Family

Hamilton!

Last night, I finally got to see Hamilton.

I remember the day I learned the show was coming to Charlotte. I immediately contacted my husband and told him we needed season tickets to the Broadway shows, just so we could get tickets to this show. That was 3 years ago. We bought 6 seats for 2 seasons, just so we would have the tickets last night.

While we were driving uptown, my daughter Taylor called. “Would you, dad and the brothers like to go backstage after the show?” Of course we wanted to go backstage. Several of the cast members have been taking a fitness class she teaches, and one of her new friends offered to show us all around. Could this get any better?

The show was amazing. I have studied the lyrics, the books, and watched every video on Youtube, but finally seeing it in person was worth the wait.


After the show, the 6 of us walked to the stage door access behind the theater building. There were security guards and a dog guarding the exit. After a few minutes, Kristen Hoagland came out of the door and took us past the barricades and the guards, into the theater’s backstage area. She showed us where the actors changed wigs, where each actor kept their props and costume change items. She showed us all of the costumes, hanging to allow the accumulated sweat to dry before the next performance. Each actor has their own set of cubbies and drawers to keep their shoes, hats, and other costume items neatly stored.

The stage itself has a turntable, with an outer ring that sometimes turned with the center, and sometimes turned opposite the center. The turntables allowed the illusion of walking, or distance on the stage, and allowed the actors to change position on the stage without actually moving themselves. It gave a 360º feel for the audience at times as the stage itself turned so the audience could see all angles. Just standing on the stage was surreal.

The different furniture props were suspended above the heads just off stage, so the pieces could be lowered when needed, but out of the way other times. There were cubbies filled with different papers and items the actors used throughout the show. It was all extremely neat, with everything immediately accessible as needed.

Kristen was such a sweet host. She told us a little about her time on the tour, and answered all of our questions. She took our picture on the stage. I imagine she was tired after such a long performance, but she didn’t show it. We got to say hello to other cast members as they walked by, each going to their own home-away-from-home here in the city.IMG_0925

Thank you, Hamilton cast and crew, for such a great night with my family. That was one to remember for a long time.

 


 

Teacher Life

A Teacher’s Summer — Day 1

June 14, 2018

So many people have asked, “What do teachers do in the summer?” that I thought I’d answer that in my blog.

Yesterday was my first full day of summer break. I filled it with what you might expect — I read on the back porch (10 more chapters into War and Peace), I walked with friends, and I did laundry. But I mostly went to my routine appointments that I had put off for several months. I started the day with a mammogram — only 2 months overdue — and ended it with a trip to the dentist — only 5 weeks overdue. And in between I made phone calls to schedule more appointments. And I am not alone in the teacher rush to make appointments during our summer break — most teachers do this, postponing routine physicals, dentist appointments, etc, simply because it is too hard to miss school days.

This isn’t because I don’t have days I could take off for medical reasons. My district is generous with sick days, and  I now have a little more than half a school year saved up. I could take all the days I need to make these appointments anytime during the year.


The real reason teachers don’t take time off from work for routine appointments during the school day is that it is too much work to be away from the classroom. Substitute plans take hours to write. I have developed a template method, and my sub plans STILL take me about 2 hours to write for every day I’m out of the building. My template plan is this — at the beginning of the year, I write a basic sub plan template. I include emergency instructions (fire drill, lockdown, etc), students who need extra help or understanding, dismissal information, classroom rules and routines, and class lists. This template gets copied every time I need to write new sub plans, and I simply tweak it with dismissal changes, class helper changes, and adjust the class lists as students move in and out. That saves at least an hour of writing for every sub plan I have to write.

Because I teach at a departmentalized school, I only need to plan lessons for language arts and social studies, and then repeat the same lessons for a different class after lunch. That helps tremendously with writing sub plans, but they are still hard to write. The trick is finding activities students can do basically on their own that will be engaging enough so they won’t misbehave, but easy enough that they won’t need much instruction. Then I have to identify any problems that may come up with the lesson — primarily technology based — and teach a few key students how to troubleshoot these issues. For example, our social studies website has crossword puzzles that help students identify key vocabulary. It is an engaging activity which forces the students to reread the articles looking for the words that match the meaning given as the clue.  They enjoy it and it is a pretty easy activity to leave in sub plans. However, sometimes the crossword puzzle fails to load — I don’t know why but I figured out that if you simple delete the browsing history on the student’s Chromebook, it is fixed. It is simple enough on paper — but then I have to teach several 9 year olds in both classes how to find the settings, scroll down to advanced settings, and click through all the steps to delete the history – and then make them the classroom tech gurus to help everyone one else in the room — and hope that they aren’t absent (or forget) on the day I’m out of the room also.

But the real issue with writing sub plans is that often they are not followed — not even a little bit. Sometimes subs are not available, or they cancel at the last minute and the class has to be dispersed. But sometimes subs just don’t do what is on the plan. My favorite was when a particular sub was in my room and told the class my plans were stupid — then had them work on memorizing the states and capitals instead — not an objective in my state for my grade (or any grade since my WATCH can tell me the capital of any state or country in less than 3 seconds). So everytime I take a day out of the classroom, not only do I need to write meaningful lesson plans (copied to all administration in the building and all the teachers on my team), but I have to plan for those lessons to be completely ignored, which puts my class behind the pacing guide every time. (Kids, I’m truly sorry that instead of spending the 45 minutes I planned for writing your essays, the sub told you stories about her dog, but the district says we have to move to another topic on Monday, so your paper is still due tomorrow. Have fun tonight…..).

Yeah — that tooth cleaning can wait…….

I have to say, not all substitute teachers are that bad. Karen, Linda, June — I’m looking at you. But the good subs are usually taking the long term jobs in my building, and are booked up months in advance. And I understand being a substitute teacher is HARD. I was a substitute for 4 years in my district, so I know how difficult it is to come into a classroom just before the students, have to read and understand the plans, figure out technology that is new and different from classroom to classroom depending on the model and age of the device, and then be ready for a full day with students in 10 minutes or less. And most do try — but it is a very hard job.

So next time you wonder what teachers do on the summer break, remember that they are probably catching up on all the appointments everyone else makes during the year.

 

Reading Life · Teacher Life

A Teacher’s Summer

June 13, 2018

Often people ask me, “What do teachers do during summer break?” Recently I have seen many people saying that teachers don’t need to be paid more because they only work 10 months a year. Today is the first day of my summer break (after two teacher workdays cleaning and moving classrooms), and I thought I’d share a little of what I’m doing.

Today, I feel compelled to make some reading plans. Summer is full of long, unscheduled days and still my list of summer reading is daunting. My summer reading includes many purposes. First, there is the pure pleasure reading and book club books. Then, there are the books assigned by my principal that must be read. I also signed up for some professional development classes that are book based classes. I’m changing grade levels, so I need to brush up on some current titles for the slightly younger set. And finally there is the tall stack of books that I have purchased, possibly started, but never really finished. I really want to dive into those books and check them off the list.

I am currently reading The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, as well as War and Peace by Tolstoy. I started that because of the PBS special “The Great American Read” — I can’t resist lists and that program came with a list of America’s top 100 books, so I picked the longest on the list to tackle. At least each chapter is short, so I feel like I can get a little read every day.

Here is my partial reading list for this summer.

Book club books

  1. Killers of the Flower Moon
  2. Little Fires Everywhere
  3. The Great Alone

 

Books for professional development

  1. The Growth Mindset Coach
  2. The Growth Mindset Playbook
  3. Embracing a Culture of Joy
  4. What Readers Really Do
  5. Joy Write

 

Books I have bought and want to read

  1. Angels Flight
  2. A Darkness More Than Night
  3. City of Bones
  4. Lost Light
  5. How Writers Work
  6. Poetry Matters
  7. Rooster Bar
  8. Lost City of the Monkey God

And the books I need to catch up on for my new grade level – I haven’t picked them out yet.

This is a small piece of what this teacher is doing over my summer break.

Slice of Life

Words

Easter, 2018

The day was perfect. The sky was blue with just a hint of clouds, and the air was just warm enough for a light jacket. I smiled as I unpacked my supplies for Sunday School — the sidewalk chalk for the art project, the picture book that explains the Easter story, and the 80 plastic eggs I bought and stuffed for the children I expected.

After putting down my things in my classroom, I went into our beautiful courtyard to spread the eggs. The bright colors of the plastic eggs against the new spring green of new grass and freshly planted flowers made me smile. I tucked the eggs into flower pots, the twisted crooks of the crepe myrtles, up under the bell, and behind the painted display of the empty cross and tomb.

The children arrived, dressed in beautiful pastels. A beautiful hand printed Easter card was presented to me with a smile. We put names on white lunch bags and headed out to gather the eggs. “I found one!” was happily shouted, as the adults watching smiled and laughed.

We all wandered back inside to use wet chalk over painters tape in the shape of a cross to make a painted picture as the Easter story was read from a children’s Bible. We headed back outside for some more playground time before it was time for worship. “Watch me swing!” “Please push me!” — their voices just made the day more sweet.

But then, like cold water thrown in the face, came the harsh voice: “Oh great! More plastic eggs for me to throw away. Come on, let’s go.” And with that, she stomped out of my classroom with her child in tow.

Words. Presented on a beautiful hand lettered card with a smile.

 

Words. They can uplift the heart and make you smile.
Words. They can be used as a weapon, thrown from the hurt inside, without care of those that are hit in the process.

Words.

Changes · Family · Life with kids · Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving for Change

Last week in Sunday School, I taught my students the story of Balaam’s donkey. In this story, the king of Moab asked Balaam to curse God’s people. As a prophet of God, it would not have been a good thing for Balaam to have cursed God’s own people, but the king was offering a fat paycheck for Balaam’s service. Balaam knows it is the wrong thing to do, but he sets off with his trusty donkey to talk to the king, and the assumption is that he intends to take the money and curse God’s people.

As Balaam was traveling to see the king about this request, and God sent an angel who stood in the roadway, scaring the wits out of poor Balaam’s donkey. The donkey first walked off the road, then lay down in the middle of the road– wanting to do anything but cross the angel standing in the path. Balaam couldn’t see the angel, didn’t understand the donkey’s behavior, and responded by beating the poor animal. He basically threw a hissy fit because his plans were being changed and he didn’t want to adapt. The story ends with the donkey receiving the gift of speech, so he could explain his behavior, and Balaam’s eyes were opened to see the angel standing in their path. Balaam realizes that he was on the path to sure destruction, and his donkey’s behavior was protecting him. The lesson, I explained to my class, was that sometimes our plans are blocked by situations we don’t understand, and sometimes it is God blocking our path to keep us in His path and not on our own path.

I thought about this story as I prepared for hosting Thanksgiving this week. This year, for the only the second time ever, I hosted Thanksgiving. Originally I was not pleased to have my traditional Thanksgiving changed. But it turned out to be very nice.


Thanksgiving is about more than just the food. It is about family and getting together. It is about life and love and surviving another year and being thankful for everything that happened in that year. Normally, my family’s Thanksgiving is loud and messy. We gather at my parents’ house — 3 children, a couple sons-in-law, 9 grandchildren, a few dogs and significant others, and most recently a great-grandbaby to enjoy. It is a giant slumber party, with football at the local elementary school fields, and long walks and talks, football on TV, jigsaw puzzles in the living room. And of course, my mom’s cooking. I love it.

But this year is different. We aren’t having our normal, crazy family Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. My sister will be with her family. Only two of my four children can come this year. My parents are staying at their house with my brother and his family. It will be quiet, less stressful for sure — different.

My mom says that change has to happen, that it is the normal way of things. But to be fair, I don’t like any change anyway. I’m quite change-averse. I set out on my path, like Balaam in the Bible story, and I get very frustrated when something makes me change my plans. I have spent the last few weeks being upset that Thanksgiving is different this year.

But as the day arrived, I realize how much good is in this change. I was relaxed with no long drive to mom’s house, no packing of the dogs, making sure Sugar got her car-sick medicine an hour before we left. As much as I love my mom’s house and her wonderful kitchen and greenhouse to just sit in, it was nice to enjoy extended time in my own home. It was fun to watch Taylor setting out her pre-dinner snacks and to get out serving dishes that are rarely used. We were able to include a friend who didn’t have any place to go, and Taylor’s boyfriend was able to work and enjoy family Thanksgiving. And I got to watch Moana for the first time, while lying on my favorite Lazy-Boy chair under a cozy blanket.

I still don’t like change, but I’m trying to embrace it. Change can be good.

Uncategorized

#metoo #butnotreally

#metoo #butnotreally

 

I have always been extremely cautious, not at all inclined to take risks. I have usually been able to learn from mistakes and misfortunes of others. If someone else has had a problem with something, I tend to shy away from it. This proclivity toward cautiousness was the reason I have never tried any illegal drugs, I have never been drunk to the point of illness and I have gotten only one traffic ticket in almost 40 years of driving. I watched other people’s pain and embarrassment, and I avoided following in their footsteps.

But being cautious also means I have missed out on many opportunities that may have been wonderful. I don’t take risks in general. If someone, sometime, had any sort of problem, I tended to avoid similar problems. I avoided “difficult” courses in college. I gave up a job that was probably really interesting because it did not guarantee a certain income (though I was good at it and probably would have been well paid) and other people had financial difficulties. And, more importantly, being so cautious has always meant that I avoid any situation that might present a risk to myself.

The recent reports of women and men who were sexually abused by powerful people — and random strangers — has me thinking about how many situations, jobs, and experiences I have avoided because of the risk of being sexually abused. The lesson I learned about sexual abuse as I was growing up was that it was going to happen unless I stayed away from certain situations, and dressed in a very certain way. That was just the way it was. What I never learned was how to stand up for myself, and say STOP. I never learned how to protect myself, beyond avoidance. If this was driving cars, I would have learned to avoid all traffic accidents by never driving a car — effective to be sure, but terribly limiting behavior.

I was raised to be a southern lady. The worst thing a southern lady can do is to break the social norms — to be rude. Confrontation is often taken as rude behavior, so I was never taught how to confront people. I was taught to smile and ignore poor behavior, then to talk about the behavior with a third party with the understanding that the message would eventually get back to the person behaving badly, in a round-about, passive-aggressive manner.

When I was in high school, my favorite activity was drama. I loved being on stage. Being an actor seemed like a dream occupation. I participated in every school play I could, and sought out voice and acting classes outside of school. But my dreams died the day my mom explained the “casting couch.” She told me I would never make it as an actor if I was unwilling to sleep my way into roles. As I saw it, if I was unwilling to participate in these “extra activities” and failed to reach my goal to be a professional actor, I would never know if it was because I wasn’t good enough. To fail and to know I just wasn’t good enough would be hard enough. But to fail and never know what could have been would never had been acceptable. So I gave up that dream, and never went back on stage.

In college, I was really good in calculus. I worked hard, but kept an A average. I knew I was good in math when I picked up a friend’s statistics textbook (a class I hadn’t taken) and was able to understand the chapter and explain it to her. But just as I was about to consider a major in math, I picked up a science fiction novel my professor had written. It was sexually graphic and disgusting. I could no longer look that man in the eyes, much less go to that man’s office to seek advice on math careers. I had heard of other students being sexually molested by professors, and had been warned about being in a closed room with men all of my life, so I avoided another potentially dangerous situation.

Sexual abuse does not just affect people overtly. It has a ripple effect throughout society. Because some women have been abused, other women have taken themselves out of many situations completely. The overt act shames and diminishes the woman who experiences it. But the ripple effect diminishes many other women who are watching.

Women have been diminished enough. It is time to call out every abusive act, from the small to the large. No one should be diminished by another person’s crude joke, misplaced touch, or innuendo. It is not ok and should not be tolerated for another minute.

Uncategorized

Just Jump In?

November 5, 2017

 

Last July, I wrote a narrative about jumping off the diving board. It was a true story. It really did take me years to work my way off that high dive. But I also meant my story to be symbolic of jumping into scary things, of getting started without knowing how it would end. I purposely didn’t end the story, but left the reader hanging, not knowing — but assuming — that all ended well, that I was able to survive my jump and safely swim to the edge of the pool. I think I really wanted to convince myself that jumping into scary things would end up ok.

My goal was to start this blog — ironically named “Just Jump In”.

I started it alright. I even paid money for an upgraded blog package because I was really going to start writing now. I think I managed two whole posts all summer.

And then CRICKETS.

I found myself back on the symbolic high dive, wanting desperately to add to my writing, but unable to make that jump. I even wrote in my introduction to the parents of my 5th grade students that I write something every day (actually true IF you count writing lesson plans and completing endless paperwork).

Last month, I read the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson. Then I subscribed to his blog (markmanson.net), where he promised access to a class on writing, and has a post about starting a blog which is only available to subscribers. (I love his book AND his blog, BTW.) One thing I learned from his post is that to become a writer, you have to actually write. Not news, since literally every book I have ever read about becoming a writer says the EXACT same thing. But Mark says something more quantifiable — he said that you need to write hundreds of thousands of words, and over 100 pages on a single topic before you even know what you want to write about — before you ever find your voice.

So, imaginary reader, this blog will probably take the form of a Seinfeld episode for a while — a blog about nothing specific. My goal is to write, to find my voice. I hope someone joins me for the ride.

385 words down, 999,615 words to go.