Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An adjustment in attitude

Last week Doug and I requested a meeting with both Roman's therapist and the doctor doing his neurofeedback. We had done 20 sessions and wanted to ask some questions, and kind of re-orient ourselves on the path we were taking and future steps. It was decided that for the next 5 weeks we would drop talk therapy and do neurofeedback 2x a week. We all were noticing that Ro does well for a few days after the neuro, then has a "spike" of uncontrollable moods for 2-3 days. We are hoping that by having neuro 2x a week this spike will go away.

The meeting was good in another way too - for me, it was great to get some positive feedback on the work we've been doing with Roman. So much of it has been adjusting how we planned to parent; what works for Roman is usually the opposite of our gut reaction. They both commented on how far we've come and reminded us what Roman was like 2 years ago... besides his sweet side, there was a definite love-of-violence and lack-of-compassion being displayed. He also really could take or leave me as his mom and had no spontaneous feelings of love toward me. Roman has really improved in that department, being willing to get physical with us (cuddled, hugged, even kissed!). His anger and his rages calm down much more quickly now, and we're better at handling them.

The worst part is, and for any parent I'm sure, is knowing that what's best for him now (long-term) is not always what he wants. He can't emotionally handle playing with neighborhood friends during the week, so I have to tell him no to that almost daily. He can't have his expected schedule after school changed in the slightest, so sometimes his world is rocked when I do have to run out and pick something up when he gets home. He is taking it in stride for the most part.

I can only hope that we continue to get better at this therapeutic parenting stuff and Charlie benefits too. Then we will have 2 great boys making it well through life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A career, a calling, a time to move on?

It's hard for me to put in words my feelings about work without sounding like what most of America thinks teachers are. This has been one of the hardest school years already for a variety of reasons, and it truly is enough to make me daydream about not working anymore. It's the first year I can honestly say I don't love my job. What has happened? State pressure = district trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Here in Michigan teachers are apparently overpaid and underworked. The tenure system is horrible and must be gotten rid of. Union protection is unnecessary, & pay raises should be based on test outcomes. To this end, my district has been changing the evaluation process. Where it used to be every 3 years, now it's every year. They introduced a new rubric & goals about 5 years ago that now is out the window. Our goals must now be SMART - I forget what it all stands for, but measurable, attainable, blah blah blah. We are required to have 3 of them, 2 related to our School Improvement Plan goal (more on the SIP in a minute). Of the 2 related to our SIP, 1 must be a PLC goal (all content and grade similar teachers have the same goal).

We must meet with our evaluator to review our "rough draft" goals. Fine. Then put them on Form B. But not last year's Form B, this year's updated version. Which won't be released until the day after the goals are due. There will be 2 drop-in evaluations. I'm fine with that too. Then in the Spring I have to review & reflect on my goals in writing, and include data-driven proof that my goals were met.

Having 2 goals relate to the School Improvement Plan... interesting, since I also have to be part of making our content SIP goal. We have professional development days to do just that. And go over MEAP scores. And meet in our PLC groups to come up with common assessments, which are encouraged to be used as part of our goal.

Oh yes, and if you're given a rating of minimally or not effective? That's how they're going to let teachers go now when cuts need to be made. In theory a good idea; in practice you get no chance to improve yourself. A teacher is given their evaluation in May, and usually by the end of May we're notified if we're laid off. Not even the business world is that strict - usually given targets to reach or ways to improve, am I right?

In theory, it all sounds good. Teachers paid on how well they teach! Able to get rid of poor teachers no matter how long they've been there!  My problem: I WANT TO TEACH. I am tired of making ridiculous goals, so I can make ridiculous assessments, and spend my professional development time making more goals and going over data. I WANT TO TEACH. Give me PD on strategies I can implement... techniques to use... ways to understand & reach learners who aren't engaged... THAT'S what I'm doing this job for. I want to interact with students, I want to get them enthusiastic and learn to like (love?) my content area!  I could really not give a damn if students demonstrate an increase of 20% proficiency on a test (or 70% of students will pass the post-test, or....)

Go ahead and test them... if I'm a poor teacher, it will show in more than data-driven tests. You can walk into a classroom and document who is a bad teacher based on teaching style & engagement. Not all kids are going to be great at every subject. That has nothing to do with my teaching skills. I know I should care how they perform - and I do. But I certainly don't want my entire career based on whether a certain percent do better on a 23-question test on the Constitution.

I haven't even started on the other issue: my district has decided that all teachers need to be re-taught how to teach reading in the content areas. Never mind I had a similar class as a requirement by the state for my Masters degree. And I did learn some great strategies. But I was pulled out of the classroom 2x already in the first 3 weeks of school (with a third day out in November). THE WORST time to pull a teacher out. Does my teaching even matter?  The first couple weeks of school are crucial to setting the tone for the rest of the year. Apparently the "sub calendar" is a more important consideration. Oh yes, and on top of all the above? We are required to now do 9 hours of professional development on our own time. Plus most of us are trying to earn the 6 "real" college continuing ed credits required by the state.

I am already sick of meetings, and goals, and all this crap. It did not take long for me to dread sitting at these things. My mind gets overwhelmed, I get grumpy and angry, and the idea of changing my career looks sweeter and sweeter. My principal assures me that things will all change (for better or worse) in the next couple years as the pendulum swings.... truly I don't know if I can wait that long. I have talents and interests that can be used and appreciated elsewhere, because it's clear to me neither the state of Michigan nor my district appreciates the fact that I can, actually, TEACH. As in, interact with students? Get them to enjoy learning? On top of that, middle school students! The dreaded early teens! This isn't cared about in this day, age, and state.

I'm thinking about being a stay-at-home mom. Or going back for another Masters in Library Science or Public History to work at a museum. I bet if I looked, I could even get a job as an education coordinator or what-have-you at a smaller museum. I would really miss interacting with kids though. Which is the only thing keeping me teaching this year.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Chipmunks and Tigers and...

Roman sold enough Entertainment coupon books to win the keychain, the drawstring bag, AND his heart's desire - the Alvin Chipmunk. It claims it's life-size but I've never seen a chipmunk that big before!



We started Charlie at "Tiny Tigers" tang soo do (karate). He is wearing Roman's old top but we had to get new pants since he's much smaller than Ro was when he started. Here he's striking his fearsome Tiny Tiger pose!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

A moment to breathe

I don't even know how to start this post. So much has happened. I thought about listing all the subjects that are dominant in our life right now... it would go something like this: 

...Washington DC, Star of the Week, following directions, peeing in the potty, coordinating schedules, packing lunches, grocery shopping, laundry, doing homework, grading papers, mowing the lawn, need more underwear & socks, how in the world are their pants too short again, Roman needs a haircut, put some clothes on Charlie, we've got to watch that movie and send it back to Netflix, is the Crock-Pot clean so I can make tomorrow's dinner, don't forget to fill out the form....


I guess that gives you a good indication of life in our house right now! The above picture was our back-to-school portrait. While I would love to have those cool shots of the same pose at the same place every year, I also realize I'm the mother of boys. And I'm just happy they were willing to stop moving long enough to take a picture, never mind the where!

Roman is a busy 3rd grader whose homework level has increased noticeably this year. It's pretty creative too, which means Mom or Dad has to assist. Like he's the Star of the Week next week. While it's very cool for him, it requires a posterboard of pictures and a bunch of categories for him to write about (I see the sneakiness, teacher!). I predict it will take an hour between printing the pics, putting the board together, and getting him to sit to fill everything out. But he loves his class and is beginning to care about his handwriting... I could actually even read a recent story he wrote! Now if we could just get his spelling improved.  He is not involved in any sports right now, mainly because Monday and Thursday evenings are taken with therapy or neurofeedback (NFB), and Tuesdays is when Doug does tang soo do. I want to sign him up for swim lessons, and our NFB will pause for about 6 weeks after Thanksgiving... so perhaps then.  He has mentioned wanting to learn to skateboard & when we brought up learning an instrument, he mentioned wanting to play the guitar.

Charlie is a "busy bee" - that's the name of his room at preschool. There is an inordinate amount of boys in his class - 15 of the 21 kids. But he still talks about the same friends, Cooper & Venna, so I think he mostly sticks to himself and his close buds. They are beginning letter recognition and beginning writing - tracing lines and such. It's really cool to see what he can do. He did mention the other day that he wishes Cooper could see his toy cars. I think it's a matter of time before he has his first playdate.  Charlie is super-good about using the bathroom now and has only had one accident since August, and that was during nap. Still in a diaper at night but who cares. Last week Doug took Char to "Tiny Tigers" tang soo do and he absolutely loved it - announced he wanted to go every day. We dug up Roman's old uniform and we'll try it again this coming week to see if the enthusiasm is still there.

Doug has put in his 90 days at his new job and really likes it. It's amazing to hear him talk in a positive way about the people he works with and the things he does. Even the irritants of the job don't bother him much. He gets good feedback and it's.... normal. He is a red belt now in tang soo do and in a couple more years will have his black belt, if everything goes well. I'm really proud of him for sticking to it and wanting to accomplish this. He didn't have a hobby or passion for awhile and I'm glad he's found one.

In another post I'll get deeper into my job, but suffice it to say it's been a very very very stressful & discombobulating start to the school year. Some of it because of my choices, most of it because of the state of Michigan's.... choices. I've imagined quitting before, but this was the first year I felt I could walk away and not have guilt. This was before I got to know my students though, and now I'm back on track. Mostly. I'm the head coordinator for the Washington, DC trip this year and it's a busy time - paperwork and deposits due, roommates and chaperones to figure out.  As I've mentioned before, if only I could figure out how to NOT grade papers, life would be just about perfect.

As a family, Doug and I are trying to put together a better plan for leisure time in the coming months. Meaning, vacations!  There has been talk of short getaways on both sides of our families which we would love. We also have decided that we want to go somewhere for Spring Break as a "true" vacation, not just a couple days in Cleveland (although we don't sneeze at that, either! Cleveland is awesome!). The frontrunner currently is the Smoky Mountains, complete with Dollywood, Gatlinburg, and hopefully Biltmore Estate.  It stinks on my school schedule that we can't just go places when we want... we're stuck doing further-away places in the summer, or saving to fly there during Spring Break. This year is a car year.

Anyway... a nicely detailed slice of life for your reading pleasure. I hope it's not a month before I post again!