January Thoughts

I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe it’s winter. I’m still a southern girl at heart, and New York winters always put me in a funk. I’m always cold. I rarely go outside. Lack of vitamin D makes me feel grumpy and brittle and out of sorts. I don’t see much of my friends, or anyone else for that matter. Then the existential crisis creeps in.

Or maybe I’m just exhausted by the world we live in. It seems to me that whatever we’ve got going on in 21st century America is the pits. I see people work really hard and never get ahead. The solution, people say, is to work even harder, be persistent, chase those dreams. But once you achieve your dreams, you don’t get the kind of peace you wanted. You just enter a different kind of rat race.

I want to be published. I want to be a teacher.

The more I learn about publishing, the sadder I feel. My girlhood fantasies of writing a bestselling novel and being a full time writer just aren’t realistic anymore. It sucks when your fantasies are pulled up short and given a stern talking to. The best I can hope for at this point is bestselling author. I will always have to work. Even if I get published. Which, from my perspective at the moment, feels like a long shot.

And I (finally) love what I do. Substitute teaching has brought me back into the classroom and reminded me how much I love education. I would have become an English teacher years ago if my mother, a teacher, hadn’t threatened to cut me off financially the day I signed up for my first education class. Her career suggestions (waste management, police dog handler, and CEO of a fortune 500 company) were laughable. I got the MA in English, and then worked a series of soul sucking, personally unfulfilling office jobs, with a brief stint as private school teacher sandwiched in between. I’ve always wanted to teach again.

Now, with my boys half raised, and time on my hands, I could do it. I have heard from other teachers that there is some rumored way I, with a masters degree, could get certified quickly, by only taking a few courses, but literally nobody knows any details about this mythical certification pathway. So I googled it, and yes, such a program exists… however, in order to initiate said program, and become accepted into one of the two overseeing programs in the state, a school district would have to agree to employee you provisionally for three years…

I have watched my friends, who graduated from acclaimed teaching colleges in NY, with fancy. shiny, perfectly-acquired certifications struggle to find a job in local schools. What do you think the odds are that I, with no certification whatsoever, am going to convince those same schools to hire me for three years?

But let’s say they do? Then hello stress. Right now, I waltz into school in the morning and waltz right back out at the end of the day, happy as a lark. And free to go do my life. I don’t have to grade any papers, go to any meetings, call any parents, think about the curriculum, plan any lessons. Nothing.

It’s all of the fun, and none of the stress.

I just can’t stop the nagging feeling I get that I haven’t achieved anything… And being a substitute is a mere half life for those who like teaching. It’s all the teaching without the relationships with the students, the sense of accomplishment and pride, the sense of community in your school, the friends on staff.

I am an all or nothing type of person, so not going whole hog into something feels all wrong to me.

I usually can transfer that can do attitude into a craft project–make something pretty and feel that welcome sense of thorwing myself completely into a project. But even that has fallen short lately. We have a tradition in my family where everyone has a stocking made for them–it’s made of felt and sequins from a kit. In my zeal to leave everything intact for the boys after the divorce, I mistakenly left the boys’ stockings at their dad’s. So a few years back, when I got my wits together again, I endeavored to make new ones for them, for my house. A train one for Sam, because for many years he was train-obsessed. An airplane one for John, because he still is plane-obsessed.

I lost them for a while and rediscovered them recently. I have made several of these, so it’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing. And forgive me if I sound like a crabby old lady at this point, talking about the good old days, but either I’m losing it, or these stocking kits were made by a clueless someone with poor design skills and zero appreciation for the materials. NOTHING is going right with Sam’s stocking. The knots are unraveling and the sequins are pulling out, and it probably has something to do with the thread being made of some weird material that isn’t cotton. I’ve spent approximately 92 billion hours of my life sewing. I don’t think I’ve suddenly forgotten how to make a knot. The appliqued pieces don’t fit the pattern. The pattern is visible where the pieces don’t fit together. Plus, the beading needle provided has a twisted hole that is nearly impossible to thread. My sewing skills are thwarted at every turn. You can’t fix stupid and you also can’t fix a poorly-designed stocking kit with shit materials. I’m so frustrated I might just throw the whole thing in the trash.

I’m trying my best, but it’s hard to salvage anything that was designed to fail.

So I decided to take a break and picked up a book (or six) instead. Because nothing is as calming and transportive as a book.

So I’ve been reading a lot lately– fun, fluffy chic lit from the library. Lots of against all odds love stories with fun characters. I’ve read some wonderful books and have gotten so much inspiration for my work in progress, hopefully another fun, fluffy against all odds romance.

But then, this too, reminds me of my publishing woes… and the cycle starts all over.

I need a new hobby. Maybe I need to go to the gym. I don’t know what I need to do. All I know is I’m so out of sorts.

Book Club With Mom

When I decided to become a full time substitute teacher, it was all about the shortened workday and ability to be home in the afternoons with my boys. I wasn’t able to imagine all of the other side benefits I would get out of it. Chief among them is stories. Every day is an adventure. I am full of stories about what goes on every day in schools. Part of that is seeing what school is like for my boys, and better understanding them and their academic experiences.

My youngest son, John ,is not a fan of most stories, and he would read the first 20 minutes into a book, and decide he hated it. Rinse and repeat for years. The teachers never pushed him to read more, because he did what he was asked to do, and read for 20 minutes a day. But to my way of thinking, timed reading discourages kids from really sinking their teeth into a story and (I know, this is crazy talk) actually finishing it.

So John decided he hated books and reading. I bit my tongue until this year when he started 6th grade. Watching him whine and moan his way through language arts was more than I could bear. John might be an engineer someday but he’ll have to get through high school and college English to get there. He needed to learn a different way to read. And as is often the case, I decided that if I wanted things to change, I’d have to take matters into my own hands. And so Book Club With Mom was born.

John’s been very interested in politics and government lately, and often wants to know why things happen the way they do. He’s also been interested in WW2 for years. So, in looking for a book we could read together, I looked for something short(ish), with simple language, a straightforward story, and maybe, most importantly, a book that would give John a sense of accomplishment after he read it. I picked Animal Farm.

There was much whining about it. But I explained to John that this was not a kid book in any way, shape, or form. This was a book for adults and if he listened very carefully, he would come to discover that’s it’s an extended metaphor for the Russian Revolution.

So we started reading the book together.

I found the audio book on spotify and bought us each a paper copy. We take time every day to listen to a chapter together. Using colored pencils, we highlight parts green for setting, circle the characters’ names, and important parts of the plot are orange. After we go through the chapter, we go back over the chapter to re-read the important parts. John asks questions, I point out things I want John to think about and ask him why Orwell might’ve used certain words or certain descriptions to say certain things. We talk about the narrator (who is surprisingly very opinionated for a narrator), and the different characters and what they might represent. For example, today we talked about the fact that Moses the raven reminds John of a minister, and the Sugarcandy Mountain he talks about sounds like heaven. John said “Oh, he’s named Moses, like in the Bible, too.” I told John that that is a clue that his inferences are correct and we talked about who Moses was and what he did in the bible, which also seemed to mirror his character in the book.

For the first time ever, John is really engaged with his reading and seems to enjoy the book a lot. He asked me today if we could play the chapter all the way through without stopping one time and then go back and listen one more time for the highlighting part, because he’s getting into the story and doesn’t like the starting and stopping. Whoohoo! Mission accomplished!

John doesn’t know it yet, but when we get to the end of the book, he’s going to write an essay with me on the theme of the book. I’m going to show him how to use his highlighting to help make his literary argument. More than anything I want him to be a confident reader and writer. He doesn’t have to love it. I just want him to get through it with a minimal amount of aggravation.

This goes along with something a friend posted on Facebook, too. It was about executive dysfunction and ADHD. The article posited that part of the reason that students with ADHD often have trouble completing a task is because they lack the ability to visualize what the task completed would look like. I think that is part of John’s problem (but I imagine it’s true for many other students as well). I’m showing him (I hope) what it looks like to read a book critically, and then to use that critical thinking to write about it. I’m going to show him what a completed critical essay looks like and go through all the different parts with him so that he feels confident doing it himself.

At first I thought this would be a one book thing, but it’s going so well that I’d like it to become a regular part of our routine. Maybe we’ll try The Metamorphosis next.