IMAG2082Fall is here at last after a lingering summer. The trees glow in their autumn coats of gold, orange and red and the air is cool and damp with hints of the colder weather waiting in the wings. I love fall and regret that it is the shortest of seasons, with summer encroaching into September under the guise of days of Indian summer and winter shouldering in too soon, striping the trees of their leaves with fierce winds in November. It is the best time to walk in the woods leaves crunching underfoot or to enjoy the scent of hay piled up in the barn while you dig your fingers into the thick winter coats as you give your goats a scratch. It’s the time for soup and baking bread and digging out the wool socks. It’s the time to enjoy the delicious combination of crisp air and warm sun against your face as you rake leaves and prepare the garden for the winter months.

But because it is such a short season there’s never enough time to enjoy it! With the memory of last winter weighing on me I’ve made a list of things to do to prepare for this winter. First off is finishing adding skirting to the mobile home – at its last location it was backed into a hillside so some of the skirting that came with it is less than a foot tall and useless to us. We have a good 20-25 feet to fill in at this point. I’d like to get the porch back on the house – I had hoped to do that this week but it’s been very rainy. We need to order hay for winter feed and straw to line the goat stalls and place around the chicken coop (did I share that we have our own little flock now – housed in a converted shipping container) to insulate our farm animals. And we need gravel for the driveway so that we don’t get bogged down in mud/snow again! We have propane in the tank – enough for the beginning of winter anyway and despite the cool nights we are holding off on turning on the heat to better conserve it. “Layers!” I tell the kids, “Lots of layers!” They reply that they have no layers that still fit from last winter so shopping for warm clothing goes on the list too.

The Farmer’s Almanac says our winter will be colder than normal, with less precipitation but more snowfall and while leading meteorologists are not so pessimistic they hedge their bets saying it all depends on whether El Nino develops or not. I shall hope for the best and prepare for the worst (to the extent I can anyway). And while I scurry around like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter I will try to remember to pause and enjoy the cool breezes, beautiful leaves and the scent of wood smoke wafting down from the neighbor’s house.


Posted in cold, fall, fire, winter | Leave a comment

I don’t think I’m teaching them anything

The first 9 weeks of school are over and in one week it will be Fall Break!  And I’m ready for a break, I can tell you. After a surprisingly smooth start (given that I was hired the week before school began and had no supplies or curriculum) the honeymoon period wore off and we hit turbulence!  My easy going, laissez faire approach to classroom management – letting the students pick their seats and partners when working in small groups, expecting good behavior and their attention – really only worked with one class.  This stellar 7th grade group, 27 in all, arrive ready to work, engage with the material and each other in an appropriate fashion and seem to enjoy science.  They continue to make it worth while every day.

The other 5 classes – not so much.  I am discouraged and depressed by the students’ attitudes (“why do I have to learn science; I’m never going to use it”) and disruptive behavior. After a particularly bad day during which I seriously considered walking out to never return, new classroom rules were implemented and I followed through with immediate consequences when they were broken.  It hasn’t changed the behavior of the die hard problem group but their followers are somewhat less likely to go along with them now.  It also hasn’t changed my whiney class who irritate me almost as much as the insolent spit-ball throwing, do nothing football players.  “Why do we have to study the earth?  Nothing exciting ever happens there!” says one particularly whiney child.  I wish we could take a field trip to a volcano!

Part of the difficulty is that my school uses a canned science curriculum and as I teach both 7th and 8th grade science my lessons must stay in lock-step with the other teachers.  We use science kits shipped to us in big totes with all the worksheets and tests already made up.  The textbook sets out some very superficial ‘inquiry’ lessons and we use the materials in the kits.  I find the 7th grade lessons to be about 5th grade level and not terribly connected with real life.  For instance a soil map of the U.S. that has all of 4 different soils on it.  I diverged for a day and a half, showed a video on the work soils scientists do to map soils, and then we looked at soils on the web to find out the real soils at our school, the Grand Canyon, Diamond Head, Hawaii, and places in Alaska and Florida.  Likewise when soil conservation was merely a footnote in the book I created a scenario where we were farmers loosing soil from our fields and we learned that it takes 500 years to create an inch of soil and that while it is a renewable resource we are loosing it far too quickly.  We came up with some good ideas to save our fields.  And on Monday all the 7th graders are supposed to bring in a rock from home so we can apply the skills we (supposedly) learned from the lesson in the kit to identifying home grown rocks instead of rock shop specimens.

Regardless of what I do above and beyond the kits I run into the disinterest and disruption factor.  I spend way too much time on behavior issues.  I’m showing my age but I couldn’t imagine behaving the way some of these kids do when I was in school!  So many are rude, disrespectful, lazy and full of themselves. One cheated on the test (he was doing a retake in the hallway and smuggled his science notebook out under his shirt and was copying from it when I went to check on him) and was outraged when he got a zero.  Others are hyperactive and inattentive and cannot concentrate on their work at all.  One boy flings himself out of his seat constantly.  He got up to sharpen his pencil the other day, launched himself to slide on his stomach across the floor and smacked his head into the cabinet!  It’s unreal some days.

I am lucky that I have some very real support in the other teachers, particularly the other 8th grade teacher who is head of the science department.  We co-teach the last period of the day and I’m learning a lot from her – how to manage the class and that I need to lower my expectations of what the students can be expected to accomplish.  I’m up every day at 5, at school by 6:15 and home about 12 hours later.  I’m not always up to helping my own kids out with their homework by the time the day ends!

I’m looking forward to the break.  I hope to finish building the porch, get the homestead ready for the winter (it was down to 33 degrees last night), and do a little bit of knitting and reading as well as working on lesson plans.  I’m enjoying the cooler weather – I love fall – and am happy to report that we were able to afford to have the propane tank filled halfway so when the temperatures really drop we will be snug and cozy.

My kids are well and busy – choir, 4-H Junior Leaders, drama, spell bowl and the like.  We had to give up cub scouts unfortunately as my son couldn’t attend most events since a parent has to be present and I just don’t have time to go camping or spend a day at the shoot-a-ree! Next year he will be old enough for Boy Scouts and won’t need me to go along to everything.  We pulled out our winter clothes today and discovered that nearly everything we saved is already outgrown! We will have to do some serious shopping before it gets really cold.

Posted in 2nd Career, back to school, teaching | 12 Comments

Intangible Rewards

Teaching is not a lucrative profession.  I leave home at 5:30 AM and arrive home between 5:30 to 6:00 in the evening so it’s certainly a full-time job but even so the pay is so low that my kids are still eligible for free lunches at school.  This is something of an embarrassment, especially now that I see firsthand how the “free and reduced” population is spoken of by staff at school.  Whenever a conversation comes up about low scores or failing students you can be sure the “free and reduced” group will be held up as the culprit or excuse.  As in “Well, we have over 50% free and reduced, so what do you expect?”  The “free and reduced” kids are widely thought to come from “broken” homes with unemployed or under employed parents, many of whom haven’t “bettered” themselves.  I always feel uncomfortable during these conversations, especially as my colleagues don’t know that I could fit into some of their pigeonholes albeit as a square peg forced into a round hole.

We remain solidly in poverty despite my fulltime job.  Once taxes and benefits are deducted from my earnings I have just enough to pay for phone, utilities, car insurance, food and gas (this expense has increased with my daily commute to about $300 a month).  There’s little left to put aside in savings for the propane delivery, anticipated car repairs or other expenses.  I sometimes rethink my decision to take the teaching job instead of the consulting job but then I remind myself of the list of pros and cons I made (for instance having to repay my scholarship) and apply myself to frugal budgeting and just (still) hanging in there.  I’m unsure whether the part-time consulting job I was offered back in July (which was to start in October) is still going to go forward but it will be very helpful if it does!

In the meantime, as others in the profession do as well, I concentrate on the intangible rewards – those incandescent moments when a student ‘gets it’ and lights up in excitement.  Some days those moments are paltry and infrequent and the frustrations loom large and I leave school tired and depressed.  Today was a bit like that hence this less than cheery post!  Nevertheless as my readers know I am quite good a persevering through less than optimum conditions and even though I’m very new to the profession I’ve already learned how variable the days can be.  There will be more good ones ahead to keep me going.

Posted in back to school, depresssed, frugal living, teaching | 9 Comments