Saturday, April 20, 2013

No Safe Place?

The vibration began from a distance, as it made its way forcefully, fatefully from a source not yet known, and it passed through our house, while we sat watching Suburgatory, laughing and sprawled around our bedroom. It rattled our windows, then our house, and while startling, our first thoughts were of the thunderstorms we knew were to arrive. Still, it felt wrong almost immediately, and I moved to the front window to look out when there wasn't lightning and no rain on the street to be seen. Facebook revealed quickly the horrific news of the explosion in West, and the confirmation over time that the impact went 50 miles or more was unnerving and made me sad to the core.
This, of course, came after the Boston Marathon's terrible tragedy, and we had spent time reassuring of safety in our chosen, remote little cozy town. How we had purposefully been living in an insulated spot, with doors unlocked, in a town where murder and violence occurred so rarely that it seemed negligible, removed from our consciousness. The house shaking from a place where I had coached, stopped off at to grab kolaches, spent time exploring with my family the quaint streets, purchased a van from, had been struck viciously, irrevocably changing so many lives. Where can safety be found in this world?
I have felt much more keenly over the last few years a cautiousness, a carefulness toward my day to day approach, as my children have grown older and began their wandering further away, toward college, further down the street to walk the dog, toward relationships that might bring rejection or joy. We have a hesitation, Amy and I, when it comes to letting our kids go into some activities, some social situations, watch too mature television or movies, play games that are beyond their ages. Some of that is moral judgement, I hope, while some of it, a substantial amount, is a fear about their advancing too rapidly into the dangerous, unforgiving world too quickly. We have to balance that, certainly, with a stoking of the fire of resilience, of character, of integrity, of self reliance. Failure is an option, IF there is due diligence and full effort and focus of mind, body, and spirit. We want to raise tough yet empathetic kids who cry from sadness and pain, for themselves or others, but who dust themselves off, who aren't weak or vulnerable to every day life. We want them to live lives of optimism and hope, yet be aware of dangers and miseries and toil ahead.
In the time that I have been an educator, I have began to see an evolution toward mental health awareness, of help through therapies and medicines. There has been a growing education about suicide prevention, recognizing the signs of depression, an availability of services and institutions. I can't help but want to believe that this is a good and positive movement, but it gives me pause lately to think that encouraged willing fragility over resilience is winning out among too many of the students I have or know of, especially among our young men. Lately, there has seemed to be a prevalence of verbal or written threats made toward self-harm, harm of others, and some movement toward action that has taken hold. I believe firmly in the very precept of mental health assistance, but I can't help but hope that support, that heightened expectations, that care and love and belief will win out over base instincts of self-centeredness, self-pity, purposeful martyrdom.
One night this week I had a nightmare that Amy tells me was of a singular nature to her. I was traveling through a place at night that felt like a Gatlinburg, with tourist spots and uphill strolls, and then into a dark house. I bundled up for bed, but went into the kitchen, where we were staying, for a moment, and then heard Jamie cry out to me from a couch she was sleeping on, "There it is right there, Daddy!". Wanting to move quickly yet feeling constraints of the dream, feeling my feet heavy and a dread going down my back in prickly waves, I moved into what became something like our own living room, and I saw a moving shape, a dark shadow. I yelled to Jamie, "Where!" as it moved out of my vision. I steeled myself, growing angry, then yelled again, "WHERE ARE YOU?" louder and with a vibrato that felt stilted and a bravado that felt uncertain. Amy woke me by tapping rapidly on my back and said that I sounded like I was yelling from a long, long ways away. I didn't go back to sleep that night, feeling that shiver, slowly coming to the realization a simple fact: my subconscious fear that I couldn't protect my children every moment of my life was a reality. That I couldn't even see the dreadful apparition in its face, that it was a harmful spirit, a ghost felt certain.
Last night while Amy was gone out with friends and then onto her parents for a visit, I took the kids to Subway, let them stay up a bit playing games, tucked them in, shut down the house. (Though I didn't wander through the house for a normal drink in the dead of night.) Today, we enjoyed the breeze, went hunting for bows at Antique Alley, made plans to reward them for their report cards, got some hot wings, watched some Princess Bride. Soon, the house will be sleeping, and half are, while I write this.
Tomorrow, we will spend time getting ready for the week ahead, eat a family lunch, take a nap, let time take away pain and fear, moment by moment. I will be reassuring in my normalcy, in my demeanor, in my approach. I hope I will set an example of faith and calm that all will be well. I am more certain this week than the one before that I can't protect my children from challenges, from heartache, from pain, but I can try for as long as I can. I have to accept that while I can't protect them always from outer pain that I can help steel them to their core with strength, belief, will to stand strong when the moment comes when the fear, the doubt comes. I can't suggest that I have any magic formula more than those who got up to take part in the wonder that was the Boston Marathon or who simply went about their Wednesday in West, that I and mine are more deserving of safety or ease from pain. I can only hope for it for all, everywhere.
 And, some day, not quite today, hurtfully, I will have to grudgingly admit, that there is no completely safe place on Earth. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bill Cosby for the 21st Century

I had an epiphany the other night while watching TV Land. We did our normal MASH episodes to wind down, (and they have started over recently from the beginning), and Annie, my oldest girlie, came into our room and climbed into our bedroom recliner, as the Cosby Show followed up. She mentioned that the show had started to "grow on her", and she and I watched first an episode where Rudi got in trouble for trying to wear the wrong clothes for the season, and then Vanessa wasn't prepared for her first junior high science fair, playing it safe. I clicked the DVR info, and it detailed that the show was from the 80s. Cliff and Claire Huxtable dealt with their 5 children, then, with steady discipline, love, high expectations and blended into the mix great music, culture and a common sense vision of education. What came to me like a flash was that I was homesick for the Huxtable household.
In the last week and a half, I have dealt with an absentee mother with special needs children, as the youngest of the two brothers has become the "smelly" kid, wth clothes not washed and basic hygiene not observed. His mother's presence in their household had become more rare, as she had developed a relationship out of town, according to him, and his grades had collapsed, with his bewilderment growing. Another day brought a student who had scratches on his face, a black eye and a knot on his forehead, with a parent and a sibling attacking him on to the way to school, in the car. Fragility and a lack of direction has bedeviled so many this year, with parents simply sighing and signing over their children to homeschooling or the nearby alternative program, rather than staying the course toward success, which would require work and committment and every day grind.
With 4 perfectly imperfect children of my own, Amy and I strive to be involved parents in our kids' lives, their school work, their development as people, with morals and structure. It doesn't make me an expert, but I have developed some precepts that I want to follow, need to follow, and I hope on a daily basis I might see from the parents of the children at MHS.
Don't let your kid become the smelly kid.
Being messy and disheveled is a natural part of high school for a lot of kids, but there is a line crossed, when clothes aren't clean, showers aren't taken, and basic care of normal facial issues is let go, for more than a day. The scorn that kids face in close quarters leads to loneliness, detachment, subconscious shame. Make them shower, check their clothers, buy them Stridex, Axe, Sure, toothbrushes, razors. Don't assume they know how or when to use any of the above.
Spy on them like you work for the CIA.
Respect for growth and independence is certainly a part of good parenting, but kids ARE up to things, on more than one occasion. Monitoring Facebook, checking texts, studying the history on websites, smelling clothes, checking cars, should be a fundamental threat or normal expectation. Knowing where they are, who their friends are, the time they come in, is concern not nosiness. I am constantly amazed at the disconnect between families. Or the lack of responsbility. The school connecton? It comes to school with them, without fail.
Let them fall short, disappoint, feel pain.
If a student doesn't turn in projects on time, doesn't study for tests, doesn't turn in homework, they deserve to fail. They DESERVE to fail, and it is their fault. This was avoidable, if they checked Blackboard, went on PowerSchool, sat in the front of the room, made flashcards, asked questions, studied with friends. They don't need you to attack teachers, buy them a new car, look the other way on curfews, hold their hand when the latest bad report card comes in, poo-pooing the bad away. They need resolve, resilience, responsbility. Hold them accountable, while making sure they have they folder they need, that they turn in notes and go to tutoring when they are absent, that they pay for summer school.
Go to meetings with pen and paper and questions.
There are many opportunities to get information about what is going on at school and to help plan for the future at MHS. Tonight, there is a meeting about newest trends in drug use. Coming up after Spring Break, we host a night called, "Ready, Set, Apply!" for juniors and their parents. We invite parents to come in for scheduling conferences. There is Project Graduation that is about activities for seniors throughout their final year. College fairs, FAFSA night, requested conferences with teachers and counselors and principals, ARDs, 504 meetings, all need and deserve your presence.
Love them all the way to the end of the show.
They spun Denise off to Hillman College, because Lisa Bonet became difficult, then they brought her back when "A Different World' lived without her, Theo was diagnosed with dysleksia but became a teacher, Rudi stopped being cute, so they brought in a precocious clone, as things evolved on The Cosby Show. A consistent standard was love, accountability, musical numbers on anniversaries, growth. Hanging in there through tough times, through sullen non-communication, through heartache will pay off, in the end, and they will pass it onto their children.
There is so much to learn from the Cosbys, and I hope that I always strive to be like Cliff. I do have a starter set of colorful sweaters. I need to brush up on my jazz.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Scheduling for Success? Plan On It.

I am a big believer in planning, in the moment, for things that are coming up in the near future. I like making agendas for vacations to, say, Austin, where the bats will be seen one night, Amy's Ice Cream will be another, and there will be a long walk through the Capitol grounds on the color coded agenda. It drives my Amy to distraction, as she prefers to fly by the seat of our proverbial pants, going to and fro, with the wind.  This is also true for me, to some extent, as I face with dread planning too far in advance,  whether it is getting ready for Christmas or sweating the details of a home repair, (of which there are many to choose from on a regular basis.)
In the Counseling Center, this translates into a high interest for me for the next day's events of presenting in classrooms, doing a workshop that night, or gearing up physically for one of the 97 days of testing that looms. Not so much do I enjoy the meetings about the meeting, the staffing before the meeting for the future meeting, nor do I enjoy trainings which often have to consist of  a Powerpoint, with a handout in my hand that look awfully like the Powerpoint, if the preparation is for a time beyond the length of the program guide of my DVR, which is about a week. I try to stay interested, and I do make notes, which often become "to-do" list about other things, but I do have a noticeable glaze, I have been told, after a period of time. I think the rule applies that I can stay focused for my age, approximately, which is the downhill side of 40, but not always. So, this takes me to the current task that I am finishing today: scheduling my "Rising Seniors" for their final year at MHS. The challenge has been to stay enthralled, interested, supportive of goals that are not just for next year but the years beyond.  I hope that I have succeeded, and I think I have, largely, but there is a grind to the last few days that has given me pause and given me impetus to reflect.
It starts in January, this scheduling process of ours, with planning and meetings about the process, the materials to be given, the process that the information should be made available. We have gone over academic planners for weeks, made the decision to put them online for the first time, and we discuss to the last minute what new classes are to be offered, if any. All counselors print out their students who are on pace to graduate within the next year, and then an appointment book is filled, with consideration given to when we call for students, focusing on "non-core" classes to take students out of, if possible, which can irk the electives teachers to no end. Every student's parents get invited to the scheduling conference, which is meant to be 20 minutes long, and letters are sent in the mail home. We give notice on Facebook, our website, Twitter, and we announce the looming moments.
Backtracking for a moment, we have teachers show a Powerpoint of the process with applications needed for classes to be collected by them, give all students a course selection sheet and a transcript. There is a CATE (Career and Technology Education) Expo, with the classes offered on two days, and then at the end of the week, we have a "Registration Relay" with students going through the day, getting recommendations from their core teachers, turning in applications for classes like Ag Power Systems or Partner PE, and then at the end of the day, we gather those from the teachers and sort them. This involved about 1, 600 forms this year.
Monday morning, we start the process with a bang, with parents in tow, often, as I think that the letter of invitation often gives them a chance to get information from the non-communicative strangers that live in their house that they wouldn't get otherwise. The bang comes when there are fireworks between student and parent over grades, lack of effort, or general sullen behavior, with my office a perfect forum to vent. I think it must be the soothing blue on my wall or maybe it is the Kirby Puckett framed picture or maybe my understanding countenance. Or maybe, it is that they are actually sitting next to each other for the first time in a long time, without hot wings in front of them.  Questions abound, and the student actually gets quieter and quieter, as the parent takes the reins. I try to redirect answers to the student, but this doesn't always get a response, other than a study of the fingernail that seems to have just gone astray.
There is sometimes simply confirmation of the right path, community service hours owed or not, a quick glance at the transcript, and a sharing of future destinations, if the student is alone.  I try not to rush, and this is a time when I find out about a job they have, their position in soccer, or how their grandmother is doing.  This is what I live for and actually took classes for, the art of communicating and trying to develop relationships. Then, the phone gives a signal ring that I have another appointment arrived, and I have to scurry.
The last part of the process is giving out information about testing, college visits, websites to go to, college fairs to come and a "Rising Senior" night to publicize. I have our home page pulled up, our Facebook page open, Big Future from College Board to show. I have a stack of forms, and I try to go over each one, while the student is easing out the door, sometimes. In one case, I had a student refuse to stay beyond the bell, as they didn't want to miss math. (!)
Quite often, there is mutual appreciation for time, and a chance to give praise and congratulations for success. I commiserate with a softball player whose tournament was rained out. I get thanked by a grandmother, who didn't seem appreciative in front of their grandson for my bewildered anger over an attitude toward Geometry, but waited for him to leave, so she would stay the "good cop".  I have phone calls to follow up or a visit from a kid ranked 507th who wants to take AP classes because he knows he will "try this time." It becomes a bit overwhelming, and I have called for kids the wrong time a couple of times. I have had to follow up with a rescheduled appointment on the fly more than once.
In their mind, they have a clear path planned out, they are optimistic about their schedule being perfect, and they are bubbling with energy and raring to go at that moment. I worry about the next appointment, the next test to give, and I know this for a fact: it will start all over again this time next year. The feeling of  semi-dread can do havoc on the mind and body.
But, today, I am thinking there are only 10 more school days until Spring Break. We are going to see Muse in concert, and the kids are going to a camp. I need to get to work planning big moments to come.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

So, As I Was Starting To Say...Here's Some Wishes!

My original intention was to get specific, wax poetic, become eloquent, if I could, about some specific wishes, and I was carried away with a song in my heart.  Here are some wishes for you that I wanted to pass along that are more straightforward.. As I move into my 6th year of counseling and 23rd year of education, I have learned some hard lessons and had some epiphanies that have helped me survive and some days even thrive.
May you have more joy than pain.
Every year, without exception, there have been wonderful moments of students making it to graduation, getting into the college of their dreams, scholarships being awarded, test scores through the roof after much hard work, smiles of satisfaction on once hesitant or unsure faces, and the awesome march forward from freshman to senior, with so many changes taking place. I have gotten to be around lots of butterflies coming out of the cocoon. The vast majority of my students go onto good things, grand times, and their high school experience is one of achievement and safety. Some days, however, all seems bleak, as a student is found to have cancer, is struggling with divorce, tragic, shattering loss of a loved one, has had to move again to a new place, one step ahead of collection agencies. That they can sit upright, much less get through a day of high expectations is daunting to them, and it is our job to bolster, to strengthen, to intervene. I hope the balance of your day is much more on the positive side. The negative takes so much more juice. Of course, it is so much more important, ultimately, to help students face.
May you find diversion during the course of your day that lifts you.
One of the great fascinations of this job for me has been that no matter how brief, to "consult", kibbitz, gossip, mull over student affairs, the weekend, the kid's game the night before, gives me a boost of confidence and energy. There is laughter loud enough to be heard 100 feet away in our lounge during lunch. Netflix has been turned on during lunch, I will admit, and 5 minutes of Words with Friends can get me invigorated.  Wandering down the hall can be constructive with conversations with teachers and students, and I can breathe better outside the cave, some days. Sometimes, I just go to the door near the back of our offices and stare at the sky for a moment. There has been construction on a seniors' village across the way for the last six months that I have stared at until I have to pull away.
May you find reserves of strength you need to stay true to your calling.
There were approximately 40 days of testing last year at MHS, and there were weeks and weeks of scheduling, then fixing scheduling, then guidance to talk about scheduling, with paperwork about scheduling. It is very easy to start to get a mentality of just grinding out your day, but the problem with that is that your job, what you were trained for, is to talk to students, to offer counseling, to be able to stand in the gap. I wish for you the ability to face with full energy the needs of your students, when they are hurting and lost, even if there is another test to give, another box to pack. To be in the moment with every single student is a very tough thing to do, and then do again and then again.
May you feel satisfied at the end of a long day.
My mom taught 2nd grade for over 20 plus years, starting in education, when I had begun school, as the last of her three boys, and there were two things that struck me every year about tangible things that she gathered from her job, besides sheer accomplishment: presents from her students at Christmas and the end of the year, with "love you" notes along the way and class photos taken at the end, that she has to this day, on the walls of her garage, that she sees going to and from her car. My mom has always been an education hero, along with being a regular hero, and I know that she has memories of every student that she taught. One of the adjustments for me has been that I may have 480 plus students in a year, with an ebb and flow, an in and out, and I can't possibly know that I have made a difference in all their lives on a daily basis. In fact, we have actually commiserated that at least we didn't "screw that one up" as a measure. This can leave me lost feeling, and it can be very frustrating to just not know what happens to all my students. I hope that you can find victories, gain toeholds. see some real results, know that you have fought your hardest, done your best, gone the distance.
May all your dreams come true.
Whatever your highest goals, your most heartfelt desires for this year might be, I hope that they all come true for you. That you feel a peace, a fulfillment, a strengthened resolve to move forward to do this very important, very misunderstood job year after year with grace and fortitude. And, that you have a great time doing it, with laughter at lunch and a cold beverage now and again. I'll buy!

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Wish For You, Counselors.

I grew up on the Eagles, the Beatles, lots of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I even went through a time of some Sheena Easton and Def Leppard in the college years, but I always avoided country music like it was a bill collector, until the last 10 years or so, as marriage and kids and then my leaving the coaching ranks for the counselor chair took hold of my fiber, pulling me back to my smalltown, work--a-day roots. I started liking a little twang, but I refused to buy a pair of boots.
One windy night toward  the end of May, as I stood on the football field after an emotional graduation ceremony, my first as a counselor, as the lights went out, and fireworks started to go off, I heard the beginnings of a song called My Wish, which I recognized as being by Rascal Flatts. I was finally, unequivocally captured, as I watched seniors in the darkened stadium dance, heard them laugh, run like kindergartners, their robes flapping behind them, as the music played over the loudspeakers with a backdrop of flares and explosions.
A natural evolution was to develop some Dierks Bentley fondness, some Brad Paisley affinity, go back and grab some George, some Clint Black, throw in some Martina McBride, and I had something going on during the long drive from Mesquite to Grandview, while I was finishing my Master's. And, of course, I deepened by knowledge and appreciation of Rascal Flatts, with Amy even buying me a CD that I played to death, with "Why Wait" and "I Will Stand By You" blaring on the way to work many mornings, when I was a little tired and needed some energy and some deep crooning to make sure my voice worked well enough to talk to kids during presentations. I didn't care if anyone saw me emote, either, as I crossed the bridge to make the final run to school.
So, this March, when I saw the Flatts advertised for a trip to Dallas, I snatched up the idea of two tickets for our anniversary celebration in July. A bonus would be special guests Little Big Town, as most of my kids know Boondocks, front and back, and some other guests, which turned out to be Eden's Edge and Thompson Square, and we laid a blanket out on a not-too-hot night and settled in for a great night, although I did find out sadly that Shiner was considered an "export" beer. We made it through the first three groups, with Amy claiming I had developed a little crush on the poufy haired blonde from LBT, but I was really focused on getting to Joe Don and the boys. Things started promisingly, with some Banjo, and then there wa a turn of events that made me go meh. A part of their concert was to have audience members shout out songs, and they did a minute and a half rendition of them. I was a bit off when they zoomed through Mayberry, as Andy Griffin had just died, but then when they made short work of My Wish, I felt myself have some mild but real disappointment.We enjoyed every bit of the remainder of the show, including the encore of Boston's Foreplay/Long Time, which I want to be played at my funeral. Still, I felt the pull of listening to the full song, and I did that on Spotify the next week, along with full versions of about 40 other songs until I was full.
With, that said, it brings me to where I wanted to go, as I believe country music has become fully part of my texture as a counselor and speaks to all of us, with its makeup of great laughter, heartfelt sadness, appreciation for little things on a grand scale, and occasionally a good drinking moment reflected in me from the inside out. I mean, the Beastie Boys still do it for me, and I know the words to some Gotye, but country speaks to me on our level.  And, so, as we get started, I wanted to extend best regard, wishes, to all of you who labor as counselors, in the elementaries with their hugs and pictures that proclaim their love for you, in the intermediates and middle schools where they start to feel great love for their BFFs and their first real crushes, to the high school level, where hormones and testosterone can turn on a dime, and there is such great capacity for joy and pain. I don't want you to feel the slightest bit cheated, so here is the full song, and I hope it speaks to you. I am available for vocalizing this, given time, but you will have to ride wiht me early in the morning on say, a Tuesday, to get the full effect. Here's to you!
I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow And each road leads you where you want to go And if you're faced with the choice and you have to choose I hope you choose the one that means the most to you
And if one door opens to another door closed I hope you keep on walkin' ‘til you find the window If it's cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile But more than anything, more than anything
My wish for you Is that this life becomes all that you want it to Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small You never need to carry more than you can hold
And while you're out there gettin' where you're gettin' to I hope you know somebody loves you And wants the same things too Yeah, this is my wish
I hope you never look back but you never forget All the ones who love you and the place you left I hope you always forgive and you never regret And you help somebody every chance you get
Oh, you'd find God's grace in every mistake And always give more than you take But more than anything, yeah more than anything
My wish for you Is that this life becomes all that you want it to Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small You never need to carry more than you can hold
And while you're out there gettin' where you're gettin' to I hope you know somebody loves you And wants the same things too Yeah, this is my wish, yeah yeah
My wish for you Is that this life becomes all that you want it to Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small You never need to carry more than you can hold
And while you're out there gettin' where you're gettin' to I hope you know somebody loves you And wants the same things too Yeah, this is my wish (My wish for you)
This is my wish (My wish for you) I hope you know somebody loves you (My wish for you) May all your dreams stay big (My wish for you)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tomorrow's Another Day, So Bring On The Rain?

I had a moment of sheer, relaxed happiness on Friday, our day off, and for many Good Friday.  Amy and I were driving down the road on our way to see The Hunger Games, and it just hit me that life was pretty good. This was a too rare moment, so I decided to trace it back, so that I could know its roots and hope for a continuous replication of it.
I factored in the sunlight and the nap I had, and that Amy and I had unwinded with some reality TV and some Draw Something, and that the kids weren't fighting too much. This certainly played a part in how I felt, and it was something I cherished, but I decided it was something more, upon analysis. It began and ended with school and a test called the STAAR.
At one point, we received an e-mail that our insurance rates were going up again next year, and I believe that we will more than likely have a pay freeze again, and this was disconcerting and discouraging. Then, on Wednesday, my turn came to go to one of our middle schools to talk to our 8th graders, our future Panthers, about next year's schedule. My presentation was preceded by a quick reminder by the wonderful English teacher about the Hunger Games' day that they were having the next day, where they could commemorate the book with costumes and hair. Their excitement was great to see and refreshing, and it peeled some of the cynicism away. Their questions as the presentation went on about credits and classes were on-point and funny and probing. I left feeling refreshed and good about the day.
Thursday brought a combination of ups and downs, with a sad meeting with a parent and a senior who wasn't going to make it this time around, but then, as she was leaving, cursing life and probably me, in strolled a senior, on her second senior year with one evasive credit to complete, and she announced that she had finished. This, after a myriad of personal issues, academic struggles, and more than one court appearance that she had faced, with nudging, teacher support, parent contacts, she made it. (I went to pat her on the back, but she winced, as she had just had her "6th tattoo" and it was still tender.) Euphoria for her and relief and happiness for me. It felt like the end of an uphill climb, with a great view at the top, but with tired legs and a crick in the back. Still, I smiled and did the finish line hands when noone was looking.
And, then on Friday afternoon, with the first STAAR tests under our belt at the HS, I qualified through Pearson's to grade the 4th graders, and we have some needed money coming in this month. A quiet, good, solid moment.
My youngest daughter wanted to know what the literal meaning of Easter was today. I looked it up for her, while relaying the Christian meaning of resurrection of Jesus, but I also found this meaning, and I found it appropriate to describe my feeling, as it originated from easterly, to describe when the sun comes up.
This was the song that Amy played for me, as we drove.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

EOC Thrilling? SOL, So Far.

It's been two months since my last post, and events of historic and magnificent consequence have taken place during that time in the state of Texas and our forward thinking education system, as we have introduced a new test. (This is the part where I hope the sarcasm shines subtly through.)
The EOC, also know as the End of Course exam, also know as the STAAR, State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, has formally arrived this week at my high school, and in my children's elementary , and it has been less than earth-shaking so far. Wait for it...until results come back some time in May. Then, as they say, the fit may hit the shan. I hope not to get any on me.
Now, as I think that there is an outside perception of the different tests and what is done to prepare for them, the proverbial "teaching to the test", I can speak to that and many other components of this experience so far.
With 500 MILLION dollars in mind, school districts have been compelled by the state to go to their service centers, trek to Austin, to gain insight, figure out specifics and generalities for many months. Conflicting info has been a constant, differing opinions have flown around about the impact of the tests on  Texas school children, with a final delay of the inevitable, for at least a year, by the TEA Commissioner, once the howling finally got loud enough that there were too many questions left unanswered. In the meantime, teachers and administrators have been sharing the mantra this test would be "much, much harder" than the TAKS, thus raising the anxiety level to new notches. There have been prep sessions and daily reminders for weeks and weeks in my district.
As we drew closer, there were required trainings given by our testing coordinator, with the help of her loyal counselors, as the fine details of the "new" answer documents were pored over, with my belief that they looked very similar. One big difference was noted in that the new tests would have 4 hour time limits, as the TAKS has been a school-day long window of opportunity for students to sleep, look out the window, reflect, scratch their watch and wind their butt, take a break and eat, and delay going onto class. This has taken on heroic proportions in my years of observation. GONE is the chance to make it more of an operatic ordeal, and this is relieving, somewhat.
When the tests arrived, they were unloaded into a secure room, before being taken and placed into testing boxes by Harriette and LaDon and other counselors, (but not me, as I hate that stuff) which I would equate to paper crates with handles, along with pencils, required signs and paperwork, extra clocks, bathroom passes. This is done in conjunction with room assignments and teacher assignments, which in some districts can be nightmarish, as space is an issue, with appropriate desks and failure of educators to be available and reliable. Ours is a smooth and non-problematic assigning, as I honestly believe we have 99% of our teachers in a "seasoned" status, when it comes to testing. You always have the crank who doesn't like the makeup of their class roster, and there has been the odd ball who doesn't like a student using their faculty restroom, as the hallways we test in requires a cloistering, but people show up and they know how to conduct themselves.
Rosters are placed where students can see them a few days ahead of time, and those students who must be moved are given notice, but both groups seem to have memory losses on a regular basis, so we are around to send them the right direction, which may require a hike for some to the other side of the campus, so there is grumbling. This year we used our math and science wings to give the test to this first group of guinea pigs, uh, freshmen, and there was AC issues and some noise from surrounding classrooms, but no real problems with meltdowns or misbehavior, with the exception of a group of students taking an alternate test, which they weren't happy about, as is the norm for that grouping.
Then, onto the test! There is a lot of hurrying and waiting, and this year felt very similar to me, in that the pacing felt like TAKS, the bathroom breaks seemed like TAKS, and students finished at a normal pace. We all started from the loudspeaker, took at break at the same time for pizza and Subway, and we finished on the dot, with a 4 hour test window.  Students mentioned to me that it was easy and breezy, but we will see. Teachers took their tests to turn in one day, picked them up the next day, then we were done with the regular tests, with "field tests" given to a group, ESL tests to others, and one lucky young man got to take his English II test, as he was a year ahead of his class. (Only 9 students out of approximately 600 missed taking test, which will be made up this summer.)
Tests are gone over and bubbled appropriately, packaged in groups of 25, then placed in boxes for send off, with a hauling over to the admin to come. Sighs of relief will commence.
So, ultimately, has the world changed with this new test? Sadly, no, as there was a flow in the same river toward "accountability" with the advent of the STAAR. Other factors regarding true learning will remain secondary, regardless of NCLB being weakened.  Districts will be labeled starting year after next, students will graduate or not, as it is with the TAKS, and the waiting can begin...for the next acronym.