41: Bathroom Experience

The bathrooms – you know, that is a stupid word for a public toilet that has no means of taking a bath. The restrooms – wait a minute – that word is not appropriate, either, because nobody in their right mind would want to “rest” in there. The “toilet rooms” at our school have nice steam heat radiators installed in them. Currently, as I write, it is the last day of November 2011. There was a heavy frost on the grass and cars as I walked to work/school this morning. About 9:30 a.m., my morning cup of tea had percolated down to the point that it was requesting release – rather strenuously.

So, I retired to the ladies’ “toilet room.” I immediately noticed there was a decided chill to the air. I checked the radiator – the temperature setting showed what should have been a comfortable 23 degrees Celsius, but that was not what I was feeling at the moment. I cautiously touched the metal radiator: stone cold. UGGGHHHhhh. I might as well be doing my business outside!

Accepting the inevitable, I chose a stall and undid my nice, warm clothing, and, being female, gingerly perched on the ice-cold seat. YEOUCH!! Let’s just say that was the swiftest restroom, uh, toilet room break of my LIFE. And washing my hands in that freezing room was not much fun, either, especially since the hot air hand dryer is not working – I reported that thing was broken a month ago. Must make mental note to report it again. And again.

Why is there no heat in the res, uh, toilet room? Is it so that, like me, the students will request permission to go there only when ABSOLUTELY necessary, and not waste time taking their time while there? If that is the reason, someone here has a nasty sense of humor. That outhouse experience was not fun. I wonder if I can hold it until I get back home, where it is warm??

40: Randomness

If I was a creature that can fly, I would choose to be a hummingbird, because they migrate great distances, even though they are so tiny, and they stick up for themselves, even though they are so tiny. They are amazing, tiny little creatures.

If I could have any job I liked, I would choose to be a potter. I enjoy getting my hands in clay, and opening a cooled kiln after the firing is always an adventure! I delight in having cool, moist clay slide through my hands on a potter’s wheel. What a treat! Besides, I like getting dirty.

If I could choose the next president of the United States, I would choose a person nobody knows, who has strong character and a sense of right and wrong, who has a head for business, and a strong work ethic, who can set a good example for not only the citizens of America, but also the corrupt politicians still in office. He or she would kick butt and take names, and would have no “pet projects” that they wanted to advance against the wishes of the majority of the citizens (like gun control or abortion).

If I had it all to do over again, I would stand up for myself and tell my husband to shut up and get with the program, that it is not my duty to serve him and keep his house. He lives there, too, and if the damn thing is his castle, let HIM clean it.

I would have saved money earlier, with my very first job, and not have been in such a hurry to spend it. I did not need half of the things I bought, anyway.

I would have become an international teacher much sooner, and would have taken my children with me to learn new languages and new cultures. We would not have spent all our lives in one place like we did. We would have seen the world while we were earning a living!

I would have had more pets. Animals bring a sweetness to life that living without them just does not have. I would tell the people I love that I love them more often that I did. I would put my feet up and relax more often than I did, too!

I would learn to run. I am not sure how to do that, but I would try diligently to run every day I could. Running clears the mind, sharpens the senses, and banishes bad moods, plus uses calories and trims the figure. What’s not to love?


39: What if……..?

What if things were different? What if I had made other choices? What if , what if, what if………? How much time we waste in thinking and reminiscing and agonizing over what ifs. Would life be different if things were different – so what if it would be? I can make things different RIGHT NOW, if I want to! I can change my habits, change my job, change my wardrobe, change my spending, change my mind, my religion, my thoughts, my friends – I can change. Now, the question becomes: do I WANT to change?

Sometimes a change is a good thing. I quit my job in America and I accepted a job in Morocco, in another country on another continent, a new part of the world for me. It has been a very good change. The new job is both exciting and less stressful. I have lost stubborn weight (finally), I am seeing lots of new things, and discovering new places, customs and people – even new languages!

Sometimes change is not a good thing. Sometimes you don’t realize the down sides to a change until you have made the change, and are living with the consequences. That is part of the experience of making a change, sometimes, but not always. I choose to believe that changes are mostly good things, that make you expand your horizons and grow as a person, learning to depend on yourself while embracing the new things this change has brought into your life.  I choose to view that as a good thing.

38: New grading system

I just read about a new way to grade students, an article given to us by my school Director. This is a logical extension of the present standards-based grading system, in that students are scored based on how well they meet essential standards, and how they are able to perform using what they have learned in class. This makes sense. I have had students pass class because they complete their homework and are trying, not because they really grasped the essential curriculum concepts that I was actually teaching. Now, effort should count for something, since employers are looking for effort, among other things, and we need to encourage students who work hard, not just those who work smart. But, increasingly, we need the students to work smart.

This new system proposes that teachers identify the essential things that students would know and be able to do at the end of the class we are teaching, and then that we assess them according to whether they have achieved, or not achieved, or perhaps even surpassed these performance and knowledge goals. This makes for fewer tests, and makes homework an optional practice for the students who know they still need to “get it.” I no longer have to actually grade every piece of paper I give students to do – I just have to put the feedback on it. Then, students know how close they are to achieving the benchmark, or standard.

This is quite similar to giving students a rubric to self-assess their own work. An objective is on the rubric, and various levels of performance are awarded a certain number of points. Low points mean an unsuccessful effort, medium points is an acceptable response, but not an outstanding one, and high points equals an outstanding product, or academic excellence. That means a C is truly “average” work, instead of the more common A- meaning an average effort, and an A+ being outstanding.

The new standards-based grading system means that students will demonstrate mastery of the content of the class, not mastery of doing homework, or some other item that is not curriculum-driven. Students choose whether to complete homework, because they know the practice is tied to their mastery of, and personal achievement on, the standard. This makes sense, except that it is different from THE WAY THINGS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DONE. Therein lies the rub.

How is a parent going to react when they see a child’s report card which lists below proficient, proficient, or outstanding on a number of curriculum objectives, rather than an A, a B, or a C? And what about the thorny problem of behavior? Punctuality, behavior issues, participation, teamwork, organization, those things that help make most students successful? Do we make objectives for those, too and report them in the same way?

All these things are interesting, and such a new system will have to be carefully thought out. What if a student can demonstrate mastery of the objectives of a class before they take it? Does that mean they should receive credit for the class? I think they should. Does that mean we should administer a pre-test to our students the first day of class, to see who needs to be promoted to the next class, and who actually needs to take this class? I think we should. Does that mean we will have ages mixed up in various classes – probably. Should that matter – probably not. The new system is based on demonstration of mastery, and those students who can demonstrate mastery should be able to proceed through classes and through school at their own pace. Does this mean lots of changes to a traditional school? Yes. Will these be good changes? Well – they will encourage students to achieve in order to finish sooner than regularly scheduled, and encourage those quick students to move on, leaving teachers to help the slower ones achieve mastery at THEIR own pace. That sounds good to me! It sure will make school different, but I thought that was what everybody was screaming for – a change in schools to make them better at producing better student graduates. Will it work? The research says it will work – we’ll see!

What do YOU think about all of this?

37: Why Grade Papers?

Why do student’s papers have to be graded? The assignments are so that they can practice what we have done in class and show what they have learned. So why must they be GRADED? Why not a good job, or way to go, or this needs revision, or you need to study more, instead? Well – if students were more proactive instead or reactive, that might work.

I have discoverd that students do not do an assignment if they know it will  not be graded. Just plain not do it. SOOOooo, I grade E-V-E-R-Y-
T-H-I-N-G that I ask students to complete in class. If it is important enough to ask them to do it in class, it is important enough to score. Does that make lots of work for me? YES.  If students would do what they are asked to do, I could maybe not take grades on practice work, BUT…we do not live in utopia, do we?

Another reason why student’s papers must be graded is for continual improvement. When I look at a piece of writing, for example, I am not only looking at the ideas, the clarity and creativity with which they were presented, their logic and reasonableness, examples and citations, I am also looking at format of paragraphs, thesis statements, capitalization, grammar, commas, punctuation in general, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, word choice, literary devices and a billion other annoying little details that get right only with practice, editing and much correction on my part and the student’s part. Often, students will not edit or proofread their work. Why? I always skim my written work, even though that does not mean I don’t spot a mistake only after I have hit the “post” button – a nanosecond, an oh-no second, too late. But I do proofread. And I do edit. It is much easier to edit now that most things are word-processed. I am from the dark ages when the whole PAGE had to be laboriously re-typed if an error was made. Or a space was left out – anything. Editing THEN was a REAL chore. Now, it is easy! But students still mightily resist doing it. What’s the prob, dude?

Lastly, I grade student’s papers beccause I have not found a better way to do things. I am looking. Believe me.


36: Making a difference

So. You have just passed another day. SO what? What contribution to mankind have you made, beyond the simple fact that you lived another day and did not kill anyone? What does your existence MATTER? Who cares? In a hundred years, who will know you ever existed? I think this is the number one reason people have children, to pass along a legacy, something of themselves, for posterity.

People who create do not have this problem – they leave behind them things they have created, objects of their own creativity that will outlast their own existence. Children also count in that category, don’t get me wrong, but children have this annoying tendency to go off in their own directions, which might not be the directions you would particularly like to have yourself remembered for. Hitler had parents, if you know what I mean. So did all the mass murderers, too. Not exactly the sort of legacy most people would like to be remembered for, unless you are a *real* sicko.

So, we reproduce to pass our genes into history. Sort of. Most of us reproduce because we were not too careful, if you know what I mean. That is why sometimes it is said that adopted children never have to worry about being wanted – they KNOW they were wanted and planned for. A lot of the rest of us just arrived. No, that does not mean you were not wanted just because you were born, even if you were a “mistake.” Even mistakes that were not exactly planned for are welcomed into the world by most of their parents (usually), because they actually do realize that the baby is the only truly innocent one in the whole situation.  My son was not exactly planned for, but he was welcomed and much-loved anyway. Now, if he would only get busy and graduate from college!

Anyway, I have left products of my creativity upon this Earth, besides my two children, I mean. I have created works in metal, sculptures, ceramic pieces (they really DO last forever!) paintings, works in fabric, jewelry, and lots of other media. Ceramic pieces are some of the oldest artifacts primitive man ever created, and I have created a lot of them! I hope that all of these various things will be used and appreciated long after I have departed this mortal coil. I have kept a dress that my grandmother made for me when I was a youngster, and I treasure it – perhaps my granddaughter will also appreciate it one day, if I ever have a granddaughter. I have also left lots of lesson plans during my teaching career, and given the way education works, the lesson plans are likely to outlive the ceramic pieces. I am not kidding.

35: So THERE

There is enormous satisfaction for getting something that is on my mind onto paper, as it were, even though this is not really paper. Onto screen?? Anyhoo, it feels good to get it OUT! I enjoy writing things down because once they are written down it is as if there is now more room in my brain, because that thing that was taking up space is now on the paper, instead, so I have removed it from the mental area I have to work with, swept the clutter out, and cleaned up the messy spots. Huge sigh of relief. Clean slate. Fresh space.

Sometimes I write when I am happy about something. Sometimes when I am furious about something I write about it. Sometimes when I am depressed, I vomit whatever is wrong onto the paper, and I feel better. Like really vomiting when your tummy is upset – you feel better because all that nasty poison is OUT.  It works the same way mentally, too.

Plus, it is sort’ve neat to go back and re-read it later – sometimes a LONG time later. Often whatever I wrote at the time is really funny – later, that is. Usually when I wrote it, it was not funny. Like real life again. Often when something happens it is embarassing, infuriating, or just plain stupid, not funny. It is sometime later that you can look back and recognize how funny some incidents really were. It is nice that my most embarassing moments were just someone else’s temporary entertainment. That is reassuring, somehow – no matter how badly I screw up, it’s just going to be funny later on, not embarassing anymore.

Writing also helps me improve my skills, especially writing on the computer – my typing is getting better – fewer typos. Plus, I get to creatively express myself, even when what I write is not very creative, sometimes. It is still me!