Friday, February 27, 2009

I Can Say This- I Am A Teacher

If you see a teacher during the first week of March, give them a hug; it is TAKS time.

Here we go again with faulty reasoning and skewed thinking .

We can hold teachers accountable for a multitude of responsibilities, but whether our kids are smart is not one of them.

We can hold them responsible for opening doors to that intellect, enhancing that intellect, and even for teaching our children how to use that intellect.

We can hold them accountable for awakening that intellect and for inspiring a thirst for learning that can't be quenched.

I just don't think we can expect them to install that intellect.

I also believe that intrinsic motivation and curiosity far surpass extrinsic motivation any day of the week. I do not believe that the thought of a specific reward, the day of the exam, will determine whether or not a student does well .

I do not believe that student A thinks, 'I am going to answer these questions incorrectly because no one has offered me pizza , in order for me to do otherwise.'

Unfortunately, the preparation necessary to master this form of state testing is not usually geared to awakening a lust for learning that today's world demands . Just take a look at the faces of students sitting in TAKS tutoring sessions to see what I mean. Expressions of feigned indifference or anxiety ridden terror, yes. Light bulb moments of understanding, painstakingly nurtured by the TAKS tutor, yes.

Just know that there are a multitude of reasons why students may fail the TAKS test, and it may have nothing to do with how smart they are or how successful they will become.

Our world is filled with brilliant, highly successful adults whose high school record didn't meet someone's standards.

Blaming a teacher exclusively for student performance is a little like blaming a car manufacturer for how someone ultimately drives a car: safely or dangerously.

However , having said that, I know without a shadow of a doubt that every teacher across the street from where I live is giving it their best college try- in fact more than that- regardless of what anyone else says or does.

That is the purest form of intrinsic motivation.

They believe they are responsible.

So when you see a teacher, even if you no longer have children in school, say something. Go out of your way. They have already earned it, regardless of what the scores say in May.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Round Table

This lenten season coincides with a landmark day in my life. My mother died 13 years ago today of ovarian cancer.

This combination of historical elements- my mother's life and death-

and lent-
feels like some sort of blinding light right now. It is hard to know where to look.

What I know to be true is that living without my mother , as a witness and a guide, is the hardest thing I have ever done . Looking at the spiritual questions, re-commitment, and re-dedication that an active season of lent includes is something I can not live without either.

So today will be a day of listening and prayer , yet a day of hard work in my yard (my mother was a great believer in working until you sweat).

A sort of round table with my mother and Jesus , while I re-introduce myself to my flower beds and dig for answers.
She will not be intimidated; He loves her ,and He loves me, and I am sure in the last 13 years they have had some very interesting and even heated discussions about how to help me and those I love.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Coffee's Ready

After our oldest daughter Heather was born, and because my husband was working out of town, and because my mother couldn't stand to be parted from her first grandbaby, Heather and I stayed at the ranch for almost 4 weeks after she was born. In those days, new mothers actually recuperated after having a baby, and I had some unexpected complications.

We were over an hour's drive from the nearest town and nothing creates a better cocoon for healing and bonding than distance, isolation, and your mother at hand.

Our routine started in the evening ,when after washing the supper dishes, we made a fresh batch of bottles, sterilized them, and stored them in the refrigerator. The Corning Wear coffeepot was fixed, and the timer was set.

In the early morning hours, I grew accustomed to the sight of a tall man in a cowboy hat, standing over Heather's crib silently watching her before he left the house.
My father, later called Papa by our girls, found all sorts of reasons to stop by the house, and he didn't even make excuses.

And then Nonnie (my mother) swept in .
Heather was bathed , dressed, her hair brushed into a curl, and she was rocked all in the span of a minute it seemed. Mother then turned her attention to me. I was doctored and nurtured, lunch and supper were planned ,and in the afternoon, if the time seemed right, she would ask her friend Marie over for coffee .

The Corning Wear coffeepot was fixed and we freshened up , waiting for the little red light to glow, signaling that the coffee was ready. I loved the coffee from that coffeepot. It took forever to brew by today's impatient standards, and it wasn't any special blend- it was probably Folger's- but it was good because my mother knew how to make it that way.

Apparently impressions form easily in me. I still love Corning Wear, even in its stubbornness about cleanliness. At flea markets I gravitate to tables of tall, white, ageless towers of casserole dishes, pans, tea kettles, and above all coffeepots.

I can still hear my mother calling down the hall,

"Laura Ellen, coffee's ready."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Name One Thing You Were Taught By Your Parents (Please Comment)

As a babyboomer, I face two trains of thought:

A. There will not be enough social security, TRS money , ________ money (fill in the blank), water,non-polluted air, oil, or non-toxic food to meet the needs of a joyful, peaceful retirement,not only for us, but for future generations as well,


B. I am the progeny of the last great generation in the universe, and I don't care what you throw at their offspring, we are going to figure it out , or more importantly, be able to live with it because our parents taught us 'things'.

My parents taught me -

To not interrupt. This is on our endangered species list, I will admit. Because I learned this so well, I do a great deal of listening. I also learned this lesson so well that I will stop, when I get interrupted, to allow the other person to continue with his/her interruption.

To allow company to go first. You go ahead. Here, get in front of me.

To not brag.

To keep a tight rein.

To not exclude anyone. Invite everyone.

To not talk about where you were invited.

To reach out to someone at boarding school, who was homesick too.

To say yes mam and no mam.

To love just a little bit of the Honky Tonk. Well, maybe to just love the Honky Tonk.

To bow up when things don't feel right.

To not run when crossing the street.

To not ask how someone voted.

To understand when my father said, "You don't have any business doing that," or "Did you learn anything?"

To say thank you.

To tell people they look nice, or did a good job, or that things are going to be OK.

To say I love you .

This is not a finite list.

But I want to hear from you. What did you learn?

Please comment.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Changer

In retirement, I have discovered elements of technology that everyone else knew existed.

Our daughters aren't surprised at this late blooming. Our middle daughter, the librarian, has been our hotline, talking us down from all sorts of technology ledges for years.

the librarian: "Did you read the instructions?"

Us: "Uh, yes..."

Once while our oldest grandson was visiting, he shouted , "You mean the remote??", when my husband and I kept asking , "Where is the 'changer'?"

Our technology challenges are slowly improving.

When I discovered you could watch HBO's The Wire on Netflix last summer, I immediately re-watched all 5 seasons.

We have become so adept at navigating changers, we are re-watching things :).

My husband and I can now easily load and play a DVD most days.
The only time we have a problem is if anything goes wrong or when we try to answer the phone with 'the changer'.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nie Nie Dialogues

This evening I am humbled by the story of a young woman recuperating from a terrible plane crash last year (see sidebar: I Read Nie Nie).

Having just read the story of this young woman's journey, and although my mind is racing and my heart is touched, it feels inappropriate to even comment.

Why? Because so often when we regale the courage of someone else, the power of that first reading- that first hearing is lost in the storytelling. Please read for yourself.

This young couple is amazing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Initial Reactions

My love of letters began in first grade at Ricardo Elementary school in Ricardo , Texas where Mrs. Trussell drilled but didn't kill my enthusiasm for handwriting ,or more importantly, collecting letters together to create words. I have loved that ever since.

Initially, however (no pun intended), I became enamored with my initials as they dangled on engraved charms on the gold charm bracelet my mother gave me. That charm bracelet still sits in my jewelry box .

I was captivated by my mother's initials on her King Ranch bag- the original rope bag in canvas- as she attended her own version of Ya-Ya sisterhood gatherings, playing bridge, going hunting, cooking at friends' houses, or having great ranch parties with Ray Price records playing on the record player.

I loved writing initials on my book covers and all of my blue cloth covered notebooks. Remember those? Those notebook covers became works of art.

In boarding school, letter writing was my main connection home, and I adorned my letters with sealing wax and my initial stamp. I secretly thought it looked Elizabethan, even imagining my letter in the stacks of ordinary mail at the Encino post office.

My roommate from Mexico City gave me an initial ring my sophomore year in high school , and I later fell for every dangling James Avery initial, cross, or dove that existed.

In college , I did most of my doodling in the margins of my notes while daydreaming in class, this time including my sorority insignia and college initials.

My sweet girls indulged my obsession by using monogrammed lamb blankets at the livestock show, bless their hearts. For Heather's wedding, I made a white damask tablecloth for the cake table with a big 'H' I made with a glue gun and white silk roses.

These things make me laugh and shake my head.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cookie Mess

All over South Texas this week, Episcopalian women are baking cookies for Diocesan Council.

Do you think this is what they had in mind? Do other women's kitchens look like this? At this point, I have baked 15 dozen, and I have 5 to go. I have also planned what I am going to write on my zip-loc bags:

baked by Anonymous

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday Morning Estate Sale

I Don't Know What to Say: Chafing Dishes Part II

It happened again. That out of body experience when I see sparkly chafing dishes for sale. It happened this morning at an estate sale.

I was actually fine until the person in charge announced that everything was half price.

As a result I also bought an ice crusher because it reminded me of my grandmother Mamaw. Mamaw and Papaw lived in an apartment they built above their dry cleaners (Vogue Cleaners) in Kingsville, Texas. Because my grandfather was an entrepreneur and a shopper, Mamaw had every appliance that she never wanted. She served her grandchildren sparkling burgundy (non-alcoholic) over crushed ice in colored aluminum glasses.

I couldn't resist the ice crusher and was fully prepared to pay for it (all of $3.50) when he said it was free. It really is all in the eye of the beholder.

My favorite- it actually has a hinged cover.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tree Trauma

Twenty years ago , when we moved into our house, I went a little crazy planting ficus trees. I was attracted to their willingness to grow for me- therein my choice.

In my inexperience, I planted them too close to the house and garage- all 9 of them.

They were lush and huge and full of glossy green leaves, towering over the top of our house; they were beautiful. They also provided wonderful shade in the summertime.

However, they were also buckling our concrete sidewalks , threatening our foundation, and dropping millions of leaves ,it seemed on a whim.

They are now all gone. I hired someone to remove them.

The resulting devastation is hard to bear.
Was it necessary? Yes. I certainly can't second guess that now.

Can I , with the help of people who are good at this type of thing, restore what has been lost?
The hopeful answer is yes, of course.

The drama queen in me worries that I have destroyed twenty years of TIME.

The practical side of me is taking deep breaths and planning workdays in the yard .

I pray for comparable 'ficus willingness'- to plant myself and to bloom where planted.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

We Are All Smart

On NPR radio this morning , guests were discussing if the new journalistic trend to grab readers' interest with lists of 'the best' songs, art, books, etc. has weakened real critical analysis of the arts.

I admit to reading the lists of books that celebrities have selected as their favorites in Oprah magazine each month. Oprah magazine is in itself a list.


All The Things Women My Age Worry About, Fear, or Regret and How To Erase Those Feelings. Good Luck With That.

Back to NPR radio and my drive down 23rd Street.

One of the Yahoo gurus , a guest on the program who apparently creates these lists, believes it is a way to relate to the masses, to engage the reader, the listener, the art observer and to move away from the opinions of the culturally/intellectually elite. (I am paraphrasing liberally.)

Example: I can apparently, according to my daughters, when I am unable to remember the titles of songs, look at celebrity songlists on ITunes to get ideas. My IPod can then be just like Justin Timberlake's. Fun for me- scary for him.

I see this as saying , I don't need to read, listen, observe to create my own opinions, I'll just borrow yours. And so I have, and I have enjoyed doing so.
This is my version of intellectual plagiarism.

The teacher in me, however, might call this Cliff Notes for the busy thinker.

I almost had a wreck when he explained his rationale.

There has been talk of late , criticism in fact, about the intellectually elite. In my English Language and Composition class , my AP students and I would have discussed the faulty reasoning, the fallacy in this type of argument/criticism.

At home, when I was growing up, we might have quite simply called this bad manners (as in not discussing someone's money, politics, religious beliefs, body size, age, or intelligence ).

I would have expected my AP students to identify the fallacy in criticizing someone's sense of his own intellect . The punchline created by this type of thinking is actually"I am not smart."

When we all are.
Today's world seems to promote the idea that there are no wrong answers, so we get a little irritated when people are supremely confident that their answer is right.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Do and Re-do

My first day of teaching, I remember being privately horrified at the realization that I would be repeating myself all day long. The horror abated , but the repetition did not.

It became a singular theme in my life, which took me back to the days of Pete and Re-Pete. Does anyone remember that nonsense?

This same feeling of repetition surfaces when one of my adult daughters says- "I thought we already talked about that..." As in deja vu all over again.

Or when we keep planting and re-planting grass in the back yard, watch it die, and then plant it again.

The list is endless but not always irritating. I love the repetition of liturgy in the Episocopal church. I am serenely satisfied with seeing the same faces over and over again on Sunday.

And although I do miss the finite/repetitious nature of grammar , I seemed to have abandoned ship and joined the world of writing with facial features : dashes and commas, long run-on sentences, excessive modifiers, gratuitous sentiment, and multiple fragments.

It reminds me of rhetorical bedazzling. It is very liberating.

I enjoyed being in the same classroom for years. I love rituals and traditions, particularly at Christmas. I like line dances and my early morning routine in making coffee in my Bunn coffeemaker (quicker is better).

I love the repetition of names and endearments , as in the name my oldest grandson gave me: Ma Do (pronunciation: as in she will do it).

I really love it that my youngest grandson- his little brother -shortened it to Do.

Do and Re-do.

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