Saturday, June 1, 2013
My last gig as a 5th grade teacher at the end of year promotion is this coming Friday and since my feet will be on display I scheduled a pedicure today and reveled in the fact that it would be relatively quiet there, thanks to the post-finals/pre-summer lull. The salon--much like the nearby university-- was completely empty, save for one woman who was deep into her book and getting a final coat of red on her toes.
Unfortunately, it wasn't until I had already secured the chair next to her that I realized the woman was not a stranger. It was Sheila Walton. Seemingly harmless, albeit every-so-slightly-shrill, elementary school teacher by day or evening with a penchant for animal print jackets and chunky jewelry. (An affectation that makes it almost impossible for me not to think of Audra Lindley in her seminal role as Mrs. Roper) Once you were forced into a conversation with Sheila you would shortly realize with fresh horror that she was (and remains) a competitive talker.
You know the type. Competitive talkers can never be wrong about anything, but this is only the tip of the conversational iceberg you're up against. Nothing in life will ever happen to you that is as wonderful or as death-defyingly tragic as whatever has happened to her. At first, conversation with a CT seems normal, but it quickly devolves into a frustrating game of one upmanship where the only means of escape is to look for the nearest window and then jump through it. Or to pray for the sweet and unexpected mercy that only the Seven Horsemen of the Apocalypse can provide. And so it has always been with Sheila.
She started in by asking me if it had been a difficult school year and I said that it had been especially so. This was familiar and dangerous territory as we had talked about our jobs during a wedding reception a couple of years ago where I told her about some of the criminal activity of my young students and where she assured me that the children at her charter school were equally--if not more-- delinquent than those at my public school. Today I regaled her with the Reader's Digest version of a student being pulled out of my class on Tuesday (never to return) because he chose to honor our men and women in uniform over the Memorial Day weekend with nefarious actions resulting in a charge of Felony Breaking and Entering. Also--our school as twice been the target of "friendly fire" of the arson variety, the second time during which current and former students' images were captured on the school's security camera. Sheila responded that kids at her building set their fires in the 1st grade. Because they are so advanced at being bad, I'm guessing.
And it all came rushing back like a bad acid flashback because Sheila Walton is the Michael Phelps of Competitive Talking, minus the all those medals. I could sooner teach my cat to dial 911 than convince Sheila my day had ever been worse-- or better-- than hers. You have a migraine? Sheila just diagnosed herself (Thanks to the assistance of WebMD) with a brain tumor.
If I know someone with six toes on each foot, she knows someone who has an entire hand growing off of their foot and it has six toes growing off of it. If I tell her my kid has earned a college scholarship, she would be quick to let me know that her precious dumpling had not only received a free ride to the college of his choice---but had also been crowned the newest ruler of a small principality. Know someone who has been attacked by a shark? Sheila knows a woman who was skin diving while having her period, which attracted the unwanted attentions of an amorous Hammerhead who then forced her to have interspecies sex....and then promptly ate her. You tell her a story about accidentally burning yourself while scrambling some eggs and you will be held captive while she tells you about the time she was so distraught over a bad color job at the salon that she set her own hair aflame with a BIC lighter and half a can of sterno she had left over from an unsuccessfully catered birthday party.
It's exhausting, friends. And because the Apocalypse didn't happen while my feet were soaking and we were unhelpfully located on the first floor of a building, there was nothing for me to do today but just stop talking. Just. Stop. Talking. Feigning a coma would have probably aroused her suspicion, so I focused on the pedicurist's graphic scraping of my leathery feet and begin chatting with her even though her strong Vietnamese accent made it practically impossible to understand what she was saying to me, but I did not mind in the least. NOT IN THE LEAST! The alternative was just too much to endure.Naturally, Sheila Walton is not her real name, but if I did use her real name and the real Sheila ever read this, she would promptly corner me at the store and tell me about the trials of her own personal Competitive Talker who makes mine look like such an amateur! And then one of us would be going home in a body bag.
P.S.- This is the part where you pull a Sheila and tell me about an encounter with a Competitive Talker near you. Ready, Set....Go.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
I'm not going to lie. Things have been stressful lately. Monday through Friday I masquerade as a weary and battered shuttlecock in a surreal game of academic badminton played between the Reich Chancellery (school district) and many clueless and some crackhead parents who vie for control of everything I --not to mention my esteemed colleagues-- say and do.
Because they fear a lawsuit, downtown authorities want us to handle everything from extreme attendance issues (One young girl has been absent for two months and has not been enrolled anywhere else) to students with 31 zeros (also a true story) at the campus level while ghetto parents throw a clot every time you correct them or their children for anything. Each party desires miraculous academic results without suffering any personal loss of energy on their own part all the while bearing no responsibility for the failure that is almost certainly due to the refusal of the former entity (district) to recognize the essential role of the latter (parents) as the creators and would-be facilitators of what we in education refer to as the formative years.
Truthfully, it's like being handed 77 5th graders who have been raised on a steady diet of cigarettes, Flaming Hot Cheetos and Mountain Dew and then being critically evaluated on whether or most of them can--after a scant eight months-- qualify for the Olympic trials.
Seacrest out, my friends. Marva Collins has left the building. I'm waving the white flag of surrender and throwing in the proverbial towel. I'm cashing in my chips. I'm taking my vintage vinyl copy of Lulu singing "To Sir, With Love" and breaking it in half over my knee. I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm just saying that it can't be done by me. Here. Now.
Defecting along with me are two upper grade colleagues. Another two have requested transfers but have thus far been unable to find positions elsewhere. The AP is resigning from education altogether. So...it's not just me, just in case you were wondering.
To complicate matters, I've spent almost a month of post-work afternoons or evenings seeing my father in the hospital. ER first trip, post-op, ER second trip, post-op, cardiac telemetry, two weeks of a propofol-induced coma in the ICU, and back to cardiac telemetry before....finally...a two week stint in a physical rehab hospital where he is learning to walk again. All the while waiting for good news from a better school and better chances for good news about my dad. News that would suggest that we can resume planning his 80th birthday party again.
My head aches from the semi-permenent grimace I wear and my voice is strident and pedantic. I resemble Nancy Grace minus the bad hair and handcuff necklace she word during the Jodi Arias trial. There has been a notable increase in my wine consumption of late and on more than one occasion I've been tempted to check myself into a remote mountain top ashram under the name "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" and let robed monks bring me tea and invoke the Grand Silence.
Instead, I'm going to take a multi-vitamin, drink a big tumbler of ice water, do a handstand, smile at the calendar which shows the remaining eight days of school and rejoice in a second chance to experience joy in my chosen profession.
Happy Memorial Day, y'all.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
I'm not going to lie. I know exactly how much time has passed since I was here last and believe it or not I don't feel like a total scrub for my neglectful blogginess. Not like I used to when I felt as though I'd let people down because I wasn't writing. Nope. I seemed to have scissored my way through that particular veil of tears and now I'm feeling pretty good. Not exactly Tony Robbins good. More like Liza Minnelli after a couple of dirty martinis and a muscle relaxer. Just like mom. (Hers--not mine, naturally) I'll give you the Reader's Digest version of what I've been up to of late and in no particular order. You can decide if it was worthwhile to jot down:
1) Got myself on the transfer list for my school district. Sent in my surprisingly impressive resume to the high school of my dreams. Went in for an interview with the principal and then got a call-back for a second interview. I must have done pretty well because one of the department heads had a particular slot in mind for me (Sophomore English) and then just I was confident enough to celebrate with some diabetes-flavored cupcakes and a box of Albertson's finest chardonnay, the would-be retiree whose place I would be taking changed her mind about leaving. I'm not exactly dead man walking just yet. There are still some possibilities in that department. I'm somewhat hopeful.
2) Went to see an acupuncturist about my metabolism which--without telling me--retired and went to live in Florida. The experience itself was a total kick in the pants. Part counseling session, part medical advice and part out-of-body experience. I
3) Spent part of my Spring Break in New York with my husband. Walked the Brooklyn Bridge. Saw some awesome art at the Frick. Spent part of a rainy afternoon at the Strand Bookstore. Sat and read in luxurious silence in the same New York Public Library reading room that Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard were in when they filmed "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Stayed
4) Administered two four-hour major standardized tests on consecutive days last week where my job was to 'actively monitor' for test irregularities. Roughly translated, active monitoring means walking slowly for four hours around a room that has been stripped of any posters or anchor charts or words of any kind. The teacher is completely alone inside his/her head. Walk quickly enough not to freak anyone out but not so slowly that I fall over. In other words...I couldn't sit down. Watched to make sure a student was progressing in his/her answering process, but not actually SEE or mentally register what they are writing down. Notice shit...but not actually recognize what it is. Because that would mean I might have some idea what was on the test. All I can say is that, if presented with the chance, I would rather be kidnapped by Somali pirates than locked in another airless room full of testing 5th graders. Panic and failure stink when mixed. You'll just have to trust me on this.
5) Participated in one too many parent/teacher conferences where I feared one of us was going to leave the room in a body bag. I used to think a burnout was nothing more complicated than the glue-sniffing (but harmless) homeless alcoholic who occasionally enjoys directing traffic down by the zoo. I mean...I might need a judge's ruling on this, but I'm pretty sure I now see a burnout every time I look in the mirror. It's not teaching that weighs me down. It's teaching in the 'hood, which is less about education and more about filling in the cracks for the gaps left by children who had children and then dropped them off at the school's curb at 8:15, which is sad and frustrating because school starts at 8:00.
6) Had a tarot card reading today for the first time in my life. Something tells me that drawing both the devil card and the hangman card is not a good thing. I mean, you should have seen the
7) Discovered the joyful hilarity of The Honest Toddler blog. Seriously. Do yourself a favor and go there. Now.
8) Toyed with the idea of shutting down this blog. Still considering it. It's not about getting anyone to persuade me against the idea. It's just me. Nothing's definite yet.
9) Went to hear writer Anne Lamott speak. Moved beyond words. So much so that I was inspired to put down a few of my own. Life, despite my whining, is good.
What's new with you?
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Here's how my train of thought runs these days: I'm having lunch with two friends from yoga when my mind strays for just a second as I wonder how it is that the three of us---all public school teachers--have the time to eat lunch in a restaurant in the middle of the day. For a brief moment I think it's summer until I remember we are all wearing sweaters. It sounds crazy, but sometimes when I'm really tired my brain enjoys a little selective amnesia. Then I realize we're living in the last gasp days of the winter holiday. My eyes fall to my iPad and I remember that there's a Muriel Spark book on there I have to finish for a book group I've not been attending and then that makes me think about the stack of books next to my bed which makes me think of the movie Desk Set--one of my favorite movies where books and the information contained in them feature prominently.
Which then brings my thought process back to the books I haven't read, some of which were gifts that I asked for specifically with the intent to read when suddenly I was all "Crapdammit! I forgot to read!"
And --son of a nutcracker!-- if it isn't too late to have a single lazy day where I sit around my yoga pants happily surrounded by books, mugs of hot tea and back issues of the New York Times and the crossword puzzle.
A day where it looks like this outside. Dig it, people. This was Christmas Day around these parts.
Christmas was lovely and I ate way more than I should have and suffered from a brief bout of Mashed Potato Cramps, but I'm better now. Tomorrow it's back to my alarm going off at 5:17 and driving in the semi-darkness past the bail bondsmen, Cisco's Taqueria and the Weave Palace to my school where the kids will get an extra day of vacation and the teachers will be asked (and I'm completely serious here) to attend a small seminar on suicide prevention (Student suicide, though they ought to be equally worried about their employees offing themselves.) and then a group activity with markers and paper where teachers must write and perform a rap song detailing the need for academic rigor in the classroom.
Your tax dollars at work, my friends. And then we will begin school on Tuesday having had absolutely no time to finish the lesson planning things that would make us even remotely ready for class. Coming back in after a holiday is a lot like re-entering the earth's atmosphere from space. No matter how prepared I am, I always lose a few heat tiles in the process. And it shows. We'll spend the next few weeks all ramped up on stress from the greatly anticipated yet somehow "surprise" classroom judgement visit from downtown administrators, none of whom have we actually seen, but the threat is potent and carries a kind of Keyser Soze weight to it.
Pardon me while I adjust my victim hat. Anyway. All this to say that the last two weeks have allowed me to think about other jobs I might pursue if things in public education fail to improve.
1) Container Store employee. There's an enormous one opening here and I've heard even part-time workers get benefits. Over the holiday I met a young man who used to be a railroad conductor and he says it's an incredibly happy place to work. Discounts on wrapping paper. Score!
2) Bartender. When life is good, everybody drinks. When life sucks...well...everybody drinks some more. Seems like a win-win prospect to me.
3) Technical writer. Sure, I'd be hammering out mouth watering prose for pamphlets where I direct consumers to "insert Tab A into Tab B", but I wouldn't have to walk any of my co-workers to the bathroom or stand by impassively while their parents curse me when I balk at taking work that is two weeks late.
4) GED instructor at a prison. At last! People are finally ready and eager to learn. Armed guards standing nearby.
5) Crime scene clean-up. It's a growing market and I would never run out of stuff to blog about.
What's sad is that teaching school used to top this list back before the inmates started running the psych ward. Unfortunately, there's nothing remotely funny about that.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
One of my yoga teachers recently published a nice piece about body and self-image. In it she attempts to address the kinds of random questions and unhelpful statements one encounters during the average extended relations holiday get-together where food and eating habits typically become a conversation piece, as well as unintentional verbal kindling for all manner of family judgement bonfires. In it she declares that this year she will not apologize for being thin, even though it makes others in her family feel uncomfortable about themselves.
I get it.
Except that now I'm on the other side of that argument. W-A-Y on the other side, to my way of thinking. Call me
I was extremely thin for all of my childhood, adolescence and most of my young adult life and I don't mean relatively thin when propped up next to Biggie Smalls or Snookie from Jersey Shore. I mean truly skinny. A stick figure youth who wore pantyhose under jeans in the hopes of filling them out and a college freshman with a bad Twinkie habit who never gained an ounce. That was then and this is now (Thank you, S.E. Hinton). I get where she's coming from and I sympathize why she feels the need to say what she's saying.
Somewhere along the way after three pregnancies, peri-menopause, a busted thyroid and a life-saving surgery to fix my palm-sized stomach ulcer, I lost my clavicle bones...or what my grandmother used to call "salt cellars", which are those triangular hollows between your neck and shoulder bones. Everything else followed. I can't decide if I have failed my body or my body has failed me. I take vitamins. I do some form of exercise almost every single day including at least three weekly installments of hot yoga and I try really hard to avoid my
weekly nightly haj of wine and movie popcorn. However, my size in the last three years remains stubbornly unmoved. I have --according to many people whose sympathies I fail to earn--a normal sized body, but I'm unsure if that means normal in a "what's the big deal" kind of way or in the way that suggests I've gone the way of "Supersize Me" America.
Either way, I hate
me it and so do my pants.
True, I do not run long distances anymore. My hopes to complete a second marathon faded after I celebrated the 10th anniversary of having run the first one--and besides--it's too damn dark when I get home from work. The idea of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred would only work if she drove her skinny ass to my house every day to scream at me. I have the LOSE IT app on my phone and it restricts me to 1100 calories a day which is only successful when I approach its use with religious zeal while bookending each day between two separate workout sessions and drinking several liters of water. Sure, I get results, but 1) I must be close to a bathroom at all times, 2) My day devolves into little more than working and then working out and 3) I miss chewing.
So how desperate am I these days? I called an acupuncturist yesterday in the hope that having a thousand tiny needles inserted directly into my face will somehow tease my metabolism out of its present coma and I can pass by a mirror without grimacing. Of course, there is probably no way to be this honest about my negative self-image without inviting the assumption that I feel this way about everyone else in my situation. I don't. I am the supreme ruler of my own body image planet and the restrictions I make for myself should in no way be mistaken for how I think anyone else should live. It's all about me.
My biggest issue here is with the kind of change--unlike getting older-- that I should be able to fix and can't. It's about wanting to regain
the one another part of my past life that I always took for granted. And--okay, I'll admit it. It's about walking into a party or a staff meeting or even the grocery store and feeling like nothing worse than a gently used version of my old self rather than one french fry away from a being a cautionary tale. Is that too much to ask? Please say "no".
Sunday, December 16, 2012
I know what you're thinking and--no--this is not my house. It could be, given the level of filth and disarray we are currently living in. The most obvious clue to that last statement being that whomever belongs to this house doesn't have their Christmas tree in a bucket on the front porch. And we? Do. I hope that clears up the confusion.
Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been almost a month since my last
Two weeks ago I took a day of sanity from work and hit the Container Store like a meth addict on a Sudafed factory field trip. I made lists and plans about neighbor gifts and stuff I was going to make from things I had seen on Pinterest. I purchased all of my Secret Santa gifts for work and an obscene amount of wrapping paper. Painters were about to descend on my house, I was in the middle of an all protein eating plan involving a yoga-intensive regimen (and no booze) designed to help me jump start a permanent loss of the same 12 pounds I've been losing (and gaining back) for the past year. I had one epically horrific week at work, followed by the unlooked for hope of possibly, maybe, almost, just might could be getting a job teaching high school English only TEN MINUTES FROM MY HOUSE! (Sorry for shouting) In a public school that boasts more National Merit Scholars than all the other schools in my city combined. In a school where I won't have to walk anyone to the bathroom. Or lunch. Or the playground. Or wait until their parents come to get them before leaving for my own home. Or buy school supplies for any children unless they happen to be those who came into this world from my own vagina.
And? Our middle son was graduating from college and there was one whole weekend where we weren't going to be here getting anything done, which was fine because...graduating!! From college!! With a job!! And another son graduating this summer!! So yes--much excitement and all that but still no decorations up except for lights and the tree still in a bucket on the porch. Because we were out of town
And then there are the painters who have laid siege to my home in such a way as to leave all furniture pulled away from walls and covered in plastic. Every surface is covered with a fine white powder from the zealous sanding of every door in my 65-year old house. It's like Martha White exploded all up in here.
And then as we were preparing to leave town on Friday for a joyous occasion, I was directed to turn on the news so that I could learn the extent to which some mental case had completely lost his shit and slaughtered some school children as well as a few of the people charged with teaching them. Suddenly every news story was about guns, mental illness and teachers as heroes and I don't mind telling you that I have very firm views on the first two subjects and the last subject is only now becoming the kind of thing I know how to address.
And what I want to say is this: Don't call me a hero. Heroes are people that society is damn glad to have around but they have no idea how to compensate them for a job they don't really want to do themselves. Police officer? Firefighter? All military personnel? And now, apparently...teachers. I know this because in and among the list of reasons why I can be absent from my job is something new called "assault leave". Most people with dangerous jobs know ahead of time that their career choice involves risk. Mine? Was never supposed to and now it does. So that now--in addition to guiding the neglected children of clueless ghetto parents to new heights of mediocrity, I'm also expected to die for them.
Thanks, but I'd rather not. I promised to stay alive for three other young men whose stockings are still not hung by the fire and if they wind up NOT getting placed there this year, I'd rather be able to blame it on the painters and not because I wound up taking a bullet trying to keep someone else's disruptive adolescents quiet fortheloveofgod!! while we were huddled in the janitor's closet next to the toilet paper.
And now I have to go drag my Christmas tree indoors. Talk amongst yourselves about what a heartless bitch I am. That's fine. I've got presents to buy.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
There was a moment on our flight to Arizona when it was quiet and calm--both inside the cabin and in my head. The drink cart had made its way down the aisle and I decided against alcohol (too early) or peanuts ($6 for a package no larger than a tea bag. Sweet Fancy Moses! What's up with that?)
Flight terrifies me into a mild state of apoplexy, the type that even my jet pilot friend with two degrees in physics could never coax me out of. Yet here I was, seated next to my husband, peacefully and unmedicated-ly people watching. The man reading Kingsolver's "The Bean Trees. The grandmother in front of me perusing the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogue for early Christmas gifts. The young snoring college student in headphones seated behind us--sandwiched between two female passengers who sat helpless as he assaulted rows 10 through 17 with his aggressively glottal explosions while he was blissfully protected from that annoying scraping sound a page sometimes makes when it's being turned. Because of the headphones. I felt sure both women wanted to punch him right in the throat.
Yes, I was hermetically sealed in this metal tube breathing everyone else's old air. Yes, my seat--like all the others in coach--did not allow ample enough leg room for a large child, let alone an adult. Yes, from my chair I could see the people in First Class drinking from real glass and crossing their legs without help from a second individual--preferably one with extensive chiropractic training. I was okay with it.
Maybe it was because I had already decided that this would be my last year at the school where I am presently
There may be one or two of you out there who are saying: "Buckle up, Nancy and let me pour you a big old glass of Get Over It" because--yes--I do have a job and it comes with health insurance, but those can't be the only factors that make it worth getting up every morning at 5 and coming home at 6 (with added hours for paper grading and lesson planning at home). There has to be more to it.
What was the straw that broke the camel's back? Was it last year when a failing child lied to her mother about remarks she fabricated and attributed to me? (And then only retracting them after her mother had reported me to downtown? And after an investigation proved the girl a liar, the mother never apologized) Was it last week when student threatened to stab one of my colleagues? Or was it two years ago when a student actually DID stab one of my colleagues? Is it the overwhelming number of sub-standard parents whose misplaced sense of priority allows them to feel justified to apply for "free breakfast and lunch" for their child and use the extra money to buy an iPhone 5? Or is it the mother who claims that her son's inability to behave in school is our fault because her taxes pay my salary. I know. That last one didn't even make any sense. The woman is an idiot.
Maybe it's all of the above that make Sundays such a miserable day--only because it's the day before Monday. A woman in my yoga class says that one of her co-workers from the low-income high school where they both teach went to the principal and said, "I'm having feelings of suicide. I have to get out of this building or I'm going to kill myself".
That's not me, you understand. But I can imagine the process that might lead someone to have thoughts like that. Her students are basically the kind I have now...just older. Low income, some low-intellect/ life experience with low expectations and riding in the last car of the welfare train. Add some anger and age five years. The next time you hear about them? It's on the 10 o'clock news.
I make jokes about the parents who pick up their kids wearing pajamas or tube tops. The jobless "homies" that make up a good 40% of the dads/brothers/uncles at our school. The mothers with the stupidity or sheer audacity to get pregnant AGAIN--holy Jesus--after it's been made patently clear that they don't or can't take care of the half dozen kids they have now. The notes from parents detailing their child's absence the day before--with "stomach ache" spelled stomag acker. Mothers who agree to meet with us and then stand us up without shame. Fathers who don't know what grade their own child is in. The demands for free tutoring or for school supplies that they assume I should pay for because they can't. And--worst of all--the school district which operates on the fantasy that the people I've just described above are the exception and not--as they really are--the rule.
It's a hot mess and there's no use saying that it isn't. Pretending the one student I'm likely to save is worth wading through the crap storm of everything else isn't enough any more. That child is a figment of everyone's imagination and even if he really exists, you can't help the someone who doesn't want to be helped. If I don't get out of there soon, someone's going to find me wandering the freeway at night wearing soft pants, drinking out of a paper sack and singing the theme to "The Flintstones". It would be funny if it weren't true.