Monthly Archives: August 2005

Where did the real me go, evil book!

I’m working on the complete of the manuscript requested by Intrigue. I loved this book when I plotted it. Since it’s a mystery I worked out the basic plot before I started writing. My CPs read it forever ago, made suggestions on pacing. I tend to rush through, keeping the tension edge of the seat so when something big happens it’s almost no big deal because something big is always happening. Not this time. (DId I use big enough in that sentence? big, big, big!)
So WHY do I suddenly question every single word between pages 50-75? WHY!!!???
I think I’ve read it too many times. Who knows if there’s tension, passion and drama? When you know the whole freaking thing by heart all that stuff tends to blend into the page. UGH!
Tomorrow, I’m just moving on. I’m not even going to read over what’s on the page. Until I work through this sudden freak out session I’m in the middle of, I figure it’s what I’ll have to do. I don”t like to write my stories in that way these days, but it’ll get me going again. No more reading old pages. Fresh, new pages await.

My Sister’s Keeper….MAJOR SPOILER ALERT/RANT!!!

I read what I wanted to be an excellent book this weekend. Right up until the last chapter it was amazing. And then the author KILLED the main character. She’d set up this incredibly sad story already, but it worked. I could handle the sadness because it fit the story. A 13-yr-old girl suing her parents for medical emancipation because she doesn’t want to give her dying sister her kidney is definitely going to make for teary moments. But then the author gets some crazy idea. Oh. I know. Let’s throw in a freaking twist and make my readers sob for hours because that is the only reason to pull this stunt. It serves NO OTHER PURPOSE! But I’ll let the sick sister live. UGH! That’s what I get for reading outside romance. UGH!! DD thinks I’m crazy. She says the irony at the end makes it worthwhile. My thoughts: Irony this. 😦

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Lots of Children Left Behind

A child of the 80s, my dyslexic husband didn’t have that great of a time in school. Teachers spent his elementary years telling his mother how smart but lazy he was. She insisted he couldn’t read. They said of course he could. Finally after fourth grade she took him to Dallas for tests. Within minutes everyone knew. He couldn’t read, and it wasn’t his fault. At that time dyslexia was something new and unknown. He stayed in Dallas for school, learned to read and repeated fourth grade.
Problem solved. Or so you’d have thought.
In high school, he loved business classes, but his counselors told him he needed to focus on a trade. College wasn’t a valid option for a kid with dyslexia.
One teacher, Mrs. Reser, told him he could do whatever he wanted, but at that time in his life, he listened to the counselors and became an auto mechanic. He didn’t really like it, though. And in the back of his mind he remembered that teacher. Mrs. Reser. Telling him he could do anything he wanted.
Within a few years he was in college. In four years he finished his degree in marketing. The dyslexia was still there, but he dealt with it using the skills he’d learned so long ago at the school in Dallas.
In fifth grade my daughter’s reading teacher asked me if I’d considered modifications for her. Seemed she just wasn’t performing up to the level expected. The teacher felt modifications were in order.
I was stunned and outraged.
My daughter was hyper-active, but she’d scored in the 99th percentile on every reading test since she’d started testing in second grade. She’d certainly pulled the wool over her teacher’s eyes, but the teacher should’ve done a little research. Needless to say modifications weren’t discussed again. And amazingly, when the teacher’s expectations changed, my daughter’s grades did too.
I see this same thing play out so many times in schools and often the kids have no advocate, no one to stand up and say you can do it! I like being that teacher, but sometimes it’s hard. A few years ago I had a student in my introductory journalism class. She drove me crazy. She insisted she wanted to be a journalist, but she could barely write a coherent sentence. She’d been tested for special ed, but her scores were too bad to make it in the program.
Every day the girl came into my room, prepared to write. And every day she’d stay after. And every day I’d groan to myself at the wasted time I was spending on this girl who certainly had the desire but was never going to make it.
One of the best moments in my teaching career was the day she turned in a perfect lead. 5Ws, 1H. One sentence. 30 words.
We both jumped up and down. It might’ve taken two six weeks, but she’d done it.
By the end of the semester, she was turning in perfect summary news stories in inverted pyramid format. The simplicity of the form had freed her from her problems with grammar. The stories took lots of revision, but they were done and they were decent.
The girl transferred out of my school the next semester. I don’t know where she is today.
But she taught me an incredible lesson.
Want to,desire, perseverance…they’re every bit as important as ability and intelligence, probably even more so.

No Child Left Behind…bah humbug!

The new laws regarding education are beyond understanding. In a couple years, government officials say all students will pass a standardized test before they graduate. All. 100%.
The test isn’t basic skills.
If I had had to pass the test to graduate, I would’ve failed.
I had this thing about math. It hated me.
But this test 100% of all students will pass includes Alg. 1 & 2 and Geometry. Chemistry, Physics and Biology.
I have a Master’s Degree in English. I love school. But I would’ve bombed a test with that stuff on it.
And why do kids need to be able to do advanced math and science in order to graduate any way? Math teachers around the world might disagree, but I’ve never needed to use Algebra. Not once. Seriously. I learned it in my 20s because I refused to be conquered by fear of numbers. I’m glad I did. But it was wasted time.
Today I saw this great story about a new superintendent in a district that used to have tons of failures. She was amazing and energetic and obviously good at her job. But the last thing she said blew me away. All kids prepared for college. All kids go to college. That’s her philosophy.
When did college become essential for success? My husband used to be an auto mechanic. He made a ton more money than I do as a teacher with a Master’s Degree. The guy who fixes my air conditioner makes more money than me. College is great if you want to go into a profession that requires it, but why is it required to be successful? And I don’t know about the kids in that lady’s district, but in my district, we definitely have kids who aren’t going to college.
I’m all for high expectations, but be reasonable. If a kid can’t write their name, they’re not going to do much with college.
A couple years ago I read this great article about a mentally disabled girl who worked full-time at the local Air Force base. She had an apartment. She took the bus to work. She had benefits. (better than the ones Texas teachers get!) She didn’t pass a test to graduate. And she didn’t go to college. But she had a great life.
I’ve seen the stories about kids who barely speak English when they start high school and end up at Harvard on full scholarships because of high expectations. I know educators and parents have to demand the best from their students. I demand the best from my students. But I’ve pretty much decided this whole every kid is going to college, No Child Behind nonsense is the brainchild of testing companies bilking education systems out of billions of dollars. Unfortunately parents and politicians are buying right into their deception, and that’s a crying shame–especially for the kids who didn’t graduate last year because they couldn’t pass a test.

The Silent Class…

Writes like crazy. Go figure!
They kicked butt today on leads. Usually it takes a day and half to get five good news leads. Today the silent class rocked. Every kid nailed the assignment, and they did it in half an hour.
Woo Hoo!

Woo Hoo!

I got a request from Intrigue. Identity Crisis is now a wanted book. 🙂

What a week

I still don’t quite understand my beginning classes. One even begged me NOT to do a fun activity with them. I let them choose. In the end, it worked better because I wasn’t killing myself trying to get them engaged in the learning process, and they did learn the information, it was just so boring. I can’t stand boring. It drives me crazy.
But they didn’t look bored, which was a new thing. I need to go to a different learning styles class again. Maybe I’ll discover some great new tricks.

I got into teaching because I wanted to advise publications. My high school journalism experience was amazing. I never really wanted to work for magazines, newspapers or the other stuff my kids talk about. I just wanted to advise. And I love it. Along the way I learned to love teaching English too. I’m thankful I don’t have to do it, but I still love it.
Part of me remembers those first years when I thought I could change the world.
Actually that part of me still exists.
I had an amazing student recently. He blew me away with his work. He’d hand in these papers and I’d read them in awe, amazed that a kid has this ability to breathe life into the written word, to connect emotionally with an audience.
But the kid was trouble and had been for years. He was personable, cute and smart. The things that usually make a kid stand apart from his peers. Unfortunately he was also into drugs and had been for years. His entire family used. His brother died because of them.
When my fellow teachers saw him walking into my room, they gave me the poor you look. Some even said I’m sorry. It drove me crazy. I was always quick to answer. He’s awesome. An amazing kid in my class. He has the ability to be one of the best. And they always gave me the just wait look.
I refused to care, to label. I knew this kid could make it.
I worked with him. He told me about his rehab. He turned in his stories. He never gave me trouble.
And then one day he was gone.
He just didn’t show up.
Kids are absent all the time, but this was different. I knew it had to be. Sure enough, by the end of the day I had my answer. He’d been caught smoking pot at lunch and he was gone to the alternative campus for 15 days.
I took it personally. And all the poor you’s turned to I told you so’s.
It drove me crazy. 15 days passed and the kid came back.He stopped by my class before school started. Apologized. Said he’d like to be on staff maybe.
I jumped at the opportunity, change the world in the back of my brain.
Sure, I said. You can be on staff–if you can go an entire semester without getting in trouble.
He nodded, said he could do it, and gave me a copy of a column he’d written. He hadn’t slept all night. The words refused to stop, so he finally put them to paper.
I looked at the crumpled paper with the words scratched in pencil. Words about looking up to a brother, always trying to be good enough to hang around him. Hero worship. Family. Love.
The story ended with a phone call and the news. His brother was dead.
And then he’d written about what a waste it was. How his brother had died because he was slave to the bottle. How he wouldn’t be that slave. Not to the bottle. Not to anything.
The paper dropped to my desk and I felt tears well in my eyes. The column needed work. It was deeply personal and it’s sometimes hard to show that emotion. But with some revision, what I was reading would win awards, could probably be published professionally. I explained the process. Turning the raw power of told emotion into the craft of writing. Show don’t tell. We’d start the next day. He left excited, ready to set the literary world on fire.
And then he didn’t show up for class.
Bad news. I knew it.
The next day he did show up.
High.Fidgety. Pupils tiny in big brown glassy eyes that refused to meet mine. Probably meth. It’s everywhere around here.
I called him to the hall. Asked what he was using.
Nothing Miss.
What a joke.
I told him I couldn’t prove it, so I couldn’t do anything about it, but I never wanted him to come to my class high again. What he did in his personal time was his business but he would respect my classroom and me.
He shrugged, whatever’d and slugged back to his seat. By the end of the class he’d crashed. I was just glad to see him walk out.
By the end of the semester he was back to his smiling, confident self. He never showed up high again. But he didn’t ask about staff and we never did work on that column.
And I never pushed it.
I talked to a friend about it though that day he came to my class high. Talked and cried and berated myself for trying with kids who didn’t really have a chance. The writing was already on his wall. In florescent Sharpie. Dead End.
An addict with addict parents and siblings. A habitual rehabber. A kids with a file so big it was actually three. What did I think I could do? Change his life because he just happened to be a great writer?
What could I do? Nothin’ Miss. Just like he said when I asked what he was using.
The told you so’s were right.
I wish there was some happy ending to his story. I checked to see how he was doing this year and discovered he didn’t show up first week.
Life would be easier if I could just forget the Dead Ends. But I can’t do it. Even though they rarely have happy endings, I just can’t. I remember the kid in English class twelve years ago who told me the first day of class he couldn’t write. Who by the end of the year was writing amazing short stories that captivated the imagination. Who finished his PhD in Psych a couple years ago. Or the girl who skipped half her sophomore year because of personal crap and then was in my remedial Junior English class and blew us all away with her intelligence. She graduated with a degree in Marketing. Or the handful of others, kids relegated to the Dead End club, who make it somehow, despite the odds. I remember them and I keep trying. Even though the I Told You So’s are right. Rarely do I find happy endings with these kids. Rarely but not Never. That’s why I keep going. Even though it hurts. And it’s why I’m not going to give up on the silent class. I could. It would be easy to just run off a few hundred worksheets and let them get away with never really talking, never really experiencing my class. But I can’t do it. I just can’t.

strange year

I have two new intro classes this year and they’re keeping me on my toes. In one, no one will talk. I mean NO ONE. I’ve never seen anything like it. When I tried to figure out what was going on, I discovered they don’t know anything abut each other. At all.
First time in 12 years that’s happened. So I’m working on establishing a trust zone. Teenagers refuse to risk looking stupid if they don’t trust or know each other. “I don’t know” is their favorite answer. Slowly they’re starting to warm up, but in a weird way. They’re good at debating issues and ideas but they don’t really like to do. The second intro. class is very talkative. Simple discipline is a constant. But debating kills them. No way. No how. Definitely no talking about ideas and issues. They’re great with activities though. So my new intro classes are going to require completely different lessons, which is going to zap my time, which is already pretty much spent. UGH.

In the Beginning

In the beginning
everything is fresh and new and exciting.
and you want it to stay that way for good.
But you know it won’t.
so you work and work
to take advantage of new and exciting.
And you love it,
but that work and work eats time in huge gulps
and suddenly you’ve lost
Days and Days,
but you know
soon the beginning will be gone
and time will be yours again
you hope, you pray, you demand,
but for now you live for the beginning
and that’s okay because
it simply has to be.

First Weeks

For twelve years I’ve looked forward to the new school year with this mixed anticipation, dread. This year, I can’t wait. My kids are great. My room is pretty. I’m teaching my beginning class in a different room than the staff room so I won’t have the phone ringing like crazy or the million and four other distractions that take place in the life of the publications adviser.
It’s exciting!
New years are awesome. They’re clean slates of sorts. I can’t wait.

Ugh

My RRRW meeting was today. Everyone there talked about National conference. Inspirational. Exciting. Editors asking for everything. I should be pumped.
Instead I’m in this crazy funk. I can’t seem to shake the what am I doing wrong feeling. It’s driving me crazy. I HATE feeling like this. I want it to go away. Now. But the more I try to make the feeling go away, the bigger it gets. I remember the days when I first started writing. I’d spend hours typing in the void of the unknown. Who cared about rejection?
I’m missing that big time right now.
Ugh.
This is not what I was supposed to get from my meeting. It’s not what I wanted.