Birthday reflections


Happy birthday to me – No. 52, to be precise.

My first gift was an early waking – around 4 a.m., not being very precise. That much more of the day to enjoy, I suppose. At this point, the whole day lies before me with so many options, so much promise.

Will I be productive and do a little cleaning and clearing of clutter, which, in the end will be like an additional gift? Or will I finish my first semester grading and maybe balance the checkbook – pure drudgery on both counts, but a serious load lifted from my shoulders, which also qualifies as a gift given to myself? Or will I be indulgent as I’ve said I’d be and curl up in a blanket, reading all day and maybe take a break to watch a movie? Seems like the thing to do, but probably wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as the other options. However I spend the bulk of the day, it will end with family preparing dinner for me, always my favorite part.

Having my birthday so near the end of the year is a great set up for reflecting, and a year doesn’t go by that there isn’t a lot worth reflecting on. High points definitely had to do with family.

Family, so much to be thankful for

No. 1 son graduated from college last December and began his teaching career as a long-term substitute in our district’s middle school. Growing up, I never knew I was going to be a teacher (didn’t start this gig until mid-40s), but being a teacher and having my son teach in the same system and hearing such good things about him just makes me so very proud of him. When he got his science certification and got the real job in the fall, it was just validation that he is in the right place.

No. 2 son graduated in May, along with his lovely fiancée. They had both powered through their programs to finish on time and in that last semester had been planning a wedding and applying for grad programs, looking for one school that would be perfect for both their needs – a tough set of criteria for one establishment. Three weeks after graduation they had the best wedding I’ve ever been to, and on their college campus, the place that had been their home for the previous four years. Yeah, maybe I’m partial, but it was wonderful, and we all got married up. And, yes, after some soul searching and serious decision making tactics, they decided on school in south Texas, and though they’ve got a good gig going on there, the distance is a real downer.

Just after the wedding, my husband and I took a vacation. That may seem like a normal thing for most folks, but it isn’t normal for us. Years of three sons in baseball and never feeling like we could afford more than camping out at the lake kept us from real vacations for the most part. The last family vaca we had was in 2001, when we loaded up the Suburban and drove to California to visit family. That was an excellent vacation and lasted us until this year. The hubby and I rented a cabin in Colorado and planned each day as it came. We visited nearby small towns with casinos and little eccentric shops and traveled old mine trails on steep mountains, taking pictures and panning for gold. We drove up Pike’s Peak and picnicked. We hung around the cabin and cooked and read and watched movies. It was delightful, and I want to keep doing the vacation thing. Didn’t realize what I’d been missing.

While No. 3 son didn’t graduate or get married, he has continued to grow in his awesomeness and give us reasons to be proud of him. Though his school is two hours away, he comes home nearly every other week and helps his dad with outside chores like fencing in the property, and he likes cooking for us, too. He is such a caretaker and helpful, hopeful, encouraging person.

I don’t know what I have done to be so blessed times three. I remember many years ago, when we decided we needed to have three kids, telling people that I needed three in case anything went wrong. I’d seen too many instances of kids dying young, getting into trouble with drugs or the law or any number of other problems that descend on families, even when the families are doing all the right things. That’s a pretty morbid method for family planning, but seriously, that’s what I was thinking. And here we are, with three of the best kids in the world. How’d we get so lucky?

To top off this year, that No. 1 son just proposed to his girlfriend (our girlfriend?) of two? three? years. I dunno, she already feels like such a part of the family, we’ve been counting her for a while, and now wedding plans are in the works.

Work at doing something you love, and it will never seem like work – mostly

I can’t post a reflection on the year without talking about my work. My Twitter bio says that I’ve always been a teacher. Forced little brother to play school when we were kids. Taught my sons to be people. Went professional in 2007. All that’s true. Before 2007, I worked at a loan office, at Halliburton (like everyone else in Duncan, and like many, I was laid off), in a dress shop; I worked in a bank, in a middle school as attendance clerk, then I started a home day care business when my kids were small so I could stay home with them. Played a little teacher there, too. When I started feeling a little burnout in that profession, that’s when I decided to go to college. Working on the college newspaper while studying English and journalism, I found that I enjoyed teaching upcoming staff members. That’s really when the idea of teaching professionally first really took hold. After graduation and a nearly one-year stint at the local paper, I got my dream job teaching journalism at my own high school.

Never having had “teaching courses”, I can’t talk curriculum development, test design, or interpreting data to better inform lesson design, but I’m willing to bet that those who fling those and other hoity-toity educational terms of the moment around like they know what they are talking about, seldom look their students in the eye, and rarely pull back from the computer where they are trying to get grades put in, so they can listen to a student talk about parent problems or bully problems or the like. I don’t just teach Google Drive or complete sentences or subject/verb agreement or headline hierarchy, I teach kids how to talk to other people, how to speak up for themselves, how to talk in front of the class, how to respect each other (when sometimes the other person hasn’t deserved it yet). I try to teach them that what they have to offer the world is important and valuable and that learning more is even better – not for the grade (grades are stupid), but for the learning itself. And you know what? They respond to that stuff. I’ve had so many high points in that area. I’ve watched kids this year work on improving their writing BECAUSE I hadn’t put a grade on it yet. I’ve had kids THANK me for making comments on their work so they could improve it. I’ve had great conversations with students in person and on social media, and I love being a part of their lives. I regret when, occasionally, I realize I’ve said the wrong thing or not responded when I probably should have, and I hope I correct those situations as soon as I can, because they count so much sometimes.

The job got a little tougher, and many of my students showed me their devotion toward the end of the semester when it became clear that, no matter how deeply I’d stuck my head in the sand, we were going to have to change classrooms. It’s another complete post (or two) to talk about that classroom and how much it means to me – to us, and how difficult it has been mentally and physically to move, but trust me: It’s been difficult. Several members of yearbook and newspaper staffs, though, have helped with tossing stuff and packing the rest and preparing for the move. And as of yesterday, they have also helped with unpacking and arranging our new space. Some of that help included a grad from 2011. One of my favorite things about my work is that I stay in contact with several newsies and yearbookers long after they have moved on into adulthood, to the degree that they come back to visit and even help me move. And bring me Christmas presents (Thanks, Hayden).

What’s next?

My husband and No. 1 and No. 3 sons have also helped out in my moving process. I love that my family knows how important my work is to me. Balancing family and work has always been a struggle. As I began putting my new, tiny, room together yesterday, I vowed to put photographs of family where I can see them. I feel I need a reminder that I should put my family first more often than I have in the past. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but if there is an area of my life that I’d work to improve on (and, really, there are many), I want to simplify my work life so it’s not so overwhelming, and make family more of a priority.

But first, I really need to unpack some more boxes.

I need to do something to make the new room feel more homey, like the old room was.

Should I repaint that bookshelf before I fill it?

What to toss and what to keep? There isn’t enough room for all of it.

I need to write up a purchase order request for some containers for all this stuff.

Oh, my – I need lesson plans for the first week.

Don’t we have a deadline coming up?

I’ll be home soon, honey. I just need to get these files in some kind of order first.

Are you starting dinner?


A little rain, a lot of pride

Growing up. Graduating. What, exactly, does it all mean? Is it only symbolic? Does it simply mean you got older, know more math, understand thesis statements and animal cell structures a little better than you did four years ago? I hope not.

Last night I watched you, the Duncan High School class of 2013, take your positions at either end of the track. I watched you laugh with each other, straighten your caps, zip up your gowns, whisper in each others’ ears. I saw you look up into the stands and smile when someone called your name.

At the same time, I watched dark, ominous clouds move toward us from the southwest, full of some kind of joke. I heard those around me, your families and friends, speak of getting on with it. Our watches taunted us with eight minutes to go as we watched your senior sponsors in their matching senior T-shirts confer with administrators. The winds picked up, and your lines got out of line. What was going through your collective minds?

The band began to play – apparently a decision had been made – and you began to move toward your counterparts at the other end of the track, perhaps a little more quickly than you had rehearsed. It was hard for me to tell, but I was wondering. By the time graduates had filed into the third row of seating, the rain came. You walked on for a minute or so, until it was apparent those clouds meant business. When Mr. Reed went to the mic and said “Move it to the auditorium,” most of you kept moving to your original destination. The crowds in the stands, however, began leaving their seats – well, most of them. I remained planted. I knew you wanted an outside graduation.

Just as suddenly as it had started, the rain stopped, and we all laughed. The clouds actually seemed to move out of our way, and something was said to the effect of “let’s go ahead, then.” You kept walking.  The band started up again. I whoop-whooped. Thought for a moment I was at a football game and we’d just made a game-changing play. We were back on the board.

Even as the rain came again, slowed again, and you had doubts, you kept going.  We got a little wet. We worried a little when that big speaker started making those pop-pop, sizzling noises. But you went on and did what you were there to do.

That’s trouble-shooting, kids. That’s making decisions on the fly. That’s hitting obstacles that will surely be in your path as you meet life head-on, just as your classmate Jack said, and you have to figure out whether to go around it, over it or through it and how. Yes, you did it as a group, but you will do it time and time again as individuals. That’s where I see the growth.

When some of you landed in my English classes as freshmen and we began a literature unit, we would read for a bit, discuss a particular scene and then you were to record some answer on your study guide. I would inevitably get the question, “what do you want us to put down?” That question always frustrates me. “We just discussed it. Put down in your own words what you got out of the discussion.” Younger students always seem to have trouble with this because they seem to think there is ONE correct answer. I think growing up is learning that there are many correct answers. There are also many answers that turn out not to be correct so much as they turn out to be fantastic learning experiences.

On the last press deadline this year for the Demon Pitchfork – and I hope my newsies don’t mind my sharing this – the staff ran into an obstacle. I do share this, not to illustrate any incompetence on their part, but to demonstrate their competence, their ability to troubleshoot and fix a problem on their own. As they were going over the final PDF pages, preparing to send them to the publisher for printing, a full 15 minutes ahead of schedule, they realized a page was missing. The May issue is twice the size of previous issues because of the special senior section, and the numbering of the pages had been thrown off in their race to get all that copy from peers typed, edited and placed, in addition to their regular content. A page was missing; therefore there was no content for that page. They didn’t once ask me what to do, though I did make a suggestion or two, which, in the end were not used. They put their heads together, discussed options, divided tasks and got to work. I ordered pizza.

That is the difference four years can make. That is why you are graduating. That is why you are ready to move on to the next part of your lives. That is why I am proud of you.