Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kath asked me if I had a baby in my baby, that's just my popcorn...

Wow, that certainly tells me I need to get back in shape if nothing else. Good way to start Lent off too!

Seriously though, it's been awhile and let me catch you up. One huge mental thing for me is actually something I should have gotten over last August, however the paperwork was misplaced until recently and so I had to 'go through' it all again. "IT" being Katharina's neuropsych evaluation. Although I am a staunch opponent to standardized testing I did sit and read the results. And the part I allowed myself to get snagged up and tortured with were her IQ scores. Kath tested at an 88.

I KNOW the girl had a stroke. I KNOW she has cognitive delays. But somehow seeing that test score...below 100 (average)...I was wrecked for days. "Normal scores are from  85-115." I wanted her to blow the test away...even though she put the pencil down, crossed her arms and climbed into my lap on more than one occasion during the test. I wanted the score higher even though when asked colors she told the doctor three...when she knows them all except the variations of shades. I wanted her to blow the test away even though she couldn't draw the eyes of a person in a face, or make a cross, or remember a phrase. I wanted at least a 100 even though she only knew 6 letters of the alphabet at 4 years-old.

I wanted that because to me Kath is not a standardized test score, she's my flesh and blood, crack-me-up child who sees the world with different lenses and makes me see the world (YES THE WORLD!) with a new appreciation. And I was deathly afraid that any educator who saw those scores...and had Kath in their class or on their workload...with all of these educational and intervention/therapy budget cutbacks... would have to look at the numbers and go from there. Instead of giving her a chance to prove herself.

So it was a blessing (one I didn't know I had) that Kath's scores were never typed up and sent to our school district in August because her scores were never used to place her in school program this year. Instead MY voice was heard. And I felt like I was listened to. And Kath has had four months as being Kath, and not just an 88 IQ stroke survivor, with cerebral palsy and vision issues.

Now that I know Kath's teacher I know she wouldn't have handled her as a number and a diagnosis. But I didn't know her in September. And in the prior spring I was seriously considering homeschooling because I was afraid to trust someone else with my precious girl.

Now when I look at my Kath as a mom AND my students as their teacher/lobbyist/advocate, I see what a huge disservice is being done by our politicians (I live in NY so you can look up my governor and know who I mean) when they are trying to make their budgets work...on the backs children and teachers in education.

In our state of NY our governor has cut state funding for education. In the past 4 years it is roughly 14 million dollars our district alone has lost. At the same time he has placed a tax cap on what schools can ask for in tax increases to 2%. So we will continue to lose ~ teachers and programs (programs that could help Kath, as well as all students, like art, music and library) ~ because the cost of living is higher than 2%.  More will be asked of the remaining teachers and therapists who are already doing their own jobs plus the jobs of coworkers who have lost their positions in the last few years. All the while being insulted by being told we make too much money and we need to cut the ahem...popcorn. 

And to add salt to this wound, our governor has passed a new teacher evaluation system which will use standardized tests to show which teachers are 'effective' and which are 'ineffective.' Although IQ tests will not be used, tests will be used statewide to show which teachers can get students to score well on an exam. An exam that may not really show critical thinking, however, it may show which students have the ability to be good test takers. NYC has already started to publish teachers' names and their scores. Many scores are incorrect, or taken out of context look bad, but don't come with the explanation of what actually happened, what was really learned in the classroom. For example, how far the class came in learning how to work as a team, or how they overcame family or classmate tragedies, or absentee problems, etc. ...many issues which are out of a classroom teacher's hands, yet impact test results. Anyone who really knows kids...and teaching...KNOWS that there is sooo much more to teaching than a score on a test.

I fear for the state of our education. I worry about what will happen to my daughters in a system where testing will 'indicate' what their ability is alleged to be (I also worry about my role in all of this, as a classroom teacher, I despise the idea of teaching to a test.). I look at Kath and her test scores and I know she is so much more than that 88, not just because she can now make a cross, and now knows her ABCs and numbers. Not just because she is doing things that a year ago I feared she would never do, but because if our society has not learned by now to look at the humanity of ourselves to see, if we look at teaching and education and only see test scores as a way to show what is learned, then I am saddened by what we are creating. Since when is education a 'pour in the liquid knowledge and see how much volume is poured out at the end ' type of endeavor??

How many of us know someone who--DESPITE the education system years ago which focused on memorization and testing--- were able to carve out a successful life with plenty of contributions to better their spot of the world? Usually they were able to do this because at some point someone saw them as an individual, stood beside them, encouraged them, pushed them to go around the blocked path that education put in their way. Why do we think that testing for knowledge in the same way will work for kids nowadays? How dare we forget our own stories and those of our parents?

Parents who really work with their kids know that sometimes when you teach a child, you don't see immediate results of a lesson. Sometimes a month later they point out the window, see a tree and explain how it pulls the water from the roots, etc, they were able to finally pull it all together, even though that specific day when you tried to teach it they looked at you like you had three heads. 

And parents who really care know that sometimes on any given day, you really don't know why your kids are crazy and not listening, but there, it doesn't mean you don't have control, it doesn't mean you don't have (classroom) management skills, it might just mean the kids stayed up too late, there's a full moon, they're hungry, wearing uncomfortable clothes, etc...AND despite how 'crazy' your kids are, you still have to accomplish your day's goals...OR you decide to take a different path and come back another think about a teacher and the idea that THAT can happen in a classroom FULL (and increasing, every year due to budget cuts) of other kids (with their own issues).... and your child/grandchild/niece/nephew/friend's child is just one of those children in that room. How can a teacher teach individually each day when more is being asked of her and less is being supported?

I know many teachers who can do that! And do that each day! My daughters' teachers are just two examples, but what they need is more support, not less, for the amazing feats they accomplish.

Education is not just a test. Education is not just the facts. Education is the humanity of teaching humanity how to learn while adjusting each day to each student's needs. It's embracing the child in front of you and challenging them to reach just a little bit further than they did the day before. It's not memorizing facts for a test, it's knowing how to learn, so one day the student can live and lead a good life, hopefully making good choices and taking care of others.

I worry about what we are doing to education. I will be at our high school Tuesday night writing letters to my government begging them to rethink their thoughts about funding and cuts and I will do what I can to make sure each student who walks in MY classroom door feels like I know him/her as a person, not only by their most recent English score.

And I am relieved to know that Kath and Alex are both surrounded by teachers and therapists, who look at them individually and reach out to the child before them, regardless of the IQ scores and the paperwork, and they take my girls' hands and hold them while showing them the bigger world. Their teachers know the humanity of teaching and understand how important that is in their day-to-day responsibilities as educators.

That is education.

And if we keep chiseling away at what is currently in place and working, we are going to mutate learning into a factory type bureaucracy that pumps out non-critical thinkers, non-creative beings who don't see the value in humanity (but score well on meaningless tests!!) ...and we will reap what we sow ...especially, when the children of this process are the ones who will choose how to take care of our old bodies and will do so perhaps as they were taught, without thought to the humanity aspect of our lives.

We are dealing with humans, with growing brains and bodies and we need to stop treating the education of our children as if they are an inanimate product we are constructing in a factory. We need to see the Katharinas and the Alexandras and the other children as growing beings who need us right now to do what is right for a better world tomorrow, not just a better budget right now.

The human aspect of my children is what I hope is seen, understood and fought for. The Katharina, not of the IQ of 88, but the Katharina who when she sees she has made her sister sad, hugs her, apologizes and tells her she loves her. 

Shouldn't we all be doing more of that? Taking care of one another with care and love and not acting as if we are not truly connected to one another, as if the outcome of one of us doesn't also impact all of us?

My Kath is not an 88. My daughter, as many of my facebook friends read in my updates, is a perky, funny, curious, wild 5 year-old who loves. Loves and Cares and Thinks. She is more than a test score as a child, and so am I, as a teacher. Aren't we all? Aren't all of our children worth more than a test score? Aren't all of us worth more than a number? And if we do not stand up for one another, for kids and teachers now, don't we risk living in a society where humanity isn't valued? Maybe I am oversimplifying...but I don't think so.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.
~ Pastor Martin Niemöller

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A New Year

I don't feel I have anything inspirational or motivating to say, I actually am pushing myself to write this. The woodstove is calling me and wants me to sit closer, students' writings beckon to be read, lesson plans beg to be planned.

Yet, the siren call of writing has sat my butt in my chair while the girls "help" wash dishes (Read: waste water, make a mess).

Oh, wait, yes I do have something to say. I have no idea how inspirational it will be but here it is.

The turning of a new year has made me rethink my life it does every year. And so does a scary couple of weeks while I waited test results after a gynecologist appointment showed endometrial cells where they should not have shown up.

Things like that make me rethink the lessons learned. I have so much I want to do, more than I could possibly fit into one life. And even though my outward and inner patience has increased wonderfully, I still feel impatient that many things take me so long to do or understand. I turned 44 last month (December), shouldn't it all be easy-street now?

And in many ways it the way that I walk with and feel a confidence my 20 year-old self never understood or imagined. True, my body sags and parts alternate in not-working-properly, but this body has been through so much with and for me. How can I not love it? It gave me 4 beautiful children who make my soul smile. It's wrinkly, bulging in the 'wrong' spots, my hair is graying and thinning but I love it and appreciate it more than I ever did when I was twenty, in-shape and my clothes fit me ...nicely.

When I was younger I showed my impatience, like a badge. Swerved around slower drivers, sighed heavily and hurried my boys. Although I still do some of all of that sometimes, I have also realized that I usually end up at the same light as the slower driver. And those extra seconds can be used towards something more staying in a good relaxed mood, breathing and listening to the stories of my daughters. And if I find that I am rushing way too often that is my indication that I have WAY TOO much piled into my life and it's time to cut back.

I understand people better. It's true that I may never understand those who are close-minded and small-minded whether they hide behind the belief that their religion calls them to be so or simply because they are close-minded and small-minded. But I do have a patience for those who think differently, behave differently, love differently. I have always been open-minded but now I am open-hearted, not just to those who are good to me and treat me right, but to those who don't too. It just feels right, I don't really know why. And I'm okay with that.

I have faith. My faith may not fit in a specific religion, but lately I have felt drawn to going to mass. I believe there is more, a bigger picture. I also like to go for pyschic readings, and I believe in the Law of Attraction. I believe in an underlying goodness in people, and I think that when I show it to others they respond positively and with a goodness. You can ask the teacher whose room I use for my studyhall, she has seen me disarm unruly students sometimes by just asking how they are, how was their weekend. I believe that I am where I am supposed to be, things feel right, most days. There have been a few times in my life where things felt good for a bit, a minute, a day, a week, but this has been feeling 'better to good' for awhile.... I can't do it alone, I couldn't have reached it alone. So I have Faith in something bigger than me.

A support group is necessary in life. My husband. My children. My friends. My fellow hemi moms. My fellow teachers. My fellow writers. When I got pregant with my first son at 19, and my second son at 21, I thought I had to it would show that I couldn't handle it and didn't deserve them. I thought I couldn't share bad things from my first marriage with friends...that would be akin to 'hanging my dirty wash out to dry' took me an unnecessarily long period of time to realize that it is okay to need to help. It's okay to vent. There are parts of my life that were really bad and they didn't need to be as bad or as dark as they were, but I thought I had to do it all myself. Then Kath came and I found out I HAD to have help. It was a humbling time, I need to count and reach out to others. That was a hard lesson for me. I know now it's okay to ask for help, you aren't weak if you need help.

Time is neither a blessing or a curse. Spending TIME with family is a blessing. Waiting for a doctor exam and the results feels like a curse. Actually, Time is just Time. It is what you make it. Sometimes I use it wisely, sometimes I squander it...or maybe not 'squander' in the usual way...but go sideways for a little while. But if I have a choice between cleaning and hanging out with my family, or going for a cup of coffee...I never choose cleaning. Never. :)

Laughter is healing. When I look back at the hardest times in my life, I remember them being devoid of laughter. They were heavy with sadness and frustration at not being able to alter things for my children, and laughter-less. But when I try to keep that one foot in the door of the place where people laugh...then I get to laugh and that helps to beat back the darkness. Not laughing can break you faster than the actual problem you are facing. Laugh deep and often.

**** I started this a month ago then immediately--before I even got to edit it--fell off my 'writing-wagon.'
I'm not sure why I stopped writing. Maybe I felt overwhelmed. Maybe I felt I was sharing too much. Maybe I felt I couldn't live up to things. Maybe it's just winter. Maybe it's just laziness.

Whatever it was, I feel I came up with a good final lesson to leave this piece on. Although I am sure I will have many other lessons I wish I added...tomorrow when I am driving down RT43 I will thunk my head and say, "Hey! What about..., ya dope?"

But this is it: Don't allow yourself to give up. Especially on yourself. If you do then it is too easy to expect less from others too.

I was thinking today, giving myself permission for getting the most out of shape (read: NO exercising, okay a little yoga, but more cookies than yoga) I've ever been; giving myself leeway for not writing each day (Hey, you are busy, you have a family, a house, a one REALLY expects....); but then I thought of two major things.

1) I have been honing my writing for years. I feel I have gotten pretty good at it. I feel it's a gift. So who am I to hoard my gift? I have story ideas popping into my head, why am I shrugging them off and allowing them to lay dormant when I should be rushing to write them down? What am I so afraid of? Why am I giving up on myself? I have read stories in my life that truly felt like they 'saved' me, helped me put my feet back on the ground...etc...what if (here comes a humble part) one of my stories could help someone else live life a little better?

2) We don't allow Kath to give up on anything. We work at what is hard and we rework it and we keep going until she can do it to the best of her ability. We have had people tell us how wonderfully she is doing, said with the air or words to the effect that we could have it a lot worse, as if we should be grateful that she is beautiful and that she is not more damaged by the stroke, as if she has reached her apex. Well, we are grateful, but we also won't allow her to just settle for 'just fine' when she can and will do and live 'amazing.' And we won't give up on her.

So my lesson...if my 5 year-old stroke survivor can get up every day, smile and work to use body parts and brain parts that are resistant to progress then I can push myself to reach beyond my comfortable place and use what I've been gifted too. If my 7 year-old can struggle so much with her asthma and still dream of playing soccer and running track as well as continue to learn dance (she wants to do 3 classes next year), then I can get my body back into health too. If my 22 year-old son can sustain a traumatic brain injury that bounced him into a very different life path than he was dreaming about, and force him to deal with seeing his friends going off in all their different directions while he resets and refigures the one he now lives on, then figures out how to push it to fit the new him, then I too can find my valued friends and step back on my new path and shape it Veronica-Style. If my 24 year-old can deal with trying to figure out where his place is, in a world that promised, "If you go to a good college, you will find a good job and do what you love," but in reality shut shop on him and changed the game, then I can also reshape and advocate for myself and others in my teaching world.

I'm not sure what this all means. Many times I write and have a goal and purpose. This post has been unwieldy and messy in my head. But maybe that's okay too...maybe sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to reach and see if, just maybe, we can reach when we really aren't too sure, when all we feel like doing is sitting in front of the wood stove with a cup of coffee, playing it safe.