Blustery Day

 

Contrary to popular thought that California has perfect winters, we have wind. Not gentle ocean breezes. Rip your table umbrellas out and deposit them in your neighbor’s yard wind. Destructive and bone chilling, these winds blow into town and linger for days. In the summer, they can be furnace blasts, but the worst come whipping through the winter.

California elementary schools assume we will always have mild weather. There is no shelter between buildings and portables. Students have to brave mighty gusts to have lunch and use the restrooms. “Inclement weather” is declared, and all recesses cancelled for the day. Teachers and their classes remain huddled inside their rooms.

Attention spans diminish, and voices grow louder. Pollen kicks up to spark headaches and runny noses. Already sick children gather at the school nurse’s office while she calls their parents.

Meanwhile, palm fronds land like missiles on cars passing on the streets. Ancient branches raise their arms in surrender and fall on parked cars. Dust and leaves swirl in doorways, waiting to blow in.

Wind makes people angry. A local proverb advises not to make any major decisions on a windy day.

Perhaps we shared a haughty chuckle when it was sunny and 80 degrees last weekend and other regions of the country lie buried in snow. We thought ourselves worthy of that song, “California Dreaming.”

Maybe the wind is our punishment for being proud.

The Space In-Between

Background, Bay, Beach, Beautiful, Blue, Calm

 

September in Southern California is the space in-between. It’s past summer, not yet fall. We still endure triple digit heat while the rest of the country cools down. No special holidays except Labor Day, and that’s just another excuse to have a BBQ by the pool. Teachers and students sweat through the inclement weather schedule, patiently waiting for relief. Even though I have a pool, this month I rarely dip in, cooler nights dropping pool temperature into the cold range.

In-between. Not yet Halloween or Thanksgiving. Already yearning for Christmas break.

When I lay down at night, I dream of sweaters and boots, grey stormy skies, and hot cocoa. I usually love summer, but when September comes, I am eager to pack away my swimsuit and sunscreen. My jeans whisper “Pick me,” in my closet, my umbrella calls my name. But not yet. Not when I have recess duty under a blazing sun.

Patiently we wait. Sweating through September days. Going to school and work, teased into wearing a jacket early in the morning, only to tear it off before 10:00 a.m.

Other places, the leaves turn colors and fall. But not here in the desert. We outlast the scorching heat while waiting for cooler days.

Sunny, pleasant days that make us forget that many other places will suffer the pangs of winter that will pass us by. Rainy days that wash away dust and smog.

But for now, we are in-between. Waiting.

Today She Needs to Write

Homework, Girl, Education, Studying, Student, School

 

A short story about a short story.

When I announced to my third grade class that one of my Harley stories was going to be included in an anthology coming out next month, a serious-looking girl in the second row shot up her hand.

“Did you have a question?” I asked.

“How long did it take you to write the story?”

Hmm. I knew this student loved to write in her journal, and her quick write responses often filled the entire page. Adults who share my writing addiction know that years can pass before a story or book is exposed to the light of publication. Would my answer cause her to close her journal and pursue another dream?

How long did it take?

Last fall I went on the Harley overnighter that became the subject of my story. When I returned, it was back to my normal life as a teacher. (Often I have compared my life to Indiana Jones, especially the part where he has to go back to his job as a college history professor after outrunning the Nazis.) A few months passed before I found time to sit down and think about that adventure.

Actually writing it didn’t take more than an hour. I read through it, adding and deleting for another half hour. After I thought it was finished, I sent it out with my other submissions, the dark hole where you rarely find out your story’s fate. Meanwhile, some of my other short stories were accepted into online magazines. Nothing for that story. I took UCLA extension classes and worked on my YA novel.

Early in the summer, I heard that my California Writers Club branch was going to publish their first anthology. I took back out that Harley story, edited it again, and submitted.

That story was accepted into the book. The editor wanted some minor revisions. Five months later, the book is almost ready to come out.

So how did I answer? My smile reflected in her eager eyes, I replied, “Only about an hour.”

She’ll find out about the rest someday, but today she needs to write.

 

 

 

 

Back to School in the Fiery Furnace

 

Desert, Sand, Sand Dunes, Sahara, Gobi

A million years ago, when I was in elementary school, we didn’t start school until after Labor Day. My hot, muggy Iowa summer days were spent at the community pool, riding bikes, watching “Dark Shadows” and staying out until the streetlights came on.

Fast forward to the present. Now I’m teacher instead of student, and we go back to work the second week in August. What? I have to put real clothes on instead of my swimwear and go to work when it’s over 100 degrees outside?

Whine, whine, whine. You have air-conditioning, what’s the big deal?

True, but this isn’t Iowa anymore. Back there, we had closed hallways between classrooms and a gymnasium due to inclement weather. In California, we have to cross the frying-pan-hot playground several times a day to get to the cafeteria, teachers’ lounge, library, and bathroom. Not to mention the air-conditioning unit in my portable sounded like a Harley when it started up this year. (Gratefully, it has been fixed. Thank you again to that kind M&O guy in the white truck- you’re my hero!)

Summer isn’t over. You can still jump into your pool when you get home from school.

True, except for the part where you don’t get to go home when your contract hours are over at 4. It’s the beginning of the year, and there are so many BOY things that are due at the same time. You’re lucky if you lock up and go home by 5:30.

But teachers are so lucky. They get summers off.

Seriously, if we didn’t have summers off, we couldn’t do this job and keep smiling. You had your kids all summer. Are you still smiling?

Anyway, there’s nothing to be done for it. High schools want early summer starts so they can finish finals before Christmas break. You notice they don’t have recess duty in August the way elementary teachers do.

And I guess it’s nice to be out of school for the summer right after Memorial Day. June in Southern California is a much kinder month than August. And I guess it’s not that bad to have your makeup melt down your face as you lead your students up to the front gate after school.

So here we are, back to school, and made it through August. By Halloween we’ll get down to two digit high temperatures before it starts raining.

Rain. Something to look forward to.

When it’s the end of the school year, and you’re tired

IMG_7792

End of the school year deadlines binged on my phone, and I felt like it would be impossible to walk out in two weeks on May 30. I still had piles everywhere in my third grade classroom. This year had been the busiest yet, with grade level rotations, science fair, ballet, Living History Museum, two field trips, and after school chorus.

After coming in early, staying at school late, gallons of coffee and pounds of chocolate, I was done. Done with report cards. Done with educational cum files. Done with taking every staple off my walls.

When the last bell rang, I walked my students up to the front gate, watched them match up with their parents, and took a breath. My smile got bigger. I took a leisurely lunch with a co-worker. Then I grabbed my purse and my laptop, turned in my keys to the secretary, and I was free.

Ten weeks of no alarm clocks. Especially since my husband had recently retired. We had loads of house projects in progress, and out-of-town company coming in a month, but I needed something first.

Instead of cleaning the Room of Requirement (exercise, storage, guest room), we packed up the trailer, loaded up the dogs, and headed for the beach. For five straight days, we slept in, walked on the beach and around the camp, played card games with friends, and took naps. We savored the cool ocean breeze, knowing it would be up in the 100s when we got home.

It took a few days, but I started to feel normal again. When we finally packed it all up and headed for home, I was ready to start my summer.

January Reset Button

retreat

 

I only have a few more days of winter break to procrastinate about my novel revisions before I return to school. With the New Year comes the reset button, the chance to make this year different than the previous. Feels a bit odd, as it actually hits halfway through the school year, where we’re not resetting anything, but chugging along down the tracks of education toward May state testing. (How many weeks until Spring Break?)

During the eight years we’ve been married, my husband and I hold back from giving each other Christmas gifts each year, especially considering we have six grown children and seven grandchildren. Instead we go away for a weekend in January, press the reset button and reflect on our personal, spiritual, financial, and couple goals. We write our goals down in a notebook and then look back to see how well we’re progressing each year. Some things we write down seem trivial a year later, while others become more focused and urgent.

Some of the goals are wishes, and many of those we’ve seen come true as the years roll by. But it’s not so much whether or not we hit our targets. Each of us has to search our hearts and share our dreams with each other. Saying them out loud gives them shape and writing them down gives them weight. Even if we don’t achieve a goal, we still feel validated by sharing it with each other, and holding each other accountable when needed.

When a couple wants each other to grow into the person they were made to be, it provides a nurturing environment for change. No judgment, only understanding. Forgiveness when needed and grace to cover our shortfalls. Our January reset button has helped us grow as individuals and in our marriage.

A Teacher’s Lament to Change

tired-teacher

 

 

Seasons change, our classes change, our priorities change, our attitudes change.

Change has been both a friend and enemy to me. The same elements of my teaching career that energize me—new classes, new curriculum, new teaching strategies, new focuses—are also major stressors in my life.

Sometimes I hate change. Routines bring me peace, as I can add the finesse to my teaching art when I’m familiar with the reading passages. I can plan ahead with a clear image of what my lessons will look like, and what the pitfalls could be. Each year I create bulging files stuffed with organizers I’ve created or borrowed from someone else. Every year, I believe that I’ve made my job easier.

But familiarity also creates boredom and discontent. There were some stories in the reading book that I wanted to skip because I really hated them. Many of the passages were so out of date, students couldn’t relate to them at all. Priorities about physical education and fine arts needed to be balanced with reading and math.

When my district announced they had finally chosen a new language arts program, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Now two weeks into the new school year, I’m too busy reading all the components of the lessons to get excited about anything.

Change means I must throw away all my old files away and start new. My flip flops stay in the closet as I wear my Vans for stair climbing. New faces and names wait for me to call on them. This year I am teaching 4th and 5th grade in a combination class, so I will have two sets of lesson plans. Besides the language arts program, we have a new math program, a new science program, and did I mention a new principal and vice principal?

Seasons change, our classes change, our jobs change, my attitude must change.

Instead of feeling rushed, I’m going to take time to listen and look my students in the eye. My pacing guide will adapt to the needs of my class. This year, my students will do more, and I will talk less. My new routines will include wonder, laughter, forgiveness, and collaboration.

I will make Change my best friend. I will invite her to sit down and have coffee with me. She will accept that I won’t do everything perfectly and together we will change the lives of our students.

 

 

 

Swimming

dive

The beginning of the school year is time for swimming. By the end of 10 weeks of summer vacation, I’ve finally wound down enough to smile naturally, and then, it’s Back to School.

That wouldn’t be so bad, except all Hell breaks loose. My home starts to fall apart- air conditioner fails, hot water heater breaks, although still under warranty, and showers back up. The cat scratches eight holes into my husband’s $300 Harley seat. My daughter rips her oil pan open under her car, and needs assistance.

And then there’s school. Again air conditioning fails- seems to be a theme. Perhaps we should start school after the 120 degree weather is over, maybe October. No recess due to high heat so no time for a break or to copy off that math homework you forgot. New students, new parents- don’t they read the letter I sent home about signing their child’s homework planner? Back to School Night, because I love to stay an extra 3 hours past my entire day without recess and a slammed lunch break.

It’s as if I’ve been thrown off a high cliff and land breathless in the raging river below. Paddling fiercely, I work to keep my head above water. But in the distance, I can see the bank of Thanksgiving break, and I swim toward it.

The Hardest Day

backpack

Today was the hardest day of the school year. After a grueling week of meetings after meetings spiced with a dash of time actually working on our rooms, it was time for teachers to meet the parents, and the kids hanging on them.

This is a magical, almost Christmas-like, day- kids with new clothes, unscuffed shoes, and bright colored backpacks overflowing with school supplies. It is probably the only day in the entire school year where all your students have a sharpened pencil.

Once inside your room, there is a hush in the air, as your new students size you up for meanness and hawk eye. It’s so much fun to give 3 timed reading tests to each student and call out someone in the back row for off task behavior at the same time. It is important to cultivate the myth that you have x-ray vision and hearing as sensitive as a hound dog. Call it like you see it. If they didn’t do it, they’re probably guilty of something else.

So many important lessons are taught on this special day, such as how to walk up the stairs and how to write your complete name on a paper. It takes me 2 hours to instruct how to correctly make labeled tabs for their binders. No matter how long it takes, my class will do everything Correctly. Routines properly taught from now to Thanksgiving will save my life, and blood pressure, for the remainder of the year.

When the final bell rings, and I escort my new class down to the gate, my job is still not over. The bus kids have to find their way to the right bus in a line of five identical buses with a postage stamp sized number by the door to indicate which route. The after school program kids must be herded reluctantly to the cafeteria. The rest have to locate their parents in the maze of cars and buses.

Some of my former students from last year stop to give me hugs, which makes me smile. They look so grown up and responsible now. A sigh of relief escapes my lips. There’s hope for my new students. I just have to remember- it is the First Day of school.