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It’s May so….

25 May

Since my library job was eliminated 10 years ago, I’ve had to pack up almost every year. There was a year or two when I didn’t have to pack, and one when it was my choice because I had a chance for a better room, but this year, we are all being told to pack.

A new middle school is opening and my school, which is closest and the one to be most impacted. We are set to lose 20 teachers. The upside is that we won’t need the 14 portables we have. The bad news is that our administrators have told us all to pack our personal belongings. We can leave school materials in place.


A few years ago, I was told I was moving on the last day of school, so I am grateful for the early warning. Knowing how stressful that was, I am going into my classroom early – someone else is teaching in there these days to limit cohort interaction – and tackling one box a day. I have also begun sorting and boxing the materials I still have at home and bringing in those boxes.

Right now, my goal is the bookcases. There are a lot. My goal is to box my personal books and leave the school owned books on the shelf. The last time I moved, it took 48 boxes for all of it. I am estimating it will be 24 this time around.

We have no idea when we will know what – and where – we will be teaching next year. We are all hopeful that we will hear before school is out. Last year we didn’t find out until July, but we were right in the thick of the pandemic. Needless to say, morale is low and teachers are exhausted. I keep telling the kids to finish strong. I should take my own advice.

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

11 May

I’ve been thinking about not wearing my mask when I walk the dog. I am fully vaccinated and can, theoretically, go outside without wearing one. My brain gets it, my soul does not.

I still step off the sidewalk when people approach and give friends and strangers a wide berth.For over a year masks and social distancing have ruled my behavior and it is hard to unlearn these lessons. But I am thinking about it, and that is a good first step.

The shoe was on the other foot yesterday, as Richard and I took our post school day walk in Laurelhurst Park.

I’d like to say we meandered, but these days, Richard is on a mission. I’m not saying I have to run to keep up with him, be he goes at a fair clip and I have to walk fast. I don’t mind. I am hopeful my doctor will say nice things to me at my next physical – whenever that might be.

So, there we were, hoofing it through the park. We passed a group of men, then two older women before we got to the east end of the park. We sometimes see pairs of ducks here. Since early Spring, this has been their nesting grounds and a few weeks ago a sign in a childish script appeared warning people away from a particular spot at one corner of the horseshoe pitch, where duck eggs had been laid.

Over the weekend, ducklings had appeared. On Sunday – Mother’s Day – when I expected the park to be full but wasn’t due to an overcast sky – Richard and I stood in awe watching ducklings hop into the pond and swim. It doesn’t matter how old I get, ducklings still warm my heart.

Yesterday, as we rounded the east end, the men we had passed early, passed us. There is a lamppost that Richard has a special relationship with and he spent some time communing with it. When we restarted our walk, the men were a bit ahead, and so was a family of Canada geese. The group was waddling around on the north side of the path. The pond was on the south side.

I’d seen ducklings galore in the park, but I don’t recall ever having seen goslings. Richard was sniffing a particularly attractive tuft of grass so I watched the men veer away from the family, who were making their goosey way towards the path, and the pond. As we approached, the goose family arrived on the left side of the path. We stuck to the right side, this isn’t England after all.

I assumed we were far enough away. Richard was on the grass. I was on the very edge of the path. Apparently one of the parents did not agree, turned, and hissed at me. I apologized and kept moving forward, away from the goose family. Not good enough, the goos started running towards us, hissing more ferociously. Richard and I ran.

A couple was walking towards us on the path. The look half amused, half nervous. As we passed them, they took our place on the side far, far away from the goose family.

Teaching simultaneously

4 May

How do you hold the book so that both the students in the room and the students online can see the cover?

That’s a simple problem I faced as we embarked on simultaneously teaching kids in person and remotely. It’s a whole new learning curve and I feel exhausted like we did when all this began.

I mute myself so the students at home don’t hear the conversations with students in the room, but students at home tell me I’m muted and they think they are missing something.

A student asks for a private conversation in a breakout room. I have to tell them that anything they or I say could be heard by the students in the room.

It’s a delight to get to meet some of my students in person and engage with them, but it’s been a whole new learning curve. To limit contact, my 6th graders stay in the room and we three core Class teachers rotate. I began my career as an itinerant French teacher and I am back to the itinerant life, rolling from class to class on a cart.

I had worked out a comfortable routine working from home: computer in the center, iPad and stand to the left, plan book and everything else to the right. It took me a while to become comfortable on the cart. I opted for a tall cart, so I could use it as a standing desk. I am a natural spreader and there is no right or left with the cart. I have had to adapt and use the cart shelves as my new left and right, but I don’t feel as though I am at the top of my game yet.

I have learned to carry my power cord because my laptop battery doesn’t last all day.

With no home base, I bungee corded a plastic file box to the bottom of my cart so I can carry personal items, like my wallet and car keys, with me as I roll.

I seem to be fine tuning things just fine. Most days seem easier than the previous one, but then I get a day like yesterday, when I kept forgetting to share my screen and couldn’t figure out how to hold that booktalk book.

Thank goodness the kids are very forgiving.

A tooth story

20 Apr

It’s weird to feel an unpopped kernel in my second handful of popcorn, I thought as I settled in to watch a movie Tuesday night, they don’t usually show up until I am closer to the bottom of the bowl.

Richard was snuggled next to me, expectantly awaiting his share. I spat the kernel into my palm and looked at it. It took a moment or two for me to realize it wasn’t an unpopped kernel – it was a crown. I ran my tongue along my teeth and found a hole. I looked at the tooth again. Felt the empty space again. I repeated the action.

My first thought was – there’s no pain. I figured that was good news. I noticed there was no empty space in the tooth where the crown should anchor to the tooth. Another inspection with my tongue revealed that the nub was mostly gone. That probably wan’t good news. I put the rest of the popcorn in the compost – it didn’t seem right to keep eating it – and bagged the tooth, in anticipation of a dentist appointment.

I haven’t been to the dentist since October 2019, when I had my annual cleaning. I was supposed to go again in October 2020, but, like many people, I stopped making unnecessary medical appointments in the face of COVID. Fortunately, I still had no pain the next morning and, when I called the dentist, they could get me in on Friday morning.

It was curious to enter a medical office for the first time in almost two years. The waiting room was empty, but signage was everywhere. I had to rinse my mouth with a mild mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide before the x-rays. The dentist wore two masks and a face shield. It felt strange to remove my mask in the presence of strangers.

It was a good news bad news situation. The good news that it looked as though there was no infection. The bad news was that I’d been correct in suspecting the nub was gone. There was no way to reattach the crown.

I was given a couple of options and decided on a dental implant. What that means is several months of dental visits. In June they will remove what’s left of the tooth. At that point an appointment will be made to begin the implant process.

The good news is that I have good dental insurance, which a lot of people don’t have. The other good news is that I probably won’t set off the alarm in a metal detector, because that was the weird question I asked the dentist.

Tax trouble

13 Apr

Last year, when I did my taxes, the program I use informed me that it would be the last year my 2011 MacBook would be able to run their software. I set that news aside, but it has reared its ugly head. They weren’t joking.

This year’s software requires Mojave 10.14 and my ten-year old Mac lacks what it needs to upgrade. I am working on work arounds.

I could buy a new computer, one that can upload the software, but this Mac works just fine for what I do with it.

I tried uploading the software to my school computer, but it requires an administrator’s code, which I do not have. I will ask out tech person, who has an administrator’s code if she can help me out, but I suspect the answer is no.

I have downloaded paper copies of the forms I need. It’s super old school, but it might be easiest way to go.

Thank goodness I have another month to figure this out.

The job has changed

18 Mar

I got weepy in Advisory yesterday as we processed the murders in Atlanta yesterday.

It can be a little awkward talking about these things with 6th graders because some are very attuned to the news and some have no idea what happened.

At some point, I said something along the lines of “This isn’t what I signed up for when I became a teacher, but I seem to be having these conversations with students more and more,” and that made me sad because it’s true and because most of my students are of East or Southeast Asian ancestry. So I got weepy. Each and every one of these conversations connecting to the one before, and the one before, in an endless stream.

When I became a teacher in 1988, the hardest conversation I ever had was telling another teacher, who was wearing white pants, that she’d gotten her period.

My students are good, though, because yesterday, in our study of the three philosophies in Ancient China. I had connected them to The Tao of Pooh, and one of them made me laugh because commented that more people should be like Pooh. That led to comments about Taoism in general and how more people needed to be kinder.

I left them with a suggestion to go outside and enjoy the sunshine and to take a moment today to do a kindness to someone, or make someone smile for no reason except to restore some balance to the world. I know some of them will do that. I have faith and hope in them.

Back to the drawing board

14 Mar

Someone at work is pregnant and, traditionally, I knit a sweater for the new baby.

Last week I pulled out a skein of yarn I thought would be appropriate and knit a sweater I’d knit many times before. I hated the result. There were a couple of reasons for it. The variegated yarn pooled in a way I did not find appealing. I knit a size larger than I usually knit, trying to gift a sweater a baby might wear next winter, but It seemed off. Maybe it was the pooling that made the proportions look wrong. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that there is no way I can gift this sweater. It is now in a donation bag awaiting a trip to the Sally Ann.

So this morning, I am back to the drawing board. I have a new skein of yarn caked up and a different pattern on deck. And I am feeling really good about this decision.

A Green Bean Mystery

10 Mar

What’s that? I wondered as I pulled the laundry out of the washing machine. The bottom of the drum of my front loader. I reached in, thankful I no longer owned a top loader that would require me to jump up to get my hips in a position where I could lever my short self into a position where I could reach the bottom.

I pulled out green beans.

I stopped for a moment wondering how they got in the washer. I’d cooked some beans for a salad on the weekend. Had I put some in a pocket? I pulled out a few more beans. Were they on the cloth I’d set on my lap as I snapped off the ends? I reached in yet again. With each extraction I assumed I’d found them all, but every time I looked I saw more. I reached again. And again.

Somewhere between those last two forays into the drum, I had a theory about the mysterious appearance of the green beans..

After boiling and cooling the green beans, I drained them then set them on a tea towel to dry. When I was ready to assemble the salad, I shook the tea towel over the bowl containing the other ingredients. I then tossed the tea towel into the washing machine. My theory was that some of the green beans clung to the tea towel in a last desperate effort to keep from being eaten.

All those years of reading Nancy Drew certainly honed my detective skills.

The choice

5 Mar

For the last six years, I have taught Humanities. Before COVID, we had a double period so we could teach both ELA and Social Studies. It was a dream job.

I have learned a few things over my years as a teacher and one very important lesson I have learned is that dream jobs don’t last. That could have made me cynical, but I have also learned that, as Mother Superior says in The Sound of Music, “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window.” I am wiser, but not yet jaded.

Next year, my school district is dropping Humanities and adding separate ELA and Social Studies classes. This means that Humanities teachers have to make a choice. And, for me, it is a Sophie’s choice. I love teaching both.

I filled out the annual “what I want to do next year survey” early last week. For the past week I have edited my online form multiple times, some days choosing ELA, others Social Studies. Fortunately, the form had a space at the end for me to write. I wrote about the fact that my Humanities partner was retiring. I wrote about my love for both. And I wrote about my trust in the administration to make the best decision for the school as a whole. Trust is my One Little Word of 2021.

I have no idea when we will find out. I have no idea when the form will close. I hope it is soon, so that I am not tempted to change my answer yet again. Regardless, I trust that the right decision will be made and I will be happy with it.

Drawing closer

4 Mar

On Wednesdays, I only have one class: a 30-minute homeroom Advisory. Our counseling staff prepares lessons for us to teach, usually around Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Some of the lessons have been excellent, but it can be hard teaching a lesson some one else prepared and you see 30 minutes before teaching it. Some Wednesdays, I feel bad for my students. Yesterday, having looked at the lesson, I couldn’t take it any more.

First, let me say, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the lesson. It was sunny out and I felt an energy I hadn’t felt in months, and, after six months of SEL lessons, I wanted something fun. I threw out the lesson and decided we’d play Pictionary. We’d played the week before Winter Break and I laughed with my students harder than I ever had. Pictionary was what we needed today, not another slide deck.

Once everyone had arrived to the Zoom meeting, I asked, “Was there someone who won the last round last time, and I promised could go first?”

Silence at first, then a name was suggested. That person couldn’t recall, so I went to the list I’d prepared. “We have three birthdays this week, so I will offer it to the celebrants.”

Thursday’s birthday declined. I was worried.

Friday’s birthday declined. I was really worried.

Saturday’s birthday accepted and we had a Pictionary game up and running.

Suddenly, it was two minutes before the end of the class. I gave the word to the last drawer. She drew, They guessed and class was over. As I wrapped things up and we said our goodbyes, the comment that stood out to me in chat was We should do this more often. Yes, we should.

Randy Ribay

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