It’s that time of year (my birthday approaching on Sunday) when I tend to spend some time contemplating what I’ve accomplished in the past 12 months compared to what I had hoped to get done.  I look at where I am/we are and where I expected I/we would be and plan for the coming year.  So I’ve been doing this. And I’m disappointed.

I’m not sure I’ve made any progress at all this year. We are no where near where I anticipated we would be as I got into my 2nd year of teaching.  We are certainly worse off financially due to no raise whatsoever to my meager salary thanks to the backward teacher evaluation system and increases in expenses – mainly health care costs and car insurance and having a child in college.

Things are falling apart faster than I can fix them – house, car, health – and I find that the endless grind of poverty at a time when I had thought/hoped/and assured the children we’d be doing better has depressed my spirits.  I am at the best of times a pragmatist and truly believe that has stood in my favor as I’ve confronted the various challenges of the past five and a half years.  I’m prone to saying “It is what it is.” and “you have to roll with the punches.” and likely to strongly counter anyone who spouts such Pollyannaisms as “It’s all good.” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Sometimes I’m a pessimistic pragmatist and sometimes, when I begin to identify with Sisyphus a bit too much, I’m quite negative.  That negativity is not just related to my own life and circumstances but also to the state of the world.  As someone who has worked in environmental sciences for the bulk of my career I am very aware of the inexorable decline in the health of the natural world and the breakneck speed with which we approach the tipping point in global warming.

I feel like we are on the Titanic and the iceberg is looming in front of us. If I did not have children I might just shrug and say we’ve brought it upon ourselves and I’ll be dead before the worst of it but I’m scared for my kids and deeply worried about their future. And sometimes I voice those fears. I comment upon the news and argue against the policy makers who have their heads in the sand or their eyes only on their pocketbook.  I read, daily and deeply, the scientific reports from NOAA and NASA and the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Center for Science Education and I talk about what I read.

And apparently I scare people.  Recently I discovered that my personal little gray cloud had begun to drown the very people I’m trying so hard to keep afloat – my kids.  My youngest daughter started saying things like “what difference does it make, we’re all going to die anyway, we might as well just be dead now.” I was taken aback and told her that while, yes we were all going to die eventually what counted was what we did with our lives before then (even while feeling a complete failure in that regard myself).  When her negativity persisted I questioned her – she’d been visiting friends when the terrorist attacks happened in Paris and I thought she’d seen disturbing news coverage. I was deeply chagrined and concerned when she explained that it wasn’t the news, it was my discussion of the global changes and challenges ahead that made her feel that way.  Arrgh. Another year of Bad Mommy awards.

I have to admit to feeling fairly hopeless about ever regaining the life I once had – the nice job with a nice salary and benefits, the nice home, the feeling of security and prosperity.  I cling to the hope, however, that my kids can rise above the poverty and privation we continue to experience, and that their experiences will breed resilience and determination and the ability to face hardships and overcome them.  But I am realizing that somehow I need to also give them hope and that I’m not sure how to do.  I do believe they have the capabilities – the intelligence and abilities – to do well in life and I do try to convince them of this but I need to find some way to mask my feelings about my own life. I am very isolated here and sometimes forget that children can’t really enter into the sort of intellectual debates that another adult could or understand all the variables in play. I wish they were all old enough to fly the nest to better times and their own adventures and successes. But they aren’t so I need to hang in there for another 6 and a half years at least.  Gotta keep rolling with the punches and keep my mouth shut.

Posted in depresssed, global warming, hopelessness, kids, poverty | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Note to Self – KISS

I left the house the other morning at a quarter to six as usual. It was dark and cold. I drove to the barn to toss some hay to the goats and feed the rabbit before heading to school. As I left the barn I noticed that one of my headlights was out. No problem, I could do this! Several months ago I had replaced a tail light and had, being both frugal and relatively flush, bought the two pack of light bulbs figuring if one light had gone out the other would likely go out before long.

So I retrieved the extra light from the glove compartment and popped open the hood. It was too dark to see much so I flipped on my flashlight app and propped my phone against part of the engine. I unplugged the old bulb and pried off the rubber gasket. The bulb was secured by a metal clip that I had to open in order to remove it. It wouldn’t open. I pinched and pulled and squeezed and wiggled. It wouldn’t open.

There had to be a trick. I grabbed the owner’s manual from the glove compartment and found the page of instructions on replacing headlights. I scanned the directions and confirmed that I was doing the right thing and returned to the front of the car. My phone had slipped sideways on the engine block and was pointed up at the sky as if it was rolling its eyes towards the heavens and wondering when we would be on the road.

I squeezed and wiggled and felt the skin on my thumb split open, but the clip didn’t budge. It was getting late and my ‘quick’ fix was turning out to be neither quick, nor a fix! Blood dropped onto the bulb but even this sacrifice wasn’t enough.

I gave up. I need the half hour I have at school before the students arrive and this “repair” had already halved it. I would have to chance a ticket. I pushed the gasket back over the bulb and plugged it back in. The light came on.

Somehow I had forgotten the first rule of electric and electronic parts. Unplug it and plug it back in. Turn it off and restart it. Keep it simple stupid.

I retrieved my cell phone, closed the hood, and with frozen fingers and a throbbing thumb climbed into the car and drove to school, both headlights lighting the way.

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No Miracle Worker

As a girl I read Helen Keller’s story. I was horrified by it on some level – the blind, deaf and mute child shut off from all real contact with her world, living an almost feral existence – but so inspired by Anne Sullivan. Not inspired to follow in her footsteps mind you – I never even considered it. That was too far above my abilities. I just thought she was the most amazing woman I’d ever read about. She had such patience and insight.

As a teacher I still don’t aspire to be Anne Sullivan which is a good thing because I just can’t reach students the way she reached Helen. I do try to inspire students to be intrigued and amazed by science and the world around them – that’s where my passion lies, but I struggle with making a difference in the lives of the kids who really need someone to do that.

Several weeks ago I told you about reaching out to one of my troubled students – a young lady who affected an “I don’t care” attitude, who had a short fuse and a rough manner, who put her friends ahead of everything and who was frequently led astray (or led others astray).  She confessed that reading was hard for her and I told her she could stay after school on tutoring days and bring any of her home work to my room and I’d go through it with her. It didn’t have to be science.

She hasn’t come.  She’s been in more trouble since then and was even suspended for a few days.  She’s behind in my class and has over due assignments.  She’s been kicked off choir and  was on the bench (outside the office) again this past week for fighting (someone dissed a friend of hers).

I keep trying. I let her know I missed her when she’s out of school (for whatever reason). I tell her I care about her and want her to make good life decisions (but her dad’s in prison and her brother has been in trouble as well). I have Pretty Lady like fantasies of taking her shopping and bonding over a pedicure and taking her on a tour of a college campus that end up with her seeing the light and turning her life around.  And I want to be there when she graduates high school.

We’ve been working on a big (bigger than I thought it would be) project on El Nino in my 8th grade classes – the kids have been researching El Nino’s impact on different areas (economics, weather, environment, and so forth) and creating a poster showing both global impacts and impacts here in the Midwest. It’s been a stretch for many of them – a lot of research, writing summaries, teasing out the impacts for our area which are frequently different from the global impacts (less snow, warmer temperatures for us), citing sources and adding illustrations. Several of the students have floundered and stumbled on one aspect or another.

Including this student. She missed several days of school, lost her work, forgot her iPad, spent time socializing rather than working. But on Friday she came to class, asked me to help her find some new articles (lost the other ones she’d been working on), and told me she was back on her ADD medicine. She thanked me for printing articles and sat down and wrote a summary of them. We work on various “Lifelines” at our school and manners was one of this month’s lifelines so I quickly wrote up a ticket for her (it goes in a bucket for a drawing) and passed it to her at the end of class. “Manners!” she said.  “If I win, I’ll die laughing!” “You won’t be the only one.” I said. “But go ahead – show them!” She grinned at me. “I will.” she said.

Do I think she’ll make only good choices from now on? No. She has a lot going against her. But she also has several teachers and counselors pulling for her and we won’t give up easily.

Posted in 2nd Career, school, teaching | Tagged , , | 7 Comments