Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Break

When I was a child, there was no Spring Break in our school system. Our goal was to complete the school year before Memorial Day, because the majority of residents in our community farmed for a living (including several of our teachers) and we all needed to be available for work by the end of May. I remember hearing some of my acquaintences talking excitedly about their Last Day of School plans to go swimming at a nearby pool (that was warmed by a hot spring that gushed out from the inner regions of the earth). My "last day of school" activities always included rock picking in some wretched field--trudging through the uneven dirt furrows winnowing the biggest stones so that our dad could plant the barley without breaking the drill. Sigh.

But, no rocks for me this year! It isn't the last day of school--it's just Spring Break. It's a very civilized, modern way to let everyone deal with the Spring Fever we've been dealing with since the weather turned nice here in the desert. Our principal calls it March Madness---but not the basketball kind. It's the fights and arguments that always occur this time of year as Daylight Savings Time kicks in and the air turns soft and warm. I guess our students stay up later and are more cranky. Maybe it's the "sap" running in their little tween bodies. Who knows? But there is a lot of conflict to deal with. Luckily, none of us teachers have to deal with it for a whole week. So maybe some of the festering resentments can be allowed to die down, or---for those students who live in close proximity---they can duke it out in their own yards, under their parents' supervision (or not), and I won't have to be involved. The "Break" part in Spring Break is the part I enjoy the most!

This is one of my favorite parts of spring---tulips. Tomorrow, I'm going to a store where last week I saw bouquets of daffodils for sale. I'm loading up! Fresh spring flowers are one of my favorite parts of Easter. Another favorite part is playing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" in church. So, this week, I'll enjoy my flowers, and go over to practice--with all the stops on the organ opened up full.

I will be working in the dirt, though. It will be a pleasure, rather than a chore, however. It's planting time here in Nevada. Actually, I'm a little late. I should have planted my tomatoes two or three weeks ago. But, I went to the nursery after my class on Thursday, and I bought the biggest tomato plants I could get---some of them are setting flowers. I paid just a bit more, but it will be worth it when I can eat homegrown tomatoes in May. I've also got basil and marigolds and a couple of little summer squash plants. When I'm shopping for bedding plants, it's worse than shoe shopping. I want one of everything. It takes a lot of discipline to restrain myself to just the amount of plants that will fit in my raised bed.
This week I intend to lay in the sun a little, dig in the dirt a little, clean house a little, and be a tourist with my mother-in-law who is visiting down here. It'll be fun! She's one of the best people to hang out with when you need a little touristy fun. So, I'm off to bed--just the first day in 10 more in a row that I won't be setting my alarm!! Spring Break!! Whoo Hoo!!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In Praise of "Mr." Teacher

Recently, I was involved in a discussion with some people that, before this talk, I had felt were quite similar in thinking to me. For instance, we're fairly casual about our clothing and hair and nails. We're pretty similar in our devotion to music and how important it is. But, somehow, the discussion that day was turned to teachers, and I expressed my opinion that having male teachers in elementary school was such a critical need. I explained that in my experience as a mother, I'd realized how unusual it was for men to stay in elementary school, because it just doesn't pay enough to be a primary wage earner's job. I said what a novelty is is for most children to have male teachers when they're that young. I cited the huge popularity, with the students, experienced by those few male teachers with whom I've worked.

Then, one of the women involved with this discussion, stated how relieved she was each year to learn that her boys (three of them) were assigned to female teachers. Then she didn't have to worry about "anything funny" happening that year. Wow. I was amazed. In fact, I could think of nothing polite to say and so I said nothing. (I know---imagine that!!) Seriously, I was quite startled and really didn't know how to reply, so I didn't. Someone else started a new topic, almost immediately, and no one else revisited the bizarre remark.

I guess my main reason for feeling so flabbergasted was my personal experience. Each of my sons had one or more male teachers while in elementary school. They were great! It was a novelty for them to be supervised all day by a guy, instead of another woman, and then come home to mom. All day---women telling you what to do.

One of my sons had male teachers from first through fourth grade. And that was absolutely perfect for him! This son was rather precocious, and had taught himself to read at age four. He was also somewhat of an iconoclast. When he was a first grader, he decided that everyone should call him Bruce, instead of his given name, because he was smitten by Bruce Springsteen. This lasted for a few months. He even signed "Bruce" on his school papers. Then he'd write his actual name parenthetically. His teacher just went along with it. None of his male teachers needed him to conform, they just went with the little quirks, as long as they weren't disruptive.

My oldest son had a male Kindergarten teacher. This was in a school where there was a lot of poverty, and few fathers living in the homes, and it was an excellent experience for those children to have a nurturing, mustachioed, kindly man who showed up every single day and paid attention and helped them. That son also had a man teacher in sixth grade. Again, just calm and orderly and really appropriate.

There is something about a man who is willing to deal with children daily, in the serious grind that is the elementary classroom. It's a buzzing beehive. It requires so much preparation and so much attention and yet, you cannot be dedicated to your plan, but must be willing to abandon the plan and improvise on the fly quite often. It takes a special personality. I always really appreciate most of the male teachers with whom I've worked. And I really have a special place in my heart for all of the men who taught my boys in elementary school. I don't think that my daughters ever ended up with a man in those grades, but I'm sure they'd have done well, too.

I think children really need relationships with both genders, other than just their own parents. I know that there are plenty of horror stories. I read the papers every day. I've seen the creepy mugshots of the men who've finally been caught and charged with unspeakable actions with children who were entrusted to their classrooms. I just don't know how they pull it off in school. Seriously--maybe I'm horribly naive.

But, it is still my experience that many children in the urban setting where I teach would benefit so greatly from knowing and interacting with both men and women in their grade schools. It helps both boys and girls to experience the different learning and teaching styles, the different personalities, and the different voices even, of both genders in their lives. There are far too many children here whose main interaction with any men at all is only a police officer when they're being arrested at age 14. Maybe we could start paying teachers enough for more men to afford to have that job as a career goal?


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mail! I've Got Mail!

But I'm not quite sure what to think of some of the mail I've been receiving lately. I'm trying to figure out how I got on these lists. Maybe it was the occasion of my recent milestone birthday...six decades. Maybe it's because I've shopped on-line and ordered something that these other businesses thought was similar to what they offer. Just don't know...but I'm pretty sure I'm not too fond of the implications.

Here's what I've been receiving lately. Magazines. For ladies clothing. But not just any ladies clothing. These magazines target a specific audience. See if  you can catch the drift from their names:

"Soft Surroundings"   subtitled:  my time. my place. my self.

"Willow Ridge"  subtitled: Styles that fit your life

"Woman Within"  (this subtitle will give it away...) Comfort, fit and value for sizes 12W to 44W

Ah! Now you get it, huh? Fashions for the woman who needs it a little looser, a little flowy, a little stretchy. Most of the pants have elastic waists. Many of the blouses are tunics, or have "a generous fit" or emphasize that they have an extended hemline (you know, to be sure and cover all that, that, down-there excess.)

I'm not so sure I like that some marketer somewhere thought I might be just the person for this particular line of clothing. Except.

I have seen several items that really appeal to me. You see, I'm kind of fond of the extended hemline. It does flow nicely over the front where the poochie belly starts to really sag out by the end of the day. And sometimes, a partial elastic waist---just in back or along the sides--is great when I've been wearing something all day, and I've still got to sit in a college class for three more hours. I don't remember feeling like I need a larger waist size as the evening wore on when I was 30 years old. And tunics---I've always worn tunics. I still like them, and now that so many other clothing lines only make body hugging shirts, I'm happy to find a good source for tunics.

Sigh. Well, the good news is, I can still find clothes that I like and that fit. I'm just going to have to resign myself to getting fat lady catalogues in the mail. Someday maybe I won't need them anymore. Or someday maybe at least I'll be able to shop in the shoe sections!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Spring Has Brought Me Such a Nice Surprise

This is what greeted me this afternoon on my way to class, as I approached the education building on campus--

I love Spring! And on Sunday, it's time to Spring Forward and resume Daylight Savings Time. (Which is a weird concept...) (But I still like it because then I get maximum sunshine.) The plants here in the desert are starting to come back to life. The trees in my school parking lot have swelling buds and the air feels soft and fresh. Birds are nesting in the eaves at school. I'm so glad to have winter fading into the background. I'll bet I could plant radishes and lettuce and spinach. I guess I'd better get back outside and pay attention to my garden bed. It's probably time to put some pansies in the patio pots that used to have marigolds, until they froze in December. Digging the first dirt of the planting season is almost as fun as setting my clock forward. To quote another Primary song: Springtime is coming, is coming my way!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

College Day Or Decade

It was Nevada Reading Week and so each day we had a fun way to celebrate such as:
                                    Dress in a shirt you can read
                                    Dress for your dream job
                                    Reading Exercises the mind--wear athletic clothes

Wednesday was college day---wear a shirt from a college you attended/like. So, of course, there were many red and black UNLV shirts. We had an interesting assortment on the children and the adults, because Vegas is a city that people have come to from a large variety of previous hometowns.

I wore this shirt, which I'd made the night before.
The caption says: "Just keep going till  you get it done. 

On this shirt is the logo of each of the six colleges that were on my transcript when I was finally awarded my bachelor's degree. The seventh logo is from the aforementioned UNLV. In May, I'll have (finally) completed my master's degree in Educational Research and I'll graduate. (I actually have credits from two other universities, James Madison in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Utah State in Logan, UT, because of week-long Constitutional teacher seminars I attended there at different times.)
As the students and fellow teachers would read the shirt and then look closely, they'd either laugh or they'd just look at me and say, "Wow, that's a lot of colleges."  Well, yes it was. But that's what happens when you let chickens interrupt your education. Well, they weren't exactly chickens---distractions. But, from my first day of college until my bachelor's degree, 23 years passed.
I started out at BYU as a traditional 18 year old co-ed. In our family, you went to college. During high school, the Christmas gift from my parents to each of teen-agers was a piece of luggage until you'd acquired a nice set of four. That was enough to pack everything up to go away to college when you graduated. It may sound weird now, and someone once commented to me, "Gee, hint, hint, huh? We're ready for you to move out." But it was actually a really terrific gift, and we all knew it was meant to help us with the next important thing that our parents wanted for us: higher education.
However, after a year and a half, I dropped out because I really didn't have a plan. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and, although I enjoyed being at a college for many reasons, attending classes was not high on the list. I moved to California, got married, had five kids and then realized that I did want to finish college, after all. If for no other reason, I was going to need a job someday when they all grew up and got very expensive all at the same time, and I certainly didn't want to have to work at any of the difficult and bizarre jobs I'd held as a person with no particular qualifications other than a willingness to work hard.
With our youngest child just a six week old baby, I enrolled in biology at San Diego City College. I'd liked the topic in high school, and since my original goal was to become a nurse-midwife, I figured it was a good place to start. One day a week, I attended my class and hired my friend to watch the two little boys. The other three children were in school. I moved on to algebra at night school for the next semester, and CoolGuy was the babysitter. I just plugged along like that for three semesters, and then we moved to Idaho for a couple of years and I had to stop. There wasn't a way to conveniently or inexpensively go to college where we were living. But we only spent two years there, and then it was back to California in a different location.
After a year of babysitting for a teacher, and getting every one of our children going to school all day, I qualified for my residency and started back at Oxnard College. I took classes there and at Ventura College simultaneously to get everything I needed. Finally, I had enough credits to attend the last two years at California State University, Northridge for a bachelor's degree. The state university had a satellite campus in the county where I lived and I took most of my coursework there.  I only had to drive the fifty miles to L.A. to the regular campus for one semester. In addition, they had an agreement with UC Santa Barbara so that one term, I had some classes there and it was included in my CSUN transcript. That campus was only 30 miles north, making the commute much easier. And, did you know, that even though those credits were earned twenty years earlier, they accepted my 22 from the BYU transcript--the pathetic GPA, notwithstanding.
It was a triumphal day when I graduated. One lady at church asked my teen-aged daughters what they'd learned watching their mom finish college at this point. They said, astutely, "We learned to go to college and graduate before you get married and have five kids." And, to their credit, they both accomplished that goal! At that point, I'd opted to be a teacher---same schedule as my children, all that. So, I wasn't actually "finished" because, in California, you must get the BA and then go for two more years in a teacher credential program that isn't a master's degree---just a certificate. But, I'll never let that certificate expire! I renew it regularly in case I ever get to live there again and want to be hired as a teacher.
So, on college day this week, I wore my "transcript shirt" just to show them that going to college is worth it. Don't stop till you get it done. It may take a few years to get, but a diploma doesn't expire.
And, no, I don't remember why the two younger brothers are in such a snit. But we do have three photos in a row of this scene (taken by our home teacher who came to my graduation). In the first photo, one brother is doing something silly, while the other brother looks on in disdain. In the next shot, the looks are reversed--one upset, the other smiling. Then, I guess an older sibling told them to knock it off, because they're both grouchy in this final one. In all of the shots, the parents are obliviously smiling into the camera.