How did we get here?

We took our five year old grandson to Disney last week.  It’s a tradition with us, once a grandchild turns 5 we take them on a trip — he is the third one, and the second to pick Disney as his destination.

I’m not a Disney girl.  It often feels staged and pushy, the crowds get me confused and I don’t have the patience to wait for 20 minutes ( with fast pass ) for a four minute “attraction” which may be little more than a loud neon painted carnival ride.

But, it seems to be an American Right of Passage and the grandkids love it, so I suck it up and ultimately get pulled into the pageantry and hoopla.  The one on one time with a grandchild is a treat indeed — so I push my cynicism aside and experience the Magic that is DisneyWorld.

Last Thursday evening I sat on the curb, grandson between my knees, surrounded by glow sticks and 5 year olds and watched a High School band march around the circle  in Magic Kingdom.  And, as I experienced and shared the things a child’s life should be made of — friends and music, adventure and accomplishment, Light Sabers and giggles — I tried to wrap my head around the chaos of the news that had come to me from my home town, hours earlier in the day.

You may have heard of, but probably not, Wilmington Delaware.  I grew up here, an iconic place to live, diverse, blue collar, close to the beach, Philadelphia and New York.  My friends and I thought nothing of unlocked doors and late night walks and going to dances to listen to the band.

Lately though, things have changed.  Plagued by violence, unemployment, heroin gone wild, the city has become dark, dirty,  sadness and despair permeate the air.  The news paper and television call it “Killmington” and “Murderville”, guns are everywhere, parents scared to let their kids go to the park, or onto their own front stoops.

And, on Thursday a 16 year old girl was beaten to death, TO DEATH, in the bathroom of her school.  Good God, her school. There are rumors flying about the reason, as if there could be one, or the manner in which the death occurred, but whether her head was slammed into a sink or she was stabbed, whether there were 2 assailants or 6, whether she went into that bathroom to fight a peer or discuss a problem, one thing is certain, she is dead.  All the blue balloons sent to the sky as children yell “RIP AMY”, all the vigils and television interviews won’t bring her back.  There is nothing poetic or symbolic about this.  It is sick.  It is unacceptable that a young person could walk into her school at 7:45 and never walk out.  killed at the hands of her peers, beaten to death.

I didn’t know Amy, I don’t understand the anger that could make you kill someone, and I don’t know how to solve this rage that fills so many of our young people.  Church?  Parenting?  Mentoring?  Hope?  I don’t know, I am so saddened that I just don’t know.

And, as  I sat and wondered, my grandson lifted his head and said, I love you grammy. My joy was muddled with the thoughts of a mother that will never hear her daughter say those words again.

May Day

We all waited, with baited breath, for sixth grade.  In sixth grade you were part of the “Laugh-In” board in the Spring Revue.  You were chosen to go Christmas Caroling, arriving at school at 5:00 AM, bundled up for the cold, and walk to the three nearby neighborhoods ( including mine) to sing  Carols to all of the early risers, most of them waiting anxiously at the window because the Stanton Elementary Christmas Carol Sing was well known in our town.  They handed out cookies and candy canes and the sixth grade chorus then walked back to school, arriving by 7:30 or so and had hot cocoa that the lunch ladies had come in early to prepare.  In sixth grade you were able to walk up the hill to “look at” the Junior High School that you would be attending next year.  Sixth grade was the best, the top of the crop, success! 

But it all paled in comparison to the hoopla that surrounded the fifth grade as they prepared for May Day.  You see, in fifth grade all the girls and boys fretted all year about whether they would be picked to dance the May Pole.  Now, in reality, we all knew who would be picked.  The “in” kids, the prettiest girls and coolest boys — and as early as fourth grade we all began planning how we would make it into that clique. 

I still remember my dress, the lavender ribbon that I had been chosen to weave into the intricate pole . I remember my bff Terry standing three girls ahead, and Danny standing tough and proud in the boys inner circle.  We practiced that maypole dance for weeks.  They put old ugly cotton streamers on the pole for practice, and we wove in and out, in and out, dancing with the music, until we figured out the rhythm of the routine.  Every recess for the whole month of April was spent dancing the Maypole.  The actual day was bigger than high school graduation as far as we were concerned…the Pole was bedecked in pastel ribbons that had magically appeared the night before.  The music speakers were positioned just right, the principal was in his best suit, we looked like candidates for  “toddlers and tiaras” and we danced.  We DANCED.  The crowd ( and there was a CROWD, parents, big sisters, grandparents….) clapped and “woo hoo”ed  as we finished, crunched tightly against the pole, exhilarant in our success.   Punch and cookies followed.  Pictures by the pole.  And then math class.  It was over.  No more practice, no more weaving….

Ah, but sixth grade was waiting….

This is not gonna make me many friends

So, I woke up yesterday, Friday morning, around 7:00 am.  Decadent.  In the life of a high school  teacher being able to sleep until 7 is unheard of….and you wake up at 5 for so long, that even holidays and weekends find you looking out the window at 5ish….

So, anyway.  I woke up at 7 am. and was immediately, IMMEDIATELY hit with the realization that it was, for my still-teaching friends, the last real day of their spring break.  Of course they still have today and tomorrow, but those don’t really count.  Everyone will be going to the grocery store or doing laundry or unpacking those Spring Break Vacation suitcases, longingly tossing their flip flops into their closets. (Because, Lord knows, you cant be an efficient teacher in flip flops, gotta keep those toes covered to keep the knowledge from sliding out your toenails…but I regress.)

So, it hit me that  yesterday was their last day.  And then I cracked up.  Laughed out loud.  Called my husband ( at work, poor sap) to tell him that “this time last year I was probably in a deep funk thinking about how I had to go back to work in three days”. Seriously, this retirement gig has turned me into a giggling idiot who can’t believe her good fortune.  I don’t have to go to work on Monday!!!!

Now , don’t hate me.  Money is an issue, a little bit.  The retirement pay is okay, but I still have to supplement income so we don’t have to make too many lifestyle changes (I am not giving up Friday evenings on our favorite pub’s deck with a mojito and nachos) . I have found two “post retirement careers” that allow me creative license and flexibility.  I am employed by a wonderful non profit that allows me to continue my passion for advocacy for children’s issues  and by an art and science workshop that challenges me to develop activities that inspire creativity while at the same time teaching core science concepts ( that left brain-right brain thing).

But, man, I am so stoked that I don’t have to put on my big girl panties and go to school on Monday. 

catching up

Since Ive retired ( four weeks. woo hoo) Ive kept in touch with a few workfriends through social media and telephone calls.  The calls usually start with them calling me a five letter word — rhymes with witch — because I dont have to get ready for work the next day and they do….but we quickly move into a discussion about the mess that is public education, today.  I taught for 23 years in the state system, and did a couple years in private schools too.  I remember when it was fun — the kids learned, the admins did their evaluations,  I wrote lesson plans, spending Saturdays with my papers spread out in front of me on the family room floor –my peers and I went to happy hour and did secret santa swaps.  we made each other Christmas Presents and had High Tea one dreary day each year, in March, when nothing of any excitement was going on.  We brought in guest speakers, we took trips, we wrote three page permission slips to take the kids to see the remake of Romeo and Juliet, and Rudy, and to the imax theatre to see roller coasters…

You get the spin here.  Learning was all encompassing.  We touched, smelled, tasted, listened to and looked at everything.  Incidental learning occurred throughout the day — sometimes you could see the lightbulbs over their heads when they saw something, processed it and really understood.

Teachers met in the lounge during break.  some of them smoked.  We drank soda and brought in leftover birthday cake and Mardi Gras Beads….When the internet came to our district we researched woodstock and made crossword puzzles. We got excited when they called for snow —

It was fun.  It was a lot of work, but it was fun.  The kids sat for testing once a year.  The scores mattered, but no more than their daily performance, their scores on teacher generated assessment.  Teachers walked the rows, checking for notes written on hands or calculators stuck under desks. 

 

Somewhere along the line something changed.  Businessmen began to tell me how to teach.  What to teach.  programs came into being where someone with a degree in engineering could take a few classes and be a high school math teacher.   There were shortcuts to everything — attendance was mandatory, but not really. students were expected to do homework, but we couldnt count it as a grade.  Noone has to stand up as we say the pledge of Allegiance.  Testing starts in October and continues through May.  Teachers are evaluated based on test scores of students they may not even teach.  Expected to develop growth goals with a cadre of kids, and held accountable for their progress towards the goal.  Kids move in and out of a school three or four times a year.  Parents take them out of the country for birthday parties or to “see my aunt, shes sick”.  Teacher observations are held and computer generated based on 4 or 5 components…The dreaded improvement plan is a vehicle for firing a teacher — administrators are told that there has to be areas of improvement noted on every analysis.  Its like starting with a zero and working your way up, when we all know that starting with 100 and being responsible for maintaining works better.

Administrators at the main office make decisions that have nothing to do with best practices, or they come into a building with grand plans and ultimatums and then they drop the ball on follow through.

Call me a b—- if you must.  but I got out.  I left mid year.   I dont miss it. 

the new job

Oh man.  Today I went to a conference — sat with my new boss and presented information about the wonderful new nonprofit i am working with to school counselors.  This non profit works with children in the areas of conflict resolution/feelings/ bullying/social media …current issues that kids deal with.  I AM SO LUCKY!! When I decided to retire from teaching i got:  what are you going to do with your time?  You’ll be bored, noones going to hire you, you left teaching mid year.

Well NA NA NA NA BOO BOO!

I not only got hired, I got hired by a dynamic organization that is devoted solely to making the world a better place.  Priceless.  ( oh, and they pay good too)

 

Sorry, I just had to get that out.

pre retirement

been spending a lot – A LOT- of time thinking about my upcoming retirement.  Its coming earlier than I expected, but Ive always believed you listen to your heart and you will know what is right, and my heart, in many ways is telling me to get the hell out of public education NOW.  My health was suffering, my mood was a mess and i was being jerked around every which way but loose by the district office….so, even though noone who knew me ever thought Id walk mid year — I submitted my paperwork in December for a March 1 retirement .  I have slept like a baby every night since.  With the exception of the fact that I will miss my students terribly, and hate that I am leaving things unfinished with them, I have no regrets, no second thoughts, nothing but the knowledge that it is time.

However, with my impending retirement came the most awesome thing== administration is leaving me alone.  Im not being told to take student work off the wall or put a lid on the scrap paper bin.  Im not being ordered to buy a leather sign in book or take the cardboard off the top of the wooden cabinets.  Im teaching.  Im laughing  .  My students and I are learning from each other.  Laughter and conversation fills the room.  Computers are whizzing as they research their topics for the projects.  It is reminiscent of the best years of teaching I have had.  the fools that felt they needed to tell me what to do, to make the dog and pony show pretty, have gone on to other victims , and I am left to do what I do.  Teach.  The kind of teaching that has won me awards, has graduated scores of students who have become successful members of society, that has made me sought after for committees, standard writing, curriculum planning, praxis recomendations and a myriad of other professional tasks.  It feels good to sit and watch my students discover things, question things, speak their mind.

 

So to the bullheaded administrators that essentially made my professional life a living hell for the past year or so, thank you.  Thank you for reminding me of what teaching is supposed to be.  I go out with my head held high, my students aware that I am making a statement about respect and honesty and the knowledge that you’re gonna miss me. 

I however, will be at the beach, or at my business, or on the couch, eating bonbons.

That girl

I am, seriously, that girl.  Not Marlo Thomas That Girl ( dating myself there) but that girl that always has an opinion….that girl that always seems to piss someone off and who has the audacity to believe that what I say  is important AND that I deserve to be treated with respect.

balderdash.

 

I am retiring.  leaving my teaching job after, at last count, 22 years, 4 months and 10 days.  And yes, they do count that way…I am retiring in March.  Yes , March.  And, yes, I do know that the school year ends in June and that by leaving in March I am deserting my students, letting them down, quitting on them.

Anyone who knows me, or who knows another really good, really devoted teacher knows this is one hell of a big deal and not a decision that comes easily.  The kicker was the day I was questioned for having a bowl of lollipops on my desk — and for having a composition book for a sign in book, instead of a “formal, leather bound book”.  The day my suprientendant walked into and out of my room without acknowledging with so much as a grunt, my students.  Bingo.  You ignore and disregard my students and then tell me “its all about the kids.” bullshit.  straight bullshit.    Exit stage right.  March first.

 

So I thought about the repercussions of this treatment.  I came up with the idea that , really, the only weapon I have in this fight is my feet.  I can stay and continue to be picked apart like yesterday’s roast chicken, or I can turn and walk.  I choose turn and walk.  It is important to me that i send my students, mostly young women, the message that you do not have to let things happen to you.  that an intolerable situation can be left behind.   that respect is key and that demanding respect for yourself is accepted, expected.

 

they are gonna be pissed. We have been trying to open a preschool in my school, and the interference of district personnel has not allowed it to happen.  My girls are going to be pissed.