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Monday, January 30, 2012

Your Tests are Graded. Now, I Need a Drink.

For some reason, the belief that teachers want students to fail has been perpetuated in our society.  I'm sure part of the reason for this widely-held misconception is that we've all encountered a teacher who didn't mind at all if we failed, or at least they acted that way.  In college, I had a professor who made it seem like he was honoring us by teaching the course. When I turned in my very first homework assignment (8 pages of mathematical proofs), I didn't follow his exact directions.  Instead of skipping two lines between problems, I only skipped one.  This prompted him to write on my graded paper, "I did you a favor by grading this since you didn't follow directions.  Next time, I won't be so nice." Clearly, I did not feel that this professor was at all concerned about my learning.

Sometimes, teachers are so swamped with grading, lesson, planning, and listening to the concerns of every student that it may seem like we're not that concerned.  But, we are concerned, we're just trying to take care of all of our students at one time.  So, when a student emails me for the third time with yet another excuse as to why they missed class, I might just respond, "Thank you for letting me know."  It's not that I'm not concerned about their well-being; it's just that I have to respond to forty-five similar emails.

But, let me tell you a little secret:  Most teachers are very concerned about how students perform in their classes.  We take it personally when students don't do well.  When students don't do well, it frustrates us.  We immediately begin brainstorming ideas on how to help students do better the next time, how to review the material they didn't understand, and how to squeeze in some extra practice so they learn these important concepts they may have missed the first time around. 

For example, I spent well over four hours grading math tests from two of my Algebra courses on Friday.  The test was over the first chapter, which is material students are expected to know before they walk in the door.  It's merely a refresher.  We spent almost three weeks "refreshing," students completed homework, took two quizzes, and were given a test review (complete with a solution key) before the test.  I spent a minimum of 30 minutes each class answering questions and re-explaining how to do these mathematical operations (the ones they're supposed to know).

And, they bombed the test.  The most commonly missed questions were over:
1.  Adding two fractions
2.  Multiplying fractions
3.  Division with decimals
4.  Multiplication with decimals

These four topics are things that are usually taught in 5th grade.  Yep, 5th grade.  Somehow, these students made it through high school and college without ever actually learning how to do these processes.  Or, to be more accurate, someone simply gave them a calculator and showed them how to punch in the numbers in the right order.  So, now that they can't use a calculator, they're screwed.  Why not just let them use a calculator, you say?  Well, to make a long explanation short, if they can't multiply by 1/2, they won't be able to multiply by 1/x, and the calculator won't be able to help them with that one.

By the time I was done grading the tests, I wanted to cry in a dark corner.  Did they not take notes?  Did they use a calculator on their homework?  Did they study?  Did they review the practice test?  How do I fix this?  How do I make them learn something they should have learned almost 10 years ago?  How do I keep moving forward with all the material I have to cover and still find time to focus on this?  How do I make them see that it's really important that they learn this?  What if they feel like they'll never pass the class because they didn't do well on the first test?  I am beyond frustrated.  I've spent the weekend thinking about how I'm going to address this problem.

And, you know what?  This is what most teachers do when students don't do well.  And if they're not, they should be in another profession.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Motherhood: It's Not a Competition

No matter where I look, be it Facebook, Twitter, MSN, or the front page of any parenting magazine, I am bombarded with other women's opinions on a vast number of issues surrounding motherhood.  The opinions I'm fine with; the condescension I'm not.

Case in point: breastfeeding.  I cannot begin to tell you the number of articles and posts I have seen or read relating to breastfeeding.  Some women write in defense of their decision not to breastfeed, some women write in unwavering support of breastfeeding, and some women attempt to educate others about the benefits of breastfeeding and the drawbacks of using formula.  The underlying tone, however, is that mothers are being harshly judged by one another based on whether or not they breastfed.

And, I just think that's sad.  Being a mom is tough.  It may be the hardest job there is.  So, I find it incredibly difficult to understand why we constantly judge one another rather than support each other. 

We've somehow made motherhood into a competition rather than sisterhood.

So, you chose to breastfeed and your friend doesn't.  She understands the benefits of breastfeeding, but for whatever reason, it is something she chooses not to do.  Does that make her a bad mother?  Does that mean she doesn't love her child as much as you do, or she doesn't care about the health of her baby?  No.  It doesn't.  It means that she made a different choice than you did, and that's okay.  Whether or not you agree with her decision shouldn't matter.  You're entitled to your opinion, but that doesn't mean you don't support her, or you try to make her feel guilty with snide comments about formula.

Perhaps you make all of your own baby food.  It's important to you that you know exactly what ingredients and products are going into your child's body, so you take the time to make all of your baby food.  If I choose to buy the packaged baby food from the store, does that mean I'm not as good of a mother as you are?  No.  It means my priorities are different.  Of course I care about my child's nutrition, but maybe I choose to use my time in another way such as reading to my child.  I choose to demonstrate my love for my child through reading to him or her, and you choose to show your love by taking the time to make each meal from scratch.  That doesn't make one of us better than the other; it just makes us different.

Maybe you feel that part of being a good mom is spending hours planning the perfect birthday party for your child.  You make all of the decorations and invitations, you order balloons and amazing party favors, and you make the cake from scratch.  If I buy a few items from the store and order a cake from the bakery, it doesn't mean that I don't care about my child's happiness as much as you do.  It just means I value different things than you do. 

Being a good parent is not about how much time and effort you put into party-planning, it's not about whether or not you breastfeed, and it's not about whether or not you only feed your child organically grown foods.  It's about giving your child a safe, healthy, and loving environment in whatever way you choose. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Go. To. Sleep. NOW!

Okay, so maybe you've seen that catchy little book written for parents with young children entitled Go the F**k to Sleep?  If you don't mind a little profanity, it's actually quite funny.  Most importantly: it's true.  I remember watching television shows or listening to stories where the child or children would yell from their rooms or leave their beds one hundred million times - citing different reasons every time.  In fact, I even remember doing this as a child.  I would claim I "couldn't sleep" only to promptly pass out on the couch moments later.  It was cute when I did it, right?

Well, it would appear that Gavin has a new game.  A game I fondly refer to as, "Let's See How Many Times I Can Make Mom or Dad Come into My Room for Bogus Reasons Before I Actually Fall Asleep."  Each game is lasting roughly 1.5 hours at this point.

Ever since Gavin was born, he has been a terrible sleeper.  Terrible.  We thought it was great when he slept for 6 hours in a row at 6 weeks,  it was even better when he slept for 8 hours in a row at 8 weeks, and then it quickly went downhill.  If he wasn't sick or hungry, he was recovering from surgery, having nightmares, or having breathing issues.  I swear, the kid didn't sleep through the night until he was 3.  Not even a year ago, we took him to a sleep study so we could figure out why he woke up so much during the night.  After his last surgery - at close to 2 years old - he was waking up more in the middle of the night than he did as a newborn.  Easily ten times a night.

If he wasn't waking up and screaming, he was crawling into my bed.  Feet in my face, knees in my ribs, elbows in my back every single night.  One minute he's fast asleep, and the next he's upside down, limbs flailing everywhere, pushing the covers to the end of the bed.  It's not pretty.

Well, in the last few months, he's finally started sleeping in his own bed ALL night (unless there's a thunderstorm or a loud train), and it's been amazing . . . once he actually gets to sleep.  THAT is a whole different issue.

Last night, he yelled and screamed from his room for a good hour and a half.  Knowing that he had to get up early, I had him in bed by 7:45 p.m. 

At 7:50 p.m., he was crying because he wanted me to shut the door a little less than I did.  At 7:55 p.m., he was still crying about the door. 

At 8:00 p.m., we finally shut the door and told him to deal with it. 

At 8:10 p.m., he was still crying and yelling for someone to come to his room.  I told him I would start throwing toys away if he didn't stop crying about the door. 

At 8:15 p.m., he realized he needed some water. 

At 8:25 p.m., he needed to go to the bathroom. 

At 8:40 p.m., his legs hurt and he needed the heating pad. 

At 9:00 p.m., he had squirmed around in his bed so much that he couldn't make heads or tails of the blankets and needed them to be straightened out. 

At 9:10 p.m., he was traumatized because he spilled a little bit of his water on his bed (I'm talking maybe five drops).

I think that was the last we heard from him.

And it's like this every night.  Even if he doesn't yell for someone to come to his room ("Mom? Mommy? MOMMY?"  What?  "I need to go potty."  Just go!!), he's up to no good.  I can't begin to tell you the number of times I've caught him playing with his toys, singing songs, or jumping on his bed. 

And, he's such a grump in the morning.  Such a grump.  He cries withing 2 minutes of opening his eyes - about anything and everything.  "I don't want a bagel; I want toast.  I don't want to wear that.  I want to stir my hot cocoa.  I don't want the Spongebob cup." 

So, apparently, we have to start getting him ready for bed about 1.5 hours before we actually want him to go to sleep because it clearly takes him that long to settle down (and I want to go to bed!).  Or, perhaps, I will bring him his water, his heating pad, fluff his pillow, straighten his blankets, and anything else I can think of right when he gets to bed so he doesn't have so many excuses. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Seize the day or something like that.

Yesterday, I noticed that a couple of people had shared an article on Facebook entitled "Don't Carpe Diem."  In the article, the author discusses how people often come up to her in public, usually at the grocery store, when she's in line with her three young children and tell her that she should be enjoying every moment of her children's childhoods because they will be gone before she knows it.  But, she doesn't enjoy every moment, and consequently feels guilty for it.

Well, first, the people who say they enjoyed every single moment of parenting are full of shit.  It does go by fast, and there are a lot of things I miss about when Gavin was younger, but to say I've enjoyed every single moment would be a big, fat lie.  Sure, I miss holding my tiny son in the wee hours of the morning and snuggling him without protest, but I don't miss not sleeping. 

I don't miss being so tired that I wanted to strangle the breath out of my dog for barking while my infant child was napping. 

I also don't miss having spit up in my hair or running down my back. 

And, while we're at it, I sure don't miss cleaning up disgustingly messy diapers in the dark after just two hours of consecutive shut-eye.

I'm not ashamed, nor do I feel the least bit guilty for admitting those things.

But, I must say that I think the comment of "enjoy every single moment," is taken a little too seriously. I think the advice people are trying to give is to enjoy most of the moments, or enjoy more of them than the ones you don't enjoy.  Maybe, what they're trying to say is that, at the end of the day, you should spend your time reflecting on the good moments rather than dwelling on the bad ones.

Or, maybe you can't enjoy the moment at the exact time you're in it, but maybe you can later embrace it with humor and nostalgia.  I sure wasn't happy the day Gavin decided to take a shit in the deck box, but I can look back now and laugh.  I was pissed the day he put large scratches in my kitchen table with a wooden hammer, but now I look at them with fondness. 

Maybe what  they're saying is that when you're tired and cranky and stressed and feel like you can't take anymore, you stop.  You stop and you take a deep breath and you say, "Hey, I'm tired and I really want to sleep.  But, it doesn't look like that's going to happen tonight.  So, instead of being grouchy and angry, I'm going to try my best to make the most of this time I have to spend with my child and know that one day I will get to sleep again." 

And, if you take a deep breath and try to embrace the moment, but find that you're still cranky and tired, at least you tried.

So, maybe the focus of this advice got a little lost.  Maybe, instead of feeling guilty for not enjoying being peed and puked on, we try to enjoy more moments than we don't.  Perhaps, we remind ourselves that parenting is the hardest job there is, and we try to do our best.  And, just maybe, we do stop to take a breath, look around, and capture the moment that we're in - good or bad.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Does it start with a letter or dog hair?

My black lab sheds.  A lot.  Truthfully, I don't understand how he's not bald.  When he's shedding (which is about 85% of the year), chunks of hair fall out.  All these hairs congregate to form dog hair tumbleweeds that roll down the hallway, no matter how often I vacuum.  I brush the dog; I bathe the dog; I vacuum every day and completely fill the canister on the vacuum.  Yet, there's still hair everywhere.

Lately, Gavin has been the Dog Hair Nazi.  Two hours after I've vacuumed, I hear him yelling, "Mom!  There's dog hair!"  No shit.  Fine, I'll vacuum again.

It's an uphill battle I've been fighting for years and years, and while I've accepted that I'll never win the battle, it never ceases to amaze me how much dog hair there is.  I mean, he's a short-hair dog.  Where does it all come from?

Well, last night, Gavin and I were sitting on the living room floor playing a new game.  I had purchased flash cards that have rhyming words on them.  So, I would set five different cards out in from of him (i.e. bug, snail, grape, ring, and clown), and then I would say a word like "rug."  I would ask him to look at his cards and pick out which one rhymes with rug.

At first, he cheated.  You see, each card has a different number of pictures on it.  So, all the cards that end in -ug would have five pictures on them.  So, he merely matched up the number of pictures.  Smart, but sneaky.  So, I decided to make it harder and not show him the word I wanted him to rhyme with.  When he couldn't figure it out, he would ask me for clues.  Normally, he asks me what letter the word starts with.  He'll say, "Does it start with an o or an i?"

Well last night, even though I had recently vacuumed, dog hair had collected on all of the cards that I placed in front of him.  When we got to a word he was having trouble with, he looked at me and said, "Does it start with a letter or dog hair?"  And he was dead serious.  I almost peed my pants laughing.

Monday, January 9, 2012

We want you to use technology, BUT . . .

These days, I'm constantly hearing people talk about the importance of technology in the classroom.  As teachers, we're told that we should be using technology to make our lessons more engaging.  Prospective employers of our future grads are complaining because students don't know how to fill out a simple online.  (Never mind the fact that they can figure out how to hack the school's proxy so they can get on Facebook and Twitter, they still can't fill out an online job application correctly.)  Colleges complain that incoming students don't know how to do a simple web search for reliable and credible information (i.e. NOT Wikipedia). 

From administrators, college education professors, and curriculum directors, we're constantly being informed about new and exciting technologies that we should be using in our classroom:  There's so many great new things in technology that would enhance your classroom.  We expect you to be learning how to use these websites or software.  Keep a classroom blog.  Post your lesson plans online.  Tape your lessons and post them on YouTube so your students can go back and watch them if they need to.  Create a classroom website.  Have your students submit their papers online through a plagiarism-checker.  Keep track of students grades and attendance virtually.  Use the graphing calculator program online.  

Except . . .

We can't guarantee it's actually going to work.

Sure we want you to take your students to the computer lab to work on a really cool project using that amazing website that you found, but . . . you see the internet isn't working today, and it probably won't be working the rest of the week.  You'll have to come up with other plans even though the lab is booked solid until the end of the semester.  Sorry about that.

Image c/o

I understand that your school-issued laptop is nine years old and is completely out-dated, but we're requiring you to use this online grading system that is not at all compatible with your computers software and will probably cause it to crash every ten minutes.

Speaking of crashing, I'm sorry that your hard drive has crashed twice this week, but we're just going to wipe it clean and try again.

Here's a classroom set of laptops to pilot that new online learning system for your students.  Did I mention that only half of them work?  Yeah, you'll have to figure out some way around that.  And, by the way, we reset all the passwords over break so NONE of your students will actually be able to log in until they've gone through this thirty-minute process of creating a new password.  Once they've done that, about two-thirds of them will actually be able to log in.  The rest will have to call IT and have them figure out what's wrong.  And . . . once you get everyone logged in ad working, the internet is going to stop working.  So, make sure you have a back-up plan.

I just can't seem to figure out why so many teachers are stubborn and refuse to use technology in the classroom.  They must just not like change.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I can just poop in the pool.

Over the past few weeks, I've been fortunate to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my son.  We took a trip to Disney World - which was exciting and exhausting all at the same time - and have spent a lot of time hanging out at home, playing games and whatnot since I'm on break from work right now.  More time with my son = more time for him to say hilarious things to me.

"I don't want to go to college."
On Christmas day, my grandmother graciously gave Gavin some money.  When he opened it, I said, "Yay! This will help you to go to college!"  He just looked at me.  Not five minutes later, he crawled in my lap, tears streaming down his face.  "What's wrong?" I asked him.   I mean, it's Christmas, you just got a boat load of toys.  What could you possibly be said about?  He tells me in his tiny, sad voice, "I don't want to go to college."  I think he thought he had to go right then.  I assured him he could at least wait until after kindergarten.

This Christmas was amazing, mostly because Gavin was SO excited.  It made the whole experience so fun, and it made me incredibly happy to see his happiness and enthusiasm.  He was so enthusiastic he was like a hummingbird on crack.  When opening his first set of presents (you know how it goes - you don't just have ONE Christmas, you have 16 with 400 different people) he was excited about every single gift he got.  Every.  Single.  One.  Each time he opened a gift, he would scream out what it was and run around the room showing it to everyone.  What made me laugh the most was when he opened a package, and with the same enthusiasm as if he had just opened the best toy in the world, he screamed, "LOOK!  PANTS!"  I've never seen someone quite so excited about pants.

"I can just poop in the pool."
We only spent four days in Florida, but it was long enough to not only visit "Mickey's House" but also to spend a lot of time in the pool.  After purchasing a few pool toys for him to play with, Gavin easily spent 6 hours a day in the water.  Like all kids, he wasn't a fan of getting out of the pool to use the bathroom, but he always did.  (If he didn't, he would have told on himself.  "Mommy, I peed in the pool.")  One day, as he was splashing around in one of the kiddie pools, he yelled, "Mom!  I have to poop!"  (Luckily, there weren't many people around.)  I told him that was fine, he just needed to get out and dry off first.  He looked at me in all seriousness and said, "I can just poop in the pool.  See it has a drain!"  Uh, not so much.