Saturday, May 29, 2010

Four for Four

Yesterday marked a pretty big milestone in my life as a mother: my youngest child turned four. Four is my promised land. It is when I officially mark the end of toddlerhood and rest easy in the knowledge that we are cruising toward five, which in my book is pretty much the beginning of personhood.

I planned to sit down and write a birthday post for my girl, but between birthday breakfast wish granting, present opening, surprise swimming, and cake baking, I never got the chance. I will say that in true Genevieve style, she walked in to see the platter of perfectly roasted chicken legs she had requested and said "That's not the chicken I wanted for my birthday dinner!" Apparently what she wanted was one of the frozen breaded chicken patties SAM likes to keep around for workday lunches. Okay, easy enough to remedy. She ate all of her patty and about five helpings of the buttered curly noodles she'd actually picked out at the grocery store and then, at dessert, asked me extra sweetly "Mommy, is it okay if I just eat the ice cream?" Never mind that I made the world's most freakishly uniform chocolate layer cake with homemade fudgy icing.

So instead of a birthday post, this post is where I officially walk off the boat with shaky sea legs, bow down, and kiss the ground. I made it. My fourth child is now four. I thought I would have four children, then that I wouldn't, then I did. I thought I would never get to hold that baby, but I did. There were times when I thought I would not live through her being three, but I did. And on all counts, I'm so glad.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bag Duty Addendum

Best thing seen today and, really, any day: an elasticized headband made of braided artificial hair.

Best failed attempt at hiding a cell phone: outer pocket of fitted, matching pink calculator pouch, under a maxi pad.

Worst excuse for not being able to walk through the metal detector: "I'm pregnant"

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bag Duty

A compendium of items I came across while checking students' bags during morning metal detection today:

1. enough lotion, baby oil, body spray, makeup, and deodorant to open a drugstore
2. denim-look leggings, a black satin dress, pajamas, slippers, a lined satin shower cap, many pairs of jeans, full outfit changes, gladiator sandals, stilettos, and jackets
3. a Krystal pancake scrambler that had spilled all inside the backpack (it was already a mess when I unzipped the bag, as I hastened to point out to the owner)
4. many chargers for mysteriously absent phones and electronics
5. piles of unbound paper mixed in with with markers, colored pencils, dog-eared workbooks, and empty folders
6. a pint of fresh strawberries in a sandwich bag, every kind of chip imaginable, bottles and pouches of "juice" and sports drinks, and one can of Hawaiian punch

And, most surprisingly
7. Novels! Unassigned! Some of them not involving titles such as Thong On Fire!

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Failure

Another graduation has come and gone. Those of us who teach senior classes spent last week giving and grading exams, tallying up averages, taking late work amidst much scolding, and retallying those same averages for the tardy. And then we had to submit a failure list.

Four seniors failed my class for the year, which meant they did not walk across the stage Saturday or celebrate with their classmates. I have to tell you that the prospect of failing a senior is something that weighs more heavily on me than any other decision I have to make all year. I'd love to be able to say that there's really no decision, that it's cleanly objective, but of course that would be a lie. I could have had at least five more failures if that were true, but I had to ask myself, can I justify keeping a diploma out of someone's hand over a point, or three? Not only to myself, but can I justify it to my superiors, who have let it be known that we need to think long and hard about senior failures? Let's just say I had to employ some of that new math to get some of those kids in a mortarboard.

Two of the kids who did fail were virtual dropouts. Their attendance was sporadic all year, tapering off in the end to solid weeks of absence. The third was expelled to alternative school for a portion of the year and although he brought back a C from there, it wasn't enough to bring up his other grades. He did not seemed surprised. The fourth was an enigma. He came to class every single day, and he sat. Maybe he was high, I don't know. I suspect he has undiagnosed learning disabilities, but he was so incommunicative that I can't really even make an educated guess. In the third quarter, he knew he'd failed first semester and, more importantly, his mama knew it, so he came to me at progress report time and asked how he was doing. "Well, let's look," I said, opening my grade book, "You have six zeroes, W." "But! We haven't done any work except bellwork." This child actually said this to me. "Honey," I said, "where do you think all your classmates got these six grades, then? Do you not notice all the reading aloud and the discussions about stories and the writing assignments that I stand up there explaining and writing on the board every day?" He looked at me blankly. His mother came and I related this story to her. She shook her head in dismay. "I don't understand what he's doing," she said. Between the two of us, we stayed on him until he passed that quarter with a D. Fourth quarter, he knew he needed at least a B to pass for the year. He turned in some things. What happens with kids who do no work is that when they decide to give it a last ditch effort, they turn in four assignments and think they've done so much. I had to put 50s in place of his zeroes just to make his grade average out to the 58 that is our district-mandated rock bottom. He also failed his math class, so he could not have graduated anyway. But I still feel bad about it.

The worst moment, though, was Thursday when we were in the gym handing out caps and gowns to our homerooms. A girl, an honors student I do not teach except for homeroom, which meets only for a few minutes about 15 or 20 times all year, had failed two classes but somehow did not know it yet. She came up to the table to get her cap and gown and I said "K, you need to go to the library." She saw it in my face and her eyes went wide. I could imagine so precisely how the pit of her stomach felt at that moment that tears sprang to my eyes. I'm sure it was one of the worst days of her life.

Failing a senior in the kind of schools I've always worked in is made even more difficult because of the possible outcomes for those who fail. Will this child attend summer school, come back next year, or, more likely, drop out? I had a principal at what was widely considered to be the worst school in the city who told us "We are not in the business of slamming doors in children's faces." I think that's true. But the flip side of that is that road to hell we're always hearing about. The one that is paved with good intentions. So that's where I find myself at the end of every year: standing with my hand on the door, trying to figure out if I have to slam it or step out onto the road to hell.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

You Are Here

A quick rundown of things that have been going on with me:
(Blogging will be conspicuously absent.)

1. I have lost seven pounds and five inches off my waist since Easter. Makes me wonder what I could do if I worked a little harder. Clearly all the sugar I gave up was going straight to my gut, because everything else looks the same.

2. I have my second stress fracture in three months in my stupid left foot. Makes it hard for me to work harder at losing the aforementioned weight. I am going to have to spend money on good shoes. Anathema!

3. My seniors finish their last exams today and graduate Saturday. Work has been busy and I have to have all of their grades done and a failure list turned in by tomorrow. Right now all of my juniors are taking end of course tests somewhere else and I am waiting for the infernally slow online gradebook to come up, hence this little interlude.

4. I met Lee Smith, author of my number one all-time favorite book, and she thanked me profusely for making a Facebook fan page for her, and asked me for my address and sent me a very nice email afterward! It was very exciting.

5. I read my first Neil Gaiman book finally. I liked it a lot. Any suggestions for which of his adult books to read? (I'm not really into graphic novels.)

6. Our early, warm spring has turned somewhat cool and rainy, which has put my vegetable garden in sort of a holding pattern. I'm trying to foucs on being glad we didn't get completely submerged by floodwaters like Nashville or Millington, just up the road from us.

Nothing much, in other words. And now the gradebook has finally popped up, so it's nose to the grindstone for me.