Friday, December 12, 2008
Not that I'm counting (ahemtwelvedaystogo).
(Not that I'm even finishing my posts any time near when I start writing them, as now there are only five school days to go.)
I thought I'd share a few bits of entertainment I've gleaned in the last couple of months:
At parent teacher conferences a mother was trying to shed some light on her son's sense of humor. She told me this was her husband's favorite joke: "What's green, has four legs, and falls out of trees? A pool table!" I think I'd like to meet this man.
An actual conversation overheard between a teacher and a student:
S: Is this math 7?
T: You're in 8th grade. This is math 8.
S: (Seriously exasperated) This is too confusing!
The same male student was telling me that a female student had hit him:
Male: She hit me!
Female: You touched my things!
M: (Pointing at her empty desk) You didn't bring any things!
F: They're parts of my body!
Over Thanksgiving the family got together and my cousin, Doug, was talking about his job as a counselor at the prison. He said that part of his job was just socializing with the prisoners, and keeping an eye out for odd behavior. For example, if this guy usually talks to him, but today keeps his head down and avoids Doug, it can be a warning sign. He tries to head off explosive problems before they build up to that point.
I leaned over to my Aunt Becky, who is also a Jr. High teacher, and said, "Sound familiar?" She laughed, as would anyone who has taught in secondary schools.
The business has come to seem normal. I'm not looking forward to restarting the Baker classes, though. Sometime in January things are gonna get ugly.
In the mean time, I wake up on Mondays at 5:00, and try to get to school by 6:30. This gets pushed back later every day of the week.
My algebra class is very challenging. They are so very social that it is difficult to get anything done. They have also succeeded in making me lose my temper. Before Thanksgiving I told them that I refuse to get angry at them, and with that promised not to yell at them.
So far I have kept my word. I have walked out of the room a few times to cool off, especially with regards to one particular student. When she is absent, I enjoy the class. When she is there, the difficulty increases exponentially.
Still, I'm almost to the half-way point through the school year, and I have survived.
Thank you, Uncle Bob, for reminding me that I have an audience. I'd like to think that I will do better in 2009, but I kind of don't think so.
Friday, October 31, 2008
That moment was on a par with the very first time I held her in my arms, only moments after she was born.
We went and got her luggage off the luggage-go-round, and I called Mom and Dad. They were in the parking lot, just heading in. I was still holding Maxine, so I pointed Grandma and Grandpa out to her. Her face just lit up, and she said "Grandpagrandma!" I put her down and told her to run to them, and she did.
And right there I had another beautiful moment that will stay with me for a very long time. I had very slight doubts that Maxine would be reluctant to see me when she returned; after all, two months is a long time to a three-year-old. My worries about Mom and Dad were a bit more solid. After all, Maxine only sees them once or twice a month. It was a joy to see that my worries were unfounded.
We couldn't spend much time with Mom and Dad, as Dad had a meeting to go to. They had just come over to our house a couple of days earlier and helped to clean the house. Dad and I focused on the garage. You won't believe this, but both cars fit in the garage now!
On the way home, Maxine fell asleep in the car. She was actually asleep by the time we got to the highway. She slept most of the way home, waking up to protest when we stopped to pick up some dinner. She slept through being carried into the house, and slept straight through the rest of the evening.
"How about through the night?" I hear you asking. "Not so much," is my reply. Horyon and I went to bed before 9:00, which was a good idea for me. Maxine woke up around 10 and 11, but was easily coaxed back to sleep. I'm pretty sure she was awake again at 1:00 a.m., but that's kind of hazy for me. Horyon told me that at 3:00 she was awake and asking for cereal. So she had cereal. Maybe some grapes. I don't know. Around 4:00 she came in and shook me awake. Asked if I was sleeping, in Korean. I told her yes, and asked for a kiss. I got one, and that was enough to send me back to sleep. I think this happened two or three times through the night. When my clock radio went off at 5:00, I was alone in our bedroom, but not for long. Maxine popped in to say that she had heard music, again in Korean.
Her Korean has improved by leaps and bounds, by the way. I am very proud. And tired.
We went out together to see what Mommy was up to. She was cleaning Maxine's room. It had been straightened, but all of her toys were put away in the wrong places, so she couldn't find anything.
Hopefully they will adjust to Central Standard Time soon. In the mean time, Maxine has learned to say "No" in Korean. It is truly the language of whining.
I leave you with a picture downloaded from our camera. Looks like Quangan Beach in the background to me, though I'm not sure where exactly they are.
They had some pictures taken at the same studio we used for Maxine's first birthday. I will have to get them scanned for you, because she looks like a little model. Seriously. Make up, different outfits, and beautiful. But I've been working all day, and ready for bed. Which means that Maxine will be ready to wake up soon. She and Horyon took a nap from 3:00 until after 6:30. Actually Maxine is still sleeping. She's not only jet-lagged but seems to have a bit of a stomach flu. We'll be in church Sunday for sure. The girls should have five or six hours to get ready for it, so that shouldn't be a problem.
Time for dinner!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The amniocentesis test came back negative. Our baby is healthy.
I took a moment this morning in my classroom, alone, with tears rolling down my face, to thank God. I then got on with a busy day.
Now I'm feeling a bit drained. As happy as I am, I want my family back. They arrive next Thursday. As busy as I am, I feel empty. I'm looking forward to being full again.
I'm going to bed.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Went to church with them. Came out, car wouldn't start. They bought me lunch, then helped me get a tow.
Got a $60 jump from a tow truck. That was some expensive electricity, dude.
Drove home. Got my friend Matt to come help me, and we changed the battery. $83.
Then Mom and Dad came to visit and bought me dinner.
So I sort of got free meals today, if you don't count the $143 I spent on the car. Hungry car.
Just submitted my assignment for the week. I was like an hour early! How awesome is that? I think it was pretty much crap, but since the nature of the assignment was also...
I should just go to bed.
Monday, October 13, 2008
These are some pictures that Horyon just sent to me. Her father has taken up biking. That's a good thing. Perhaps it makes up for my not getting on my bike for the last couple of months.
I don't know what she's pointing at, but it must have been interesting.
"Dah-ling! It's simply WONderful to SEE you! Give us a kiss now!"
Looks like Maxine took this one. Perhaps not the best point of view for pictures of a pregnant woman.
I sure am missing my girls. Two weeks and four days. Not that I'm counting. In the mean time, we have more parent-teacher conferences on Thursday. Wonderful. There are some parents I would really like to see. I suppose I should be calling them. I don't think that's going to happen this time around. If I have any extra time I'll be cleaning off my desk. Or grading. Or planning. Or working on my homework.
This week I'm doing assignment #5 out of 9. The ninth is an evaluation of the course. If I work ahead a bit, I'll have most everything done before the girls get home.
And my desk clean, too.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
And today I volunteered at LINK (Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen) after church. I served food to people who, for whatever reason, need or want a free meal. I also serve up sparkling conversation, and observations about the sauerkraut. (Had to use the spellcheck on that one.)
Our church building is the home of LINK, but four churches take turns hosting, so we only provide food and volunteers once a month. Horyon and I talked about doing it while I was working at Wal-Mart, but I always worked on Sundays, so we never did. Now I have, and it was a lot of fun. I want to bring my girls back to do it again next month.
They will be back in two weeks and four days. Not that I'm counting down. 19 days. I want them home now. Of course, I won't be able to spend the same kind of time on my course work and planning, but it's definitely worth having them here.
Today in church Pastor Randy brought up our situation at prayer time. He had me stand up in the center of the sanctuary, and everyone gathered around to pray for Horyon, me and our baby, as well as Maxine. If you don't believe that there is power in prayer, you haven't had people praying over you like that. Of course, if your heart is not in there praying with everyone else, it would probably feel foolish.
I didn't feel one bit foolish. I felt very blessed. The tears streamed down my face as individuals prayed out loud, and I thanked God right out loud for leading us to this church home. Then I got to pour out blessings on strangers, feeding them and making them feel welcome. Even making some of them laugh. I felt so good after that, I didn't mind coming home to an empty house.
Dad came yesterday and got some projects done. Not a whole lot, but I know Horyon will be happy. Sorry honey, you'll have to wait and see.
It's good to have a Dad who is handy around the house. It's even better to have a Dad that you can talk with, and be with. Thanks, Dad.
So it was a good weekend. Didn't get much grading done, but I can live with that.
Friday, October 10, 2008
I think we look pretty good. Of course Maxine looks excellent. And I don't think the girls look like they're getting on a plane the next morning. And you can hardly see that big old cold sore on Horyon's lip. I'm pretty sure that won't be visible in a picture only an inch wide.
We're not exactly dressed up, but it's the real us.
Hopefully Horyon will bring back many pictures from Korea. I just talked to her on the phone, and things are going well. She's visiting with friends, enjoying the food, and being homesick. Because home is where the heart is.
She's also re-learning that you can never really go back home. The changes are always lurking, waiting to jar you back into the present. She kind of learned this after we got married, but we've been gone for a year and a half. She spent a lot of time missing Korea, and every time she thought about it, Korea improved a bit in her mind. The reality had some disappointments, including a restaurant story that has made her reluctant to go out to eat.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I survived the week. I'm behind. I have so much grading to do that I don't even want to think about it. I taught by the skin of my teeth this week, and can't seem to get my students to understand any math at all. I think it's been my worst week of work. Tuesday was a good day in the classroom for the most part, but the rest of the week was just blah.
I did go to see the school play tonight. It was an endearing little version of Robin Hood. I only made one comment through the whole show. Not bad for me. I only have three students who were in it, but I like to support that kind of thing.
It's almost 10. I'm going to bed. Dad's coming tomorrow to help me get some stuff done around the house. Little repairs, projects, and stuff that just needs to get done.
And it will be good to have him around. Mom's at work tomorrow (she's working 9 days in a row, which makes me feel better about how my week has been. At least it was only 5 days!)
I feel better about the news I shared earlier. I am praying about it as much as I can, as often as I think about it. That helps. And we've both heard many stories of people getting false positives. That helps, too, though not as much as I would have expected. So we're just waiting for results, as life keeps barreling by.
By the way, if you're voting in the election, please vote for whomever you think will do the best job at fixing education. I'm inclined to think of NCLB as a Republican plan. I haven't heard Obama get beyond generalities. I preferred the speeches of President Bartlett from the West Wing. Too bad he's not running.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
I was very much in need of some good news.
Today we had parent/teacher conferences. I talked to a lot of parents, and really enjoyed the evening, but it started at 4:00 and finished at 7:00. After a full day of teaching, and the events of the previous day, I am exhausted. It's about 9 p.m. now, and I am too wired to go to bed.
The parents' association provided food, so I at least ate well. And I brought home enough leftovers to cover lunch the next couple of days.
Yeah. I'm still talking food. That's how you know I'm OK.
Keep praying for us. Now I know that it will be 3 weeks before we get the results of the amniocentesis. I'm OK with that. I am settling back into peace. Horyon suggested that maybe this is God calling us as a family back to more regular prayer. And I am definitely praying more. Perhaps not the constant prayer that Paul tells us we are called to, but anytime I stop to think about it, I also pray.
Today I emailed my principal, assistant principal, and my two closest coworkers to let them know the situation. They've all been awesome about it, once again reminding me that I am very blessed to be where I am. I asked them to not bring it up with me today, and they all honored my request, being supportive in more indirect ways.
My job is hard, but I already love it. I can't wait to be really good at it.
Monday, October 06, 2008
She sounded awful. She said she had tried to call my cell phone, and that she just wanted to talk to me, to hear my voice. And she had something to talk about.
So I changed into house clothes, used the bathroom, got some grapes, and sat down ready to cheer her up. When I called, it was about 7:30 a.m. there, and I woke her up. She answered right away, though. She had been expecting my call.
She had trouble coming right out and telling me what had happened, but I knew that something was wrong. Right away she pegged it to the pregnancy, by mentioning a visit to the doctor. Eventually it came out: one of the prenatal tests had come up positive. There is a 65% likelihood that our baby will have Down's Syndrome.
In a few hours she will have an amniocentesis test to verify it one way or the other. The procedure itself has some risk of hurting the fetus, which is why they don't usually do it first. It takes a week to get the results. A long week. But the results are more exact, like 99% sure. Next week we will know for sure.
We stayed on the phone for about 45 minutes. Maybe an hour. I mostly listened and tried to cry quietly, so that she wouldn't hear me. How can you comfort someone when you are falling apart yourself? I eventually got to the point where I could bring up the fact that Down's Syndrome kids often lead fulfilling lives, and that they can be some of the nicest, friendliest people you ever met. We agreed that if God is calling us to provide for one of these special souls, that we should rise to meet that calling.
Doesn't make it any less of a shock.
The last ten minutes we talked about more mundane things: the rib place between here and Leavenworth that I finally tried, after driving past it hundreds of times without stopping. (It's Daniel's, Dad, not Bitler's. And it was OK, but not worth stopping for. There's a better place here in town for smoked ribs.) We talked about how my classes are going, both as a student and as a teacher. We talked about how Maxine is doing.
We're already counting our blessings. If our first child had been born with Down's, we almost certainly would not have had a second. But we've already had Maxine, and she is that ultra-blessing that you just couldn't see coming. No way either of us could have known what she would mean to us.
Horyon told me that she has one big advantage over me in dealing with this: Maxine is there with her. Maxine wants her mother to be happy, and is sensitive to the times she is not. She says to Horyon, “It's OK, Mommy, we'll go home soon. Can we have some candy?” How can you not smile?
Horyon said that she felt much better after talking to me. A burden shared is a burden lightened, after all. I didn't feel better. I felt alone. Horyon had talked to Mom and Dad, but I was thinking of calling them anyway. I thought about it for maybe 30 seconds, then my phone rang. It was Mom.
“Were you calling to see if there was a long busy signal?” I asked.
“Yes.” She continued, “I wasn't too sure of the details. Sometimes Horyon is hard to understand on the phone, and it was 5:00 in the morning for her. That couldn't have helped.” I filled her in on the details she had missed. We talked for 20 minutes, and she recommended that I call our pastor. Perhaps after having some dinner.
I had dinner, then called. I talked to Linda, Randy's wife. She reminded me of some of the things that I had reminded Horyon of, that God can work through us whichever way it goes. That they can lead fulfilling lives.
I then spent some time on the internet, pretending life is normal. Chatted a bit with a coworker about plans for the week, looking for useful web sites and talking strategies.
Then I got a call from Anna, our Bible Study hostess. She had missed me Sunday, since I was at church in Leavenworth, and wanted to confirm that our group was meeting Wednesday night. I told her the news, and we talked. She offered to email our group, which I gratefully accepted.
I feel fragile. This news of something that may or may not be has me in tears. The thought of having a “normal” baby was already overwhelming enough that I had pretty much set it aside for the moment/month. I'm barely getting from day to day, planning, teaching and grading, then working all weekend to get my assignments done by Sunday night, leaving me short on sleep to start the whole cycle again. A Down's child? Sure, why not. While we're at it, how about I get rid of my desk and just carry around all the paperwork I use throughout the day.
I pray. I feel better. Until I think about it more. “Don't worry,” Horyon assures me. “It won't change anything, and could make you sick.” I know. I know. I pray more, and feel better for a short time. I pray with Linda, and with Anna. I feel better again. Until I think about it.
“Pray constantly,” the Bible tells us. Tells me. Maybe that's what I need to do, because it's the only thing that keeps me from feeling that the world is on my shoulders right now.
If you pray for us in the coming days, be sure to pray that I get enough rest, because that will be the big challenge for me this week, as it has been for the past month.
Peace, to me too.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Another time I couldn't get out of the building. Every door was chained closed. It was stupid o'clock a.m., and it took me ten minutes of wandering around to realize that if it had been locked from the inside, then someone must still be inside who could let me out.
Those are the highlights of grading stories for me.
Today we had to have grades submitted for progress reports. In our jr. highs, they get progress reports midway through each quarter, so 8 grades per year. These grades are due, will be due, at midnight tonight. I found myself in the very odd position of being done at six o'clock this evening, fully six hours early.
I didn't quite know what to do. I'm still kind of reeling. Just waiting for something to happen. An urgent phone call telling me that I've screwed up.
Instead I'll probably get ten or fifteen urgent phone calls next week from parents telling me that I've screwed up.
My first real assignment for Baker is due Sunday night at midnight. I should be working on that, but instead I am going to go to bed. It is a reasonable hour, and I am working a volleyball game tomorrow for some extra bucks.
One positive thing I heard today. Edith, my mentor teacher, told me that one positive thing she's heard about me from many people is that I am good at forging a rapport with the kids. Granted, that is not sufficient to be a good teacher, but it is an important aspect. One which some teachers never quite get.
For one week I got to change classes. I had been working as a para with Edith, but another teacher, Charlotte, had kids who needed help in her learning strategies class. So I got permission then switched. I helped some kids in there to get over some tricky ideas, and they actually told other teachers that I had been helpful. Word gets around.
I suppose I should throw in a word or two about learning strategies class. It was formed for kids that have trouble learning (obviously), especially in the language arts. They don't have documented learning disabilities,
I like this job, but it is a lot of work. The first year of teaching always is. Learning the system, the curriculum, how to deal with the kids, it all takes more time than I have. I hate to say it, but it's so much easier with Horyon and Maxine out of the house. I miss them so much that I can't put words to it, but if they were here I would be even more tired than I already am.
We talk on the phone. Sometimes on Video Skype. Maxine doesn't really have the focus for prolonged video conversation. She actually does much better on the telephone. She's picked up all kinds of fun mannerisms that I hadn't noticed until now. She says, "I'll talk to you later, okay?" much more clearly than any almost-three-year-old should.
I finished the last of their laundry with a load of mine last night. Maxine's clothes are cute and small. And they don't have her inside them. I want to pick her up and spin her around. Horyon says Maxine is gaining a lot of weight in Korea. The diet must agree with her. I don't care. I'll still pick her up and swing her around.
That's enough whining for tonight. I've got a busy day tomorrow and Sunday, so I should get to bed.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
I had dinner with Mom and Dad today, and Dad suggested that I also throw in things that students have said or done that made me laugh. Smart guy, my Dad is.
A quick side note on dinner, as I rarely mention a meal without going into detail. We ate a Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, and it was a reminder of days long gone. When I was a student at K.U., my parents would come to visit fairly often, at least once a month. When they did, they always took me out to dinner. One of my favorite places to go was always Buffalo Bob's. There were five reasons for this:
#2 Big pile of it.
#3 Curly fries piled on top of that.
#4 Hunting trophy heads mounted on the walls.
#5 Classic Rock n Roll being played, but not too loud.
Buffalo Bob's is not an expensive place to eat, but on a college budget it kind of is. Right now I'm kind of on a college kid budget. I'm not even paycheck-to-paycheck, as I am still waiting for my first paycheck to finish coming in.
We had a nice dinner of ribs, and talked the whole time about a variety of topics which I will not go into here, other than the one I started with:
Keeping track of the happy times to get you through the hard times.
I've decided to do that here, starting now. Here are a few things:
One of my algebra students, an eighth grader, told me last week that the work we did in my class really helped him in science class. This, I am told, is an amazing thing to happen, especially this early in the year. Jr. High students are just not inclined to compliment their teachers. At all. I felt good when he told me that my class helped him, and even better when I started to hear about how rare it is for students to do this.
Today the teacher I share a room with, Sharon Dwyer, told me (and my Baker prof. and our resource teacher, Jackie) that she thought I was doing a great job. She said that I have a lot of energy in front of the class, which is something they need. She has spent more time in my teaching classroom than anyone else, so I'm taking that in a good way.
A couple of weeks ago a student teacher followed one of my students around for the day. At the end of the day she told me that my class was the most interesting of the lot. That's good to hear. And I'm pretty sure she meant the good kind of interesting.
Our vice-principal, Lisa Clipsham, has mentioned to me that when she pops into my classroom, I project an air of authority and control. "That's a big part of the game," she continued.
There are times when I do not feel in control. Those times are more frequent when I have not planned well, but they sometimes happen when I think I have a great lesson planned. While this can be frustrating, I know from experience that it will get better. When I started teaching at ELS, back in Korea, it was an intense split-shift schedule. Usually four hours in the morning and seven in the evening. I would go home in the afternoon and sleep.
[Another incomplete post, but worth putting up there.]
Friday, August 29, 2008
This was a good week, though tiring. I need this three-day weekend. Mom and Dad are coming to take us to dinner tonight, which will be fun. On Monday, I will take Maxine to the lake, leaving Horyon at home to rest. She needs to get over her morning sickness soon, because Thursday she leaves for Korea for a whole month. It's a long enough plane ride when you're in good health and dragging Maxine with you, but with constant urges to revisit your previous meal it would be downright miserable.
At this point I can't say for sure that being a Jr. High teacher is what I want to do for the rest of my life, or even for this next chunk of my working life, but I am not ready to quit, either.
I have learned a few things talking to my fellow teachers and dealing with students, though. I know that many of you reading this are teachers, but for those of you who aren't, I may have to fill you in on President Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy: In a nutshell, students are tested regularly, a couple of times a year. Overall scores for the entire school are compared year to year, and each school is expected to make a certain amount of progress each year. If that progress is not made, federal funding for the school is cut. The basic idea behind this is that teachers who do well are rewarded for doing well, and teachers who don't do well can be canned.
There are some problems with this idea, but it is revolutionary in a couple of respects: First of all, teachers are actually being held responsible for all students that come through their classroom. Responsible in the sense that our jobs are on the line if our kids don't improve as they work their way from first grade through high school graduation. This is such a common sense thing that you may have assumed it was true all along, not taking into account the idea of having tenure. NCLB pretty much trashes the idea of tenure, though it may be a challenge to deal with older teachers who have been "grandfathered" in.
The other revolutionary aspect is found in one word I used in the previous aspect: ALL. As in ALL students are tested. This means that there is now a big disadvantage to sending a kid out of the classroom, whether to time out for a period or two, or ISS/OSS (In and Out of School Suspension). If our salaries are hinged on the grades of all of our students, then we have to keep the trouble-makers in our classrooms, otherwise their grades go down.
If you are my age, or even a little younger, you knew kids who got through school spending a huge amount of time out of the classroom, dealing with the principal. And what can I say? My first inclination is to let a kid fail if he (or she) wants to. That's how I did it when I taught college kids in Korea. But NCLB has made mandatory what many teachers did naturally: it requires us to give students motivation to do well when that motivation is not being supplied elsewhere.
Sound familiar? It should. That's very likely what your parents did. It was no surprise to me that there are parents who don't teach their kids that school is important, but it did surprise me how that manifests. Example: a kid was called to the office this past week. His mother was here to pick him up. He came back before class was finished. With a haircut. It was shocking enough to make me include it as a sentence fragment right here in the Roblog. This was Ashley's class, in which I am a para, so we got to "What the hell?" about it without having to tell the story.
My guess? Mother works evenings, kid has football practice, the weekends are too inconvenient. So pull him out of math class for a haircut. What message does the kid receive? Being in class is less important than getting a haircut.
So now on to the problems with NCLB. First of all, is cutting funding really the best way to get results? Remember, we're trying to steer an awfully large ship that has been heading in one direction for a very long time. There is not much flexibility built in. It seems to me that if teachers were to use this method on their students we would spend a lot of time holding their heads under water. And that is my minor gripe.
My next gripe is one of statistics: What are the chances that each class in a school (all 7th graders, or all 9th graders for example) is exactly the same in ability as the same class from the previous year? I hate to ask a question to which I don't know the answer, but the anecdotal answer seems to be "Not likely." I'm sure that if you have a large enough student population they start to become indistinguishable, one from the other. That would not be the situation at any Jr. High School I've ever been in. Some years you have a large handful of bright students that pull the average up, and some years you have a couple of classes made up of kids who have learning disabilities and/or serious behavioral problems. However much progress you make with problem classes, they just aren't going to look as good next to the clever classes, and it isn't anybody's fault. Unless you are NCLB, in which case you judge that the teachers are responsible because they haven't worked hard enough, so you threaten to take away funding the next year. If you are the school being threatened you have no choice but to hope and pray that the next year's class will balance out your round of bad luck.
Here's the real downside to this aspect of NCLB: If your school has a reputation for working well with problem kids, and getting results from them, more of them will go to your school! Naturally! Guess what that does to your chances of having a class with a higher percentage of at-risk and low-performing kids? Never mind the simple effects of geography. We don't like to admit that there are some neighborhoods that have more money than others, and that some neighborhoods are more likely to have parents who are not as supportive as others, but it is true. Think that doesn't have an effect on test scores? Think again. NCLB paints every school with the same brush, not taking into account the different populations by geography and time.
Here's my big gripe: NCLB puts pressure on one third of the parties responsible for the education of children, the teachers.
The first neglected group is the administration. Administration at the building level are pretty much in the loop. Their jobs are on the line because NCLB targets individual buildings, not entire districts. The superintendent of schools makes seven or eight times as much as a first-year teacher (in Lawrence, anyway). Guess what penalties are leveled against him and the school board by NCLB when schools fail? None. It is up to the cities to deal with these problems, which makes it a political matter. The ones who are better at passing the blame come out clean, and keep their jobs. Their higher-paying jobs. Their jobs that directly impact education without having to deal with the messiness of being in a classroom.
This manifests in some subtle, but telling ways. Our 7th grade math book is a lovely piece of work, with units focusing on practical application. It's an incredibly real-world approach that would be fun to teach, and might give kids a sense of how math is used in a variety of careers. The problem with it is that it flies boldly into the face of NCLB. And like a bird flying boldly into the face of a brick wall, it comes out bloody and unable to fly. Here on the ground, we teachers have to make up for it by redesigning the curriculum as we go, skipping around in the book, pulling resources from elsewhere, and spending TIME that could be spent focusing on students. I am fortunate that my coworker, Edith, does spend time on it. We also have a list of topics and chapter references from a group of math teachers in another building to draw upon. Nevertheless, anything that draws a teacher's attention away from their students is a waste of time. The purpose of administration is to minimize wastes of time. My understanding is that the administration for Lawrence Public Schools is better than many at this, but my point is that they are not held accountable by NCLB. Not here, nor anywhere else in the United States.
Teachers are the first in line to help students climb the ladder of success. (Sorry. If I think of something less cliche I'll throw it in later.) Administration need to be in there doing their part. The third column supporting our students is, of course, parents. Most students are in my classroom for about 50 minutes per day, five days a week, only when school is on (and they are not out getting a haircut). And this for one school year only. Compare to how much time they spend, and have spent, with their parents.
Unfortunately for some of our students, they spend more time with me than with either parent. I accept that reality. Still, most of our students spend time with their parents, and their parents pass on their attitudes about education, studying, and working. So why does NCLB ignore this reality?
I could go on and on about how most of President Bush's policies ignore reality, even to the extent of publicly claiming that they create their own reality, but my focus here is on NCLB and how to fix it.
What is the one surefire, guaranteed way to make parents take an interest in the education of their children? Before you go on to the next paragraph, try actually thinking of an answer, and let's see if we can agree on this. Go ahead. Think. What gets everyone's attention?
Yeah. I was thinking "money" too. Remember those tests that students have to take, and upon which school funding is based? What motivation do students have to do well on that test? They can be grouped like this:
The "good" students: Will always do their best on a test, even if it is not attached to the grade they get in class.
The "pleaser" students: Will do well on this test if their teacher asks it like a personal favor.
The "screw-you" students: Don't care. About their grade, what their teacher wants, what anyone wants. In fact, if the "screw-you" student discovers that scoring poorly on this test will have a real, negative impact on the school, they may intentionally score poorly. Hey! Power trip!
So how do I as a teacher motivate an s.y. student? I have to earn their trust. I have to catch them up on skills that they may have skipped over in previous years, because an s.y. student is not created in one year. I have to make them believe that they can do well. That's all. If you are imagining me sitting down and having a one-on-one with a scruffy kid, making a connection that is the beginning of trust, thank you for your faith; but don't forget to imagine the other 15 kids in the classroom going nuts, talking about boys, ignoring the assignment they've been given, and doing their best to listen in on my conversation, making the scruffy kid feel uncomfortably un-cool. So much for making a connection.
Right now the government gives people a tax credit for having dependents. All you have to do is have children. What if the amount of that tax credit were performance dependant? Imagine this: After test time, the parents get a notification of their child's test score, and with it a check. The amount the check is for depends on their child's score. Cap it at, say, $500, maybe an even grand, perhaps making that a sliding amount dependent on family income. After all, the kids from rich families will probably get this check passed on to them completely, while the poor families will need that money to pay bills. Let the percentage of that $500 be equal to the score the kid made on the test, adjusted for officially documented learning disabilities.
Do you think it would change parents' attitude towards their children's education? The beauty of it is that you could pull it right out of that tax credit for any children of school age. It would require some serious public education, but if this is a priority then it needs to be addressed.
So there's my first two full weeks of school. I know. Not much about the classes. I'm just now starting to feel like I know my students well enough to write about them. They'll be up here soon, as anonymous as ever. I'll have to keep track of the names I make up for them so I don't get confused. That will be the least of my organizational issues, I'm sure.
Horyon and Maxine head for Korea on Thursday. I will miss them, but it will be nice to sleep without interuption, come home and not have to feed, shower and put Maxine to bed. These are duties that Horyon and I usually share, but the morning sickness has severely limited what Horyon can do. She barely gets through a shower by herself without spitting up, and Maxine makes it more difficult. I have been putting Maxine in bed, praying with her, then leaving the room for the last couple of nights. I poke my head back in if she is hollering something, but mostly let her cry. I'm finding that she actually gets to sleep faster that way than when I lie down on the floor by her bed. Of course, when she gets back from Korea I'll have to go through it all again, but I'm already planning to speed up the program. Hopefully it will register with Maxine that staying at Grandpa and Grandma's house is just different, and there's no point in crying about it.
They're staying for a month. In September I plan to focus on my teaching and on the class that I will be taking. Nothing else. The first month will undoubtedly be the hardest, and by the time my girls come home, I will have a routine that works. I will adjust it to make time for them every day. It will be tough, because I can no longer work at night. Waking up at 6 a.m. for me requires going to bed by 10 p.m. on a fairly regular basis. Planning for my classes is going faster than it used to, but it still takes time. By October it should be even smoother.
Can you hear the panic in my voice yet? Wish me luck.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Feels weird knowing that the only people reading this are doing so by invitation.
I just wanted to point out that I am only allowed 100 readers. I sent out about 150 invites. Because I wasn't sure of which address to use, some of you may have received more than one invite. If you got two, please don't create two accounts! And if you can share with someone easily, please do so.
Once I've been at Central for a couple of years, I may open Roblog back up again. I think that once I have an established reputation, I will be somewhat shmear proof. We'll see.
The first full week has been rough. I'm tired all the time. I've been staying at school until past five o'clock most night, sometimes as late as seven, and once until nine. Teaching well is a difficult job, and the first year is always the worst. I've had a few first years, and this one tops all of 'em. Doesn't help any that we're dealing with morning sickness and Maxine, but the actual teaching and adjusting to dealing with large groups of adolescents has also been a serious challenge.
I had my first self-designed successful class today. It was my most difficult class, the Algebra kids. I'm trying not to celebrate too much, as I had an observer in the class, but it felt good for the class to go smoothly. Whereas before the flow of class has been constantly interrupted, today it felt more like interaction.
And today was a block day! On Thursdays we have only four classes, at about 90 minutes each. Granted, this class had lunch to break it up, but it's still a long time for kids to stay focused, and they did well.
Honestly, it's the first time since I started teaching (just a week ago!) that I've really felt that I could be a successful jr. high math teacher. I've always believed it, almost to the point of knowing it, but today I felt it. That is so important, because you can only push on with your will for so long, and so hard. At some point you have to have your heart invested in it. And now mine is.
All that said, I am completely unprepared for tomorrow, and I have to wake up in seven hours. So I will do a little work, then go to bed.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Horyon modeling an eggplant. We both sort of noticed that it kind of looked maybe just a little bit like her head.
Horyon and Maxine at the zoo.
Maxine and Sophia, raking in the big bucks selling lemonade. LEARN MATH=MAKE MONEY.
Maxine and Elanor having an impromptu jam session.
You can thank me later for not including audio on this one.
That's it for now. I'll get some more up later.
This weekend I'm closing down Roblog to public access. I believe that if you go to the address, you will be asked for account information. You will have to sign up for a Google account, and sign into it whenever you want to read it. If you already have a Gmail address, you can use that login here.
I'm not absolutely sure this is the best thing for me to do, but I can see that this year is going to be a tough one. I don't need the added stress of my students bringing up my private life in class. Because they will eventually find this if I am annoying enough to them. And I am sure that for some of them I am already that annoying, after just one day.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Tell me, would it make me a less effective teacher if my students found this blog and read any or all of it? It seems inevitable to me that they will find it. The chances of any jr. high student reading all of it are slim, but they could take pot-shots, hoping to find something interesting. And if I ever really annoy a student (how likely is that?), they might take the time to dig up whatever dirt they can.
So I am considering making Roblog an invitation-only blog.
Feel free to email me with your thoughts, or post comments here if you want others to read them.
Monday, August 11, 2008
And let's face it, everything's harder when your wife has morning sickness.
Yes, you heard me right. Horyon passed her home pregnancy test a couple of weeks ago. She should have, as we studied pretty hard for it.
I want to apologize to anyone who may be upset that we didn't mention it earlier. At first we kept it under wraps because that's what you do in the first few weeks. Then it started leaking out. My parents. Our prayer/Bible study group. Our friends in the neighborhood. I just realized that we haven't really made any formal announcement, so this is it.
The baby is due next March/April. We have elected to refer to the baby, for the time being, as Bumbleweezle.
Bumbleweezle was one of my early suggestions for a name for Maxine, before we knew whether she would be a girl or a boy. Horyon asked if Bumbleweezle was a girl or a boy name, and I told her that was the beauty of it, it could be either. That didn't convince her.
I told her that it was an old family name. When she asked which side of my family, I fumbled just a bit and answered, "Both." That didn't do it for her, either.
She wanted a unique name for our child, a name that other kids in her school wouldn't have. She had to concede the point to me on that one, but she still refused to name our child Bumbleweezle.
She wasn't really a big fan of the name "Maxine", but when I finally told her that I would give up Bumbleweezle for it, she jumped all over it.
Still, for pretty much the entire pregnancy, we referred to our little fetus as Bumbleweezle, and the habit has returned. So Bumbleweezle is in his or her ninth or tenth week, we're not sure exactly. Whatever week it is, it's the part of the game where Bumbleweezle is continually hitting the buttons that make Horyon want to vomit. We couldn't recall exactly how long this lasted with Maxine, but Horyon was thinking about six weeks.
Throw into the mix, if you will, one more tidbit: I am once again training Maxine to sleep by herself. I've lost track of how many times I've done this. Three or four. This is one of those cultural imperative things, where I feel it is absolutely necessary to train kids to sleep by themselves in their own beds, while Horyon grew up sleeping with her family, sharing a bed, then a bedroom with her sister until Chaeryon moved out.
Circumstances have not been kind to me, but now circumstances are trashing both of us. Horyon has a hard enough time sleeping without a small person who wedges herself between us, turns perpendicular on us, and kicks. All in her sleep, of course. Imagine my surprise to discover that when I wake up getting kicked in the head, I wake up already angry. I wake up with a back-ache from struggling not to roll over on our most prized possession, and find myself drifting off of the course of a day.
So now I put her to bed, and have been for the past week. I've weaned Maxine of falling asleep with someone in the bed, now I need her to sleep even with no one on the floor next to her bed. I'll start on that soon, and am not looking forward to the crying and begging. I also expect Maxine to be upset about it.
On a last note, I need to make some decisions about what health plan to use, i.e. how big a chunk of my paycheck is going to be sacrificed to the actuarial gods. After taxes, insurance, bills and our mortgage, we could very easily end up living on whatever Horyon makes sewing. Don't get me wrong, she's very talented, but she's not up to being my sugar-momma just yet. Pray for us to make some wise decisions here, because, as the magical 8-Ball puts it, "The Future is Unclear."
Saturday, August 02, 2008
We got our papers back. I got full points on every assignment. Since I don't think I ever seriously pissed off the teacher, I should get an A in the class.
When I first signed up for this, I was told that there was a 40% drop-out rate in this program. Since then they have done a few things to drop that rate, including having a face-to-face interview with applicants to see if they were just completely nutso. Judging by my experience this week, they still need to work a few kinks out of the system, but they've mostly got serious contenders.
I enjoyed the class, though not the drive. I ended up meeting a woman who will be teaching at Southwest Jr. High, just a few blocks from my home. She actually lives just down the street from us. I suggested that we might study together regularly, and she seems to be interested. I know it will make a huge difference for me, having someone sitting across the table from me working on the same stuff.
I need to get to bed. Tuesday starts in-service. I suspect that I will go back underground at that point, though I'll try to post here from time to time.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Except she got it on paper.
July 31, 2008
I Will Make a Difference
I am a teacher, and taught for 12 years before moving back to the U.S.A. I began in the Peace Corps as a mathematics resource teacher, teaching for one year in a k-12 school in the mountains, far from roads or electricity. My second year was spent in training native Nepali teachers to be better. In hindsight, this was rather cultural centric and sophomoric, given my degree in Civil Engineering and grand total teaching of about one year experience substituting in my local school district.
My Peace Corps training involved no more than 10 or 12 hours of theoretical training before we began observing other teachers, teaching sample lessons to each other, and debriefing afterwards. The training quickly moved into a laboratory setting, with groups of three or four of us observing each other teaching and offering feedback, along with our mentor. It was a very organic approach that I carried forward throughout my career. Two years later I spent a year as an academic supervisor at a private ESL conversation institute in Korea. I observed (and was observed by) all ten teachers working under me, most of them more than twice. My main purpose was to give them feedback to improve their teaching, but it also informed and improved my own teaching.
In my previous teaching job I taught college credit courses. After being hired, I quickly gravitated to Earl (not making up the name, I promise), who had been teaching in Korea about as long as I had, though longer at the college level. We quickly fell into a collaborative relationship, bouncing ideas off of each other, “borrowing” ideas that seemed to work well (with modifications, of course), and even doing some co-teaching.
Now that I will be a math teacher in an American junior high school, I know that observation is one of my most powerful tools, especially when I can discuss the lesson with the teacher. I've already been a team player, even when I had to make my own team. I plan to watch as many different math teachers in my building as possible, and hope that they will return the favor. One key to being a great teacher is to take ideas from wherever you can find them, and get input on developing them.
During the last year I have been working at the Wal-Mart jewelry counter, changing watch batteries, adjusting watch bands, and selling jewelry. My favorite part of the job was talking with people, whether it was helping them to figure out what would be a good present, trying to solve a problem for them, or just passing the time as I worked on their watch. When customers or coworkers found that I was planning to be a teacher in the fall, they almost always said that I would be a good teacher. When I asked why they thought so, one answer that came up regularly was that I listen well.
My overseas experience has been a large contributer to this skill. I often had to reach out to people who were overwhelmed by the very idea of talking to a foreigner, whether to ask for directions, buy a bus ticket, or order lunch. My number one rule in teaching ESL conversation was very simple: Make Mistakes. I even wrote it as number one on my syllabus. I have been fine-tuning my approach and personality for more than a decade to make people feel comfortable around me, helping them to break down the idea of “saving face” by not making mistakes or asking for help in front of others. I am absolutely sure that this will be a transferable skill in junior high classrooms.
I have also found humor to be a very useful tool in the classroom. It is a form of release for people who find themselves tense just being in the classroom. It definitely helps to reset the atmosphere after dealing with a problem student, working on a tough project, or anything else that requires something more than a sigh of relief. I believe that it is so effective because people can not control true laughter. If something is funny to you, you will laugh. You have lost control of yourself, if just for a moment. Often that moment is all that is needed for a good teacher to swoop back in and get the class (or student) moving in the desired direction.
While I do enjoy my time interacting with other people, I am somewhat introverted. I need to have time to myself to recharge, whether reading, bicycling, emailing, or just surfing the internet. During the next three years I will be taking classes while working full time and making quality time with my family. Getting my down time will be important, and perhaps difficult to achieve. I am considering an unprecedented solution (for me): blocking out a schedule for my weekly life. It is difficult to see myself doing this, but not any more difficult than picturing myself going slowly insane.
My biggest weakness as a teacher (and a husband) is that I have little natural drive to organize. There are a few exceptions. I used to keep my CDs in alphabetical order by artist, then by release date. That was pleasing to me, and a fairly serious task at more than 300 CDs. I have found that this tendency carries over into keeping grade books and files organized, and affects the way that I plan long term. However, it has absolutely no effect on the surface of my desk at home.
Dealing with this weakness at work takes effort on my part. It is very important to keep track of student papers to be able to verify grades if they are questioned. I found that with some planning, a little regular work, and a little bit of luck, I could keep track of assignments, projects and other documents for as many as 200 students. Almost 400 one year. Because it does not come naturally to me, I have to focus intently just to make it happen. I am aware of the mechanics of how I do this, because I had to consciously design them. As such, I am not glued to any particular method, and am willing to try whatever I think will work, especially if it works for someone else.
Punctuality and procrastination are similar issues for me. I have always had to work at it to be on time to class and to my office hours. I focus on it, and make it a point of pride to be on time and prepared when class starts. I still have occasional problems with doing work at the last minute. This is fostered by my ability to do well when it comes to crunch time. I have improved a lot over the past ten years, but there have still been times when I have turned in grades late at night on the due date or gone to class with an activity which was still warm from the photocopier. Using the internet as a teaching tool helped me a lot with this because I wanted my students to download and print handouts for the next class. In order for this to be a reasonable request, I had to have these handouts ready by the day before class, otherwise I could not expect my students to bring the materials, and justifiably so. I have also found that having activities planned well in advance usually (but not always) makes them work more smoothly in class. Procrastination is not a problem that I have completely solved, but I have developed strategies to deal with it, and still struggle with it.
The issues I have dealt with in myself help me relate to students who struggle with the same issues. They may not be too thrilled to see that 20 years is not enough to fix it completely, but they will see that one can improve, and may even take my advice on how to do so.
One key reason that I will be a good teacher is that I enjoy learning new things. I am not very keen on trivia, but I like finding out things that will help me to do my job better. When I find a new way to teach something that seems to mesh with my teaching style, I can't wait to give it a shot. Once I've given it a shot, I can't wait to make the inevitable changes to “improve” it. I often do the improving before I get around to teaching it the first time, sometimes to the extent that even its mother would not recognize it. Of course, the next time I use the activity it can still be polished, making the instructions clearer for students, avoiding bottlenecks, or just making it more entertaining.
I am also a fan of meta-thinking. As a middle school teacher, I plan to work with my students on how they think about their problems. Working with students who are new to the English language reveals a lot about how the brain works, and this can offer some insight into how everyone thinks, even when they are working on math problems.
The three classes I took before this one were all in mathematics. During my first undergraduate career, I found math classes to be just one more hurdle to get over in order to get my degree. This time they were actually fun. I enjoyed teasing the truth out of those numbers. (Except for the statistics class, in which we dragged lies out of them.) I enjoyed looking for and applying patterns. It was fun to sit in class and try to follow the lecture, maybe even jump ahead a point on a good day. This education class has been similar, in that I have enjoyed the material, the interaction with the teacher, and the mental challenge of synthesizing new ideas from the given materials. Of course I will be continuing to take classes at Baker to earn my teaching certificate, but when that is finished I hope to take more classes. As long as I am learning, I can improve as a teacher.
This passion for learning can be carried to extremes. A class activity about learning can be 100% fascinating to me, yet might only be somewhat interesting to some of my students, and for a much shorter time. Never mind the students sleeping in the back. I have found myself answering questions about grammar that turned into mini-lectures which fascinated the front row, but put some students to sleep. In general, I do well to remember to geek-out in my free time with my coworkers rather than in front of my students. At the very least, I need to keep it under control in the classroom.
I am a good teacher. I am not a perfect teacher. I doubt that such a creature walks this planet, but there are many of us striving for that noble goal. The skills that I have discussed here are only the manifestation of the true quality which makes me a good teacher: I care. I want to see people more satisfied with their lives. The best thing about working at Wal-Mart was that I did help people, but it was all to do with owning things, and therefore not truly satisfying to me or them. Teaching is about helping people to improve themselves. Whether it is the quantifiable goal of eventually scoring well on the PSAT five years down the road, or the more ambiguous goal of imparting respect for self and others, teachers give students things that cannot be taken away from them by others. The feeling I get when I see the light go on in a student's head is not worth trading for a fat salary and a corner office. The lift my heart gets when a student comes back a year later to say 'thank you' makes up for the forgotten headaches of that year. It is truly a privilege that I can get paid to do something that I enjoy this much, and I will strive to be worthy of it.
p.s. I would like to apologize for the informal tone of this paper, but I won't. The topic is a passionate one for me. I could have written it in a dry, academic tone and presented the same facts, but the feeling would have been edited out. Thank you for the opportunity to present it.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
There were only a couple of quotes I got down today, and one she attributed to someone else:
"The pain that a troubled child causes is never greater than the pain that he feels."
I Googled it and found a book link, The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets to Turning on the Tuned-Out, but it isn't really credited to the author. He puts it in quotes as "sage counsel". She actually wrote it on the board, because it was important enough that she wanted us to remember it. We were talking about classroom management today, and the idea of kids lashing out was one key element.
The other quote, this time hers, was this:
"You have to teach a kid to function in the existing environment."
In other words, finding the problem is key, but sometimes eliminating the problem is just not an option. If an ADHD kid can't focus because there are other kids around, taking him out of the room is only a short-term solution. If that's all we do, we are cheating him of something he needs to learn, and I mean really NEEDS. The kid needs to learn how to function in that classroom. Because he will have to do it for the next n years, at least four in my case. And let's face it, that can be a useful skill in life, unless you plan to avoid going places like restaurants, Wal-Mart (I'm planning to avoid that one!), movies, concerts, big cities and dance clubs, never mind quite a few office jobs (cubicle, anyone?).
We watched some videos on misbehaving kids that bordered on corny. The way the teachers handled the situations, and the way the students reacted seemed idealistic. It's easy to imagine kids going way nuts in some of those situations where the video kids backed down. Of course, they also rolled their eyes, and used body language to show their opinions of the teacher, but they followed the rules.
A key factor was avoiding confrontational body language. A close second was mixing ambiguous and direct language to diffuse situations.
Outside of the video, we talked about ways to prevent bad behavior, both in terms of classroom management and teaching/learning.
Dr. Wintermantel comes from a SpEd (Special Education) background, with a lot of years in TMH (Trainable Mentally Handicapped) rooms. This is good news for me, as the para part of my job will be dealing with behavioral disorder/learning disability kids. I've been told that the para position will involve co-teaching as well. Fantastic. I can't believe I'm going to get paid to gain this kind of experience.
Tomorrow night we have Bible study, and I have a small paper (3-5 pages) due Thursday, so I doubt I will be posting, but look for me again Thursday.
Oh, one more thing: This weekend I didn't go to Wal-Mart! It was awesome! And I've spent time with Maxine every evening! Fantastic! I'm going to like the teaching schedule!
Monday, July 28, 2008
The class itself is wonderful. The teacher, Dr. Amy Wintermantel, is extremely knowledgeable, as well as entertaining. We covered a lot of basics today, and I thought I'd share some things she said:
When addressing a child who is misbehaving, try saying this: "O.K., Susan. You wanted my attention. You've got it."
"Are the decisions I'm making and the actions I'm taking getting me closer to the person I want to be, or further away...?"
"Meet [students] at the door with what they've got and do everything possible to take them where they need to be."
A former student speaking to her, "You helped me to understand my choices [in life]."
"Don't be part of the circle that marks a student as 'that kid, the one with the problems.' "
When a student/teacher relationship starts off badly, "Can we just start over? I love stories that end happily ever after, and I want this to be one of them."
I'd love to be able to write more about it, but my alarm is set for 6:15 a.m., and that is less than seven hours away. I've finished my homework, and started Roblogging about it, so I guess that will have to do.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Last week our dear friends Jibraun and Sujin Emerson moved to Kansas, along with their lovely children, J. Jr., who turned six last week, and Miah, who is four. Horyon and Sujin went to the same middle school, and Horyon and I M.C.'d J. and Sujin's wedding.
If you have to ask why a wedding needs an M.C., you haven't spent enough time in Korea.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
You know what? I'm not going to have to do that again after Friday! Sweet!
So by five till ten, I was ready to go. I had locked the keys in the safe, the counters cleaned, and the department well zoned (straightened up, with everything in place). At three minutes until ten, I was getting ready to push a cart full of stuff out of there, when a lady came up to me and asked if I could change a watch battery and show her a couple of rings.
I should have told her it was closing time. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
I told her that it was three minutes until closing time (true), and that I couldn't show her a ring because the keys were locked in the safe (true), but I'd be happy to change her watch battery (not exactly true).
My mock happiness quickly changed into disgust. The watch had been running slow when she brought it in, but it was running. I checked, and the battery was running a bit low, but it should have made the watch work. But you never know with analog watches. They sometimes slow down before the battery dies. I put in a new battery, and the second hand started moving. I put the back on the watch, and it had stopped. It's already past ten, and I'm really, really, ready to go home by this point, and this is without the benefit of knowing how the next thirty minutes would pass.
I opened the watch again, figuring that the battery had wiggled loose. I taped it in place, and put it back together. Still not working. Back off again, and worked both the old and new batteries around. No luck. Dead watch.
I felt like she had brought in a patient coughing up blood, I had tried CPR, and killed him.
She was not happy. She was very polite about it, but insistent that she should get a discount on a new watch. And she still wanted to see those rings, too. So I should get a manager to come open the safe.
So I did. Assistant Manager Carmen authorized me to give a 15% discount on a new watch, and bumped it up to 20% when the woman whined a bit. The woman then went through the painful (to me) process of picking out a new watch. Her teenage daughter was just as annoyed with this as I was, but was making no effort to hide it. The three- or four- year old girl in her shopping cart was even less restrained at hiding her displeasure.
The woman eventually settled on a watch that she wasn't really happy with, but she needed a watch, and there were major medical expenses in the family, and couldn't I make it 50% off? I offered to get Carmen back, and she stopped pushing. It was a Twist-o-flex band, the metal kind that stretch. You may not be aware of this, but it is possible to remove links from bands like this. It is a neat little trick that is not one bit intuitive. It took me about three minutes to get her band shortened, and my prayers were answered when she accepted it with just one link out.
Then we looked at rings for a few minutes. She spent nothing more but time, which would have been just fine if she hadn't been spending my time as well. That was the most tempting moment of my Wal-Mart career to just lock up and leave and to heck with the consequences. As I said before, she was polite enough, but I had told her 25 minutes previously that I was supposed to close in three minutes. Did she figure that all I was going to do was go out and party? Or that I effing enjoyed being at the Wal-Mart jewelry counter long after my time to go home?
Of course, what it comes down to is that she didn't really care what I thought or felt. As far as she was concerned, I had no more say in my function than a shelf or a cash register. And that is the most annoying thing about working at Wal-Mart. Corporate Management is fond of saying that associates are their greatest assets, but they do little to back up that idea when the customer is always right, even when he or she is a total jerk.
I am sure that as a teacher there will be times when I am unappreciated, mistreated by management, and perhaps shot at. But I will be doing something important, and I will know that, even if my wife is the only one who ever reminds me. Or even if she doesn't. I won't be simply adding value to the Wal-Mart corporation and staying out late five nights a week.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
A couple of Saturdays ago, Horyon packed Maxine in the car to go to her Saturday Bible Study. She recently found one at a Korean church, one which has an interesting connection to us. The pastor's daughter, C.G., was my coworker at Kosin University in Pusan.
But that's beside the point. The point is that Horyon didn't make it there. In fact, she didn't make it out of sight of our home, which was a fortunate thing. When she tried to turn right on Wakarusa Street (isn't that an awesome name for a street?), the van refused to move. The cars behind her were getting impatient, but she couldn't move. She turned on the hazard lights, and they moved around her. She then backed down the hill to the curb opposite our house.
I became aware of this when the doorbell rang. I got up, opened the door, and saw Horyon running back across the yard and towards the van. She stopped long enough to tell me that it wasn't working. I got in and had her take Maxine into the house, then backed the van into our driveway and garage.
Monday morning I had it towed to our mechanic. The verdict: needs a new transmission. $2700 for a factory rebuild with a three-year guarantee. I didn't even ask for the price of a new one, just told him to order it and get started.
A week later I picked it up. Seems okay to me, but Horyon isn't so sure. I'll drive it a bit tomorrow to check.
I went to our bank to ask about borrowing money to pay for this and my upcoming school fee ($600 for the summer class, more for the fall class). They could offer me a line of credit up to $6000, at in introductory rate of 3.9% for six months, after which it would be something like 9-11%. When my parents heard about it, they offered to pay for the repairs. Horyon and I talked about it, and decided to try fielding this one ourselves. We figured we could get the loan paid off withing three or four months if we kept our budget tightened down. It seemed like a good idea to build our independence.
When we brought this up with our bi-weekly Wednesday Bible study group, all three of them said that we should take my parents' offer. Matt asked if I were just being proud. They are all parents, and agreed that it would be a blessing for my parents if they could be allowed to pay this expense for us. When Horyon and I sort of sat quietly in reaction, they backed off, suggested that we talk and pray about it, then moved on to the study.
(We're studying the book of Daniel, which starts with some Vacation Bible School/Sunday School stories, and moves on into some deep, hard-to-follow, prophecies. A lot of us is leaving us all feeling like the dumb kid in the back of the physics class, wondering what's going on with all these wacky animals and statues and kingdoms and angels and demons and stuff.)
On the way home we decided to accept Mom and Dad's offer, so we called and told them so.
Because it was mostly pride. Or at least partly pride. Do we really need to see if we can "Make it on our own?" No. Not really. It really drove the point home when someone asked if I had any brothers or sisters. The answer is yes, but... it feels like no. And part of the problem there was pride, or so it seems to me. And I wondered, by saying no to my parents, do I make them feel like we're cutting them out?
And besides, as one of our friends pointed out, which would you prefer, a gift now, or a larger inheritance later?
I'd hate to be labeled "prodigal," but let's go for the present.
So Mom and Dad sent us an even $3000, which really works out for the best. Because my Cavalier (pronounced cuh val' ee AYE, thank you) needed new brake pads, to the tune of $170. It could also use new struts and a couple of new tires, but they told me those could wait. So they will.
So Mom, Dad, thanks. I do want us to be independent, but not because I want us to be parted from you. I just want us to be ready when Maxine needs her Mom and Dad to spring for a new transmission.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
(They were the only school that called to tell me that I didn't get the job. I thought that was very nice at the time, considering that other schools either sent a letter or just let me call to find out that the job was given to someone else.)
It really got my hopes up. I wrote to my friend Jon the following:
The job lead should pan out one way or the other by this coming Tuesday. It sounded pretty positive, for a few reasons:
1. It's part time math combined with part time para. This makes it less attractive to most teachers, as the pay will be lower. This also makes it more attractive to me because it leaves more time for studies, gives official, paid time to observe other teachers (while helping out in their classrooms), and comes with full-time benefits (insurance).
2. The vice-principal (the principal is moving on to another job) that I talked to sounded like she had me in mind for the position. We got along well in our interview a few weeks ago, and it sounded like they wanted to hire me. They actually called to tell me that I hadn't gotten the job--the only school to do so. I asked why not, and they told me that they had hired someone who interned at the school.
3. She told me that they couldn't officially move on the position until the posting had been up for ten days--Sunday. So unless someone better than me steps in, they want me.
The faith tag on my status was understated. (This refers to my status on Facebook. I had written that I still did not have a job, but was remaining faithful.) We've been praying lots about this. Within the past week or two I shifted my prayers of supplication to prayers of thanks for whatever God has in mind for me this fall. In hindsight, it's something I've never done before in earnest. I have always been somewhat carefree regarding the future before, but now there are two other people riding on my future, and that has opened me up to worry, work and concern like only my mother has experienced.
And so a weakness has been exposed, and it's been an opportunity for God to grow my faith. I realize that it is still not finished, and that I need to maintain the same gratitude even if I do not get this particular job. But I do believe that God wants the best for me and my family. Whether I "deserve" this job or not is beside the point. I have received no signs that I need to get out of education. No promptings to work my way up the ladder at Wal-Mart. No feelings that I am headed in the wrong direction. Just an encouragement to step forward into the dark.
And so I spent last week waiting for the call. I called the school twice and left messages on their answering machine, each time hoping that it wasn't the call that made them think, "What's the matter with this loser? Maybe he wants it too badly? I don't think we should hire him."
I got called back Friday by vice-principal Lisa. She told me that they were contacting my references, but that they were having trouble reaching them. She had talked to one (Bob at Wal-Mart, who gave a sparkling recommendation), and the voice mail of two others. I suggested a couple of other references that weren't on my previous application, and asked if anyone else was being considered for the position.
The answer was no. I felt better, but had been through too much to just start thinking of the job as mine. And it was a long weekend.
We took Chaeryon to the airport Saturday morning, then stopped at Zona Rosa for breakfast and a quick tour of Cabelas. Then home, food, shower, work. Sunday morning we went to church. Dad came to visit, including our church service and lunch afterwards. The sermon yesterday was given by John Kerstetter, a missionary from Lawrence F.C.C. staying with his family in Brazil. We invited them to our home for a meal, which we could only fit in today, Monday. Sunday afternoon and evening I was at work again, until 10 again. Today we sent Maxine to Stephanie's Day Care, I went shopping for lunch food, came home, cooked, we ate, sat around talking, and I got a phone call.
A job offer from Central Jr. High! I immediately said yes, and things are proceeding. The Human Resources department has to process my paperwork, and hopefully I'll sign a contract within a week.
Then I went to work again. Until 10 again. Now it's 1:36 a.m., my eye's are itchy and heavy, but my brain is spinning around, and I don't feel like sleeping. I put in my resignation at Wal-Mart. My summer is looking like this:
Wal-Mart until July 25th. July 28-August 2 class at Baker's Johnson County Campus, six hours a day. I get the following Monday off, then start new teacher training that Tuesday. A week and a half later, the kids show up and it just gets nutty from there.
I want to thank everyone who has been praying for us through this. It's been a long, sometimes frustrating process, and it's just about over. Then I become a Jr. High teacher, where I am sure I will have entire new vistas of frustrating opened to me. I am looking forward to it now much more than I did when we first moved back. A year of Wal-Mart has really given me a different perspective on life, because I have seen so very many people during this year, behaving well, badly and the whole range in between. I very much recommend doing a retail job to everyone. It will make you appreciate the anonymous person who takes your order, helps you find stuff, and smiles and says "thank you" even when you've been a complete jerk.
Well, Horyon is here, wanting help to put medicine on her chigger bites. Those little critters really love her. And it's almost 2 a.m., definitely time to go to bed.
Monday, June 09, 2008
Just to give some background, his ex used to work at Wal-Mart, and I was friends with her, too. She moved back to her hometown, some distance from here, and apparently took up with a new boyfriend. He says that she was with the boyfriend before they broke up, she says not. Whatever the details, the fact is that he got hurt. Not sure about her.
Of course I suggested not going through with it. I reminded him that revenge never leaves one feeling as good as one expects. I suggested that perhaps the best revenge on your enemies is to live well. He countered with the suggestion that perhaps he could just sleep with the girl and not take pictures. I had to concede that the new plan was an improvement, though still not ideal.
Later he told me that after sharing his plan with everyone in the store, I was the only one to counsel restraint. I'm not sure how I feel about being consulted as a sort of external conscience, but when he later told me that he didn't send pictures to his ex, it made me happy to have been involved.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Later we changed into more informal clothing for the reception. Here we are wearing my birthday present t-shirts. Mine says, "This is MY daddy!" and hers says, "This is MY daughter!" They both have Maxine's hand prints on them. Very cool.
And we finally got a new picture of Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob has long been a favorite of Maxine's. She has been able to identify him in photos since before we came to America. I am not sure why this is. Perhaps the words "Uncle Bob" just sort of roll off the tongue, like marbles. Or maybe she likes that he is so tall. Or maybe she plans to go to him for financial advice some day, and is hoping to get it for free. Anyway, here they are:
We stayed overnight in the hotel. It was cool, but we didn't take many pictures. And we took so few pictures of the wedding party in their lovely outfits that I'm a bit embarrassed. Had I not a daughter as charming (and energetic) as Maxine, there would be no excuse for it.
And the account wouldn't be complete without a video of Maxine tearing up the dance floor. I've got a few more videos like this, with her spinning around, bumping into people, dissing me, and generally having a good time.
I've still got a few more pictures to go up, but your weekends are my heavy work days, so be patient!
A Brief Introduction
Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.