Rant of the Week

As many of you know, I am a full time teacher. Most of the time it is a career that brings me some amount of joy. I enjoy working with the students. I love getting to know their likes and dislikes, their goals and their fears. All of that inspires me. However, government regulations keep encroaching on that tiny sliver of joy that remains for me. This coming week marks the start of Testing Week. This is the week that separates the men from the boys. Except, we’re talking about eight and ten-year-olds here, so in essence it just separates the “proficient” from the “basic”. 

This year my state has instituted a wonderful new rule! (Can you hear the sarcasm, yet?) This year, those students who do not score “proficient” or above on the third grade standardized test win a prize! Yep, that’s right! “What do they win?” you ask. Well, they win another year in third grade!

Yes. You read that right. The students who don’t pass will be subjected to yet another year of third grade. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s good right? It gives them another opportunity to understand the material. After all, if they didn’t pass the test, then they must not be ready for fourth grade.”

I understand that logic, but let’s look at a case study, shall we? Little Johnny came in to third grade reading at a level E (that’s early first grade, for those of you who are not familiar with the leveling system). He is now reading at a level L. Good for Johnny! He’s made more than a year’s worth of progress! But, he’s still only reading at a mid second grade level. This week he will sit down to take a test that he must read and comprehend without any help from his teacher. The informational text sample selection I downloaded this morning (out of sheer curiosity and to check the readability level), is written at a 7th grade reading level.

Take a moment… Let that sink in…

So little Johnny, who has worked his little hiney off this school year will be expected to read and comprehend a selection that is meant for a 7th grade reader.

Oh, yes, Mr. Governor… this test is a fair representation of the skills our students possess.

Give me a break!

How can we encourage our students to enjoy learning when we penalize those who have the misfortune of being a struggling reader? We are setting these students up for a lifetime of feeling inadequate. I shudder to think what the dropout rate will be across my great state once these students reach the ripe old age of 18. Evidently foresight is not a quality inherent in politicians.

I am a reading specialist. I work with struggling readers on a daily basis. Many, like Johnny, have made huge growth this year. But will it be enough to help them pass a test meant for a 7th grader? I’d like to be optimistic, but I have to face the fact that even if Johnny does struggle his way through the selection without giving up, he will never be able to synthesize the information enough to answer higher order questions pertaining to it.

So here we are… Number 2 pencils sharpened, ready for the praise that comes from “proficient” or the shame that will accompany anything less. If only the policy makers realized that these numbers are children.

*End of rant…* Thanks for listening.

A Study in Perspective

I took a photograph this afternoon of the newly opened blossoms on our peach tree. This peach tree bears the most delicious peaches I’ve ever tasted. Early each fall I look forward to relieving the tiny tree of its heavy burden as I pick peach after fuzzy peach.

Today, as I snapped these shots I was reminded of those scrumptious peaches. I could almost feel the juice sluicing down my chin as my teeth sink into the first fruit of the season. While I fiddled with the settings on my DSLR I realized that perspective is everything… not just in photography, but in life.

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In this first shot, I focused on the buds in the distance, virtually ignoring the flower closest to me. Too often I find myself doing just that, ignoring what is closest within my grasp. I focus on the broad dreams and aspirations instead of taking notice of the opportunities that exist firmly within my reach. As I studied the shot in my camera’s display, I realized that the ignored bud deserved her due.

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This flower has become my new focus. I resolve to take my life step by step. I can still see all those dreams and aspirations lying in wait beyond my flower of focus. They are no less important in my life. But this bud has offered to open for me. So I will accept her offer. I will live each day in the moment. Take each day as it happens. Enjoy every opportunity for what it is and stop to focus on what it has offered me. For today’s opportunity is a stepping stone along the path to tomorrow’s realized dream. Who knew a peach blossom could be so wise?

Rendered Speechless

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“The receivers of the Sunshine Award are bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogsphere.”

Somehow I’ve been nominated for the coveted Sunshine Award, and thus must reciprocate. I’ve been thinking long and hard about how best to graciously accept this nod as the blogging newbie that I am. I’m finding it difficult. There’s pressure now! Before I could just write whatever I wanted and if you liked it, great! If you didn’t, well, tomorrow is another day, right? But now… now there’s an award

*deep breath*

I am very grateful to Kristi Hanson, blogger at The Winged Pen (thewingedpen.blogspot.com) for extending this invitation to me. It was her post on Facebook not so long ago that prompted me to get my rear in gear and join the ever growing blogsphere. So here I am, scrunching up my face as I try to come up with something interesting to say about myself. You see, as part of the award, you must reveal 7 interesting facts about yourself and extend the Sunshine Award to 7 fellow bloggers whom you deem deserving. So, dear friends, I will accept the challenge and jump in feet first.

Seven Interesting Facts You May or May Not Know About Me:

1. I was adopted. My birth mother was a young, 16 in fact, when I was born. She made the decision to place me for adoption when I was just about ten months old. If it weren’t for her selfless decision, I most certainly would not be the person I am today. I will be forever grateful to her and will always regret not going out of my way to meet her when I had the chance. She found me in 2002 and we exchanged letters and cards until her untimely death. I allowed that opportunity to pass me by but by doing so I gained a knew perspective on life’s priorities. 

2. I loathe roller coasters. Yes, it’s true. I have a vivid memory of an old high school boyfriend who surprised me by taking me to Cedar Point. It was a surprise all right. Ugh. Worst. Date. Ever. To this day I can’t stand them. The motion headache starts coming on if they are even within sight.

3. I have a thing for cars. I grew up around old cars. My grandfather had a 1929 Ford Model A Pickup that graced the cover of Car and Driver many years ago. I remember riding in it with him for parades when I was about four or five years old. He had other old cars as well, and I began frequenting car shows with my grandfather and my dad as I got older. My dad now has the Ford pickup in addition to a 1957 Chevy. My dream show car would definitely be a 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang. Just this year I decided to splurge and buy my first Mustang. It’s my everyday car, so I went with a 2010 model, but I wouldn’t trade it.

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3. I was in a movie. I was just an extra, but it’s my one and only claim to fame, so I’ll use it. I lived in Los Angeles the summer before I finally decided to bite the bullet and give up on acting (pursuing a degree from Ohio State in Communications instead). While I was there I signed up with a few casting agencies and got a call to work on a movie they were shooting tentatively titled “East Great Falls”. While I was working on the set, I never dreamed it would end up being a cult favorite of my generation, “American Pie”! 

4. I love animals. Okay, who doesn’t, right? I had animals in 4H as a kid, but I would never take one that had to be slaughtered or sold at the end of fair week. Instead, I ended up showing a rabbit, a horse, and a couple Shetland Sheepdogs during my career as a 4Her. Now, my family and I have 3 horses (an Arab-Quarter Cross named Molly and 2 Miniature Horses named Voodoo, and Magic), 4 barn cats (Tippy, Cookie, Fluffy, and Night Sky), 1 house cat (Keelin), 2 dogs (Miniature Australian Shepherds named Colby and Brandy), 1 rabbit (a Lionhead named HipHop), and 13 chickens (various breeds, I won’t torture you by naming them all).

5. My literary guilty pleasure is fan fiction. My Spalding friends can skip this one if you like. I see myself writing romantic suspense and crime fiction for the rest of my days. I love reading it and I adore writing it. I even like to throw a Fifty Shades of Grey in my kindle every now and again (although I don’t see myself writing that, just so we’re clear). Sorry, my literary fiction friends, but you have to agree, they make for fun reads.

6. Odd things choke me up. There are several events or spectacles that create a knot in my throat and force tears to my eyes. They include DisneyWorld Vacation Commercials, Folgers Commercials at Christmastime, the first hymn sung at a traditional Lutheran church service, Amazing Grace (whenever it’s sung), the last page of The Polar Express, the last several pages of Patricia Polacco’s The Butterfly, and our service men and women returning home from overseas (this is a new one I didn’t realize I had until recently at at the airport in Savannah). I’m sure there are more, but those are the only ones that are coming to mind right now. I’m a bit of a blithering idiot at times.

7. I have the best, most supportive family in the world. My husband, Doug, puts up with all my dreams and aspirations and never makes me feel guilty for pursuing them. I can’t thank him enough for that. My daughter, Jillian, is unendingly patient with me when I’m writing and is truly one of the best kids I know (and as a teacher, I know a lot of kids). My mother and dad have supported me since my aspirations dawned and continue to do so to this day. I am forever grateful for their encouragement and support.

Wow! That wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it might be. Of course, this next part may be a bit more challenging since I’ve not been doing this long and don’t really know too many fellow bloggers other than ones I know have already been nominated for the award. Hmmm… I guess I could still choose them, eh? Two nods are better than one, right? Although I will exempt them in advance from the required work involved.

Sunshine Award Nominees (The fact that I can’t figure out how to create links for these speaks volumes on my inexperience as a blogger… ack!)

1. Kristi Hanson at The Winged Pen (thewingedpen.blogspot.com)

2. Liza Mattison at Green Light (lizamattison.blogspot.com)

3. Anna Urquhart at A Road Taken and The Silent Isle (aroadtaken.wordpress.com and annaurquhart.blogspot.com)

4. Ellie Bryant at Ellie’s House (louellabryant.blogspot.com)

5. Karen Chronister at The Wordshop Blog (thewordshopblog.com)

6. Corrine Jackson at CorrineJackson.com

7. Rick Mallery at Power Shorts Daily (rickmallery.wordpress.com)

 

Thanks to all of the above for inspiring me, encouraging me, and making me laugh. You are all tops in my book!

Navigating Life’s Journey

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It is obvious when you meet someone who is truly satisfied with life. There is an ethereal glow that seems to surround them, pulling life, love, and happiness into their gravitational field. I met one such person recently. His passion for his chosen profession was obvious, and intrigued me. This man, let’s call him “Brian”, like many of us, started out on one path, but ended up on quite another. He did what was expected of him, went to college, pursuing a career in resort management. Lucky for him, it didn’t take long to realize that the cobblestones along the path he was taking simply didn’t fit. During a six month internship, fresh out of college, he chose to take the step that would forever change the course of his life. He gathered up his courage, and moved to Hilton Head Island, ready to do what was necessary to find a career that fit.

Ten years later he is one of the most satisfied individuals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Spending time with him was like receiving a gift, gleaning knowledge from one who truly loves his profession. That, my friend, is a rarity in the public service industry these days. The look on his face as he navigated our boat through Calibogue Sound and along Jenkins Creek was unmistakable. He wore the expression of a man who is truly at peace. I watched in awe as he kneeled with Jillian, pointing out tiny creatures, nearly invisible to the untrained eye, freely sharing his knowledge and joy with her. I hope someday that Jillian will be able to discover that same peacefulness in whatever endeavor she chooses.

As I reflect on our afternoon with “Brian”, I am amazed by his happiness and satisfaction with life. Like the marshy maze that surrounds Hilton Head, life is a journey we must navigate carefully. One wrong turn can lead us down paths we never intended. At times it may seem we’ve lost our way for good; stuck in a rut from which it is impossible to free ourselves. What I learned from “Brian” is that even if our boat is stuck in the muck at low tide, high tide will always return, lifting our vessel from the mud below. We owe it to ourselves and those around us to free our boat and continue to navigate our journey when the tide returns.