Monday, October 29, 2012

Assume the best intentions

An early Slice of Life post, in case power goes out later.
See more Slices at Two Writing Teachers.

My whole family is unexpectedly home today. Governor Patrick has declared a state of emergency and asked all school districts to close and businesses to have employees stay home.  Where we are in northeastern Massachusetts has not really been hit yet. It’s been raining, and the wind gusts up a bit sporadically, but right now there is no evidence outside my window to support a day off (it’s 11:00am). But, all I have to do is listen to the radio reports, check out a local news webpage or switch on the television, and the evidence is irrefutable.

This storm has given me a good opportunity to practice mindfulness. All around me I hear people complaining that officials are over-reacting, that weather reporters are paid to boost rating through sensational storm coverage. There is suspicion and anger in Facebook posts, responses to blogs, and notes on local media sites. So I’ve been thinking, what do I sound like?

It’s so easy to get caught up in negativity, especially when our routines are interrupted for reasons we can’t readily see as important. We are so overwhelmed, that we lash out, and the anonymity of most internet sites make us feel we can lash out with impunity.

At a meeting a few months ago, a woman suggested that we add to our norms and expectations list “Assume the best intentions.” I love that addition and have been trying to keep it in mind ever since.

Assume the best intentions. Amazing how powerful that thought is. When I’m in a meeting and can’t seem to find common ground, I flip to where I have that phrase printed on my notebook and I am better able to see a compromise. When I’m reading about policies that seem hateful and hurtful, I remind myself of this phrase and can better see the humanity in “the opposition,” though we may never agree on issues.

Today, it’s easy for me to assume the best intentions of the governor, the emergency personnel in my town, and the school superintendent who called off school. We have been through difficult storms before and no one wants to see a children hurt in a bus accident on the ride home from school.

I’m feeling safe in my little ranch house, miles away from the coast. We made some preparations for the potential of power outages (most importantly, I made cookies), but we’re not worried about flooding here. I’m taking the day to grade the essays I didn’t get to over the weekend and the girls are working on last minute Halloween costumes. They may even carve their pumpkins alter.

I’m also hoping to get to some of the household projects I never seem to have time for. Assume the best intentions.

Friday, October 26, 2012

road trip - a Fiction Friday post

And so I begin to take the curve
and see a new view emerging
My sorrow is still riding along in the passenger seat, but has quieted down,
content to be along for the ride, content to let me have my turn driving.
It’s a long journey,
and I imagine I’ll give up the wheel once or twice more
so I can sleep
and eat
and read
and fiddle with the map app to get a look ahead.
For now, I have
a box of Cheez-Its tucked into the seat beside me,
an iced latte from Dunkin’s in the cup holder,
Van Morrison on the radio sailing into the Mystic,
and a memory of making my mother laugh.
I can take these things forward.
I do not have to stay in park to have them.
We’re rounding the bend,
and I was right,
the view is worth it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

the job hunt begins

I spent the morning filling out online applications for full time work. Yep, it’s time to make the leap. I’m still not exactly sure where I’ll land.

One of the applications was for a full time faculty position at my local community college. I’ve been working with first year college students for about 5 years now, in the writing program, and I love it. It is invigorating to support students through the writing process, helping them see the connection between writing and thinking and to value solid communication skills. The students I work with show remarkable growth in the span of one short semester. So, the idea of working as a regular faculty member, with the possibility of working with students over multiple semesters, is exciting. I can see lots of opportunity for collaboration with other instructors across the curriculum.

The other application I submitted was for a long-term PreK-K substitute in the school district where I used to work. I am certified to teach PreK through grade 6, and also have my English Language Learner certification. I see this long-term substitute position as a way to get back to this school department after taking the last year and a half to focus on my family. I also know a few people in that particular school and know it would be a fun place to work, with a strong team ethic.

These seem like very different positions, but what they have in common is teaching. I love to teach. And I want to be in a community where teaching and learning are valued; where professionals work together to support each student in achieving the next level of academic success, no matter what the starting point. Both of these organizations are that sort of learning community.

In the meantime, the university where I have been working as a part time adjunct just sent me a tentative schedule for the spring semester. I am on track to teach two sections of College Writing II, a course I have not yet taught. I love the idea of a new challenge. I also love the Tuesday/Thursday schedule which gives me lots of time away from campus to work on other projects AND the benefit of longer class meeting times so we can go deeper into discussions and have ample workshop time.

With all of these opportunities before me, I have no idea what I’ll be doing in January. I’m not even sure which one to wish for over the others. And who knows what else may come my way in the next few months. Wherever I will be employed in January, I know I’ll be teaching and writing. What could be better than that?

That's my Slice of Life today.
What are you up to?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

looking for a short book

The other day, I went into the fiction section of my local library with one goal: find a short book.

Like most teachers, I am overwhelmed this time of year and don’t leave myself enough time to read. And I have really missed having a story to follow. I’ve been reading student work every day, and I love it. I engage in student texts completely: pulling apart structure, analyzing word choice, parsing out trouble spots. I look forward to reading their work each day, seriously, I do.

And I’ve been reading a lot of articles and blogs about teaching and writing and teaching writing. I eat up those words about words. The Sunday Boston Globe has had some great articles lately; and engaged intellectuals has become a new favorite blog.

Still, despite all this wonderful reading, what I really want is fiction, really good storytelling. I took out a collections of Andre Dubus’ short stories a few weeks ago, and I did read a few, but the book was a week over due and I decided to give up on the great big tome. In fact, when I was driving my daughter over to the library so she could pick out a few things, I vowed not to check out anything. I had so much waiting for my attention already. But then, surrounded by all these wonderful books, I just couldn’t go home empty handed.

I walked into the fiction stacks and ran my eyes along the spines until a thin volume appeared. I pulled it out, read the dust jacket, returned it to the shelf and kept looking. I finally settled on The Devil’s Own Work by Alan Judd. I’ve never heard of the book, or the author, but the subject struck me (an author who may have sold his soul) and the length sold me (115 pages).

I’ve only managed a few pages so far; I’m reading midterm essays and trying to plan Writers’ Workshops that will address the struggles of each writer. But I’m so happy to have the book on my shelf. I think I can make some time this weekend to see how it ends.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sisters' Weekend - SoL

I’ve been thinking today about Sisters’ Weekend. It’s about the time of year we usually go, but no one has made a plan.

I have six sisters; I’m the youngest. I don’t remember how long ago Sisters’ Weekend started – it was sometime before I had children of my own, and my oldest is nearly fourteen.

People are usually surprised when I tell them about the weekend. They don’t get along as well with their own sisters to spend a whole weekend together. I find that sad.

We haven’t had a full Sisters Weekend since my Dad died two years ago. We were all working through our grief, and our relationship hit some road bumps, and we just couldn’t quite manage the normalcy. Our Mom died this past summer, and none of us has felt like planning anything fun.

But, my sisters are my best friends. Even though I know I drive them crazy, even though we disagree about politics and religion, even though we are all at different stages of our lives – I need my friends.

The downside of having sisters as your best friends, I’ve recently discovered, is that you all grieve at the same time. We aren’t able to support each other through this difficult time because we’re all faltering. 

And I do have friends I’m not related to, but what I really need are the people who know where I’m from; who watched me screw up and stayed around to hug me; who see my good intentions through my bad choices; who, knowing all about me, choose to spend time with me anyway.

Today, I’m worried that I may never have my sisters in the same way again. Change happens, and intellectually I accept that you can’t keep the status quo forever. I even accept that change is good. But, the emotional me just wants everyone to meet up at Ronnie’s beach house, gorge on the junk food we all brought, give each other advice on buying Christmas presents, and stay up late playing silly board games. I want Sisters Weekend as it always was.

Read more Slice of Life selections at the Two Writing Teachers blog