Life Choices

The last two days, my English students have been reading A Wagner Matinee by Willa Cather.  For those of you not familiar, the story basically is this:

A 30-year-old, well-educated piano teacher from Boston, Georgiana, meets a young man named Howard Carpenter and runs off with him.  He is dirt poor, and the two eke out a life on the Nebraska plains.  She spends thirty years working for everyone, ruins her looks and her hands, and leaves her entire world behind, giving up music and her passion for thirty years.  When she comes into an unexpected legacy, she returns to Boston to visit her nephew, Clark, who decides to take her to a Wagner matinee in order to please her.  After the concert, she says to Clark, “I don’t want to go. . .”

It’s a story I don’t teach much, as my students don’t connect much to it, but I realized today how much Georgiana reminds me of myself.

Before I became a teacher, and before I was married and had a family, I worked in professional NY theatre.  While I was never a star, and I never really made any money at it, I worked almost consistently, in a variety of areas, for almost two years.  And even when I quit and got a real job, I ran a theatre company for several years, working as CFO, company manager, actor, designer and director.  And as a teacher, I’ve been fortunate to continue my theatrical pursuits directing and designing shows in the various schools that I’ve worked at, and as an actress in my local community theatre.

So while unlike Georgiana, I did not completely leave theatre behind, I made a choice to leave that world behind and make a new life for myself.  And while I don’t regret my decision, I often find myself, like Georgiana, crying at the overture to a musical, or getting so lost in a character in a play that I almost can’t find my way out.  I often look at the life that I’ve built for myself and wonder what would be different if I had just done one more show, or stuck it out one more year.

At the closing of each show I work on, I stay behind after the final curtain closes, as the last lights dim, and I sit in the darkened theatre, staring into the ghost light and I often cry to myself.  There’s no specific reason, but it is almost as if my heart breaks every time, with the loss of one more show–and I guess sometimes I wonder if it will be the last.  And if it ever is the last–will I become like Georgiana, who when reawakened to her love,  never wants to go back to reality.

 

I Do Suffer from White Privilege

I haven’t written in awhile–just have been too lazy to bring the laptop in, but I watched a documentary with my kids last week that got me thinking.

My college students are studying equality right now.  We watched a documentary called White Like Me.  The premise is that most whites are racist, not because they necessarily judge people by their skin color, but because they are simply not aware of what their racial biases are.  Most white people are simply not aware of what their “whitenss” gets them.  Here’s some things I learned from this documentary that I had never realized/thought off/acknowledged.

  • Welfare and social programs that many of us rail against are more often utilized my poor whites
  • There are far more poor whites in the U.S. than poor blacks, but poor blacks are the face of poverty in this country
  • When asked to match faces to negative or positive words, such as intelligent, heroic, or excellent, both whites and blacks tend to choose white or light-skinned faces over dark.
  • People are always calling for lower taxes, and many call for a return to simpler times, a.ka., the 1950s.  However, tax rate in the 1950s was 91%.
  • We never hear stories of those whites who went against the status quo to help during the Civil Rights movement; we only focus on those who did the oppressing

These are just a few, but these are the ones that stood out to me.  Having grown up in California, I did live in a predominately white world.  I went to a college that was 99% white–we had two black students in the whole school.   As a teacher in a predominately black school, and realize that I really have no idea what my students are up against–and that I need to be more aware of my own personal bias–and that I am not racist, but I am not anti-racist either, because I make assumptions that I probably should not about people.

 

 

I love Glee!

So how many of you out there watched Glee? You know, that goofy show with a bunch of kids breaking into song at random times? I loved that show when it was on for so many reasons.  I was rewatching it today, and was reminded of how much I love it!

First,  those kids are me.  I was that nerdy girl in choir who desperately wanted to be a star on Broadway–I was Rachel Berry.  I didn’t have a Kurt, at least not in high school, but I can empathize with Rachel.  For me, like those kids on Glee, choir and theatre were my second family.  I loved my choir teacher, and my theatre teacher.  We went through everything together.

Second, I see these kids in my students.  I have taught drama for years, and I see my kids, who are outcasts everywhere else, finally be themselves when they’re with my group.  They truly shine in what they love.

Third, I want to live in a world where I can randomly break out into song anytime, anywhere, and no one will look at me weird–in fact, they will join in an a really cool dance number behind me as the wind machine begins to blow.

Fourth, it introduced its viewers to all different songs, from all different places.  Broadway, R&B, 60s, 70s, 80s.  Everything is game, and everything works.

Fifth, it’s just silly.  While it did deal with some serious issues–teen pregnancy, bullying, suicide, gay rights–it’s all clothed in silly situations and fun songs–and passes time so quickly, and so well.

Sixth–it just makes me happy.

And what better reason to watch tv.

 

Random Thoughts

So, I realized my last few posts have all been about my job and my kids–and I don’t want to rant about that always.  While teaching is my biggest stress, it is also my biggest love.

So, instead, I want to just send out some random thoughts.

  1.  Why is color one of the first things we mention about people?  When I teach, I’m always encouraged to feature black authors, or women authors, or latino authors.  Why can’t I just teach authors, oh and by the way, they’re . . . (choose one)
  2. Am I the only one who wants a theme song?
  3. Why are diamonds a girl’s best friend?  Why not cheese?
  4.  Who ever decided that pineapple is good on pizza? (To my Facebook friends)
  5.  Why, in most schools, do they hire a band teacher, a chorus teacher, an art teacher, but usually not a theatre teacher (Theatre teachers are usually just part of the English department).  A school would never dream of hiring a math teacher  who also happens to play the piano to be the chorus teacher (at least I don’t think so)  Why is theatre the black sheep of the arts family?
  6.  Am I the only one who doesn’t find Jim Carrey funny?
  7. How are saggy pants comfortable?
  8. Why does everyone like pumpkin or pumpkin spice?  Pumpkin looks like its already been chewed and run through a colicky infant.  Why would you eat that?
  9. Why is it a pair of scissors, or a pair of pants?  They are always connected.  If you only have one blade of a scissors or one leg of pants, they are broken.
  10. I’m still waiting for my letter from Hogwarts.
  11. Does love like in the movies actually exist?
  12.  Have you ever watched a movie, seen the two actors kiss, and then judge their kissing ability?
  13. When people die in movies, do you watch to see if you can catch them breathing?
  14. Do LEGO people’s personalities change when you swap bodies?
  15. Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?
  16. Are we really the house pets of some giant alien?
  17. Why does corn look the same coming out as going in?
  18. I wish I was as flexible as a cat.
  19. Why are people accused of aiding and abetting?  Those words are synonyms.  They shoud be accused of aiding and aiding some more.
  20. It’s a good thing elephants don’t fly.

Lateness is okay

So, I am finishing up a semester, and as always, I have parents and students complaining about their grades.  Now, for the most part, I am happy with the school I’m at, and so this is not really a complaint about that–this is a long running complaint that just came to a head today because I had to give a kid a grade and now he’s back in my class, and frankly, he’s smarmy–he’s got his Mom snowed and I have to look at him for another six months.

So, when I can make my own late policies, it is usually this:  No late work accepted, except major assignments, like papers, which are then penalized 5-10 points a day.  Absences of course do not count, and there are always exceptions.  My current school, and the last few schools I’ve been at, have this policy:  Work can be turned in up to a certain point, usually about a week before the term is up, and no matter how late, it has to receive at least a 60%.

So, every time a quarter ends, I have kids turning in work that is 3 months old, and I have to accept it and give them a grade for it, and some, depending on their average, can pass–even though they’ve done nothing all term.  Now, I teach a college course, so I have higher standards for that course, and I was holding them to my original policy.  Unfortunately, I forgot to put it in writing (my bad), so I have to give them the grade.  (I’ve corrected that for this semester)

Here’s my problem with it.  I know that sometimes things happen, which is why I have always allowed for exceptions.  But, we are teaching entire generations of children that as long as it’s done, it doesn’t matter when it’s done.  We’ll still give you a grade.  It’s like the “every child gets a trophy” mentality.  I understand, in theory, that if you give students a zero every time they miss assignment, they may get to a point where they can never recover.  However, in my experience, if you give them the 0’s up front, 95% will step up and get it done, if you hold them accountable. (I saw this for the first 11 years of my teaching career)

If I don’t pay my mortgage, trust me, the phone calls come.  I paid my mortgage two days late once, and the phone calls started the 1st day.  I never made that mistake again.  If I don’t pay my car payment on time, I may wake up and my car is gone.  Reality doesn’t take exceptions.  It’s due when its due.  And for those that are going into college, they need to realize that deadlines are deadlines–professors will not wait five weeks for an assignment.

This is one of the many points that just irritates me so about being a teacher, and I can’t change it–no matter how much I may want to.  It’s a culture that has become acceptable, and if I try to do it differently, I become the scapegoat.   It makes me worry for the future, and it makes me tired trying to change the unchangeable.

A student made me cry

Sorry I’ve been gone a few days, but had a hectic week and didn’t want to do anything when I got home but put my feet up.  But I’ll be dong triple writing tonight, for what it’s worth.

So, it’s that time of year–the end of the semester.  My students are starting to realize that they may actually fail for the semester, and many are desperately trying to get in work and slide by with that 65%.

I teach college classes to high school students.  Meaning, we are in a high school, but they are taking a college class for both high school and college credit.  Kids who do all the college courses can graduate with both a diploma and an associates degree.  It’s a pretty good deal–I think.  However, a lot of kids who are really bright don’t really know how to deal with that kind of workload, and I have a handful that have struggled all semester.  If they fail at the end of this next week, they not only don’t get credit for their high school course (they have to repeat that semester), but they also have an F on a college transcript.  It’s a bit of a bummer, and some of them are in shock.

I had one young man who has been struggling all semster, and just couldn’t get it together. He failed his midterm last week, and it’s very unlikley he will pass for the semester.  After I had posted his midterm grade, I got an email from him the next morning that simply said, “Mrs. ——-, I think I failed.  I’m sorry.”

I broke into tears in the car.  So often, students come storming into my classroom, demanding to know why their grade is so low.  So few acknowledge that they are to blame for their failure.  So few are willing to take responsibility for their lack of effort and would rather place the blame on me.  This young man renewed my faith in my job with two short sentences.  I am doing everything in my power to make sure he gets that D, so at least he won’t have to repeat the 1st semester.

I will smile a little brighter when he walks across the stage in June and his name will be in my short list of those who make me keep going on those hard days.

Entitlement

So, I meant to write about this on Thursday, but I got bogged down with life, and well, here it is Sunday.

Anyway,  on Thursday, my students and I came back to school after a long snow-filled weekend.  Many of them came back to standardized tests that they had to retake because they had failed them in the past.  First, they know they failed these tests to begin with.  Second, there have been lists posted on the walls of the school since the beginning of December with test retaker information.  Third, there have been announcements daily regarding these tests since December.   Fourth, there was a weekly email sent out to students, parents and teachers since December.  Fifth, the night before we returned to school, there was a robocall to all students, parents and teachers.

Yet, here we are, Thursday morning — “What?!”

“I didn’t know I had to take a test.”

“When did they tell us this?”

“This isn’t fair!  I didn’t know.”

“What test?”

You get the idea.  I can almost forgive them for having snow brain–almost.  But what bothered me most was at least three students, although one was far more vocal than the others saying (and I’m paraphrasing):

“How do they expect me to take this test?  I didn’t get no remediation.  They can’t make me take a test without remediation.  This school sucks.  I’m just going to click and fail anyway.  What’s the point?  I’ll fail every time I take it because I don’t care.  My dad won’t care either.”

She then proceeded to demand-and note I say demand–that she be allowed to go see the principal to tell him how she feels about this whole situation.  Because it is easier to let her go then listen, I allowed her to go.  When she returned, her tirade continued:

“I hate that Mr. . . .  He so stupid.  Tell me I have to take my test and I shoulda gone to tutoring.  When was there tutoring?  No one told me.  I got better things to do than this.  I got work and I’ll make more money than him.  I’m gonna call my dad and get him fired.  He so stupid. ”

There are a number of things that bother me about this.  First, that anyone would fail these tests to begin with.  My states’ tests are a minimum standard–to get the passing score, you need to get 58% right, and the high school tests are written on a 5th grade reading level.  So, my state basically says it’s okay to know a little more than half of what you should.  I don’t want a doctor that knows only a little more than half of what he should.

Second, that it is somehow the school’s fault that they are not prepared.  We have tutoring available after school pretty much everyday, and if they don’t like us, our local university offers free tutoring, career counseling, college application help, internship help, etc.  The representatives for the university are in our building, and they come to the classrooms on a regular basis.

Third, that they feel entitled to confront an adult about something and then call them stupid and threaten to have them fired.  And along with that, that a parent will support their child on that.

Now, most of my students are not like this.  Which is why she stands out.  However, what I do see more and more of, except in the very brightest students, is a pure apathy regarding anything that does not directly relate to them.  If it’s not entertaining or interesting, they want to have nothing to do with it.  And many of them tell me that “When they get to college” it will be different.

I have taught at the local community college.  This is what I observed.  Students over the age of 30, regardless of how long they had been out of school, no matter how weak a student they had been in the past, were able to stay on task, get their work completed on time, and were able to pass with a B or better.  Students between 25 and 30 struggled more with time management and in actual work created–their work quality was much poorer than their older classmates, but they usually showed improvement, and all passed the class.  The worst students were those under 25, and specifically, one’s who had graduated in the last few years.  Coming to class unprepared, staying on their cellphones, not completing assignments, arriving late or not showing up at all.  They were all intelligent, what little work I could get from them was always of good quality.  In the three years I taught at community college, 90% of the students out of high school in the last five years either failed or received D’s in the course.  And it didn’t matter if they came from the worst or the best schools in our area–they were all the same.  I stay in touch with many of my former students, and the majority of those who started at community college, either because they were trying to save money or their grades weren’t up to snuff are still there, or quit, even five to eight years after graduation.

So, do I fear for our future?  Yes I do.

Butt Fuzz

So, I haven’t written in a few days–I just wasn’t really pissed off about anything, so didn’t feel like it.  But, now I’m back, with Butt Fuzz.

So, I went to see Passengers yesterday with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  Now, Chris Pratt is always nice to look at, and he has two very nice butt shots in the film, so if the film had been terrible, those still would have made it worth the $8.50.  However, the film was quite good, so the butt shots were just an added bonus.

So, as I’m feasting on the beauty that is Chris Pratt’s behind, a strange thought occurs to me–does he have butt fuzz?  Then, as I was driving home, I started thinking about the other actors I enjoy seeing scantily clad, and again, I thought–do they have butt fuzz?

So, in reality, we all have butt fuzz.  It’s just a part of being human.  But, when I have seen butts onscreen, they seem to be fuzz free.  The camera picks up leg fuzz and arm fuzz, why not butt fuzz?

So, then I wondered.  Do they wax their butts?  Or is it photo-shop/CGI?  If it’s waxing, I want to talk to that waxer.  If it’s photo-shop/CGI, can I have that job?  Although I’m not a computer whiz, I would learn whatever necessary if my sole purpose was to remove fuzz from actor’s behinds.  Imagine that credit in a film.

So, next time I watch a movie with a gratuitous (or not) butt shot, trust me, I will look for the butt fuzz.

Day 8 – Fat Ghost

So, since we have almost a foot of snow on the ground here, and I’m home from work until Wednesday, I have not felt guilty at all about watching a lot of tv.  Today, I watched Bright Lights, which is an HBO documentary about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  In all, it was not all that enlightening, nor was it a fantastic piece of filmmaking-if anything, it made me realized how really screwed up Carrie Fisher was.  But, Carrie Fisher had a great question.  “If you die fat, do you come back as a fat ghost?”

I thought this was funny.  I pictured a bunch of really fat ghosts who can’t quite fit through walls and when they go through narrow doorways, parts of their ephemeral bodies go through the walls as well.  Or, seeing a ghost sit on a chair and have parts of them hang off the sides.

But, then I thought a little more seriously.  What if those of us who are heavy in life are punished for our gluttony by remaining so in the afterlife?  Maybe that is God’s justice–we mistreated our temple, so now we must haunt in our brokedown palace.  There are many ideas of heaven, and one that I see quite often is of everyone returning to a better time in their lives–missing limbs are replaced, beauty is restored, and souls live in perpetual youth and beauty.  Perhaps that is what is meant by heaven?  But what of those who were misfigured from birth?  Do they remain so, and thus remain ugly?  Or does ugliness not exist in heaven, because it is a perfect place?  Or, do we go as we died–old, fat, crippled.  Well, frankly, if that is the afterlife, I don’t want to live the way I live now–I want what I can’t do now.  So, I would prefer the thin and beautiful.

However, I also like the idea of a fat ghost.  Perhaps, they would be more friendly than a normal ghost, perhaps equated with Santa Claus.  Fat and jolly.  Plus, as a fat ghost, you could be a warning for those you haunt–appetite control from the other side.  I see new ads for Nutri-System.  “Lose it now, or live your afterlife like this” with a picture of a morbidly obese ghost.  New products marketed as “the death diet” making sure you look good in your shroud and chains.

But how do you measure BMI on something noncorporeal?

 

 

Day 7 -Parenting

So, I think I’m a pretty good mom.  Not the best, but I think I do most things right.

So, the argument in my house is always over video games.  I personally don’t see their allure, and I don’t understand how my DH and my son can spend hours on end playing them.

My son is allowed two hours on each weekend day, and sometimes, one hour during the week.  Right now, it’s none during the week.  It doesn’t matter how long he’s been playing, or how often, every time I ask him to get off the computer or console, he whines and throws a tantrum.  My go-to punishment when he doesn’t behave is to take away his computer time, because it is frankly the only thing he seems to value (which makes me very sad).

So, last night, he did not go to bed when I asked him to, and was very obstinate and confrontational when I asked him to, so I took his time away today (knowing full well we’d be snowed in all day).  My DH’s response was “I’ll make sure Mommy gives you your time back.”

Now, I admit, this morning, I did relent and let him play (which I know is part of the problem).  When I told my DH, he said “Why?”  I of course didn’t really have an answer, which is, of course, another problem.  But then he said, “It’s just easier, he is less difficult when you give him what he wants.”

And this is when I got upset.  This is the problem.  Both of us, my DH more than me, are teaching him that if he whines enough, he will get what he wants.  It happened the other day.  I wouldn’t let him play on my phone because he had been difficult.  As soon as my DH got in the car, he gave him his phone.

My son is a good kid, and with the exception of the video games, he is really very easy to deal with.  He gets good grades, he is not a troublemaker, so there’s a part of me that sometimes thinks I’m being to strict when I take away his games for not going to be at 8:00 on a Friday night when he has no school the next day (and he was playing with his toys, which I’m always asking him to do).  But then, I’m trying to teach him that he has to act a certain way to get what he wants, and it is only half working.

I’m not sure if I really am a bad parent, or I just want my son to be too much like me.  I want him to be well-rounded, and I see him becoming more and more like my DH with a one-track mind–video games.  It hurts when he says he’d rather do nothing than play a game with me, or go to a movie with me, or read a book or do anything, just because we took away his video games.   My DH calls me a bad parent all the time–primarily because I let our son do things independently.  I don’t hover over him.  I take care of him, I watch out for him, but I don’t coddle him.  My DH even intimated as much again today.  My son wanted to go outside today and shovel to earn some money (his own initiative) and I said sure.  I told my DH who said “No,” he needs someone to show him how to shovel.  Then blamed me for not being a role model because I wasn’t going to.  What about him?  THat made me mad again today.

I guess in the end I’m not doing that badly.  My son is 11, and he still believes in Santa, and he still wants me to tuck him in at night, and he still loves his stuffed animals.  It could be worse.