Mrs. Love's Blog-0-Rama!

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)

Mrs. Love's Blog-0-Rama!

Masterpiece.

October 2, 2014 · 2 Comments · Being a better teacher

Frida Kahlo: Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace

Frida Kahlo: Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace

A friend told me when I turned 50 some magical effect would take over me, and that essentially, I would be able to let most things go, not give a hoot over the little things (little things include petty, perfectionist people) and other positively beneficial emotions. Now that I am a few months into my 11th anniversary of 39 years, I suppose she was right. Maybe 50 is a magic number: in this decade we have thirty years of cumulative (starting from our 20s) life experiences: bosses, jobs, mates, perhaps children, and a reel of social media platitudes constantly reminding us to relax, relax, and relax.  And I confess: last year, when I was turning 50, I was elbow-deep in teacher evaluation hell and crying uncontrollably. A lot. (Of course there were plenty of organic, changes, milestones, and other layered factors that contributed.)

But there is something about finding that “good enough” confidence. And if you find it before you turn 50, or well after, it doesn’t matter. There is never a bad time to find this lily pad of peace. Toward the beginning of September I had this bubble of calm moment, this Zen chewy center, where I realized how much my whole life of art has created who I am, and how amazing that is. That no other teacher I know has my unique and qualified essential background in the visual arts, or approaches Language Arts the same exact way I do. I run my classroom more like a studio than a cubicle office. For years, I recognized my fatal flaw is not handling those who lack imagination well. (Understatement? Oh yes.) The dart-throwers, balloon-poppers and candy-stealers. Those who would rather take my mojo and throw it in the garbage than figure out how to create their own.

I am somewhat envious of Two Writing Teachers. They have found this collaborative and  important place to do good work. I am at an odd place right now, where I’m on the sidelines – no longer the rock star teacher, and not really asked to contribute or lead. I am definitely at that “now what?” question/stage in my teaching career.

So exactly how did my BFA help me be a better Language Arts teacher?

1. I took plenty of risks, including hours of figure drawing.

2. I put my art on the “wall” for review on a weekly basis.

3. I spent hours experimenting with various mediums to get exactly what I wanted. (Truth be known I didn’t know ahead of time it was what I wanted: my world was full of happy accidents.)

4. I got my hands (and clothes) dirty. I was primarily a print-maker, so rubbing grit on a lithographic stone is a texture that is burned in my memory.

5. I talked.

6. I listened.

7. I spent hours looking.

8. I failed.*

9. I was rejected.

10. I succeeded.*

11. I painted little.

12. I painted HUGE canvases that took up whole walls.

13. I lost art along the way.

14. I knew to pour black paint on a white canvas and get over fear.

15. I sought to understand art throughout history, and the story those artists were telling.

16. I had great mentors.

17. I painted over. Started over. Trashed. And Resurrected.

But the answer to the “now what?” question may be just this simple: enjoy this time. Enjoy this time that I know what I’m doing, I know when I need to change or tweak something, and I know when to put something aside or try something new. I am, and always will be, a work in progress. And if no one else understands my themes or style, then so be it. I will keep focused on this on-going struggle for communication and connection, and know that a portfolio of life is not always what stays in, but what is taken out.

*the biggie: it was how I determined my failures and successes, and this reflective, recursive, and responsive process has helped me immeasurably. My personal metric was often a combination of what I was trying to communicate synergized with what others perceived. Powerful stuff.

 

 

 

 

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How Campbell Brown Made Me Cry.

August 1, 2014 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Big Questions, burning questions, New News

These are the composition books that went into recycling.

These are the composition books that went into recycling. They didn’t change any students’ lives. Am I a bad teacher because these students didn’t see the value in their work and knowledge?

There is a Blizzard Entertainment computer card game I have played a lot this summer. Why? I don’t know. Why do you play Candy Crush sometimes? We are chickens pecking for grain, all I suppose. The game is called Hearthstone(TM), and it’s a lot of fun. Kind of. It reminds me of something Harry Potter might play, a magical card game. And, it’s just challenging enough to engage me in small doses, and simple enough to have a few “wins.” Players can choose to build decks from the standard World of Warcraft classes: hunter, mage, warrior, etc.But there is one deck that I hate to come up against, and that’s the Priest deck. I have been most successful with mages and paladins. But priests: priests are what gamers dub “OP” – over powered. They have several cards that destroy low cards, obilterate high cards, card spells that double the health of a card, steal cards from your deck in several ways, and take control of a minion. Every time I put down my  Ragnaros card (Duh! Ragnaros is an evil fire lord!) that deals 8 damage at the end of every turn, I hold my breath that it doesn’t get taken by the priest player. And inevitably it does. As much I have lost to priests so often that many times I’ll just hit the ‘concede’ button and go down a rank versus go through the protracted dance of failure. I know it will only end in tears.

This begs the question: why don’t I play a priest deck? I have, on occasion, but it’s not all that interesting. It’s predictable bullying, and not a fair fight. Give me a spicy round with a warlock using murlocs and imps any time with my frost bolts and polymorphing spells, and win or lose, game time was much more fun.

I’ve lost you, I know–there is a point here.

So, summer time. My summer break. Yup. Yup. Yup. I haven’t felt like reading, haven’t felt like doing much of anything, really. I didn’t want a list, didn’t want to accomplish anything, do anything, or think about anything. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, but my usual busman’s holiday of creating hours of lessons and teaching materials went on ice for the month of July. I did some things, sure, things I wanted to do, like start a new blog, and purchases my annual stacks of composition books. I paid for those composition books out of my own pocket, instead of taking my sons out for some burgers or buying new cute shoes. Small issue. No big deal. We’re happy. It makes me glad to hand those composition books to students, and then years later have one wonderful student she still has hers. Worth every penny.

Toward the end of last school year, my principal wasn’t sure where she was going to place me. Since so many highly qualified teachers left our building (and many the profession altogether) I was one of the few who had double highly-qualified capacity to teach both social studies and language arts (ye old humanities, folks) but the stipulation would be I would go back to 7th grade. I sobbed at the end of last year, sitting in the young, new counselor’s office, expressing how I felt I was being ‘punished for being good.’ All I wanted, for my upcoming 9th year, was just two years in a row of not just consistency, but crafting and honing lessons. JUST ONCE, to see what’s it’s like to take reflections, copious notes, plans, ideas, and make it really start to click and work. I’m a ‘good’ teacher, and good teachers always want to be better. There is no raise, no bump in pay, so monetary rewards are non-exisistent. My principal told me when I stopped in her office that she (jokingly) didn’t want to hear me whine for another year, so I was staying in my 8th grade position.

Haha. Not quite feeling respected, but respect doesn’t come from anyone else in our fair profession.

So many teachers left our building, many because of health issues. One young man left after one year because he, well, just wanted to teach at an “easier” school. Can’t blame him. These teachers are not retiring, they are not middle-aged, they are not going off into the wild blue yonder–primarily they are young women who are being thrashed, harassed, and undermined at every turn. I myself just had two years of ‘mysterious’ ailments, both resulted in minor surgeries. (We’ll leave it at that.) There is buzz that there’s going to be a teacher shortage, that many who would have gone into the profession simply won’t, or leave after five to seven years. If not for the genuine admiration I have for my students and colleagues, and the collegial interactions I’ve offered, and gained, I’m not sure how much personal professional stamina I could maintain.

Teachers leaving or not entering the profession in the first place may have many other factors, too – changes in demographics, women are trending to be better educated than men (even though paid less) but the traditional female teacher is a thing of the past. What I fear is that teachers are going to be a thing of the past, period. Programs such as Teach for America are not all horrible, but they are a corporate avenue to get teachers in classes fast.  This has potential for high turn-over rate, which if Campbell gets her way, will be what happens when veteran teachers lose and have no voice. A high turn-over rate for teachers is harmful for students (and I thought she was doing this ‘for the children’). It’s harmful for adults, too. I and my colleagues have often joked that we felt like children of divorce we’ve had so many principals: six in eight years. As they climb up the educational career ladder, we dig their heels out of our skulls.

From Ingersoll’s paper, “Is there really a teacher shortage?”:

The data also show that the revolving door varies greatly among different kinds of schools, as illustrated in Figure 6.8 For example, high-poverty public schools have far higher turnover rates than do more affluent public schools. Urban public schools have slightly more turnover than do suburban and rural public schools. Private schools have higher turnover rates than public schools, but there are also large differences among private schools. On one end of the continuum lie larger private schools with among the lowest average turnover rate—about 13.5%. On the other end of the continuum lie smaller private schools with among the highest average levels—about 22%. -(Ingersoll)

Note that the highest turn-over rates are in private schools, so I dug a little deeper. Brown wants to abolish unions so that tenure is gone. All right. It is difficult to dismiss a ‘bad’ teacher, and thank goodness. It takes years of education, training, and continually investing in one’s career. My student loans are the tip of the ice berg. The pencils, paper, supplies, fees to take my boards, fees for multiple tests, thousands of dollars I’ve invested in myself as a professional, not to mention thousands of dollars of novels in my classroom library. I am not exaggerating. If I didn’t have a strong union behind me to back me up in case I get a vengeful administrator or sniping parent, I would have left a long time ago, have no doubt. The low salary vs. security is the trade off for many of us. In other words, I don’t mind being paid low for my level of education and investment as long as I know when I set up my classroom this fall my expertise and skills will be valued, and not having to stress about being capriciously fired. I’m too busy trying to emotionally disarm a student who jokes he has a gun in his locker. That’s stressful enough.

teacher

I felt this despondency the other day– my husband makes exactly three times what I make, and thank heavens. We are striving to maintain middle-class amenities. We don’t have new cars. We are trying to pay for our eldest son’s college so he won’t be burdened with student loans. I have the student loans in our family, upwards of $40,000. I keep having to defer them because of other financial crisis that pop up. I have three times the education my husband does, and make three times less. I knew this going in, I did. But knowing something and living something are two very different things. And it was fine for many years. There is the ‘profession’ of teaching, and there is the ‘job’ of teaching. I still love the profession, it’s the job that’s wearing me down. I’m doing my middle-class job and being told I stink. 

We teach so many lost children, and it’s my mission this year to make full-on concerted efforts to reach to parents more than ever. I will do whatever I can to support them, ‘have their backs’ as it were. Because no one else seems too, least of all Campbell Brown. Where is my team of lawyers to back me up? How can this group continue to tout itself as ‘for the children’ yet they are spending so much money that will more than likely further to marginalize children?

So when Campbell Brown gets on the Colbert Report and begins her opaque and condescending agenda about teachers’ unions, I cried. I startled my younger son, because we were all just hanging out and having fun, watching Colbert, laughing, and then she comes on. It made me sick with anger. It was what she didn’t say that upset me. In all of her dart-throwing, where were her answers? Tearfully dismantling unions, and then what? What next? Okay, kids! No more school to be hurt by all those bad teachers!! Her misguided agenda is dangerous. My flash point saw red, and that’s all there is to it. She drained my mojo.

Are there bad teachers? Of course. There are bad parents. Bad doctors. Bad principals. Bad people everywhere. People who run the gamut of simple incompetency to outright criminal acts. I had those bad teachers: the geometry teacher who drank gin and read the newspaper. The pot-smoking social studies teacher. My husband had one who sold hand-made jewelry.

Many of my conservatives friends say I’m too emotional. They start throwing rhetorical words at me like that shields everyone from the conversation. Here is who I am: I am an emotional person, and I am fair, too. I am do not draw my opinions along party lines, far from it. I draw my opinions from my own life experience, observations, research, and a uncanny sense of spotting someone’s shenanigans. Please do not think this has anything to do with plastic politics or labels. I know a dangerous person when I see her. And you should, too.

To be fair, maybe there are issues in New York state I don’t see. Maybe their unions are thuggish and slow to respond. However, the national trend of Common Core and (over-testing) national testing standards, and revamped teacher evaluations allow for scrutiny of teachers more than ever before. Meaning, Brown’s fighting ghosts. There are pay scales, equal benefits, and requirements, no matter whether we are at a ‘tough’ school or an ‘easy’ one. (Like children, I am not sure I believe in tough versus easy: all teaching is challenging.) We are held to the same standards. The new teaching evaluation system is crippling thorough.  I can’t share the materials, but I’m sure I can share a link –it is the Internet after all. The rubric for teachers’ evaluation is over 35+ metrics long with five categories. Is that what you have for your evaluations at your job? Or is it more simplified? Do you get a cost of living increase? I haven’t.

Ms. Brown: unions are not your enemy. But you are mine. However, I’m not going to worry about you. You can side-step where the money’s coming from, I get it. That’s what all over-powered people do – lie about funding, agendas, and stand behind prattle “it’s for the kids.” I’m going to put my energy to positive use – all I can do. And turns out, it’s pretty powerful. When it comes to effective teaching, like parenting, consistency, security, and maintaining continuity of culture. They will never meet another person like Mrs. Love.

 

 

 

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National Writing Project (NWP): Yes, in my backyard…

July 14, 2014 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Tell A Story, Writing

spongebob writes

Call this shameless promotion. Accuse me of having an agenda. I do. An important one. As I approach my ninth year of teaching, as I begin to sift through the hours of professional development, stale staff meetings, and reform, reform, reform, and oh, “Would you like a new assessment with that reform?” one clear and shining beacon of hope burns bright for me still — the time and relationships I’ve built with Puget Sound Writing Project, my local chapter of the National Writing Project. The NWP celebrates 40 years this yearlet that sink in for a moment. I’ll wait. 

Did you check your e-mails? Did you post a cat video on Facebook? No, I’m not being smug or snarky: those would be things I would do. Allow the static and volume both in noise pollution and quantity to interfere with my own thoughts. But consider the stalwart insistence of four decades: no matter the changes and turbulence, the National Writing Project has held true to its mission:

Our Mission

The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners.

They believe something I have not witnessed in many administrators: they believe teachers are the best teachers of teachers. NWP encourages and clears the path for us, allowing us to flourish. What is the very essence of education? My truth–to provide a space where I and my students thrive, push, connect, and remain messily, unabashedly human. There is something that supercedes or transcends devil-in-the-details about Common Core or its accompanying assessments such as the SBAC. It doesn’t matter how we feel about those things — what matters is how NWP/PSWP provides the clear-thinking mental (and physical) space to support each other. All I can think of is a stupid metaphor about how we teachers are the farmers, reform is the changing weather (tornadoes, drought, and pestilence at times) and our crop, naturally–our students. Okay, forgive me. That was dumb. I’m stretching. (Quietly walks over to coffee pot to see if caffeine will help!)

I think it did. Okay. Back to this.

Here’s what it’s done for me:

  • Made me believe I am a writer
  • Given me sustaining and nurturing relationships
  • Provided me with a means to help students tell their own stories
  • Given me a free space where none of my ideas are stupid, dismissed, or discounted
  • Let me talk things through
  • Honored me, and given me status
  • Shown me through gentle leadership how to empower others and give them status
  • Provided a dragon’s vault of valuable lessons and instructional delivery
  • Encouraged and expected my own teaching vision
  • Space for critical thinking and reflection of others ideas and research/analysis
  • Supported connections with educators around the country and world
  • Periodical check-ups for teaching health (this is HUGE)

I thank my lucky stars every day for Holly Stein, too. She’s the former and now current director of the PSWP. Without her encouragement and guidance–don’t even really want to think about that right now. The working studio environment — time to work, time to talk, time to share — honors teachers from all paths. If you’re feeling fatigued from the current state of affairs in education, possibly even close to extreme burn-out, (as I was), consider looking into your own local NWP group. Even if there is not a physical space at a university, consider reading news and updates from this organization. We are digitally connected, and our front porches as close as our screens.

Now — time to write.

National Writing Project, Twitter: https://twitter.com/writingproject @writingproject

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Peripeteia and Anagnorisis: College and Career “You Are Not” Ready

May 26, 2014 · 2 Comments · Big Questions

This is a post you may not want to share; watch it and think about it before it’s Tweeted or posted on Facebook. I’ll post it, just because I love a good discussion. I’ve been labeled “pot stirrer,” but I can live with that. Keeps the good stuff mixed in.

My husband sent me this link to watch, Mike Rowe, Learning From Dirty Jobs. While watching it, it struck me, my own  anagnorisis if you will, about how many of my students who simply do not belong in the factory/cubicle setting of school. Now this is not a discussion on out-dated educational models we cling to like hole-filled rowboats, nor a diatribe about all the things we get wrong. In fact, we get many things right, very right. It is my belief that education is necessary because it is its own reward, its own existence. But I think about one student in particular who walks around the classroom and the campus like a caged tiger. Because we have gone to “war with work,” as Mike Rowe contends, we do not honor an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. This young man has zero interest in finding text evidence to support a claim. He has no engagement when it comes to sitting in fluorescent-lit rooms with algorithms and anagrams. He wants purpose. He craves purpose. He does have one: he comes to school to walk a girlfriend to and from class –it’s his one thing during the day he does well. He has no control over parents’ care, homes, and he is barely in control of his actions or deeds. (And when I say barely, the thin bubble between humor and threat has been scarred).

We are failing this young man in every way possible. We have filled his world predominately with middle-aged women telling him what to do, where to go, and when he can use the restroom. We have taken from his world any journeyman or apprenticeship possibilities, but put him in room with counselors who repeat on auto play “school is important.” Why is school important? What are we really offering him?

Nothing.

Our current banner of every child being ‘college and career ready’ has many holes in it. This is scary for me to write about. It’s scary because I don’t want to be perceived as classist. As being someone who doesn’t believe that every child doesn’t deserve the finest education the world can offer. I do believe, of course. But if I truly believe in the whole child, the whole human, then I am being hypocritical if i don’t call out the crisis of limitations.

We can’t all simply become service industry folks, waiting tables to pay off expensive college loans.  We do need to open the doors wide and true and provide opportunities for one and all. But our menu of choices are so limiting to our children, so bland and tasteless. Why can’t we offer apprenticeships to teenagers, or real mentoring or internships? I don’t know how to do this, and I can’t wait for “someone else.” I am a good mentor with those things I enjoy: writing, discussion, and art. But I have never castrated a sheep, or picked up road kill. I’m just a teacher. It’s a dirty job but…you know the rest.

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26 Love Letters

May 21, 2014 · No Comments · Language News, New News, Writing

patience, practice, and persistence...

patience, practice, and persistence…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, an NPR report discussed the disappearance and resulting anxiety of the lost art of cursive handwriting from elementary school curriculum. Years ago, when I was working at Starbucks many of my younger co-workers could not read my handwriting, and while this made me feel “old,” it really made me feel sad. There must have been some valid reason why I learned cursive handwriting other than ‘tradition’ or rote direct instruction. There had to be something there, some pedagogical reason besides just having good penmanship. While I strongly disagree with the philosophy, “watch closely and wipe any mistakes out immediately and correct the writing before bad habits or confusion is set”,(*)which completely misses some instinct, some notion about the importance of cursive, I do think the craft of cursive handwriting is fundamental to our beings.

When I learned that cursive was no longer being taught, naturally I thought about my own experiences with hand-crafted typography. It’s so much more than a rap on the knuckles or disappointed home-schooling mother: it’s art, it’s our voice in lines, it’s our signature. We use our chubby fingers to grasp a pencil correctly (to this day I don’t hold a pencil ‘correctly” and have clear memories of my frustrated second-grade teacher gently re-positioning my fingers, and my waiting until her back was turned to do it ‘my way’). The thin newsprint with pale red and blue lines proved sturdy structures while developing “favorites.” To this day I wish my name was Queen Kelly. (I really like the letter K.)

While many feel that it’s near treason American school children can’t read the Declaration of Independence, while some believe it really doesn’t matter if they print or script, as long as students are writing, or that it’s important to do things the ‘old fashioned way,’ but there simply isn’t enough time in a school day.

Regardless of external ideas, I sense there is something deeply important and internal at work at the brain-development level, and I may be right. Studies have been done that find that young children’s literacy capacities are enriched:

When she put the kids back into the brain scanner, the two groups showed very different results: The scans for the group that was simply shown letters didn’t look that different. But in the scans for the group that learned to write the letters, James saw a huge spike in activity in their brains’ reading network.

Okay, I confess; that token scientific research article, as well as this one, serve to sway those who think cursive writing is frivolous.  I can’t help but think to the craft of writing truly being a ‘craft.’ My art background has always supported my teaching instruction: I see the art and creation of ‘making meaning’ and workshop/studio deeply embedded in language arts. My memories of struggling to practice perfect cursive letters, and then embarking on my own signature, then to the signature I have today, is as closely connected to my identity as any portrait: the change from my maiden name to including my married one, my “pretend” writer’s signature, and there must be a journal somewhere with my practicing future romantic roles, “Mrs. Blahblahblah.” As I dabbled in graphic art, not just the fine arts of printmaking/painting, I fell in love with grand typography. I always loved practicing calligraphy, and I adore a former student’s Facebook posts on his attempts with practicing Chinese characters with brush and ink, keeping his Chinese heritage alive.

Yes, generating typography/computer graphics is using technology and not hand-written, but I have often thought before we hand over technology to a child there should be some measure of foundational lessons. I am not talking about the “back in my day” kinds of things, but why do we always seem to need a “movement” to re-purpose or repackage traditional skills? We have the “maker movement,” going back to ‘real’ food, and life experiences that are authentic. I am not discounting the maker movement, only curious about our collective mania for re-branding our lives. My older son didn’t know how to sew on a button the other day, and I had no interest in teaching him. You know who did? My husband. I have a much more bourgeois attitude about the whole thing. Maybe I’m guilty of this — these hand-written cursive signatures seem too precious in our current state of “college and career readiness.” Just not sure how losing our identities further, our signatures, our marks, enable us to do that.

I recently bought a new i-Pad for myself. I’m pretty excited about it. My Kindle kind of stinks with its Silk browser (yes, I wrote a strongly worded review on Amazon about it: power to the consumer!). Last night my husband turned to me to show me this very cool pencil and app especially designed for i-Pads. I can’t wait to try it out, in my older, but still chubby fingers, and draw and write “real” things. Maybe there’s hope after all.

*That’s not even correct grammar. The sentence should read: “…before any bad habits are set.”

 

Good stuff: http://www.ted.com/talks/hannah_brencher_love_letters_to_strangers

and even Steve Jobs gives a nod to typography:

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