Category Archives: Teaching

It’s never too late

Actual conversation I had with a couple of my seniors this morning:

ME: [Presenting girl with a copy of Up Your SAT Score] I want you to study the guessing section like it’s the Bible and Dante is making up a special circle of hell just for you if you don’t learn it, because it’s probably too late for you to learn all of the things you don’t know before the test, but it’s never too late to B.S.

BOY SITTING NEARBY: I’m having that tattooed on my face: “It’s never too late to B.S.”

Never let it be said that Ms. Priddy’s lessons are not relevant.

Emily

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New job, new house, New Mexico

I’ve been threatening since 2001 to run away to New Mexico for vacation and never come back. Last month, I made good on that threat.

I’d intended to post an update earlier, but things happened so quickly, tonight is really the first chance I’ve had to catch my breath.

In late September, I interviewed for a job teaching English at House High School in House, New Mexico. I was offered the job Oct. 2, with an Oct. 9 start date. In between, we’d already scheduled our vacation, with plans to leave Cape the morning of Oct. 5 and arrive in Tucumcari the evening of Oct. 6.

This is the view from my front porch.
We rolled into town in time for dinner Oct. 6, put an offer on a mid-century house with a view of Tucumcari Mountain from the living room on Oct. 7, and I started my new teaching gig the morning of Oct. 9. House is up on the Caprock Escarpment, about 47 miles from Tucumcari; my 50-minute commute across the Llano Estacado and up the Caprock takes me past Tucumcari Mountain, Bulldog Mesa, and Mesa Redondo every morning and evening, usually just in time to watch the sun rise and set. That picture you see at the top of this post was the view as I came down off the Caprock one afternoon during my first week of school.

This is my new kitchen. I need to do a whole post about the glorious mid-century time capsule that is my new house.
We’re on a four-day school week, which basically means I get to use every Friday as a planning period, and I have a grand total of 14 students, which means I rarely, if ever, have to bring home papers to grade. My kids are hilarious, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Living in a small town with limited amenities makes some of the prep work a little challenging (I can’t just run to Michael’s or a teacher-supply store when I need something), but ultimately, it forces me to plan better and be more creative, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ll have some stories about that — along with tips and tricks for other teachers — in future posts.

At the moment, the only real drawback is the fact Ron, Walter, and the dogs aren’t here yet because Ron is still trying to tie up loose ends in Cape Girardeau. (Speaking of which, somebody buy our house. It’s cute, energy-efficient, and totally move-in ready, thanks to all that work I did to whip it into shape over the past two years. Tell your friends.)

I’ll have more detailed posts about my adventures — with plenty of photos, of course — at some point in the future. In the meantime, keep chasing your dreams. They really do come true, and sometimes in finer style than you imagined possible.

Emily

Loss

The world lost a good man this week.

I met Darian several years ago, when he was a round-faced sophomore serving as a quiet beacon of sanity in a class full of outrageous cutups. He was a sweet kid, unfailingly polite, and so quiet and unassuming that when I went through my archive of classroom photos in search of a photo of him doing something ridiculous to post on Facebook, I came up empty, because Darian wasn’t the kind of kid who craved attention. The only photos I have of him show a young man with a sort of bemused smile on his face, enjoying the antics of some of his more gonzo classmates during a group project at the conclusion of a unit on Hamlet.

Somehow those images, shot by one of his fourth-hour classmates, capture the essence of Darian as I knew him better than anything I could write about him. He was one of those kids every teacher looks forward to working with because he was so good-natured and reliable.

Sometime during Darian’s junior or senior year, he was diagnosed with cancer. He battled it — seemingly successfully for a while — graduated in spite of the distractions it dealt him, and last year, married another of my former students, a funny, confident young woman every bit as sweet and bright as he was. They seemed a perfect match, and smiling at their wedding pictures on Facebook, I fervently hoped they’d get their happily ever after.

Cancer doesn’t care what anybody hopes, and this week, it assigned Chelsey a title nobody her age should have to carry: widow.

The word sounds wrong when I think of her laughing in my classroom or beaming, radiant and beautiful, in her wedding pictures. It feels wrong. It weighs too much. It tastes strange in my mouth when I try to say it, remembering Darian grinning at whatever outrageous thing the class cutups were pulling this time.

Chelsey is a strong, compassionate woman. She’ll need that strength, and I pray that compassion will be returned to her — amplified exponentially — in the coming weeks and months and years. I suspect it will. I know Webster, and I know southwest Tulsa, and if there’s one thing kids who grew up together on the west side of the Arkansas River know how to do, it’s love and support each other through rough times. They’ve had to do it before — far too often — and I wish with all my heart I could stand between them and the world and absorb the blows so they’d never have to do it again.

If you can spare a prayer, a thought, or a good vibe for my kids — and especially Chelsey — I’d appreciate it.

Emily

A tale of corporate incompetence

I completed one of my New Year’s resolutions this week.

After six months of fighting with 3M Cogent — the breathtakingly incompetent vendor to which the state of New Mexico has outsourced all its background checks for professional licensure — I received my New Mexico teaching certificate in the mail Tuesday morning.

The end result delighted me, as New Mexico accepted my Oklahoma math certification, thus granting me dual endorsements in math and English at both the middle- and high-school levels. (Because of differences in certification requirements from state to state, I wasn’t sure I’d get a New Mexico math endorsement without taking their test.)

My joy at this outcome in no way excuses Cogent’s ineptitude, which turned what should have been a simple process into a six-month ordeal requiring at least 15 phone calls to nine people in three different offices.

How incompetent is Cogent? Read on.

February: I begin compiling my application packet.

Early March: I submit my packet, including the two fingerprint cards required for my mandatory background check.

Early April: Cogent sends me a letter saying the FBI rejected my first card because the prints weren’t clear. “If you originally mailed hardcopy fingerprint cards, the second card will be automatically scanned, and no further action is required,” the letter states.

Early May: I receive a letter from the New Mexico Public Education Department, saying I need to go to a Cogent office in New Mexico and be re-fingerprinted. (Cogent has an office a mile from my house, but it only fingerprints applicants for Missouri certificates, despite the fact Cogent is a national company using an electronic system to request background checks from a federal agency.)

-__-

I call NM PED to explain I live 1,000 miles from the nearest approved Cogent office. PED tells me to call Cogent.

I call Cogent, tell their rep I’ll be in Tucumcari in early June, and ask whether I should just go to their Tucumcari office to be reprinted while I’m in town. The rep says I should NOT do that, as it will cost extra and create unnecessary confusion. Instead, she says, I should call the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to request a “name-search background check” using my Social Security number.

Phone tag ensues.

Mid-May: I finally reach a NM DPS officer, who says she has no idea why Cogent keeps sending people to her, as ALL background-check requests have to come from them. She says if my first card is rejected, the second will be scanned automatically, and if the second is rejected, a name search will be initiated automatically, so I should just wait.

I wait.

I go to Tucumcari.

I come home.

I wait.

School starts.

Still I wait.

Aug. 19: I call Cogent. A Cogent rep says my first fingerprint card was scanned and rejected, whereupon the process stopped because I didn’t call and ask them to scan the second card (which their letter said would happen automatically).

-______-

The Cogent rep says it’s been so long, the second card may have expired, in which case I should come to a Cogent office in New Mexico and get re-printed electronically (like the other Cogent rep specifically told me NOT to do when I had the chance).

-___________-

Aug. 23: Another Cogent rep calls and says the FBI has scanned and rejected my second card. This rep gives me two code numbers and tells me to call NM DPS, give them those numbers, and ask them to start my name search.

I call DPS.

DPS: Only Jesus can help you.
ME: Can you transfer me to him?
DPS: He’s out of the office.
ME: That sounds about right.

Aug. 29: I finally reach Jesus, who has no idea why Cogent keeps sending people to him.

-__________________-

Jesus says once the second card is rejected, NM PED requests a name search automatically, but given my experience, I probably should call them just to be sure.

I call PED, leave a voicemail, and follow up with an email explaining my situation.

15 minutes later: I get a very apologetic email back from someone at PED, saying Cogent CONSTANTLY pulls this crap on out-of-state applicants and telling me she has just requested my name check, gotten results back, and printed my certificates.

Got that? New Mexico paid Cogent to spend SIX MONTHS blowing off tasks a state employee completed in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, schools are missing potential hires whose credentials have been taken hostage by Cogent’s ineptitude.

If I were a New Mexico taxpayer, I don’t think I’d be pleased to learn this.

Emily

Pinterest quackery

I’m beginning to think Pinterest has become the wormhole through which junk science enters the universe.

Sample du jour: an “alkalizing foods” chart telling people they can lose weight and prevent cancer by consuming certain foods to make their blood more alkaline.

Among the supposed “alkalizing” substances: lemon juice.

Those of you who passed chemistry class might, at this point, be giving that sentence an epic side-eye. But wait! You don’t understand! See, you put the lemon juice in water, which raises its pH, so when you drink it, it “alkalizes” your body. Science!

o__O

o______O

o__________O

For those of you who flunked chemistry, let me explain:

Acids have a pH below 7.

Alkaline substances (a.k.a. bases) have a pH above 7.

Neutral substances have a pH right at 7. Pure water, for example, has a pH of 7.

When you add water to a strong acid, you get a weaker acid. When you add water to a strong base, you get a weaker base. You can’t convert an acid to a base (or vice versa) by diluting it. And you obviously can’t raise the pH of a substance by adding acid; that’s like trying to lighten paint by mixing in some more black.

Now for some biology:

Your blood is slightly alkaline, because blood is supposed to be slightly alkaline. The pH isn’t subject to the whims of your diet. If it were, a bag of Sour Patch Kids would probably kill you. The alkalinity of your blood doesn’t bounce around like your glucose level. It’s more like your body temperature: It has to remain within a very narrow window.

Even if your blood’s pH were subject to wild fluctuations, you couldn’t adjust it by means of diet, because anything you eat has to go through your stomach first, and your stomach is full of hydrochloric acid, diluted by your body to a pH somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5. To neutralize that, you’d basically (see what I just did there?) have to knock back a shot of Liquid Plum’r and chase it with a glass of Windex. I don’t recommend this, unless you’re just trying to die young, in the most horrifying possible manner.

What I’ve seen of the “alkalizing diet” isn’t particularly harmful on its face. It’s never a bad idea to go heavier on the vegetables and lighter on the aerosol cheese. But doing that won’t alter the pH of your blood — and it shouldn’t.

Emily

Folk Thursday: Tupac

For Devin, Joey and Tevin. Good luck in St. Louis this weekend, guys. I love you, and I am ridiculously proud of you for taking a stand. The root of the problems you’re trying to solve predates all of us, but I’ve known since the minute I set foot in Room 204 that if anybody can get this world moving in the right direction, my kids can.

Go save the world. ❤

(And the rest of you: Say a prayer, light a candle, or just hold a good thought for my kids this weekend. They're planning to travel 400 miles to participate in a very large protest on a very controversial issue, and things could get … tense.)

Love,
Ms. Priddy

P.S.: I realize Tupac isn't folk, but his lyrics are at least as powerful as anything Bob Dylan or Joan Baez ever had to say. I'm just sorry they're still relevant. I'd hoped they'd be obsolete by this point, but we still have a long way to go.

Follow your bliss.

“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.”
— Richard Bach

I’ve been having a conversation with a former student on Facebook about the difference between following your dreams and following the dreams other people are projecting onto you.

Throughout your life, just about everybody you encounter is going to have an opinion about what you should be doing with your life and what “success” is going to look like for you.

Understand two things:

1. You are never going to please those people.
2. You are not obligated to please those people.

I have had people give me the side-eye because I don’t have a master’s degree. I have had people give me the side-eye because I’m not on the evening news. I have had people give me the side-eye because I’m a [insert current job title] instead of a [insert higher-paying or more prestigious job title].

You know what those people have in common?

THEY DON’T KNOW MY LIFE.

I don’t have a master’s degree because I have no need for a master’s degree. It won’t get me a raise or make me a better reporter. At this point, a stats class and an Adobe Illustrator workshop would be far more useful. When I point that out, I get a mouthful of platitudes about the personal growth that comes from being a lifelong learner. Never mind that since I got my bachelor’s degree in 1997, I have studied dog training, horseback riding, distance running, martial arts, neon sign repair, metaphysics, trig, calculus, acoustic guitar, and the history of U.S. 66, all purely for sh*ts and giggles. Apparently it doesn’t count as “lifelong learning” if it doesn’t have an expiration date.

I’m not on the evening news because I’m a print journalist, not a broadcaster. I’ve never taken a broadcasting class, never applied for a broadcasting job, and never said anything that would imply admiration or, really, even a modicum of respect for that profession. Being disappointed that a newspaper reporter isn’t on the evening news makes about as much sense as being disappointed that Andre Dawson never won a gold medal in figure skating.

I’m not wherever it is someone else wants me to be, doing whatever it is someone else thinks I should be doing, because I am too busy enjoying what I’m doing here and now.

Wherever you go, and whatever you do, someone is always going to be more than happy to project his own hopes, dreams, disappointments, priorities and expectations onto you if you’ll let him.

Don’t.

Emily