On teaching to what is not tested.

So fellow travelers, I’ve written before about the turbulence in education created by current trends which focus on “high stakes” testing. It’s a misguided push by politicians and private companies which basically results in a “teaching to the test” mode of education.  This is particularly true in areas where test results are being directly linked to state funding of school aid and staff performance.  In fifteen years of working as a special education assistant in our local school district I have seen a lot of educational trends come and go.  I have never seen anything so destructive to the educational process; its most damaging impact, in my opinion,  is the way this type of testing shatters kids’ confidence in their ability to learn.  Morale these days is at an all time low, yet educators are a resilient bunch, riding waves of change as they quietly continue doing what they do best: teaching our kids. Every now and then, I catch glimmers of hope.

  Take today when the students at C.W. Baker High School were greeted by this colorful display.

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Here’s a closeup of what’s printed on the star balloon at the top of the arch.

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We are celebrating a magnificent achievement!

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At the beginning of the year, the Key Club announced an ambitious project with the Make A Wish program. (If you’re not familiar with the organization, google them; they do really good stuff.)  The students wanted to raise enough funds to fully fund one local child’s wish.  This meant raising $9,500 before spring break and after break our administrator announced that goal had been reached. From “Buy a Star” to zumba classes the students created a six month series of diverse events giving everyone an opportunity to support the project.   Today blue popsicles will be handed out to every student during lunch.  Balloons appeared by the project board in the main hallway.

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So now a  nine year old girl with cystic fibrous goes on a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas because students at our high school decided making a difference mattered.

I’m not sure how the New York Board of Education plans to measure this achievement on any of their tests.  Frankly measuring the accomplishment is no where near as important as knowing the experience of achieving this goal will remain with the students long after any testable knowledge has faded from their memory.

Walk softly on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Ponderous thoughts

So fellow travelers, as most folks know we’ve had one hell of a winter here in upstate New York.  In fact, our local news station’s weather team recently posted a report that January through March is now noted as the coldest first quarter start to a year on record.

You go Old Man Winter. Yay you.

Yes indeed there are still several very ugly looking grey spattered snow piles scattered about my yard.  My favorite walking trails are still frozen over. Until a few days ago there was a substantial layer of ice on the surface of my little pond.  Complete with two frozen tell tale fish shaped swatches of orange embedded deep in the ice.  Dammit.

Just three weeks ago, while I was out of town my husband sent me an excited text “You have survivors!” along with this phone shot:

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Those are several good sized fish swimming below, not frozen in the ice…..What the heck happened since then?

What happened was high winds. followed by a deep freeze, after the short lived ever so slightly above freezing warm days resulted in this:

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That is my pond “percolator”,  the air exchanger which circulates life sustaining oxygen into the water below the frozen surface.  It should look like this:

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Frozen in place but upright, as it had been a few weeks before my husband’s phone shot.

It’s current position, tipped over and frozen in place means the lower section had separated from the top “percolator” thus cutting off the circulation of oxygenated water to the fish below.

Not Good.

So as the snow receded from the surface of the pond this week, it came as no surprise to find a few frozen fishcicles embedded in the ice.  Every spring I find a couple of “floaters” as the ice melts and open water returns. They are quickly removed, as soon as they can be scooped out with the pond net, as I have seen (and smelled) the ugly aftermath of anything not promptly cleared away getting trapped in the pond filter.  The filter isn’t running yet and wont be until the water temperature of the deepest section hits a consistent 50° or above which will probably take a few weeks of ice free nights and warmer days.  Still, not wanting to take any chances, I have been poking at the ice on the pond everyday with the blunt end of the net pole to see if I can break through.

So the morning I saw the ice had broken into floating chunks resembling ice flow, I grabbed a snow shovel (we don’t put those away until Memorial Day) and prodded at the ice puzzle to gain access to the chunks decorated with orange ovals.  Now that the surface was completely snow free, it looked like the kill total was up to three. Careful maneuvering and some skillful scooping techniques freed the three sad chunks for the compost piles.  No, they wont stink up the yard,  the crows will nab them before that.

By late afternoon, there was one small ice flow left spinning thoughtfully around the center of the pond.  The open water revealed a lot of organic debris along the shallows where I will set potted water plants as soon as the last frost date has come and gone.  I began scooping up the skeletal remains of various leaves and in so doing caught glimpses of two more orange and white corpses. Sigh.  Even more discouraging, was the lack of any sign of surviving fish, maybe because I was careful to avoid stirring up the deeper center of the pond where the water is well below the freeze line.  Then again, so many farmers talked of how much deeper that freeze line had run this terrible long winter.  Again Not Good.

However this morning, as a quick rain shower created gentle circles on the now ice free surface,  I caught glimpse of a flash of orange.  The fish always dive down when I stand at the ponds edge, so I waited and sure enough first one…

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then another

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and another…. wait…there! a flash of grey next to it…..

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and best of all the unmistakable long wisp of our only all white resident a graceful fantail that not so long ago was just a little fry, the one my daughter named Ghost…..

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I carefully counted these symbols of the resilience of life. They spoke of hope justified, bringing perhaps a message to keep the faith no matter how long, dark and cold a passage on the journey may seem.

Final tally so far:  Old Man Winter 5   Survivor Fish 8  and counting…..

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

The Story of Spring 2015 43.167° N, 76.33° W.

So fellow travelers,  I am currently taking an online photography class from CGBF photo guru Jeff Anderson. The classes I gifted myself with last year pushed me out of “auto” mode and gave me the basic photoshop skills I needed to make steady progress with my Canon DSLR.  This class is assignment based;  Jeff gives us a themed assignment, we shoot, he guides and critiques, we learn. His assignments are always challenging, designed to get us to step outside our individual boxes and stretch our techniques. I refer back to the notes from previous classes whenever one of my own photo expeditions doesn’t quite produce the results I was seeking.

I look forward to the assignments but I must admit the current one has been a bit of a bummer:

Spring Equinox!  Today (the assignment was posted last Friday) is the first day of spring. With anywhere from one to four pictures (NO MORE THAN FOUR!) Tell us the story of spring’s arrival where you are. 

Use the whole weekend, maybe into Monday. Let the pix tell your story, no words necessary. “

I spirits sank as I looked out the window where a fresh cloud of Lake Effect snow was sugar coating the little quilt squares of grass that dared emerge so soon and beautifying ugly black speckled roadside snowbanks. Ummmm, yeah. I have a whole folder full of pretty snow pictures, I have yet to see a robin anywhere on my walking routes and I just don’t imagine emerging frozen dog poop will look photogenic. ( I tried; it wasn’t)

I posted a comment on the assignment page that my photos might bear a stronger resemblance to a collection of Christmas Cards and Jeff responded it doesn’t have to look like spring, just tell the story ( without words) of springs arrival in our respective areas. Armed with his encouragement I decided to bundle up and get started.

So for the past three days, I headed out at different times (with hopes the flat grey light would yield different qualities….it didn’t) for about an hour of finger chilling photo journaling of the 2015 Vernal Equinox at 43.167° N, 76.33° W.

My first day’s find was the pattern of new fallen snow on the back porch snow shovel

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but when I tried to use the macro mode to capture super close ups of the tiny flakes I wasn’t able to access the setting.  It would take too long to unlace my boots to trudge upstairs to find my camera manual. I moved on.

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A combination of warmer temps, sunshine ( yes it does happen here occasionally) and strong wind gusts followed by an overnight freeze last weekend has trapped  my pond “percolator” at an odd angle.  I have left it running, because if one looks closely one can see the heated tube is just warm enough to create a sliver of open water around it.  That will have to suffice for the fish (there are survivors, we’ve seen them swimming below the surface of the ice) until the pond really thaws.

Day two was a wash, it started with a swirling white out which changed to rain by mid morning. I was on the road by then anyway to help crew the drumline show and would not be back until after dark.

So although this morning dawned grey and snowy I headed outside once more for Day Three of my quest.

See?  More like Christmas than spring.

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My garden reindeer still frolicking in the snow.

Yes those lights still come on at night. I can’t get to the outlet to unplug the timer.

 

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The only birds to be found were the little fellows perched on St Francis.  They change color depending on the ambient humidity (blue is low, pink is air-con time) Do that count as “blue” birds of spring? I did find his shot at the big feeder.

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I consider this my most successful image.  I wish there had been better light to make the snow sparkle more, but I am pleased with the shot; other than the addition of the signature this is SOC.

I had brought a bucket of seed to refill the feeder with me. When I was done, I finally found what I was looking for.

The one little signature of Spring, quietly waiting to be noticed in the debris under the Mountain Laurel bush.

 

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End of Story….

Or on second thought  a New Beginning

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Enough is enough

So fellow travelers,  this morning I came across a phenomenal photo and poem posted by Jon Katz on his Bedlam Farm Blog.  Jon is the founder, mentor and “grand poohbah” of the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm, which I reference here frequently.  If you want to know more about us, look it up on Facebook. Our posts are open for public viewing but not commentary; that’s how the admins keeps the negativity out, the positive inspiration flowing and the ministry of encouragement thriving.

He posted the photo on the CGBF page first and it has generated an inspiring chain of responses from my fellow members reflecting the rich diversity within our group.  Soon after, I came across his blog entry with the added poem.  The one-two impact of the combined photo and poem kick started something deep within me.

It’s no secret this has been one hell of a winter. It started out deceptively benign.  Back in January Syracuse actually set a record for the longest consecutive days without measurable snowfall. For a city that routinely wins the Golden Snowball (a friendly competition between cities in Upstate New York for the highest seasonal snowfall total) that is an unusual statistic.  To be honest, given Buffalo’s unprecedented “Lake Effect” event back in November, which dumped between five to seven feet of snow over several days in a small area just east of the city limits we were more than happy to concede this year’s award before the season had even begun.  No one in CNY was eager to catch up to that kind of snowfall total, even spread out over the an entire season.

Somehow Old Man Winter didn’t get that memo, because sometime during the last week in January it started snowing …. daily …. everyday ….. for twenty three straight days along with record cold. (I put in the link to verify the data)  For the first time in twenty-eight years the dog(s) and I were snowed in.

I live on a busy road, hazardous to walk on at anytime but rendered too dangerous in winter when the shoulder disappears under snowplow created snowbanks several feet high. So, to get to the area where I walk, I cut through my kind and tolerant neighbor’s backyard.  Every year there is a point where I have to clear several paths from our deck to the dogs’ yard, the bird feeders and across my yard to the street beyond. I wrote about this last year when we were snowed in for a few days during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

This year it was all I could do to keep clearing the paths to the dogyard, bird feeders and my pond ( I have to keep the aerator clear of snow)

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At times I shoveled two or three times a day, each round taking well over half an hour.  The path through the backyard was lost within a week and remains completely buried. Unfortunately  so are all the walking paths in the local parks within reasonable driving distance, not that either our or the foster dogs were anxious to stay out long during February’s record setting subzero cold snap.

This past week we did finally break into double digits ABOVE zero with one or two days just at or slightly above the magic 32° F mark.  The snowpack however is both deep and dense even as Lake Ontario so generously continues to add here and there to the totals.  Just ten minutes of attempting to expand the trails out back ended in a half hour stretched out on a yoga mat with an ice pack tucked under my back.

Jon’s poem about sadness and the accompanying photo of the abandoned house in the snow set loose a roaring reaction. I realized just how depressed and trapped I had been feeling. “Enough is enough,” I said to a startled Delilah seated on the couch next to me. I snapped my laptop shut, threw on snowpants, laced up my heavy duty snowhikers and headed with fierce determination to the back yard.

Recent deer tracks among the many critter trails leading too and from the large bird feeder near my pond gave me an idea for finding a way out of the backyard.

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Using the broad footprint of my snowhikers and the shovel for support, I started plowing my way across the back yard from the pre-shoveled bird feeder path, along the deer trail towards my neighbor’s fence line.

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I knew I would have to shovel at some point but at first it was less strenuous to simply stomp through the snow.  I took frequent breaks, sipping water to stay hydrated.  It didn’t take long for me to shed my down vest.  About midway through the yard I hit snow up to my knees.  At that point I began shoveling the top few feet and then stomping down the remaining snow.

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Looking at the depth of the deer tracks it hit me just how long those nimble legs really are.

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I made slow but steady progress until I hit the corner where our neighbor’s yard meets ours.  One step forward and I was in snow up to my hips! Using the shovel for leverage I struggled out of the snow pit onto the path I had created behind me. Looking at the snow drifted up against his fence I knew this section was likely to be deep for quite a ways, if not all the way to his driveway.  I stuck the shovel in handle a few feet beyond where I had sunk into the snow to check the depth.

DAMMIT.

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Soooo close, yet so far.

Fine.

Since Daylight Savings Time kicked in last night I guess it will now stay light long enough after work for me to drive to a park where the running trails are cleared and get in a decent walk before dark.

DAMMIT  Winter you win.

But I swear only just this year.  I’m investing in snowshoes for next winter.

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My trusty winter hiking boots with a set of EMS stabl-icers  courtesy of my fantastic CGBF sister Kate Rantilla.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

 

 

 

March

So fellow travelers after five weeks of relentless bone chilling cold,  sub zero wind chills and daily snowfall we have finally hit our first few days of temps above freezing.  Lest we get comfortable enough to don shorts and flip flops, Old Man Winter  has been careful to throw in a few nights of single digits, both above and below zero. No worries. Around here our snow shovels park by  the front and back porch doors well into April.  The zig zag weather did encourage this little haiku.

 

Bird songs. Sounds like spring

Snow drifts high as budding trees

March Lion or Lamb?

 

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Spring is under there…… somewhere.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

Reaching

So fellow travelers,  sitting at in the library of the high school where I work, I sensed a change in the ambient light.

 After hours of grey lake effect squalls driven by a subzero wind chill brutal enough to delay school for two hours yesterday morning, the sun had managed to push a few rays through a gap in the storm front.  I glanced towards the big windows and saw light filtering through the leaves of one of the plants. I took my chances on grabbing a shot with my not-an-IPhone-camera and as I worked on editing the image, words emerged and formed a bit of poetry.

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Leaves reaching for Light

yearning for sunshine and warmth

Unrequited faith

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

The Face of Old Man Winter

So fellow travelers, I am profoundly grateful school was closed last week for winter break. It gave me a respite from the doldrums of work and plenty of free time for creative exploration. I have been sketching, painting, editing photos and writing blog posts to my hearts content.  It’s granted me an eyes on the prize glimpse of what’s in store when I reach the finish line of this phase of my professional life.   I’ll return to work on Monday, refueled and committed to regularly topping off my tank with inspiration.  I know I can count on finding it daily at the CGBF Facebook page.

I also know in this winter of record breaking cold I will have to push myself to head out for more than shoveling paths to the dogs’ yard, pond  and birdfeeders.  Yes, I shovel paths to my bird feeders. I am very committed to keeping them filled throughout these months of  deep snow cover.

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Besides, I have a resident nuthatch who scolds me if those feeders are empty when I come out with the dogs in the morning.

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Here in Upstate NY we are no strangers to winters with seasonal accumulation of snow measured in feet and periods of freezing temperatures with subzero wind chills. (There’s a reason the roses in my garden are a variety called “Polar Crossing.”) Still it looks like February 2015 will be one for the record books, clocking in as the coldest month on record in Syracuse since 1901. While our snowfall total is just about average for this time of year, what is significant is about two thirds of that total fell within the last few weeks. Hence the reason it has been necessary to clear the aforementioned paths on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

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Add in the fact that we have not seen a high temperature above freezing since late January and will not until sometime in March I know better than to count down the days until “spring” because this year’s equinox will likely still be sitting under a couple feet of Lake Effect.  Since Lake Ontario has decided not to wait for me to visit her beautiful shores and instead deposited herself generously in my yard,  I decided to use this as an opportunity to work on some photography skills.

Winter is a difficult time to capture good photos, not just because of the immobility of multiple layers of outwear. When it is cloudy the light is “flat” and images lack contrast needed to create depth.

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When it is sunny, images can end up blown out, as details are lost in the brilliance of reflected sun on snow.

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I am working towards gaining an instinctive knowledge of my camera’s settings, so I can shoot in full out manual mode.  Often I start with a semi-manual setting just to give myself a point of reference. Depending on the type of photo I am trying to capture, I pick either an F/stop or shutter speed  to work from .  I try several shots varying the other setting and see what works.

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   IMG_2333    over exposed ( 1/2000 f11)

IMG_2332   just about right (1/2000 f16)

I know am getting better because the day I caught Old Man Winter lurking by my pond I was actually able to grab this shot of his windswept face.

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After which I told him it was time to be a gentleman and step aside for Lady Spring.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Riding the Wave

So fellow travelers,  here we are on the beach  staring down this big wave of change in education.

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Eye witnesses say the first sign of a massive tsunami is “drawback,” a surreal  super low “tide” effect, as the water is pulled far out off shore.  It is often the only warning of the incoming super wave. One sees this in a more benign state when there are big waves at the beach.  Word to the wise, if you find yourself standing on a beach and see drawback,  run for the highest ground you can get to.  For me right now, running is not an option.

Which brings me back to my current vantage point at work.

Here’s the background: I am primarily assigned to work in a 12:1:1 program; its name refers to the ratio of students (12) to instructor (1) and teaching assistant (1).  Ours are the students who are “mainstreamed,”  meaning they attend high school, but have a modified curriculum because of their disabilities (autism, downs syndrome, MS, etc.) I love my job and thoroughly enjoy working with “our kids.”  Every day one of them says or does something that makes us smile because it shows we are helping them navigate life skills they will need once they exit our program. Even though our students do not receive a high school diploma they can and often do walk the stage at graduation  when they “exit” our program. Very, very cool .

Recent scheduling changes have pulled some of our staff out of the modified program several times a day to provide added “push-in” support for resource classes left short handed by deep budget cuts.  In this setting we work with students with diagnosed learning disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory or visual processing disorders, etc.)   On any given day I may be called to read a test, scribe answers on a worksheet or reteach class notes on any subject taught at the high school.  I don’t mind the changes in my schedule in fact I thrive on the diversity within my day. Teachers are wonderful people to work with because most of them are dedicated and passionate about what they do.

Only that’s not the prevailing atmosphere anymore. Very few educators enjoy their work because they are frustrated by reforms intended to “improve education” which actually prevent them from doing what they do best: teaching our kids.  Not one person pushing these reforms in our state has ever worked professionally in an elementary or secondary school classroom, but still claim to know not only what but also how students should be taught.  Many of the comments posted with my last entry indicate this experience is widespread.  Several people said it framed their recent decisions to either leave the profession or retire early, a trend that is both disheartening and disconcerting.

Educators are trying to push back and raise public awareness, parents are beginning to wake up to the need to get involved.  I lend my support and voice where I can at meetings, in parent conferences and even online, an arena I usually avoid. Still by the time the tide has turned, I will be long gone from the system. As I said in my previous post, I am not used to feeling so ineffective or hopeless.

So I turn to my creative life, the one I live after hours to keep my spirit alive.  The zentangles I create during my down time in the work day, the bits of poetry that rise to my consciousness sparked by a seemingly random moment, the photo walks I take on weekends and days off, these are the surfboards keeping me afloat. But I want to do more than just cling to that surfboard trying to stay afloat as the tsunami roars in. So I come to the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm to hone the skills I need to ride the waves of life. It is a haven of encouragement for experimentation and creative growth, a community built on a foundation of genuine trust where negativity is not tolerated. It has become an essential part of my journey.

Our CGBF mentor Jon Katz once wrote “Encouragement is an ideology, a philosophy. It holds we all hold creative sparks – creativity, ambition, achievement, love. Nobody gets to decide who we are, that is our mission, our sacred tasks....we live in two worlds, the world we seek, the world we have, and we are forever balancing these two….In the creative life, there are always obstacles….money, distractions, obligations, fears. In the spiritual life, reality is always (intruding) on the search for peace and constancy. But the core of it is this – our work, our aspirations are our identity, our voice to the world. They are not things that others can give or take away. Only we can do that.”

I may be riding out a storm in one career, but I am paddling like crazy towards my future.

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Canon Beach, Oregon  July 2014   The beginning of my Left Coast Dreams.

Postscript:  The day after I published this series  I came across these lines which sum up in a way I wasn’t quite able to what I sense has been the “purpose” of recent doubts.

Because I have questions and doubt, I am allowing myself to see and appreciate the shadows. And I choose to accept the reality of the light in the cave that is my reality, not the shadows that try to fool me. That thin line between hope and doubt is the ability to see past the cynicism to find the Truth in the Light.”  posted Feb 15 on the wordpress blog The Dragonfly’s Student

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Under the Big Top

So fellow travelers,  I recently came across this expression:

 

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It is a translated Polish proverb Nie mój cyrk, nie moje malpy which is a very intriguing way to say  “It’s not my problem.”

I honestly had never heard it until someone used it as a comment on a social media site but it had a strangely familiar feeling, although I did not know why.  It came up again today, while I was searching for an article on line. This time it was like finally finding the right key; a door in my consciousness clicked open.

After my previous post, a friend and creative mentor encouraged me to explore what lies underneath my feelings. What surfaced in our discussion was my frustration with current trends in education. I have composed a full discourse (which I won’t put forth here) on the insanity of holding school districts hostage to poorly thought out Common Core “standards” and performance based pay programs designed to pit colleagues against one another. Withholding state and/or federal funds is only going to create an  unbridgeable gap between impoverished and wealthier districts. Eventually the latter districts will increase their local funding for basic education and cut “expendible” programs ( a trend already begun.) Concerned parents will create booster clubs to keep extra curricular programs running. No such rescue operation will surface in financially struggling areas, some of which used to be solid middle class neighborhoods before the economic down turn of recent years.

OK,  you’ve gotten a taste of the speech.  No apologies, it’s all you need to understand my position.  You see up until recently  my main perspective has been a “Thank goodness my youngest child is graduating from high school this year and I no longer have any kids ‘in the system’  because the system is about to shred every child’s confidence in their ability to learn anything.”  Like the proverb says: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

It’s an easy attitude to adopt.  I am only a few years from having the option to retire if I wish. I can ride out this current storm of ill advised “reform” and simply walk away with a modest benefit package and enough income to take that cross country road trip in search of my monkeys.

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(Fun Monkey photo courtesy of  Nancy Gallimore.  You can read about her monkey adventures here.)

The problem is I have always been that person who gets right into one of the three ring acts to make something happen. When the district cut all transportation funding for field trips, our PTA (of which I was treasurer for seven years) lead the charge in creating a fundraiser to keep those trips in the elementary school program. When one brave mom (now a popular social studies teacher at the high school) took on the challenge to breath new life into a reading partners program which was about to be discontinued because of lagging participation I signed right on as co-chair. When the word got out the Board of Ed was planning to discontinue in school lessons for strings students,  I hauled my then second grade daughter to a meeting and politely but firmly asked the members of the board to please explain to my daughter why she would not be able to take lessons in school next year since at that time private lessons were beyond our budget.  That was eighteen years ago; and even though she and her younger sister eventually had the benefit of private lessons, those in school lessons continue to be part of the orchestra program. Not that I claim this as a personal victory because a lot of parents spoke up at that meeting.

Yes, I am a “Where’s the circus and which way did the monkeys go?”  kind of person.

But suddenly I am discouraged.

I am discouraged and very, very tired.

Working as part of a truly dedicated special education team I have seen programs come and go. I have watched teachers both in special and general education weather trend after trend  from “spiral math” to “inventive spelling” (a program used ten years ago in the elementary schools which produced at least two graduating classes of atrocious spellers including my youngest National Honor Society 9.64 GPA daughter.) But I have never seen anything like this.

I have never seen morale so low nor known so many kids to fall between the cracks even as those gaps in the system are growing faster than teachers can bridge them. So far reforms have managed to produce a wave of students who appear to “just not care.”  What I have discovered in spending time with students in a non academic setting is their attitude actually masks a growing confusion about what they are supposed to be accomplishing. There is a growing disconnect between the content they are taught and information applicable to life outside school.  For example, once students hit the part time work market they rapidly discover test taking is not a skill in high demand, while being able to make change is far more important than calculating sine, cosine or tangent.  And those are the “gen. ed” students.  Kids who fall into the “instructional support” category are falling further and further behind. If it’s this bad in the Northeast, where a far higher percentage of students score well on college entrance exams what on earth is happening in the regions with less than fifty percent graduation rates?

Worse yet are the conversations I have had with student teachers.  An increasing number of them change their degrees programs after finding it impossible to reconcile what they know to be effective teaching methodology with the requirements of ill advised profit driven reforms. Education degrees used to hold a solid thirty percent of college undergraduates and forty percent of graduate degrees.  In 2012 that rate plummeted to less than fifteen percent, the lowest ever in the history of American college education. In five years there will be a staggering teacher shortage.

For the first time in my life I feel like I am looking at a tidal wave too big to out run and too dangerous to dive into. Maybe it’s time I learned to surf.

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(to be continued)

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

Don’t Follow Me…. I’m Lost.

So fellow travelers, in a group as prolific as the CGBF,  there are bound to be common themes.  Repetition is more common when a specific challenge is posted, such as the recent Winter Color Initiative, a call to brighten up the dreary winter with color infused posts. At times there are rebound or spin off posts, pieces inspired by the work of another member. Often they are a simple exchange of a shared interest. When one of us posted experiments with Zentangles® ( a trademarked doodling technique using repetitive abstract patterns to create intricate designs) it started a flow of zentangle art. Wow!  I had been playing around with those for several months since I learned the technique in an art class I was assigned to with one of my special needs students, so I posted some of my own creations.

Dreaming of Spring

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It can also be a form of active meditation; the process of focusing on the repetitive patterns can be quite relaxing.  So, zentangling is something I do during my break time at work to relax and grant myself a sense of creative accomplishment.  This sense of ongoing creative accomplishment has become increasingly important to me.  My work week affords minimal time for creative pursuits. Weekends disappear during Band performance seasons (right now we are in the midst of Indoor Drumline Competitions).  I usually have several written pieces or photographic essays in edit mode.  During school vacations (like next week’s Winter Break which we have just been blessed to start a day early) I can complete a project within a day or two.  When in full time work mode, it can take me over a week to get something posted. Often by that time the piece feels stale and I dump it.

It’s frustrating, yet I know I am only a few years away from being able to devote more time to my creative interests. I want to hit that ground running.  I continue to draw inspiration and encouragement from the Bedlam Farm Group.  I see photos which encourage me to get out and try something different, even when all I have on hand is my not-an-I-phone camera.

sunrise

 

( Sunrise from my android phone cam, tweaked and edited in Photoshop)

I read wonderful poems which push me to extend beyond my 5-7-5 safe zone.  A heartfelt blog post will spark an idea to fill the void left by a dumped stale entry. They are grace in writing since the experiences I write most fluidly about in my journal I cannot post because I am bound by professional confidentiality. I keep those notes as investments in a creative future and find openings for expression where I can.

Which is why a recent post from our mentor on the creative page struck a chord of fear in my heart. It questioned whether too many of us were “following” one another and not posting enough original creative material.  In the early days of  becoming a member of the group I constantly questioned whether I belonged with award winning writers, bloggers with well established followings and professional photographers. Initially I limited my contributions to commentary often in the form of clever haikus but it did not take long for the encouragement to sink in.  I started this blog, took classes to challenge my photo skills, adjusted my volunteer schedule at the dog rescue and committed to posting regularly.  I am learning what works, what I feel strongest about and what feels “authentic.”

But, I suddenly questioned whether I was being “just” a follower, whether my offerings were original “enough.”

The post hit me harder than usual, showing up after a particularly tough day at work.

I panicked .  Right now the group fans the embers of my creative drive into frequent fires of creative production.

Bethsicicle

 

(Icicles by my good friend and fellow CGBF member Beth Heffern)

An amazing shot of icicles, gets me fired up enough to throw on some layers and brave the cold to see what I can capture with my camera before the battery gives in to single digit temps. But wait, would the photos then be just followup?

KCsSketchedit

(Sketch from Kathy Cary.  Kathy often graces our words by writing them in her beautiful calligraphy. )

Inspired by some watercolor sketches and paintings posted by several artists, I recently picked up a batch of watercolor pencils, planning to try my hand at a medium which previously frustrated me into submission.  My doubts wont keep me from playing around with them but will I feel daring enough to share the results?

Feeling paralyed, I message a friend in the group, who immediately responds “What are you doing? Are you having a crisis?…. You are a valuable member of the group.”  Tears of relief burst from my heart, spilling out of “sweaty” eyes and down my cheeks. Wait DAMMIT, what AM I doing?  Where is my head that one content guiding question makes me burrow under the sands of self doubt?

Why is it so hard for us to BELIEVE in the creative spark we carry? I realized it comes down to understanding why it is so hard for us to believe in ourselves.  And we have to believe in ourselves because if we don’t, who will?

I am here to expand my horizons.  If I do not step out of my comfort zone I will never grow as a writer or visual interpreter. If I start judging my process by comparing myself to anyone but myself I will never take the necessary risks to develop my “voice” and “vision.”  So I will risk following my inspiration until it brings me to the true source of my original creative spark.

Milkweed Fairy  one of my favorite photo captures from a Jeff Anderson photo workshop last year.

MilkweedFairyrEdit

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.