Teacher Professor

March 24, 2013

Testing Anxiety

Filed under: College information,Home Things,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 9:27 pm

Warning- this is long. This is long because I have a lot to say about it. A writer from She Knows Canada (http://www.sheknows.ca) asked me for “some quotes” and I told her that I was afraid that I was going to write a rant. I see a lot of anxious parents at college- and there are so many things I want to tell them.  

I talk a lot about test anxiety to college students- how to breathe through it, how to focus on the positive, and how to manage the rush of anxiety that can block the thinking process. How to focus on how you’re going to answer a question rather than the question itself. But last week, a parent asked me what advice I had for the PARENTS who were waiting for the results of their children’s test scores- or exam results- or grades- or other high-stakes measures that can determine their child’s future. More specifically- “What can I do to help my child with these tests?” And I had to pause for a moment at this challenge of perspective-shifting.

There have always been high-stakes tests that determine a future. Whether the “test” was a dissertation defense that took place between 3-5pm on April 20th that determined whether or not you got a PhD, or taking the PSAT from 8-12 on a lovely day in October that determines National Merit scholarships, or an audition in January that determined whether you were going to Julliard; there have always been moments in life where your whole future determined upon performance for a few hours on a certain day.

This really is similar to the real world. Business contracts are won and lost based on a presentation of 15 minutes. Legal cases are won and lost based on the words that are chosen in the closing arguments. Your ability to get a job is determined on how well you do in an interview. Life’s turning points really do happen in a few minutes.

But here’s the kicker- failure used to be full of potential. If you didn’t get into a college of choice, there was another college available. If you didn’t get the account, you learned, and tried again with another firm. If you failed out of school, you could find another job that didn’t require those skills. Economically, we had a middle class, which meant that if you weren’t at the top of your game, there was a soft landing. There were possibilities there.

These days, parents are very well aware that second chances are few and far between. Good people do go on unemployment because there isn’t another job waiting for them. Smart people do end up working at McDonalds because the job market is so constricted. Your local college will cost a small fortune to attend and the job prospects are limited for those graduates because the only jobs in the area are either only for high-achieving students, or don’t pay well enough to enable your child to move out of your house.

Complicating this pressure is the generation in which many of our young people have been raised. Young college students grew up in a generation that had child care, seat belts and other symbols of care and protection. This generation received trophies merely for showing up to athletic events and there was a great deal of focus on their self-esteem; a focus that has led to record levels of narcissism. They perceived that their wishes could be bought and paid for by their parents, symbolized by bedrooms covered in “Little Princess” pinkness. I see college students bringing in their Disney gear so that they can retain that feeling of being cossetted and loved and protected from that big bad world.

The big bad world is full of pressure. It’s pressure that has grown worse- much worse- over time. It’s why we as adults are the most medicated, the most stressed-out, and the most politically-polarized culture ever. The test really isn’t the pressure- the pressure comes from our culture.

Parents and college faculty often get frustrated with students who appear to be unmotivated and uninterested. This “slacker” attitude is really a response to stress, with the added dollop of helplessness. In other words, kids are unorganized and self-absorbed, not because they don’t care, but because they care too much, but don’t know what to do or where to start. Our stress has become their stress, only they feel powerless to do anything about it.

All of this paints a very bleak picture; it probably doesn’t help to know that high stakes tests really are high stakes. And it certainly doesn’t answer the parent’s question to me- how can we handle the stress ourselves and what can we do? The answer is multi-faceted, but because lists are a helpful strategy (see #3), here are a dozen things that a parent can do to help their child (and themselves) handle high-stakes tests:

  1. Test performance is not something that you can make happen. You can provide guidance, tutors, or incentives, but ultimately, your child is going to perform the way that they are. The key is not what YOU as a parent do, but what your CHILD does. You want your CHILD to have testing strategies, a reward system of their own that they set up and to self-advocate for themselves. YOU cannot go to their teachers and ask what your child needs to do- you need to help your child practice what they’re going to say when THEY come to a teacher to ask what they can do to help learn the material. Don’t teach them the test content.  Teach them how to teach themselves the test content.  You have done your job when your child doesn’t need you.
  2. Understand the difference between Failure and failure. Capital “F” Failure are those things that you cannot fix- ever. Those are few and far between and generally involve life prison sentences. Little “f” failures are those things that you can fix, or bounce back from, or try again. Almost everyone in the Fortune 500 can point to decisions that they made that were wrong. Even Donald Trump has declared bankruptcy over and over again. These people learned from their mistakes and tried something new. There is a wonderful phrase that “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” In other words, while high stakes mean limiting of choices, there are still choices. And there is always trying again.
  3. Teach your child to make lists. Lists of what they have to do, what needs to be done first, what projects are due when. Lists connected to calendars are amazing tools-and often, they involve technology- always a plus! I think about college kids appearing uninvolved and listless- which can indeed, be “list-less”.
  4. Encourage your child not to come home. They need to get involved in their school. They will succeed if they want to be there and if they know others there. If they know the counselors and faculty and other students and understand that they all want them to succeed, they will be more engaged in their classes as well. “Involved” generally does not mean partying or hanging out. A group of uninvolved students leads to less involvement. Involved means being active in formally organized activities in which adults are involved as well.
  5. What would they do if money were no object? Play the game of “Life” with them (there’s an app for that!). Have them plan backwards-what do they want to be DOING when they’re 50? 40? The reason we take money out of the equation is that money comes to those who are passionate about what they do. Otherwise, they are earning money to do something for 8-10 hours a day that they hate so that they can have moments of what they really want to do. Also, realize that with the changing world, interests become careers tomorrow that don’t even exist today. If a kid likes to travel but gets airsick, they can make travel apps. If a kid likes basketball but is too short, they can design virtual games. If a kid likes fashion, they can design the next car. There are so many possibilities in this world that require creativity and interest. The future belongs not to the jobs that can be replaced by computers, but to those who can create new ways of doing things.
  6. Give the right kind of feedback. Carol Dweck’s now famous study gave three different types of feedback to kids who had done well on a test. The first were told how smart they were, the second were given a generic “nice job”, and the third group was told how effective their strategies must have been and how their hard work had paid off. In subsequent tests, the group who had been told how smart they were did worse than any other group.  The highest group?- The group who had been praised on their effort. I see it in kids all the time “If I’m so smart, how come this stuff is hard?” Don’t tell kids that they can do it because of innate abilities. Emphasize the amount of work and the type of work that leads to good results.  Celebrate their “hard work”, not their grades.
  7. Enjoy the journey. My husband, a college administrator, asked me to tell parents that if their child is “undecided” about what they want to be, chances are that they will be highly successful in whatever they finally do choose. Yes, they may take an extra year or two to graduate. But studies have found that they have higher rates of actual graduation than the kids who declared their first semester and realized two years in that they really don’t like that choice after all. As someone who got a business degree before I realized that what I really wanted to be was a teacher, I can attest to years of education wasted. Kids who are interested in lots of things can often become our greatest entrepreneurs. If they fail out of a program, perhaps that is simply a signal that they were really supposed to do something else. Adult lives rarely move in straight lines. These high stakes tests can sometimes guide those lines. For years, I had posted on my desk “This life is a test. It is only a test. Had this been a real life, you would have received further instructions about where to go and what to do”. If we grieve what we failed at, we miss what we’re good at.
  8. Model anxiety-reducing behavior. You can talk about how you face challenges and how you deal with the pressure, but you need to show them. Generally, actions such as drinking, over-eating, and calling incessantly are not good models. They will do as you do, not as you say. Which doesn’t mean that you can’t soothe yourself with a lovely mani-pedi every now and then, but it does mean that you have to show them what resilience looks like.
  9. Learn about other role models. Bill Gates dropped out of college. Yes, it was Harvard, but he still didn’t finish. Look at Steve Jobs who was fired from Apple- a company he himself founded. Look at Oprah who grew up with a single mom. There are lots of role models out there and they all faced adversity, shrugged it off, and found a way to move on. Help your child identify a role model that they can learn from.
  10. Help others. Whether it’s tutoring others, planting a garden at a local elementary school, or volunteering at a clinic, by helping others, children can see that their efforts have value. We know that the happiest people are the people who see value in what they do- who understand that their efforts are making the world a better place. Have your kids make the world a better place.
  11. Be in the moment, but keep your eye on the goal. Life is often a series of hoops to jump through. We will all spend a great deal of time doing things that are not what we would rather be doing. When anxiety gets to us, breathing, and being in the moment, allowing it to happen and knowing that it will pass can help kids deal with the anxiety of testing.  Teaching your child that doing these things allows us to get to where we would rather be is a great gift that comes from delayed gratification. There is a wonderful old test in which little kids are told that they have one marshmallow now or get two marshmallows when the adult comes back. Those who could wait an unspecified amount of time for the reward could handle frustrations better. Angela Duckworth, in her studies of successful kids calls finds that persistence is the most important factor between kids who do well and kids who don’t. It’s not ability. It’s grit.
  12. Back off. Yes, it’s a test. Yes, it’s a high stakes test. Yes, their future depends on it. But it’s their future. And they have to make it. What they need is your belief that they are a good person, and your support if they need a soft spot to land. They are going to make their own direction, and they have to want their future more than you do. Listen to them, ask them questions, but they don’t want you steering, they want you cheering.

The original question was “How can we help our children in college through test pressures?”, which relates more to the parents’ anxiety than the children’s- or relates to the parents’ anxiety about their children’s anxiety.    I’m a parent myself.  I know the heartache and stress.  I know that I worry that my child is going to be living in my basement for the rest of his life.  But I also know that I have to keep my anxiety about their lives to myself and I have to be the rock of support for them.  I have to let them make mistakes, and I have to help them learn from their mistakes.  I have to help them face obstacles, and not shield them from the obstacles.

I’ve described a dozen things, but the most important thing really is this:

Ask them to do their best, and love them no matter the results

Thank you, Mother… 

(more…)

May 26, 2011

Reflections on Teaching

Filed under: College information — Teacher Professor @ 12:47 pm

Below is my “Reflection and Philosophy” that I had to write as part of my application for the GA Excellence in Teaching Award that my College nominated me for… I find it appropriate at the end of a school year to take a moment and think about what I believe in as a teacher- and what kind of teacher I want to be… besides a tired one

**************************

In my office, I have several words on the wall in large letters that form the foundation of my core educational beliefs.  The first- hung above my door to remind me as I leave to teach, to present, or to collaborate in a meeting- says “Think”.  Unless people make sense of information for themselves and see the value of that information, learning will be a useless recitation of facts- useful for a test, but neither remembered nor used later.  As a teacher, I believe that students should do the “work” of learning.  It is through a critical understanding of the juncture between our content, our students and our expectations that we can understand ability, culture and our relationships with others. To understand their own beliefs about teaching and learning, students must first see things from other perspectives, including those foreign to, and especially, those perspectives opposed to their own.

The second word in my office- hung on my wall so I see it as I enter, preparing to get on the computer or to start a project- is “Create”.  While I want students to think and to reflect, I want them to create a new reality from their understandings.  I want them to apply their knowledge and individualize it to their needs and the needs of their classroom.  Thought contained in the head is of no value.  Thought transformed into action is a powerful agent of change.  I cannot expect students to make change unless they have had practice doing so. 

Finally- hanging above my computer, where I see it when I look up to think, or take a phone call, or even yawn- is the word “Believe”.  Belief means not a blind acceptance, but an optimism in the human condition- a belief that people are inherently good and that given a nurturing environment, people will grow and deepen in their understanding of the world.   With belief, teachers know their actions have meaning; that their lessons extend far beyond the classroom.

Core values, however, have to be translated into real experiences that have a purpose. I believe firmly in a progressive form of education in the spirit of John Dewey and Maria Montessori.  While I as a teacher may have some control over the environment, I have to release my own ego in order to learn from it.  Thomas Merton (1968) refers to this process as “transcendence”, in which it is clear that through teaching, one learns, and by learning, one can then teach.

Objectives

The College of Coastal Georgia is a new baccalaureate institution, approved by the Board of Regents and the USG in 2009.  Our brand-new B.S degree program in Early Childhood/Special Education is one of the few dual-certification programs in the state.  I was hired as the only full-time faculty member in Special Education to help design, build and implement that program, as well as to help build the four-year College.  I got to work with my colleagues to design a program that would be a model for teacher education, and a College that makes a difference- and this past Spring, we graduated our first bachelor’s cohort- a result of a lot of fast and hard work.  Everyone here at CCGA has an incredible entrepreneurial spirit.  My dean has said that his job is to “get the horses out in front and let ‘em run”; and so, my job has been to run with it. 

My overall goal for the students in our program is simple: “Teach any student, anywhere, anything”.  Additionally, I tell students that my job is to help them “Get jobs.  Keep their jobs.  Enjoy their jobs”.  As a dually-certified teacher at the elementary level, they are to take any area of the content, and adapt and differentiate it for any type of learning difference and any type of culture.  They will have to reach and teach every child who enters their classroom- all while understanding and appreciating the differences that may exist between children or between themselves and a child.  This means that my success is measured not by the compliments I receive by my college students, or even by our graduation rate, but by their impact on the students they teach.  Yes, test scores and graduation rates are important.  But what I teach my students is to understand, care for, and grow the children in front of them- all aspects that I try to model in my classroom.  I may be a college professor now, but I have not left off teaching children; I have simply expanded my classroom by teaching their teachers. 

When asked “What do you do?”, my response is always, “I am a teacher of teachers.”  I take my job very seriously; myself, much less so.  I strive to make my classes involved, intense, and focused on the eventual outcome of working with children- all while enjoying the process.  When armed with a set of skills, understanding of a particular subject matter, and a passion for making a difference, teachers can reach, guide and transform students, thereby transforming themselves.  In my teaching of my undergraduate students, I have sought to make real this concept of transformation and engagement.  I bear a responsibility to my students to provide them with skills, experiences and concepts that will enable them to effectively function as teachers themselves within the context of school.  Because we just graduated our first bachelor’s students, I don’t have good data about how successful we have been.  However, I received an email from a student last week that said “I ‘m looking forward to my own classroom.  You’ve really prepared me to help these children.” I look forward to keeping in touch with my students and seeing how they continue to grow.

Although I am tremendously complimented by the College of Coastal Georgia’s recognition of my teaching, excellence happens within a context- I am able to do what I do because of the leadership of my College, my School, and the other faculty members with whom I work- and especially the students who were willing to take a risk with a new College and a new program.  The College of Coastal Georgia and the School of Education and Teacher Preparation is growing and seeking to be the best, and I’m honored to be part of that forward movement. Excellence is a journey- you can measure the progress, but you never reach the destination.  As in life, there is no final outcome in teaching, learning and education.  I know that I can always improve- and even as I write this, I am thinking of better ways to improve my research, my syllabi, my instruction, and my relationships with students, other faculty and the local schools.  I love what I do as a teacher of teachers- and that means creating excellent teachers for all students, thinking about the process of teaching, and believing in the humanity of every child, every student, and the power to make a difference.

March 29, 2011

The Professor Part of ProfessorMother…

Filed under: Autism,College information — Teacher Professor @ 8:41 am

In early March (It feels about 4 1/2 years ago, but really about 3 weeks at this point), I attended the Gatlinburg Conference– a conference that focuses on “Research and Theory in Intellectual and Developmental Delays”.   Despite its name, it was not held in Gatlinburg, TN, but this year was held in San Antonio, TX.  Apparently, there’s a wonderful history of how a bunch of people found common research interests one day while they were in Gatlinburg, and it’s been a tradition ever since.  There were people from around the world who research in the area of autism and IDD and other syndromes that I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of.  As a newbie, I was often asked, “Is this your first Gatlinburg?”- and  I had to answer “Yes”- but it won’t be my last. 

At this conference were psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists.  I was one of the few teacher educators there- and I had a wonderful time wandering in and out of research topics and data that inform what I do and what I tell my students who are future teachers, but I can’t actually do myself.  There were genetic manipulation of mice to determine effects of medication on “autistic mice”, hospital interventions and large-scale statistical modeling that crunch numbers in way that I can only admire.  Throughout it all was a profound sense of respect- for children, for families. 

Throughout the month of April, as part of Autism Awareness Month, in addition to my Blue Light Bulb, I’ll be sharing tidbits of research that I’ve found- about kids, about interventions, about families. 

But to start it off- I wanted to share my research that I and Dr. Lynnette Henderson from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center presented on IEPs. 

And I want to emphasize that this is the FIRST wave of research- we would LOVE for parents AND teachers to participate in the ongoing study… PLEASE click HERE and tell us what you think about the IEP process…

Introduction:

Previous research has found that parental satisfaction with both the process and the outcomes of the IEP is highly related to professional etiquette and the parents’ level of education (Miles-Bonart, 2002), as well as the quality of ongoing academic achievement data that has been shared previously with parents (Green & Shinn, 1994). 

Parents of children with physical or health impairments reported having significantly less satisfaction with their child’s IEPs than other areas of special education (Miles-Bonart, 2002), a finding consistent with reports that the more complicated a child’s educational needs, the less likely parents of children with autism were to report satisfaction with their child’s special education program (Bitterman et al, 2008).

Such satisfaction levels among parents of children with autism were also found to be inversely related to the amount of time that a child had been in special education (Spann, Kohler, & Soenksen, 2003).

As part of a larger survey examining parental satisfaction levels regarding the IEP, we sought to tease out factors that might explain parental satisfaction with their child’s IEP. Because of the high levels of correlation, we’ve chosen to look at the relationship of parental satisfaction to:

“To what extent do you feel decisions were made among the school personnel before the IEP meeting?”

Methods

Parents of student with ASD were asked to complete an online survey of their perceptions of the IEP meeting, and the planning process,  their preparations for an IEP meeting, and their general satisfaction with the planned IEP and the actual educational services provided.

Study data were collected and managed using REDCap electronic data capture tools hosted at Vanderbilt University. REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) is a secure, web-based application designed to support data capture for research studies, providing:

1)an intuitive interface for validated data entry;
2)audit trails for tracking data manipulation and export procedures;
3)automated export procedures for seamless data downloads to common statistical packages; and
4)procedures for importing data from external sources.

Sample

The 24 Caucasian parents who provided this survey data

  1. spoke English,
  2. were in their 30’s and
  3. had some college education
 
Results

The importance of parental involvement has been recognized for 35 years since PL 94-142. IDEIA 2007 continues to legislate the collaborative intent of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the importance of addressing parental and student goals and concerns during meetings.

Despite this emphasis, parent respondents in our sample felt that decisions were made among the school personnel before the IEP meeting more than expected (M= 74.71, 95% CI 63.26-86.16).

The extent to which parents perceived that decisions were made before the meeting was not related to the child’s social, communicative or behavioral characteristics, but was inversely related to the child’s age. Relevant qualitative comments from the survey included:

  • The ‘system’ makes the decisions and parents do not have an equal voice when there are 10 school personnel and a parent in the IEP.  They just increase their numbers if you increase yours.
  • In regards to the IEP process, placement was predetermined, there is nothing offered in (County schools) but a 12 hour a week special education preschool classroom, and every child is expected to fit into this program. A program is not designed for each child. Best practices are not even close to being met and when questioned administrators will remark about current research but are not able to state what research or provide a copy to support their view. They also could not provide me with any data on the efficacy of the programs offered for ASD kids or even agree to keep daily data on my child. No matter what I asked or offered the team of 9 employees present would stick together supporting their predetermined planned.
Discussion
  • The younger the child, and the fewer IEPs the parents had participated in, the more parents perceived that decisions were made before the meeting.
  • A finding that does not support the study of Spann, Kohler, & Soenksen, 2003
  • Parents who had sought out advocacy training perceived themselves to be less excluded from the decision-making process.
  • Experience with IEPs may be the driver of these results, since other correlates included consulting the student, and the student attending the IEP meeting, which tend to happen with older students.
  • The perception that decisions are made without parental input tended to correlate with other aspects of parent empowerment  and satisfaction in the parent-school collaboration.
  • Not only does education of parents correlate with parental IEP satisfaction (Miles-Bonart, 2002), but so does education of the professionals.
  • Perhaps school personnel with a more thorough understanding of the needs of students with ASD may be more comfortable seeking information from parental input and observation and may be more convinced of the benefits of parental participation in the IEP.
  • School system personnel can improve parental satisfaction with the IEP and its effectiveness, as well as build long-term relationships by educating parents of young children and suggesting advocacy training during early IEP interactions, as well as communicating with parents of young children prior to the meeting

This study is limited in its generalization by the homogeneous preliminary sample. Data collection continues.

*******

What was very amusing were the differences in the “So what?” implications that Lynnette and I reached.  Her “solution” was for school districts to encourage parents to seek out advocacy groups.  Me- knowing school systems- suggested that it might be wiser for schools to provide information up front and to provide additional time and information to parents of children who are newly diagnosed with ASD.  While parental satisfaction might be increased with an advocate present, I have a feeling that school satisfaction would not… but it’s just a hunch.

So… PLEASE if you’re a teacher, or a parent of a child with ASD- PLEASE go to the web site: http://tinyurl.com/mla3wm and tell us what you think!  Your responses are anonymous and no results can ever be traced back to you. 

February 21, 2011

Perils of Being a Professor’s Child

Filed under: College information,Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 3:44 pm

Being a professor’s child means that anytime I have to show my teachers-in-training an example, I volunteer my own children.  They have been assessed for my assessment class; they have done “developmentally appropriate tasks” in Piaget Day, they have had their pictures and their work displayed as examples of exceptionality/ gifted/ typical development- depending on what I was teaching.  They are the subjects of my book.  In short, they are guinea pigs. 

Note: I have not -yet- gone to the extremes that Skinner or Piaget did, which is devise entire educational philosophies off of their own children. 

Today is Presidents’ Day, which means that they are off from school, and I am not.  Which means that James is not off, either, since we both work at the College.  Which means that we play the “Sooo- what do we do with the children?” game.  We have no family here; and my babysitters are, well, in class with the Middle Grades group (I don’t use my own Elementary program students for babysitters- so, the middle grades professor and I trade off ).  So, this morning , I took them with me to my class and this afternoon, James took them home where he worked on the computer there.

 I sold the children on the experience that they had an opportunity to help my students become teachers by being real live children, and that my students would be nervous.  I tried to sell this as an opportunity, and not just a “I don’t know what else to do with you because I can’t stay home because I’m a teacher.”  Elizabeth bought it as an opportunity to help and an opportunity to stand in front of an audience, while Ray went for bribery- $5 each for playing along and working with the students.  Fame and money are motivators for my children. 

I sold my students on the experience that they would get an opportunity to “practice” asking Higher Order Thinking  Skills (HOTS) on real live children!  I tried to sell this as an opportunity and not just a “I didn’t know what else to do with the children and I couldn’t stay home with them because I’m the teacher“.  They bought it as an opportunity to practice- and an opportunity to humor their professor.  No bribery involved for my students.

I reminded my students of three models of asking questions they had seen before (Fat/Skinny, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Paul’s Wheel of Reasoning) that require children to think- and then gave them 5 minutes to draft 2-3 questions.  Then, my children stood in front of 28 adults and prepared to answer questions that might cover any content area, any grade level.  I knew that they were nervous- but I was so proud that they were willing to do it. 

Student A- What do you know about the 1970’s?

  • Elizabeth: They had one-room school houses? Taking the lead, because she’s older- and bossier.
  • Ray: If you were born then, you’re really old.

Lots of laughter- and several groans.  Hmmm- must tell them more about the 1970’s.

Student B: How are addition and multiplication similar?

  • Elizabeth: Multiplication is repeated addition
  • Ray: You just keep adding the same number that many times.
  • Elizabeth: Like 3×5 is 3 plus 3 plus 3 plus 3 plus 3 and you get 15.
  • Ray (looking directly at his sister): What about 35×21?  Do that one!

Lots of laughter- and several groans.  And looks of respect.  And amused looks at how even under pressure, Ray is able to summon up sibling rivalry opportunities.

Student C: Why is studying history important?

  • Elizabeth: So that we can understand our past.
  • Ray: So that we can understand our future.
  • Me: Ray, can you explain what you mean?  Students- you need to ask “fat” questions to really get at a student’s thinking sometimes.
  • Ray: Because if you can see what you’ve been doing, you can predict what you’ll be doing again and again. 

Lots of looks of respect- especially from me.  Sometimes, my children truly blow me away. 

Then- because really, how do you follow that up?- we all clapped, and the children stepped off the stage and went back to my office to play A-mazing Hamsters on Webkinz.  They were guinea pigs; they were Real, Live Children– and they earned $5.  I think everyone gained something from this morning, including me as a mommy.

December 20, 2010

Losing Adam

Filed under: College information,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 9:58 am

Not only the worst of my sins, but the best of my duties speak me a child of Adam” – William Beveridge

This is the season of hecticness- of too much to do, and Christmas and the end of the semester and a New Year and… and… and…life- lived at a fast pace.

And I just found out that my friend, Adam got taken off of life support by his beloved wife.

I call Adam my friend, but really, we weren’t “friends”.  We didn’t exchange confidences; we didn’t talk about the latest things in our lives- heck we rarely even directly talked.  But we were two similarly-aged professors in the same department, and I understood where he was coming from.  We shared friends in common.  I got his humor.  But we weren’t peers.

For Adam, was, ultimately, my teacher.  Adam was a person with a vision.  He was an education revolutionary- who wanted to use education as a means of bringing about social justice.  A man whose hero, among others, was Paolo Friere– whose philosophy of “Liberation through Education” – that people who are poor and powerless can achieve the means to change the system through literacy.

Adam taught me that education is a tool- a tool for change, a tool for people bettering their lives, not by copying the lives of others, but by gaining their own power.  One can only redefine a system if one understands it.

What I most admired about Adam is that he lived, he truly lived his ideals.  His was no “airy-fairy, feel-good” philosophy.  Adam organized a bunch of students to live in a homeless “tent city” on the college campus for a week so that they might truly begin to understand the emotional and physical impacts of being homeless and powerless.  Adam led groups of students and faculty to Jamaica for three weeks to work in the schools and hospitals there- not to “do good”, but to empower the people there to do good for themselves through education.  Adam got our family involved in the “Santa Project” in which students and faculty brought food and presents to a homeless shelter in Louisville- where my children for the first time saw desperation close up and realized that these were not bad people- these were people who had made bad choices or had bad things happen to them- or who had been failed by a bad system- and that education was the way that they could find power for themselves.  Adam was a missionary- not for religion, but for individual strength and systemic change.  For the power of education.

Adam’s laugh would echo through the hallways of the college.  He sang and played guitar in a band, and I would feel a teeny crush on him as we watched him sing about injustice and lonliness and irony.  He was sarcastic and impatient at times-especially during faculty meetings- and while his ideas were bigger than a college could absorb at times, his vision and laugh endeared him- even to administrators and Foundation board members of a small Catholic college in the Midwest.  He once said that he was there because he needed to make a difference where he was a lone voice, not in a place where he was but one of many voices.  Adam… Adam was a changer.

And Adam changed me.  Even though we were not “friends”, even though I hovered around the periphery of his activities, he made me think.  He made me reconsider what I did for children with exceptionalities, why I was in education.  He made me see systemic injustice whereas before I had seen only individual struggle.  I read Merton; I read Friere; I read Adam.  He was a revolutionary.  And to my own students, I now can show a world where they can make a difference; where by educating others, they are the only hope of making a difference.  I admired him; I cared for him and I grieve that a good man of vision and love is gone.

He was in his late 30’s, early 40’s.  He played tennis, ran regularly, and drank occasionally.  He watched what he ate, and was almost gaunt at times with the power of his convictions.  If I had ever, in a morbid moment, imagined his death, it would have been an assassination, or being shot in a Freedom March, or being killed as he traversed the ghettos of Oakland or Louisville or Jamaica or some other home of desperation.  It would not have been as a heart attack, a week before Christmas.

His wife- whom he always introduced as his “partner”- who brought out a glow in his eyes like no one else- sent out an email yesterday that ended with one of his favorite quotes.

Nasa Proverb (Colombia)

The word without
action is empty,
action without the
word is blind,
and action and the word
outside the spirit of the community
is death.

Adam, indeed, formed a community- and one that spread far beyond his immediate touch.  One of our students wrote on his Facebook page: You really helped me to grow in my view of the world, and how it could be with my help.

The power of education, indeed.  Amongst these days of light, is grief.

Taken by Sonya Burton

November 5, 2010

Fire and Fear in the Sargassum Sea

Filed under: College information,Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 9:17 am

As many people know, our family loves sea turtles.  We go on Turtle Walks, we went to Turtleween at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and this past summer, we raised money for the turtles impacted by the Oil Spill.  I encourage my classes to follow “Caretta Hope”- a disabled sea turtle who was released this past summer as a symbol of what can be overcome.

So, it was with great anticipation and dread that I planned to go to a Campus Scholar’s presentation the College was giving with folks from the GA Sea Turtle Center and the GA Department of Natural Resources reporting on what they found with the turtles affected by the BP Oil Spill.  I was prepared to be angry.  I was prepared to be heartbroken.  I was prepared to cry.

I did cry.  But not in the way I expected.

The immature turtles live in the ocean nursery that is in the deep ocean water, following the lines of the Sargassum seaweed.  The famous North Atlantic Sargasso Sea is named after this seaweed.  It’s a safe place for turtles to grow up- free of sharks, and other predators that cruise along the continental shelf.  Once they are older and ready for adult turtle life, they head back to shore, where they face predators and people and boats- but they find each other, mate and lay eggs on the same beaches from which they were hatched.  It’s an amazing cycle.  The scientists knew that they would find a sea turtle, in healthy times, about once every 20 minutes, hiding among the seaweed.

During the first month of the oil spill, they found a turtle every 20 minutes or so, completely covered in dark, heavy oil, blocking airways and completely coating the shell, etc.  The pictures were horrific.  Then, to add to the misery, BP started burning off the oil, and several known sea turtles were killed– not from the oil, but from our efforts to get rid of the oil.

They went back in July, and found that they could find a sea turtle about every 20 minutes, and the sea turtles were covered in much lighter oil, much less dense oil.  BP had begun putting dispersant into the water and directly into the well by then, and so the nasty, globby oil had been broken up- with a chemical that used detergent- not so bad- and benzene- very bad stuff.  In total- and my numbers are not exact because I wasn’t taking perfect notes, they found around 500 turtles- about 35 were dead, and about 15 died at the Rehabilitation Center.  Of the remaining turtles, once they were cleaned up, they were released.

The vets who worked with the turtles cleaned them with mayonnaise- they found that the crude oil bonded with the oil in the mayo and they could slip the oil right off of the turtles.  I’m sure that Hellman’s had a banner sales year! And the turtles were fine- there were no skin rashes, no problems with their shells, nothing.  They waited until the turtles poop was clean. It was explained to us that vets spend an awful lot of time looking at poop- definitely NOT the job for me! and the turtles were released.  The turtles who were faltering, and the ones who eventually died were the turtles who were pooping, not oil, but plastic.  Plastic.  Turtles weren’t dying because of the oil, but because of the trash that collects in the ocean.

When the team went back in August, a month after the well was capped, they found… nothing unusual.  No oil-covered turtles, no swatches of nasty oil, no deformed turtles.  And they found a turtle every 20 minutes or so.  Same density of turtles, good condition.

They did caution that the long-term impact of the oil, the benzene, and the food chain impact is still unknown.  But they hypothesized that the turtles were able to hide in the sargassum, rubbing off the worst of the oil, and that the sargassum helped disperse the oil that came off of them.  The immediate emergency response teams were called off by the end of August.  The turtles are fine- being monitored, but fine for now.

The audience cheered- and I cried- but not for the reasons I expected.

“We seriously underestimated the resilience of these turtles,” reported the scientist.

That line echoed with me… and echoed with me- and continues to echo.

It made me think of the children I work with, the children I parent, and the children I know… If children can grow up in a human version of the Sargassum Sea- where they have safety, food, and other people, they might have the ability to fend off something as catastrophic as an Oil Spill in their lives.  If children can have a safe place where they know that even if there is a crisis, there is a place to hide, they might be able to find resilience.  If we can give our children a Sargassum Sea of childhood, perhaps even something as catastrophic as autism, as disability, as pain can poison the very environment around them, they can still survive.

Turtles have remained essentially unchanged since the days of the dinosaurs.  They have a brain the size of a pecan- they operate on pure instinct.  They do not “learn” how to be a turtle or think about how to survive- they just do.

Today, I wept as I learned of yet another example of how life protects itself, how resilient we can be, and how, if we listen to our inner turtle, we can survive the unthinkable.

September 17, 2010

Piaget Pizza Friday

Filed under: College information — Teacher Professor @ 7:15 pm

We have a tradition around our house for Pizza Fridays.  I got to be friends with Vicki when Elizabeth was her student and invited her over one fateful Friday night several years ago.  It’s an open invitation.  Sometimes there are 15 people; sometimes it’s just us.  Sometimes it’s all kids; sometimes the grownups outnumber the small ones. Sometimes it’s frozen pizzas; sometimes it’s Dominos; sometimes, it’s Sals. Sometimes we watch a movie; sometimes we play games.  Sometimes it includes root beer; sometimes it includes real beer.  Either way, it’s a chance for us to relax, and enjoy each other and friends.

This Friday was a little different.  I asked all of my Juniors- the ones taking “The Block” class of three classes morphed together- Educational Psychology, Intro to Special Ed and Special Ed Law- to bring their kids to the College. I ordered pizza, and they conducted “the” experiments that Piaget developed 100 years ago to describe how kids think differently at different ages.  You might remember  Preoperational, Concrete Operational, Formal Operational, etc. from Intro to Psychology.  Those experiments.  The ones developed by, as students around here say, “Pig-It”.

It’s important that they understand this.  It’s important that as they become elementary teachers or special education teachers that they really and truly understand why kids act differently at different ages; what “delayed” really means; why typical kids in third grade love mysteries and magic shows and why typical preschoolers and children who are delayed talk about something that happened “yesterday” when it happened four months ago.  Why understanding a good Knock-knock joke is a leap of development.

And so all of my students, their own children, and their babysittees and their friends’ children-and my children- came to the College this Friday night for two hours to eat pizza and to go through the classic Piaget experiments.  The look of amazement on one student’s face as she said “He answered just what Piaget said he would!” was priceless.  They all talked about how “real” it was; how they had just read it, but now understood it.

Perhaps the funniest element was Ray.  As we were racing around at home before we went, he came out of his room with a plain white t-shirt that we had gotten as part of a set for tie-dying purposes last year.  He had written on it in permanent marker “Teachrs Rule” and decorated it with hearts and peace symbols.  He was so proud of himself that he was helping the “baby teachers learn to teach” that I just didn’t have the heart to point out the mistake.  He was responsible for changing the YouTube cartoons for the little ones and he was happy.  Elizabeth was following the toddlers around to make sure they were all right and she was happy.  James got to float around and take pictures and he was happy.  And Emily got to socialize with lots of new children and she was happy.  It all went smoothly, I know that my students learned it- really learned it- and I am happy.  All are happy in the household this Friday night!

Next week, Friday Night Pizza Night is at our house.  Come on by if you’re around! Pizza Friday Nights tend to make us happy…

September 11, 2010

I’m Not Her

Filed under: Autism,College information — Teacher Professor @ 5:10 pm

Perhaps folks like… oh, say, Ashley Johnson, or Jennifer Walker may experience this regularly, but it’s not an occasion that is common with me.

My name is Claire Hughes- the name that I’ve had since birth.  I was named after my mother’s best friend in high school.  It’s technically Claire Elizabeth Hughes and when I was seven years old, I learned that I could make it do things like Clairelizabethughes (See that?  It all runs together?  Made me oh-so-special to my seven-year-old self.)  My parents divorced when I was one and my mother remarried when I was two.  Because of our closeness with my grandparents and my father and his second wife, I did not take my “Daddy’s” last  name, which meant that my name was MINE- all by myself.  I didn’t share any part of it.  There was that other Claire in 7th grade, but she was the only Claire I met for years and years.

I even once got an email from someone who had Googled the name to find out what is was like to have the name Claire.  My response?  Basically, it’s a tough name when you’re in elementary school because it rhymes with everything, but nice and simple and classic when you’re older.

And Hughes?  Hughes is a nifty Welsh name that is essentially “Smith” in Wales.  Lots ‘o Hugheses wandering around Wales.  We can trace our family back 15 generations to a nice yeoman famer in England.  I’m not related to a single king, a single president, or really anyone of note for about 500 years.  We came over to America- on the second boat- to Jamestown.  The Revolutionary War threatened and we fought a bit and then made our way to Tennessee.  My grandfather-3 greats ago- owned ranches and cattle and started banks in the Wild West- with a flashier, more risky partner.  That’s us- we do things and make sure they happen, but we make sure that’s it’s safe first.  That other Hughes- Howard?  No relative.  Too famous.

Which meant that when I got married I was sad to “lose” my name and decided to add my husband’s to mine.   I was already published, so in the college setting, I’m Dr. Hughes.  Around my children’s friends, I’m Mrs. Lynch.  On my driver’s license, it says “Claire Hughes-Lynch”.  My book  and this blog have both names because they combine both parts of me.  If you know me, I’m just Claire.  It works for me.  I generally know where someone is in my life based on what they call me.

Which meant that it was… odd for me to meet my father’s current wife.  Yup- “Claire Hughes, meet Claire Hughes”.  She was used to the schizophrenia of dual names as well since she uses her Goldrick name professionally as well.  She’s an artist, does gorgeous paintings of landscapes and horses and everyone who reads this needs to rush right out and buy them. (Hi, Claire!)  We giggle when we call each other -“Hi, Claire, it’s Claire”.

And that’s me- feeling secure in my uniqueness, my specialness, my “Claire Hughesishness”.  Until 2 years ago.

Autism came into our lives and I learned more words and technical language and… stuff than I ever knew before.  I also got very involved with helping my child navigate the world.  I knew that my daughter learned best when she could analyze it.  We learned that she could conquer her fears when she had the chance to stand back and reframe them.  When, at 14 months, she could understand that sand- frightening, squishy, icky sand- was really big rocks that had gotten smooshed.  When we talked about how soap film was glycerin and glycerin doesn’t mix with water and how it floats.  And how when she encounters something that sends her pulse racing and her “fight or flight” reaction soaring, she can ask herself, “What causes this?  What’s happening here?”  When she could be given the words to use to help herself.  When she manages her autism instead of her autism managing her.  It works, pretty well, for us.

Imagine my surprise and joy, when, as a professor, I discovered that this strategy that we had “discovered” had a NAME!  “Cognitive-behavioral therapy” allows you to take control of the situation by reframing it, by looking at the pattern of behavior and breaking the pattern- yourself.  It’s pretty cool stuff and I was hooked, especially when I read the research behind it.  Recently, there’s evidence that it helps with Tourette’s tics and we’ve been trying that with Ray.  (Not entirely effectively- that’s another post altogether)

About three years ago, when things had eased a bit and I was starting to think about writing a book and doing some scholarly work on this- the connection between CBT and autism, I was putting together a presentation for a national conference and possibly an article.  I started poking around in our library.  I had a theory that the “problem” was in something called “Executive Functioning” and was excited about hunting this link down- and maybe- maybe I would be the FIRST ONE to see this!

Google…  ProQuest… not much- until Bingo!  Ah rats!  The perfect article.  The one that I was trying to write.  The one that had everything I was pondering- right there.  The one that put it all together for me.  All of it.  Oh well- I could learn from it.  I would cite it- a lot.  So, as a good scholar, I wrote down the title, the journal- and the author.

Claire Hughes

I still remember sitting at my desk with the strangest feeling of disassociation I have ever had.  Did I write this and I don’t remember doing it?  Is there some really strange X-files, Bermuda  Triangle life I’ve just fallen into?  What?  WHAT?!

So, of course, I Googled.. her?  me?  And there she was.  Scholar extraordinaire.  Working at Cambridge- that Mecca of autism research.  Way more published than I will ever be.  Way more scholarly than I will ever be.  Way more… everything professionally than I will ever be.

For a while, I had a bit of an existential professional crisis.  If I went into this area of research, I would always and forever be in her shadow.  What on earth could I, barely balancing my life as it was, what could I add to this corner of research that she and I shared?

And really, what are the odds?! I mean, executive functioning, cognitive intervention and autism does not often roll trippingly off the tongue together.  It is a minisculely tiny corner of research.  Beyond miniscule- I mean, we’re not talking  “I like sunsets and the ocean and reading” in common.  We’re talking something that is really, really obscure to most people- even people in the autism field.  Interesting, but obscure.  But there we have it- same name, same interests.

Finally, I decided that what I COULD add was the translation of clinical psychological research to the classroom and the home.  I speak Teacher.  I speak Parent.  She, and other people like her, are finding cool stuff out- and I am very, very good at making such findings practical.  I love learning this stuff, and putting into the classroom in ways that other people can use it.  That’s what I can do.  And so… I wrote my book, and I read more and I’m trying for grants, and I’m moving forward- and oh well, we have the same name.

I’ve contacted her, of course.  I won a prize to study at Oxford for a month two years ago.  Summer Camp for Professors.  Unbelieveable- the cornerstone of the research that I’ve done and am doing.  I emailed her, and the first thing I had to say was “I’m not stalking you- I promise.”  I’m not entirely certain that she believed me.  We made vague plans to meet when I got over there, but email challenges, busy schedules, etc. prohibited it.  So… I’ve not met her.  She knows I’m out here.  It hasn’t been a issue.

Until this week, when I invited a well-respected psychologist in Denver to do some work with me on a grant.  I’m just starting out; I’m just now ready for trying for grants on my own; I don’t have a real track record.  But I have good ideas about translating things to the classroom.  I’m excited.  She graciously accepted, and then wrote “I’m honored to work with you.  I’ve been a big fan ever since I found your article about executive functioning”.

Whoops!  I immediately wrote back- “Ummm…” and explained the situation.  “Sorry…  Hope you still want to work on this…  I’m not her..” and told her the story.

She graciously said she was still interested, and laughed.

Because, as a friend of mine said when I was running around saying “You will NEVER believe this!”…

“Better to share a name with Claire Hughes, scholar extraordinaire, than with Claire Hughes, pole dancer extraordinaire”.

But if you’ve found me by looking for the graphic designer in Bournemouth, the Vice President of Google, or the British skiier?  I’m not her, either.

July 9, 2010

June in Room 213

Filed under: College information,Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 10:00 am

I had one of the most amazing teaching experiences this past month- the kind that sustain you and reinforce that I am in the right field.  I taught a class called “Diversity in the Classroom”- for the first time ever.  It’s a required course for people who are thinking about being teachers- and so there is a wide mix of “maybe I want to be a teacher… or a nurse… or something with kids?”, to “I’m going to be an elementary school teacher”, to “I love English, so I guess I’ll get a teaching degree”, to “I heard this was supposed to be an easy class”.   I’ve been teaching a long time, but this course was new to me, and the content “hot”, so I had prepped and prepped and prepped.

June 4– Room 213- blank walls.  1:00pm.  Hot.  The class started off inauspiciously.  25 students.  8 African-Americans.  4 males.  Needless to say, that was exactly how the class was laid out geographically in front of me.  The males on the edges of the aisle, African-Americans on one side, and white females on the other.  I couldn’t have asked for a better sociological experiment if I had tried.  “Oh wow- this is either going to be an amazing class, or they’re going to lynch me,” I thought as I stared out at a group of tired, crabby college students who were not, needless to say, excited to be spending every Tuesday and Thursday and Friday from 1-4:30 for four weeks in this hot, stuffy room.  They perked up a bit when I informed them that, in fact, they would not be spending Fridays in this classroom, but having online discussions about the readings.  Part of their grade was participation- both in class and online.

And so I waded in.  I went over the syllabus.  I reviewed the expectations.  And then, we got to know each other.  I asked them to share the stories of their names.  One woman’s name is the result of her dad’s poor handwriting on a fax.  Another is after her dad’s old girlfriend- a name originally unbeknownst to her mother.  Another was named after her grandmother.  Another, after what her parents thought was an unusual name- a name that was shared by three others in the class and countless others across campus.  Humor and family stories and meanings began to creep out as people shared.  And they were willing to share.  We talked about how important names are- how they are part of your family history and part of your culture, and part of where and who you come from.

We talked about perspectives.  I showed them my cell phone- a smart phone on one side, white plastic cover on the other.  I asked two males from across the aisle from each other what they saw.  They discussed how they “knew” it was a phone, but what they saw was just different parts of the phone.  Different aspects.  Different interpretations.  And then, I brought up two women- one from each side of the room, and asked them what I could see from my perspective.  With awkward glances and a literal step of discomfort backwards, they took turns muttering, “The class… it’s divided… blacks on one side… whites on the other…”.  And we all stood there in discomfort, realizing that people tend to sit next to people who look like themselves, that you tend to find people who act like you do.  And we talked about how this class would break down some comfort zones and that by recognizing differences, you might become uncomfortable.  It is to be expected.  It is going to happen. And in this class, I asked them to sit somewhere different every day so that they could see the class from different perspectives; so that they could see the class next to someone else.

And then, we went outside.  I had them pick a blade of grass- one blade of grass.  They got to “know” their grass for one minute.  Then, they threw their blade of grass into a pile- a small pile of 30 blades of grass and I asked them to find their own personal blade of grass.  Within 30 seconds, they had each found their individual blades.  And we talked about how among a group that all appears the same, there are still differences; there are still things that make their blade of grass unique.  And how this class was going to look at big differences, big labels and big groups, and how group membership was important, but so was individuality.  And therein lies the balance of teaching.

And they listened.  And they thought and they participated.

Month of June- After this amazing beginning, the class continued to blow me away.  Their online discussions were rich and full. They read chapters on disability and cultural differences and language issues and gender differences.  We used Paul’s Wheel of Reasoning to analyze a variety of articles from multiple points of view.  Perhaps the most exciting part was that a number of philosophical differences emerged.  There was the guy who was deeply conservative.  The girl from a very conservative background who was beginning to think her own thoughts.  “My family would kill me if they read this,” is how she ended her final paper.  The very liberal girl.  And they continued to listen.  And they continued to dialogue and respect each other.  It was a community of thought- not a commune with one single thought.  They followed the ground rules established at the beginning.  They put aside their differences and focused on becoming teachers.  They sat all over the classroom, which made passing out papers challenging for me, but I was happy to see new discussions and new relationships forming.

June 29– And then- and THEN, they presented their “Cultural Autobiography”- an assignment in which they were to discuss their family background, family cultural values, and how those values might conflict with others.  I asked them to make it visual, NOT a paper.  I asked them to present it like a science fair, so that we could walk around and talk about it, rather than be “formal”.  I asked them to think about how they are shaped by their families.  I asked them to understand others by understanding themselves.  I had no idea what to expect.

And what I got was true sharing.  What I got was in-depth understanding.  Even from the ones who had blown off the assignment and just brought in “stuff” to share- even from them, I got insight and humor and sharing and fellowship and discussion of how they were individuals and yet proud of, and part of their families.  We learned about the woman whose family had been illiterate for so long, and she was the first to go to college, and so she made a scrapbook- the written down story of her family’s oral history.  We learned about the woman whose family “started” with a slave woman and her master, and how there is no history before then, but every single member of the family is accounted for after them- and the importance of reunions.  The power of their name.  The man from Central America who traced his art and his path to Southeastern Georgia.  We learned about a woman whose family is from here, but she grew up in Germany because her dad was in the military, so she is from here, but not of here- how she sees the world differently than her family who has never left.  We learned of one man’s humility that he learned from his family who comes from poverty, but that they have a strong sense of self-reliance.  How they farm and they value education as a means of freeing yourself.  Another woman made a scrapbook of her family and shared some of the family tensions that strain at those bonds.

We learned each other’s stories and histories and values that were different and shared.  We learned about each other as people.  As more than the roles of students, more than race, more than gender.  I thanked them for their honesty and that I was humbled that they would share to that degree.

July 1- We came back together for the final exam, and I was struck at what I saw.  The class was all mixed-up.  There were no patterns of gender, age, or race to be seen in the seating .  They were still talking about the presentations and asking more questions to each other.  I thanked them again for the experience and I asked them how this would impact their teaching.  Their answers made me teary.

“I will absolutely do this with my class.  It’s so important to see kids as individuals, but to respect where they come from.”

“I don’t understand teachers who say that a diverse classroom is a problem.  There is so much to be learned from so many different kinds of kids”.

“I used to see us all as grass, but now I see us as the different blades of grass.  I get what labels help us do, but I also see how labels are only a starting point.”

“We were able to share because you modeled listening.  I know that I can make that difference in my classroom, too.”

Sometimes, teaching is learning.  I learned that with respect and trust, you can accomplish a great deal in a class.  I learned that disability and race and cultural differences can be celebrated.  I learned about the value of relationships and the power of reaching and teaching.  I learned why I am a teacher of teachers.

— and those of you lucky enough to have these college students as your child’s teacher in a few years?  I am glad that they spent June in Room 213.

February 26, 2010

Earthquakes

Filed under: College information — Teacher Professor @ 4:39 pm

Just as you’re in one place, going along, the earth shakes and everything moves and rattles and rolls.  And as in the case of earthquakes, it keeps happening.

My university just announced that due to state budget shortfalls, they are going to have to cut up to 30% of the college’s budget, which means that my Department of Education will “probably” be ok, but it is on the list if the legislature plays hard ball- and even if it lasts this go-round, it might not last another one.  That would mean that I’m out of a job.  And we just moved here.  We moved here so that my husband and I could work together.  We moved here to have a new start.  We moved here to find some roots.  We moved here on the promise of stability.

My husband was out of a job for 6 months last year.  We are buried so far deep in debt and indebtedness to far too many companies and family.  We were enjoying being able to pay bills.  Not going out to dinner, but at least paying bills.  We were enjoying being in a community that, while different from our outlooks, is at least fantastic for our children.

My children, my children with special needs and a deep need for structure and stability, have been moved around the country far too often.  That network of support that so many mommies have?  Mine are 500 miles away.  One in California, one in Colorado, one in Texas, one in Massachusetts, some in Virginia, some in New Mexico, one in…

I am trying not to panic.  Luckily, I can teach in public schools- assuming there are any jobs.  A teacher friend of mine with a master’s in reading was out of a job for 10 months this past year.  I used to think of teaching- and teacher preparation- as a recession-proof job.  No longer.  And isn’t that stupid?  To cut education means to cut the possibility of the future.  If you don’t invest in people being ABLE to get jobs, how on earth is this stupid economy supposed to turn around?

Luckily, we’re not in crisis or panic mode yet.  In my favorite movie, “The Princess Bride”, the Dread Pirate Roberts said to Wesley every night, “Good night, Wesley.  Most likely I’ll kill you in the morning.”  I feel a bit like that- waiting for the cuts to come.Our ground is rattling.  We’re holding on to each other.  And we’re trying to not let our children see how deeply we’re shaken.  Now what?

My horoscope said on Tuesday, “Expect big news by Friday”.   I guess it was right about that.

UPDATE: No lie.  James and I went to a Chinese buffet for lunch today- our once-a-month treat.  His fortune?  “You have a big change today”.  Clearly, the Fates saw it coming.  I sure didn’t….

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.