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The Impossible Possible

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I blame my father for this ridiculous belief that anything is possible.  That if you really want something, and you work your ass off, you can probably achieve it.  He tells me this over and over, that I can do anything.  And then my husband comes along with the same silly notions.  Yes, we can move to Hawaii.  Yes, you can have your own mobile bakery.  Yes, we can do anything.  It is all possible.

I spent a lot of years convincing myself that I didn’t deserve to be happy.  That the despair I felt each day as I drove to work was just the price I had to pay for the choices I’d made in the past.  Life was never going to get any better, so I just had to deal with it.  And then I left the country, and everything changed.  Suddenly, I could breathe for the first time.  And then at Christmas, I found myself overwhelmed with a happiness I never thought I’d feel when Geoff asked me to be his wife.

There is so much more work to do, but today we got one step closer to our dream of moving to Hawaii.  Our petition for application for immigration was approved.  All this means is that we can fill out the next round of paperwork and wait some more.  Geoff will have to go for an interview.  If we meet all of the requirements, he will receive a green card.  But, of course, you have to pay the fee before the interview.  He hasn’t heard anything new from the Honolulu zoo yet, but I’m still holding out strong hope for that job.  That just means I have to get a job.  As you can imagine, Hawaii is very expensive, so we’ll both have to work a lot to stay alive.

This means I have to do something I am very reluctant to do and find another teaching job.  I have lost my motivation for teaching.  I’ve had enough of the abuse and the futility.  But it’s the only thing I’m trained to do, so I have to do it because money needs to be made.  If anybody has any words of wisdom about why I should stay in the classroom, I’d really appreciate it.  I’m feeling pretty gloomy about the prospect at the moment.  I used to think I was a good teacher, but I’ve lost my confidence.  I’m beaten down.

In my dreams, I am surrounded by cake and cookies and frosting all day.  I just can’t make this impossible idea go away.  Who am I to bake a cake?  I have no experience as a baker or a business owner.  All I have is this great idea and thousands of hours logged watching Food Network and reading about baking.  But the idea hangs in front of my field of imagination at all times, even literally in my dreams.

The future is unknown and this blog is a wandering mess.  Time is running out for us to begin a new life in a new place.  Packing your bags and moving to a new place where you know no one is terrifyingly exciting.  And this time it will be so much more difficult as everything is expensive and apartments are hard to find.  If I didn’t waste so much time reading stupid inspirational quotes, I’d give up.  But this is my life and only I can control it.  Crazy risks, here I come.

A Few Acknowledgements

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Everybody hates teachers.  Kids hate teachers because they make them control their behavior and study things that they perhaps don’t yet realize that they need.  Parents hate teachers because they fail to make their children perfect and sometimes point out the faults of their precious progeny.  Administrators hate teachers because they are imperfect and have different ideas about what should happen in a classroom.  The government hates teachers because they cost them money.  The public hates teachers because they are the source of all the world’s problems and they get paid too much and don’t work hard enough.

It certainly seems lately that to be a teacher means that you have to be willing to take a beating.  It’s a good thing I have that martyr complex going for me.  I’m no stranger to being told I suck.  But I have known many terrific teachers in my life, and as I’m feeling pretty hated these days, I thought it would be a good idea to acknowledge a few of the teachers who have made an impression on me.

My 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Caldwell was pretty and sweet.  She made me feel unique.  It was Mrs. Caldwell who recommended me for testing for the gifted program.

All of my teachers at KOG (Kennewick Opportunity for the Gifted) were incredible.  I was part of that program for two years.  I wish I could remember all their names.  Mrs. Gering, 4th grade, Ms. Ogden, reading, a cool science teacher who had a bug cage in her room where we got to see one preying mantis bite off another’s head…  I was so lucky to be a part of that program.  They let us learn in our own way and challenged us to do things people said we couldn’t do.  I thought I’d never be able to read 18 books in one year and be able to go on the camping trip, but I accomplished it.

All of my middle school English teachers were awesome. Mr. Rollins in particular stands out in my memory as being the first person to encourage me as a writer.  We had reader’s and writer’s workshop for 7th and 8th grade enrichment English.  I got to read and write whatever I wanted.  We sat on the floor and discussed great young adult novels.  I felt like a true intellectual.

Mr. Wright was my choir teacher from 6th grade until my senior year.  He was more than a teacher.  He was a friend.  He helped me to think about the world in different ways and helped me develop my debating skills, since we often didn’t agree on many things.  He made me believe I could sing, and feigned disappointment when I chose dance team over jazz choir.  I am an average singer, but he always encouraged me.

The teachers I remember most from high school were mostly in the English department again.   Mr. Clark, my creative writing teacher, who helped me to expand my writing skills gave me free reign to try new things.  I only had Mr. Giberson for one semester of 10th grade English, but he sought me out as one of the top writers in the school and developed a special writing club for me and a few other students.  I will never forget that.

My junior year of high school, I took a concurrent college level American literature course at Columbia Basin College.  I can’t remember the professor’s name, but he wore dark glasses to every class, supposedly to avoid sexual harassment charges.  He was a Vietnam vet and loved to talk about Apocalypse Now.  I had always loved books, but this was the class that made me fall in love with studying literature.  I wanted to immerse myself in that intellectual world.  I wanted to move to Paris.  I wanted to be an expat and write poetry and have foreign lovers and surround myself with brilliant people.  This is where I first read Sylvia Plath and T.S. Elliott and Tim O’Brien.

This is the short list of teachers who made a difference in my life.  I didn’t even get to mention all the dance teachers, college professors and fellow teachers who shaped my life and made me feel like I was smart enough.  Obviously, my writing skills have slipped since I was doing it so intensely in high school.  But without these people, I would obviously be different.  So, thank you.

I Take It Back

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In my classic style, I predicted things would be a lot worse than they actually turned out to be.  My stomach was in knots from the time I woke up.  I spent the entire day dreading the PTA meeting.  I had completely convinced myself that the parents were going to attack me for giving their students low grades and for the bad behavior in their kids classes.  Parents always scare the hell out of me.  The want the best for their children.  What parent doesn’t?  I’m convinced that they could do better.  I’m sure they’ll say I’m screwing up their child.

The parents tonight were friendly and gracious.  Naturally, they just wanted to know that their children were doing okay.  Like most other humans, the thing they want most is just to be reassured.  One mother even told me I was a good teacher.  And when I came back to my desk, one of the father’s had left a gift of chocolates for me.  I reassured them, and they reassured me.  It all worked out well for everybody.

See, here is just another example of me being too hard on myself and thinking the worst.  So let me try to say something good…

I really care about kids.  No matter how much they annoy me, I love them.  Every student I’ve ever had, I’ve wanted to help.  I think I have a really big heart.  That’s something that makes me special.

Okay, wow, that was really hard.  I think that’s plenty of niceness for one night.  I hope I can carry these positive vibes into tomorrow.

An Unwelcome Guest

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No Zach, I don’t mean you.  😉

I can’t remember the last time I went home from work feeling good about myself.  I don’t think the day I decided to quit my job in Nashville counts.  Though it certainly wasn’t perfect, I was so sad to leave my job at Putnam City West High School.  It was the last good job I had.  That was almost five years ago.  Every work day since then has been a struggle.  I must be a horrible teacher.

I currently work in a very negative environment.  There seems to be constant resentment from the Chinese teachers in my school.  I always get the sense that they are talking about us behind our backs and clearly think that we are inferior to them and frankly don’t belong there.  Students know that the grades they get in our classes don’t count, which means they don’t care at all how they do in their English classes.  They don’t do their work.  They don’t behave appropriately.  And it just doesn’t matter.  Our classes mean nothing when it comes to them getting into a good high school.  Parents expect their children to be perfect, and if the students don’t get the grade they wanted, the parents ask the teachers to change them.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am basically just an unwelcome guest in my school.  The students don’t want me there, the other teachers don’t want me there, the administration only wants us there so they can charge more money, and parents only want us to make their children perfect.  Though since the kids spend twelve hours a day at school, their parents have to do very little of the work in creating these perfect children.  Nothing I do is of any consequence.  I’m sure at the PTA meeting tomorrow I will be soundly abused for giving bad grades to students who didn’t do their work or ran around like maniacs in my class.  I’m not sure I have the energy for it.  I just hope I don’t cry.

My dad and I had an extremely brief conversation about opening a restaurant in Hawaii the other day.  I can’t help thinking that feeding people is in my future.  I am completely clueless about how to break into this business, and I have a feeling that I would most likely be an utter failure.  I would have to have the right business partner to make it work.  Maybe we’ll run into somebody in our travels who is crazy enough to invest in my idea.  Until then, I just keep getting up in the morning and trying to change the world.  It’s so exhausting.

Robbed

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It’s just after 9 pm on Friday night.  Normally at this time, I would be sitting in a restaurant, ordering a drink, and waiting for Geoff to meet me after work.  But because the Taiwan government couldn’t possibly conceive of paying us for even one minute spent out of the office, I have to go to work tomorrow.  My Friday night has been stolen from me.  I have my normal Friday time schedule for tomorrow as far as the clock is concerned, which means I have to clock in by 8:10 and can’t clock out until 5:15.  I do not have to teach a single class or talk to a single student.  I just have to show up and sit there.  I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why this is necessary.  To be fair, this is still preferable to the original scenario which has us repeating the Friday teaching schedule two days in a row, which for me means teaching seven periods in one day.  That’s a lot for Taiwan.

It seems that so much about schools just makes absolutely no sense.  Most schools still operate on an industrial era factory model, even though we live in a post-industrial world.  We ask teachers to give each student an individualized education, and then assign those teachers 180 students or more.  We can’t decide if we want students to be independent or obedient.  We want them to use technology, but then we ban electronics from the classroom.  Schools insist on honest formative and summative assessments on the one hand, and then tell you that you can’t have a higher than 5% failure rate on the other.  Administrators say they want reform, and introduce new program after new program without giving them time to work, but the whole institution is hopelessly trapped in an early 19th century model.

I don’t have the answers.  The only thing I believe will work is to have education on a much smaller scale.  In my perfect school, class sizes are under 20, teachers work in close collaboration on integrated and interwoven curriculum, and students have much more control of their learning.  They are taught from an early age how to assess and evaluate their own needs and interests as a learner and given opportunities to explore a theme through the eyes of a broad array of subjects.  Learning is largely hands-on.  Teachers are guides and mentors rather than cat herders.  Is this practical?  Well, probably not.  I said it was an ideal.  But wouldn’t you love to be a teacher or a student in a place where you could make your own discoveries and ask any question you wanted.  Your opinions and learning styles were validated.  Sounds good, right?  Let’s make it happen.

Inspiration Please

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I realized recently that I go to my job every day just for the pay check.  I am badly in need of a dose of inspiration.  I decided to go into education because I truly believed, at the time, that I could help to make a difference.  I hated high school, but I always loved English class.  Literature inspired me to be a better person.  Emerson and Thoreau became my heroes.  Fitzgerald transported me.  Edna St. Vincent Millay turned me on.  I fell in love with literature in high school because of books and stories teachers told me to read.  I thought I could help other kids have the same experience.

Now I am halfway through my seventh year of teaching.  Yikes I’m old.  I spend most of my day scowling.  At this rate, I’m going to have a horrible unhappy old lady face.  It seems like talking about inspiring literature is about the last thing on my priority list at work.  Most of my energy is spent basically babysitting.  I guess my classroom management skills are not what they used to be.  And since there are really no negative consequences applied to any bad behavior by students, they just keep doing the same things over and over again.  Okay, but I don’t want to use this space to complain at this moment.  That very well may happen later.  Today I want to be inspired.

I need something to remind me why working with kids still matters.  I need to know how literature can still shape minds and influence young people. I hope that very soon, something happens that helps me recover my passion.  I know a lot of really fantastic college students who are doing wonderful and creative things with their lives.  I am honored to say that I was their teacher.  Maybe I helped a couple of them look at the world differently.  I certainly hope so.

I am not asking for praise or compliments.  Just hoping that I will wake up one morning soon feeling that what I do is important.  I don’t have any other marketable skills, so I’ll have to go on doing it for a long time.  I want to be good at my job.  I chose this profession because it seemed like something that would be helpful to society.  I don’t want my time to be wasted.  I have a desire to make a difference.  I’m going to keep searching for that inspiration.

Monday Mornings aka The Pit of Despair

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No matter how peaceful or exciting the weekend was, no matter what time I go to bed on Sunday, I invariably sleep poorly Sunday night.  The anxiety dreams seem to start as the sun comes up.  A visceral sense of dread comes over me and wakes me up.  It’s not nearly as bad as when I was teaching in Nashville, but for some reason, Monday mornings come with a dose of inevitable anxiety.  Why is it that the thought of going back to work makes me ill?

I believe in the idea of public education, but the daily flood of insolence, entitlement, and resistance wears heavily on my spirit.  There is a never-ending stream of problems that seem to have no solution.  I will probably never quit teaching.  It’s just what I do.  I love my kids no matter how many names they call me.  But some days, I dream of doing something else with my time.

Maybe someday I’ll get my own cupcake truck, or bookstore/cafe.  Maybe someday I’ll find a way to make some money off of this quiet passion that’s been growing with each passing year I’ve spent in the kitchen.  When I’m grading papers, part of me is thinking about muffins.  When I’m writing lesson plans, part of me is inventing soup.  When the kids refuse to shut up, I want to be in my nice quiet kitchen, cracking eggs, chopping, whisking, mixing, simmering.  Drowning in the scent of cinnamon or vanilla.  It’s like heaven.  Maybe someday.