If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Things For Which I'm Thankful

Over the years when I'm struggling and feeling sorry for myself - or just generally negative or weepy or down-and-out... Somehow God has shown me that I need to start looking at the things I'm really thankful to Him for providing in my life. 

Why is it that I ignore this mindset and am so hard-headed willful and try to forge my way through life without God's will for me?  It never fails, though, that He comes along and gets my attention and helps me to refocus.  Sometimes it is with a gentle little nudge.  Sometimes it is simply by putting someone in my path who reminds me of this.  More often it is by bonking me over the head several times and making me go, "Ah Ha!"  Guess which one is was this time?

Here is a start of some things I am thankful for:

1.  My husband who loves me and honors me and supports me.
2.  My parents who taught me right from wrong by living it.
3.  My children who have turned out alright in spite of all my mistakes.
4.  My children's spouses who love them and make them be better people.
5.  My husband's children who love him (and me, because he loves me).
6.  A job which keeps me thinking and learning and seeing the world in a fresh way.
7.  Simple treasures like cooling breezes, flower blooms, and fresh smelling fragrances.
8.  Opportunities for children to smile, giggle, and laugh out loud.
9.  Hugs when I am floundering.
10.Wise words spoken through gentle lips.

I could go on and on with my list.  Maybe that is what I need to do all day long today...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writer's Envy

I cannot remember the time when I didn't consider myself to be 'A Writer.'  From quite a young age my parents indulged me and would encourage and listen (or at least pretend to listen and "um..." and "aha..." and nod and praise) to what I wrote - even when it was just scribbling on the page long before I learned to form conventional letters and words.  Not that I consider myself to be 'A REAL Writer' by any means - you know, one that other people will really read or follow or perhaps even consider publishing!  Even so, I still enjoy the feeling I get from putting thoughts on a page - even a virtual page - and the challenge I feel at selecting just the right word or phrase.  I feel a sense of accomplishment and an attitude of satisfaction when I express myself - even when I don't believe I have a REAL audience. 

That being said, I have also admired the written word and appreciate folks who can spin a yarn and turn a phrase to express themselves and those who have an identifiable voice - especially those who capture that 'something' which is easily relatable.  One of those folks for me is Rick Bragg. 

Maybe it is because he is a southerner and I am a dyed-in-the-wool southern woman who can identify with his brand of illustrating that with words.  Maybe it is because we are about the same age and have a shared body of cultural iconic history.  More than likely it is because he is truly a master of the craft of writing and is worthy of envy. 

Another of my favorite things is the Southern Living magazine.  Recently, this favorite has featured one of my other favorites - Rick Bragg.  So, I have two wonderful things rolled into one fabulous package. 

The August issue of the magazine has a series of writings by this man relating the experience of surviving a tornado.  I have read it over and over.  Each time it humbles me that I am so fortunate that I did not have to weather such an experience.  I also envy the way Bragg describes the experience. 

Almost nothing stood.
Where the awful winds bore down, massive oaks, 100 years old, were shoved over like stems of grass, and great pines, as big around as 55-gallon drums, snapped like sticks. Church sanctuaries, built on the Rock of Ages, tumbled into random piles of brick. Houses, echoing with the footfalls of generations, came apart, and blew away like paper. Whole communities, carefully planned, splintered into chaos. Restaurants and supermarkets, gas stations and corner stores, all disintegrated, glass storefronts scattered like diamonds on black asphalt. It was as if the very curve of the Earth was altered, horizons erased altogether, the landscape so ruined and unfamiliar that those who ran from this thing, some of them, could not find their way home.
We are accustomed to storms, here where the cool air drifts south to collide with the warm, rising damp from the Gulf, where black clouds roil and spin and unleash hell on Earth. But this was different, a gothic monster off the scale of our experience and even our imagination, a thing of freakish size and power that tore through state after state and heart after Southern heart, killing hundreds, hurting thousands, even affecting, perhaps forever, how we look at the sky.
But the same geography that left us in the path of this destruction also created, across generations, a way of life that would not come to pieces inside that storm, nailed together from old-fashioned things like human kindness, courage, utter selflessness, and, yes, defiance, even standing inside a roofless house.
As Southerners, we know that a man with a chain saw is worth 10 with a clipboard, that there is no hurt in this world, even in the storm of the century, that cannot be comforted with a casserole, and that faith, in the hereafter or in neighbors who help you through the here and now, cannot be knocked down.

If I was still in a classroom mentoring students toward writing proficiency, I would probably use this as a touchstone text.  It would be one each student had a copy of, pasted into his/her writer's daybook, and referred back to almost daily.  It shows his mastery at sentence structure.  It shows a rich descriptive which captures an emotion and an experience, which allows the reader to almost experience the writer's own.  The use of figurative language and literary devices transports the mind's eye to another place and time.  The imagery appeals to senses beyond just the simplistic words on the page to allow readers to almost smell and feel and taste and hear the author's experience. 

I wish I could do that.

*  If you would like to read the entire feature, you can go HERE.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

An Important Rite of Passage

This week I have been in a position so different for me and one I haven't experienced in such a long time that I had completely forgotten what it feels like and have been ultra-stressed about that sensation.  It has been overwhelming to take in all that I have been exposed to this week in the new path along this journey that I call a career and has thrown a whole new sensation in this journey that I call life. 

For the past eight years I have been a classroom teacher working with seventh and eighth graders who are learning or re-learning to appreciate (and sometimes even enjoy) interesting and informative literature.  For the past four years I have also been working with these adolescents to gain a stronger appreciation for the written word and satisfaction at growing as an impactful and articulate writer with a unique voice.  So, while each day was a new adventure and brought it's own new challenges, each also held a similar progression from August through to the next June.  I cannot say that it became routine and dull because teaching is NEVER that!  I can say that it became rather comfortable while at the same time it was intriguing to try to come up with a different way to make the age-old concepts become a part of my students' body of knowledge and mentor them toward discovering that knowledge in a meaningful way.  No two days were ever alike and no two years have ever been the same either.  Yet, that is NO comparison to what it has been like this week for me in wrestling with this new crook in the road of my teaching path.

I've generally considered myself capable with technology and even somewhat of a quick study at learning to maneuver my way through using new gizmos and tools.  However, this week I have felt like the old jokes folks made when I was growing up about their middle-aged mothers who couldn't absorb how to reprogram the VCR after a power failure and left the clock blinking 12:00 on-and-off, on-and-off...  Maybe I have just reached 'that age.' 

I've listened to the girls who share the office with me discuss and share tips about glitches in the Smartboard or throw around terms like 'domain' and 'gigs' and acronyms that make little to no sense to me even after I ask what the initials represent.  Most of the time I sort of felt like I had been dropped down into a new continent where folks speak a foreign language and I only hear a word or two which sounds somewhat familiar and even at that, it occurred only every now and then.  I've been given web addresses two, three, and even more times and still cannot recall them when it comes time for me to login or search for a file and open it to revise, add to, or simply edit.  (Yes, I have jotted down those web URLs but looking back through a half-full Composition Book full of notes that I wrote all this week takes time, too!)  By Friday afternoon at about two o'clock, my brain felt like it had been scrambled and fried into a huge, sloppy mush and I couldn't even remember how to do something simple like look into a computer's files and pull up something I had saved to my own file. 

Add to all that the fact that when I started out in the education business a little over fifteen years ago, the group of girls I was enfolded into, forming a department, found me one of the youngest and most energetic of our group.  Yet, this department perches me as the eldest in the lot by a couple of years and somewhat shorter on the Richter of energy levels, too.   Needless to say, I have come home every single day feeling STRESSED!  However, I am not completely daunted and have enjoyed the new challenges and hurdles I've been jumping while training for the 'real' match of guiding and mentoring other teachers when I go out into the field of classrooms in another week or so. 

I got a message from one of the teachers at a school where I am assigned to mentor which stated, "I am a new teacher at - her school is identified - in desperate need of some basic computer training!!!!!!!  What is the best route for my quest???  Just let me know!  Thanks so much!"  Boy!  did I know exactly how she feels!  Not only the wording of her plea seems like she is feeling flushed and hyperventilating, but all the punctuation certainly drives home her anxiety.  I have been experiencing almost the same emotions all this week - so much so that I even doubted that I would be the one who could assist this teacher. 

The good news is that today is Saturday and I have had a good night's sleep.  Plus, I even got to loll around later than the wake-up time I've had to return to for the past couple of weeks after a long summer hiatus. 

Then, my sweet husband was off from work, for a change, today and we got to spend some time outside in the garden and in the truck and sharing lunch with a couple of the grandchildren as well as one of our daughters. 

Next, we shared some time in the kitchen washing and preparing the veggies we had plucked for freezing and using later when the weather is not ultra-toasty.  In addition, we also had a few minutes to just plop down in a comfy chair in our cool, air-conditioned den with the television broadcasting a baseball game and a Southern Living magazine offering soothing photographs and good southern writing. 

Now, said hubby has slipped off to his fishing hole and I am getting to do a little leisure reading and writing.  What more could a person ask for on a Saturday? 

This refueling and idle time has truly brought me to a new appreciation of life and a refreshed attitude toward my career.  I've come to appreciate even more the opportunity this new career path offers me and feel more charged and capable to tackle the challenges which go along with it. 

I feel so fortunate that I am not stressed about planning something new and exciting and, most importantly, more effective to engage my students in the learning process for every single day this next week - planning something that is going to employ the newer and more up-to-date attitudes of this group of young people as well as include the tried-and-true strategies and all-important classic pieces of literature and conventions of language.  I know I now have plenty of time while I'm at work to focus on that sort of thing as a way to support others who are in the maze of that endeavor. 

I feel so fortunate that I don't have to wade through endless stacks of papers to learn what my students already know or have recently learned at the desks of my classroom and what I need to teach or re-teach them. 

I just feel fortunate that the opportunities I am now facing are different and really less stressful than those I brought home at this time last year and in the years past. 

I had forgotten that when I first started in this business all those years ago I felt...overwhelmed.  Then, when I changed schools, there was a whole new set of things bombarding me to overwhelm me.  Then, when I met a new set of students, there was a whole new set of things bombarding me to overwhelm me.  (Just learning all their names during the first couple of weeks is a big undertaking - not to mention learn about each of their learning needs and styles and personalities and behaviors and...well, you get the idea.)  I guess I just needed some time to step back and appreciate what really is important and what I have accomplished.  I guess I just needed to inhale deeply and exhale with a big puff to clear my head and make me realize that this, too, will become routine after a while. 

The thing that drove it home to me most was something I read during my leisure reading.  Sarah over at Clover Lane writes a blog that I follow.  Like her, I enjoyed my days surrounded by my children when they were growing up.  I am ever grateful (and awestruck) that I didn't have the house-full that she has but I did enjoy that era of my life.  I admire her and sometimes wish I had realized the wisdom she possesses when I was in the throes of mothering aacknowledges in her writing.  This week found her answering questions in an interview for another blog, Productive Parenting.com which you can find HERE

The most important line in that entire post, I think is this one: 

When asked, "What is the most important thing your children have taught you?"  her response was, "There is and will be nothing bigger in my life than what I am doing now. That having babies is a gift never to be taken for granted. That I can learn so much from those that have parented before me, and those that are parenting with me. To watch for my best and worst moments, and then make changes to make less worse and more best happen."

What sage advice!  After all, in every single thing we do, shouldn't we adapt such an attitude? 

We cannot stand on our laurels and we do not have to wallow in our failures.  We get to wake up each morning and try to do something else new in this world.  Plus, there is always something to be learned from those who came before us and those around us - no matter what it is we are attempting. 

I am lucky that Mike and I have the children we have.  They have each turned out to be productive citizens who are impressively successful in their own ways, considerate of others in many ways, and insightful in their choice of mates - and all this in spite of all the mistakes we each made along the way of guiding and mentoring them toward their independence!   Each of them is a gift in her or his own way and have even presented us with more gifts of their mates and children. 

And, finally, isn't it ever and always important to watch for our own best and worst moments and then make changes to make less of the worse and more of the best happen? 

P.S.  Thank you God for the time to rest and refuel, for a mate with whom to share that experience, for the gifts you continually give us, and for the wise words of a fellow blogger.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The things we do for love...

I remember when Bridgette went off to kindergarten, my heart ached because my little girl was growing up but at the same time I felt so good because she was becoming more independent.  Isn't that the whole purpose of parenting, to help them grow up to be independent, productive citizens in our society? 

I missed her constant chatter and questions but Bryan and I soon fell into a routine and became closer friends in her absence.  It was a wonderful time for us after all to have that time alone.  We always looked forward to pick-up time because we knew we were going to learn so much!

At first I wondered what she was learning and doing and would try to get her to tell us about her day.  She would just give us a snippet and move on to other conversations.  I soon learned to ask her something specific beyond simple, "Tell us about your day."  The easiest question to get her going was usually, "What did you have for lunch?"  One answer to this question is most memorable.

Her response was, "Well, we had these cooked onions...and Mama, they stunk so bad, I couldn't even eat the wieners!"  I immediately knew the menu - sauerkraut.  That dish has never been one of my favorites - in fact, it is far from it.  I had the same attitude as Bridgette - Peee-yuuu!  I smiled and assured her that I would never be cooking that dish.  That promise has held true for more than twenty years...until today.

Mike has mentioned that he likes kraut and wieners several times.  I just could not bring myself to buy a can of the stinking stuff.  Then, my nieces gave him a jar that they had canned for his birthday.  It sat on the shelf for almost a year.  I decided that since he has worked almost twenty days without any time off, I need to give him some sort of special treat.  Today I prepared Sauerkraut and Wieners. 

You can find the recipe I tried HERE

Side note:  As you can tell in the recipe, I only used half the jar.  I guess that means I'll be making this stinking stuff again sometime soon! 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

First Official Week

Well, I have spent my first official week as an Instructional Technology Coach. 

That is really not quite true.  Last week I spent lots of time preparing to be an Instructional Technology Coach.  I spent one day in new teacher orientation learning about insurance, retirement, and filling out all of those forms - W-2, direct deposit checking, etc.  This day was kicked off by a dapperly dressed fellow who has worked for this district for forty-eight years!  He started off as a teacher at an all-black high school, moved to the downtown high school, and has spent the past fourteen years in Human Resources.  Wow!  Forty-eight years seems like a long time.  He said that folks would tell him that one day he would wake up and know it is time to retire and each morning he wakes up and asks himself if today is the day but so far, he still looks forward to going to work.  More amazing than his forty-eight years of service is that he has never missed a day of work as sick!  I was awestruck!  

Mostly, all I have done since taking this job is lots of smiling.  Sometimes the preparations put me on the hot seat and I had to do a little more than smile.  A good example of this was when I went to new teacher professional development.  It started off very well.  I zipped into the building at one of the newer high schools in our district and was directed to the auditorium after I checked in and got my assigned itenerary.  I walked right down to the front and this fellow greeted me enthusiastically and invited me to sit on the same row.  So, I slid in toward the middle of the row of seats and sat down, dug out my composition book, and prepared to learn about this new district.

The first person introduced to speak was the fellow sitting a couple of seats down from me (the one who had greeted me) - the Director of Schools!  Wow!  I worked at the last district for four years and never was in the same room with the director that I know of - wouldn't even know what the man looks like today.  We learned loads of things in that morning assembly.  Then, we dispersed to a workshop to learn a bit more general information about the district and get to know the other new hires.  Next, we had a box lunch.  I finished up my lunch quickly and listened to the announcements and dismissal to the first break-out work session.  Being a system-wide employee, I was not assigned to a workshop session and had my choice.  So, I quickly scooted down to the technology workshop.

On my way down the hallway I realized that there was still twenty minutes before the session was slated to begin.  So, I decided to go in and introduce myself.  Upon entering the room I realized that the two folks in there were frantically trying to get laptops booted up and logged on to be used for the session.  So, I offered to assist.  The girl breathlessly told me that they would get it and I decided to stroll to the bathroom and leave them alone a bit.  I returned about ten minutes later and the girl introduced herself and noticed my nametag.  She galloped across the room, welcomed me aboard the team, and enveloped me in a bear hug and put me to logging into the computers!  She expected twenty-five participants and thirty-two showed up.  So, I continued to assist the preparations and she began her introduction to the workshop.

About half-way through the ninety-minute session, I was introduced as the newest member of the Instructional Technology team and I told folks, "I am just as green as most of you because I was only hired on Monday."  However, within, five minutes folks were asking me questions and seeking my help.  Everytime I saw a hand go up and motion toward me I thought, "Don't you realize I don't know any more than you?"  Yet, I would go look over their shoulders and we figured out their stumbling blocks together.  One guy asked me to help him with his class webpage.  I smiled and told him that I had never seen this webpage builder before but we could try to tackle it together.  I made a couple of suggestions and we tried them and he was well on his way again.  Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good!

In my next session, a girl who had been both of my children's fifth grade science teacher was the workshop facilitator.  About two minutes into her introductory presentation the power went out briefly.  The blackout lasted long enough to shut down her computer and the projector, though.  She looked at me with alarm in her eyes and asked me if there was something I could do!  Well, I went to the auditorium's control room and began booting up the computer.  While that was in progress, I sought out the coordinator of professional development.  Together, we got things running in a fixed-up sort of way.  So, I'm thinking this job is one of trial by fire!

This week I have been shadowing my mentor.  We have criss-crossed the county installing software, attended several meetings, trouble-shooted assessment scanners, and compiled a spreadsheet for district-wide use.  We also wrote a lesson plan for district-wide use and created materials to be used in the lesson.  I've met three of the other Instructional Tech Coach team and we have begun to assemble our new digs in our collaborative space in an elementary classroom not too far from my home. 

I'm still doing lots of smiling and jotting notes as quickly as my hand can write.  Yes, I'm having to write my notes because the processing of my paperwork has not been completed due to the overwhelming number of new hires in this school district.  (Last week more than three hundred folks were hired to start out the new year and move have been added this week.)  I'm hoping that my equipment and supplies will be issued early this next week so that the technology I'm beginning to use is a bit more up the scale than an ink pen!

If you see me with a confused look on my face, know that I am taking in loads of new information and learning all about my new job.  If I look like a deer in the headlights, know that I am sent to do a task that I'm not really certain and confident about, yet.  If I'm smiling, that could mean that things are going well and I'm enjoying the new frontier.  It also could mean I'm clueless!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Boxes of Books and a Spoon

My sweet husband has never been the nerd that I am.  He was not an avid reader and claims he never reads.  (Of course, I have caught hime scouring through gardening and livestock magazines and he read a book about UT football cover to cover one weekend.  So, I think he is a closet reader if there is a topic of his interest - like everybody else!)  After moving all of the STUFF out of my classroom yesterday, he claims he absolutely hates books!  (Like a knife through my heart!)

I cannot say that I blame him because he lifted and carted and unloaded and carted at least a dozen huge plastic tubs of books yesterday. 

A few tubs of my books.

That doesn't even include the fourteen book cases where the books used to rest
like these seen here...

or these shown with a few more boxes and tubs of books...
or these with the rolly cart and posters...
or the stool, odd tables, file cabinet, rolling desk chair,
and other sundries.

  Never did he complain or whine to me about it.  Oh, every now and again I'd hear him mumbling or he would sit down to catch his breath and wipe the sweat from his eyes and say, "Woman, you never can do anything in a small way can you?" or, "Woman, do you ever go anywhere that you don't have loads of stuff?"  Through it all, though, he was smiling and winking at me.

What could have been a very emotional day of leaving good friends and tackling a mountain of materials was made smooth and somewhat simple by this big teddy bear of a guy.  And, you know, I think what he enjoyed most was when somebody would stop in to say good-bye and give me a hug.  Mike truly is probably my biggest cheerleader and thinks far more of me than I think I really am.  He loved it all even with all the back breaking book lifting and sweating. 

This past few days I have been reminded of a couple of conversations my friend, Angela, and I had several years ago at a conference (where we were probably buying books and such for our classroom).  When we were alone in the truck or at our room, she asked me if I ever thought I would get married again.  My response was that maybe someday a guy would come along and we could share our lives together.  Then, the next day we were in a workshop and these two retired educators were setting up and preparing for their presentation.  The fellow was doing everything he could to make things just so for the woman.  Then, he gave her a glowing introduction and indicated that he was lucky enough to have been married to her for a number of years.  All through the workshop I noticed how he looked at her and was quick to help her and make things go more smoothly.  I saw how he waited after the presentation to talk to folks and listen to what they said to and about his wife.  I leaned over to Angela and told her that was what I wanted.  She looked at me like I'd lost my mind.  I'm sure that she was thinking, why would you want an old guy like that? or something more literal than what I saw.  So, I explained.  See how he looks at her like she is a bowl of ice cream and he has a spoon in his pocket?  He could just eat her up with a spoon he thinks she is so wonderful! 

I am a lucky woman and I love Mike for the way he loves and believes in me.  While I have been weathering through the decision and preparations of starting a new adventure along this journey for the past several days, I swear, I believe I heard a spoon jingling around in his pocket.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What is next?

Why isn't there a roadmap for decision making?  We make so many decisions in a day's time without stopping to consider.  What to eat or drink for breakfast?  What to wear?  What time to leave?  What road to take? 

Most of these are logical and don't really take much consideration.  When there is one that is routine altering, though, we tend to slow down and consider.  We ponder our options and weigh the pros and cons.  We list positives and negatives.  We ask for wisdom both spiritually and from family, friends, or colleagues.  Yet, ultimately, the final move is our own. 

Life is a series of trade-offs.  I'm making some new trade-offs this next week.  I will be giving up paper grading, bus duty, school fund-raisers, after-school-detention, parent conferences and more.  I am giving up my work in my own classroom.  I am picking up the opportunity to work with nine middle and high schools in a school district where I now live.  I will be working as a co-teacher, mentor, and professional development facillitator - the title is something like Instructional Technology Coach.  Oh, there will probably still be mountains of paperwork.  I will still be planning lessons.  I also still get to teach lessons.  The main trade-off is that instead of shouldering the load of the standardized test scores, I will be mentoring, guiding, and supporting those who do.  I will have the opportunity to share some of the strategies, practices, and ideas that I have been fortunate to collect and hopefully make the job of many teachers easier.  I will still have the oportunity to work with adolescents and share my passion for learning as well. 

Oh, I know that for the next few weeks I'm probably going to look like a deer in the headlights.  I'll be fearing that somebody is going to uncover that I'm an imposter and don't really know as much as they thought I did.  I'll also be in overload with all of the information I'll be taking in and trying to digest by moving from one system to another - you know, old brain with loads of new information bombarding it?  I do look forward to the challenge, however.

The interesting thing is, when I was being interviewed for this job, one of the questions the girl asked me caught me off guard, "What made you apply for this position in the first place?"   After a moment of thought and reflection it was easy for me to answer.  Oh, I know mine is not the traditional answer of yearning to touch more students or something warm and fuzzy like that.  It was a simple one, though.  I told her that since I was a very little girl my parents had always pushed me.  They challenged me to set goals and strive to achieve them.  My Daddy probably was the strongest teaching coach anybody could ever have growing up.  As soon as one goal was reached, he always would ask, "What is next?"  It has continued throughout my life.  Then, I married a man with similar qualities and perhaps an even stronger belief in me.  For the past several years one of my goals was to have all my students prepared and achieve 100% proficiency on their state writing assessment.  When I was ecstatic over them achieving this milestone last spring, both men, asked, "What is next?"  I didn't even have time to revel in the wonder!  So, I quickly set my next professional goal and worked toward that. 

When this opportunity shined its light on my path, I looked at it as my "next."  I still wish for a roadmap to decision making.  I know that decisions are never going to go away.  I also know that I will always, ultimately, be the one who is responsible for my decisions.  In this journey that I'm taking through life, I'm so thankful that not only do I have folks nudging me to find out, "What is next?" but I also have them there to cheer me on or reach out a hand when my 'next' is a rocky road that is not even included on a roadmap, yet.