Threadbare

Two weeks ago today, someone turned in one of our copies of Allegiant. I checked it in and, as expected, saw that it was on hold for another student. I printed out the hold notice, then got one of our narrow sticky notes and wrote the student’s last name and the date on it. I remember thinking, as I sometimes do (because I’m a nerd about names) that I liked the look and feel of this student’s name as I wrote it down. Just had a pleasant combination of consonants. Like I said: nerd.

I then looked up the student’s class schedule, found out where she was at that moment, and wrote the room number on the hold notice. I handed it to one of our student library aides to be delivered. Later that day, the student came to the library, got her book off the holds shelf, and checked it out.

We check out Allegiant a lot. It’s the recently-published finale to a very popular trilogy; the movie based on the first book is still in theaters. So I don’t remember, honestly, if my memory of this transaction was for this student, or for someone else checking out the book, or how many different kids I said the exact same thing to. To some girl at about the right time — perhaps to this girl — I smiled as I handed her the book, made a comment about how she must be excited to finally get it, and then recommended that she have some kleenex handy as she read it.

This particular copy of Allegiant was due today. The girl with the satisfying last name is dead. She was hit by a car while riding her bicycle on Easter evening and died last night.

When you work in the schools, you end up knowing an awful lot of people — especially in a smallish community like ours, where you have a pretty decent chance of recognizing any name you see on the news. A lot of educators develop the habit of half-consciously scanning arrest records and news stories for familiar names. Our student’s name hasn’t been released by the media, but when I saw that evening that there had been a bike-car accident involving a 13-year-old, and saw the location, I knew that this was almost certainly one of our kids. The following day that would be confirmed. I’d learn that she was one of my husband’s students. Other devastating details came to light. For two days we held out hope, and then we learned that it was over. Queued up the emergency phone tree at about 9 pm. Spread the word. Picked out a blue outfit to wear in her honor because it was her favorite color.

As far as I really know, the entirety of my relationship with this little girl was that I processed a hold for her, and I put her picture and name in the yearbook. She was a fairly regular library patron, based on her circulation history, but not one of the ones who interacted a lot with me.

Still, I feel heartbroken. It feels deeply personal to me. I don’t know how (or if) people avoid thinking about all of the connections. My head and heart are full of her parents, her siblings, her friends who I see red-eyed in the halls at school today, her teachers who are trying to seem strong. I am thinking about the driver. I am thinking about the adolescence and adulthood she won’t have, about her infancy and all her family’s hopes and dreams for her. I’m thinking about the book and wondering if she finished reading it, whether it will come back to the library, what I should do with it if it does. I’m thinking that is a stupid thing to be thinking about.

Although it is a vastly different situation, I’m thinking about my student M—-, who died on May 12 of last year. She was upset about a break-up and ended up throwing herself under a train. I was on maternity leave and all I could think was whether things might have been different if I’d been at school that week instead of at home with my own baby. M—- and I had been relatively close; I’d been her English teacher for a few years, and had tried to help her with some bullying/bad friend issues in the past. Given the dynamics of the failed relationship, I probably would have been one of the first people she would have come to talk to if I’d been there. I’m reliving my feelings of guilt and regret.

I’m thinking about the baby I held, hugging him close to me as M—-‘s name hit the news, and my solar plexus, that day. I know one day soon I’ll have to let my little boy get on his bicycle and ride out of my arm’s reach, out of my sight. I’ll have to trust that he’ll be safe, that he won’t trust a crosswalk with his life, that he won’t ever let a broken heart stop beating. It’s hard to fathom having the strength to let go on a day like today.

I’m thinking about how my coworkers must be reliving the loss of another student, just a kid, who took his own life last year. Loss is tied to loss. Our principal reminded us this morning that this week’s tragedy might stir up pain from unrelated events, that we should look out for our colleagues even if they didn’t personally know the deceased. It was a good thing to say. I didn’t know how hard this would hit me. It is good to remember that in all of the different reactions people have to something like this, none are likely to be unique.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.” C. S. Lewis wrote that in A Grief Observed, following his wife’s death. It seems like a perfect description of today. He goes on to describe a sort of juxtaposed need for isolation and company, wanting others to be nearby but finding conversation too much to bear: “If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” It’s true that I want to hide under my desk with a box of kleenex, but simultaneously I want to walk, want to be in the back of a room where other people are talking. I want to be sleeping or perhaps just staring at a wall, but I also want to be doing something, anything, to feel like I am in some way helping. I feel wrapped up, muffled, in Lewis’s invisible blanket of sadness. It isn’t a warm blanket, but it is well-worn and widely shared.

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Herding Cats, With Pencils and Word Processors

Although I’m wise enough to recognize that this is not going to be the year that I write 50,000 words toward a novel’s first draft, I was pretty pleased to once more be behind the wheel of my school’s Young Writers Program for National Novel Writing Month.

progress charts

This is the fifth or sixth year (I forget exactly) that I’ve run the YWP, and I’d had aspirations of simplifying the whole mess and putting more of the responsibility on the shoulders of the participants. In the end, I just can’t let go of the control I like to have over its (relatively) smooth execution, so once again I’m up to my eyeballs in charts, mailers, and milestone prizes. Admittedly, I make this all MUCH harder on myself than strictly necessary. Most YWP advisors are running it for a class, with about 30 participants to keep track of. Each participant earns a sticker for each 10% toward his/her goal, and then you win a button at the end. NaNoWriMo achieved.

But where’s the fun in that? So instead, I aggressively recruit schoolwide, ending up with about 100 participants (my highest was about 130; this year is my smallest group, with just under 90 kids) and set up an elaborate program that keeps them excited about recreational/quasi competitive writing. I invest time and money in extra prizes, and tend to keep the hallways well-worn with encouraging notes. We do t-shirts, an end-of-event party, the whole nine yards.

This year, I’m skipping the after-school write-ins (which involve time, energy, and candy) in lieu of providing ten lunch passes for kids to come in and type after they eat. And I’m cutting back on deliveries by creating a mailbox system, leaving it up to the kids to pick up the majority of their notes and prizes as the month goes on. This is the innovation that excited and terrified me the most, but it seems to be working pretty well. That’s the benefit to doing this out of a library instead of a classroom; I actually have a public space that is accessible to the entire school.

setupI’m SUPER excited about the prizes I have this year. I found a place that makes customized pencils, and a place that makes customized silicone bracelets, very quickly and inexpensively. On top of that, I’ve been collecting leftover buttons from past YWPs for the past few years, and have enough to give them out as milestone prizes this year. I’ll likely wipe out my supply, but I figure if I do a really stellar job with this in 2013, I might be able to parlay that into some additional funding for next year and buy more customized prizes.

prizesOne of the things I really love about this program is how it is accessible and fun and rewarding to pretty much any kid. I’ve got some really brilliant kids involved in this — you’re going to attract GT students with this sort of event — but some of my most excited writers are kids who previously didn’t have a venue to feel successful and included in the school. We’re talking kids with very limited English, or kids in almost entirely special education classes and very low academic ability. Then there’s the “freaks and geeks,” which believe me, I say with the ABSOLUTE highest affection, because they are my tribe. I just love how this event embraces the kids who may not be great students, who certainly aren’t great athletes, and gives them a community and a chance to win just by doing something that they love.

So yeah, I’m going to be a frazzled nutcase this month. But it will be worth it. 🙂

Seven Things About My New Job

This is my first Monday in the library, and the beginning of my third week as a middle school librarian. I’ve had several questions — from my new coworkers as well as from commenters on the DYHJ Facebook page — about how it’s going, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my new job.

1. No one would ever believe how bustling and busy this library is. I’ve never seen anything like it. When they release the barbarian hoards from the cafeteria before school, probably a hundred kids rush into the library, and we’re still checking out books for the “it’s worth it to be tardy if I can get this book” crowd after the first bell rings. That’s small potatoes compared to break, when the library fills wall-to-wall with children. Even with two people manning the circulation desk, we can’t get through the line before break ends. It’s standing room only with kids reading, visiting, playing chess and checkers, or watching other kids playing. Sixth grade lunch passes are the most coveted property on campus. In a normal week there are 40 class periods; we have 39 different classes who come in each week or every other week to check out books, not including classes who will eventually schedule library time for special projects. The library has only been open for book check-out for a week, and we currently have almost 1,700 books in circulation (and a great many items on hold). This library is alive and it’s awesome.

2. Did I mention that the vast majority of our library patrons are boys? Because they are. Our library is stuffed from bell to bell with 11 to 14-year-old boys. How cool is that? And we don’t even let them play computer games!

3. I’m working with special education students for the first time. I know that sounds odd, considering I taught for five years, but as a secondary English teacher I rarely worked with students whose special needs were severe enough to require out-of-mainstream classes. I worked with many students on the autism spectrum — but only very highly functioning kids — and only ever had two with significant cognitive or physical impairment. The students in our special education classes here spend a lot of time in the library, and I’m finding myself very lucky to be getting to know them. We have an entire wall of picture books, and many of these kiddos zero in on them, but others are really fond of the illustrated nonfiction books and will check out volume after volume on their favorite subject (usually animals). I watch their teachers and aides working with them and I still feel astonished at their ability to help, guide, and instruct these students — but as I get to know them, I can understand why a person would love that career!

4. I get to go shopping. For books. With someone else’s money. What a great gig, right? In fact, we had a bit of a windfall this year, which means that I get to really go to town updating our nonfiction section to include CCSS-connected informational texts, and adding the latest and greatest to our fiction and graphic novel sections. I’m about to place a sizeable order, as a matter of fact. The flip side of this coin is that I get to/have to read a lot of middle-level books now, as I need to adjust to and keep up with the current middle level literature. I had some vague idea that I’d be reading as a part of my job, but I’ve yet to see an opportunity to just sit down with a novel while I’m on the clock. So, I’ve always got reading “homework” even when I don’t necessarily want to read something at the PG level… Talk about your problems 😉

5. I’m not 100% certain where I fit in the school. I am paid as a teacher, am certified as a teacher, and even get observed and evaluated like a teacher (although I’ll be darned if I can figure out what criteria will be used for that, given the fact that I have relatively little organized student contact). On the emergency phone tree, though, I’m one of the people responsible for calling a list of teachers — keeping company with the administrators and counselors. The library is connected to the main office suite, set apart from the classrooms. I interact more often with administration than with teachers, and my duties are far more administrative than educational, most days. So what am I? A teacher librarian? A library adminstrator? This school’s social structure doesn’t lend itself toward ambiguity in this area….

6. I like my new job, but I miss my old life. In fact, I really like my new job. I love my coworkers, and I love getting to do nothing but think about books all day long (haha, that’s a joke, because we’re so busy I don’t have time to think about anything, much less books!). But I have to be fair to myself and acknowledge that in leaving, I left behind all of my friends and a career that never felt like “a job.” I have over a thousand students now instead of the 170-180 about which I used to complain, and I’m getting to where I recognize a handful of them and know a few names, but I’m not going to feel close to these kiddos in the same way that I did my most sympatico high school students. I miss bantering with my nerdy almost-adults in the ITE program, or waxing eloquent about archetypes in science fiction films from the past fifty years, or scandalizing seniors by introducing them to phallic and yonic symbols and pointing them out in classical literature. I don’t miss grading essays, feeling afraid of surly male students three times my size, wondering how to teach a lesson without printer ink/photocopies, or dealing with the latest student suicide attempt, juvenile detention, pregnancy, or conveniently-timed “miscarriage.” But I sorely miss hanging out in the teacher breakroom in the English wing, chatting with my friends about everything from Chaucer to church gossip, comparing pregnancies and babies, throwing our collective hands up in the air over the latest catastrophe to befall the district. CHS was one of my homes, and it’s hard (and surreal) to not be there any more, and to know how very different it is than it used to be — because even if I were still at CHS, it wouldn’t be the same CHS, because so many people have gone their separate ways.

7. Sometimes it is really hard to keep a straight face around twelve-year-olds. Without going into too many details, I had to confront a boy who was downloading inappropriate photos on a library computer, and the excuse he gave me — well, let’s just say that it’s been entertaining the staff here for the past couple of days!

FACEPALM

Back to School

Well, I survived my first week (technically a week and a half, but only four days of that was with students) as a middle school librarian!

This past Monday we didn’t have students, and because of an annoying scheduling fluke with day care (H will go to an actual day care center on Mondays) he ended up coming to work with me that day.

Lucky duck gets to make spreadsheets in his jammies.

Lucky duck gets to make spreadsheets in his jammies.

You're fired!

You’re fired!

He definitely has a village that loves him and wants to help raise him! Between all of the ladies at church, and everyone at school, he’s a very cared-about little kiddo.

Speaking of being loved, I’m a pretty lucky lady. R, who (for those of you who might not know) teaches at the same school as I, has always surprised me with flowers on the first day of school when I go to a new school. Tuesday was no exception as he employed two of the school’s administrators and various other staff members to distract me so that he could load up my desk with welcoming gifts:

Beautiful flowers in our school colors.

Beautiful flowers in our school colors.

School-colored watch straps!

School-colored watch straps!

School logo jewelry! Apparently our school shares a logo with Burberry, and R found an Etsy artist who repurposes Burberry buttons into jewelry!

School logo jewelry! (Sorry for the terrible photo quality.) Apparently our school shares a logo with Burberry, and R found an Etsy artist who repurposes Burberry buttons into jewelry!

The only word I can come up with for not being a classroom teacher is “surreal.” The first day, in particular, was a little bizarre to me; I kept feeling like a guest in someone else’s school, like I was just visiting and helping out before going back to my own classroom. The children seemed so tiny and young. I ended the day without having lost my voice. Nothing about it felt like the first day of school to me. I really loved being a classroom teacher, and it’s going to be quite an adjustment to slip into a role that feels a little bit more administrative.

As the week went on, things got busier and busier, and I found my rhythm. It’s still weird, but it has gone from feeling surreal to feeling pretty nice. I’m getting excited (all over again) about some ideas and upcoming events. I love my coworkers. And let me just say how nice it is to be going BACK to a school I already know, rather than going to an entirely new place. I always struggle to find my place socially, and here I feel like the worst of that is over.

One of my amazing assistants, B, came up with the idea of highlighting the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington in our end-cap displays. I found several MLK biographies and books about the March and about the Civil Rights Movement. I’m not sure if any of the kids got it, but I thought it was pretty neat and a subtle way to bring current events into the library.

We also made a display of some of the newest books in the library, which gave me some practice in reviewing past orders. I’m having a lot of on-the-job, on-the-fly training in different programs and systems and databases, and surely am thankful for my staff and their expertise and patience.

new books

There’s SO much to learn. As the Library Media Specialist, I’m not only the “book person” but also Level One Tech Support for the school. Everyone comes to us with their basic technology problems. One day, for example, we had four distinct problems with document cameras; we have frequent printer problems, issues with projectors, and — thanks to a district-wide software update — questions about how to use Microsoft 365. And it’s not as if we have consistent equipment from one classroom to the next, so I have to learn 3-4 different solutions to every problem. On top of that, of course, there’s just simply all of the details of working the library. No chance to get bored here!

It could all be a little intimidating, but honestly, nothing else is quite as intimidating as the faculty restroom nearest the library. What if it occurred unexpectedly? Are there alarms? Consequences? Such anxiety!

Even if I didn’t love my job (which I do) it would be worth it, though, to be able to walk in my front door at the end of the day and be able to spend my evening with Henry instead of grading mountains of papers or planning hours of instruction. I guess I ought to feel a little wussy or something for saying that, and I certainly don’t mean to downplay how surprisingly difficult librarianship is, but you know, I’m just at a different point in my life right now, and I’ve never believed in prioritizing work over family.

I don’t have to explain “leaving my baby to go to work” to anyone who has ever had to do it, and if you haven’t, I’m not sure I could do it justice. It wasn’t quite as hard as I’d feared, probably because he was staying with family — we are SO lucky. But it wasn’t what I’d call easy, and it made for a less enthusiastic back-to-school on my part. I’ve also found pumping to be (predictably) a PITA, but I might write more about that later. One thing about it: I’m a lot better about getting my work done within contract hours so that I can leave on time, now that I have a baby to get home to!

IMG_4637

Final verdict: I’m happy. It is different, and I miss CHS. But it is different in good ways, and it is right for me right now. I’m going to be challenged, I’m going to get to know a lot of great books and great kids, and hey, maybe I’ll even do some good for the universe. I’ve already decided that in addition to my Nerdfighteria mantra (don’t forget to be awesome) I’m going to bring in a little Jeffiness and make it my mission to make the library a place of sweetness and light for my students (all 1,000+ of them!) and my fellow staff members.

Oh, and I’m going to be eating my elephant one bite at a time, too. Mmmm, elephant. 🙂

Shoes for My Stocking

I used to try to write a “December wish list” (my birthday is in December as well), for the fun of window shopping if not to provide actual shopping inspiration. I’d gotten away from doing so in the past year or two, but I actually have a few things that I’d love to show up in my stocking now — or rather, that I’d like to stick my stockings into — so here we go! Santa Claus, take note! 😉

I love shoes, but not like most women; you can keep your Manolo Blahnik wearable sculptures (okay, I like looking at them just fine) but please, keep my closet well-stocked with Alegria and Dansko! What can I say; I’m a teacher. I’m a big fan of comfy feet, and these brands are actually really cute and quirky on top of being kind to my toes. The only problem is that, at around $100 a pair, these are definitely special occasion purchases… or, this time of year, the perfect thing to request from the North Pole.

teva

I live in Teva Tirra sandals from the earliest hint of warmth in the spring until the last possible moment in late fall. And when I say “live in,” I mean it doesn’t matter if I’m at work, church, a mountain trail, the shopping mall, or wandering around my house in the middle of the night; these are my warm-weather uniform. Currently I have a pair of black and a pair of red; I’d LOVE a pair in Chocolate Chip. These are an awesome investment for me. If I had these, I would wear them until they fell apart three summers later — which, incidentally, is what is about to happen to my black ones.

The Tirra sandal is also apparently available in green, and I’ve been hunting for a pair of green shoes forever… just sayin’…

Speaking of green shoes:

_alegria greenIsn’t that beautiful? Perhaps the crown jewels of my shoe closet are my three pairs of Alegria Paloma mary janes. I love these not only because of how they feel, but because they come in such delicious colors! My existing Palomas are patent leather pink, yellow, and metallic red; I would dearly love to add this pair in Forest Magic to their ranks.

On those rare occasions when I actually acquire a pair of good work shoes, I tend to go for fun colors (hey, I work with kids, and besides, I’ve always said that life is too short to have boring feet). The consequence of this is that I don’t really have good shoes in black and brown — and as fun as school bus yellow shoes are, one doesn’t necessarily want to wear them to an important meeting, y’know? So if the elves were feeling like putting something practical under the tree, they could not go wrong with any of the following. (I especially lack brown shoes for some reason.)

_alegria black

The Alegria Abbi Oxford (shown above in Black Emboss Rose, but there are two other black versions that I like just fine) is a great shoe. I have a pair in blue that I adore and wear all the time, once it’s not Teva season :). The only sad thing is, I think the Abbi may no longer be in production, so it may be unobtainable.

_dansko brown_dansko black

I saw the Dansko Ainsley on the display table at Dillards and fell in love with the floral-ish detail and name, so despite the price I tried them on and really loved the fit (most Danskos are really wide, but these fit like a dream). They come in Dark Brown and Black, as well as some less practical metallic shades; honestly, in this shoe, I wouldn’t want the sheen. They’re pretty enough as is!

Others I like:

Just in case you are Santa Claus and actually want to spend $100 on a pair of shoes for your favorite blogger… Post-baby, I am a pretty solid 9.5, or a 40 in European sizes. No petite tootsies here! By the way, I’m linking to an online shoe emporium, but sometimes there are better prices on Amazon or other places.

The Difference a Year Makes

One year ago, all I knew for sure was that our most recent attempt to summon the stork (thank you, Piers Anthony, for enriching my collection of euphemisms at an early age) had been unsuccessful. As I geared up for another school year, my emotional strength was analogous to the physical strength of someone just completing physical therapy; our lost baby had been due July 4, 2012, and it hadn’t been the easiest of summers, but time and the power of writing therapy/talking therapy courtesy of the Boise State Writing Project summer institute had done a lot to glue me back together.

At the beginning of August, I knew that I hadn’t been pregnant a few weeks before.

But even though I hadn’t taken a test, by this time last year, I had a pretty strong feeling that the stork had finally checked its messages. And it wasn’t too much longer before my suspicions were gleefully, fearfully confirmed — fearful because I was so scared that we were in for another heartbreak.

Nine months of pregnancy lined up with nine months of teaching. There was a scare early on with some bleeding that cleared up. There was a point at which I really just didn’t know what to do with the idea that this little miracle inside me was going to be (duh duh DUH) a boy. There was exhaustion and terrible heartburn and the weirdest appetites. Some afternoons I’d have to pull over halfway home, not to throw up but to desperately scarf down potato chips or crackers or whatever else I could find in the car to stem the tide of stomach acid.

We were due April 25; I squirreled away my sick and personal days and began my maternity leave a few days early so that I could feel well-rested and ready. What a funny joke. By the time this baby — my baby — my son — arrived, it was four days into May, I was so exhausted I almost couldn’t remember how to use a toilet, and I felt just about as prepared as I had for weeks before. Not that I wasn’t ready — I was no more ready. I was so, so ready to be a Mama.

And now, I am the Mama of a beautiful, hilarious, so-sweet-it-gives-you-cavities three-month-old little boy. This kiddo wrinkles up his nose, snorts, and lunges like a hungry wolf puppy if he loses his grip on his dinner. He sleeps with his arms thrown over his head, just like his daddy, and his feet together and knees sprawled like a little froggy. He’s ticklish. He can sit up for a long time if he’s supported by a person or his Baby Snug, and when you put him on his tummy he holds his chest and head up practically forever, or until he remembers how to roll over onto his back, which is usually within thirty seconds. He has finally decided that it isn’t the Worst Thing Ever to be carried facing his carrier, which means he gives all kinds of great baby hugs. He tries constantly to fit his entire fist into his mouth, and currently likes the taste of his fingers or his little blanket-bear better than his pacifier. We had to remove the cushy newborn insert from his car seat, and now he fusses and squalls when we put him in it unless we can adequately distract him with funny faces and baby talk. He still loves having his diaper changed — Nakey Baby time, or Pants-Off Dance-Off — but has gotten a little nervous about his baths for some reason. He smiles and flirts at anyone who catches his eye and smiles at him. He babbles and hoots and has started to really delight in seeing how high he can crank the volume when he “talks” to his lambies or to us. Sometimes he sleeps for hours at a time. Sometimes he’s up every two hours on the dot whining for food. He lifts both legs at the hip as high as he can and then drops them, simultaneously, with a crib-shaking thud that helps him rotate a few inches at a time until he ends up 90 to 180 degrees from his original position on the mattress. We still can’t decide what color his hair is. His eyes are so blue, it’s astonishing. He likes music, from raucous hip-hop to meandering lullabies with misremembered lyrics. Sometimes, when I’m holding him, he lies there and stares at my face with the most adoring look in his eyes, for what seems like hours. I can’t tear my eyes away.

IMG_4538

My husband and I are both employed, full-time, by the same school.

Things that had fallen apart have come back together.

We are parents. We are a family of three. We have him. It’s like, you thought all the lights were on in the house, but it turns out there’s a dimmer switch and you’d never had your lights on all the way before.

What a difference a year makes.

From Where I’m Sitting

I am sitting in a chair at the desk that will be my home base for the foreseeable future. The chair is not particularly comfortable but is a vast improvement over the ergonomic nightmare I had behind my last desk. On my to-do list is to consider bringing over one of the extra office chairs from my house; it’s just taking up room there, and I think I’d actually have room for it in this office, whereas it would have been too much in my classroom.

From this seat, I can see pretty much the entire library. The only blind spot is the tutoring table and part of the computer lab. I can also see out the impressive wall of windows facing onto McMillan; it’s trying to blow up a windstorm, but the sun is shining through the weather, making everything kind of soft and yellow-filtered. The sprinklers are on, and the wind is shattering the sprinkler bursts into ineffectual splatter patterns. There are green trees out there, blowing in the wind. There’s also a Taco Del Mar, a Jamba Juice, and two — two — Starbucks across the street. One of the saddest things about my last school was that there was no coffee anywhere nearby.

Behind me, on the floor, H is lying on a quilt making hooting little baby sounds that might or might not be in response to the Saxophobia CD playing softly in the background. In the last 24 hours he’s discovered that his feet are something that he can grab onto, although he doesn’t seem to be very good at catching them yet. At this point he still prefers his favorite toy: a lightweight burp cloth (basically a dish rag) or, lacking that, any handy piece of fabric that he can grab onto and cuddle up under his chin. I’ve been trying to give him some tummy time, but it’s become impossible; once I put him on his belly, he stays there for at most thirty seconds before rolling back over onto his back. He seems delighted at this new-found control over his life situation. Behold! I need not submit to the indignity of lying on my stomach if I choose not to!

If you’re in the mood for some metablogging, here’s a photograph of my desktop, in which you can clearly see this blog entry being written:

desktop

And here’s a picture of what’s behind me:

shelves

I probably need to go through the magazines, catalogs, and toppled-over binders on the right side of those shelves and figure out if I want/need all of it, and straighten it up a bit.

I’m going to have to figure out the whole pumping/storing situation. Those lovely office windows that let me see the entire library mean that the entire library can see me. Behind those shelves is another little area that I think I’ll be able to use as a private corner, but it’s going to involve signage and what seems to me to be an awkward conversation with my assistants. And these book carts are going to need to find another place to be corralled….

This is going to be a sea change but I’m looking forward to it. Yesterday, when I saw someone else’s name on my door at the high school, and when I took my keys off the lanyard and turned them in, I was feeling a little melancholy about the whole thing. But if there’s one thing I’m good at/bad about, it’s introspection; I know that it’s just hard to feel how much I’ll love this job because I haven’t actually started doing it. That’s why, even though I probably should have been doing laundry today, I came in to the library instead. It helps to be here, getting my desk together, daydreaming about displays and projects and promotions and even the day-to-day grind of it all.

These are good things. Now, as I wrap up this post, I’m holding H in my lap. Makes typing a little tougher, but then again, I have years of practice with pushy cats. (That said, I’ve never had a cat repeatedly kick the space bar or suck on my arm while I’m typing.) I can lean over and kiss the top of his head between sentences. On the far side of the library is a picture book section for special education students and other needs; H thinks it’s his section, though.

And now I’m all drooled on…. so I think I’m going to wrap things up for now. More to come. 🙂

Transitioning

We’re (at least) halfway through the summer, so it’s time for me to get off my sit-upon and make the transition from being a teacher at one school to being a librarian at another. That means a lot of boxing things up and sorting things out (one of those jobs that seems easy enough until you walk in the room and discover how Sisyphean it truly is) in a room that is devoid of air conditioning. Bittersweet sort of thing.

It also means meeting with the erstwhile librarian to learn the ropes (or as much as I can learn without actually doing). I’m excited and a little overwhelmed — there is a lot to learn, and a lot I want to do that may constitute biting off more than I can chew. I have to ease into this whole thing and prioritize what I learn to do!

It’s a beautiful space. I’ve been in a couple of times with R and have been trying to settle into the idea that these are my new digs:

I need to get back up to speed on middle-level literature after several years in a high school. Fortunately, I have a great big room full of books written for middle school kids at my fingertips.

WatchedI started off by reading Wonder, a very good book recommended to me by the principal, a counselor, and the outgoing librarian. Really a beautiful book; I’m going to try to get R to read it, if he’ll find some time away from his computer-reading. I’d like to write about it here if I find the time and energy.

CrossedNow I’m reading Crossed (book 2 in the Matched trilogy, which I started with my book club). It’s suffering a bit from SITS (Second Installment in the Trilogy Syndrome) but I still want to finish the trilogy. I’ve got the third book on standby but may read something else in between, depending on how Crossed ends.

After that, I’m either going to read Palace of Stone (the sequel to Princess Academy, which I read on audio book a couple of years ago) or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. And then I probably need to pick a good old-fashioned Book for Boys Who Don’t Necessarily Always Love Reading. Any recommendations from my teacher/reader/librarian pals?

I took a look at the fiction stacks and found that there are about 160 shelves (actually around 165, but some are very short and are made up entirely of very specialized series). I think I’d like to challenge myself to read one book from each of the shelves in the next year, which seems like an enormous undertaking except that middle-level books are pretty fast reads for me. If I really put my mind to it I could clear one a day, but I’m not going to hold myself to that since I know I’m going to have all kinds of responsibilities, duties, etc. with this job on top of being a mama.

Of course, I might occasionally want to read a grown-up book, too… I’ve got Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World as Stage on hand, and in the process of weeding my home library I came across several books that I’d purchased ages ago and never got around to reading. Plus, as soon as I can get an affordable copy, I’ve got to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (Plus there’s book club — and I’m giving a little bit of thought to joining a second book club — so I have at least one outside book a month to read.) So I’m not going to formally throw down the “160 middle-level books before June” gauntlet or anything… but I’m going to sort of generally aim myself in that direction and see what happens. At the very least, arbitrarily pointing myself at different shelves will expose me to books I might not necessarily choose otherwise.

“More Like a Paid Vacation”: A Reaction

One of the several factors impacting my decision to leave my district was the news that we would be taking fourteen furlough days the following year. Contrary to popular belief, teachers aren’t paid for 365 days of work; we’re paid for 180ish days of work, spread out over twelve months so that we can pay the bills in the summer. As a result, 14 furlough days represents a not insignificant reduction to pay — equivalent to being unemployed for three weeks.

Our local newspaper is currently drawing attention to the fact that those employees at the bottom of the pay scale wouldn’t be financially impacted, because it’s against the law for a teacher’s salary to drop below a certain point in Idaho. So while these teachers (myself included, due to the multi-year freeze in advancement based on experience and education) would have fourteen days during the school year when they wouldn’t be at work, their pay wouldn’t be impacted. In an apparent effort to fuel resentment between teachers and in the community, the newspaper article characterizes this in the worst possible terms:

“For nearly half the teachers in the Nampa School District, a planned 14-day furlough aimed at balancing the budget will be more like a paid vacation. They’ll get the days off and won’t lose a dime in wages.”

In fact, this is a gross misrepresentation of what will actually be happening. The fourteen furlough days include one collaboration day, six teacher work days (including the two immediately before the start of the school year), two professional development half-days, one parent-teacher conference day, and the compensation day immediately following parent-teacher conferences. There are only four regular school days amongst the 14 slated for furlough, and three of those are the last three days of the school year, when there are finals to grade and classrooms to clean or pack up. The fourth is the first day back from winter break; every teacher I’ve ever known has spent the end of their winter break prepping for the next half of the school year.

If you’re not a teacher, you may not catch the implications of the above list. The thing is, a furlough day is supposed to mean that you don’t go to work and you don’t get paid. Or, if you’re one of us “lucky ones” who don’t earn a living wage, you get to stay home and get paid. BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. Just because we’re not being paid for a work day doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do it. If we don’t come in those days before the school year starts, we won’t be able to teach on the first day of school. If we don’t use the work days at the ends of quarters to grade finals and end-of-term projects, if we don’t collaborate with our departments and teams, our students suffer. And if there is one thing I know about teachers, or at least the many teachers I’ve worked with who deserve the title, it’s that they care too much about their students to let the district (or the legislature, etc. etc.) screw the students over. And so on those furlough days, the schools are going to be filled with teachers, doing what they always do: whatever they have to do in the best interest of their kids. For free.

I have been teaching for five years and have earned a 4.0 in the seventy-five graduate credits I’ve taken. (A masters degree is typically around thirty credits.) I’ve written grants that bring in thousands of dollars to my school, have volunteered countless hours to extracurriculars and professional development opportunities, and have never had less than a stellar performance evaluation. And in a field where the only paths toward a pay raise are years of experience and credits on your transcript, I’ve been frozen in at the same pay scale as a first year teacher with no post-graduate education.

So sure. I’m lucky that my pay — which, if I’m looking at this chart correctly, does not qualify as a living wage for an adult with a child — isn’t going to be whittled down any further. I’m lucky that, when I work for fourteen hours on one of those “furlough days” trying to provide each of the children in my tragically overloaded classes with constructive, timely feedback, I’m not actually doing it for free.

No, wait. The reason I’m lucky is that I don’t have to be in that situation: a situation where my colleagues, my friends, end up resenting me because an unhealthy and laughable schedule of “furlough” days drove a wedge between teachers on different places on the salary schedule. Thank goodness I got out… I only wish that all of my friends there could be as lucky.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

One of my former students shared this image with me when I asked Facebook for a map back to my comfort zone after my third of three interviews.

One of my former students shared this image with me when I asked Facebook for a map back to my comfort zone after my third of three interviews.

Today I accidentally left my comfort zone in a big way… teach me to open my big mouth on Facebook! 🙂

It all started this morning when, in response to this story, I posted the following on Facebook:

I am one of the 150. While I have multiple reasons for leaving, the BIG one is fear that my district has not only become a sinking ship but that no lifeboats have been provided for its students and teachers — none of whom contributed to the crash. For too long we’ve tried to do more and more with less and less, with only the promise of more hardship in the future. As hard as NSD teachers and admins are working to try to provide a good education to children, at a certain point it fails to be possible. Eventually, there is no more milk to squeeze from the stone. I LOVED working at Columbia, but how long can I go on working 50-80 hour weeks on an insultingly low salary without enough photocopies to make two assignments for every one of my students? How many more “oops, another missing million” announcements should I weather, knowing that in the end the ones who will suffer for these “oops” moments will be those in the classroom?

And the idea that, in this day and age, a TEACHER in AMERICA should be denied six measly weeks of 2/3-pay maternity leave… it is criminal. Six weeks of paid maternity leave is laughably stingy on a global basis, and has mothers returning to work at a crucial stage in infant development — but at least it was a nice token. If NSD takes away short term disability from its employees, the message is pretty clear: it no longer thinks of its employees as human beings, and is no longer a suitable place for teachers — and is increasingly no longer a suitable place for students.

Teachers aren’t asking for anything more than the basics they need to take care of their children — those in their classrooms and in their own homes. Anyone who thinks that robbing teachers of basic human dignity won’t affect the students is ignorant at best.

I guess that was the equivalent of calling a press conference, because my friend at Channel 6 and then my friend at Channel 7 both contacted me, wondering if I would go on camera and talk about why I was leaving. As I’d already planned to be packing up my classroom that afternoon, they were pretty excited to catch a teacher actually in the act of leaving.

(I felt weird talking to two different channels! Not only did it feel like a press conference, but I worried a bit about whether exclusivity was an issue. To be fair, I didn’t know I’d be contacted by Channel 7 when I talked to Channel 6, and I warned Channel 7 that Channel 6 got to me first.)

You know, I’m not the least bit intimidated by public speaking. Give me a microphone and an auditorium full of people and I’m just fine. But put me in front of a video camera, even when it is manned by someone I’ve known for over a decade, and I turn into a hot mess! I was so sweaty, felt like a moron, and had an upset stomach after it was all over. And then I spent most of the evening worrying that someone was going to be angry at me. I am definitely not cut out to be a politician….

Anyway, I’m on Channel 6 here: http://www.kivitv.com/news/local/214994641.html

And I’m on Channel 7 — with Henry and Ryan for a moment! — here: http://www.ktvb.com/news/More-teachers-leaving-Nampa-School-District-than-years-past-214996611.html