Friday, January 12, 2018

Am I qualified?

Over the last 16 years, people have asked if I'm qualified to teach __________ (fill in the blank with whatever I'm currently teaching).  When my kids were in second grade, I was a second grade teacher, and people would say, "Do you have a teaching certificate?"  I don't, but I think I can handle the second grade curriculum.  I have to keep learning and growing and changing as my kids do, so when they were in fifth grade, I had to become a fifth grade teacher.  The academic side of homeschooling has never been super difficult, but now that I have a student in high school, it's challenging.  It's been 30 years since I was in high school, and I don't remember it being this hard.  I have to be a high school English, biology, history, foreign language, driver's ed, P.E., and math teacher, whereas I had a different teacher for each of those subjects.  I have to do a lot of planning, reading ahead, and studying in order to know all this stuff well enough to teach it.  It sure makes me use my brain! 

Most often, the "Are you qualified?" question comes in the form of: "Are you qualified to teach higher math?"   I got A's in math in high school, but my college degree is in English.  Honestly, the subject I've had the most trouble teaching has been math.  I like it, but sometimes there's a problem I have trouble figuring out.  Usually if I spend extra time studying the student book and the teacher's manual, I can do it, but if I can't, I ask the principal to look at it.  Sometimes he gets it or we talk it out together and get it.  Once I had to ask a friend for help with a biology problem.  Sometimes I can google an answer.  But there have two or three times when I've had to take it to the next level, which is emailing the guy who wrote the curriculum.  I established a relationship with him a few years ago when I wrote to the company about a problem with the curriculum, and they connected me directly with him.  We exchanged several emails.  He is very smart, patient, thorough, and open to my questions and comments.  When there is something I can't figure out, he'll send me a long, detailed explanation. 

So am I qualified for this huge responsibility?  I don't have a degree in education, and I don't have a teacher's certificate, but I love my students and want the best for them; I'm committed to them; and if I don't know the answers, I know how to find them. 

crossing over

I love it when subjects overlap.  Noah likes biology but hates math.  Today I found a way to bring biology into algebra, and he liked it!  I was teaching him how to multiply binomials.  I taught a vertical method that he wasn't fond of, so I taught a horizontal method that he liked better but still wasn't really connecting.  I remembered that he liked the Punnett squares from our study of genetics, so I brought that into our algebra lesson.

Just replace the alleles with the terms of the binomials, and there you go!  He understood it and actually said it was fun.  :) 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Making new vegans in high school English

Part of Noah's English class today.
Me: Make up a sentence that includes an elliptical adverb clause that does not use a subordinating conjunction.
N: When baking cookies, Maria uses vegan butter.
M: Good!  By the way, who is Maria?
N:  I don't know.  I made her up.

M: I thought you'd use Nerma or Ann or me.  (the only vegans he knows)
N:  Well, Maria is the first one who came to mind.
M: Yay!  A new vegan!  

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reliving my biggest disappointment

Sarah told me that she is her class's representative at the upcoming spelling bee.  I was shocked, because despite eight years of frustrating teaching, this kid never learned to spell.  I couldn't imagine how she could have qualified for the bee.  Back in my day, you had to win your classroom bee in order to qualify for the all-school bee.  Then if you won the all-school bee, you advanced to the regional, then the national.  So I was asking her what some of her words were that she spelled correctly, and she told me there was no class bee; they just asked who was willing to represent the class, and she was the only one.  I'm very proud of her courage and willingness to stand up in front of lots of people and do something that doesn't come easily for her. Maybe some of my love of spelling somehow rubbed off on her; hopefully some of her bravery will rub off on me.

Thinking about spelling bees caused me to go into a full blown flashback of the most disappointing moment of the first 25 years of my life.  I can clearly see it, like a video playing back in my head.  I'm in 8th grade. Having won my class bee and school bee, it's my last chance to win the regional bee. It's being broadcast on TV, and my friends and family are watching.  I've been studying the word list for months, and I nailed my word ("conniving") in the practice round.  Round one should be easy.  It is.  I get an easy word: judgeship.  A stupid, simple word, but I don't know if it has an "e" or not.  Panic sets in on the inside, but I appear calm on the outside as I ask for a definition.  Then I ask for it to be used in a sentence.  All stalling techniques exhausted, I now have to spell it.  I can see myself standing there with my hideous 80s perm and ugly plaid wool skirt.  I say, "j-u-d-g..." and then I bite my lower lip, racking my brain, reasoning that "judgment" doesn't have an "e", so hopefully this one doesn't either.  "...s-h-i-p." The horrible ding of that bell that indicates failure, the obligatory applause of pity, and the walk of shame back to my seat. Then I had to sit there for hours and listen to the rest of the agonizing bee until someone finally won.  To add insult to injury, I knew how to spell every single word.  It seems like such a minor thing, but for some reason, I was despondent about it, and it remained for many years the worst day of my life.  In fact, the only thing that knocked it out for the top spot was the whole ordeal of infertility and the death of my baby daughter.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The great adventure

"At any moment an unsatisfying life may become once more a grand adventure, if we will surrender it to God.  The adventure of faith is exciting, difficult and exacting, but full of new discoveries, fresh turns and sudden surprises." - Paul Tournier    

A friend sent me that quote recently, and it describes my few days in San Diego, except I would omit the word "unsatisfying".  My life is not unsatisfying, but it is rather routine.  Last week I got to tag along with Mike to San Diego for his work conference.   I used to go with him on all his business trips before we had kids.  I would spend all day discovering the city, doing whatever I wanted.  We took the kids on his trips several times too, which was nice, but it was not the same as being free and easy in a city by myself.  This is the first trip we've taken alone together since we had kids, so it's been over 15 years.  

I had no agenda.  I surrendered the whole thing to God and asked Him to lead me to the experiences He wanted me to have and the people He wanted me to encounter.  There's an air of expectancy when you do that.  Right away, unexpected things started happening.  Our first flight out was delayed almost four hours.  I wondered what God had in mind.  I looked around and saw a young mom with two little boys, also delayed.  I struck up a conversation with the four-year-old just to give the mom a break from the constant questions, but it turned out to be fun for me.  He was hilarious and inquisitive, and it's been awhile since I've had a conversation with a four-year-old.  I was pointing out to him the birds outside the window.  I mentioned that birds are amazing and that we don't have to eat them, because I wish someone would have told me that when I was young.  

The next unexpected event was that Mike and I got put on separate flights in Minneapolis for the long flight to San Diego.  I wondered what God was doing.  After a sprint through the airport, barely making my flight, I ended up in the last row next to the bathroom.  Soon into the flight, a woman was running for bathroom yelling that she was going to puke.  The flight attendant asked me if I would switch seats with her so she could be close to the bathroom.  I wasn't excited about going to her germ-infested seat, and it was a middle seat right over the wing, so I was pressed up against people on either side and couldn't see anything but wing.  
By the time Mike and I finally got to the hotel and were together again, our only day that we had together was gone.  Just enough time left to make our way to the bay and watch the sunset, then see the supermoon before we went to bed.

The next day (Monday), Mike went to his meeting, and I loaded up my backpack and my pockets and headed out for a day of unknown adventure.  I took:
  • granola bars for homeless people
  • cat treats for any cats I might encounter
  • bird food 
  • water
  • camera
  • map
  • phone 
  • credit card, ID, and a little cash
The weather was absolutely perfect.  Sunny, no wind, warm but not hot.  I wandered, got a little lost, checked out Chinatown, visited the cats at a cat cafe, interacted with some homeless people, spent some time lying under a palm tree just thanking God for the opportunity to be in that place, 

then out for a long, meandering walk with a vague destination in mind, but with many twists and turns on the way.  I walked up the steepest hill I've ever encountered,

 sat down on the sidewalk next to a cat named Mo (according to his tag)

 and had a nice chat with him, went through a very bad part of town, witnessed a pretty big street fight with Mexicans yelling at each other in Spanish, saw someone get arrested right in front of me, observed a guy have a heated argument with himself, stepped over a homeless guy sleeping on the sidewalk (left a granola bar by his hand), listened to traffic and sirens whizzing by me, and finally reached my destination (Balboa Park) as the sun was getting low in the sky.  My legs and feet were aching, so I flopped down under a huge, interesting tree for a few minutes

 and watched the planes flying low overhead

 before I forced myself to start walking again so I could get back before dark.  

And that's where I made the one really stupid move of the whole trip.   I saw this inviting looking path

 and decided to take it instead of the street route the map told me to take.  I can't resist a good trail.  So the sun was setting, I was on this trail that leads I-didn't-know-where, there was absolutely nobody around, and the trail was getting thinner as the terrain got thicker.  Then I noticed a creepy guy following me about 50 yards back.  He was the only other person I'd seen since I got on the trail.  It was the only time I felt scared. (In the very bad area I had walked through earlier, I had felt nervous enough to slip my camera into my waistband in the hopes that it would look like a gun, but I wasn't really scared.)  So when the trail took a sharp curve, I hid in a thick bush and waited for the guy to pass.  After he did, I quietly slipped back on the path and went the opposite direction until I got back to the streets.  It was a long walk back to the hotel, and my legs and feet refused to walk anymore.  I was barely shuffling by the time I got back to the hotel.

Tuesday morning, I told my protesting body that yes, we were going out again.  Daily visit to my cat friends 

and my bird friends, 

then a relatively short (compared to yesterday's) walk to a touristy place called Seaport Village, where I did some souvenir shopping for the kids and people at home who were giving them rides while we were gone.  Shopping exhausts me on a good day, and on this day, it utterly did me in.  I went back to the hotel in the afternoon, put on my pajamas, and curled up in bed.  When Mike got back, we went to the Gaslamp Quarter to eat.  We decided on The Spaghetti Factory.  Mike was very happy with his browned butter chicken spaghetti, and I got spaghetti with a vegan sauce.  I boxed up half and handed it to a homeless guy on the way back to the hotel.  He seemed thankful.

On Wednesday, my plan was to buy an all day pass on public transportation and go to La Jolla.  Figuring out public transportation in a strange city is always a challenge for me.  This one was particularly difficult, and by the time the trolley arrived, I hadn't figure out how to get the day pass.  I decided I would get on the trolley and buy a pass at the main station, which was seven stops away.  After three stops, police boarded the trolley for a random ticket check.  I was stumbling and stuttering, trying to explain why I didn't have one.  The cop took my ID and said he'd be back.  After discussing with another cop and threatening to fine me, he decided to escort me off the trolley and help me buy a pass.  Thank God he did.  Then I had to wait twenty minutes for the next trolley, ride four stops, get off, and transfer to a bus. While I was walking between trolley and bus stations, a guy approached me and said he was a disabled veteran and asked me for money for a bus ticket.  I bought him a ticket, and soon another guy was telling me he needed $9.  I didn't have $9, and I didn't get a good feeling from this guy, so I didn't give him anything. While I was searching for my bus, I ran into the first guy again, and he helped me find my bus. 

It took me most of the morning to get to La Jolla, which would have been about a 20 minute taxi ride, but there's no adventure in that, and it was five times more expensive than the day pass. The minute I got off the bus, a dog greeted me with a toy in his mouth.  

I stopped and played with him for a few minutes while trying to determine how to get to the beach.  When I finally got!  

It was breathtaking.  So beautiful.  The deep blue water, the seagulls, the waves splashing up and sounding like thunder when they break against the cliffs.  Completely different than the Florida beaches I've seen.  I just stood and stared and praised God for a long time.  Then I decided to follow my map up to La Jolla Point and La Jolla Cove just beyond that.  It was north, and I wanted to go south to the tide pools, but I felt drawn to investigate the point and cove.  I am so glad I did!

Sea lions and seals.  Lots of them and so close to me!  I've never seen them in the wild before, and they were beautiful and entertaining.  I sat there for hours just watching them. Finally I tore myself away because I was hungry and had a long trip back. (I gave up on the tide pools). I found my way (had to stop for directions once) to a bonafide vegan restaurant. It was so wonderful to be able to browse the entire menu and know that I could have anything on it.  I've been vegan for a year and a half, and this is the first time I've been to a vegan restaurant.  There were lots of people there, and they all understood me. It was powerful.  I had a delicious "cheeseburger" and fries and ate it on the rooftop with a view of San Clemente Island.  Sadly, I walked to the bus stop.  It was so hard to leave La Jolla.  I wish I could have spent another week there.  When the bus came, I fantasized about not getting on it, but while my mind stayed on the bench, my body got on the bus. 

Back to the hotel to meet up with Mike for another trip to the Gaslamp Quarter so he could find food.  I asked a homeless guy if he was hungry, and he smiled and thanked me even before I gave him any food.  After I gave him a granola bar, he thanked me and said, "God bless you. It's the little things that make a big difference."  I sat with Mike at an outdoor restaurant, where he was going to order an expensive steak.  We waited 20 minutes, during which a big sewer rat ran right by my foot on his way to the sewer, but the waiter never took Mike's order, so we left.  Instead of his expensive steak, he ended up getting a $4 slice of pizza that he ate while walking.  He said it was really good.

Thursday we had to leave.  I'm still too sad to write much about that day, but I have to relay this story from the dreaded Minneapolis airport, which I hope never to see again. We got off our plane from San Diego and had 40 minutes to make our connecting flight to Peoria.  We were walking top speed and making good time.  According to the pedometer app on my phone, it was over one mile to our gate.  We had a good 1/4 mile to go when we heard an announcement on the loudspeaker calling out our flight number...then our names...then this horror: "Final boarding call".  We started sprinting.  Some lady (I still don't know if she was a fellow traveler, airline worker, or angel) yelled out, "What are you looking for?" and we yelled back "B8!" while never breaking stride.  She continued yelling out directions as we ran, and I could only respond with a wave behind me.  Down an escalator, running, up an escalator, running...finally arrived at the gate, doubled over, unable to speak.  The airline person told us that the airport was having power problems so they were trying to get our flight out early before they had to shut the whole airport down.  We boarded the plane and spent the next 25 minutes on the ground, lined up with all the other planes trying to get out of there. Finally got home around 10:30 p.m. 

My first visit to California was amazing, and I really hope to go there again!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Appreciation from Sarah!

I was driving Sarah home from her gymnastics Christmas party last night.  As we were pulling into the driveway, someone pulled into the neighbors' driveway to drop off a neighbor kid.  There is a constant stream of people in and out of there, picking up and dropping off their kids, because the parents both work. Their kids have the best of everything: expensive name brand clothes and the latest toys and electronics.  Sarah noticed and said, "I'm glad to have this time with you.  I'd rather have more time with you than have the nicest stuff."  I was shocked to hear her say it, and it meant a lot to me.

Monday, November 20, 2017

I committed an omission.

I was grading Noah's school work.  I circled a couple things and wrote "omit" next to them.  When he went to correct his work, he saw my note and said, "I can't read what you wrote. It looks like o-m-i-t.  What is that?"  Is it possible that he's been alive almost 16 years and doesn't know the meaning of a fairly simple word like "omit"?  If that's true, then Sarah probably doesn't know either.  Time to get teaching!

Me: Sarah, do you know what the word "omit" means?
Sarah:  Yes.
Me: Oh, good. 
Noah: What does it mean?
Sarah: It means "to pay". 
Me: What? No, that's not what it means!
Noah: It must be a church word.
Me: It's not a church word.
Noah: If I don't know a word, it's usually a church word. It sounds like something old church people say.  "Omit your sins to God!"
Me: That's "admit", not "omit".
Sarah: "Omit yourself to God."
Me: No, that's "commit".  "Omit" means to leave out.  As in, "I omitted the teaching of the word 'omit' from your education."
Noah: Nobody in our generation uses that word.
Sarah: Nobody. We've never heard of it.
[A few minutes later, Mike wanders into the room.]
Noah: Hey, Dad! Do you know what "omit" means?
Mike: Doesn't it mean to leave out?

Noah and Sarah smirk at each other as if they've proven that it's a word only old people know.