Remind Me

Remind me that I feel better when I do this.

Remind me that everything is improved with a trip outside.

Remind me that the world is more bright and lovely midday when I step into the grass rather than tuck my toes under on the couch.

Remind me that all I have to do – ALL I have to do – is to get out of the way. To be silent and wonder. To ask the question and wait. To not turn my somersaults of confusion and anxiety trying to twist myself into already knowing what I do not yet know. To not justify my every action when they are all wrong because the only right one is to listen.

Remind me that it cannot all be mine, but look at what is.

Remind me that I would be overwhelmed with more anyway.

Remind me that it is the space between: the cool air, the ghost outline of a mostly round moon in the afternoon, the pine needles oddly tinkling like the sound of icicles in the spring breeze, the new baby-green buds born on the old dogwood branches.

Remind me that those trees in my yard have been there long before my comings and goings, my doings and not-doings, and they’ll be there, watching, long after. They are neither joyed nor dismayed by the antics of people in their yard, just observant.

Remind me to be observant, too.

Remind me to rest my face in a half-smile so as not to frown as I concentrate. I want to smile at what I’m considering, because if I’m going to frown, I want to do it on purpose.

Remind me to ask people questions about their lives.

Remind me to not interrupt.

Remind me that the world is spinning, and the ozone, and gravity, and revolution, and isn’t that all amazing when I remember to not take it for granted?

Remind me to stop avoiding what is difficult, because hiding it behind my back just makes it harder to hold.

Remind me to be careful.

Remind me to be purposeful, because so often I am not, and I allow myself the ease of being carried on the momentum of how-things-happen, forgetting that I have options: agency or complacency.

Remind me that “one day” backwards is “day one”.

Remind me that my parents are proud of the adult I’ve become. Remind me that I don’t have to act childlike for them.

Remind me that there is no rush. But also remind me to do a little every day.

Remind me to spend some time cleaning out the dusty old notes, files, boxes, and unused things. Remind me to unclutter my head, too.

Remind me that I want to learn to garden. But that I can start with something familiar like lavender or forsythia, and wait to tackle vegetables another year.

Remind me to keep the pen moving.

Remind me I’ll miss it all when I’m gone: the quiet classroom, the chaos when it’s full. The young minds shooting thoughts out in every unorganized direction like fireworks. Too loud, too scary, too much, and my responsibility to reign all that flash and fire in and make it into a timed, bright show, on schedule and in order.

But I already know that when I look back, I’ll first remember all that color and light and beauty, and I’ll need to be reminded of the slog.


What are we Really Testing?

Lesson three: I gotta stand up for the real learning

Very Pregnant Teacher Rae
Very Pregnant Teacher Rae 2012

A student I taught last year, Jose, came to me at lunch the other day flustered and confused.  He had gone to the library to get his school e-mail address (yes, I’m aware it seems a little odd to be giving these out in February, 5 months into the year).  They were distributed by grade level, so Jose went on the day the 11th graders were getting them.  He was told that he was not listed as a junior, but rather as a sophomore, and he should go and see his counselor.

His counselor was unaware that his status was as a second time sophomore and told him to check with me – apparently he had failed English and the system had automatically held him back in 10th grade.

I was shocked to hear this – while I didn’t remember his grades exactly, I definitely knew that he had not failed my class!

I cannot tell you exactly when Jose arrived in the U.S., how long he has been in North Carolina, or his legal status, but I can tell you that he is not yet completely fluent in English.  He can hold a conversation and make himself understood through writing, but while a student can become conversational in two or three years, it can take seven or more years for a student to test well if English is not his/her native language.

I dug out my gradebook from last year and found that Jose had ‘B’s and ‘C’s for his quarter grades.

I taught Jose in a collaborative English 2: World Literature/English as a Second Language class and he worked his butt off!  Rarely do we encounter kids who are so hard working, so eager, so determined, so respectful and so sweet.  Many students become frustrated – especially ones with extra challenges, but not Jose.  He attended after school tutoring three times a week, turned things in early so that he could re-draft before the final deadline, and would come at lunch for extra help. When not with a teacher, Jose was in the library or stairwells diligently working.

I checked with the counselor and an administrator – how could it be that a kid that worked so hard and earned achievement grades that reflected his efforts and progress was marked as a failure?

They couldn’t give me a definite answer.  The suggestion was made that perhaps he failed his EOC (End of Course State Test) and that kept him from being promoted to the 11th grade. Is that fair? I just can’t get behind that.

So yeah, Jose failed his EOC, but check out this sample from last year’s released prep materials:

by Jenette Purcell

City night sky
gives itself to me again
when I have so little left to receive it.
I am dark, crumbling
5 and you are rivers and trees away
searching your own night sky for a sign.
The strong gates of your heart
are wide open to me always, but,
if only.
10 So I wait, as seasons before, decades before,
fathers and mothers before me still inside
watch and listen.
bamboo, bones, fiber, fences,
15 water, glistening koi,*

all the tiny rooms,
paths and places I hold your memories
in audible, reverent wonder
20 at the fullness forming
on this horizon’s edge.

*koi: colorful fish that symbolize love and friendship

S1 Which line from the poem describes the speaker’s feelings about loving someone?
A “when I have so little left to receive it”
B “are wide open to me always, but”
C “paths and places I hold your memories”
D “at the fullness forming”

S2 Which word could replace reverent in line 19 of the poem?
A amazed
B respectful
C redundant
D significant

I tell you what: I could make a pretty good case for each of the options in sample question #1. And for me, teaching students how to make an assertion and support it seems so much more important than trying to get them to figure out the “best” answer out of these options.  What does this prove that they have learned?

My classroom work
My classroom work


The qualities that Jose exhibits every day in the classroom and in his own learning journey is so inspiring and he deserves to be celebrated for his accomplishments.  His confidence and future should not hang on the balance of such convoluted questions.

I am not sure of my options, but I am going to look into overruling Jose’s grade from last year and changing it to something that better reflects the effort, process, growth and performance that he displayed in my classroom.  Fingers crossed that learning will trump testing in the end of this story!

If any of you want to take a stab at the answers to the EOC questions or are just curious, just leave me a comment and I will get back to you!

The Story Changes

Lesson two: The story is always changing

At the start of this school year, August 2013, my daughter was just over a year old.  The plan was to work this year and then take next year off to have another baby.  We planned the timing of Bell really well (kind of accidentally, but we made it look purposeful!) so that she was born at the end of April in 2012.  That means I was able to take my (measly!) 7 weeks of (unpaid!) maternity leave off at the end of the school year and roll right into summer. So, when I went back in August of 2012, she was 4 months old.

Maternity Leave Around the World
Maternity Leave Around the World

That was really tough.  She was still so little and I still couldn’t wear clothes properly and had to sit in the department closet to pump a few times a day. I was exhausted and my mind and body were spent. Luckily, my husband and mother-in-law were able to work together to take care of Baby Bell, so we didn’t have to try to find (and pay for) a day care on top of everything else we were juggling.

But now, my mother-in-law does nearly full time day care with toddler Bell – some days, up to 9 hours, as my husband and I still need to be a two-income household. (We are so very lucky to have her and that our families here with all their love and support!)  It just wouldn’t make sense to have another baby and expect Nanna to take on two kids full time, so we were working toward me staying home next year: I would get the quality time of hanging out with my young children before Bell starts pre-school for real and Nanna and Gigi (my mother-in-law and mother, respectively) could see the babes without considering it a full time job.

This year was to be my tenure year. It will be my 8th year in teaching, but because I like to move around a lot, I hadn’t stuck anywhere long enough to achieve tenure (4 years in one place).  Now, here in Chapel Hill, I have become part of the school, part of a team, part of a community.

Tenure does not call to me because I am worried about job security – I feel confident in my professional position at the school and in the district, but what was calling my name was the fact that I would be able to take a year off without losing my job with the district.  Who knows, maybe if it worked out, I would want to take 2 or 3 or 5 years off, or maybe we move to California, or Costa Rica or heck, just the NC coast. But still, I wanted that comfort of knowing that I could take some time to be Mama and not worry about having to find a job if I needed to go back.

However, this year, NC has taken tenure away.  Now, I could go into the pros and cons of the tenure debate, but that is a post for another time.  This, for me, now, hurts in a personal way. I no longer have a protected year to foster the growth of my family. There are other reasons that we are having to postpone this decision, but we had planned our family planning around the benefits of my job – and that rug was just pulled out from under us.

We have decided to wait another year and see what happens then.  I am heartbroken that I have to put off having another baby (we just cannot afford to try to find day care for two pups, nor can we put that on the grandmas), so hopefully, in a year, things will shake out in a new way and we will find some new way for me to stay home.

So, the story changes.  Best laid plans, right? I am trying my damndest to look at this as different, not bad. As opportunity, not disappointment.  Who knows what glorious things may happen in the course of another year with my school? (Is my optimism convincing? 🙂 ) Who will I meet?  What will I learn? And who will baby #2 be when he/she does finally come into our family?

The annual Gatsby Speakeasy
The annual Gatsby Speakeasy

Let’s see where this new story goes.

Mother? Teacher? Writer?

Lesson one: The power of punctuation

I was going to list my “titles” in my header with the question marks above to indicate the confusion of which really identified me, but then I decided that step one was owning it: I am all three. While the first two take turns taking the lead in my life, and I may not exactly know how to look the part of  juggler of  all three, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t all there.  They are. Period.

Motherhood has transformed me (I know, all the girls say that!), but it’s so true.  All people have arrived on this planet in pretty much the same way, but dang! what a mind-blowing, magical, out-of-this world experience! Sure it’s hard work, but I have yet to complain that it’s hard.  It’s just so damn rewarding.  Love like no other.  Sure, sometimes I’m tired and fried and am counting the minutes until she goes to bed, bribing my husband to do bath time and bed time just so I can check out early, but I still look at her and think the whole purpose of the history of the world was to bring Bell into existence.

I work full time as an English teacher for 10th and 11th graders. This means that I get to work at 8am, teach 5 classes in 7 hours, and do my very best to leave as close to 430pm  as possible to relieve my mother-in-law of toddler duty (Bell is 21 months).  Before Bell was born, I stayed at work every single night until 7 or 8pm – I was never very good at working at home.  When I was pregnant, Sean implored me to learn how to work only while I was at work and to come home by 5 – he pointed out that I wouldn’t have a choice once the baby had arrived.  He was right.  What I learned then, is how to get the kid between 4 and 5pm, come home make dinner, do bath/bedtime and then work at home after she’s asleep.  And yes, I still work on the weekends.  Bottom line: teachers work as much in 9 months as most people do in 12, so no, summer off does not mean teachers work less.  (Sorry that sounded so bitter – teachers have fielded a lot of insults lately about not deserving our pay.)

I love teaching for all of the rewarding elements: the relationships with the students, the satisfaction of seeing young people grow and learn, the thrill of feeling successful and competent, my unparalleled camaraderie with my colleagues/friends, and yes, holidays and summers off.  But damn, it’s a hard job – it’s an emotional roller coaster, never-ending, hard on my family and frustrating beyond all belief. And no, it’s not the students that make it hard or make me want to quit.  Ever.

I know that to be a writer, one must write, but I’m sorry: I almost never write (fiction – I write professionally and journal almost every day), but I still know it’s in my bones. I am my best self when I do.

Here’s to being a mother.  Here’s to being a teacher.  And here’s to being a writer.  It feels scary to say those so definitively, to say each loudly and proudly, but that’s my aim – that’s the direction in which I’m moving.  Let’s go.