Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dear Jean-Dominique Bauby,

Dear Jean-Dominique Bauby,
       I am writing this to you knowing you will never read this. You are gone but you will never be forgotten. I am not writing this as a viewer of the movie adaptation. That was a tragedy and I try not to think of it as I read your book. How do you take the thoughts of a paralyzed man and make a movie out of it? No.
      The love I have for this book comes not only from its words but from the time it was given me. It was a the right book, at the right time and exactly what I needed. When I was in High School, my family, who always took the family trip to the family beach house in Florida, changed courses and booked a cabin by a lake in Vermont. Let's be real, it wasn't a real rustic cabin, it had Directv. It was small though. I slept in the top bunk in a set of beds built into the wall. The ceiling was six inches from my head. The cabin happened to sit on land with a big lake house as well and the Stone family from Scotland rented it out. This was a vacation of a lifetime. It was filled with finding streams in the woods, chasing local dogs out of the kitchen and floating in a row boat with headphones for hours. Eventually, we became friendly with the neighbors, sitting out by the fire for hours. That night, I mentioned to the mother that I had finished my books I brought with me by the second day. The next day she hands me this shiny blue book. She tells me she bought it at the airport and finished it. She thinks I'll like it. I read it in hours. Then read it again. Then again. Then again. It was like nothing I read before. At that point, I was 15 if not 16, incredibly emo, drama filled teenager. This book and vacation began changing me. There was more than my little world back home and there was and always will be the chance that everything can go away in a second.
      The story of a man with locked in syndrome doesn't sound extraordinary. Paralyzed except for an eyelid, it should be sad, but it's incredibly uplifting. This life is a living hell. I can't imagine having my spouse so close to me, hearing their cries, and not being able to reach out. But this is not a poor me. This is a life worth living book. My two favorite parts, I can read over and over. I love the story of a young Jean and his pals opening a magazine and going to the race track. With all their friends money and a sure things, they get too caught up with the track and miss placing their bets. Of course the horse wins, of course everyone thinks they won a ton of money. But it wasn't meant to me. In a way it sums of his life to something of the affect of, the horse was all the women we didn't love, all the chances we didn't take, all the things we never did. That really struck me. What have I missed by not taking a chance? My other favorite part is almost morbid but in the end it's really not. When describing the first time in a wheelchair, all the hospital staff are described. I love the silliness and almost joy there is in describing everyone. No profanity, everyone is judged by their funny attributes or the little things I'm sure they don't realize they are doing. It should be awful, it should be sad. It's not. It's hilarious. The cheerleaders, the grumps, it's inspiring to see what could be ignored is embraced. What could be hostile is livable.
     That's what I took away. What should be awful is livable, so why is my wonderful life seemingly awful. It's not. I talk about this story all the time. I wrote about it in my school paper. I put it on my facebook. I've flung my copy on anyone who promises to give it back. It brings my silliness and emoness and dramaness into check. It makes me understand that there is me in this fishbowl that has no idea of the ocean that is out there and I need to remember even though I cannot see the shore, it is still there.


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in DeathThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dear Phillip Done,

Dear Phillip Done,
       Thank you for writing the truth about teaching. Thank you for telling the good and the bad. Thank you for being honest. Most of all, thank you for not telling me how to be a good teacher, but showing me how to be a good teacher.
       Your first book, 30 Third Graders and a Classroom Bunny came to me at a time when I most needed it. Let me back up a little first. Everything clicked when I decided to become a teacher. I remember it completely. I was at Umass Dartmouth as an English major suffering with the idea that when I was done, I would be an English? Didn't make sense. As I was walking the long sidewalk from the campus to the dorms, it just came to me. I should be a teacher. That what I am suppose to be. Two colleges and a year later, I had my first day in a classroom. It was perfect. One day in a fifth grade in Westfield. I loved it. I love working with the kids, I loved teaching them, I loved being in a school. I was hooked. From then to the end of college, I was happiest in the classroom. Third grade, first grade, fifth grade. I loved it all. I loved writing lessons, coming up new and exciting things to do. I even loved teaching from the book. Didn't matter. I was happy.
    When I graduated in January, I was ready to go. Nearly 10 interviews later, I was close, so close, this close, but not a teacher. Everyone in MA told me I was fantastic, just not enough experience. So when the opportunity to try to teach in Florida came up, I applied to a charter school and expected nothing. Four days later I was hired over the phone to teach second grade. I remember being at my friend's house, since it was close to work at the time, nearly in shock. I had a job, and now I was moving 2,000 miles to get there.
        A month later, it's real. I'm in Port St.John, no where near home and I'm teaching. It was like nothing I expected. It was so much harder than I thought and I cried every day on the way home. What the hell was I doing? That first weekend, I went to the Cocoa Beach Library to find some Ed books and I found 30 3rd Graders. It was unbelievable. Here I was thinking I was doing everything wrong and here was a fantastic teacher, doing the same things I was doing. Here was great advice that I could use that was not all about theory, psychology, and all that other stuff. You were a real teacher, with real kids, with real problems and accomplishments that happen to me too.
         The best advice was when it was just too much to teach. The day a spider got into the room, I knew better than to keep trying to teach. We went outside to visit other spiders. When Meet the Teacher night came, I remembered to be prepared. When the students asked me at 22 if I was 40, I knew I was not the only one. I felt like our classrooms were very similar as were my feelings for teaching.
    Recently, I came to discover you have a new book out. I was beyond excited. I often wondered if you were facing the things I was facing like standardized tests and politicians. Close Encounters of the Third Grade kind was in no store here in Orlando, so I figured I would order it online after my vacation. A trip to San Francisco and I remembered that is where you were from and maybe the Borders in Union Square would have it. It was like finding gold when your book was on the shelf. I instantly started reading it and now I'm halfway through. Which brings me to now and maybe you can help me here because halfway through your second book, I feel nothing like I did before.
       I left the Charter School after my second year because I was tired of living in fear of being fired, I wanted insurance, I wanted a school with a cafeteria, a nurse and walls. I wanted to go into public schools with their fancy school libraries and more than one teacher per grade. It took a while but I got my dream job in Celebration. The school I have always, always wanted to teach in. Celebration is a dream community. Something, literally, out of a Disney movie. It was hard,  but it was awesome. The parents were tough, but always there for me. The standards were high, but there was always someone there to help. It was a great run until about April. Budget cuts and I was the last one in, the first to go. I was devastated. I had what I always wanted and now they told me I had to go. I had another job soon,  but it was the same.
     Now I'm at a brand new school. I spent last school year teaching 6th grade language arts, which wasn't for me, but I didn't completely hate. I've spent my fifth year teaching, teaching 4th grade with all the Special Needs kids. Which brings me to today and to what I'm hoping you can help me with.
     I don't feel that happiness anymore. I'm sure you feel it somewhat in California, but here in Florida it is hard to be a teacher. When did I become the villain? When did the idea of a teacher go from the man or woman who believed in your child, you helped your son or daughter reach for new heights, open up a little more of the world. When did we become these lazy, unionized, idiots who do not do anything and do not meet the needs of your student? When did we go from reading books to sitting filing our nails? And for God's sake, when did we become so high paid that it became a problem? I don't know about you, but my salary is nothing to brag about. Pool men make more money than I do. Here in Florida, the new governor has passed back to back laws taking our pension, taking away tenure and instituting merit pay. It's test, test, test. Data, data, data. I give more tests than ever. I rush through curriculum to stay on the county timelines. I am pushed to teach just like everyone else. I don't have time for projects, fun stuff. I don't have money to buy supplies. I have a revolving door  of students and laundry list of things I have to do every day. I keep data and have to explain over and over why this one students got this one score on this one test. I hate what I do.
    Am I alone in feeling this? Is the world against teachers now or is it my corner of the world in my corner of the school? Is this what they talked about when they told my first education class that most of us wouldn't make it past the first five years? I love the overall idea of teaching, I drowning in everything else. Every now and again, I feel a glimmer of what use to be there. When something sticks with a student, or they discover something new, or they all fight over the same book we read in class. But those moments are so few and far between they don't drive me anymore. I'm burnt out, tired and here I'm not alone. I know many teachers who feel the way I feel. Does it get better or have you never been where I am now? I know this is a lot to ask a stranger, but it almost feels like I'm asking a mentor. I turned to you when things were tough then and I guess I'm looking for answers now.
    I hope this wasn't presumptuous. I hope it wasn't incredibly boring and a waste of your time. I hope you aren't staring in amazement not understanding anything I say. Most of all, I hope that you don't feel like I do. Thank you for writing, thank you for teaching and thank you for everything you've done for teachers.


Finally, An Idea

As per the last blog, I have been trying to actually write something for a long time but nothing ever felt right. I stumbled upon my old livejournal and laughed at my silly melodrama. I didn't want to do that again, I'm not 17 anymore. Today it came to me, like the elementary teacher I am. Dear Mr. Henshaw. Perfect.

Let me explain, in fourth grade I had the hardest teacher in my school career. Mr. Francis. The only male teacher in fourth grade and one of only two male teachers in the entire 3-5. He was like a myth to the third graders. He gives hours of homework, you have projects all the time, he makes you memorize famous speeches, he is so hard! And it was all true. He gave tons of homework, I remember being up to 10 pm still working. He gave tons of projects, I remember making my own simple machine and while every other 4th grade class read a book and did a project, we wrote our own books and did a project on that book. It was unbelievably hard. But it worked. The class picture from that year has the top ten percent of the graduating class including the valedictorian.  Most have gone on to graduate college and start a career. Some even went into to teaching. The point of this is, that was the year I was pushed harder than ever and that was the year I read Dear Mr. Henshaw.

Dear Mr. Henshaw is about a boy writing his favorite author. He tells him about his life and the things going on with him. You never heard the author's voice, you just see the world through the writings of the main character. I can't remember if the author writes back in the end. But it doesn't matter. I always write fan letters to authors in my head. A few I've actually sent, but I'm always thinking about what I would tell them or what I would write. So tonight, while chopping onions, it came to me. Why not write them here? Sure, maybe I'll send a few but that's not the point. When you write a letter to an author you are thanking them of course, but you tell me about you. You let yourself be heard as well. That's what I'm going for. If I sent a letter, they may read it , they may not but now it will get written. And that is the point.

December, Trying Again

This is my second attempt at a blog. I had tried to write before about my frustrations, particularly in the education world.  I tried to write sneering, melodramatic parody to shun those in power with the word of the people.
It didn't go so well. Why? Cause I'm not the sneering, parody writing type (but I am melodramatic).  I've just spent the last hour updating my Ipod with all my Glee CDs and searching for the latest news on the Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron's break up. I've been telling Bella, "we don't bite our mommies!" This is not the life a rebel writer who will change the face education. Am I unhappy with how things are going in education? Of course. There is too much testing and not enough teaching. Everything you loved about school is gone. Art, music, theater, all gone. Singing songs, writing our own stories, month long projects don't fit in the curriculum time line. My greatest memories are being the tooth decay play, writing our own novel, having book celebrations, making Christmas decorations, going on field trips, and hearing hours upon hours of read aloud stories. I'm lucky if I get 15 minutes of read aloud a day. It's sad.
But that's not what this blog is going to be about. As my good friend Bonnie pointed out, my blog should not be work. Sure, some people use their blog for social change. They research, point, counterpoint and strive to be the change that the world needs. But lucky for me, it's a big internet. If I want to be the other kind of blog. The kind that asks strange questions, tells lame stories that I only think are funny and incesssively talk about my cat because my boyfriend doesn't want me to talk about him. And that's okay.
There are many educational reform blogs out there. This isn't one of them.  


So I changed the name of my blog and had to make some changes too. Here are the old posts from the old blog on the new blog site.