Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Frost

Cold Change The icicle cracked from the eave Dropped direct Pierced, cleaved Life into two distinct halves Before loss and after Tick There Tock Gone A second to mark a lifetime Lost loved one Innocent sheen on life smothered under a shroud Chill coated skin, Sorrow frosted soul Reality is a heavy nipping cloud A mist that will never rise Wherever you go, whatever you do It clings to you Raw ice

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wordstock Moment #2

Afternoon and the convention halls are quiet. I’ve chosen to occupy the opposite end of the center, away from all the writers who love to talk. I want to write today. A few whispering women pass by on their way to the restroom, also on my end of the hall. I’m sitting in the “Laptop Lounge”, a cool name for an area with little stools, a long shelf and plugs in the wall. My back is to the hall. I get to face a dark blue wall for inspiration. At least my back is turned, allowing me to avoid all eye contact and feel alone. I like to be alone when I write. But I’m not alone. The bright recessed lighting overhead casts a hard shadow of my own hand writing on paper. My shadow is always there – but usually it contains itself better. I can’t seem to escape the smell of coffee. As much as I try to avoid grouping people and making blanket statements, I’m beginning to hypothesize that the one common thread among writers, beyond the love of words, is drinking coffee. I smell it now, I smelled it this morning, and no doubt its scent will linger through the early evening seminars. The tingling in my left leg also won’t leave me alone. These stools would be more comfortable for a tall person but I’m shrinking. At five foot three my legs dangle, my clogs sway like a heavy pendulum. There’s also an incessant hum coming from the hundreds of writers and dentists, here for completely different conventions. Can’t say the curious writer in me hasn’t considered crashing the Dental Convention, I mean, what can they all be talking about? Certainly floss techniques can’t take up that much time. The dentists have large bright blue badges granting them access to Exhibit Hall B. So for now, I’ll have to forgo learning the secret world behind Orthodontics. I’m worried I’m wasting my time. It’s ticking. A full time teaching job looms on the horizon and I have to decide. Make the jump or miss the train. Do I follow my non-income producing writing career – or go back to what I know, what I am good at? How much to I commit, to either one? I’ve had this same conundrum my entire life. In Junior High and High School I couldn’t decide on what extra-curricular activity to do, so I did them all, almost literally: drama, student council, volleyball, soccer, cheerleading, yearbook. I even tried softball, girls basketball, golf and to my dismay, track. My Dad told me it was my responsibility to quite being soccer captain because I’d missed many games due to being in drama performances. The volleyball coach said I could not do so much and had to choose. I quit volleyball that year, avoided that coach and took on a new position as student representative on the school board. I can never decide what I want to “do” – so I do it all and if you look at my track record, you’d see I don’t do it all so well. As I look back I realize it’s the same now. So as long as no volleyball coach approaches me and forces me to remove something from my plate, I won’t. I’ll go on binging on what I love and do, do, do. Perhaps that explains my coffee addiction. The ample air conditioning in the convention center delivers wafts of warm espresso directly to me in the Laptop Lounge. I need to get off this stool, shake out my fallen asleep numb leg and go before my next class begins. I turn around and see directly behind me is a “meditation room”. It’s for the dentists. I feel shunned and that there’s just something inappropriate about that. The meditation room should be for the writers. As I look down the hallway, back to the domain where I belong, I see two coffee carts. Crowds are pouring out of the double-doors to a stuffy convention center room, one class is getting out, and another will begin shortly, mine. Maybe I’ll grab a coffee on the way. This writing convention has been lovely. I’ve learned some, listened plenty, and browsed the publishers booth’s, editors stations, small book promoters… but I still feel like a voyeur peeking into a world to which I don’t exactly belong, yet.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Wordstock Writers Conference

Moment #1 10:00 a.m. I’m sitting in a row of tightly packed convention chairs, cozy in my hat, sweater and jeans. The presenter tells us all to look around and be here now, so I have to stop deliberating over the necessity of another coffee or not and focus. The first place I look is up, cause whoever looks there? There could be a suspended monkey cage above me and I’d not notice, well, maybe if I’d had that other coffee I would. The ceiling is from the seventies, all squares and recessed lighting. It’s morning but the lighting glow is like that you’d find in a Vegas Casino where you can’t tell the time. The floor confirms my hypothesis of the seventies time frame, covered in bright blue, red and gold geometric shapes that made me dizzy when I walked in. To my right are two men who are totally different from one another. But what catches my attention first is that the man furthest to the fabric covered wall is drinking coffee and I’m envious. I love coffee – but I’m trying to cut back. The grey haired man to my immediate right is nice. I place this judgment upon him because he complimented my hat. I like hats – not so much as coffee. Maybe that’s why I was dizzy walking in this morning, my coffee diet is backfiring. On my left sit rows and rows of people, not two among them are similar. I’m finding this out about writers, we’re all so unique. A quick glance over them and what catches my eye is an older man with worn Cowboy boots, a ginger-haired woman with a matching orange toned dress, and a woman with purple hair – so much braver than me. I had a hot pink streak that faded over the summer before I turned back into a teacher in September. There’s a sparkling turquoise scarf in front of me, around the neck of a brunette – but I’m liking the scarf. A black and white scarf graces the long neck of the salt and pepper haired lady in front of the brunette. A visitor to the area would think the room is full of scarf-lovers. But really, we’re just Portlanders – scarves are a natural response to our Northwestern weather. Behind me, a cough, a typewriter is being tapped upon and papers being shuffled. Not enough coffee in me to waste energy turning around to look. But we’re supposed to look, even beyond our stuffy little room with a high ceiling. I’m in Portland Oregon, tucked behind a blanket of clouds in the Northwest corner of the U.S. of A. Martin Luther King Junior brought me here, the street, not the person, this isn’t fiction. I passed two Starbuck on the way here and three coffee stations inside the convention center. They sell food too, but I’m focusing on caffeine this morning. The convention center sits across the Willamette River from downtown Portland with a backdrop of forested hills. If I was outside, it would be a beautiful view, especially since our psychotic weather has decided to clear. It’s probably changed its mind a few times and showered off and on since the last time I glimpsed outside was over an hour ago. I like the unpredictability of fall in Portland. Its wind and colors entertain me, like the woman with purple hair. I’d like to thank her for adding tannin to the bland palate life sometimes presents us with. But I try to retain, or control, or withhold – that overt friendliness that puts others in an uncomfortable position. When I don’t, I’ve learned that people don’t particularly like to be loved by a stranger. I can like their hat, their butterfly clips wreathing their hair or their scarf – but when I walk up and say to an older couple, “I love the way you two interact, I’ve been watching you,” they tend to back away, slowly, with a half-smile and a nervous giggle. Like that parent at school who wasn’t as enthusiastic as I that we shared a childhood town – he didn’t know me, he wasn’t a parent of one of my own students, he probably had no idea how I knew where he grew up. Again, strange looks happen when I can’t contain my joy. I want to touch on a personal subject, get straight to the pulp, to the meat of another soul. Life’s too short for small talk or to talk about the weather, especially in PDX where it’s probably changed in the past five minutes into five different seasons anyway. A friend warned me once that my personal attention could be mistaken as attraction. Of course, that was at a bar, and it’s my solemn vow to befriend every bartender, anywhere. But I am attracted. I see the unique good in all. I love people… still, not more than coffee… and words. I love words. Maybe I’ll contain myself better now that I’m on decaf. Then again – the presenter doesn’t seem walled in by the majority of the population acting as if it’s taken a large dose of Xanax. Her slender figure seems packed with energy. She even hopped. Hopped – as in, up and down, so excited she was to divulge the secrets of writing. I like that energy. It brings vibrancy to her brown eyes, something her black framed glasses can’t hide. That spirit makes her outfit, not the wrap around black sweater, jeans and loose bun; the pep is what brings my attention to her. Also the fact that I’m a very good student and don’t want to miss anything. This is hard to do when I’m distracted by the man two seats over well not actually the man, but his coffee. The nutty smell reminds me of my craving. I want to taste it on my tongue, not the remnant of Crest toothpaste. It’s also distracting that my ass is falling asleep. These metal chairs are disguised with fabric; there is no padding that I can feel. The presenter insists we call her Jennifer – but I’d grown up with old fashioned parents and I want to call her Mrs. Something or other. She’s talking now, low-toned, pulling our attention back to her, back to the seven secrets that will improve our writing. I look up and see she’s looking in my direction, not a demanding look. She wants us to finish and not to miss anything. Here, in this uninspiring room, in this conventional setting, among tired souls and dull lighting, I am overjoyed that someone else finds this as exciting as I. If I had more caffeine, I’d hop. For now, my joy swirls inside – maybe someday I can share it, like Jennifer is now. For now, I wiggle in my hard seat, shuffle the tote at my feet, inhale the scent of my neighbor’s coffee and listen. I have enough energy for that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One Lingering Moment

One lingering moment is all we have.
Most moments build the foundation of who you are, yet have no haven in minds memory. Some moments though, you remember. They aren’t all significant, the one’s you remember. Some just pop up. Some hang there. Some are etched. Some moments choose you and hang on. Some moments, you choose to hold onto. I don’t have the best memory, but there are moments when I remember to make the choice.

There was this one moment, in college, sitting on the floor in my apartment. I can't recall if I’m alone, but in my memory I cannot see another face. I'm sitting on the floor of our shabby two-bedroom, and that was with five of us in that small space. I’m writing, doing crafts, delighting in doodling, feeling lighthearted and lackadaisical. The music is what I remember most vividly. It was loud. It was the Cranberries. The song was simple. Slow. At the moment, it was meaningful to me. Regardless, I closed my eyes and tried to imprint that moment into my memory, mind, and time. I wanted to remember that moment. No special reason. It was just a good moment where I felt myself completely. A moment of realizing that time and life would happen to me, building upon layer after layer of the core that was once my child. Me.

Through Junior High and then Junior College and on every odd day, I can lose myself. You have those days, when you are just not 'yourself'. Some people have those lives. When I am at the center of who I am, I remember those moments and my love for my brother, sister, friend, cousin, camping, honesty and cheese. You feel so close when you are little, to these people. Then we learn religion, politics, life learns us, we get broken hearts, broken houses, new loves and new houses, different friends, evolved beliefs... slowly, more is muddled upon our surface. Life is so fleeting. No one leaves alive. All we have are each other, our memories, and our true hearts. Let us not forget to check all luggage at the door and touch each other’s hearts unclothed. Remember who loves you. Remember who we love. Remember ourselves... and those moments where we feel most ourselves. I think in order to choose to be real we have to realize the moments when we are not.

Listen to music loudly. Sit and capture the moment... by yourself. Be true. Open yourself to the lingering moment. Doesn't it feel good? I am afraid to lose people not only to death, but to life. One lingering moment, and then it is gone. We are gone. All we are is one lingering moment.

Capture it.

*(I wrote this many years ago but felt like throwing it out there tonight.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Sentence in the Hands of a Child

Today I had the extreme honor of listening to third graders read their fictional stories. And I loved every minute of FBI baby brothers, Giant BFF's, and talking teddy bears. During one such conference I took pause - to marvel at the power of one sentence in the hands of a child. The boy was still writing his story but would occasionally stop to read aloud to me. He stopped reading mid-sentence at one point and began writing frantically, only taking a moment to fill me in, "He doesn't get back to earth with this sentence, but he does escape from the alien monster." I just smiled back, because where did that alien come from? Last I'd read with him, a few minutes prior, there was only a rabbit riding on the back of an electronic magical horse. Wow, that's one sentence.

A sentence in the hands of a child, holds the potential of all things created - and yet to be imagined.

A sentence in the hands of a child, is putty for little Gods - building new worlds.

A sentence in the hands of a child, carries infinite possibilities and boundless imagination.

It crackles with sparkling optimism, sings with un-muted hope, shines with their smiles reflecting back, smells like recess, tastes like ice-cream and feels like life once lived... too short to see the fences.

A sentence in the hands of a child...
Imagine.
But ah, only a child really can.

Marvel at the power, of one sentence
In the hands of a child.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Death is Only Part of Life

Death is only part of life.
I know this
So how can it shock me

We were all here just a minute ago
Complete, the circle of my family

Time was counting down our bliss
Death is only a part of life
We know this

The black cloud on the horizon
Didn’t come in the order presumed
It struck around - a chaotic tornado, ripping away our young

The old were ready, the adults resigned
The children, they were our protected
Death was to meet with us first - our song had been sung
His song
Was on the tip of his tongue

Death is only a part of life.
Why did I believe it would care of our strife
When great waves wash away a great many more
Then earthquakes, floods and war

Still
The children should be last
A selfish plea to the universe
Take us all as I know you must
But leave our children behind us

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Education's Dirty Little Secret

Oh I'm gonna ruffle some feathers now...

Now that I've touted the value of higher standards, I should remark on their worth. They are valuable to every teacher. He/she will have a goal, a guide to aim for, a benchmark for evaluation and goal setting. Every student is different: some low, some mid-range, and some high and they arrive at your classroom door in September spanned in a broad degree of varying levels. It is a teacher's job to take each student from where they are when they enter your classroom and move them forward. For student A- that journey may have to begin with single-digit addition, for student B- it may be double-digit addition, for student C- it may be multiplication. The goal is to move them forward.

The standards are a guide for that journey, not an end-all-be-all, or a list to maneuver students through without their true understanding or when they already know the material. Take them from where they are and teach them more. Standards are our map of where they've been, where they "should" be and where they are all going.

Standards are different than standardized testing. And standardized testing may have its place, but as a teacher who's worked inside of distinctly different schools, I see that it's also created a huge misconception. Higher scoring schools are not better.

Vouchers, charter schools, parents switching addresses to gain access into a school's boundaries, all of these movements are caused by the idea that schools with higher scores are going to better teach your child. Wrong. They won't. The problem with this notion is that parents are shopping for schools using these scores, politicians are using them to require a school's overhaul, funding or as a basis for teacher pay. I believe in competitive pay for teachers, parents having a choice of available schools and in overhauling the way education is funded. But everyone is now looking at the wrong measuring tool. A low "school score" indicates a socio-economic inequity more than a teaching inequity.
It is not the teachers or the school that creates high or low "School Scores". A high score is more due to the socio-economic circumstances of the population and the educational background of parents than to teaching quality.

In fact, and I know this is a stretch, but when looked at from one persepective, teachers in the affluent schools don't need to teach as hard, as creatively or as thoroughly as teachers in poor schools. This in general, inherently makes the teaching done in struggling schools better than that occurring at an affluent school. Think about it; in most affluent classes, the children score high because their parents are teaching them at home, because they have the support and encouragement available to a child with an affluent background with computers and stay-at-home parents. Yet at the lower income schools, the classroom carpets are duck-taped together, there's mold on the wall, a limit to how many copies you can make, teachers have to buy their own paper, there aren't enough books to go around and homework is mostly left undone. Here, teaching has to be at its highest level. Those teachers cannot rely on family support; they don't count on a textbook, a fieldtrip or assume someone else is responsible, the teachers all know it is all up to them, only them and the student. It's amazing what depravation does for creativity and innovation. Teaching there, has to reach outside the box, into a creative well dug into by those searching how to explain a mathematical concept to a student who hadn't had breakfast, who is grade-levels behind and doesn't speak your language.

I've worked at both types of schools. The low-scoring school was where I'd seen some of the best teaching in my life, because it was a need. There are challenges for those upper-crust schools as well. They need to move the students forward, onto TAG, challenge them beyond the curriculum, and deal with zealous parents. However, if that doesn't get done, if something slips and a student doesn't "get" a lesson, it is still very likely that the school will still achieve an overall good standardized score, that is almost a given.

Just because "scores" are higher doesn't mean schools are better. Those scores are deceiving. They depict a population, not a teacher's commitment, not a schools success. Knowing this phenomenon, which school would you like - the school ranked best in the state or one that is more challenged, because the teachers there are working harder, teaching better, to ensure their students get it, while the others take it for granted that the students will, or already have? I want my child's teacher not to assume I'll be there at home helping with homework. I want them to explain it all, knowing mom won't get it at home, or mom won't be there at home. Don't get me wrong, high teaching standards should be upheld at every type of school. It's just the scores are not a reflection of that, necessarily.

Statistics can be misleading. This, standardized testing for school scores, is the biggest one yet. There are many factors that make a school good for students. "Scores" are just one small facet and may be an indicator of something altogether different. We need a more holistic view of school performance. Safety, diversity, class-size, teacher ability- these need to weigh as much, if not more, than a schools ranking.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Education - CA vs.OR Math Standards

Education - Standards Skew

If you're like me and you've had the opportunity to teach in two different states, you too may have compared curriculums across borders. I happen to teach math now in Oregon and feel it's sparse.

Take a look for yourself on both the California Math Standards for 2nd Grade at:
http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/mathstandard.pdf
And then compare to the Oregon Math Standards for 2nd Grade at:
http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards/mathematics/grade-2/geometry/

Then you too will see the glaring truth. State standards differ dramatically. I know California is not leading the nation with its educational ranking, however, perhaps their standards are.

I was at a neighborhood dinner recently, one consisting of parents of school-aged children who had moved to Portland from diverse places such as Israel, Texas and Utah. We debated education in Portland quite a bit, but all agreed on one thing in general, why do states not adopt the same set of standards? There rationally has to be a 'better' set. Why do we reinvent the wheel? If one state has better standards, why don't we adopt them as well? Yes, every state has a different population to cater too, but our children across the world are all learning the same basics. There is no silver bullet, no one winning concept, but for those in the states that are so obviously in deficit, why not look to another state that's obviously put a lot more resources into devising their standards.

I wonder if those on the Oregon State Board of Education have compared their standards to other states and have also seen the glaring deficit. I'd love to hear from them. I was more than happy to see that of the seven elected officials on the Oregon State Board of Education that Samuel Henry was my congressional district leader, as he is the one and only current teacher on that list. I've sent him an email with my concerns and hope to hear back from him. I wonder if I'll get a blanket letter back. I will probably have to do some more digging to see how this whole system works in order to whittle my way in, to bring about the change I want to see and think all of our children deserve.

As for now, as a parent and teacher in Oregon, all I can do is supplement at home and hope my children can compete with those from California, Texas, Utah and Israel in the future.
No problem, after I write my novel, go back to teaching, raise two children, feed the dog, make dinner... ug. Why can't I just send my kids to school and forget about it? As one of my friends said during a night of drinking when he was the designated driver, "Someone has to be responsible, may as well be me."

And yes, I've just tied in 'Comparison of State Standards in Mathematics' to drinking, you owe me a shot.