Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Should I stay or should I go?"

My blog post is the title of one of my favorite Clash songs. My mom and I used to sing it together when I was a kid (she's a cool, rocker mom.) In fact, we still do.

However, I am not a person who likes ambiguity. I tell my students: I teach ambiguity as a literary concept, that doesn't mean I enjoy it.

So it's no surprise to me that I face ambiguous situations regularly. Like my current employment situation.

Here's the deal: In March, I received a notice terminating my employment at the end of the year. I went to my hearing, applied to jobs online, and organized my resume, portfolio, etc. As of today, I'm still laid off. I did not expect to get any job interviews for awhile, as most districts are laying off teachers or facing budget issues.

Well, good news/ambiguous news. I have an interview with Roseville Joint Unified on Friday. It's a good district with new schools and a relatively stable budget, at least for now.

However, I've also been told by several people at my district that it looks like there is a possibility I will have a position next year. No one can commit to anything of course.

Here's why this is so frustrating. If I stay in Elk Grove, next year I will be higher on the seniority list, thereby avoiding the layoff situation. If I move districts, I may very well be in a similar situation next year. If the interview goes well with Roseville and they like me, I'll have to make a decision most likely before my current district makes up their mind.

This is supposed to be a good time for teachers. Your students act like people. There's five weeks until school's out and testing is done. Talk about killing the buzz.

Argggh. I'm honestly trying to be patient. Just get ready for my interview and deal with things as they come, but it is so difficult. I hate having everything up in the air.

Again, arrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Making a tradition

My husband and I were together for five years before Em, and we had some very predictable patterns. We'd get off work around five. I'd go running. He'd make dinner. We were eating in front of the t.v. every night by 8. At ten we were in bed. On the weekends we'd watch cooking shows and go out to eat.

Life was predictable. To be honest, it was getting a little stale.

Now that we have a daughter, much has changed. We live in a new city, we are re-entering higher education, and we watch much less television. The best part is that we are developing new traditions for our small family of three.

I'd wager that when most people think of tradition, they think of one of two things: Holidays or possibly The Fiddler on the Roof. While holidays are fun and an important part of a family's tradition, I'm thinking more about the day to day traditions families come up with.

My daughter is getting older by the second it seems, and with that she is becoming so much more aware of her world. It is incredibly fun to try new things with her; it's also a joy to have certain, special traditions to share with her.

Here are a few of the traditions we have begun in the two years of having a daughter:

1. Saturday morning carpet picnic: we lay down a towel, set out breakfast, and watch PBS cartoons, usually Maya and Miguel, Curious George, or Word Girl
2. Mommy and Em get pretty together: on the weekends, Em and I spend a little extra time picking out cute outfits, doing our hair, and playing with make up
3. Frozen yogurt after doctor visits: Whenever we have to do something particularly unfun, we get to have a nonfat frozen yogurt
4. Sunny Saturdays are for parks: Occasionally my husband comes along, but typically it's just Em and I who go to the park together. I love being outside and she seems to agree
5. Daddy nighttime cuddle: My husband has a nighttime ritual of cuddling Em to sleep. It's changing a little now that she's bigger, but she definitely wants her Dada right before bed

These are just a few of our new patterns as a family. This is all very new to my husband and me, but it is an incredible time, growing a new family. My husband and daughter are truly the best people I know.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Shakespearean Task

When I graduated from college, I intended to teach high school English. Then, my adviser suggested teaching middle school. I was only 22, looked very young, and felt uncomfortable with prospect of teaching students only four years younger than myself.

It turned out that teaching middle school was great. The kids are actually a lot of fun, and it's my personal theory that all secondary teachers should start in middle school: if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.

The one drawback was that I did not get to teach the really cool literature that is available to teach at the high school level. There were some fun books: The Giver, The Outsiders (EVERY kid loves that one.) But I didn't love the books.

A huge motivation for moving to high school was teaching a more interesting curriculum. I was very bummed to discover this summer that my school was one of those moving away from teaching novels, however. It's a current theory in high school English that the only way to teach our standards is to use a textbook (SO Wrong by the way...I've never know a student to fall in love with a textbook.) Instead of teaching cool novels to my 10th graders, I've been forced to use the textbook, which is so lame.

However, today I got to realize a dream of mine. I taught my students Shakespeare. Granted, it's not my favorite play--Julius Caesar, but it's still total fun. I love how Shakespeare can spark instant love within a student, even if he doesn't totally understand what's going on. So many kids were just transfixed by what we were reading today. It has brought so many kids out of their shells, made them really excited to talk about Literature.

Also, actually reading Shakespeare has taken apart some of their misconceptions about it. Several students raised their hands after we had read a bit: "Hey, I thought this was supposed to be proper English." We were able to talk about how language changes and how, since this was written about 400 years ago, imagine how much is different now.

Not all kids were enthralled today. There were some mighty big sighs at the end of Cassius's longest speeches. But it was a good day. It took me seven years to finally teach Shakespeare and I'm so glad I got this opportunity.

Friday, April 18, 2008

What a week!

This week began badly and ended on a very interesting note. Let me put it this way: lawyers and donkeys were both involved. Hmmmm....

As I posted earlier in the week, I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday listening to lawyers present my case, and the cases of 50 of teachers who were laid off, to a judge. They did a good job of arguing against the district's crazy lottery and seniority system.

Although I felt good about having my side of the story heard, I still felt incredibly tired on Thursday when I finally returned to work. My kids were lovely; I cannot say the same for some of my co-workers. I found out five minutes into the school day that I had to give up my lunch on Friday for an activity I knew nothing about. When I told my boss I felt blind-sided, she responded that we all have it hard right now. (I'm currently the only one fighting for my job, however.)

I left work yesterday in tears and hung out at home for lunch. I needed a place to lick my wounds and feel safe.

Today, however, was a hoot. My school held a Donkey Basketball game between students and teachers. While I felt rather bad for the poor donkeys, it was hilarious to watch people struggle to get on the donkeys and have them go towards the correct basket. My kids tend to think they are the biggest, baddest gangstas in the world, so it was highly amusing to watch them get freaked out by donkeys. Good times.

Now I am at home, getting ready to pick Em from daycare. My husband is making fajitas and margaritas for dinner, so it should be a lovely evening.

I am SO happy it's Friday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sitting is exhausting

The last time I was as still as I have been for the past two days, I was on bed rest and pregnant. I'm not used to being quiet and sitting all day.

For the past two days, my district has been conducting hearings regarding those of us laid off. Hearings will continue tomorrow. The past two days have been a haze of circular arguments and huge, run-on sentences.

My emotions have ranged from irritated to hopeful to despondent and all the way back to irritated. I started out as 24 of 34, in terms of English teachers being hired back, and now I am 9 of 16. That means that nine teachers ahead of me will get their position's back if someone retires, resigns, or is fired.

My situation is improved, so I am grateful. However, I have dark thoughts towards those teachers with less experience than me who found out yesterday that they have their English teaching job back. I'm trying to be a gracious person, and I'm almost always successful. I keep telling myself that there is a reason I'm in this situation. That I do have power and that is not happening to me. I'm not always successful.

So tomorrow I will sit during my last day of hearing, and I will wait. I will read my book and resist the urge to roll my eyes. I will maybe not be 100% successful, but heck, you can't blame a girl for getting restless.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Happy 29, Grandma!

My whole life, my paternal grandmother has always been 29 years old. Who cares if she's had 52 29th-Birthday parties, she's the grandma and we don't question her.

I've always wondered why she picked 29 to stop aging. Was she scared of 30? Did she like being 29? I don't imagine it was a very care free time: she had four boys at that point and handful does not go far enough to describe my uncles.

This all makes me think about how I feel about aging. I turned 29 yesterday and to be quite honest I don't feel much different. Today feels just about the same as last Sunday, though I had a great party last night.

My family, sans my father, came over last night, as did my husband's family and a few close friends. We had meatloaf, macaroni, cheese zombies, and tasty salads (imagine that.) We also had far too much wine. It was a fun time. I dressed up, curled my hair, and wore earrings. I felt really good about myself.

Today I'm going with my in-laws out to lunch in old Sac. I will again wear a sassy outfit. And I will do it all as a newly 29-year old woman.

I remember when waiting to be a year older was so exciting. "No, I'm not 11 anymore...I'm 12 now." I wonder when that stopped being the case. And I wonder why women lie about their ages. And more importantly, will I feel the pressure to do so?
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Topics: birthdays, aging

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Being a bad girl

I live five minutes away from the school I teach at. I have the best schedule in the world: I teach three periods in the morning, I have fourth period off for lunch, fifth period is my prep, and then I teach two more periods.

Today I have decided to take advantage of all of this. I snuck out of work and went home. I'm such a bad girl.

Technically, I'm not breaking any rules, but I do feel sneaky. It's a great feeling.

Yesterday was a super long day. We had our Open House, so I was at work from 7:30 am to 8 pm. My kids did great today during class, but I'm still really pooped. I decided I needed a little break.

So I'm going to blog a bit, check my email, watch some trashy t.v., and then head back to work. It'll be five before I'm back home, and I need to run today, so it'll be after 8 until I can sit down and relax.

I'm going to take my time. I'm in no rush.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Things don't seem to change much

Yesterday as we were driving home from my mom's in Concord, it became very apparent that my daughter was coming down with a cold. She slept fitfully and I thought about what her first cold was like.

Em was three months and in daycare when she got her first cold and it was a doozie. My husband and I had to rotate every two hours holding her upright during the night, she hated the saline drops, and she couldn't sleep more than 30 minutes. It lasted over a week, and by the end of it all three of us were wiped out.

Well, apparently my reminiscing was wishful thinking. Last night Em woke up coughing so hard she threw up. All over the bed. My husband. The bathroom. And she was super calm about it.

When we finally got her calmed down and de-puked, I sat with her on the couch. She could only sleep upright, so there I sat from 3 am til 5:45, holding her as she slept. I got a couple minutes, but I was rather bleary eyed as I drove over to my high school.

I got my sub plans ready and was back home at 7. My husband left for a different sub job at my high school. My daughter was sleeping, and I hoped I could get a couple minutes shut eye. Nope. She rolled over and said, "I'm seeping." Okay.

We had a quiet day. I think she'll be able to go to day care tomorrow, and I'll be able to go to work. I'd rather stay home though. I didn't wear real pants all day. That part was awesome. Chasing my daughter with a tissue was not.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Where did the weekend go?

All in all, we had a very nice weekend.

My school had a minimum day on Friday, so my husband and I took advantage of it and got our taxes done. Afterwards, we pick up Em and went out to Thai food. She LOVES Pad Thai, but she doesn't know quite how much she can fit in her mouth. Thank goodness we were the only ones in the restaurant because she did have a yucky, regurgitation episode. Ick.

Saturday my husband spent the morning cleaning up as I half-heartedly exercised. Em actually joined in with my Pilates. Very cute. Later, we headed to Concord to see my mom. We went to the park with my sister and her husband and played a little softball (rather badly). That night my mom made chili and we had a nice evening together.

Today we went to Coco's to celebrate my grandma's birthday. While the food was underwhelming, it was nice to see everyone. My mom gave me an early birthday present: running shoes. (I know that may not seem like a present to some people, but I really appreciate it.)

We headed home this afternoon. I got in another run. Em has a little cold, but it doesn't seem too bad.

On to Monday...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Number 29, reporting for duty

Today I received an email stating that my district had finally put all the laid-off High School English teachers (we're called RIF's by the way; isn't that catchy) in a ranking. In case positions open up, we will get jobs in that particular order.

So here's how my district put the list together (I'm deliberately avoiding adjectives as to not appear snarky.) First, it gave every English teacher a point for every bachelor's degree, every master's degree, and every credential. Once teacher's were sorted by that criteria, the district had ties.

The district had some choices to make. Teachers have two types of credentials: preliminary (a beginning credential) and a clear credential (meaning they've taken classes in topics like special ed and computers.) Every teacher must get a clear credential within five years of completing her preliminary.

My district wanted to make things simple, so they chose to use a lottery system. They did not look at Clear credentials, years of teaching in other districts, or any other criteria. They selected teachers randomly.

I am number 29 out of 34. My union rep says it's not looking good for me.

I know for a fact there are teachers in front of me who have taught for fewer years and who do not have a Clear credential. Yes, the lottery system makes it easier, but does it make it fair? I wonder about the other teachers behind me: do they have qualities that are being overlooked?

Basically, we are being told by the district that if we can teach more than one class, we are valuable. But any other skill we have is not. I was a department head, I led a program called AVID for at-risk students, and I wrote my school's distinguished school application. I am willing (and happy) to work at a school filled with at-risk, often rough, needy children. Teachers are more than paper, more than certificates.

I hear politicians, including those at the district level, speak often about the importance of placing the most qualified teachers in the class rooms. I know now that can really be an empty promise. When we allow our children's educators to be selected at random, how can we ensure the highest level of quality?