A Teaching Issue

Today I re-posted 2 pieces on Facebook; one had to do with letting go of the pressures of testing and “being” a teacher and the other focused on why teachers were leaving the classroom.  They both were focused on the pressures of testing and the desire to relate to kids, and I started to wonder why teachers all across America are having the same thoughts?

These blogs show up in every state, union states and will to work states.  States where teachers are paid well and state where the teachers are struggling.  They all say the same thing: The joy of teaching and connecting with kids is being replaced with the need to have higher test scores.  And the blame is landing on the Common Core.

I have a problem with where we are laying the blame.  I see positives and negatives with the Common Core.  As a high school teacher, I see so many positives with this document.  To know that you are going to a university with other students of the same caliber who have learned the same skills is empowering.  I went to college after having a sub-par science background and floundered and changed my major after the first semester.  The Common Core would have, or should have, ensured that wasn’t the case.  I wish there had been a national standard when I was in high school.  I would have been better prepared for college.

On the other hand, I can see issues in the elementary level.  These kids are learning FANTASTIC methods for understanding math…my 4th grader showed me a way to do multiplication that she understood and I thought was fabulous!  BRAVO! Mrs. Jackson and the math curriculum!  On the other hand, how do you tell a kid to draw a thousand circles to show how they do a problem and then ask them to do speed multiplication and expect an average kid to get that transition.  Then you throw in some perimeter and area, oh by the way you have to figure it out backwards using that speed multiplication while drawing circles…and you can see how these kids are completely lost. There are issues with the Common Core, but there are also positives.

What I take issue with is the testing.  This year the State provided every core class with final exams in high school.  So this was the year that as a veteran, experienced teacher I had to remove the fluff and focus on the REAL stuff.  Every activity has a purpose.  Can you imagine how difficult that is with a group of 16-17 year olds?  Everything has a purpose; there is no time to just shoot the sh%t because it develops relationships or the kids like it.  Then think about working with first year teachers who have these fun, exciting ideas, and, as a team lead, I have to challenge every one with “how does it connect to the curriculum and the Common Core standards?”  I know my administration loves hearing us go back to the standards, but can you imagine the way it makes that new teacher feel?

Then there is the stress on the kids; my kids, the overachieving, I have to be the best, can I do extra credit even though I have a 95 in your class students.  We gave state finals in classes that were outside of our curriculum to ensure “Ethics Codes” were in place.  I almost cried when a  kid in a Math II Honors class asked if he got extra time past the 2 hours, and my response was “no”.  That child had worked steadily throughout the 2 hours and was faced with a mere 15 minutes to do the 2 Constructed Response Questions.  All I could think was, “I teach in one of the best schools in the area, I am giving a test to honors kids, and 5 of them have asked for more time.  What must this test look like somewhere else in this state?  Have the kids given up?  Are they sick from the stress?  Are they crying because they know there is no use in going on?”  This test is 25% of their grade. I feel for these kids; I have been there. I cried during a Chemistry test at Rice University when I realized that after 75  hours of 1:1 tutoring by the professor’s TA that I was going to fail this test; I just didn’t have the understanding of the subject that I needed to be successful…I probably stressed myself out and could have done it, but I didn’t.  I know that stress.  I felt so bad for those kids.  A friend of mine at another school was talking about how her student threw up on his shirt and kept on testing because he was afraid to raise his hand and leave the room.  Why do we need to place that much stress on a 15 year old?

I know we all want to know how much these kids have learned, especially if we are all suppose to be teaching the same standards across America.  And, we all have opinions about how this can be accomplished.  Taxpayers have opinions, elected officials have opinions, and teachers have opinions…all about the importance of how to tell if these kids are learning. But, does having a National standard mean we have to test our kids and our teachers to the point where the kids are sick from stress and the teachers leave the profession?

I am a teacher and a mom.  I see the importance of the education system and the importance of keeping good teachers in the classroom…I won’t be going anywhere.  I cry over the teachers who are contemplating leaving the classroom, because, although these evaluation measures are in place, it is usually not the bad teachers who leave peacefully.  I simply wonder, if these issues are in every school across the country, why aren’t our politicians looking at what’s going on?  We aren’t asking you to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  We are asking you to look at the process, look at the system, look at the evaluation tools, and make some adjustments to fit the needs of all kids. 

At the end of every semester I do a course evaluation for my kids and ask them, through specific questions, what they liked, didn’t like, and the whys.  I would ask for the Department of Education to do the same…and then self-eval, it is cathartic!

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Back to the Gym

Went back to the gym today for the first time in 5 days.  I had to take a break because I had worn a very deep, very sore blister into my heel.  I spent the entire weekend and two days this week either with my foot in a salt/epsom salt bath or with a salt paste tape to the spot.  That booger was deep and hurt…hurt…hurt!  Well, today I got home from school and took a peek at that very persistent blister and viola!  It had popped and all the infection had come out…and it was gross! So, silly me put on my gym clothes (because I swear I have gained a small child with all the holiday eating and now a long break from the gym!) and bandaged that heel and headed to the treadmill…where after 20 minutes and a mile and a half, I stepped off the treadmill.  Seemed although my head said, “Go forth and purge the stress of the day!” my heel said, “Have you lost your ever-loving mind woman?  This is a hole in you heel that you could park a Prius in!  Get off the treadmill!!!”  and because there was blood, I listened to my heel and got on the stationary bike!  HA!  Take that you tenacious Pain in the Foot!  Ummm..PITF doesn’t really spell anything does it?  Not a great workout, but anything is better than nothing!  Oh, and I got started on my new mind-candy novel Surrender Your Love by J.C. Reed-nothing like reading about ridiculously beautiful people who fall in love and have an implausibly romantic bedroom life to make the pain disappear!  Oh yeah, and at 26 she gets the job of a lifetime and gets to go to Italy on her first day at work!!!!  I know, I know, you were thinking this mirrors your life to a tee-me too!  That’s why I keep reading!

How Has Having a Child with a Terminal Illness Affected My Life?

You know, you read all these posts on social media about how God doesn’t give you more than you can handle…heads up, He did. I simply survived.

How God gives special needs kids to special parents…really?  What did I do to deserve this?  I was a pretty selfish person who had goals and dreams that were crushed by my son’s diagnosis…don’t think I was that special.

How He gives the biggest battles to His best warriors…they are children.  They are NOT born warriors, that are built that way through their lives.

I responded to a parent tonight of a newly diagnosed SMA type 1 child.  He is a twin to a sister, just like my Jake.  He has an older brother; my Jake has an older sister.  The similarities between their family and mine are epic.  I see myself in this mother, with the exception that she has social media and I had to travel to California to learn about other parents who could support me.  So, basically she has it easier…and yet it doesn’t get any easier.  The dream you had for your son: he would be a football or soccer player; he would be handsome and make all the girls’ hearts beat a tad bit faster; he would be the next Bill Gates, Brad Pitt, Troy Aikman…they all just bit the dust ad you are left with the devastating news that your son would not live to see his first birthday.  Now, you mothers and fathers take a moment.  You go in for a well appointment and the news is there is something wrong with your child; a couple weeks later you learn it is SMA and that your child-the vessel that holds the essence that is you and your spouse and that will fulfill all those goals you did not-is going to die within the next 6-9 months.  Take a moment and suck that puppy in…because it took me hours of researching WTF SMA was to get the entire picture and then I cried.  I cried for 3 days solid while I looked through web page after web page of children who HAD died from this awful disease. WE went back to the neurologist only to have him promise to look into alternative treatments and then NEVER call us again. 

At the end of those LONG 3 days…I swear I may have slept a total of an hour…I got a call from a church friend, now minister, who offered to come and help me.  How?  How do I need help?  MY parents and in-laws were helping with the children while I was a puddle…how do I accept help?  But Martha had ideas, and she came over and helped me construct a letter to EVERY SINGLE person associated with SMA in the world!  Okay, that’s an exaggeration….but she helped me get the ball rolling.  Then one of my students came over and offered to take Scarlett to see the movie Cars.  I couldn’t stay in that house one minute longer, nor leave without my Jake, and so the three of us jumped in her car and went to see Cars at the dollar theater…I accepted help again.

When we got home, my husband ran out the front door and said there was a man on the phone from Stanford University who said Jake could qualify for their clinical trial if we were willing to transport him there and back…i accepted the help.

To get there, we needed plane tickets.  There were charities that would help us.  I applied and accepted help again.   Once we got there we needed a place to stay and the hospital had a deal with a local joint-the motel was odd, cute, eccentric…not MY style, but I accepted the help and made new lesbian friends.

So when I was telling this newly diagnosed family about our journey I told them it was hard.  It almost killed me those first two years.  I was the most depressed fighting zombie you have ever met.  I once had a nurse describe me as the most depressed lady on anti-depressants she had ever met.  I was a mess!  But my son was surviving and I SERIOUSLY DIDN’T MATTER.  It didn’t matte that I could go for days without a shower and not ever notice!  The 75 pounds I put on were a shock to me when right before Jake’s MAW Scarlett and I went to Carowinds and I was kicked off a roller coaster for being too fat.  All that mattered was that he was doing well, that he wasn’t sick, that he wasn’t going to DIE on me.

So, what has being the mom of a kid with a terminal illness taught me?

1. We all have a terminal illness-it’s called living!  You are dying right now…so you have to get over it!

2. Don’t sweat anything!  Forget the small stuff…you just have to face it and move past!  Otherwise you get caught up in a Polar Vortex that will delay you two hours! 🙂

3. If there is a big pink elephant in the room-face it, call it out, and move past it!  It doesn’t win me any friends, but I swear it makes the bad go away faster!

4. Love your kids-all your kids-even the ones that are the biggest PIYA!

5.  Tell them you love them every day-several times a day-especially when they are being a PITA!

6. Go to the gym…it may not make you thin, but it will definitely work off all the frustration!

7. Accept HELP!  All kinds of help…whether you really want it or not!

8. Tell people THANK YOU!  God, those words go so far in life!

9. Make peace with your Maker.  God and I were on a tilting platform for a couple of years and although I still don’t think I deserve such a gift, I am so glad He gave it to me!

10. SMILE!  It takes years off your face and makes everyone around you feel so much better!

Jake and Darth Gator

Jake and Darth Gator

So, Murphy’s Law is totally in effect tonight! Tomorrow is our first day back to school after break and Jake was falling asleep, sound asleep, at 6:45 so I asked Bridget to put him to bed before she left for the night and I popped some melatonin to help me get to sleep. Believe it or not, teachers get anxious and excited about going back to school just like the kids. Bridget got him in bed and we fed Darth Gator and took some pictures. And Jake woke up! Now my poor son is laying in his bed crying at me to get him back up….this is no easy task and I have already taken the melatonin-so now we wait…and pray my poor boy decides to crash again. This is one of those moments when I HATE SMA the most! Any of my other kids I can pick up and cuddle; have them slip into bed beside me and watch some Disney; brush their hair until they get lulled to sleep. Jake is in his bed with a feeding system hanging over him so he can eat his food all night and not throw up, hooked up to his bi-pap with his pulse ox on his toe and his DVD player in front of him. To get him up would be 10-15 minute ordeal and then I just get to hold his hand because cuddling him could choke him. I am rubbing his hand while I pick and punch out this blog and thank goodness my boy seems to be calming down…silver lining I get to go to sleep too!

The Last Day of Winter Break

The funny thing about teachers and breaks, we always wait to the end to actually get anything done.  And can you blame us? 

One reason I teach is because I love kids and I love literature.  I enjoyed my time in Ms Beth Hinson’s English classes at Myers Park High School.  I thought she was phenomenal!  I loved how she dressed in colors-no joke, if she was having a red day, she wore red shoes with red tights, a red skirt with a red blouse, and she looked fantastic!  And she was a little on the gray side when I had her!  I loved how she brought passion to our Humanities class in 10th grade (so wish I could teach that class now!) and then how she trusted us to be brilliant in her AP Lit class our senior year.  And that was a hard class to get into-you had to write an essay and get teachers to recommend you.  It was an honor to have her as your teacher and you damn sure knew it!

But, let’s be real!  I get exhausted doing this stuff day in and day out just like the kids.  I see how hard I push them and know the exhaustion I am feeling is doubled, maybe tripled in their little brains.  I get excited when I find something new or a lesson goes beyond what I was hoping and everyone experiences the rush of new knowledge.  I am not immune; I learn something every day from my students, and I am forever grateful for this gift!  But there are times when we just need to turn it all off, and for me that means reading mind-candy novels and working my body to exhaustion in the gym…thus the reason I still have 24 junior papers to grade and simply a weekend left of my break!

I have been sending text messages to my kids all break to remember to do their State Exam practice on Edmodo-an AWESOME site where teachers can communicate with their students and ACTUALLY teach when they are out of the classroom.  Some of my more astute students have gotten to work and the results are making me feel confident of what they will produce on that FINAL EXAM.  Others, like me are procrastinating-and I can’t blame them! 

Breaks are awesome and energizing, but they can be detrimental as well.  I will be spending the next two days playing catch up on those papers-oh, did I mention I have 50 more essays about Catcher in the Rye that I haven’t even looked at! And I am hoping my sweet students who have put off the inevitable until the very last second join forces with me as we swamp through the necessary in order to prepare our minds for the GRAND FINALE! 

I feel their resistance and their need to relax and get every last drop of the relief we all need-but the time has come for us to get to the task at hand!  I will be feeling the pain with you these next two days, my darlings, and I know you will not disappoint me! 🙂

The Vitamixer

I asked my parents for a juicer for Christmas because I wanted to get a bit healthier and I thought a juicer would allow me to do this without having to eat fruit for hours.  Mom picked up a Vitamixer at Costco and when I opened it on Christmas Day I was a bit taken back because I had no idea how ground up seeds and the skins were going to taste; after all, the juicer strained all that for you, right?  So the day after Christmas I got up and threw some frozen berries, a banana, and a cutie in the vitamix and set it to blend, poured it in a cup, and yummy!  Next day I added a grapefruit and made a trip to Aldi (the greatest cheap fresh fruit and veggie store around).  Since then I have added carrots and spinach to every blend…bananas and apples, frozen berries and grapefruit, lemons and limes.  The mixes have gotten yummier, with the exception of the one I added protein powder to yesterday-that was just gross!  Tonight we grabbed some kale and I am going to add a leaf tomorrow.  I have found that any of those veggies with extreme tastes (cucumber, celery, and probably kale) need to be added in small quantities and with a ton of fruit.  I haven’t lost any weight yet, although I am working out 2 hours each day while drinking these, but that is probably because I am eating pizza with the kids at night instead of sticking to my fruit/veggie smoothies.  I am hoping when I go back to school next week I will be able to do a 5 day cleanse-nothing but the fruit-Jake’s nurse, Adam, said he watched a documentary about a guy who did this for 30 days, got off insulin, and cured his high blood pressure.  Not suffering from any of these but the guy also lost a ton of weight, and I need to drop these last 35!

On a similar note, I am signing up for a triathlon on June 1st.  Not a very long one-200 yard swim, 2 mile run, and 8 mile bike-but I still need to train seriously for it.Currently I am walking uphill for 4.5+ miles each day at 4.6+ mph, so I am hoping ramping up to a 2 mile run won’t be that much of a change, but I don’t have anywhere to train the swim, and the summer league pool only opens 15 days before the race, so I need to get creative.  In addition, I don’t have a bike-train on a stationary and my ride around the neighborhood one is a cruiser-so I have to figure that one out.  I did do some resistance training on the stationary today and it kicked my butt!  I would crank the resistance up to 20 and the next thing I knew my HR was in the 150s! 

The goal here is health and exercise and diet are the best ways to start!  I am looking forward to a bikini worthy body in the summer, but more importantly a strong core, arms, and legs to continue being able to carry Jake and give him the life he deserves.  It is amazing how for years I used him as my excuse and now I use him as my motivation.

Gotta Love those Insurance Companies

2014….seven and a half years since my twins were born.  Eighty-seven months since my son was diagnosed with a terminal disease and we were told he wouldn’t see his first birthday.  And today, of all days, we opened a letter from CVS/Caremark telling us that his pulmazyme, a drug that helps to keep his lungs clear, will no longer be covered by insurance because there is no proof that it works on SMA kids.  No proof?  How about the fact that he hasn’t been sick and in the hospital on life support in life FOREVER!  Or the fact that sinus infections don’t turn in pneumonia.  I think what is most frustrating about this is that they, the all knowing insurance agency, look at the $900 a month price tag and think, “This boy is costing us $10k a year from this drug and there hasn’t been a $5million dollar clinical trial to prove it works, so why should we pay for it?”  My response is that we have never come out of a winter/spring sickness that has had him hospitalized in the PICU and on a ventilator for less than $150k, and since we have been using pulmazyme we haven’t had one of those illnesses.  But what the heck do I know?  I am simply the Mom who has to go to the hospital and tell them how to use his medical equipment because most of the nurses and RTs haven’t seen a cough assist since school; I am the Mom who gets them the SMA intubation/extubation protocol  and helps them follow it so he gets to come home from the hospital; I am the Mom who has kept him well and alive six and a half years past his prognosis; I am the Mom who has flown and driven him back and forth across this country to get the very BEST medical support we can possibly get; I am the Mom who has read EVERY piece of information about SMA; I am the Mom who has talked to so many other moms to learn what they do for their kids to help them thrive; however, I am NOT the insurance guy who sits behind a desk and decides who gets what drug. And because of this, Jake and I will be trying something new.  I am hoping and praying that his doctor’s suggestion of hypertonic saline works as well as pulmazyme.  If it does, the insurance company can save some money and Jake can continue to stay healthy.  If it doesn’t, we may be fighting illnesses again.  Knock on wood that we can keep our healthy streak going.  And thanks, CaImageremark for making the start of 2014 just flippin’ fantastic!