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Proud Moment

During my prep today, I took my usual walk down to the office to check my box for anything of significance.  Inside my box was the January 28th edition of Duck’s Illustrated Magazine, held open to an article about the Oregon’s  Women’s basketball team losing four games in a row .  At first, I was slightly baffled.  I’m not a huge fan of basketball, I’ve have  been known to play a little basketball or even go to a basketball game or two, but not overly interested enough to read an article about it… at least until I read the byline.

One of my students, Kyle, who had graduated last year, was the author of the article.  I poured over the article and then passed it around to the different teachers that I know had stock in Kyle.  The article received a lot of excited reactions, from me especially.  In no way am I saying I played any part in his good writing or getting to  see him working in the field he has always aimed for–I’m merely proud enough to say, “Hey, I know that guy!”

we’ve been gifted this island, we’ve been gifted this day

As of tomorrow,  five years ago, I stumbled into, accidentally found and blindly wandered into where I belong.  Absurd as it may be to find delight in marking a half a decade at a job, there are some sappy feelings and a whole lot of gratitude to be spread around for where I am now, which is exactly where I started five years ago.

Cottage_Grove_HouseFive years ago, and a couple of weeks, I was a term into my second masters degree.  I had completed my teaching program and had decided to continue into Special Education for one and a half reasons.  Half reason: I was interested in the topic.  Whole reason: I wanted to wait a year for Jess to finish her grad program.  Lucky that I did so.

I was called in to the  office of the director of my previous teaching program.  She had been in contact with someone from a Cottage Grove High School because they were looking for a replacement for a Special Education teacher who was unexpectedly leaving after one term.  My name was thrown around by the program director because she knew I was interested in the field.  With my permission, my name and number was passed off to the district.

A day later, my phone rings, the director of Special Education is calling to talk with me about the position.  I’m brutally honest with her, SPED is not the area I want to teach, I won’t have my SPED teaching license, and I’m a full-time grad student who’s not even really looking for a job. Understandingly, she says she understands each of my comments but still suggests, “Well, just come down and see the school.”  Reluctantly, I agree and day or two later, I drive down to Cottage Grove.

Their new high school is big and beautiful, having been built but a couple of years earlier.   I’m shown around the school, meet some of the teachers, the principal and the SPED department head, who I think already didn’t like me.  Walking back to the front door, the director of Special Education asks me what I think, I reiterate all of my previous concerns covering my lack of interest and credentials.  Even more so now, she is very understanding, nodding with each expressed concern; yet, she doesn’t hesitate a half of a breath after my concerns to say, “Well, you should just apply, there’s not commitment.”

Reluctantly, I take the application and head back to Eugene. A day after my application was submitted, I am called by the principal of the high school, asking me to come and interview for the position that I don’t want, I don’t feel qualified for, and don’t feel ready for.  I reel out all of my concerns to this new sympathetic ear, he completely understands, saying that it’s only an interview, not a commitment.  Reluctantly, I schedule an interview for five in the evening for the next day.

Up until this point, I had interviewed for multiple jobs before, yet none of them had been in the field I was actually aiming for.  I figured that since this was my first, big time education interview, I was going to be slammed with questions over pedagogy, behavior management, my understanding of Special Education… and I was questioned over all of this, however, what was unexpected was the stories and laughter that took place during the interview from my interviewers.  Even though this was my first ‘dry-cleaned shirt and tie’ interview, it was the most relaxed, most comfortable interview I had ever been through.  My interview to be a bag-boy at a supermarket had been more tense; my interview to be a resident assistant  was more grueling.

After a round of shaking hands, I was on my way home to think over the interview–with the feeling that I was probably the least qualified applicant and that this had been a good practice interview.  I knew that in a couple of days, the phone would ring and the official, understanding voice would say, “Thanks for applying, but…”

The phone definitely rang in two days, as expected, the voice said, “Thanks for applying…” however I was only half right with my guess,  “…we’d like to offer you the position.” Awkward long pause.

“Really?”  Was my response, second-guessing their decision making skills.  I was assured that they had called the right applicant.  I nervously asked fora day to think about it, which I was granted.  I talked to many people, but the phrase that sat on top of my head that night and the next half day was my dad’s, “step out of your comfort zone, try something that’s not completely safe to you, something that may be hard.”

Around lunch time, I called the director of Special Education.  Red-faced, nervous and slightly nauseous, I told her that I would be happy to accept the position.

Three days before the second term was to begin, I met the guy who had just previously held my position.  I was regaled with stories of  horrendous kids, a miserable job, and a promised urge to be in this position for no more than a year, two at absolutely max.  Not the reinforcement I had been seeking for my half-confident decision.

And the job was hard… at least initially.  The previous teacher was right, there were bad attitudes, student’s that wouldn’t trust me, challenged me, and were intentionally upsetting the balance of the class.  All this and I was still a full-time student, teaching all day and in class at night.  However, I found out that these behaviors from the students weren’t their doing, it had been the teacher.  He had been so callous, so empty with the kids that they hated him, hated anyone that was in his place.

Through the remainder of that year, intentionally or unintentionally, I had reversed that shock wave of a bitter teacher and the rest leads to where I am right now. Cottage Grove, unbeknown to be, drew me in.

Within the following year, Jess and I bought a house in the tiny little town.  She was hired on at one of the elementary schools.  We started to make good friends.  The Grove had sent out its tentacles  and reeled us in. For me, Cottage Grove feels as though the red hot summer days of my early years.  The glint and mist that Woodburn used to have for me.  The comfort, the roamable comfort of a town that knows you and compliments the notches of your own puzzle piece, nuzzled within it.  The streets match your feet, the city limits, gently, are just at the furthest tips of your longest fingers, stretched out at the end of your arms.

Slowly, the high school morphed from this giant building where I was a singularity, to where I go to work with friends.  Where I feel a certain love and kinship with my colleagues.  The students are the source of my good, bad, and best days.  It’s an ebb and flow.  Is every day those white-boarded wonderful days of educational and teaching bliss?  No.  Some days are hard, some days grip hard upon the minute hand around the clock.

But every day is rewarding.

More often are the days that I come home in a better space than I left home in.   Most days have their personal bests and moments of all of these connections. But every day has its reward.

Without reluctance, I would like to thank little Cottage Grove.  Thanks for letting me fall into your grace, into a job I love, into a place I belong.  Thank you for the people, students, adults, the barely known faces and names, those I see every day that make it The Grove, welcoming and anointed me as a Grover.

As accidentally as I arrived, it is with much intention that I stay here.

Summer Summary

Well, yes, it has been a dreadfully long time since I last posted… but, like many of my students, I have a good excuse.  I was too busy. No, seriously, I mean it.  Things shifted into full gear during spring term.  Not only did football morning weights start back up but I also agreed to teach PRIDE after school.  PRIDE is a credit recovery option for students who are credit defeciant.  I taught two sessions, from 3:30 until 5:00.  So most days, I was at the school by 6:45 in the morning for weights, taught from 8:10 until 3:00, and then taught Pride until 5:00.  Needless to say, by the time I did find my way home, I had just enough energy to make dinner, have minimal interaction with Jess and in bed, all of the bonds between the atoms of my body evaporated for at least eight hours.

As tiring as it was to have such an extended schedule, there were definitely some rewards (not just the pay, but hopefully the extra cash will put a deck onto the back of our house).  The aim of my PRIDE class was that each student created a story for an elementary school reader… namely, Jess’s students.  I have to admit, some of the stories were surprisingly good.  My two favorites were Giftless and Underella.  The first was a story about one kid realizing how lucky they are to be as well off, for example, being given an amazing bike for Christmas.  By realizing that his life was so rife with privileged, he discovered that his best friends was not well off.  Eventually, the main character appreciates how happy his friend is without a mass amount of ‘stuff’ that he gives up this amazing bike.  Eventually, the kindness is returned to him in another way.  I know this sounds a little pedantic, but the way it was written really made it a good read.

The second book, Underella, was a reverse Cinderella story where a princess who has everything she wants, immaculate beauty, and much more ends up losing all of it because of her conceit and dispise of those who aren’t like her.  Once again, it seems a little too focused on an obvious moral but it was realy inspired.  As this was their only assignment over a six week period, I was asking for at least eight pages, double spaced (I know, I’m harsh).  Surprisingly, most student got this done and done well.  I believe I only had one or two students not turn in a story but considering that these are traditionally students that fail language art classes, having twenty kids turn in eight or more pages of their own writing was impressive.

But all the glory shouldn’t reside with the student.  I was informed by those same students that it was unfair of me to expect them to write that much if I wasn’t writing anything at all.  So I took their challenge and I started writing.  My first day I wrote eleven pages, plus another four after I got home.  It is still a work in progress but I up to thirty-five pages… about 20,000 words so far.  I really don’t feel like delving into the premise, but I thought that I would put some up for a quick read from the beginning.  So, if you don’t feel like reading the extra stuff, stop reading right here:

On the ledge of a New York City’s Empire State building, The Crumpler squatted peering down on to the busy city.  The Crumpler was wearing his famous muscle-showing black disguise, with the dark green stripes running down his sides.  A massive, yellow letter “C” adorned his chest and a utility belt across his waist.  His real trademarks were his massive hands, they weren’t any regular hands but they were metallic gloves that were at least three times the size of a normal person’s hands.  Made from titanium, they made steel turn into putty in his hands, easily twisted.  They glistened in the moonlight, waiting for a reason to be used.

He watches the city for evil doers, those criminals and thieves that prey on the ordinary, hard-working citizens of New York City.  The Crumpler enjoys the nighttime the most, when he blends into his surroundings, he feels the most alive and awake when most people are sleeping.  But he knows that that most of the people that are awake at this time are usually up to no good.   Scanning down the long avenue he spots a black sedan racing down the street, with two people hanging out the windows.

“This will be fun,” The Crumpler whispers to himself.

Within a second, he has leaps from the ledge of the Empire State Building.  Diving straight down, splitting the air at terminal velocity, he grabbed a hold of the side of the building, digging into the stone as smoke and sparks jumped from his hands.  He crashed to the ground with a booming crunch, the sidewalk split beneath him.

He was perfectly placed to intercept the black car.  The dark hero walks to the crosswalk, the sign flips to “Do not cross,” but he steps into the street anyways.  The roaring of the sedan’s engine is getting louder and louder.  The Crumpler takes his place at the middle of the street so the dotted line passes right between his legs; he lowers his dark goggles over his eyes and smiles.  He’s been looking forward to this all day.  The headlights of the speeding car fall on to his face, shinning off of his bright white teeth.  The driver of the car sees the masked man and guns the engine and starts to laugh as the gas pedal smacks the floor of the car.

As the car nears The Crumpler, kicking light off of his crest, he cracks his knucks as he thinks, “let’s do this.”  Sticking his right hand out, just as the car gets within two feet of him, he puts his hand out, fingers perfectly straight.  As the sedan crashes into his hand, the metal tears apart, splitting perfectly down the middle.  Like tinfoil, the car is split into two equal halves, each half rolling on its two tires for two hundred feet until they fall onto their sides.  The masked hero wipes the engine grease and antifreeze from his goggles, turns and heads to the two parts of the sedan.  He struts slowly to the two hulking pieces of split car, now smoking from its long slide down the avenue.

“Evening, Gentlemen,” The Crumpler said as he lifts his goggles off his eyes.

“Whaa, whaa, what did you do?” asked the driver from his half of the car, still buckled into his sideways seat.

“License and registration?” the masked hero calmly asks.

“Hey man, get me out of this thing!” a voice screamed from what used to be the back of the car, “My leg is caught, please get me out.”

“Uno momento, por favor,” The Crumpler said in his poor Spanish accent as he turns back to the driver, “License and registration, please,” he requested a little less calm this time.  The stunned driver pulls out his wallet and hands it to the masked man.  With style, he flips open the wallet and shakes it out onto the ground, money and cards rustle against the scratched pavement.  He picks up the man’s license and looks it over.

“Mr. Smith,” he says with a cough, “it seems you’re driving on an expired license and at such a high rate of speed.  This isn’t good, my friend.”

“Yeah, I… I… I know, I was just going to go get a new one,” the driver stammered.  The screeching of multiple sets of tires squeal behind the scene in the middle of the street, blue and red lights dance off of the two parts of the car and the masked man.

“You sure did a number on this one, Crumpler,” a voice yelled as doors slammed.  It was the chief of police, Chief Taylor, “We’ve been chasing these guys for the last hour, they just robbed three banks in two hours.”  As all of the policemen surround the two parts of the vehicle surrounded, The Crumpler holds one finger up as to ask the chief to wait one second, he lends down and clears his voice.

“Well fellas, it seems like you’re in a bit of a pickle… and I believe this pickle comes with a big helping of jail time,” the masked man chuckles.  The same voice as before yelled from the backset of the driver’s half of the car, “Help!  Please, help me!”

The Crumpler put his thumb and forefinger on his chin and said, “I think I’m forgetting something.  Oh yeah, I remember now.”

As quick as the blink of an eye, he grabbed both ends of the car and bent them both toward him, splitting the roof in half and spilling both men from the car.

“Chief, I believe you were looking for these,” the crime fighter says and points across the other side of the street, “and you’ll find the other half over there.  Look for the car missing it’s left half.”

The Crumpler laughed to himself.

“Jeffery!” a voice yelled.

The Crumpler stopped laughing.

“Jeffery, what are you doing?” the voice questioned.

The Crumpler blinked a couple of times and realized who the voice was.

“Uh, nothing,” The Crumpler responded.

“Jeffery Crumplebeck, I have to say you daydream more than any other third grader,” his teacher, Ms. Turnt scolded.

The Crumpler was no longer there, it was just Jeffery standing atop his seat with two broken ends of a ruler in each hand.  Each kid in the classroom had their eyes on him, they were each holding their giggles in their mouths with two hands but Jeffery could see that they were about to explode.

As he sat back down in his chair, the class erupted.  Fingers were pointed at him, kids roared over his robust laughter and even tried to guess why he had just snapped a ruler in half right in the middle of Ms. Turnt’s lesson about fractions.   Slowly, Jeffery slid his two halves of ruler into his desk drawer and looked down at his paper, he had one question done.  He glanced over at his neighbor’s paper and dropped his head when he saw that everyone else was on question number sixteen.  This was not going to be a good day for Jeffery, and it was only ten-thirty in the morning.

He picked up his pencil and started on question number two.  As soon as he finished writing the number two, his pencil broke.  Jeffery sighed and thought to himself, “I bet The Crumpler never had to do stupid fractions.”

…start reading now.  Eventually, Jeffery will realize to be a superhero it goes beyond just doing what you’re told to do or what is expected of you.  I guess it would be a story about character and pushing one’s self to be better than just average.  Just bear in mind it is written for third graders.  I have actually had a lot of fun writing this and I look forward to writing more.  I am aiming for near 40,000 words, which is about the average elementary-age kid’s book.  A couple of people have expressed interest in illustrating the book which would be really interesting. I’d like to see where this goes, but I will not be holding my breath with any expectations.

On other fronts, Jess and I had an interesting experience last night.  On our way home from Eugene, we came upon an accident that looked like it had happened only minutes before we got there. There weren’t any emergency vehicles on scene yet.  What I learned from the Register Guard today is that an RV going northbound on I-5 crossed the median and hit a southbound car, killing a a passenger in both the RV and the car, with another person flown to a nearby hospital.  You could see the carved out tracks of the RV as it had crossed the median, the reminents all of the vehicles were on the right hand side of the freeway with many people stopped to help.  The RV was so obliterated that I didn’t know what kind of vehicle it was as it burned on the side of the road.

As sad as the accident is, it got me thinking.  Jess and I had been in Eugene to have an early celebration of her birthday with dinner.  After dinner, we hit up one store and did a little bit of shopping.  I had mentioned earlier in the evening that I was kind of worried about spending a whole lot of money.  Later on, I brought up the idea of stopping to get some icecream to drag out the celebration.  Jess said that she wanted to help us not spend money but I convienced her that it was her ‘birthday’ and she should get dessert on her birthday.  So we got our icecream which was tasty.  After that we headed home and came upon the crash.

Two things came to mind.  The first was that the things that happen in life, especially of the most life changing, exist in between seconds.  What would happen if we hadn’t stopped for ice cream or I drove a little faster?  I shudder to think that we could have been in the same situation as that car.  But that’s not the thing I have chosen to fixate on.  The second thing was that it is important to take time and enjoy ourselves.  Maybe I should eat ice cream more.  This isn’t to say that I should be concerned or worried about the things that didn’t happen or things that could of happened; that would cause me to miss out on the good moments.  Just something to think about.

As you may or may not have noticed, the school year stealthily left the room while no one was watching.   Of course, as with every year, the graduating seniors feel it is the duty to pull a prank.  A traditional prank is filling the principal’s office with balloons or something of that manner.  This year, it was a twofold prank.  When I got to school around 6:45 in the morning on June third, the day in question, I got a call from my buddy Ricky who said that I should get to my room as soon as I could because there was a lot of work that was going to be needed for my classroom.  And here’s why:

classroomprankFor as bad as it looks, it only took about twenty minutes to get everything back.  There were about fifty chairs in the back of my room from the neighboring classrooms.  Throughout the hallways of the school, desks were piled and stacked in the hallways.  I guess I got off lucky, seeing as all of my desks were still in my room.

The second prank was ingenious and funny in my opinion.  Throughout Cottage Grove and around the school were giant signs saying, “HUGE USED CAR SALE AT CGHS!!!” and upon all of the teacher’s cars, the seniors had tied balloons and put prices on all of the car windshields.  An Audi was going for $300 but a late 90’s civic was topping out their inventory at $3000.  My car just said for sale, I guess it was a o.b.o. type of sale.  I thought that it was a well thought out prank, no destruction of property, not much as for clean up and it was original.  I like that.

Other than that, the next time I write, we’ll probably be on a different continent.  I’m desperately waiting for the vacation.  It will be nice to just get to a different place for a while.  Pictures and retelling of all of our great adventures in Europeland.

chrislens

Faux Pas-palooza

Faux Pas: As a teacher, coming to school dressed strangely similar to a student

Super Faux Pas: As a teacher, coming to school dressed strangely similar to two students.

Double Secret Faux Pas Extraordinaire: The students are both girls… and the teacher is a dude.

So… there is a reason…

Best compliment.  ever.

Student, out of the blue, during second period:Mr. Wells, do you remember when we were learning about poetry during our sophomore year?”

Me:Uh, yeah, of course.

Student:I really liked that.”

Me:Thanks; I like teaching it.

Student:Since then, I can’t stop writing poetry.

Me:Really?

Student: Yeah, I have two journals completely full of poetry.

Me:Wow, I’m seriously impressed.

…not to mention feeling touched, honored, proud and successful.

One down, seventy more to go!

It ain’t easy being grumpy…

I have to admit, I’m not always the social peach I usually portray.  I have my grumpy days, I have the days when I’ve got a hair-trigger… and yesterday was one of those days.  I had not slept well the night before and I was fully prepared to hold the world and its occupants responsible for that.

I was grumpy driving to school, grumpy getting my lessons ready, grumpy when the first bell rang.  I’m not sure how it happens, if I send up a flare that I need someone to cheer me up but my first and second periods did so.  They made jokes, funny observations and even made fun of me a little (in a good nature way).  My grumpiness was dissolved.  The rest of the day went really well.  I guess it is like most human relationships; the people who can make you mad or push your buttons, are also the people who can relieve you of your emotional fog.

It’s funny that, as teachers, we are so focused on making a daily difference with the students–sometimes I forget that the reverse can also be true.  This was just another reminder that I feel like I made a good decision by going into teaching.  It also reminds me to value the kids I see on a daily basis, they’re more than ink on a roster.

You’ve got to be Kulon-joking…

Because free pays my mortgage.  Because free is what everyone is being asked to work for.  Because free in addition to the 3 days of pay I’ve already voluntarily given up…

From the Oregonian:

Kulongoski to teachers: work for free to keep schools open

by Harry Esteve, The Oregonian

Thursday February 19, 2009, 11:51 AM

Gov. Ted Kulongoski said today that teachers should be prepared to work without pay in order to keep schools open.

SALEM — Teachers should work some days without pay this spring to avoid early school closures, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said today as he laid out his plan to get the state solvent in the teeth of one of its worst-ever recessions.

“The only way we’re going to get out of this is if everybody contributes,” Kulongoski said at a morning news conference. As for teachers: “You do it without pay.”

The governor said he would lead by example. He said he will cut his $93,600 annual salary by 5 percent, and send the difference to the state school fund. He plans to take unpaid “furlough” days as well. He also said he would freeze salaries of state agency managers and other non-union workers, and that he would rescind step increases he approved earlier this year.

Those steps would save the current state budget about $6.2 million. If all state workers agreed to the same freeze it would save another $122 million over the next two years. That’s a token amount, given the size of the current state budget deficit, estimated at about $800 million.

But Kulongoski insisted on strict fiscal discipline over the coming months, despite the pain it might cause. He said he is not interested in tapping into the state’s reserve accounts, worth an estimated $800 million, because he expects the state’s financial problem to only worsen next year.

“I will veto any bill that attempts to raid those funds during this legislative session,” Kulongoski said.

Nonetheless, the governor said he thinks schools could stay open the full year with a combination of sacrifices by school employees and with extra money from the federal stimulus package.

While I voted for Ted and appreciate his willingness to hammer out some details in relation to schools and students,  I think this is a ridiculous proposal, if not bordering on illegal.  Are we asking police officers or firefighters to work for free?  People have already been laid off, every single one of the employees of my district have already sacrificed three days of day.  Which we were all happy to do for our district.

I can’t decide what’s worse, proposing that we lose up to 15 days of school (and pay) or being asked to work those days for free.  What do I get in return besides sacrificing days I could be working a second job for an actual paycheck?  Yes, I would be happy that students retain their seat time.  Yes, I would be happy that it would help our district, but at what personal cost to us?

I’m sorry, Teddy.  This is not well thought out. Not at all.

On a serious note…

With the rapid and consistent decline of the economy, the important of education is becoming more apparent… and it’s not looking good.  There is talk of the state denying payment to the school districts for 15 school days or even a whole month.

Getting out of school in May would be a change.  There has been consistent chatter around our school about what would happen if teachers would have to go without pay for a month.  Some are in precarious situations, some of my coworkers are the only working parent in their family and others, like Jess and I, both get our income from the school district.

In our district, we have already given up 3 school days (sadly, they were our snow days) which just from my pay alone, took a $600 pay hit.  I’ll let you plow through the math to see what 15 days or more would look like.

Sometimes it feels as though education is the punching bag sometimes.  The mantra that teachers earn too much, get too much vacation, have a job that is too easy.  All misnomers, I assure you.  But that’s not the worst part, that would be the rampant claims of “Education is important, we have to fund schools!”  I understand we’re taking a hit, but when you drown education, you can’t expect it to reach the already difficult goals (thanks, NCLB).

Ironically, this isn’t a gripe… more of a rant.  It is kind of astounding that there are billions given to business, in turn, these business buy a $87,000 rug which would easily fund two teachers for a year.  Not to mention the $1,400 garbage can that would be a hefty load of text books.  What does a $1,400 garbage can look like anyways?  I’d be afraid to throw stuff away in it.  I bet there is expensive garbage for that can.

Early summer?  Second job?  Keeping our jobs?

Who knows?

Just slightly daugnting.

…pull this thread as I walk away…

Apparently, I need to be checked and signed off on my apparel before I leave the house in the morning.  I made it through one and a half periods until the snickering turned into  the varying forms of, “your sweater is on backwards.”

As much as I would have love to have one, I didn’t have a witty comeback.  There is a real sense in shame when you have to take off your sweater during class, turn it around and put it back on.

When I get home tonight, I’ll practice the skill that most five year-olds have mastered.

Bravo.

A joke… come true…

My buddy Ricky was at a Link Crew conference at McKay High School when he got to see one of my favorite jokes came true, as he said, “FAIL”:

 

I had always dreaded one of the Cottage Grove Football teams commencing with their “Lion” jumping-jacks and misspelling “Lion”.  Well, there ya go.

Go Loins!