Theory vs. Practice...

In theory...things often work better, seem ideal, and are often seemingly simple... However when put into practice, the theory often gets disproved... I was worried about that happening when I headed up to my dad's house for Thanksgiving knowing that I would be spending time with him and with a woman whose company he has been keeping for about 6 weeks now... the idea of my father spending time with someone has been something I have been happy about. His voice sounds happier and he is much less lonely. In my head, my theory was that it was wonderful, that seeing them together would not bother me, that I would be fine with all of it... but there was fear too... fear that seeing him interact with another woman would sadden me and perhaps even anger me. So what happened?

I got to my Dad's house on Wednesday around 12:30p.m. I had a lot of baking to do to make dessert for my family's Thanksgiving. I had assumed that my dad would have some of the baking basics, bringing the rest with me... but to my surprise, Dad did not have any baking powder. He offered to go to the store to get it and I began getting things ready to get started. Dad got home from the store with a big grin on his face and said he had run into his new companion at the store... his face was all bright! She had invited us to her house for "suppah" and was picking up some last minute things to add to our salad. I finished baking around 4:30 and we headed to her house, stopping to pick up a pizza to take with us. I was a little nervous... wanting to be supportive while at the same time worrying I would cry for some reason... not wanting to cry, but worrying that me being my sensitive self would lead me down that road... We arrived at "the lake" and it was very nice to see her. This woman happens to have been my 6th grade homeroom teacher!! And I have not seen her much since... in fact prior to this encounter I think the last time I saw her was when I was in Walmart buying Thank you cards for Dad and I to send to people a few days after Mom died... She was in the card aisle and had not heard yet that my mom had died, apparently having been out of town for a few days, and approached me. In a very calm and caring voice she asked me how Mom was doing, and I began crying. I remember feeling really bad for her in that moment... knowing that she would feel terrible and did not want her to feel bad that I was crying or that she had caused me to cry... we have exchanged a couple of emails since she and Dad began dating and that has been nice.

We arrived at her house and exchanged a great hug and we all sat down and chatted. I think she was more nervous than I was. She gave me a tour of her house and I learned that she makes stained glass, something, by the way, I have one day hoped to attempt. Then we all sat down for supper and I got to see my father interacting with a woman in a dating/romantic sense other than my mother... and theory and practice began to merge... and I was pleasantly surprised that the theory wasn't too far off from what the reality was... I enjoyed seeing my father interacting with my former teacher. They are cute together, sharing their newly written stories of their time together. It was nice. They held hands off and on and after a wonderful visit, they smooched when we left. (Ewwwww...!!!! ha ha ha!) By the way Rico... I relayed your comment to my dad and his 'girlfriend' and they thought it was hysterical, which made me plug my ears, rock back and forth, and told myself to go to my happy place! HA!) She is asweet lady, she has lots of energy and brings out my Dad's positive qualities. I like that. She had been invited to join us for Thanksgiving, but had already committed to other plans.

Thanksgiving Day was great, a topic for another post... then that night after Dad and I had returned to his house and I had changed into my pajamas, she texted, inviting Dad and I to her house for the evening. I told Dad he was welcome to head out there or she was welcome to come to visit us, but that I was comfy in my PJs and did not want to go out into the cold. She decided to come to the house to visit for a while. My Dad, who usually sits in his recliner not on the 2 seater couch also in his living room, accepted my offer for me to sit in the recliner so he could sit together with his guest... This made me chuckle. So she visited for a while and as we were all talking I noticed that my father had made a change... a subtle, but significant change... After my mom died, the night she died in fact, Dad began wearing her wedding band on his left pinky, next to his wedding band... and I noticed that my dad has taken both off. I admit that when I noticed that I was completely unaware of what was being said... and my heart had two emotions simultaneously, sadness and happiness... sadness because his wearing their rings together is something I found beautiful in spite of it also being a reminder of our loss .... and I was happy, because I know if Dad took off his ring and mom's ring... that he is ready to be open to someone else... and I really want him to be able to be open to someone.... and this someone is a nice choice...

So... sometimes theory and practice are not so disconnected... I can't say it feels natural to spend time with a woman who is romantically interested in my father... but I also can't say it was unnatural. It's nice to see Dad excited about someone, having things to look forward to... I like that...


A Niece...

You all know that I have three amazing nephews, who I adore... I wish we were geographically closer to each other so I could spend more time with them. Last Friday, a new addition arrived into the world. My close friends, Sara and Phil, had a baby girl! She is healthy, as is Sara... and Phil could not be more proud. So I have a niece... granted, our family trees do not share the same roots, but we are family... This is a picture of her foot in her dad's hand. Sara and Phil are amongst the few people in the world who do not publish all details of their lives online... so the foot is all you get... but trust me, attached to that foot, is a beautiful baby girl !


My inspirations...

Wow... my students are amazing.. truly. They are students who have been identified as "disabled" by state and federal laws. But... they are differently abled.. have so many gifts... and today I was the honored recipient of two really huge gifts. One of my students came to me today and said he was struggling with his parents... they didn't understand him, they have rules he disagrees with, and he wants them to change their minds. Their rule is that he cannot date until he is sixteen. I told him I disagree with their rule too... it should be 35. He told me that he had a crush on someone... I said, "oh? who's the lucky girl?" He asked me to repeat the question and I said, "Oh? A crush huh? Who's the lucky person?" and he grinned as his face reddened... and he told me it was someone two years older than he is. I told him I may know this person because I have been at my school for a while... he told me he couldn't tell me... but said he would tell me the person's first name started with a certain letter... I got him to give me the first two letters... and then he said I didn't get any more clues... but with my masterful skills, I got it out of him the number of letters in the name and the last letter of the name... and I quickly realized that the name that would fit into those parameters had to be that of a male student.
So I asked him if the person's name was "JOE" (not the real name) and his face got even redder and said I was right and asked how I knew. I told him that I just took what I know of names that have the letters he told me and figured it out. I think he wanted me to know. We had a good conversation and I told him how grateful I was that he was willing to share with me that he is bisexual... he said he has known for a long time that he liked boys. He has told his parents (what a brave kid!) and I was surprised, knowing the family dynamics, that they seem to be accepting him and his sexuality. I asked him if he knew of organizations that are available to kids his age who are gay, straight, and bisexual. He said he knew of one, but not about others. I have seen some links on various talk shows so I need to find those resources for him. I am honored that he trusted me with this. I feel badly that my first question was "Who's the lucky girl?"... kind of that knee jerk reaction... that I need to not do... I have wondered a time or two if perhaps he was questioning his sexuality, but the fact that he shared that with me today... trusts me enough to share that... Wow... amazing...

The second gift today... well actually there were several gifts today.. but these two are the ones that really stand out... the second gift happened after I had made the decision to show a movie to my students. Now, because I teach math, I often question whether or not I am justified in showing a movie to kids... but the movie I chose with specific purpose. The movie I showed is called "Temple Grandin." Apparently there are two movies, a Hollywood version and a documentary. The one I had, was the Hollywood one. The movie depicts the life of a woman named Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin is a person with autism. She thinks in pictures and often the way she thinks is mathematical, seeing the measurements of angles in her head even... and she is able to build/design things quite easily because she can picture how things are supposed to work. Her story depicts her life, how she sees things, how she dislikes being touched by people, how every noise in the room deeply effects her... So... I justified showing this movie to my students because I do teach math... and my students are students with disabilities... and in almost all of my classes one of my students has autism. I had watched this movie for the first time about two weeks ago. As I watched it I thought of how the kids I work with could relate to Temple Grandin... even the kids who do not have autism... so I decided I would watch the movie with them and discuss things as they came up. Each class today was thoroughly engaged by the beginning of the film. ( We only watched the first 35 minutes or so because we stopped the film to discuss things along the way... which would normally annoy adolescents, but the kids were so engaged... it was awesome!) At the beginning of each class I introduced the movie, sharing that the film was about Temple Grandin, a woman who has autism. In one class, one of my students literally jumped out of his chair and announced to the class that "Hey! I have autism! She's like me!" He was so excited. I was proud of him for sharing that with the class. He has shared that before, when after watching the movie I had told my students a little about it, but he had never shared it with such clarity and pride. So I explained to them that I wanted them to watch this movie to see how one person experiences autism. The boy with autism said that he had heard of the movie and that his parents had tried to force him to watch it but he didn't want to... (Which made me wonder how he would react, because, with his autism, there are times where his reaction to things is so intense and has been known to become physical with me and with items in classrooms.. but he embraced this experience of watching this movie with his peers.) So we watched the film and whenever the kids had something to say or ask we stopped the movie and discussed it. They had good questions, including whether or not Temple knew she was autistic. I told them that like their peer who knows he is autistic, that Temple knew too. They asked how she could possibly know how to build the things she build just by looking at them, how she could see a page for a second and remember all that was written on it... and why she pictured people sitting on a fence crowing like a rooster when her aunt said that she and her husband get up with the roosters in the morning... not necessarily understanding figurative language... It was such a cool experience to watch this movie, just the beginning of this movie, with my students. They are amazing kids... So when it came time for me to dismiss this particular group of kids to their next class. This boy lingered and I told him to have a good weekend. He awkwardly approached me and hugged me! (Not typical for kids with autism!) Taken aback, I asked him what that was for... and his answer, said with a shrug, "Just for being you..."

Wow... I was speechless and it brought a tear to my eye... One of my assistants happened to be coming in as that moment unfolded and she skillfully didn't react until the student had left the room, and then just looked at me... we were both in awe... Amazing.

Today, the teacher learned the lessons...

Here is a link to a blog by Dr. Temple Grandin. Yes DOCTOR Temple Grandin... I won't share more about the movie or her life story in case you choose to see it, which I strongly encourage.


I am inspired by my students.... They amaze me!

P.S. Today... I heard about the lightbulbs... remember the lightbulbs... People are loving the lightbulbs! The comments I heard were at an after school gathering for teachers...and people asked if anyone knew where they started... and said it has been nice because it is not something that feels like 'token' recognition, that it is real and means something. Yay!



I voted today. I admit that I have not been keeping up with every item that was on the ballot... and because of that, I did not vote on every item. I voted for the things with which I was familiar. It is our civic responsibility to vote... and perhaps I abused that right because I did not vote on every position... but, then again... perhaps that's part of my right, as an American... to vote... as I see fit. And I did.

I am glad that the campaigning ends today... the ads are ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. Although, I do admit that the commercials did help me decide who was going to get my vote... I did NOT vote for the mudslingers.. I wish that the candidates who decided to frivolously throw money away by making those ads would have devoted those ads to why I should vote for them, not why I should not vote for their opponent... if candidates are willing to allocate that much money into ads... what will they do with our state dollars?

I was happy to see how many of my friends on facebook voted today. While I am certain that my vote and their votes were not supporting the same causes/people... I am glad to see people voting. That is what it's all about.

On another note... kind of random here... today I had a meeting at my school... with the principal, special education director and assistant director and all of the special education teachers in my building... meeting to tell us just how many things in which we are failing. In our state students are identified as proficient, partially proficient, or useless... oh wait, that's my interpretation, I think the official terminology is: not meeting the standards... but... unless their test scores are proficient they hurt us. Our overall school scores grade us as a 'passing' school. Yet, we have a population of students who are causing us to be a 'failing' school. That population: students who are receiving special education services. It breaks my heart. It really does. If those test developers only knew... the tests they have designed are easy for kids for whom school comes easily... the tests were designed for proficient students. The way the questions are phrased are ridiculous. A question on these tests may say, "What optical device may be used to reduce the effect of myopia?" Why can't they just say, "What do people use if they can't see well?" Really?!! Ok, that's a stretch.. but just think about that question for a second. What is the test assessing? Is it seeing if a student can decode each of those words? Understand those words? Know that myopia is a synonym for nearsightedness? Understanding what they read? And you take kids who have documented disabilities, reading disabilities, and you give them that question? It does not measure whether or not kids are learning. It accents the weaknesses that the kids already know exist. To watch kids take those tests and feel unintelligent.. it awful. I remember taking the Millers Analogies test.. and never felt more stupid in my life. Trying to answer those questions, guessing really... I felt so inept. Somehow I passed.. because out of say 100 questions on that test they pass you if you get 23 of them correct. (Not exact numbers, but that's the gist.) So that test is designed to confuse people, not to see if I can find relationships between vocabulary words. That's what these standardized tests are measuring, what kids don't know. It doesn't measure how teachers are teaching. Period.

I've been thinking about the press's coverage of schools... specifically public schools. There is a movie out, "Waiting for Superman." The heroine in this movie is charter schools... the villain... public schools.... It's all about how public schools are not servicing kids well... And then I look in my classroom... at my students... and know what I am doing with my kids and what my colleagues are doing... and it breaks my heart that someone out there says that teachers are not doing enough for kids... and then I think about the piece of the educational puzzle that is not discussed in most discussions about education and its sad state in America... Parents. Where are the parents in their children's education? I'll tell you where... on their blackberries checking their work email while the kids are at hockey practice, driving the minivan and talking on their cell phones, watching the shows they recorded on their dvrs, working hard to be cool in their child's eyes, being the friend instead of the parent... or... completely absent. Of course there are exceptions... but I find that today's exception, of parents being supportive and involved in their child's education, was yesterday's rule... My parents valued education. School came first... before friends, before sports... and if school called home with a concern, I knew I was in trouble... that just is not common anymore... So who helps students develop their moral compass? teach them to interact with each other? to introduce someone to another person? About health? about sex? about balancing a checkbook? Teachers do. And are criticized for not doing enough... go figure.

So after such an uplifting meeting, I returned to my classroom. And while voting was happening in our gymnasium, I was teaching. And my kids are doing GREAT! I have been able to teach my students how to follow the order of operations and they are doing it. This is exciting for me in many ways... but mainly because following the order of operations requires students to do many steps to solve a problem. AND... they are doing it. The students who I work with, most of them, have significant processing deficits and doing simple calculations are difficult... but they are doing this and are excited about doing it. They are jumping out of their seats to go to the board to do examples. I love it! I really do love teaching... I have so many students who are performing well... one particular student stands out in my mind... a boy... who I have known for three years now... and when he was in sixth grade, he had a hard time doing simple addition and subtraction problems... and while I have tried to beat it out of him, still uses his fingers to do addition and subtraction... but...with this order of operation stuff.. he is doing it.. and he comes in every day and asks in a very happy tone whether or not we are doing more order of operations... He gets very bogged down with each problem... and questions himself on every step... and what I have found.. is that once I give the kids time to work independently on some problems, this student needs moral support... so I have begun sitting next to him at an empty desk... and he has stopped asking if each step he does is correct... which he returns to doing if I move even 2 seats away from him...
So for him, this process is not yet fluent and automatic... but... he is doing it, step by step... and coming up with the correct answers. What do I love most? That the kids I work with... who process information so differently than most people, who absolutely require additional time to do the work... do it... with passion and excitement... and tell me that they feel good about math. I see them working, and talking to themselves, repeating little catch phrases that I use to try to remind them of things... and I smile... because I know that I am making a difference... If you could see this boy...whose stack of books and binders is bigger than he is... you would perhaps immediately notice his awkward ways... and would perhaps shy away from him for his oddities... he is a bit... quirky. His quirks are beyond behaviors like tapping a pencil or the facial ticks some of my other students exhibit... this guy... this little guy... has behaviors that are a result of his obsessive compulsive tendencies, that manifest by forcing him to plug hie ears, violently close his eyes, wrapping his arms around his head, contorting his body into a pretzel, unintentionally breaking pencils when his energy gets overpowers what the pencil can handle, loud inhalations that mimic the sound you may make it you burned your hand when taking something out of the oven... so while these behaviors take over, this kid is also managing a processing speed that is significantly below average, a mind that is anxious about the grade he may get on an assignment that has not yet even been assigned and trying to tell himself that his 'quirks' have been identified as undesirable behaviors and is working hard to control and extinguish them... And HE... gives me the gift EVERY day... of coming to my class, smiling, and excited about what math awaits him for the day... As hard as it is for him... he keeps showing up, ready for something new... EVERY DAY...

What I know is this... in my classroom... good work... no GREAT work is happening... kids are learning... and feeling pretty good about it in the process. And... if you are all waiting for superman... come to my classroom... he's that kid in the corner, avoiding his peers, turning himself into the human knot, plugging his ears.... and DOING his math... look closely... you can see his cape!

Image of the boy can be found here: http://media.photobucket.com/image/boy%20with%20glasses/pen_and_ink/for%2520website/portrait/boy.jpg

My Favorite Place

My Favorite Place