Tag Archives: Teaching

Classroom Reveal, Part I

Sorry I’ve been so quiet all spring and summer. I’ve been busy — state testing, prom, honor society induction, professional development, graduation, finals, ducks (shoutout to our ag teacher for taking the noisy, destructive little SOBs off my hands), travel, side hustles, curriculum writing, and last but certainly not least, painting an elaborate mural on all four walls of my classroom.

I finally wrapped up the mural on Monday. It was a long process that began last spring, when I wandered into my superintendent’s office and asked how much trouble I’d be in if I painted literary characters all over the walls of my classroom. She basically gave me carte blanche and waited to see what would happen next. About 103 hours of actual work later, this was what I came up with:

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I still have a truffula forest made out of pool noodles and tissue paper to mount on a particle-board stand, a couple of giant IKEA leaves to install near my desk, and a few more strings of fairy lights to hang on not-quite-finished bulletin boards, but I’ll post all that when I do an official classroom reveal in August.

My goal with this project is to remind my kids of how they felt about reading when they were little — back when they were exploring the Hundred Acre Wood and having wild rumpuses and sneaking through Hogwarts under an Invisibility Cloak instead of being assigned a million pages of stuff they didn’t really care about. I want to recapture some of that joy and maybe get them excited about reading again. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

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No “Stairway”? Denied!

Things that happened today:

1. I started my morning feeling a little groggy after a recurring dream in which I kept trying to listen to a Led Zeppelin album but kept waking up a split-second before the needle actually touched the vinyl. (This was considerably more stressful than it sounds. In retrospect, I think it might have been an omen.)

2. Got to school and literally had to put out a fire. Not a big fire, mind you — just a little grease fire that flared up when a kid spilled bacon drippings on a burner while preparing the FFA’s annual faculty breakfast — but exciting enough to shake off the grogginess, anyhow.

3. Met with the outside evaluator who visited my class Monday. Got a good score but was told I needed to set up a “mindful classroom” with a “social contract” involving some kind of hand signal the kids could use whenever someone failed to use “the language of peace,” because I was at a tipping point, and “the energy in [my] classroom could go either way at this point.” Was also advised that I might want to consider “cleansing the room” of the last teacher’s “negative energy,” because she could still feel it in there. (When I ran this suggestion by the kids, they told me to call in an exorcist, because a little sage wasn’t gonna do the job. X______X )

Got that? During my professional evaluation, the evaluator’s ONLY criticism was basically that I’M NOT A BIG ENOUGH HIPPIE.

(Yep. That weird Zeppelin dream was definitely a sign.)

I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that somewhere, Bob Waldmire is disappointed in me tonight. Or laughing his arse off. Or both.

In case you’re wondering, my plan for improving my score next time involves burning patchouli incense, schlepping around the room in Birkenstocks, and playing the Dead’s “Europe ’72” album on vinyl while the kids munch on homemade brownies and discuss that Kerouac quote about how “the only people for me are the mad ones.”

Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.

(And I’m buying a stairway to heaven.)

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