set up, I would demand that teachers have more time to plan.

Budget issues and emphasis on standards and benchmarks have whittled away planning time to one 42-minute period per day.  Yes, I know — most people would LOVE to have 42 minutes a day to do whatever they wanted.  However, this is not a break time for us.  It is a planning time.  If you use that period as a break time every day, you will never get anything done and will fall hopelessly behind.  Those 42 minutes are for cramming in all the stuff we need to do on any given day: ordering copies, writing lessons and handouts, contacting parents and answering emails, grading papers and entering grades, generation progress reports, conferring with other teachers, scheduling computer time, tracking down students, setting up A/V equipment, organizing handouts and packets … the list goes on and on and on.  For teachers who are actually trying to be innovative and doing something extra, those 42 minutes go by in a flash.  Therefore, I’ve gotten in the habit of using my lunch time for additional planning time.  I scarf down some yogurt and get to work.  Unless i’m really stressed out and just want to get out of the building, that is my daily routine.  When I am teaching a writing class, using my lunch is a necessity unless I want to bring work home with me, and even THEN that extra time isn’t enough and I end up correcting at home too.

If anything, that is where I feel the disrespect the most — when people fail to realize how much time it takes to plan and correct, particularly for those of us English teachers who get anywhere from 30-80 essays being handed in on the same day.  For a writing class, you are expected to get those essays corrected and handed back before the next batch comes in.  For me, correcting just one essay thoroughly (if I am marking all grammar and spelling errors and making suggestions) can take up to twenty minutes — and that is for an essay that isn’t riddled with errors.  Do the math: twenty minutes times eighty essays.  I need approximately twenty-four hours to correct all of those essays, and that is not even taking into account the essays that are so messed up that it can take up to 45 minutes to get all the suggestions written.

If all I taught was a writing class, then I’d be OK.  I’d use class time while the kids were writing along with my planning period and lunch to get them done in a week or so.  However, a writing class is usually one of the four classes that I usually teach.  I can’t use my planning period everyday to correct writing, because then I’d be neglecting the time it takes to keep up with my other classes.  Needless to say, those 42 minutes just don’t cut it on most days.  Even using my lunch as a planning period doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in the time it takes to correct writing and deal with other classes as well.

Teaching is a different animal, and sometimes I get tired of telling people I’m a teacher only to have them get that “look” and then say, “Must be nice to have summers off, huh?”

So often I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying, “Yes … and it must be nice to have a coffee break and actual lunch hours, huh?”

Our profession has taken some major hits in public perception.  The media, the government, disgruntled parents — all of them seem to be intent on making it seem like all we do in school is hand out worksheets and have sex with our students when we get a free moment.  That sounds crass and jaded, and perhaps it is.  How many good stories do we read about what schools are doing today?

If you have never visited your child’s school, do so.  Most teachers would be happy to open their doors for you and allow you to see what they do.  Having a parent in the room is nerveracking and a bit disruptive, but it’s also nice for people to witness the energy that’s required to get through a class period and the immense organization and dedication that is required.  Most people see what we do and say, “I’d never be able to do that; I’d go nuts.”  And for some people, that may be true.  At the very least, however, I’d love people to recognize that those of us teaching school actually know what we’re doing and we not only care about the subject we teach, we care about the students in our classroom.  Somehow schools and teachers have been made the enemy by a disgruntled public and the media, and it is this attitude that will do more damage in the long run than anything else.  There are bad apples in the bunch, but I guarantee that those people are the exception and not the rule.

School starts in approximately ten hours.  Time for bed.  🙂

 

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It’s that time of year

back_to_school_bannerIt’s fair week here in our small town, and I cannot believe that the summer has already flown by.  I mean, it seems like I just cleaned up my classroom and walked out with an armload of books, ready for a break and a fresh start in the fall.  I say “fall” loosely, because it seems that school starts earlier and earlier every year, and it no longer is limited to the fall, but mid- to late-August.  This year it’s beginning on the 17th for us teachers, with the regular circus beginning on the 19th.  Oh, how I long for the days when the school year couldn’t begin (by law) until after labor day!

Of course, I understand that with most schools being climate controlled, there really is no reason to hold off the commencement of school until after the typical August blanket of heat and humidity has dissolved.   We’re good to go as soon as the teachers shake off that zombie-like stare and begin to feel like their old selves again.

It’s a typical pattern that I will spend most of August resisting the urge to begin really long, time-consuming projects in order to procrastinate working on school stuff.  It’s like the opposite of a nesting instinct because it’s an instinct that tries to distract me from what needs to be done.  In fact, that anti-nesting instinct is the very feeling that provoked me to begin this blog a year ago.  I wanted to do something — just not school stuff.   It was a good move, because this blog satisfies my urge to write and also allows me to connect with others who enjoy the same things I do.  I’ve met some great people just by reading other’s blogs and maintaining my own.  So if you’re one of the handful of people who regularly stop by and read my feeble ramblings, thank you.

I’m feeling motivated to make the upcoming school year as stress-free as possible.  I’m sure by October I will be laughing at my naitvetee, as I often do, but I know I have to do something in order to keep my sanity a little better this time around.  You see, last year I began teaching high school AND middle school, and because the two buildings are currently not together, that meant that I’d be doing some traveling back and forth to the different buildings.  Basically I’m half time at one building, then I get in my car and zip over to the other building and spend the rest of the day there.  And while the arrangement does provide some wonderful variety, it just about kills me every day.  I didn’t go into last year being supremely organized, and trying to deal with the new situation, the new classes, and my lack of organization is what just about did me in.

This year (I told myself), it would be different.  I’m playing around with some options to help make being a multi-building teacher a little less chaotic, both for me and the students.  I created a website that will house all my lesson plans, class information, resources, etc.  I’ve done that in the past, true enough, but it was always part of some company’s setup, so the URL was always hard to remember for the kids.  This year, using the great discount I get at ICDsoft for creating new websites, I bought a domain with just my name so that the students have no excuse for not remembering it.   There it is — use it, kids!

Now, if I can only fight this weird urge I have to go buy a bunch of school supplies I don’t need.  As someone who has an admitted fetish for office supplies, that will be more difficult than it seems.

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Time flies … and sanity diminishes

Wow, do I hate the end of the quarter.  Every year I swear that I’m not going to let the work overload me, but every year each quarter’s end finds me clawing at the last shreds of sanity as I try to conquer the piles of paper on my desk.  Grades are due tomorrow, and I only have a couple more grades to enter into the grading program.  If you hear a cheer float by your ear (there’s a cheer in my ear … or a tear in my beer?), that’d be me proclaiming to the world that I’ve won the war. Continue reading “Time flies … and sanity diminishes”

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