disapproving kitty

Thursday, February 16, 2017

To Governor Kasich, About His Latest Brainstorm for Teachers

Dear Governor Kasich ,

Recently you put forth a budget containing a requirement that all teachers spend part of their professional development time at an "on-site work experience" with a local business or chamber of commerce. (If you'd like to read up on it, check here.) I'm sure you realize it is being poorly received by teachers across the state. I thought perhaps some clarifying questions might be in order, to help you understand our concerns.

First, what are the objective and goals of this professional development? You see, when teachers create plans for students, we always have to have the goal of the lesson in mind. Otherwise, how could we possibly know what we're trying to accomplish? It isn't very clear at all what you're trying to achieve.
Second, I'd like to know exactly when you'd like these experiences to happen? During the school day, so I have to have to charge the district for a sub? How about during one of my professional development days, which means I'd have to forego PD that is actually relevant to my teaching? Maybe you'd prefer I do it on my own time? Between work, lesson planning, grading and everything else I need to do, my own time is pretty precious, so you'd better have a very compelling reason that these "on-site work experiences" are necessary.
Third, I'm interested to know how, exactly, our already overworked professional development staff is going to secure these experiences with local businesses? Our district alone has over 1000 teachers. Do you really believe that the local banking call center, quick oil change station or dental office really wants to have a teacher who has no background, interest or skills in that area sitting around their office, garage or factory floor for a day?
I'm sorry, Governor Kasich, but this entire plan is poorly laid out, without the necessary goals established, needed materials provided or any provisions whatsoever for measuring the effectiveness of plan.

Still, don't ever let it be said that I'm not game to try something new, even if it's not well thought out. So, I have a proposal for you. A fair swap. I'll go spend my professional development time at a local business if you and every other elected official in the state of Ohio must go spend an entire day at an "on site work experience" at a local school. Mind you, this isn't a dignitary's visit, or a walk-though where you're guided through classrooms by the Superintendent. This is a WORK EXPERIENCE. Each of you will create, teach and evaluate the effectiveness of lessons you conduct throughout a school day. You'll come on time for duty and not leave till everything is graded and you're caught up on any correspondence from parents, colleagues and administrators. An on-site work experience as a teacher.

We'll be happy to provide you copious weblinks to curriculum, resources and activities to help you plan. But you'll have to put it all together yourself.  In case you were wondering, the goal of the experience would be to help you understand what it is you seem so hell-bent on destroying, and to show you the difficulty (and the joy) of the work we do every single day.

Because right now, I think you haven't got a clue.

Sincerely Yours,
Disapproving Kitty





Wednesday, February 8, 2017

TL;DR: Disabled People Deserve Independence, Too.

Many years ago I had a student named Justin. He was a uniquely talented writer and poet, with a sense of humor and sensitivity that were far beyond his years. Also, he had cerebral palsy. He was the first student I'd ever had who used a wheelchair.
While I'm hopeful that he learned a thing or two from me, I know for certain that *I* learned a ton. I learned that the world is not very kind to kids as different as Justin. Crippled and gifted? Whaaaaaa?
I'm afraid that a lot of us failed him then, to give him all he deserved, and as it turns out, we still are. Failing him, I mean.
Every couple of years, apparently, it's necessary for him to go speak on behalf of all the people who need aides to help them do all those things the rest of us take 100% for granted, like, say, using the toilet alone. I wanted to join him as he went to testify, along with 20 of his friends (whom he never would have met if it weren't for aides that allow him to go to college.)

I can't go, but I can write some testimony for the hearing.

In case you're wondering, it's for rule 5123:2-9-03 (Home and Community-Based Services Waivers - Limit on Number of Hours an Independent Provider May Provide Home and Community-Based Services in a Work Week).  You can read about it here: http://bit.ly/2k5qhLt. It's pretty dry and reasonable sounding until you imagine: what if I had to live only where I could find 5 people who were reliable and capable and willing to be my aide for not all that much money? And if I can't do that, then I have to rely on my family to do it for free? Still sound good?
Yeah.
Didn't think so.

Here's what I wrote.

Dear Ms. Phillips and Members of the Hearing Committee,
My name is Rachel Nelli, and I am a public school teacher of 18 years, all of it in the great state of Ohio. One of my most memorable students was a young man named Justin Martin, who has CP. Recently, he brought to my attention that the Federal government has mandated that aides for the disabled must be paid overtime. Ohio’s Department of Developmental Disabilities, in response, is creating a new rule to mandate that overtime for aides be illegal, so that we won’t have to foot the bill.
Tell me then, please, how much would it cost for you to give up some of your freedoms that you take for granted every day?
How much to be able to get dressed in the morning? Make your breakfast?
Tie your shoes?
Use the bathroom by yourself?

How much is your independence worth to you?
How much is it worth to you to travel for more than 8 hours so you could do your job, visit your family or take a vacation?
How much is it worth to you to be able to get out of bed at night to use the bathroom on your own?
A dollar?
Ten?
A hundred?
What would you do if you could never again choose to live somewhere where providers

weren’t easy to come by? Or if you wished to travel or work or have any kind of independence at all where you wanted to have it, just like everybody else?
How much do you deserve your independence?
I shouldn’t have to ask you that question. You should be appalled that I would even question your right to live your life the way you wish to live it.
I also shouldn’t have to ask you why you think that another law-abiding, hard-working (and he works harder than anybody I know) American should not have the same rights and independence you take for granted.
If you would not give up any of those freedoms I mentioned above, then you have no right whatsover to deny them to a disabled person. We are either a society where all men are created equal, or we are a society content to have second-class citizens. The latter is unacceptable.
And please, don’t talk to me of money.
You are fortunate enough to be addressed today by one of the finest minds I ever had privilege to teach. I cannot imagine what his life would have been if our nation hadn’t decided that children with disabilities had the same right to an education that every other child had. When I went to school, and likely when you did, too, kids in wheelchairs didn’t go to regular school. Kids with cerebral palsy went to a special school where they and all the differently-abled were warehoused and locked away with no independence and few freedoms. IDEA meant that not only did Justin go to regular school, he got into the gifted program. He. Is. Brilliant.

Educating “those kids” costs a fortune. So does caring for “those people” when they grow up. We do that because we are ALL created equal and endowed with the right to pursue happiness, and nowhere in our laws or in our moral code should we say “except when it’s not convenient.”
Because we know it is right to spend money to afford the disabled the same opportunities we take for granted is how I got to meet Justin. I had the privilege of teaching him, and learning from him how unequal we still are. Access to aides 24/7 is what he needs to come close to having the kind of life you and I expect for ourselves, and for our own children.
If you vote today to deny Justin the caregivers he needs, then you are denying him the very freedoms you grant to yourself. Is the amount you are saving worth his freedom? Would it be worth yours? Would you give up your independence, or that of your own child to save that money? I suspect the answer is a resounding “no.”
Before Justin was my student, I was blissfully and shamefully unaware of what it is like to be disabled in this world. How you can work for the DoDD and not already know this I do not know, but I ask you to listen and learn. As a teacher, I tell you this man has information you need, because without it you are going to fail this test. Fortunately for you there is only one question: Does Justin deserve to have the same independence as you?
Please, don’t fail.
Sincerely,
Disapproving Kitty

Monday, December 12, 2016

For a Friend, and She Knows Why

I don't blog often on political issues. Gun control is one, especially when it crops up involving schools, which it does far more often than I find acceptable, but that's another post all together. In general, gun control isn't a hill I intend to die upon, though I'm heartsick over the number of people who are dying because we lack it. It's a debate that is without solution given our current technology and willingness to compromise. Perhaps in my lifetime that will change. But like I said, that's a debate for another time.

What sparked this post was a short video posted by Bill Nye, regarding the abortion debate. If you'd like to see it, check here. I'll wait.

If you didn't feel like checking it (or if I forgot to hotlink it) the gist was this: no one likes abortion, but trying to stop it by making it illegal has and never will work. You might as well try to get people to stop having sex. That's never worked in the history of humankind, either. We have some kind of twisted nostalgia for times that never existed when men and women never had sex before getting married, when everyone was straight, when all marriages were for life and no one ever had sex with anyone but their wedded spouse. That time in human history only exists in our fantasies of some Puritanical past. It's about time we got over it before sitting down to debate an issue that is driving a wedge between otherwise smart and friendly people to the point of electing a raving lunatic for the highest office in the land because some on his team feel that the other side, if in power, would be forcing women by the busload to terminate their pregnancies against their will.

This is nonsense, and we need to cut it out. We need to realize that we are far closer in our goals than those who benefit from our fight would like us to think. We would both like to reduce the number of abortions in our country. In the world, even. We want living babies who go on to live healthy, happy, productive lives.

Yes, I really do want that. I suspect you do, too.

Democrats need to take back this issue. We lose so many single issue voters because Republicans have painted us as abortion-lovers.

We aren't.

What we are, are people who support abortion-reduction* ideas that actually work. (And are cost-effective in the bargain.) I think it is time we stopped framing the debate as "People who value unborn life more than the value of personal decision" VS "People who do not value unborn life more than personal decision." Which is how we have all framed it for as long as I have been aware of the argument.

It's a false argument, at least for me. I do not actually value personal decisions more than I value human life, and I'm not sure any of the other Pro-Choice people I know do either. I believe that life is more important than most personal choices I might make.† Like Bill Nye says: Nobody likes abortion.

As he further noted, "Abstinence, closing abortion clinics and denying women birth control do not lead to a healthier society." I am a liberal democrat and I want to reduce the incidence of abortion. Closing clinics, making abortion illegal, teaching abstinence only in schools (and at home) and preventing women from having access to birth control - common tactics of the "Pro-Life" campaign - do not reduce abortion. The facts support this. Anyone who claims to be against abortion and supports reducing it through these methods supports ideas that simply do not work very well. A person is not "Pro-Life" if they do not support policies that actually work to reduce abortion. Especially so if they respond with death-threats and prayers for the death of women who disagree with them. I'm not sure what label they should have, but it isn't "Pro-Life." If you are Pro-Anything, I ask you this: If you have a goal, and the methods you use to reach it are proven not to work well, why do you keep using those methods?

People who support comprehensive free, reliable birth control for all women, comprehensive sex education, and research into male birth control are the ones actually advocating strategies that will and do reduce abortion by preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

I know that for some, providing a free IUD for any woman who wants one is tantamount to a holocaust. I know this, and I'm sorry you feel that way. The argument as to when life begins exactly is an unwinnable one. The most ardent adherents of the anti-abortion cause claim it's at the moment the sperm meets the egg that a fully-legal person begins, endowed with the same rights that I have. I can't argue with that. There is no science that can tell us if that is truly right or wrong. There may never be. The scientific definition is that it has the potential to eventually be alive when the zygote implants itself in the uterine wall. Up until that point it's like a seed that has been cast upon solid rock. All the genes are there, but you're not going to get a tree. Still others hold that viability outside the womb is the marking point. Even the Puritans had a definition -- when the woman could feel kicking inside of her. Only at "quickening" was the baby considered an actual life. It's estimated that 1/3 of all fertilized eggs do not implant, for their own reasons, and simply leave a woman along with the rest of her period. Perhaps some Pro-Lifers mourn this as well, but it has nothing to do with what man has wrought. It's just nature, and if it grieves you, again, I'm sorry.

This is a quandry rooted in religion, so the best I can offer to them is this: trust in your God to do what is right by those lives. Making abortion and birth control illegal will not save them. The best we can work towards is for the conception to not happen in the first place. You cannot, no matter how hard you legislate, stop human beings from having sex. So you need to let that go.

Maybe my Mirena has resulted in over 100 lives started in my fallopian tubes that found nothing to implant in. Or maybe it prevented the sperm from getting to where they wanted to go and no conceptions happened. We will never know any more than we will know if the millions of "late periods" each year were zygotes that shook loose, or failed to implant or any number of things. If you need to personally grieve that, then grieve.** I want to work with you to do what we can to reduce abortions the most that we can. Stop the sperm from getting out there in the first place. Stop the egg from being released at all. Use the methods that lead us to not knowing at all what happens inside a woman's body. Think of it as Schrödinger's fertilized egg. We can still work together on this.

I may not know (and neither do you) at what moment "life" begins. But I do know that if every pregnancy is a wanted pregnancy, then there is a very, very small need for abortion.††

This is something we can work together on. No more unwanted pregnancies. It's possible. We have the technology. All we need is the will to do it.

Pro-Life Liberal Democrats***. Striving to reduce abortions across the nation.

It's a radical notion, no?


*Yes, reduction.We are never going to get it to zero. If your goal is zero, then you're going to have to start killing a lot of women in the name of preventing them from having an abortion, and then all you have is a dead woman who cannot carry life inside of her. So let's aim to getting as close as we can to zero, without going overboard, shall we? To quote the inimitable Molly Ivins, "You cannot save the life of an unborn child by driving its mother to suicide."


†For the record, I think this is where the Pro-Choice argument usually goes off the rails by insisting that what I would choose for me, I cannot insist that someone else choose, too, for that is the foundation of our movement. No. It's not. Most of the Pro-Life crowd truly believe that an embryo is just as alive as I am, and killing that person is not a choice other people are allowed to make. I'm not allowed to choose kill a toddler or adult because they're making my life terribly, terribly hard, so why should I be allowed to kill an embryo? That's another trip down the rabbit hole of "when does life begin" and "when does the needs of that life trump the needs of my life" and it's just not an effective argument. Pro-Choicers need to quit arguing ineffectively, too.


**And can we stop with the sending of used tampons to legislators? It's counter-productive, makes Pro-Choice women seem crazy and dangerous, and it doesn't affect the people we want to affect anyway.

††No, I'm not getting into right now why someone might want to end a wanted pregnancy. All I'll say is that I know it happens, it's gut-wrenching, psyche-destroying, hellish awfulness I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy and it is never done on a whim.


***for another bit of something ironic sounding, I found this study cited by a website that used it as evidence that birth control does not reduce the incidence of abortion. I found it ironic that they would use a study whose conclusions were that more comprehensive education was necessary, and that more emergency contraception would reduce abortion rates as well. Well, that, and the overwhelming need for foolproof contraception.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Sense of Wander


I recently stumbled across an article about how pushing kids to find their passion and pursue it relentlessly is harmful to kids.  I don't know if it's harmful so much as, well, let's just say "not all that useful."
In our own school district, the 5th graders do a "Capstone" project as part of crowning their achievement at the end of their elementary school idea. This is a fine idea. It's a nice way to celebrate and commemorate the end of this particular little era in their lives. What the pilot teachers discovered, though, was that the "Passion" projects students choose in September (at the ripe old age of 10) were of little interest come January* and by April, forcing students to grind out this glorious Capstone project was, for most of them, an exercise in educational flogging. This isn't to say that Capstone is a bad idea. It isn't. But forcing most kids in September to choose what they're going to love for an entire school year is...not practical.
In my own classroom, finding passions is easy. We've started a unit on paleontology and the kids are so excited. Today, A. loves rocks. Flint is awesome. So are geodes and diamonds and minerals and everything igneous. Next week? It'll be plants of the Cretaceous. Or Ice Age Mammals. Or wolves....
We spent today "Wondering and Wandering."  It's an old phrase, and sometimes I can't stand it, but when the "What do I already know about Paleontology" part of the chart is blank except for a sticky note that reads "I thik it has to do with dinosurs," then asking the kids to pick what they are passionate about studying is a fool's errand. How could they possibly know?
On a related note, there are many times when I work with students who I know are gifted, but damned if I can find the gift. I poke and prod and throw all kinds of different challenges at them to see what might stick, and sometimes it's just....nothing. Can't find it. It's immensely frustrating for me, and, I presume, for the kid. "Here's this adult who is supposed to know things, and she never, ever once gives me anything actually worth doing, much less doing well" he thinks. Or, I think he thinks that because I honestly have no freaking clue what he's thinking.
And then, after two years of me fruitlessly attempting to get him to show a spark of anything, we start a unit on Chemistry. It's April. For two years, this boy has done...nothing.  Five minutes into "100 greatest discoveries in Chemistry"**this kid comes up to me, eyes wide, and asks if he can borrow the copy of the periodic table I have taped up. He wants to find every element Bill Nye mentions and see what it is. See what it's next to. He want's to press this table into his brain and learn this. This. Chemistry. He is sitting up, close to the screen. He cannot wait to see what comes next. It takes my breath away.
Maybe this will be his passion forever. Likely not. But with luck it will lead him to the next thing he has to learn. I can only hope.
We spend so much time preparing our kids to be career and college ready. Ready to take on a major and then a career that will keep them productive, taxpaying citizens for life. Maybe, though, we ought to spend a little more time teaching them how to wonder and wander. How to appreciate the vast breadth of things there are out there to know. How to find what is true, and what is simply, still, just unknown.
With any luck, I can get it to take their breath away, too.

*Or October, for some kids.
**featuring Bill Nye. Not the "science guy" though. Aimed more at highschoolers or adults who are just interested in things. I recommend it.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Cookie Notice: There's likely some in the freezer if you dig around a little

I haven't been here in awhile. I could say it's because I don't have time, but that isn't really true.  If I would cut my time on facebook in half, I'd not only have time to blog regularly, I'd also be able to exercise daily, keep my house clean and discover the cure for cancer. I did take the facebook app off of my phone recently in a futile effort to keep me from checking it compulsively, but mostly all it's done is reduce the amount of posting I do to my classroom page to nearly zero. There's a big push now to post about our classrooms on Twitter, which I suppose I could do, especially since Twitter has never been particularly appealing for me and isn't a time suck at all.  However, since I just don't quite get the fascination of Twitter, this also means I rarely post to my classroom Twitter account, because I never think of it. So much for coming into the digital age with grace.
So now that I'm back for my standard effort to post more during the Holidailies challenge, I discovered that there's a new (to me) little notice at the top of my page telling me that "European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies"  This is as far as I skimmed, initially, before I stopped reading and began to think "cookies?" I have to tell Europeans on my blog (all 2 of them) about American cookies? Is this a tourism thing? Hospitality issue?
Then, of course, the more reasonable parts of my frontal lobe wrested the controls away from the part of my brain that always bounds off the path like a cocker spaniel who's spotted a squirrel and I read a little further. They're talking about electronic cookies, of course, and apparently Blogger is just telling me that there's this issue and they've taken care of it, or something*. I'm supposed to check if it works or somesuch, which is too bad because it's really unlikely I will and then I'll wind up banned from going to Germany for my failure to inform people about my cookies.
So, just in case, for chocolate chip, you can't go wrong with the Tollhouse recipe. Just switch the amount on the brown sugar and white sugar. Also, quadruple the recipe. Because you can never have too many chocolate chip cookies. Especially if you have a fondness for raw cookie dough**
There. Done.

Happy Holidays.

*I didn't read it carefully all the way through. I got the idea to write about it and wanted to do that before I forgot what I was going to write about. I'm serious about that cocker spaniel thing, and my brain is sometimes completely filled with nothing but squirrels.

**Yes, I KNOW about the dangers of raw flour and eggs. I'm livin' on the edge.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

It's More Productive than Arguing on Facebook

I started this a couple weeks ago, but couldn't get past #2.  I finally finished it.

After wading through some fairly repulsive vitriol on Facebook tonight, which required the hiding of yet another person on my feed, I got kind of nostalgic for the early days, when we all posted things about ourselves that began with "H" or ten movies that described our lives and whatnot.
So here's ten things you didn't know about me, in lieu of more banging my head up against the latest wall of ignorant bigotry flying around.

1. I always have to shower after scooping out the catboxes because I can't stand all the dust from the litter in my hair and on my skin and all, or the smell of it in my nose.  I have a weird thing about personal cleanliness that used to be even stronger than it is now.*

2. My childhood cats were named after Rudyard Kipling characters, Shere Khan and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

3. I can't think of a third one.

4. I enjoy vacuuming and mowing the lawn because you can see the difference when you are finished. This speaks to frequency with which I do these chores, so it's apparent that saying I enjoy them doesn't actually get me to do them that often.

5. I have, somewhat by accident, come to have a collection of nesting dolls. I didn't really intend to collect them, but occasionally people find cool ones and give them to me. My favorite is a round one that starts with constellations and ends with the moon.

6. I used to tap dance when I was little. This skill once helped me land a part in a play about women who tap danced rather badly, which is my exact level of ability -- rather bad.  I am okay with this.

7. In college I had a paid gig as a writer for a theater troupe. I also got college credit for it, which I found exceptionally gratifying. It's the only time I've ever been paid for writing. There's one piece from it I'm still proud of.

8. The first movie in the theater I can recall my father taking me to see is Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I fell asleep.

9. When I was little, I had a fascination with cutaway drawings, where you got to see the insides of a structure.  I still do enjoy looking at such drawings (Stephen Biesty's books are terrific!) and I occasionally peruse catalogs of home plans, even though I have no intention of moving.**

10.  Every time I go to IKEA I imagine that it will fill me with all the joy it does everybody else. Except it never does. I find it oddly overwhelming and filled with things that I mostly don't like but feel like I should but couldn't afford even if I did. Everything there falls into the "That's maybe cool, but I don't really need to spend money on it" category. As far as I know, I'm the only American to feel this way.

*this, sadly, does not mean that I keep my house spotlessly clean. Also, this cleanliness thing is probably exacerbated by my bizarrely strong sense of smell. (Most useless superpower ever.)

**I detest moving. At most points during the moving process I would rather set all my belongings on fire and start fresh at the new place.

Party Fatigue

A friend of mine posted today about how he'd never host a party for his kids at one of those mega-kiddie-themed-complexes.  It reminded me that a while back I wrote about how much eye-rolling I had for people who threw birthday parties for their kids at such places and I have to say now that I take it back. Not because they aren't headache-inducing, ear-splitting germ-fests (they are) but because I get now that sometimes it's just a helluva lot easier to fork out money to have someone else run and clean up the birthday mess. Also, you don't have to clean your house before taking your kid to SuperHappyFunPalaceofBouncingandVideoGames. Though in all honesty, I have to admit that cleaning the house beforehand was a lot more for me than for the boys who came to the party. Given what I know about 10 year old boys, I think they would not have noticed any amount of dirt or clutter if we'd just left it where it was.
We just finished the Month of All Things Celebratory at our house, which begins with DD's birthday, rolls through Christmas and New Year's, and finally concludes with DS's birthday so the grownups around here are feeling a little bit ragged around the edges. Party fatigue.
The kids are happy, though, and DS even said that this last birthday, which involved ten little boys, pizza and Ant Man* was more fun than one he had once at the local SHFPBVG.
So that's something.


*Have you ever watched an action-hero movie with 10 4th grade boys? It's an experience.