Saturday, October 27, 2012

A 'Class' Act

     Had lunch with fourteen friends today. No big deal, really until I share this number: 444. Four hundred, forty four. This was the total accumulation of years we spent educating children. Now folks, that is a lot of lesson planning, report carding, and parent conferencing! So many young faces looking to us for answers as well as questions. And so many mornings of greeting youngsters at the door as they told us of loose teeth, bragged about birthday gifts, and cried because their dog ran away. We listened to each tale with kind attention, while motioning one kid to hang up his jacket, and shaking our head as another little darling decided to snatch the pencil off a classmate's desk. We took attendance, gave spelling tests and read countless stories. When a bandaid would not stop the hurting, we bandaged their souls in kind words and warm hugs.

      The student was never an intrusion in our day; kids made our day matter. Teaching was always so much more than averaging grades or processing curriculum. It was creating a sense of wonder, fostering a love for learning, and making sure each day held giggles and songs. We were story tellers and magicians, disciplinarians and number jugglers. And at the end of the day we were blessed. As well as very, very tired. Oddly, we could not wait until we woke up to do it all over again.

     I looked at the gals with whom I was breaking bread.  We laughed and storied, and shook our heads at the changes that were overtaking education. What? No time for holiday art lessons or cool units on owls? Constant pre-tests and post-tests that have crowded out the moments necessary for imagination? Classroom plays that held kids' excitement and joy, shelved for strangers coming in the room to offer 'interventions'. School days so rich that kids did not want to be absent--all this dumped so the data is streamlined and profitable? There was a balance between "skill and drill without the thrill" and hands-on activities which spilled over into each subject level. What looked 'fun' was 'fundamental' and the basics were never compromised; just served with neon green highlighters or power points. We fused technology into what the textbooks left out, and time-tested 'best practice' were our benchmarks.

     I have never heard a former student say to me, "Wow, Mrs. Hall, those weeks of practice leading up to ISTEP were life changing!" Nope. But they will remember the time we put 'Goldilocks on Trial,' built moon bases that showed how we could live on the lunar surface, and wrote so many stories, essays and poems, that some were bound and published. I get responses from schoolchildren who recalled making games based on math concepts when we did a section called, "Let's Get Board with Math." And those moments they would beg me for more time just to read silently, as they became lost in the Young Hoosier books or autobiographies. We took them to Australia and back to the Gold Rush. On the first snowfall of the season, we ran outside to catch the snowflakes on our tongue. And we taught under administrators who honored our commitment to all students.

     These pupils became authors, mathematicians, artists, scientists, and performed on those 'high stakes' tests because we had also infused personal pride, accountability, and a work ethic in between every worksheet, project, or packet. We expected our kiddos to spell, punctuate, and calculate accurately. And our day wasn't scripted, timed, and we were trusted as educators to do our job.

      With 444 years of instruction among us, we were entrusted with the awesome task of teaching a child. It was an enormous job which required patience, structure, and a mastery of the subjects we taught. Some of us spent every day with children afflicted with numerous disabilities. Many of us received awards and commendations. But really, we were only as good as the newspapers said we were. We taught children of children, and many who spoke no English. We have attended the weddings of our former students and sadly, bid our goodbye at some of their funerals. We spent 180 days a year molding clay...and in doing so, we were molded into  better human beings. What an exchange!

     The teachers of today have such a hard road. I substitute a few days a week, and I can feel the tension as I arrive in the buildings. I do not fault the staff, but of directives so misguided that educators are being forced to robotically turn out perfect little products. Kids are not a product. Just as their vital statistics follow its own path, so does learning. Numbers are only indicators, folks; it is the personal narrative that matters. The little person with knock-knock jokes and a yearning to please; who colors outside the lines and puts love notes on your desk, and always lets the new kid sit next to her or him---these are the individuals who made our 444 years so precious to us.

      I marveled at the gifts of my fourteen friends. How we shared such a history. Back in the day, we would sit in the hallway, lean up against the wall, and laugh at who got the first phone call after report cards arrived home. We built one another up, shared classroom strategies, and inside info on what worked with 'that kid'. School was the 'stuff' of our souls. It was not easy then, and it is not easy now. But my, what an honor, to say, "I'm a teacher."

       And when it all is added up, I have to conclude that we fourteen teachers with 444 years of combined experience have been blessed beyond measure. Thank you for allowing us to use our gifts in the public classroom.

       Lunch is over, so back to the classroom. But if you are really good, you may earn an extra recess. Class act, indeed.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Aprons and Crowns

     Two unusual topics collided in my brain this weekend. Are you surprised? Um, that I have a brain? Or that two topics occupied the same lone space? Kinda like two cats wandering around in a vacant warehouse, I suppose. Oh well. On with my two topics.

     Aprons and crowns. Now...stay with me on this. I truly think that some of us are 'apron' folks while others are 'crown people'. And there is nothing wrong with either---or being a bit of both. A closer analysis of the two is what kept my neurons firing this past Sunday. Let me share.

     Aprons are objects of service. They are a layer of protection fastened to protect our outer clothing. A crown is a thing of beauty and adornment, placed upon the head for no other reason than to point out royalty or distinction. Aprons invite dirt and grease, and actually may display the memories of previous tasks. Their pockets hold various rags or tools of cleaning or baking. An apron's
fate at the end of the day is the old dish towel drawer or the washer. A crown may be placed in a safe or a secure shelf, often on display. An apron is easily affordable...a crown, not so much.

      Aprons and crowns may be the essence of the ordinary and elegant. Yet, sometimes the line between the two can become fuzzy. My daughter was a '500 Festival Princess' and received a lovely tiara. She had to wear that lovely headgear and her sash the entire month of May. However, that tiara become part of her wedding day ritual as it fastened her veil to her head. That 'crown'  had always been lovely; yet now the shimmer and shine partnered with a sacrament of the church.

      My mother's apron got quite a workout!! She wore it often and it had put in a lot of hours in the kitchen. After her 'home going' to Heaven, my other daughter got the apron. The pocket of that apron held a tissue; if you knew my mom she always had a tissue. And that is kind of a telling as she was the 'tissue' that kept this family connected in love and commitment. But back to the apron. When my daughter slides that cloth over her head and ties the strings, she feels like she is touching a holy thing. Not in a creepy way...but with a heart of appreciation that her grandmother's ordinary apron served others for years.

    Aprons sacrifice. They signify work. Become soiled, ripped, discarded. Crowns adorn. Their loveliness cause us to "Ooh and aah!" We appreciate their value and worth and know it is a special occasion when crowns are present. Yet, does the queen or king of a monarchy wear their crown when serving their constituents? When my son covers his precious heart with a bullet proof vest, is it not like a working apron as he goes into the streets to 'protect and serve'? Look to history and you can see the aprons of blacksmiths, meat cutters, scientists, shoe cobblers, store owners, bakers. Did these aprons not shape the face of industry just as crowns were writing legislation? Hmmm....perhaps aprons and crowns are not as dissimilar as this little brain once thought.

     I know that this comparison and contrast of aprons and crowns won't affect the Dow Jones, cure disease, or win the Pulitzer Prize. But I did find it interesting, and hopefully, you did, as well.

     Perhaps the greatest conclusion I can draw for myself is this: as the queen of this house, my apron serves me quite well! And that crown? Well, let's just say that I would have worn it while I typed this blog....but it really needs some scotch tape to hold on those gold stars. Paper isn't as sturdy as it used to be. But the safety pin holding the string to my apron is just perfect!

     Aprons and crowns. Now I know why England calls it her 'Royal Majesty's Service'---the queen wears her apron and crown while running a country. Or a sweeper, perhaps. Who knew?

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Scoop on Chickens (Urban Farming Comes to My House)

      Hey! What do you think about this new trend called 'urban farming'? You know....when folks in the city contribute to community gardens, have chicken coops, and the like? I think it is a great idea!! My heart's burning desire is to someday own a miniature donkey, and since I am kinda tied to a mortgage, guess I will have to bring the farm setting to my back yard. Sort of like, "Green Acres Meets Irvington." I have experience, you know. My grandparents owned a working dairy farm, complete with chickens and soybeans, and a hay mow (if you said 'mow' as in lawn MOWer you don't know what it is 'mow' that rhymes with 'now'). Back to the chickens. I used to collect the eggs with my grandmother and help her store them away in the cellar. The egg money was hers to keep. It was her own business venture.

       So....I like eggs. And I was thinking about having my own chicken coop. But I detect a small problem. I have two dogs. One that is vigilant in burying my socks and underwear; the other whose energy level would transform my backyard chicken coop. I think the discussion would go like this:

Inquiring Friend Who Wants to Know: "Hey Deb, heard you had a chicken coop. How's that working out for you?"
Deb: " chicken coop turned into an Eggless Chicken Scoop."
Inquiring Friend Who Wants to Know: "Don't know that I have heard of a Chicken to explain?"
Deb:"Well, built the coop. Bought the chickens. Let the dogs out. After a barrage of feathers, Max scooped up the chickens. Harper buried the eggs. Thus, an Eggless Chicken Scoop. Wasn't pretty."
Inquiring Friend Who is Sorry He Asked:"Oh my! What did your neighbors say?"
Deb:"Plenty. None of it I can repeat here. Let's just say that I have had a lot of 'out of city' dreams, being a misplaced country girl at heart. Sure do want that miniature donkey. But that will have to wait."
Inquiring Person: "Oh yeah...those dogs and the donkey would be a hot mess!"
Deb:"And the police visits are just a nuisance. Think I might have to wait until I meet a farmer and relocate."
Inquiring Person (Somewhat): "Oh....have you met a farmer?"
Deb:"No...just municipal authorities. But a girl can always hope. In the meantime, guess I'll just plan on installing an outside clothesline. My grandma used to hang out her clothes on the line. I loved that."
Inquiring Person: But won't Max attack the clothes and doesn't
Harper bury your socks and underwear?"
Deb:"Well, every great venture involves sacrifice. I'll just give up socks and underwear."
Inquiring Person Trying to Get Away: "Um. Oh. Okay. Well, I have to go now. Good luck with that clothesline."

     Sigh. Maybe I should accept the fact that I am a city girl with a country girl fantasy. Chickens, donkeys, clotheslines...guess a girl shouldn't put all of her dreams in one basket. Speaking of such, there will be socks and underwear in my clothes basket. Didn't want you to think I had truly lost all my scruples!

      I have to give Harper something to do while Max is looking for those chickens.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I've Fallen for Fall

          Autumn. Fall. This is my season. "Colors of the wind" could honestly be the tag line for this time of year. The sweaty, draining heat of summer has exited and the brisk coolness whispers to my heart. The Creator decorates every tree and shrub with a coat of many colors, but bids us to look quickly; the loveliness will soon fade.

         All my life I have loved the change of seasons. And living in Indiana serves up all four. There is not one season that I do not like; however, fall has always owned my heart. The campfires and hayrides, falling leaves, and warm sweaters give my senses such a workout! And of course...there are holidays to frame my joy!

          Columbus Day. My fifth graders would bring to class sailing vessels to test the laws of buoyancy. Sailboats, canoes, rafts, etc., would hit the water as the craftsman watched his or her vessel with anxious eyes. Would it capsize? Could it hold twenty or more pennies? And we sailed right through basic scientific principles, and mastered them without--guess what--a test! Rich history sailing right before our eyes, full of wonderment and curiosity.

         And then there's Halloween....this author's favorite holiday!! Yep, I can remember counting the days until 'Trick or Treat' but never for Christmas. I love dressing up and pretending to be someone else for an entire evening! Many folks don't know this...but I still go out with the grandkids and trick or treat. In costume. With my bag. Lining up with the kids, eager to collect the loot. I can accomplish this feat, because in feet, I am only four feet, ten inches tall. I cannot change lightbulbs or paint ceilings, but I can outfit myself in a gorilla costume and collect the candy!! Of course the grandkids think it is kinda cool that I go out with them...and we all know I am just doing it for them. And chocolate.

        Autumn became my season of love. Once upon a time, many years ago, fall found me standing on a bridge in Paris, Indiana, with the man I loved. We had been there five years earlier, and now he was  carving our initials in the wood. Taking in the lovely hues of the forest, I spun around to see a box with a diamond ring sitting by our initials. I was beyond surprised! That October became my season of promise.

         Thanksgiving always calls to this soul to take a personal inventory of blessings. I do the best I can, but I keep losing count. Too many works of wonder, 'little victories', and evidences of love. Moments upon moments unfold...and giving thanks cannot keep up with the gifts. Same with you? This holiday is so much more than a big dinner. It is a feast of wonderful memories and experiences that are shared with those whose fingerprints cover our lives. A banquet of the soul, if you will.

           Fall may be foreboding for some; a precursor to cold weather and gloomy dispositions. It may give way to a guy you really don't want to welcome: ole man winter. But I beg you to envelope the loveliness of God's handiwork...and savor the flavors of apples, pumpkins, warm cider. Of the warmth of family and colorful memories of close friends.

            And just too, will fall in love with fall.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Life....Just Add Milk

Just the other day I was thinking a lot about Life. Cereal, that is. I love Life cereal. Always have. Even back in the day when the commercial featured little round faced, dark hair, Mikey. Remember the tag line? "Have Mikey try it. He'll eat anything!"

I have had an ongoing love affair with cereal. Probably comes with the fact that as a young child, I was a very picky eater. So my mom probably assuaged her guilt by loading me up with a bowl of cereal, fortified with this and that. It was quick, easy, and I was thrilled. Cocoa Krispies, Pops, Life, Raisin was a buffet of whole grains and milk. I used to tell my own four kids, "If you don't like what I made for dinner, then eat cereal. This is why God invented it."

Cereal is a favorite nighttime snack for the grandkiddos. No matter how much they inhale at supper, after baths and jammies, I usually hear that petition, "Mamaw....can I have a bowl of cereal?" I always comply. Even my sister will call me up and say she was just having her nightly bowl of cereal. I won't mention that she often slops the milk right down the front of her robe....but I have it on good report that she does just that.

Cereal. I could survive on it. Plain or with milk it is comfort food in a bowl. Speaking of bowls, I was given some bowls recently. They were square. are you supposed to drink the leftover yummy cereal-flavored milk with a square bowl? What moron invented that??? I put those bowls in the Goodwill faster than you could say, 'snap crackle pop'.

Back to real Life. Cereal, that is. I was very shocked to learn that my Grape Nuts Flakes has far more fiber than Life. Who would have known? Has anyone told Mikey? I'm just saying that at my age I don't get many surprises. Of course at my age, when fiber content is the big deal of the day, this is pretty pathetic.

Hey! Since I am writing about cereal, it reminds me of a Halloween a few years back, when my son's friend dressed up with a cardboard box that said Corn Flakes, and it had blood and knives stuck in it. Guess what he was? Yep... a 'cereal killer'!! HAHAHA! I digress.

I just want to warn all of you out there that the cereal you have love and trusted just might be a bit diminished. Hard to take, I know. But be strong. One can always fall back on Cream of Wheat or Oatmeal. (I would mention grits, but I think they are just whiney Cream of Wheat Wannabees).

Okay. You can go back to your real life and ponder grown-up issues like the stock exchange, presidential debates, and gas prices. But whatever you do....don't buy any of those square bowls!!

I am beginning to realize how my sister got all of that milk down the front of her. Just saying....

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kids at Heart

Recently, I got to spend the weekend with all four of my adult kids. It took a lot of planning, money, and sacrifice on the parts of the daughter and sons-in law to hold down the fort in my kids' absence.

We gathered in Tampa for a wedding set on a cruise ship. After the ceremony, my youngsters disembarked, and I set sail for about five days. That was a vacation like none other. Great moments of relaxation and activity--and meeting new people. I like altitude not depth, but I did okay on the big boat! Didn't fall off or get sick, and actually relaxed. Big stuff for lil' ole me.

But back to the weekend with my two sons and daughters. From Indy, L.A., and Alabama, we found ourselves together. The jokes, pranks, and such were quick in coming. As we lounged at the pool, my two daughters went to the room to change. In about 60 seconds, I heard my eldest of 35 years, holler to the youngest, of 25 years, and then--without discussion I saw the smiles and knew. They were out to get their sisters.

Soon my youngest boy was hiding in a huge bin which held towels. My oldest boy, who pulled off looking innocent all of his life, played it cool. No sooner than the girls had returned when they ambled over to get towels out of the bin. As child number three opened the bin, out jumped her brother, yelling and acting all monster-like. She screamed and barely avoided stepping off into the pool. We all laughed and I just shook my head. In the span of one prank I was transported back in time....when this behavior was ongoing. They were kids again, and I was the younger, thinner and wearier mother wishing for them to grow up. Now, I was cherishing every moment they acted like kids.

There were so many other 'just like yesterday' moments. One kid taking too long in the shower. A cute picture 'photo-bombed' by a stupid expression of an older sibling. One of the boys asking sweetly for a sister to iron their shirt and pants. Arguments over whose clothes belonged to whom. A lie being told prior to the wedding by two brothers which had an upset sister begging them to quit golfing and get in their seats. As she walked out and spotted the two right where they needed to be, she smacked them both. Even one boy had texted her feigning a hole in one. Yep, they had her going!

There is something about a mother's heart that is so elastic. But after a while, it loses its shape. It is as if my heart is a puzzle, and it is incomplete until the fit of each child is gathered to complete the picture. And that is how it was for me: I needed those four kids collectively to fill the the holes that occur when even one is missing. I cherished every minute we spent together, even refusing to leave the hotel room at night. I was not going to miss a sleepover with the offspring! Sure, the bed was crowded with the girls and myself wedged into a small space...but love made it comfy. Hearing the humorous retorts of my son and his brother's giggles made it Heaven.

And then they had the rest of Saturday and Sunday to just be siblings. To simply hang out, dance, and talk, before their planes took them back to their perspective realities. I would have rather had another 24 hours with them, than to have set sail to the Caribbean. But maybe some day, we can set sail and cruise as one big, spouses, grandkids. Wow!

Boy...I am not sure Carnival Cruise Line is ready for my family circus!! Guess we'll just have to keep the boys from jumping out of towel bins and scaring the passengers.