Tuesday, June 27, 2017

summer's almost here

Signed my contract yesterday.  *whew*  Am now actively reprogramming my brain to prepare for the new school year, but fortunately, I don't report for orientation until the very end of July, and school begins in the second week of August.  Hooray for a more traditional school calendar!

The grand flooring project and its aftermath is just about finished.  There's still tape over the trim, but we'll take that off tomorrow, and then I'll post some photos.  The kids have been absolutely amazing with all that I have asked of them: sorting, packing, moving, sleeping in odd places, and then moving furniture back where it belongs and putting everything else away, too.  It may sound odd, but we had a spectacular trip to IKEA in which we found everything we needed and managed to get it all packed in the back of the van, and then unpacked immediately.  Before bed that night all the carpets were out, and before two days had passed all the furniture was assembled.

Temperatures outside have been at or over 110 degrees for more than two weeks running, so it's summer out there, but for me, not quite.  I need to muddle through a few more house things, and then I'll feel like I can really relax.  The flooring installation took all of last week, as opposed to the 2 days originally estimated; I took advantage of the stuck-at-home time by re-reading the Harry Potter series and am about two-thirds through book 7.  That is a mental vacation of sorts, but the later books are so much longer and more serious that I find I can actually put them down to do other things.

I think I have been so busy for so long that I don't really know how to relax. I keep having this feeling I'm supposed to be doing something.   I'm going to have to work on that.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

things are looking up

I've already had three interviews for my dream job.  I'm not going to say too much more about it, except this comment from a different perspective: It's not your plan, it's God's  plan.

So many people told me, on the terrible day when my contract was rescinded, that things happen for a reason, and that I would find something even better, and that I would be OK.  I have never, perhaps in spite of my faith, bought into the "everything happens for a reason" philosophy.  On the other hand, I do think God has a plan for me, I just don't always know what it is, and I'm fairly certain that there have been plenty of times when I haven't followed the path that would have kept me closer to that plan.

I don't think God is a manipulative jerk.  I have noticed, though, that at certain times in my life, I've made the same mistake repeatedly until some shocking event wakes me up to the fact that I am, in fact, doing something less-than-good.  I can't tell you how many times Pride goeth before the fall has echoed through head these past few weeks. All I can do is nod my head in agreement.

So I'm waiting to hear from the dream job, and holding off on completing my other applications for a little while.  I'm waiting for a letter of reference from my old principal to be able to complete those applications, anyway, and she just returned from her maternity leave and I'm sure she's swamped.  It's OK, there's still plenty of time before the next school year kicks into gear.

On a completely different note, this was great news today:

And finally, Goodwill came and picked up a ton (almost literally) of stuff we've purged in advance of getting our floors re-done next week.  We'll hit peak household disruption on Sunday, but the work should be finished by this time next week, and we'll begin the process of thoughtfully putting everything left back into the upstairs rooms. 

It's strange to be in AZ at this time of year, but I appreciate having the time to get this work done on the house, and I really appreciate not having any homework or classwork or any other sort of schoolwork to do!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Now I get it

I asked for, and received today, a copy of my final performance evaluation, so I could understand why my contract was rescinded.  I really shouldn't have read it before bed, because of course I couldn't sleep afterwards.

I have never seen so many lies about me!  Things they said I did, and things they said I didn't do -- it's enough to make me wonder who actually wrote it.

Since it's much too late to talk about it, I took the time to write out my refutations.  I will think about how to send them in, too, since it pains me greatly to think of that document as part of my file, unanswered, as if I accepted it.

It seems to me as if it were purposely written so they could get rid of me... a hatchet-job, a witch hunt, whatever you want to call it.  But anyone who knew anything about my classroom practices would laugh to see some of the things they said, like I didn't enter my grades, or I didn't communicate with parents, or I didn't promote self-assessment among my students. My advice-to-parents succeeding in math letter is all about the need for self-assessment.  Clearly whoever wrote that performance evaluation had very little actual knowledge of my practices, which is not surprising since it was a rare day when we had anyone from admin show up in the junior high wing. They were too busy dealing with problems elsewhere in the building, and they knew we were fine, because we are all excellent teachers, including me.

Friday, June 02, 2017


In light of recent events, I have spent an inordinate amount of time on job boards and recruiting websites and all that.  I have an interview set for next Thursday for a job I actually want, too.  I feel a little better knowing that's coming.

On the other hand, I had a screening interview today for another job that I might actually want (the commute is a challenge) and was faced with having to discuss why I'm even looking for a job right now.  I wasn't exactly prepared for the question, although I should have been.

So I was completely honest and probably talked myself out of that job, even though I won't be teaching math.  The math scores did it, apparently, but why anyone was surprised about those math scores, I'll never know.  They were completely consistent with the work my students did all year, in spite of my best efforts.  It is not possible for an average student to learn math without actually doing math, and the vast majority of my students treated homework as if it were optional.  Which is why most of them failed math the entire year.

So I was asked, what did I do about it?  I offered tutoring multiple days a week.  I found online tools so they could bring their math facts up to where they needed to be.  I found other free, online resources and assigned adaptive practice to address specific skills gaps.  I gave out countless worksheets and packets to do the same.  Grades did come up, but when you are starting in the 20-30% range (or lower), even an increase of 20-30% is still not going to get you to passing.  So I said most of that, to what effect, I have no idea.  The call ended with the recruiter letting me know they would contact me if I was still a candidate after they had talked to other qualified candidates.

Then I worked on an application for another school district which asked, have you ever had a contract not renewed? And I had to answer "yes", which led to another "Please explain if you had to answer 'yes' to any of these questions," most of which were horrible things like being arrested. That was a drag, and made me feel as if I'm un-employable, which I should most assuredly not be.

My thoughts take dark turns and I ponder things like, did getting my master's degree make me unemployable? Am I too expensive now?  Will I ever find a place where I feel like I fit in?

The MIT degree supposedly helps, and it does open some doors, but overall I've got more flak about it than I have positive comments.  "Wow, you must be really smart," isn't always a compliment, especially when it's followed by the unspoken question, "What are you doing here?"  

I want my job to make a contribution that's more than economic.  I want to make a difference in people's lives.  I believe I can still do that, I just have to find the right place.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

don't quite know how to say this

This is... awkward.  It's my blog, and all that.

Let's back up a bit.

DD's graduation was lovely.  We went to Flancer's for dinner, just as we had done after her kindergarten graduation, because we needed to pack for Cleveland.

We left for Cleveland about 3AM, and had a lovely weekend for our niece's wedding.  The travel was long but not difficult.  The wedding on Sunday was lovely.  Monday we went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and then to my brother-in-laws and spent the afternoon hanging out with family.  Tuesday, DH took the two younger kids to Cedar Point to ride the roller coasters, while DS1 and I stayed behind and went first to Half Price Books and then to the Botanical Gardens, spending about the same amount of time in each.  Then we came home today.

It was nice.  Cleveland in the spring is really lovely.  We had some rain but nothing dreadful.  Nothing to make me think "mistake on the lake" at all, but I can imagine how hard it is in the winter, with lots of snow.

Let's back up a little bit more.

Last week of school: Monday, after school practice for the teacher dance routine we were performing on Wednesday after the talent show.  Tuesday, the same.  Wednesday morning, "switch day," talked to three different groups of 6th graders about what junior high math and science would be like.  Wednesday afternoon, the talent show, where I was roasted by one of my students doing stand up comedy -- he was quite good.  Then at the end, I did the dance routine with the other teachers, perfectly willing to be silly for the students.  Thursday, field trip with the students.  I spent a good part of the day talking to teachers from our other campuses who were there, so it was actually a productive day.  Friday: last day of school -- all-school award ceremony, then the last Pride Day for our students, to just hang out with each other.  I shopped for drinks before school, and picked up pizza for the kids.  It was a half-day, and DriveLine, our end-of-the-day pickup routine, was fine, because it wasn't so late in the day and so not hot at all.  I was so happy to be done!

In the evenings each night I pulled together the end-of-year stuff I had to do, documenting how I had met my personal goals, how I had communicated with parents, etc.  All these little details that were required of me.

About 1PM, DD came by to bring me a passion tea lemonade from Starbucks.  She was excited about getting ready for her graduation and we were talking about it when my phone rang.  It was my AP saying she needed me for a quick meeting in the small conference room...

A very quick meeting in which she told me, with the district representative sitting there with her laptop, that, because of my students' low test scores, and because a parent had complained to the district about me, they had decided to rescind my contract for next year.

Of course this made no sense to me whatsoever.  Wait, what?  Seriously?  I worked so hard, I said.  I sacrificed so much.  Doesn't mean a thing to them.

I turned in my badge and my keys and my walkie, and went upstairs, told my daughter.  Told my co-workers,  Cried.  Got many hugs.  Had my two boys come over to help me and my daughter pack up all my stuff and put it in the van, and the Fit.

I finally got out of there about 4:30, having sent DD home earlier to get ready .  She needed to be there at 5:30.   The final indignity was having to scrape the labels off the cabinets... and there were a lot of labels since there were so many cabinets.  My guy C, the regular maintenance guy, helped me out by loaning me an awesome scraper, else I would've missed my daughter's graduation.

Now I have literally an entire science curriculum's worth of stuff stacked in my garage, and no job come July.  Yet.  I've already applied to a few places, and more jobs will become available as the summer goes on.

I wouldn't let DH or the kids talk about this while we were in Cleveland.  I texted my friends at my old school, and my brothers & sisters.  Everyone is just as shocked as I am -- I didn't want anyone else to be distracted by this over the weekend, which was all about the wedding.  Now we're back home and I can focus on cleaning up the house for the flooring job, and getting another job.

I'm still turning this turn of events over and over, trying to figure out what I could have done differently.  I honestly don't know.   I'm angry and embarrassed.  Shouldn't I have known this was coming?  I don't see how I could have known.

But just today I remembered how, when an irrational parent attacked me at the science fair, that later came back during my performance evaluation in a negative way.  That parent was completely unjustified, just as this year's parent was, but that apparently doesn't matter.

I've been thinking of all the work I won't have to do, now.  That seems like a good thing, but I never minded the work.  I liked the work, even if there was often too much of it.

I've also been thinking about the kind of job I want to have. I don't want to work somewhere I don't fit.  I've had too many square-peg-round-hole situations.  Maybe I really shouldn't be a teacher?

This is not a path I expected to be on, at this point.  I was really looking forward to going back to work in late July with my team, and having way less work to do because all the prep was done this year.   I told DS2 I wouldn't sign up for any classes or do anything outside of work so I would be more available for him in his last 2 years of high school.  It's very doubtful at this point that I will be able to stick to that.

I'm still in shock, but mostly I'm really sad.  I'm sad about all the people I won't be working with anymore.  I'm sad about the students I have been forced to leave... the district made a liar out of me, because I told them I'd be back next year.

All the colleagues I talked to were so encouraging, and told me I would go on to something better.  We'll see.  I just need to make sure my health insurance doesn't run out.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

post script

After all that travelogue, I find I'm not mentioning the shadow hovering just at the edge of my vision: I so wish my mother could have been here for this weekend, especially.  She was always, always encouraging me to go to back to school, and I know she would have been proud of me.  Then of course yesterday was Mother's Day, which is a Hallmark Holiday, wholly manufactured, sure, but still, a day when my family would get together and "open" the summer season with a big cookout at the Cape house, year after year.  That's how it was: Dad's birthday (May 4) and Mother's Day celebrated together, and  Mom's birthday (June 13) and Father's Day, celebrated together.  Forever.   No wonder I wanted bbq yesterday...

All 7 of us siblings were actively texting each other in the morning, and I had a good talk with one of my brothers, but this is a time that feels lonely for people I'll never see again.  I am more used to the feeling now.  I wish I didn't have to be.

Monday, May 15, 2017

graduation, etc

Not even half-way through the crazy times...

Last weekend was glorious.  I took Friday off from work, which meant late nights Wednesday and Thursday so everything would be ready for the substitute (the best one.)  The students have been energetic and not especially interested in instruction, which makes our jobs as teachers that much more difficult.  So the day off was most well-timed, in spite of the extra time at work it cost me.

Friday started with an early visit to physical therapy.  My lower back issues are about 98% resolved and my neck rarely bothers me, but my collarbone has become an issue as I do more upper-body work.  There is a lot of scar tissue there from my surgeries and it remains to be seen what really can be done -- but it is better, and we keep working on it.  I would like an exit strategy -- some way to know I'm done -- but at this point I don't know what that will look like.  It's kind of expensive but good for me in ways that going to the gym or taking a yoga class wouldn't be.

After the appointment, running around with a few errands, then home, and I'm not exactly sure where the time went, but then the kids were home from school and we were packing the car to head out.  We stopped at Trader Joe's for provisions for the trip, and got on the highway by 3pm, my goal.  My trip up to Flagstaff the previous week, on Monday afternoon for my Tuesday thesis defense, was at exactly the same time, but the traffic is different on Fridays!  Rush hour starts sooner, and it has been so long since I had to deal with any of it, I forgot about the Friday factor.  Fortunately, there were 3 of us in the car, so we could stay in the carpool lane for a big chunk of the ride and miss a lot of the traffic.Once we cleared Phoenix, the ride was smooth sailing the entire way, and we got to Flagstaff just before 6pm.

We stayed at a little motel just off campus, and walking distance to a lot of great restaurants.  On Friday night, DS1, DD, and I had dinner at Tinderbox Kitchen, sitting at the bar because they were still trying to accommodate reservations for post-graduation ceremony parties.  We obliged.  The bartender was both very charming and really skilled at her job, and it was very entertaining watching her work... plus I ordered two very different and delicious cocktails as a result.   (DS2 remained in Phoenix with DH for his ASP exam; he scored an Excellent from an extremely difficult adjudicator.)  The entire dinner was fantastic, then we headed back to the motel to wait for the boys, who got in just around midnight.

Saturday, graduation day, was a gorgeous day with temps in high 60s, a bright blue sky, and gusty winds.  We had breakfast in the room (I like having a fridge and a microwave!  We brought our own coffee maker... it just simplified things) and then tried to figure out how we would manage the day, unsure about parking and traffic and what-not.  We had a quick lunch at The Mayor, a quirky place with very good food, the sort that shows up often on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  Then we headed over to campus to get a parking spot, and wandered around campus a bit.  We hit the bookstore and found DD's dorm -- she'll start in the fall, and is very excited to do so.

We decided to forego waiting for the shuttle bus and walked over the Sky Dome for the graduation ceremony.  I had to be there by 2pm, so I left the family and went off.  I had watched the earlier videos about how to wear the master's robe and hood, and I had a fair idea I was doing it right, but the master's hoods lack the buttons the doctoral hoods have, and it had a tendency to slide off my skinny shoulders.  I was very happy with my decision to wear my Keds rather than my black dress shoes, even though they are comfortable.  The instructions said, "Wear sensible shoes," and I just decided I would rather be able to do a lot of walking and not have to carry the other shoes around.

Graduation was fine -- it was nice being a master's candidate since we go between the PhDs (only about a dozen or so) and the bachelors (it felt like thousands -- probably was only one, though.)  In the staging area my adviser came by to visit and gave us navy stoles with the NAU logo on one side, and MAST on the other, a nice surprise.  She assured us that the administration is very good at this graduation thing, and they were, indeed.  The speakers were brief and relevant, and the awarding of degrees was pretty zippy.  Each of us had a card on which we wrote the name we wanted to be announced, and I was only a little peeved when the reader on my side of the stage skipped my middle name -- the reader on the other side read all the names each degree candidate wrote.  It was all over in a second, anyway, and then I was clutching a diploma folder and making the long trip around back to my seat.

After the master's candidates, the bachelors degrees took seeming forever.  There were rows and rows of them, but eventually it was over and then we all processed out in different directions, kind of like the arms of a starfish.  We met up outside for photos, and my faculty assured me that in a couple of years, when DS2 is out of high school, their PhD program will be up and running... sounds good to me, but 2 years is a long time, sometimes.  We'll see what happens.

Then we walked back to the car in the river of post-graduation ceremony happy people, and had a snack and hung out until our dinner reservation at 8 at the Cottage, a little French bistro just 3 minutes walk from the motel.  We had a spectacular meal.  DD was in heaven with her duck confit cassoulet, saying repeatedly it was the most delicious thing she had ever eaten.  Even DS1, who has eaten at very good French restaurants with us on several occasions, said he now "gets" French cuisine.  We had escargots for an appetizer and there were literally a dozen meaty snails in the order, enough for 4 people -- so rich!  I was trying to balance that out so I ordered the steak frites, but the rest of the family ordered the duck or coq au vin.  Desserts were an awesome chocolate cake and the truly weird but delightful iles flottant, meringues floating in creme anglaise.  Everyone was happy, then we headed back to the motel.  DH took off to come home and look after the cats, but the kids and I hung out and watched the penultimate episode of Samurai Jack, which is just killing me with how good it is. (sigh)

Sunday morning started off slightly disappointing, because we planned to go to a 9am mass at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel nearby, but when we arrived there we were told there was no mass, even though 3 different websites said there was!  So, change of plans: go to mass in the evening.  We packed up and headed out, and made great time getting home -- well under 3 hours.  Then, we attempted to go to the movies to see the new Guardians of the Galaxy, but I made a mistake!  The tickets I bought were for Saturday, not Sunday.  I admit, I was crushed.  I really wanted to see the movie, and I felt very foolish for making such a stupid mistake.  Of course there are no refunds in such a case, so money spent on nothing, another thing making me feel foolish.

I allowed myself a little time to feel sorry for myself but then pulled myself together and went out grocery shopping with DD, then I took the kids to the late mass at St. Mary's, and then I decided I wanted bbq for dinner so we got a ridiculous amount of food from Famous Dave's and it was all delicious, an undoubtedly good decision.

Somewhere in there, I made a final exam and end-of-year review for my 7th grade math class, because inexplicably there is no district version.  I am a little peeved about having to do that extra work, but I survived.  I also finally looked into ZipGrades, and it's going to make grading finals (all multiple choice...) a snap.  I even think I'll have fewer than 100 scans for all the finals I'm doing, so I won't have to pay until the beginning of next school year --- it's not that big a deal ($6.99), I just don't want to pay for something I'm not going to use for months because it's summer.

Only 9 days left of school, and I admit, my heart's not in it -- graduating has made my heart and head sync up to say, "I'm done!"  I want to relax and celebrate, but I have to wait a couple of weeks.  Really , the hard part is over.  I just have to hang in there.

I didn't expect to feel different when I graduated.  I thought it would be kind of like a birthday, where you feel exactly the same the day after as the day before.  I realize that it's not like that at all, because a birthday is something that happens to you simply because time is passing by.  It really has nothing to do with you, you just happen to be there.  Graduation is a completely purposeful thing, and now that it has happened, I feel lighter even than when my committee approved my thesis.  Every time I think of it, I get a big smile on my face, and it's hard for me to stay feathers-ruffled about anything for any length of time.  I don't really even know what it will be like to not be in grad school, since I feel like I've been doing the program forever.  It will be fun to find out.