Reality Check

I got to cover a class outside the newsroom today. Enough said.

UIL Success

I can’t believe I didn’t post about District UIL. Since I read back over old posts, I want to make sure I document these moments. This year’s UIL journalism team was so different from last year’s. I had five kids on the team, four returning writers, all fantastic. (Last year I had nine kids on the team–all fantastic.) We placed in all events and won the journalism team champs. Three are moving on to Regionals in several events. To top that off, our entire UIL team won overall academic champs for the first time in 10 years. We’re a smaller school this year, but that hasn’t hurt our successes at all.

I love UIL. It was one of my favorite parts of high school. I hope my students say the same thing. ❤️ 

    
  

Put Up Your Phone!

“Mrs. Lee, Can I please be passing by today? If I’m not, I’m going to be grounded starting this weekend.”

The question wasn’t new, but my frustration was. 

See, this girl is what could be a great student. She LOVES writing features and she has incredible voice. She calls herself redneck and when she writes it’s like listening to Miranda Lambert sing.

And still she turned in a crappy story with ridiculous mistakes, no paragraphs and other sloppy work.

She’s one of those kids who’s perfectly happy with a 70. But her feature voice is NOT a 70. It’s an A with a little attention to detail. And the reason she doesn’t focus drives me crazy. 

I grabbed the iPad mini off her desk and handed it to her. 

And I lectured.

You’re a great writer, you love features and still you turned in crappy work as a final copy. Work you KNEW was awful. And still you turned it in because of THAT (I pointed at the mini). You let it control you. It interferes with your work in here, and I’m sure it interferes with your work in other classes. You’re tired every day, probably because you sit on this thing texting or FaceTiming until the early hours of the morning. Technology can be wonderful, but it can also be destructive. It will ruin your life. It will kill your grades and suck up all your time. It will hurt you on the job and in life. You have GOT to learn to turn it off and exist without it.

Lecture over. 

She turned the iPad mini off and got to work.

I love technology. We use it constantly in my classroom, and good LORD, I don’t want to go back to the days of cut and paste and light boards, but we’ve got a problem. A serious problem. So many of our kids are addicted to their phones and tablets. So many adults are too. It’s interfering with life. 

I hope we can fix this before it’s too late. 

Endorsements Aren’t the Answer

I’m one of those teachers who drinks the koolaid on a regular basis. I jump on board with lots of new fangled ideas, especially when they include words like research based and data driven. If you’ve spent any time reading my blog at all, you know that. So when I first heard about endorsements–sort of majors for high school students–I was excited. Kids need a path planned for what comes after high school before they leave school. When you have a goal, you can have a plan, and with checklists and timelines and something to measure, plans lead to goal success. 

This year I’m wary of where endorsements are taking us. That’s where this post is coming from. I’m open to discussion here, so please join in if you have an opinion. Endorsements are new and new is always tough. But what I’m seeing feels a little more worrisome than the uncomfortability brought by change. 

THE POST:

In an effort to make sure all students are college or career bound upon graduation, Texas has adopted an endorsement program of study. On the surface, it seems like endorsements are a great plan for student success. 

However, endorsements get it wrong. Yes, ALL students should have a plan in mind when they leave high school. No, endorsements are not the answer. Endorsements are things. They’re like band aids for a giant problem. A true plan for what comes after high school comes from relationship with a kid. It comes from a counselor who spends true time with a student, who maybe works through Myers Briggs with them and a mentor teacher or two or three who helps a kid through the rocky teen years. It takes a team of people at the school paying attention and staying on top of grades and family issues.  Endorsements don’t do that. 

Working with a student, really working with them, guiding them in a direction that leads to success after high school is an essential component to a school that works. 

If a student plans on a career in any of the trades or education paths offered through CTE centers, they should take that path because those classes are fantastic, and they give kids a foundation for success in a career outside of or alongside college. It’s FANTASTIC that Texas politicians finally understood that college bound only education was a huge failure to so many students. 

However, high school is not ONLY about a plan for the future. And when education is so pigeonholed, so precise, so completely focused on what comes next, it ends up as disasterous test-based only education has been.

I’m a student media adviser. When kids leave my program, they’re definitely ready for a successful future as a mass comm student. They’re ready for ALL successful paths after high school. Because high school media isn’t about a career or college major. It’s about community, the school community a student works and lives in. I have students who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, pharmacists, engineers, actors, directors, city workers, stay at home moms, computer programmers, social media directors, office managers, writers, journalists, photographers,  cinematographers, DJs, professors, ad account managers…the list goes on and on. I’ve done this for 22 years. I have A LOT of kids who have gone through my program. 😊

However, with endorsements, suddenly kids are telling me they can’t take my classes because they’re going to be doctors and they’re taking only STEM classes or they really have to focus on what they want to do after graduation. Kids are FREAKING out because they have no idea what they’re going to do and they feel pressured to choose a path and stick to it at 14 years old. That’s NOT what high school about. It cannot be what high school is about. 

The real answer is to give counselors and teachers more time to nurture student success after high school and to teach students how to plan for success. Endorsements don’t do that.

In Our Darkest Days

  It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. 

In our Darkest Days God is still there. When we feel completely alone, completely desolate, wretched, a failure, a mess, broken, like we’ve come to the end of our ropes, God is still there.

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

That’s what Good Friday means to me. I cannot imagine what it was like to follow Jesus and watch the events of Friday. I can’t imagine the isolation and awfulness of the hours after Christ died.

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

Thank God for Easter. Thank God for the reminder that he is always with us. Even when it feels like all hope is lost. 

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

Self reflection

I’d been warned about this. About the mental click that changes everything when you move from Mom to Grandma, but even with the warnings, I didn’t get it.

Now, 15 months later, I see it, feel it, embrace it. 

It is the jar of looking in the mirror and seeing a strip of silver hair running from the edge of my hairline to the crown of my head. Little lines of silver easily covered by my amazing stylist Kellie Mahaffey no longer so easily covered. Oh, she can get rid of the grey, but the upkeep on that color is $$$ with the grey there now. 

It’s the shock of thin skin under my chin and on the back of my hands. Looking in the mirror and seeing my mother 😊, knowing I’m older now than she was when DD was born. 

It’s the memories of weekends spent with Grandma and listening to Grandpa preach from the pulpit and still risking the stealth whisper to a friend in the pew next to me. And feeling like those days were a million moons ago.

It’s a cliche, but time truly does fly by. For 15 months I’ve fallen into this crazy funk of Netflix and Shonda Rhimes induced escapism. Escapism from the passage of seconds and minutes and hours and days and months and years. 

I’m done with that now. 

From here on I promise to embrace my seconds. Grandma is a state of mind, a beautiful part of life. ❤️

   
     

  

What a Year

I love the end of the year. It’s so interesting to look back at everything you’ve been through, to reflect on the good and bad choices and plan to do better. The new year, the blank slate, the unwritten words, the promise of it all, shines just there, barely in the distance, but I’m not ready for it yet.

I need to reflect first. Used to this blog was a great reflection piece. I could look back on the day to day pieces of life. But over the last few years Facebook has replaced the blog as my go-to for sharing.

Maybe that’s a bad thing, really. Maybe that Facebook oversharing is something I need to reflect on. I mean Facebook sharing is about 25% reality, 25% Hallmark and 50% funny memes. The 25% reality might be higher than the percentage actually is. In the olden days, the blog was a reflection piece. A chance to put down words and just try to get my mind to wrap around a problem whether it be an issue focused on diet, exercise, mom, writing, teaching, classroom, relationship, life, politics, whatever, the blog was a great sounding board. Me and the 10 or so people who checked out the blog every once in a while.

But then the blog exploded and the reflection stopped. I used the blog more as a sounding board for changes I wanted to see. It’s one thing to share with 10 or so people you know in real life. Quite another to share with 100s, sometimes 1000s, of people around the world. That sharing is scary sharing.

Now I’m back to the handful of people reading my blog, but I’m a savvy blogger, and I know the truth about blogs. If you put it out there for the world to see, sometimes the world sees it, and sometimes they respond, so choose reflection pieces wisely.

I always understood that truth on Facebook. Maybe that explains the whole 25/25/50 breakdown of posts.

Of course I’ve got to reflect on my relationship with food. Once again it controlled me. I know the truth there: diet and exercise not diet only. But God, it’s hard to exercise. It wasn’t always, and the truth of the matter is I actually LIKE exercise. I mean I’m never going to run…never…but I love the elliptical and Zumba is the best time ever, but by the time I drag myself home from work I don’t even want to cook or watch the news much less drag myself to the Y.

And that’s another thing to reflect on. I work too much. I guess everyone can say that, really. I try to tell my students to remember everyone is just as busy as you are. In teaching today that’s the God’s honest truth. I don’t know a teacher who’s not completely worn out. Used to I believed the maxim that if you love it, it won’t make you tired. Instead it will energize and excite you. That’s a lie. I love teaching. I love advising publications. I love working with my students. I’m sorry assed tired. Over a week into break, I should be ready to jump back in. The very thought leaves my nerves on edge. Of course Christmas Break isn’t really a break until now, so hopefully that changes. Reflecting on this didn’t help. The Hallmark part of Facebook includes those positive life memes that say if you focus on the good, only the good will answer. That’s total BS. What’s not BS is complaining without a solution solves nothing. So I need to find a solution. Part of tired is the bad diet and lack of movement, with of which I can control. It’s a vicious or victorious cycle, depending how I look at it. Kind of like life.

There’s so much more to reflect on. Living in the new house: awesome; being a grandparent: awesome but tough from such a long distance; planning for retirement: it’s still long enough away that the plan feels almost silly, but it won’t when the time comes and I’m ready; writing, it’s part of me, and I love it so I need to do more of it (see retirement above); Survivor, Best Season Ever; BBC series on PBS now streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime, okay, I watch too much of these but they are so good! If you haven’t seen Grantchester yet, go watch it now! Same for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. And Reign! I thought it was a teen show. Nope. If’s fantastic. It’s not BBC, but it is streaming on Netflix, and it is superb; books: I bought a kindle and I read so much more now. Well worth the price. No more phone distractions.

Yep, it’s been a year.

 

Letting Go

thanksIf you can read this, you won the life lottery.

Jesus Lord God, I know that sounds pretentious, but it’s so true.

After the last week of a total disaster at work that started with me missing the memo that they were taking down the network at school to change out switches (88-page deadline, senior ads due, grades due, Christmas break in T minus 5 days, I can’t imagine how I missed that memo) meaning no after-school work on one day, then losing the server, which led to another day and a half lost, I really, really need to remember that first sentence.

We don’t miss big deadlines. If we miss big deadlines, I feel like everything in the newsroom falls apart. The newsroom is like running the gauntlet. Not the awful gauntlet in one of those historical movies where you watch with one eye shut and the other barely open, cringing while you wait for doom to strike. Nope. Not that. The newsroom is the fun, funny, entertaining gauntlet like the one on Wipeout. One wrong step and you’re on the edge of the shaving cream covered bellyflop of disaster where no one gets hurt, but you lose your chance of winning the prize.

Missing a big deadline isn’t going to kill anyone. But winning the prize is a long shot. The prize is the semblance of calm that comes with second semester…at least until March.

We bellyflopped. And it wasn’t our fault.

There’s a sizzle to deadlines. That’s the only way I can explain it. This tension just under the surface that pushes you and crashes through your bloodstream in an adrenaline-fueled amazingness.

When the network was down and then the server crashed and we lost two and a half days of work, the sizzle fizzled.

Kids still came in and worked, but the hours weren’t there.

They were, but they would come at a price I wasn’t willing to pay.

Honestly, I think the kids were. They wanted to work late Thursday, and God knows, once upon a time, I would have canceled my anniversary plans and spent the evening in the newsroom with teenagers and the yearbook instead of my husband. I did. Several times over the years. Those days are over.

Some asked if we were working tomorrow. Once upon a time, I would have said YES! Let’s get this done. But no. No. Not now.  Not on Christmas Break. Just no.

So we’re missing a major deadline. And even though it’s the Wipeout kind of miss, the fun, funny, eensy-bittsiest, teeny-tiniest, minuscule of problems, it feels like losing a freaking nuclear war.

So here it is. I’m laying it all out on this space that’s been my sounding board for years. And I’m letting it go.

Earlier this week when my kids hadn’t been able to work for the biggest two after school deadline days I was griping a lot on Facebook. My friend reminded me about a story we heard at inservice. This CPS worker was involved  in a family violence situation where there was a gun and a baby involved and she had to extract the child without getting the baby killed or killed herself…I don’t remember the exact story. The point of the whole thing was afterwards she went to Braum’s and the freezers were out, so all the ice cream was melting and everyone in the store was running around like it was the end of the world, and the woman just said, “you know what, it’s just ice cream.”

Thank God for that story because it got me through the rest of this week. It’s just ice cream. No one died. We didn’t have a San Bernadino or Colorado Springs moment. Yes, we’re missing deadline, but it’s not life and death. It’s not pass this thing or forget about graduation. It’s not a health battle. It’s not  a catastrophic weather event like a tornado or flood or fire.

It’s Wipeout. It’s Ice Cream.

In January when we come back rested and ready, the yearbook will be there.

And I’m going to let this go. While I do, I’m  going to remember what I started this blog with. There’s a lot to hold on to. I’m going to focus on my blessings.

 

 

Wichita Falls: Home is Where the Heart is

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Two of my former students stopped by the other day. You know, like they do in small towns.

Dear Texas Monthly,

I live in the biggest small town in the US. People say that about Wichita Falls all the time, and while that means all the bad of small town living, it also means all the good plus conveniences like major grocery chains and restaurants.

I can get to work in eight minutes if I’m lucky and hit all the lights on Southwest Parkway on green. Max 15 if there’s a wreck.
When the light leading out of my neighborhood malfunctioned, I emailed the guy in charge of traffic lights, and he emailed me back, several times, until the light was fixed.
When I disagreed with a decision the school district made, I talked to my principal and he suggested I email the superintendent to let him know my thoughts. I did and within a couple hours the superintendent had emailed me back with a detailed explanation of why the decision was made and how. This was after five on a weekday.
Back when I was going to college I had two big jobs: I worked with five year olds at a day care and I was the cookie lady at Skaggs/Albertsons. When I started teaching high school, the kids all knew me from the grocery store. A few years later the five year olds were in my classes. I knew them and their parents.
I’m a yearbook adviser. People have dropped senior ads off at my house even though we’re not personal friends. They just called a friend who called a friend who called me and made sure it was okay. You know, the small town way.
The local newspaper published a serialized novel the local romance writers group wrote. For some, that was a first publication experience. And while the group has since disbanded, several of us still write and publish.
Our Junior League is a group of women devoted to service and not a status symbol.
I’ve taught aunts and uncles and kids of my first students, and the whole family still knows me.
The crosstown rivalry is real.
Pep rallies are amazing. High school football still fills the stands.
Our “Dancing With the Stars” groups are made up of people you know not people from the society pages of the paper. Wait. Are society pages still a thing?
We worked together to save water when it looked like the town might die and then we celebrated together when the rains finally came.
When Al Roker chose Wichita Falls as his Texas stop in his cross country trek, a high school band showed up to share some great Wichita Falls spirit.
Our mall theater is probably the worst theater in the entire United States, but we have Facebook pages that make fun of it.
If you want a fancy dinner, no problem. Best of all, that fancy dinner won’t break the bank.
Pioneer’s enchiladas still rock, Casa Mana’s red tacos reign supreme and Parkway Grill reminds you if you work hard and be nice, dreams do come true.
The base is amazing. Because of Sheppard we have an incredible diversity in our population. People from all over move in, and often they stay. My daughter had friends from Turkey and Switzerland while growing up. The ENJPT pilots and their families help us see a world outside of our city limits.
We offer great opportunities for involvement in town, in churches, in our schools and working with non-profits.
Midwestern State ranks as one of the most affordable quality liberal arts schools in the nation. If you live in town and go to school, chances are you actually know your professors. One of my professors called me to encourage me to start my MA and dropped off the application at my house.
So please, tell me again why being a full-time resident of Wichita Falls sucks so bad, Texas Monthly.
While you’re explaining all that, I’ll be at Parkway Grill with some Matt’s Senator Dip and a Colorado Bulldog. Chances are someone I know will be there and we can catch up on life. You know, like people do in small towns.

Me, No One Else

The absolute worst thing I can do with my writing is compare myself to others. My journey is mine. The speed with which I write, the publishing schedule, the Amazon list, the fan mail, the newsletter, the site…comparing my writing to others shuts me down. It’s just like comparing myself to others on a diet.

My words are my dream. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the world of self publishing, but I need to be good with what I can do physically.

Yes, just like the meme says, Oprah and I have the same number of minutes in our days. I need to find MY balance and be okay with what that is. I’m me. No one else.

Just some musings after looking at my favorite authors’ websites and finding myself in a dark place.