The Book Burning/Banning People are Wrong: Let Me Tell You Why

    My literacy journey started with my school placing me in our country's first national ed reform failure, the Follow Through Program. It was designed before HeadStart and it targeted children from disadvantaged homes. You could certainly say that some things about my life qualified as disadvantaged since my father had bounced and left my mother with a mortgage and a small, struggling bar business. With my father out of the country and my mother in a fight for survival, it's easy to see how the school system could think something like this might be to my benefit. 

    Mom's incredible work ethic meant I spent most of my time at home alone in the dark behind the drapery and her odd furnishings. I spent many hours outside in the backyard, under the sun and the trees, sometimes playing with the neighbor kids under the street lamp. But I was basically alone with no one to question me about my school life. 

    The Follow Through Program strived to teach reading without phonics. We would literally be expected to remember a word by associating it with an object. Like the word "typewriter" would be placed in front of an actual machine. I couldn't read anything, and I'm not sure I could count to ten. I remember feeling proud that I could identify all of the colors but reading was not something I could do. Kindergarten wasn't offered at my school. It was something only the affluent kids did. At that time, there was no such thing as an early childhood program. Even if something like that existed, I wouldn't have been able to do it because of my family situation. 

    Follow Through didn't issue any grades or report cards. My mother, in all of her busyness, never noticed that the first round of report cards didn't happen. It wasn't until the semester ended that she happened to be at home because school let out early. It let out early enough for her to see other kids walking home with report cards in their hands. My mom figured that since I was such a stealthy and corrupt child that I had hidden my report card, or maybe I had thrown it away. I suffered a spanking and a truly miserable holiday break while I waited for school to resume. 

    Finally, I'm back at school sitting on the big braided rug with my classmates looking at the typewriter and all the colorful this and thats around the room, when suddenly I hear my mom yelling at the principal. I recognize the hurried click of her footsteps coming down the hallway, and I am embarrassed; I am wishing I would blend into the rug so that she can't find me. My mom pulls the classroom door open and the principal is all helpless and stricken looking like he'd been caught in a crime; he was holding his palm over his mouth. I wondered if she had slapped him.

"Oh my God! What the Hell is this"? I will never forget those words. Everyone is making a scramble for a corner of the room, except me. I'm frozen. "Wanda, get your coat. We are leaving." I still sat frozen to the rug. She reached down with her hand and pulled me up. "Come on. I am getting you out of here." At the time, I didn't understand. I liked sitting in the classroom playing with the nice teachers. I didn't know that I wasn't learning anything. I didn't know that I was being treated different for an economic and social reason. Had my mother not came to the school and given me a hand up, I might never have become the strong and resilient, educated person that I am today. I might never have learned to read had she not cared about me. 

    I will save you the story about the black eye, the little mechanical dog, and the rows and rows of metal bookshelves. I will tell you that my mom marched me into a public library and a real first-grade class on that very same day. I will tell you that she signed me up for the Book of the Month Club and Highlights Magazine. She took me into the Carnegie Library and she explained that I could learn about anything I wanted just by reading books. The effort to get caught up with my peers was painful and humiliating. I never became a math whiz, even though I learned to love and appreciate different kinds of math. But by fourth grade, I could read almost anything.

    My mother's panic became my panic. The school system betrayed us. They needed 13 students to receive federal funding for the program. I, according to the principal, became number 13 without anyone's knowledge or permission. This is how they felt about us. My brother was in Vietnam in a struggle for his life. My father was in a foreign country working. My sister was newly married and trying to live her own life. No one knew that I was sitting around playing on a rug, when I should have been sitting behind a desk learning some phonics. 

    By the time I became a fourth grader, some old family wounds had begun to heal, and I was happily hanging around with my precious grandmother every weekend. Her mind was active and alert. She read a lot of junk, but she also engaged with tons of solid, contemporary and classic texts. She talked to me about different religions, and she insisted that I open my heart and mind to all kinds of people. I don't remember how we started talking about the Holocaust. I just know that it was a conversation over her kitchen table. Me, a fourth grader, went to the Carnegie Library and checked out Mein Kampf. I guess these days some librarians might try to talk a child out of that. In the seventies you read what you wanted. I won't give Hitler any press here, but I will say that I found his writing style rather boring and his arguments extremely weak. I felt terrible about my German heritage. I couldn't believe that he orchestrated this terrible thing. I read more books. I looked at pictures. I cried a lot. My German people came to the USA long before Hitler's rise, but I still feel as if something about me is deficient and evil. I will never forgive anyone for genocide. I am completely opposed to fascism in all forms, alt-right, or whatever. 

    I went on and read books about all kinds of adult problems. I also indulged in fantasy stories, confessionals, romances, horror, philosophy, and I loved John Steinbeck's The Red Pony. I must have read Black Beauty one thousand times. I read everything I could find. When someone would die or get sick, I would write elaborate poems. By reading these ideas, by writing myself, I came up with a belief system that works for me. It is my own belief system, an educated and fair system. The fact that I could read whatever I wanted without interference meant that I could vicariously experience the tragic mistakes of life without committing too many of them myself. Had I not been able to read, I would probably not be alive. Reading saved my life. Had it been monitored by an adult, I know the outcome would have been negative because I was a difficult child. The joy would have been stripped from me. Reading was an important part of my freedom. Books helped me survive an extremely difficult early life.

    The books my teacher assigned to us helped me make friends and understand different levels of literacy. The books brought us together as young academics struggling to understand a complex and confusing world. We became empathetic with one another no matter our race or income. My class is still like that. We still care about each other. Had we been censored, we would have existed in a type of mental prison. This is what book bannings and burnings do to the young. You stifle their freedom. You limit their intelligence and creativity. You end empathy. I read books in order to understand and form opinions. We all deserve this kind of freedom, the freedom to research, explore, think, and ultimately write. 

    I am still ashamed of my German heritage. But I know how the German people came to that point. They were forced into a mental prison by a fascist movement. Let's not do that.

IMG_1209                                                                                                                            Credit to unknown meme artist 

Teaching and Writing During the Pandemic as Compared to Now

I looked back at my notes from the year 2020 at the end of the month of July. What I noted about this period of time is that I had to take extra training to teach online. My old community college, a place that treated me with transparency and respect, issued an online teaching certificate course that I completed before the beginning of school. I also spent hours and hours moving content to an online platform. This meant I made a ton of new files, busied myself by scanning books and worksheets into the learning management system for my students, and saved that material in my MacBook and in the cloud. The reality is that the pandemic made me a better prepared teacher, but I received no support or pay for this extra work.

In my end of the month reflection, I wrote this:

Could we be headed for a civil war? This has been a month for the record books. It started out pretty happy with the Fourth of July celebration and my son going with me to visit our hometown. And then it kind of lurched off into an oddly sinister month with continuous political strife, protests both violent and peaceful, super hot temperatures, and drastically rising Covid cases. I guess I will have to start setting up my classes, and I don't know what to do with them. I am confused about making these modules for the community college. I'm also worried about going back to school. I've been so sick, so many times, and I have no reason to believe that I won't catch Covid just like I catch everything else. This is so scary!

One goal that I had at that time was to create a fluid and integrated presentation that I could modify daily, and I managed to do this by using my iPad as a document camera. Rather than rely on a software program, I decided to create visuals that the students could enjoy and imitate. By doing this, I was able to integrate visual literacy into the remote classroom. All of this sounds so smooth and easy, but I struggled. I spent many hours working on materials. And now I am struggling again. I am struggling because someone decided that their timeline supersedes common sense and human decency.

This July, instead of attending social events and working on my class materials, I am in a crack. I am in this crack for no good reason whatsoever. I have heard numerous excuses, but at the end of the day, none of them add up to professionalism. I am asking that my readers say a little prayer for me. I am also going to once again reiterate the obvious. Teachers do not need hoops to jump around in. Teachers need respect and money. The fact that we are in this shortage crisis is not because teachers are making great salaries and experiencing strong support. This crisis is happening because teachers are tired of chaos. I have seen the lowest performing people receive the highest rewards. I have seen administrators brush off teachers in need of help. I have heard the silliest remarks. Teachers need help, not ridicule. This month I have read communications that suggested that I didn't know the difference between rhetoric and a pet bird. Some of these communications are ridiculous and borderline abusive. I allowed these communications because the writer may not understand the concept of audience; the writer could be overwhelmed or new to the job. You never know what kind of information a person feels compelled to act upon. But this example of this terrible communication style is one of the reasons that the teaching profession is withering on the vine. And of course the fact that facts matter, not silly opinions or gossip.

In the end, I believe the month of July, during the perilous 2020 pandemic year, felt more accomplished and productive. That is sad.


Credit to unknown meme artist ๐ŸŒน

Writing on the Super Note A5X

I made a major mistake last year when I bought the Super Note A6X because the screen is not quite big enough for serious writing and thinking. Last month I chanced upon an opportunity to buy the A5X open box, which meant that I could somewhat afford to invest again. Now I am unsure of what to do with my A6X, but I might give it to my son to write his music on and make drawings of his projects. 

Now that I have the A5X, I am totally in love with the way it works. It is the size of a piece of paper without's wonderful. I downloaded my teacher planning portfolio onto it, and I also geared it up with a bullet journal, which I am using to record personal plans and activities. I created another folder to write in for random thoughts and content ideas. The teacher planning kit and the bullet journal are both Etsy purchases from a guy named Brendan, and I couldn't be happier. I had a download issue, and Brendan responded within the hour with the solution even though the problem was not related to his product. Now I don't know what to do with the tons of notebooks and planners that I have at home that now seem so juvenile and wasteful, but I don't want to throw them away because they are full of writing ideas, especially from all of those boring meetings and useless trainings that I've had to endure over the years. While other people are trying to get me to work in an uncomfortable and awkward situation, my thoughts wander off in compelling ways, often forking over into banality and sometimes forking over into comedy. You just can't put a value on observations like that--they are priceless. 


If you feel serious about writing and you want the freedom to create content on a luxury device that is more intriguing than a paper notebook, splurge on the A5X. If you feel as if you want to write occasionally, and you aren't super serious about your output, just do the A6X Super Note. It will fit in a bag or in the palm of your hand like a greeting card. You will love both of them for different reasons. You will especially love the feel of the device, the way it writes. And it does come loaded down with an array of templates that you can use to create wonderful pages and documents. 

SuperNote Link

Exam Prep and the Folly of Fascist Upstarts

My advanced placement students are working hard to prepare for their exam next week, and I am struggling with maintaining focus. I want them to know that if they wander into this thing underprepared, the experience will feel like a rockslide. This year we completed all progress checks in the order recommended, just like good soldiers. First this, and then that, all down the unit plan with our theme based repertoire of inspirational readings and writings. We started out with American Indian literature, even old speeches given by long-dead and bitterly disappointed chieftains, and we mingled that with contemporary artists like Joy Harjo, and Simon Ortiz, N. Scott Momaday and Sherman Alexie.

We moved on to African Americans and literatures around the Civil Right's struggle, even Malcolm X (whom I love with a passion), and our major figure, Martin Luther King. We looked at the dramatic tone shift in the Eula Biss essay, Time and Distance Overcome, and we paired that with an introduction on discourse modes. My students learned from a brief dive into the digital college library that lynching is indeed an area of academic study, and they learned that not everything is right in America--I am good with that. Our imperfections reside in an ugly heart, the heart that indulges in hate.

We dabbled around in the question of what it means to be a woman in today's world, and we ended our theme-based study with the environment. We looked at the many ways we could stop trashing our planet and how to stop hurting women and children. And now we are in the world of exam prep practice in the midst of a world of meaningful ideas. My students are leaving my class better-informed and more articulate than in the beginning. I am proud of that. I am happy that I could help them lift the veil and look at the reality of today. I am convinced they feel empowered. I want them to know that the written word, their own style and voice, really matter.

The fascist upstart would say that our students need to know a Christian God. Our students need to know America for only the good things, not the ugly reality. They insist that Us Teachers are grooming our students for Marxism and Socialism, and we are sexualizing them and making them hate America. We are making them gay or binary or whatever. Everything we say and do in the classroom must be monitored and reported. If we say the wrong thing about America, we must be silenced and removed from our classrooms. Thanksgiving, the original one, happened as a collaboration, not something "Indians" did to save ignorant settlers from starving and freezing. But what if out of their decency and humanity, these so-called "ignorant savages" facilitated their own demise by trusting the greedy white man?  These kinds of knowledge, the stories that ring the bell of truth, must be erased and ignored, especially if they make people think or question. We must stick to old labels about the dead. We must not glorify true bravery, true humanity, or true generosity and love.

Most of all, I want them to know what it is like to enjoy writing. I want them to feel a good pen between their fingers, the way it scratches against the paper, the sound like a whisper to a loved one. The exam prompts, safely tucked away in a digital vault, still offer a compelling opportunity for planning. Most good writing takes place in the brain, so I ask students to start formulating bits of prose, key words, and commit these ideas to memory, so that under stress, during the exam, the words arise from the mist and fly off the fingertips, and the magic happens, the unicorn appears on the page and a sophistication point is earned.

I love my students, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude. They teach me something new every day, so I want them to recognize the oppressor.


The Sin of Low Expectations: Is it a trap?

Okay, I know it's true, I am thorny. I am thorny by design and not by choice. I am thorny because of my experience and what I know. I am justifiably thorny. Open your eyes to the potential in front of you, and then ask yourself if you are committing the greatest sin of all, the sin of low expectations. What if someone wants you to accept low expectations, low expectations for job satisfaction and unity, student achievement, parental involvement, equity, and social justice? I heard someone remark one day that, "Our kids are not there. These are not the kids we have. These kids cannot do this." I thought it was the most idiotic statement because an individual can only have limited knowledge of student learning styles and potential in a broad way, and students present with an unlimited variety of possibilities. We can never know how far they can go. 

I sometimes become frustrated with the superficiality of what I see and what I hear. The mundane and hollow, pretentious and predictable, sad blasphemy committed against my subject by people that barely understand its complexity or purpose; I believe this is proof of some type of sabotage. This blasphemy spills from the minds and mouths of people that are in powerful positions. How can we be so deluded? We can never know all of this. What are we thinking? Why are we here? Why do I tolerate this lie, this blasphemy?

My subject is a key that opens the door to power and democracy, equality and justice. Without the key, people suffer. Even if you possess an extraordinary key, one that is gifted and complex in design and purpose, it still might fail to render the best outcome. The key I offer my students is never guaranteed, but it certainly remains their best option for solving difficult personal and social problems. This key opens a gate to the pathway of knowledge, so how can its value be measured by people that claim it as a part of them, but then prove by their actions and words that it is something foreign and unfamiliar instead? This key, when used for good, opens the door to true power.

I'm tired of the charade. I am becoming convinced that the opposition's failure to attack with an effective offensive assault resulted in subterfuge and duplicity instead. Certain powerful individuals look only at abstractions and spreadsheets, when instead they should look inside the organization, into the head of the fish. But what would I know? Maybe I know because I recognize the sheer absurdity of what is happening. I see through the haze of mendacity straight into the eyes of the aggressor. I'm swatting flies.

Many nights and days are devoted to my key. I hold it in my palm like a precious jewel. I share my key with the people that need to unlock the gate to knowledge. I tell them to write to learn. They do it. 

IMG_2567Credit to unknown meme artist

My Long and Weird Relationship with Greek Salad

Members of my family used to give me ride alongs in their big trucks down to the Houston Ship Channel to dump massive loads of grain for export. A skinny and long-legged preteen, my biggest joy was to wake up with the seagulls and step out into the gravel-like oyster covered parking lot and go into the cool air conditioned ambience of this one particular Greek restaurant on Clinton Drive. I never knew what entree to order, but I'd always start with the salad, fresh and cheesy, cold, vinegar based, with tons of olives and cucumber.

I remember eating my salad with some kind of fish, and I'd drink glasses of iced tea, and then force whatever family member it happened to be to splurge on coffee and Greek pastries. The place is long gone; the building stands empty; but the decor will live forever in my memory. Painted statues of Greek goddesses, topless, with scenes of the Mediterranean behind them guided you through a maze of columns covered in ivy to the main dining hall where rows of tables dressed in white linen and Greek inspired flower arrangements provided luxury in a neighborhood of trucks, ships, longshoremen, and an assortment of other working people, both good and bad. I continued to visit this restaurant into my adulthood, when in the late 80s it suddenly closed.

After I moved to Saskatchewan in the 90s, I found another wonderful Greek restaurant. It was inside of a mall, and what it lacked in decor it made up for with cheesy and hot delicious food, fabulous intricate desserts, and, of course, the staple of my life--Greek salad. The people that owned this place catered a dinner for me, and if I wanted to meet someone in that end of town, I would always ask to meet in my special place knowing I could always count on a table and be treated to a first class experience.

Now, everywhere on every corner, a Greek restaurant awaits. I could choose from at least half a dozen within a few miles of my Houston home, but I often attend the same one, a chain store offering both Greek and Turkish cuisine that in some ways perfectly overlap in flavor and texture. I am okay with their kabobs and pistachio covered desserts, the array of hot vegetables and the pita bread. But, for various reasons, the Greek salad comes out limp, without a fresh and crunchy texture, so I have to eat that in another place down the road. Now that I am an old lady and completely deserving of something special, I can't have my salad with my fish. But I'm not complaining. I am happy with my memories of my Greek places. I love them.




Working on National Board Certification: Lost and Adrift

This year I am going to try and complete two National Board components. Last year I successfully sat for the Component One exam and that provided evidence of accomplished teaching. Component Two is designed to prove that I fairly provide differentiation for all of my students. My worry is that somehow my featured activity/lesson/artifacts will fall short of the requirements. I'm not sure if National Board envisions a large project activity or some small specific skill, whether it can be an outcropping of some paper through a writing conference, or if it must entail a specific standard and strategy. I'm skipping over Component Three and moving ahead to Component Four, which my coach encouraged me to do. But now that I've watched some YouTube videos on this subject, I am wondering if she actually misguided me. The problem is that I have only 2 more years to get these done, and they are only approved yearly in December. 

In my program, I am lacking an English coach. They did assign me one, but she failed to stay with the program. My official coach is a middle school math teacher, someone that truly doesn't seem to understand the kind of advanced English classes that I teach. My work products are possibly a bit foreign to her. She already downgraded one of my practice submissions which is a final exam paper followed up with feedback and then a student written reflection with specific prompts. Most of my classes are dual credit anyway, and this kind of lesson might have seemed extreme to someone that doesn't teach much writing.

Even worse, I am receiving no support at all from my campus or my district. Other teachers around my area receive extra planning time, financial compensation, and assigned cohorts in order to achieve this difficult certification. My district refuses to even accept the micro credentials that I complete for Board certification practice, even though the rigor is extremely high, possibly higher than anything else a teacher can do other than the actual Board Components. 

I'm not confident that I will achieve a National Board Certificate because of the time frame and my lack of support, but I'm going to try anyway even though it has been thousands of dollars out of my own pocket. I am learning to become a better teacher by engaging with this process even if my participation is only superficial because of my challenges. 

As a young twenty-something living in Oklahoma, I abandoned any dreams of ever becoming a teacher. The low pay and the location interfered with my idyllic imagining of a bright and wealthy future. I wanted to make "as much money as the men." I often felt insecure and homeless, a possible feeling of negativity left over from a difficult childhood. Later, after I partially completed my first degree, I started to imagine myself as a teacher again. But I ended up returning to my previous work because money was tight, and I had my little boy to worry about. 

Finally, I managed to navigate myself back into education. Now I am happy with my choices. Even so, I am always critical of myself, so I am possibly feeling unworthy of National Board Certification, and maybe that is why I feel so lost in the process and need additional support and encouragement.

I know I can do this; I know I can learn from this experience; I know my students will benefit; I know I have to try.


Happy New Year Everyone! God Help Us :)

Today I went out to the Ulta store on my pre 2023 makeup run, and I am sad to report that I got pushed aside like an irrelevant old lady. It's true, I am getting kind of old, and I have been sick with some kind of stuff that might as well have been Covid for all the misery it's causing me; my hair looks kind of dry and I am palish and not so well and perky. But that is no reason to treat me like a weak shopper. 

I bought what I wanted, what I could find, and I headed out to Target. The Target looked like a platoon of looters had stormed through. Literally nothing  remained intact. An older man (yes, there are people living that are older than me) helped me manage my purchase at the automatic self-checkout. Normally I wait in line, and I don't care how long, because I want to support workers and their jobs. But this time I didn't care after the brush off at Ulta. 

I came home to the dogs after listening to the sadness in the voice of my son's ex-girlfriend during a phone call. Bummed out, I vacuumed the floor and made some guacamole. I then proceeded to write a student evaluation that is due, for some bizarre reason, on Monday. In other words, it isn't much of a party around here, not this year. 

But these are all White America problems. If I lived in Ukraine, I'd probably really have something to complain about. I'd be ducking Putin's stupidity and callous disregard for life. I'd be hungry and cold, and I would probably be struggling to keep my pets alive. I might be homeless, or hiding in a shelter. But here in the United States, I am currently under no threat of a missile hitting my neighborhood. The only missiles around here cost an arm and a leg down at the area firework stand.  The drunk drivers will be out, and Harris County is prosecuting as many of them as they can tonight. That means you can get hauled in for driving drunk and then you can get convicted all in the same night. It's like the Whataburger of courtrooms.

I don't know why I am writing. But I am glad you are reading. Happy and Prosperous 2023!




Negativity and Loneliness? Let me suggest finding a job ๐Ÿ“š

Meaning in Life

Whenever I look to find meaning in my life, I not only access my spiritual side, but I also think about the wonderful work that I do everyday. All of my life, I've been an employed person, sometimes more than one job at once. I think of my current career (teaching) as a way of helping young people meet their college goals. I not only help them to write and read critically, but I also do the hard work to help them make choices. Most of all I encourage my students to not waste time. What, if at the end of your life, you felt an empty and overwhelming sense of regret because you failed to help the people that needed you? What if you had something to offer society, but you sat at home and did nothing but complain? 

Negativity and Loss

Some people become so negative and lost that they lose any sense of everyday reality. Self entitlement and anger can bring on an aversion to the ordinary sounds of life. A running car engine, a misfire, barking dogs, and chirping birds, the sounds of children playing and screaming in joy, all of this pushes the aimless and unemployed into a senseless rage. A severe disability sometimes develops, misophonia. Misophonia usually begins in childhood, usually in girls, and can cause severe reactions and irritability that can result in abusive, fit-throwing, pathological behaviors. 

Actual Experience

My old neighbor experienced this empty and erratic behavior firsthand from a comfortable position on his living room couch. Suddenly, midafternoon, a bedraggled woman frantically burst into his apartment and screamed directly into his face, "I'm from the HOA board, and I'm doing a dog-bark- investigation"! Justin held the couch position a bit too shocked to really move or stand up, and managed to mutter a brief, "Oh." The unwelcome woman hurried past him to the back door of his apartment, and tapped angrily on the window causing her wrist decorated in junk jewelry to loudly jangle. Justin's dog jumped up and started barking. "That's it! That's the dog right there"! The frantic yelling and screaming caused the dog to bark and claw at the back door. Justin gathered his senses, shook off the shock, and scrambled to his feet. "Of course," he politely said, "if a strange person is standing in the house tapping the window, the dog is going to go crazy"!

A Qualifier

Barking dogs on beautiful South Texas days sound normal, like mall music on an outdoor ice rink. Children and Harley motorcycles, the birds in the trees, the sounds of sirens and traffic, all of these noises of life are no reason to act erratic. The negativity, the boredom, the loneliness, confuses the idle brain. Dogs barking, kids playing, adults starting their cars, people talking, all of this drives the empty and the "voluntarily unemployable" into a deep and dark rage. Nothing is too low for the negative and lonely. Sometimes they engage in conspiracy theories, misuse the authorities, and send out hateful mail. They may vandalize the property of the people that they imagine are too noisy, poison or torture animals, or even physically assault someone. 

But all they really need to do is find a purpose in life. Find some cause to contribute to. Find meaningful employment. Find a way out of the neighborhood. 

A Little Advice

I crossed paths with such a person, and my experience caused me to notice that she wrote hateful diatribes about homeless people. She would post her complaints while suggesting something about politics and her own self-entitled sense of privilege. Later, she moved on to complain about cats. She was feeding cats at her door and finding cats out at restaurants, and so on. Her posts about the cats caused me to fear for them. Even though an average person, not well acquainted with the situation, would probably read nothing into her commentary, I found an implied threat lurking between the lines. 

One piece of advice that I always give my students is to never do something that you think you might regret in five years. You never know what kind of shame you might be forced to carry around if you do something stupid in the moment. Your mind will change and grow, but the consequences of what you did may linger forever. Even if no one discovers your stupidity, you will be forced to live with it. If you've wasted the most productive years of your life doing nothing, then that will come back at sunset for you to remember. You will wonder what you could have done to help people had you tried. 







Working on My Subject Area Masters and the Devastating Consequences (with update)

My health went down when I worked on my subject area masters. Different than an M.Ed, a subject area masters requires you to become an expert, contribute to the academic discipline, and develop a thesis and area of study. As an undergrad, my interest in composition theory, education, and recidivism, led me into a series of interesting papers that felt easy to write, and my department chair and professors supported me with anything I wanted to do, whether it was in the education department or in the English department. For example, I enjoyed the experience of working as a visiting teacher at our local alternative school, and I split my observation schedule between 12th grade English and Kindergarten; splitting that observation time enabled me to imagine vertical alignment and see the big picture as it pertains to childhood development and literacy. I worked on a series of lesson plans for English with another teacher, and I created a lesson plan portfolio on our twelve domains that I donated to the education department when I graduated. Overall, the experiences, the practicum in English, the composition theory classwork, the writing, and the childhood psychology and development classes helped me become a better teacher. When I moved to Texas, I had to basically revisit all of that in order to feel qualified and effective. I worked on weekends, nights, and at all kinds of odd times in order to prepare for my masters. I read incredibly difficult writers and thinkers, such as Kenneth Burke, in order to prepare myself for teaching rhetoric and composition at the college level. I dug into the Theory of the Novel by Lukรกcs, and I reread all of my old college textbooks in order to prepare myself. I worked on my writing using the theories that I learned. I published with my audience in mind, fellow teachers and instructors, and I watched as my writing became more professional and academic. I finally felt prepared.

My health slipped away. On weekends, while other people were out walking and enjoying the beautiful Texas weather, I hunched over my desk. I neglected my child, and I became surly and over-stressed. Taking him to his guitar practices felt like an intrusion on my study time, and working at my school on Saturdays interfered with my writing time. I gained weight. I became unhappy, but I loved my classes with a passion I hadn't felt since I taught English at the alternative school. I inserted the concepts, the beautiful ideas that I learned, into my ninth and tenth grade English classes. I started to teach Advanced Placement English. I navigated the hoard of people that judged me without knowing my struggle. I felt misunderstood. An over zealous and abusive administrator mismanaged me, one in a series of new underprepared principals that I endured early in my teaching career. I started to think that nothing that I did would matter to the world of education because it catered to a long line of people that, in my opinion, were unworthy of their position and relied on connections, instead of expertise, for employment.

The years went by and I became a better teacher. I paid for my own professional development at expensive places like Bard College and Rice University. I earned some scholarships from Bard and Rice, and this extra work helped me become even more professional. I even earned a scholarship as recent as this year from the College Board in order to study in a cohort with a mentor. 

But, apparently, somehow, this year, I am not worth as much to my institution. My institution wants to squabble with me about my adjunct pay. The community college that hired me as an adjunct issued a raise, but none of this money trickled down to me; this raise never trickled down to my fellow coworkers that earned the difficult subject degrees that allowed them to teach dual credit classes. Not only that, my institution wanted to pay me for one less section than last year, even though my enrollment increased substantially, and my students are struggling harder with the material. I wonder where the money is going. I wonder why I am not paid more for my education, the sacrifice that I made for my students, the ongoing cost to my physical health which is now named by my doctor, Type 2 diabetes. To define how this has made me feel, this attack on my professional life, could only be described as depressing. This feeling of unfairness, this disregard and disrespect for my contribution, causes me to feel like leaving my institution, the institution that has become so familiar and family like. Meanwhile, this steady parade of people barely making a contribution seems to increase in size.

(Update) Apparently someone on my campus made a little mistake that affected my pay and this issue will be resolved. Still, adjuncts did receive a raise that the district did not issue. Teachers at all levels are trying to achieve a healthy pay schedule so that they can afford to work and live in their districts among the students, typically inner-city, that need professionals the most. Civil workers deserve a decent and dignified retirement. Anything less is an attack on democracy. Imagine if only novices without college degrees are the main source of our education workforce. What would that look like for our children?

Full time teachers that work hard to improve deserve respect. This practice of underpaying teachers and demonizing them must stop. The endless menagerie of toxic people installed into roles they are literally not educated for, these people that make it a habit to undermine the faculty, need flushed from the school system. People that underpay teachers to the point that teachers can't even afford a home, should be removed from the school system. Politicians that attack teachers and insult them by calling them childish names like "groomers" and "Marxists" must be voted out of public office. People that would restrict a students' right to read the books of their choice, should be forced to read the books themselves, write a lengthy report, and then file their dubious and silly claims. The attack on intellectual life, the attack on writers and thinkers, is a sign of authoritarianism and fascism. This is unacceptable. Installing people into roles that they are not qualified for is another sign of fascism. 

Lift up your real teachers. The teachers that are real, that want to remain in the classroom and not jump out into administration, are worth your protection. Show your respect by calling them teachers, call them faculty, stop calling them staff, provide them with moments of happiness that make them feel special. Pay them what they deserve without trying to find an excuse to take it away. Treat teachers with humanity, dignity, and respect. Remove people that micromanage and ridicule your teaching staff. Provide meaningful professional development opportunities, not busy work.


Trucking to Teaching: #WhyIWrite

Thirty-nine years ago I took a cold shower in the middle of winter in a men's restroom in North Dakota. I dried myself with a dirty shirt while standing in grayish water that had backed up from the drain. My long mousy hair covered my skinny frame, and my bare freckled face made me look rather slight and timid. I drove a Peterbilt truck cross- country, hauling steel from the port in Houston and illegal, overweight, loads of grain back. And I treasured my life on the road. Like most young women, I owned a long list of feminine accoutrements, things I adored: a lacy ribbon of asphalt; an emerald shimmering along the northern sky, a collection of twinkling diamonds, and flowers and birds of every color and every song. The lace unfurled its amazing patterns along the fringes of my hood, and sometimes the emeralds would want to be worn with the sapphires, especially on dark, frigid nights, their colors shimmering in the northern sky. The diamonds bedazzled me by making celestial shapes: virgo, scorpio, and Orion. And a small yellow flower would always wave to me from the crack in the road on that two lane highway near Bozeman, Montana, the highway that runs along the Yellowstone River in a race to Wyoming.  


My ten-year old self stood toe to toe with my middle-aged stepfather and argued.

"But I want to go on the truck this holiday. I don't have anything to do here!"

In typical stormy fashion, my impatient and unprepared stepdad shot back, " You don't have a single A this semester!"

I remembered our deal, and I felt some small measure of guilt blush across my freckles. It's true; to go on the road, I had to make straight A's.

"But I meet smart people on the road, and I learn a lot just by riding along with you!"

"Well, what exactly do you learn out there, Ms. Astor?"

"I learn about math for one thing because our load is always overweight. I also learn about people and geography, and while we are waiting on the scale    to close and the cops to get lost, I get to read!"

Wiping his brow with a shop rag, my step-dad stammered, "I'll talk to your mom." 

These little battles about going on the truck became bigger battles in my adult life. But eventually I no longer needed the support of my male relatives.

I became independent. I could make as much money as the men did!

Grinding away at the gears, backing over the curbs, tearing up mudflaps and chrome bumpers, I eventually soloed my way into a long series of good paying trucking jobs. You could find me in a cafe for my one daily stop, not alone, but with a local paper or best selling book. Problem solving and calculating routes, calculating weight and floor space, and practicing safe driving in all kinds of weather and traffic conditions in any kind of geography, all of this became a way of life for me. 

Now I teach high school with a Masters of English, but I only recently started making more money teaching than driving, even though my new career spans eleven years of my life. This is a sad statement on the affairs of teaching, the low pay, the lack of appreciation, and the hard work all teachers must do to become successful. 

I am a product of two vastly different worlds, but I am not alone. I met many drivers that had spent years in colleges working on degrees but preferred life on the road.

I love my worlds, both of them.