June 29, 2009

Movie Date

Today, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Elaine, my coworker, and her two adorable children, Isaac (6) and Hannah (3) for lunch and a movie. This was Hannah's very first time in a theatre, and I am happy to report that she was a fabulous little movie watcher! Elaine was sure to chronicle the event with a plethora of pictures, and I'll have to ask her for copies so I can share them with you. They're too cute for words!

After hearing so many great reviews, we chose to see the Pixar movie Up, and none of us was disappointed. Both the kids and adults thoroughly enjoyed the movie, though Hannah needed some reassurance during the "scary parts", and we spent the whole ride home quoting our favorite lines. Here are some of our favorites:

"I hate squirrels!"

"My name is Dug. I have just met you and I love you."

"Point!"

"I hid under your porch because I love you!"

"Treats. I smell treats. I like treats."

"I like you temporarily!"

I think my favorite quote of the day, though, came during the preview for The Princess and the Frog (which also looks good). While Elaine and Hannah discussed their excitement over the coming movie, Isaac proclaimed, "I wanna stay home with Daddy!"

June 25, 2009

Bad News

I knew something was wrong when I saw a missed call from Corey at 7:30 AM today. Although I am already at work by then, Corey's usually just waking up. It was one of those moments when your heart begins to pound because you just know something isn't right.

When I texted him back, he told me something happened with his nephew, Kenny. This boy has been caught in the middle of drama since about the time Corey and I met. Things have gotten progressively worse over the years, but I was still shocked to hear what happened when I called Corey during my break: Kenny has been shot in the mouth!

He's currently at Northwestern waiting for a bed in ICU. He's sedated and has a breathing tube, so we can't exactly ask him what happened. What the police have been able to gather is that he was riding a bike to a a friend's house around 3:00 AM (I know... what was he doing on the streets of Chicago at that time?) when he was shot.

At this point, it looks like he will have surgery tomorrow. Why it takes so long, I have no idea. From initial inspection, it looks like the bullet went into one cheek and out the other. He has a bunch of facial fractures and his tongue is pretty messed up, but it doesn't look like there will be any brain damage. Of course, we will know more tomorrow after the doctors are able to get him into surgery and really assess the situation.

Please keep Kenny, his family, and the medical staff in your prayers.

June 23, 2009

Broken

I knew it was coming. It wasn't a surprise. And yet... my heart is still sad for the Gosselins. (In case you've been living under a rock, Kate Gosselin has officially filed for divorce from her husband, Jon after 9 years of marriage.)

I can only imagine the type of chaos that would ensue in any family that size. For someone who has an innate need for control (which isn't necessarily a bad thing... hello... look at me!), I think Kate kicked it into overdrive in an attempt to maintain some order for her family.

I think their problems started when Kate forgot that Jon was her partner. Rather than treating him as an equal, she barked orders at him and berated him. The impression I got from watching their interviews is that Jon has had enough and is not willing to work on fixing the relationship. He just wants out.

I'm proud of Jon for finally finding his voice in his relationship. I just wish he would give himself a chance to become an equal with Kate. Instead, he's got one foot out the door and has expressed his excitement about what the future will hold.

My heart is broken for the kids.

And for me... I love that show!

June 21, 2009

On Father's Day

I have the best daddy in the entire world - and not just because he brought me into existence... though that certainly was an important contribution he made ;) - because he loves and supports me no matter what. I'm so thankful that I have a dad who is truly a part of my day to day life. My heart hurts for the many girls in the world that do not know the bond between a daddy and his daughter because everyone should have a dad like mine.

He's a dad that read me bedtime stories and dried my hair after a bath. He's a dad that brought home surprise banana milkshakes because he knew how much I liked them. He's a dad that left his job early so he could make it to my senior dance recital (which probably bored him to death) because he knew it was important to me. He's a dad that visited me in college and took me out for special meals after working a long soccer game. He's a dad that lets me start the crossword puzzles so I can answer all the easy questions.

He's also a father that loves my mother like a husband should. One of the biggest things I've learned from my dad is how a man should treat a woman. I love that he takes my mom on a movie date on a Sunday afternoon "just because" or goes shopping with her just so they can be together. I love that he still holds her hand when they walk side by side and drops her off at the door when it's raining. I'm so blessed to have been a witness to their marriage all of these years because they have been a wonderful example of how I hope my marriage will be.

You'd be hard pressed to find a man who is more dedicated to his family. He'd move mountains if that's what it took to make us happy (and sometimes, it's come close).

I love you, Daddy! Happy Father's Day!

June 19, 2009

Is it Time for a Reset?

On this evening's 20/20, the journalists explored what they are calling "The New Normal" since the economic recession in our country. One Canadian professor has called this "The Reset," a time when the American people have to stop and re-evaluate what's truly important.

Even before this recession, I've always had issues with the whole "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality because it seems that there is never any ending in sight. People I've seen fall victim to this way of thinking don't seem to ever be able to just enjoy their current place in life.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live my life constantly lusting for more. There will always be someone with a bigger house, nicer car, newer technology, etc. I think it's pretty miserable to never be content with what you have presently, and that is my goal for myself.

I've done quite a bit of thinking about my priorities for how I want to live my life. One of the reasons Corporate America wasn't a good fit for me was because my industry required such long hours devoted to the job. I'm thankful to now have a career that I love and will allow me to be home with my children after school and during the summers.

I want a lifestyle that is comfortable but below my means (so that money is never an issue). I don't need the fanciest car or home; I don't need to fill my life with the "stuff" that brings superficial (and short-lived) happiness. I'd rather live modestly and find my happiness through my relationships with others and the experiences we share.

June 18, 2009

This Is Our Future

I cannot help but feel that we are doing a huge disservice to our youth when we pass them from grade to grade without first mastering the concepts that are taught.

As I write this, I am sitting in the computer lab while my students write their narrative essays. It's shocking, even to me, some of the things I have to explain. For example, how is it that high school students don't know how to write sentences. Even simple sentences. And I'm not even talking about the lazy kids yet; I'm only talking about those that legitimately cannot write a complete sentence to save their lives.
When I ask them to include dialogue in their papers, several students seriously asked me, "What's dialogue?" We spent an entire hour yesterday reviewing the procedures for punctuating dialogue. Not even writing it well... just punctuating it properly.

As I circulated the room a while ago, I noticed that nearly every student was writing their essay as one giant paragraph. One student tried to tell me he was done with this paper, and when I asked him, "Where are your paragraphs?" his response was, "You didn't say we needed them." Really? Do I need to tell them that capitalization and punctuation are required as well?

It's extremely disheartening to me that these students are lower than my seventh graders. Yes, I know that I am teaching to a different population and with different resources, but I cannot even begin to tell you how much I have to modify a 7th grade curriculum to make it easy enough for high school students.

My district has made it perfectly clear that they will not retain students (no matter how much they lack in academic ability) because of the emotional and social implications of holding them back. My response, though, is that we need to consider what happens to the these students when they are unable to achieve academic success because they haven't learned the basics?

Furthermore, how much of a disservice are we doing to society as a whole when we fail to provide these students with the education necessary for success outside of the classroom. I shutter to think about some of these students applying for jobs (although I teach freshmen, I have juniors in my class) because they cannot write, read or speak appropriately.

And what is the solution? How do we solve this problem? I don't have all the answers, but I think it has to start at the elementary level - and it just might include retention.

On Weddings

Wedding season is upon us (No, not mine)! My summer calendar is filling quickly with bridal parties, bachelorette extravaganzas, ceremonies and receptions. It seems like almost everyone I know is tying the knot this year (except for those that took the plunge the year we graduated from college... now that was a crazy wedding summer).

Today, I had the pleasure of accompanying one of my very closest friends (and her mother) to the bridal boutique to try on the dress she ordered months ago. I'd heard the description several times and even seen the pictures online, but neither did this dress any justice. To be honest, from her description, I was prepared not to like the dress, but she was breathtaking! It was exactly the dress I would've picked for her myself, perfectly her style and personality. I am so excited for September to come so I can stand by her side and watch her marry the man she loves.

While we were at the boutique, many decisions were made: which shoes work best? What should be worn in the hair? Which earrings match best? Is a necklace too much? etc., etc. It gets overwhelming (and expensive) very quickly, and Martha is not the best decision-maker in the world. It's a good thing I was there to help her along the way! haha

As I've helped Martha plan and prepare for her upcoming nuptials, I've learned a thing or two about my own preferences in a wedding. Even without a ring, I like to think about what "my style" of wedding will look like. I've realized that my taste is much less traditional than I once thought it would be. I no longer want to incorporate anything for the sake of tradition; I want every moment to be personal and reflective of who we are as a couple.

I'm curious, what personal touches did you add to your wedding to make it different and special?

Not Backing Down

Generally, I am very non-confrontational. My boyfriend has tried multiple times to teach me that not all confrontation is bad. While I know he's right in theory, I can't seem to get it out of my mind that confrontations lead to fights... and I hate fighting.

In the past few years, though, there have been some pretty significant situations where I've felt that I was wronged by others. In an effort to learn how to defend myself, I've been using these as opportunities for confrontation.

Even after college, I remained close friends with a group that I met in middle school. Somewhere along the line, though, those friendships changed. I no longer felt that I was valued, regarded, or even respected by this group, and it was really hurtful. With the support of my boyfriend, I learned how to express my feelings (this was hard for me) in an effort to rectify the situation. The harder part, though, was having the courage to walk away from those relationships when I felt that I wasn't being heard. This situation taught me that sometimes we confront situations and the outcome is not desirable.

Other times, though, we confront situations and the outcome is very desirable. One such instance is when I confronted an out-of-line professor for the way he treated me in class. I even had to go as far as reporting his behavior to his supervisors and appealing to a board of my peers for a grade change (which I felt was unjust). There were several times in this process that I felt it would be easier to "let it go," but because I confronted the situation, action was taken. My grade was changed, and I received a formal apology from the university for my professor's behavior.

I think that the biggest thing I'm learning in this process is that "I matter." It's not okay for someone to treat me unjustly, and I have a right to defend myself. What a great lesson to learn... even if it took me 27 years to get here.

June 16, 2009

Summer's End

Back in January, when I wasn't confident that I'd have a job for next year, I accepted an offer to teach summer school again through the College of DuPage. This is my third summer teaching in the youth education program, but this summer, I'm just not feeling it.

All I really wanted was a summer of relaxation and time to perfect my lesson plans for next year. I'm sorry, but a week of vacation does little to quench that desire.

And yet, I wake early each morning and try my hardest to find the motivation to get me through the four hours I spend teaching English 9? Oh, yes... I get to work with the freshmen. Do you remember how much fun you were back then? And I'm working with the ones that failed this class the first (and second) time around. I tell you, it's like pulling teeth to get these kids to participate (or even care)!

Today was day 2, and I'm already counting down to the end of this semester (while I still hope and pray that second semester gets cancelled).

June 8, 2009

Paid for Grades

Have you heard of Roland Fryer? He's a Harvard professor who founded a very controversial incentive program for students: cash for grades. The idea of this program is to give students an immediate incentive for learning and to decrease dropout rates.

Every five weeks, students are evaluated and earn $50 for A's, $35 for B's, and $20 for C's. Students receive half of their earnings up front and the remaining amount upon graduation. In all, there is potential for students to earn $4000 for their grades (the program stops after sophomore year). It's also important to note that this program is funded by private donors or the foundation itself, not by taxes.

In New York schools, where the program was first introduced, test scores have increased nearly 40%. That's huge!! Since some Chicago Public Schools have adopted this program, they've reported up to 86% of their students being paid. Teachers have remarked that students seem much more motivated to do well in school and have even formed their own study groups. I haven't seen any numbers related to absenteeism, but I'm willing to bet those numbers are also down since students can see the correlation between attendance and grades.

What I'm seeing here is evidence of learning. And isn't that the goal of education? I certainly don't think this program is the solution for all students, but I definitely see the positive impact it's made in many schools. Don't get me wrong, though, I can see how this program can be a huge headache for teachers - on a number of levels. But at the end of the day, I think that this works in the best interest of the students, which is why it gets my approval.

This morning, on The View, Elisabeth Hasselback suggested a scholarship match rather than cash upon graduation. What I like about that suggestion is that it still allows for the immediate gratification of payment along the way with the added benefit of having money reserved for college or a trade school. It's one more step in making higher education attainable for all students (which I believe is essential).

So, readers, what do you think? Is this a program you'd support?

June 3, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Today was our last day of school. It was bittersweet for me because it is the end of my very first year teaching. I've thoroughly enjoyed my students and will miss them in the time to come. The letter I sent home to parents pretty accurately describes my sentiments today, so I wanted to share it here:

Dear Parents,

I was given a plethora of advice about my first year teaching. I was cautioned that my first year of teaching would certainly be my hardest, and it was explained that, for better or worse, my first class was one I would never forget. I can say with absolute sincerity that I hope that both pieces of advice ring true. If so, I have a wonderful career ahead of me, and my memories will be cherished forever, for this was truly a wonderful group.

While I am a bit heart-broken to admit it, the time has come for me to "give back" your children, the same children you entrusted to me back in August. I do not give them back in the same condition, however, for we have grown immensely together in my classroom this year. Instead, I give them back as accomplished writers, fluent readers, improved listeners, and confident speakers.

It has been my absolute privilege to observe your children's personalities unfold each day. We've learned, laughed, studied, encouraged, and enriched each other's lives this year. I wish it could go on a bit longer, but give them back, I must!

Remember that I will always be interested in your children. Whatever their futures hold, whatever paths they take, I will be delighted to hear. Please enjoy every moment with them; they are so precious.

Always your friend,
Miss L