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The other shoe

8 Jun

Teaching from home, I went shoeless.
It’s my preferred way of being.
I’d put shoes on to
walk the dog,
get groceries,
go to the library, but
for over a year,
I was essentially,
barefoot.

When we returned to
teaching in the building, it was
socks
and shoes
everyday.
I chose my comfiest shoes,
being unaccustomed
to a full day of footwear.

But Spring is turning to summer
and the days are,
mostly,
warmer.
We’ve had some hot ones, too.
The AC in my portable is unreliable
at best,
so I have transitioned
to sandals.

Sandals bridge the gap
between barefoot and shoed,
between Spring and Summer,
between online and in person.

We have two weeks left.
I don’t know exactly
what I will be teaching next year.
I don’t know
which room I will be in,
or who I will be working with.
But I do know
that in two weeks,
I will be barefoot once more.

The Doctor is in

18 May

“Hey Ms. Gillespie,” an in-person student called to me one day last week. “What did you want to be when you were our age?”

I thought for a moment before replying,”I don’t remember exactly, but I know that before I went to university, I wanted to be a doctor, a journalist, a politician, a UN interpreter, and a spy.” I chuckled to myself and thought As a teacher, I am really all of those things!

A few days later, I found myself playing doctor.

Richard’s allergy test revealed that he was allergic to a wide range of things, including every tree in the neighborhood, most of the plants, and the yeast he develops on his own skin when he has an allergy flare-up. Based on these results, his serum was whipped up in a lab and the day had finally arrived for me to learn how to administer the shots.

The vet and I talked over his health history, how reactive he is, and decided that once a week, rather than twice a week was the way to go. She gave me a spreadsheet where I was to track each shot. We talked about reactions and I learned that dogs don’t have anaphylactic reactions. They get hives and their faces can swell, but it is extremely rare for a dog’s throat to swell. There’s be no need for an epi-pen but made a plan in case there were hives and swelling.

And then she pulled out the hardware: serum, syringes, and a needle clipper. She explained that we’d practice today with a saline solution, so I could learn how to be gentle, but effective.

I grabbed the massive cowl of flesh that is the nape of Richard’s neck – his basset physique made it easy.

“The needle will go in easily,” the vet explained as I filled the syringe with saline. “TV has given people a false impression. Sometimes they think they have to stab it in, but it is a slips in gently.”

She was right.

Richard didn’t seem to have noticed.He didn’t notice the first shot he had this morning either. As soon as it was over, he made himself comfy on the sofa and did what he does best.

Pour un Instant

6 Apr

My daily afternoon walks to the park with Richard are always interesting. There are the things people we see: walkers, cyclists, skateboarders, ducks, cats on leashes, neo-hippies, tightrope walkers – it is Portland after all! These might not be the norm in every park, but they are in ours. Yesterday, brought something new: a young woman playing a harmonium.

A lot of musicians fill the park. Some cyclists carry radios and you get a snippet of a song as they roll past. There’s a guy who comes with a small keyboard, records tracks, and accompanies himself on a trumpet. Thursday and Friday afternoons, when the weather is nice, band perform beside the dog off-leash area. But yesterday’s harmonium was novel.

I actually had to look up the correct word. As I walked past the performer, I called it a hurdy-gurdy in my head. She was seated on a blanket near the pond. That’s a real gathering place for groups of friends and families. It is also the sunniest spot in the park.

When I learned that the instrument was actually called a harmonium, my mind took a little trip back to the 1970s. In grade six, our French teacher, Madame Murray, introduced our class to the music of a French-Canadian group called Harmonium. The one song I specifically remember was called Pour Un Instant.

It’s funny what you can remember after over 40 years. Everything is on Youtube now, so I sought out the song.The tune was not quite what I remembered, but I nailed the first two lines. For an instant, as I listened, I was back in my 6th grade classroom, looking at the words, loving the French language.

Spartan

31 Mar

Welcome to my new home away from home. I mean that literally and figuratively. This is neither the classroom in which I taught for six years, nor the home office from which I have taught for the last year. It is my hybrid classroom. It looks like a detention room.

The bulletin board was left up when we left the building in March 2020. There was a long-term sub in the room, so it wasn’t taken down. It felt as if it were still February 2020, the only date I found on the papers that were strewn atop the desks and bookcases – a moment frozen in time. Not knowing what else to do, I collected the papers and put them in the teacher cabinet. I don’t think anyone will come for them, but experience has taught me that, if I toss them, someone will want them.

The cart is my new desk. Since students stay and teachers rotate, this is the vehicle on which I will travel from portable to portable to portable. In my first year of teaching, I was an itinerant French teacher, traveling from room to room with rolls of chart paper, a masking tape bracelet, and a cassette player. In a way, it feels like I am coming full circle in my career.

Starting off on the right foot

30 Mar

In all my angsty worries about reentering society and having to socialize, I forgot about the hardest part of the return to school. I mean that literally and figuratively, because I forgot how much my feet ache at the end of a day walking on concrete floors.

In warm weather I go barefoot at home. In cold weather, I wear handknit socks and slippers around the house. I only ever put on shoes if I am going outside. Back at school yesterday, I had to wear shoes all day.

I choose my shoes carefully. Over the years I have learned that it is better to have a few expensive pairs than a lot of cheap ones. My mother grew up poor and loved cheap shoes. She once scoffed at how much my sister and I spent on a single pair of Danskos. In her later years she developed severe hammertoe and had to have the second toe on each foot amputated. I will never know if her abundance of cheap shoes was to blame, but I only well-made shoes with good arch support.

I didn’t notice how tired my feet were until I got home last night and took my shoes off. Thin carpet over concrete makes for very tired feet at the end of the day. We have two more days at school before returning to two and a half weeks of remote learning. That means two and a half more weeks of barefoot teaching that I will appreciate even more than I have.

It’s not you, it’s me

29 Mar

My anxiety about returning to my school building today – and for the next three days – has very little to do with fear of catching COVID. I am fully vaccinated after all. It has everything to do with people.

I am one of those introverts who has actually thrived ( thriven?) in isolation. I love being at home. My students are being successful. I have a happy routine that has worked for the last year. For the next three days, I have to be around people and that has me very anxious. Since I know I probably won’t be teaching in my own room, I’ve been making jokes about planning in my car. I am really only half joking.

We are a large staff…62 certified teacher, plus administration and classified staff.For the last year I have lived alone, eaten alone, walked alone – except for having Lucy, then Richard by my side. Any forays into the grocery store are strategic strikes, in and out in minimal time. And now, for the next three days, I have to sit in a room with most of those 62+ people as we learn how hybrid will look.

This is what is stressing me out today. Having spent the last year avoiding people, I feel like I am about to enter the lion’s den.

Making a list and checking it twice

28 Mar

In the weeks before a vacation, I start a list of things I want to remember to pack. I have a special list for things I particularly want in my carry-on. Well, I am not going on vacation anytime soon, but I do have to go into school for three days next week, as we prepare for hybrid learning.That means I have to pack my schoolbag for three full days away from home. I haven’t had to do that in over a year.

Over the last few days, I have been writing a list so I know what to pack in my bag tonight, so I am ready to get going in the morning. Here’s what I have so far:

  1. lunch
  2. 2020-21 meeting notebook
  3. wallet
  4. inhaler
  5. phone
  6. ID & lanyard
  7. computer
  8. power cord
  9. extra masks
  10. pencil pouch
  11. a book to read

I tell my students to pack their back the night before so they are ready in the morning. I’ll take some time today to get mine ready. I’ll add the lunch tomorrow morning. A new routine begins.

RIP Beverly Cleary

27 Mar

Did you know there really is a Klickitat Street in Portland? It’s not far from my local public library, and it is the neighbor hood in which Beverly Cleary set her Ramona books.

Beverly Clearly passed away on Wednesday, at the ripe old age of 104. In honor of her passing, I will share my favorite Ramona quotes, in no particular order

  1. “Why don’t you turn on the dawnzer?” – Ramona, thinking she was quite smart, thigh that dawnzer was a synonym for lamp. She learned it in the national anthem: “Oh say, can you see, by the dawnzer lee light.” Brilliant!
  2. “Sit here for the present.” Ramona’s teacher says this to her on the first day of school. Ramona follows her directions perfectly, expecting a present for doing so. I like to say this to kids and I snicker when I do. I think they think I am crazy.
  3. “Pieface!” Mrs Swink, an elderly neighbor, and Ramona call each other this in a good-natured way.
  4. “I am too  a Merry Sunshine.” Ramon says this when she is accused of not being one. You can imagine the tone f voice she used when saying this.

To celebrate her life, I hope you turn on a dawnzer, do something for the present, and shout “Pieface!” at someone you love.

Time Flies

26 Mar

“Good morning,” my neighbor said to me as I took Richard for our afternoon walk. She realized her error and laughed.

I joined in and said, ” I get it. I’m on Spring Break and keep thinking today is Saturday.” I paused for a moment and had to think what day it really was.

By the time we got to the park, the conversation had drifted far from my brain. we meandered on and off the path. It was a nice day – in Oregon that means it’s not raining. I kept looking around wondering why there were so few people here on a Saturday. And then I remembered.

It’s bittersweet when you get to this point in Spring Break- you are deep enough to lose track of time, and deep enough that the Break is almost over.

Conquering the mountain

25 Mar

Last week, the week before Spring Break, when I felt tired, it seemed like a terrific idea to put off grading the two pieces of work I had asked my students to turn in. This week, it seemed less terrific.

I didn’t have a bag of work propped by the door. In these days if remote earning, it was a virtual pile in my Canvas account. Despite the fact that I couldn’t see the work, it still loomed large in my mind. I needed to do something about it. Tempted as I was to procrastinate until Sunday, yesterday presented an opportunity.

After playing phone tag with the vets office, we had decided to start Richard on a low dose of prednisone fr five days. The tech I spoke to on Tuesday afternoon told me she’d call in the scrip to my local grocery store since their offices were closed on Wednesdays. I assumed she meant she’d call it in right away so I waited half an hour then drove over. They had no record of the scrip. I knew I’d have to try again the next morning.

I don’t sleep in much on weekends or holidays, maybe only 30 minutes beyond a normal work day, so I was up early on Wednesday. I knew the pharmacy opened at 9 and I planned to call before I drove over this time. As an early riser, I had time to kill. What better way to kill to birds with one stone than to take a look at that mountain of work while I waited to call?

My teaching partner is disciplined and likes to score a set number a day. I like to sit down and binge grade. I have a routine around it, setting up my work are a certain way, following a particular order of operations. It works for me.

And my master plan worked for me this day.

I managed to get most of the work done by 9:30, when I called the pharmacy. Yes, they did have a scrip for Richard. I dressed and drove over. I was in and out in 15 minutes. After greeting Richard, who missed me as if I’d been gone all day, I got back to work and finished the school work before lunch.

Randy Ribay

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