Warm and fuzzy, rainbows and unicorns

On the way home yesterday, Mr. Geeky said, “I got into a fight with a colleague today.” I responded with, “Well, I got three hugs today.”. He said, “I shot someone’s unicorn.” Wait, what? He explained I’d headed into rainbows and unicorn land while he was dealing with reality.

Honestly, though, my colleagues rock! After our morning meeting several people needed help with various things. A new faculty member couldn’t log into email so I helped her, and meanwhile, got über psyched about using google docs, so that made me happy. Two other colleagues came to ask for help and a favor. When I agreed to the favor, one of them hugged me. Then, when I helped the other colleague a few minutes later, she hugged me.

And they’re all fun to talk to. They’re smart. They have great ideas. They make me think. We had our faculty-staff picnic yesterday, which everyone likes, because you get to hang around, chat with colleagues, meet their families, and eat good food. It’s a reminder that a) we’re in this together, but b) we have lives outside of school.

Reality will hit soon enough. No, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns all the time, but these moments happen often enough that it keeps me going through the tough spots.

Scenes from the first week

The first full week of school is done, and boy, has it been filled with surprises, good and bad.  I started the year off without permanent furniture in my classroom.  We ordered it late, and then it arrived later than we expected, yesterday, in fact.  I’m still working on arranging my classroom the way I want it.  It’s not quite there yet.  I’m also trying to come up with a way to improve the acoustics–it’s quite echo-y at the moment.  My worries about not knowing as much as my students has been abated.  My fear came from two places.  One, I’m still an inexperienced K-12 teacher.  Two, I have several students who have gone out and “learned” things in my field on their own.  I’ve realized that it’s like being an English teacher who’s not read a particular book than a student has, and not like an English teacher who’s never read a book.  I’ve also realized that while some of my students have indeed explored languages and environments that I haven’t doesn’t mean that they’ve fully grasped the underlying concepts.  In fact, I’ve found that the underlying concepts are often a bit fuzzy for them, so now I’m helping them get those more clearly so that whatever language they’re in, they know what a loop is and when and why to use it.

I started a middle school robotics club this year, and I have 20 students–20!  I have no idea how this is going to work out.  But, it’s going, and that’s the important thing.  I have a wide variety of students, which makes me pretty happy.  I kind of know what I’m doing this year, so even though I don’t know everything, I can usually figure things out quickly.  I also have help in the form of a volunteer who has done this a lot, for which I am truly grateful.  Just having an extra set of hands is great.  I’m also getting a lot of great support from colleagues and my administration, which is really wonderful.

I will be glad when I get past in-service day, which I’m coordinating.  Things are going well there, but it still worries me that something will not go well.  All I can say is that I’ve done what I can.  I’ve been as organized as I possibly can be and from here on out, things will flow however they will.

Next week, we’re away on our class trips.  I’m going camping again this year, and I think it’s going to be very fun.  Geeky Girl will be on the trip as well, and she’s really looking forward to it.

I have to tell you, even though there were some rocky moments at the beginning of the year, I still love my job.  Yes, I’m working ridiculously hard.  I have a lot on my plate, juggling many different hats, but I still feel fulfilled rather than drained at the end of the day.  I’m careful about my time.  I really do work mostly only at work and when I come home, I turn it off.  If I do do some work at home, it’s often because I want to, not because I have to.  I’m looking forward to a great year.


Picture I made for my goals article
Image via Wikipedia

Mr. Geeky started off our before-dinner conversation by asking what everyone’s goals were this year.  Everyone was a little goofy at first but then got more serious.  Our goals include focusing more on school/work before doing “fun” things, spending more time together, walking every day, and getting up on time.  We also set goals for each other, many of which were things we would set for ourselves.  It will be interesting to see if we stick to them.  But it definitely feels like we have some accountability.

This time last year, I was on the eve of a new job, and didn’t really know what to expect.  This year, I know most of the kids (except the new ones), and I have a good idea what things will be like on the first day.  As I told someone in a meeting, my goal for last year was to survive.  This year, I have specifics.  In general, I want to do a better job.  To that end, I’ve done a heck of a lot of preparation for my new class.  I’ve established a grading scheme for my middle school classes, and I’m planning to really assess the middle school curriculum after this year.  I talked to some people over the summer whose curriculum was similar to mine, but arranged slightly differently.  I think I’m going to do some rearranging next year, but it needs some thought first.

I also want to connect more to the girls in my homeroom.  I think this will be easier this year because I know all the kids.  It’s this part of the job that seems easiest on the surface, but is actually the most difficult.  Every kid is different; every group of kids has a different dynamic.  Figuring how to deal with all of that in a positive way is a real challenge.  But I find it to be an extraordinarily important part of my job.

Personally, I have lots of things I want to do this year–staying relatively healthy among them.  I’ve pledged to watch what I eat–mostly food, mostly green, less sugar.  And I’ll walk every day.  And I want to keep working on my programming skills–which are coming along quite nicely.  I spent a lot of the weekend working on a pet project that has pushed my skill limits.  But it’s been fun, and every day, I feel a little more confident about what I’m doing.

All in all, I think we’re ready for the year to begin. Bring it on!

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Holy Cow

I know it’s all going to be okay in the end, but shew, what a whirlwind these last days have been.  Meeting after meeting.  Email after email.  A classroom without furniture.  A growing to-do list.  How, oh, how, will it all get done?

But . . . I have 7 kids signed up already for a new club–and that’s without advertising.  I’ve had some very fruitful and good conversations with colleagues, all of whom have great ideas.  Those same colleagues have really stepped up to help with the in-service day that’s just over a month away now.  And yet another colleague who has helped me immensely with all my classroom issues.  I am getting her something as a thank you.

Tomorrow, I’m going in to finish off the must do list and then Geeky Girl and I are going on our annual girl shopping trip.  I hated, hated shopping with my mom.  The fact that Geeky Girl doesn’t yet is quite something.  I have a replacement phone coming this week (thank you, ebay).  And Mr. Geeky and I are spending (we hope) a relaxing evening in the city, eating good food.  A last hurrah because the school year really gets going.

Irene, Schmirene

Hurricane Irene turned out to be mostly a major inconvenience–at least for us.  Some areas nearby experienced severe flooding, but in general, it was mostly a prolonged thunderstorm–without the thunder even.  We lost power for about 14 hours, mostly through the middle of the night, and we risked losing everything in the fridge, but it seems to have survived.  Geeky Girl was worried, mostly because the news coverage was just so sensational.  I know to take that with a grain of salt, but she doesn’t quite get that yet.  She was especially concerned that the brunt of the storm was hitting us in the middle of the night.  Things seem scarier at night.

We had planned to go out Saturday to celebrate our 17 year anniversary, but we cancelled given that the mayor shut down public transit and was encouraging everyone to just stay home.  We worried there would be no place to go to celebrate.  So we’ll go this weekend instead.  Oh well.

A lot of school events got moved around or cancelled, which has just thrown some things into chaos during an already chaotic time.  I’ve spent my entire morning in email and on the phone coordinating a variety of events.  Tomorrow the meetings begin, and there’s still so much to do to get ready.  I was telling a colleague that I feel like I can’t really buckle down until I’m really in the thick of it.  She felt the same.  We were both soaking up our last free day.  Once everyone is around and the pressure is on to be ready that very first day, I know all the pieces will fall into place.  I’m as ready as I can be right now, sort of like preparing for Irene.

On the organization front

Inspired by Jackie’s post on cleaning out her closet, I did the same.  I also cleaned out my drawers.  I have my closet organized by type and color, and my drawers organized by shirts for work vs. shirts for play.  Not only can I clearly see what I have to wear, I now know what’s missing in my wardrobe.  So, when I go shopping soon, I won’t buy a bunch of random things.  Really, I only need a pair of khaki pants and a couple more decent shirts.  I’m a purger, so I regularly get rid of things that don’t fit or that I just don’t like anymore.  I purged a lot during this cleanout–things that were years old, stained, or otherwise not working for me.  I still have shoes and jewelry (which is a mess!) to go.

The biggest mess right now is our office–and because it’s shared, it requires buy-in from the other occupants to declutter. Mr. Geeky’s area–which is spreading–is a morass.  It’s a struggle to keep my own area from becoming that way.  Papers sort of magically appear there, books show up, random cables.  But this is the mind of the house–bills get paid here, doctors appointments are scheduled, etc.  Mr. Geeky claims he’s going to move up the one of the kid’s old rooms.  I may push a little harder for that. 🙂

The other organization issue I’m facing is, quite frankly, the phone.  Sigh.  I’m amazed by how much I used that thing to keep me on track.  I’m going to try in earnest to replace it.  I might try to get my old phone repaired, and I’m still on the lookout for a new one on ebay.  But I’m choking a bit on the cost.  We shall see.

In general, though, I feel like we’re getting off to a good start for the school year, and that we won’t be running around like crazy people on the first day of school.

Helicopter parenting, parenting mistakes

W flies home
Image by lorda via Flickr

Recently, I saw a couple of articles lamenting the helicopter parents.  I am anything but a helicopter parent, though sometimes I wish I had been at times.  There are things I look back on now, like the beginnings of Geeky Boy’s struggle with homework.  Work for both Mr. Geeky and I was too overwhelming for us to intervene much, except to ask whether it was done or not.  Perhaps I should have insisted someone be home when he got home.  Instead we checked in via home, and came home as early as possible.  I didn’t call teachers, though I did touch base with a counselor at one point to try to help Geeky Boy with organization.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that the habits we’re trying to break now were a result of our lack of intervening–either with Geeky Boy himself or with the school.

Some people have said to me, “just crack the whip, force him to buckle down.” Or some such severe discipline.  I sigh.  Been there. Doesn’t work.  Instead, we get a kid with an even bigger ball of stress to deal with.  And, frankly, he’s his own person.  There are some things that can’t be forced.  But we’re talking about it now.  I just wish we’d started sooner.

I don’t remember ever having to be told how to deal with school.  My parents were really laid back about everything to do with grades, etc.  When boys and alcohol caused my grades to plummet, they just assumed things were getting harder, especially math.  I lived the kind of life Samantha Bee writes about in the WSJ.  I came home, did my homework (which often only took about an hour), and then vegged in front of the tv.  Sometimes I read or wrote or called people on the phone (a landline even!).  But it was very leisurely.  And summer, aside from a two-week vacation, I spent most of it at the pool.  I did no academic camps or music camps or sports camps, though I did have a few friends who did.  I just wasted that good at sports, and music wasn’t my thing.  And yes, I was college bound and smart, but my parents didn’t try to groom me to be a NASA scientist.  I consider myself a late bloomer when it comes to figuring out what to do with my life, to finding something that I really like doing and that pays the bills to boot.  I keep that in mind when I see where Geeky Boy is.

Yes, some parents around here send their kids to academic camps at UPenn or Johns Hopkins or they’re in soccer camp or lacrosse camp or tennis camp.  Some kids are booked the whole summer.  We just don’t have the resources for that.  Yes, it’s been difficult keeping the kids busy.  We’ve gone to the pool.  I’ve encouraged reading and writing.  I’ve assigned chores.  But summer days are long, and there’s only so much structured activity anyone can do.  And while I may have my regrets, I’m not so sure my “cracking down” or scheduling more for the kids would have made them any better off.  I think all of us would have been a bit less happy (and certainly poorer).  And I think the payoff for some of those things is short term–it gets you into the. best. college.  Except when it doesn’t.  Only time will tell how things will turn out.  Which is kind of the sucky thing about parenting.  Feedback comes really slowly.

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Getting organized for the school year

We may have 3 weeks to go, but I’ve been getting the house and my routines in shape for the school year.  Following a modified version of FlyLady, I got the kitchen in shape this week.  I reorganized cabinets, throwing out old food.  I now know what I’ve got and can actually see it.  Also this week, I got rid of a pile of books by taking them to a used book store.  I walked out with a couple of books, but still netted about 15 or so gone.  I have more boxes to go to the store.  Today, I’m getting the finances in order.  Next week, I’m planning to start an exercise routine.  This week, I walked every day around 4:30 (which is roughly when I get home from work).  My morning routine in the past has been to get up, get coffee, wake up the kids, and sit and drink coffee and read the news for 1/2 hour.  I’m going to try to replace that with 1/2 hour of exercise.  Before coffee.    Also next week, I’ll tackle the next zone.  That’s going to get harder to do once school starts.  Right now, I spend 1/2 hour a day in the FlyLady zone of the week at a time of the day that’s convenient for me.  In three weeks, that time of the day may be after dinner.  Once I’ve gone through all the zones once, I think I’ll be in much better shape and can cut down the time in each zone.

The kids, too, will be getting into school mode.  We’ve decided on a 9 a.m. wakeup time next week, 8 a.m. the following week, and 7 a.m. the week after.  By the time they have to get up at 6 a.m., it won’t seem so bad.  We also have school supplies to buy and get organized.  I thought last year wasn’t too bad on the organization front, but I’d like to be even more organized this year, especially with Geeky Boy.  He’s going to need some serious external motivation to get into some good habits this year.  I’m crossing my fingers.

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I wasn’t sure what else to title this, except I might have added a *sigh* after it.  Geeky Boy, now well into his teen years and frankly, nearing independence is both a typical and atypical teen.  On the typical side, he sleeps late, plays way too many video games, and doesn’t pay too much attention to stuff.  On the atypical side, he enjoys being around adults, pays attention to and cares about politics, and is a vegetarian (for both health and political reasons).  He struggles in school, which drives me nuts, but which I also understand.  There’s a lot more pressure on kids these days, as least as far as I can tell.  I could pretty much coast through high school without much of a plan, and just wait to see what happened.  Now, kids who are smart, but without a plan–a 5 year plan at that–are an anomaly.  Geeky Boy and I just sat through a scheduling session with his high school principal.  He’s in all honors classes, though he did not do well last year.  So, the principal asked what he planned to do in two years when he graduated.  His response was a shrug.  So the next question was why honors classes?  Geeky Boy had a good response for that, saying that he enjoyed learning and being around others who also enjoyed learning.  He explained that he had taken a non-honors course in 8th grade and felt really out of place.  So the principal then asked what happened last year–why didn’t he do well.  Geeky Boy then admitted that he didn’t always do or turn in his homework.

The principal then talked to him about work ethic and about how many students in honors courses have a Plan and know where they’re going to college and what they’re interested in studying.  And while I get that, I also feel like it’s unfair to some extent.  Not every smart kid has a Plan, but they certainly don’t want to be shunted into lower-level classes just because they don’t have their life figured out yet.  I didn’t have my life figured out yet, and quite frankly, I’m often skeptical of kids who, at 16, know they’re going to be X when they grow up.  Life can throw you some curve balls. Geeky Boy has had some mental health issues that have hindered his ability to be motivated.  And, I think his time on the computer also hinders him, and we will be restricting that further.  Still, I do think junior year is a good time to really start focusing, and at least start to think about colleges and fields of study and career possibilities.  Geeky Boy gave some smart answers about work ethic, saying that he knew it was a personal issue of his and that he knew it would be important for college and for a career to be a diligent worker.  Note: I kept my mouth shut the whole time.

So I think it’s all to the good for Geeky Boy to be getting the message that he needs to work harder.  But I’m not sure about the message of “having a Plan.”  I’ve seen kids with a Plan burn out or want to shift gears but feel lost because it veers from the Plan.  And I’ve seen jobs in areas disappear.  It just seems like a lot of pressure to put on a 16 year old.  I’ve also heard counselors say things like “teens don’t know what they want to do when they grow up”.  So maybe kids get mixed messages.  And I have to say, it’s hard to be a parent under these conditions.  My kid is not self-motivated.  If I just let him go willy-nilly, he’d likely flunk out of school completely.  But pushing him too hard is also de-motivating.   There’s got to be a happy medium between forcing him to have a Plan, and just letting things fall where they may.  Sigh.  I’m starting to miss the terrible two’s.