disapproving kitty

Monday, October 25, 2021

You Keep Using That Word

Dear Parents,

Hi. I'm your child's teacher. You know, the one your kid loves and talks to you about every day? The one you actually requested the principal assign your child? Yes, hello! We met at conferences, and I had your older son three years ago. Can we talk for a moment?

I saw your post about this awful new SEL that schools are "forcing down your child's throat!" and "using to indoctrinate innocent students!" I read the memes that your group shared that are frightening everyone around you into thinking that I'm trying to convert your child into something dreadful. I thought, maybe, we could chat about that. SEL is being made out to be one of those scary, deep state acronyms, but really it just stands for "Social-Emotional Learning." 

The most important thing I want to share with you is that SEL isn't new like they're saying. It's been around since we both were in school*, only then we just called it the "School Principles" (because they were very punny that way) or the "Highland Cares" curriculum and we made posters and signs about Kindness, Respect, Determination, Fairness and Caring. Our teachers read us books about Ramona and Beezus and we talked about how Ramona faced consequences for her decisions, and didn't we have to do that, too? Later on we had debates about the Effects of Pollution versus Meeting the Needs of the Human Population, and about whether it was fair for King George to impose taxes unilaterally. We cried at our desks when our boyfriends broke up with us, and we knew which teacher to go to when we really, really just needed to talk. Ninety percent of middle school was learning how to navigate the social structures and get a grip on my emotions. Thank God for the teachers who understood how hard that was, and helped me through it because Lord knows that they weren't trained for it. Social Emotional learning was the bedrock of our education, even though they didn't call it that.

So why do we call it that now? Probably because of this guy named Maslow, who came up with a list of Needs, in order, that people have to have in order to survive**. At the bottom are Physical Needs like food, clothing and shelter, which is why schools have free breakfasts and lunches now, and why the secretaries have a stash of extra clothes for kids. Because the child who is hungry or filthy isn't going to be learning anything today. Next is the Need for Safety and Security, so teachers are trained now on how to help kids feel safe as possible in an uncertain world. Some children come to us from seriously unsafe places, and there are days it's all hands on deck trying to help those kids know that here, in this classroom they are safe. 

You'd think, that if we have those basics down, we'd be all set to learn, right? Maslow says no, we're not. Next is the Need to feel Loved and like we Belong. Love and acceptance. Those are powerful ideas, and this is where SEL truly lives. That survey we give about the "values we're indoctrinating" into your child? That is us trying our hardest to see how well we are doing right here at this level. Want to know what those values are? Here you go:



Growth Mindset    


Sense of Belonging 

Emotional Regulation

That's it. That's what we're trying to help your children attain. Hope for their future. Determination to overcome challenges. The ability to feel their big emotions and cope with them every day. The feeling they are loved, valued, and respected and above all that they belong to a caring community. 

Why do this thing that you say "doesn't belong in schools" and "only belongs in the home?" We do this vital, important work because without it we can never get kids to that next level of actually being able to successfully learn. Just as a hungry child can't learn, neither can a child who is convinced the world hates him and feels he has nothing of value to contribute. We cannot teach a child who is balled up in a corner, head and knees drawn into her shirt. And we have these children in our classrooms every single day.

This is what SEL is. And that is why we embrace it. We are social beings, and learning how to manage our emotions is a huge part of being human. We do not just teach math, or science, or reading. We teach CHILDREN.

If you're still worried, come talk to me. I'll make the time. If we sit down and talk to one another, we might both come away with a better understanding. If there's still something wrong, I want to help fix it.

Just like I would with your child.


Your child's teacher

*approximately 100 years ago in "the 1900s" as my students call it. 

**If you'd like to learn more about Maslow and his ideas, and why so many people think he was correct, this site is pretty decent, but there are roughly 10 million others, too.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

When Your February Starts in September, You Know Things Aren't Going Well

The Bloggess posted about it being September and how Septembers are always hard for her, and she doesn't remember it until she goes back to previous years and sees that, yes, Septembers are harder. There is less light, and it's time to get out the light box. And maybe it's other things, too, I don't know. 

For me, the hardest month has always been February and not just because it's weird to spell. There's not a ton of light in February, either, and we're still at least month away from going onto daylight savings time* and everything is gray. The trees, the snow on the ground, the sky, everything. You suffer through 3 weeks of cold, neverending slush and wake up to realize it's February 6th. Every day is Tuesday and there's a staff meeting you forgot. That's February for you, and I hate it every year.

But this September isn't breaking any records for me, either. 

Last year at this time we were starting a new and scary school year in hybrid, and learning how to use online teaching and zoom and masking and staying 6 feet apart and it was all pretty terrible and challenging. My department lost a staff position to budget cuts and needing the person to staff the online school, but everyone was taking hits for the team so we buckled down and did it. We were a TEAM, by gum, and we would pull together and do the job because it was important.

This year, the district hired over 140 new teachers and did not replace the one gifted teacher we lost.

We have more kids to serve than we did a couple years ago, and they could not, somehow, find it in the budget to replace one gifted teacher.

We have been cut, and cut and cut.

I have 100 kids on my list to serve. and 14 teachers to support. And my load is lighter than most. From higher ups I hear how I ought to be doing more, and I'm sent articles on how gifted education isn't having any impact.**

We are back at school full time, and we are all wearing masks now. We are trying to be as "normal" as possible, with some parents full on attacking teachers, attacking science, and accusing us of brainwashing their children for daring to read a book with a Black main character. 

It is disheartening. 

The kids are troopers. They are good about masking and they just want to be kids. They give me hugs and light up when they see me. They are the best thing, and they keep me going. 

But this September has been hard, and while I feel the job I do is important, I don't have the time to serve the kids the way they deserve. The work I do does not feel meaningful, in the same way that spreading out a charity donation of $100 to 50 charities isn't really meaningful. The effort of cashing the checks negates the value of the $2. But I'm still out the hundred bucks, and all anybody got was annoyed. I want to have hope that things will get better, but it seems like right now the light at the end of the tunnel has been redistributed to another department. 

The best news I've gotten is that the State wants to give teachers booster shots starting in October. And my hometown has gone rogue and declared masks mandatory for public indoor spaces. So there's that. But I'm still down.

And I'm not looking forward to February.

*which we should always be on, imo. To hell with reality and matching sundials. It's not like using time zones doesn't muck about with time anyway, and I'm okay with kids going to school in the dark. 90% of the kids in my neighborhood have parents waiting with them at the bus stop anyways if they're in grade school. And yes, I realize we've got a lot of privilege to do that, but having it be a little lighter in the morning for a month or two isn't going to fix the problem. Give me my light in the afternoons. I cannot abide having the sun go down at 4pm.

**how much impact does any education have when you reduce it 90 minutes a week at best? The answer here isn't "let's just get rid of it, it clearly doesn't work" it's "maybe we ought to try doing it right for a change, and then see what happens?"

Friday, January 15, 2021

As Real as a Tumor and About as Funny

 It started with a cough. Day 0.

Coughs are unusual for me. But still, it couldn't be Covid. Nobody I work with was sick, no one I'd come into contact with over the last two weeks was ill (and they still aren't.) So how could I possibly have Covid?* The next day I got a fever. Those are really unusual for me. Nightfall arrived with the blinding headache, body ache and chills. I didn't sleep much. Everything hurt.

We scheduled a rapid covid test for the morning of Day 2, and J drove, as I was unfit to take myself. It was supposed to be a rapid one, but "Oh, the website says we have them, but that's only some locations in the city. Not this one." Sigh. Home again to continue the alternating regimen of ibuprofen and acetaminophen that were doing nothing to reduce the fever and a succession of hot baths that were helping with the joint pain. I felt like I'd been hit by a truck.

On day 3 the fever was gone but so was any energy to do...anything. Use the bathroom, lie down for an hour. Put on clothes, lie down for an hour. Sit up to eat some food, lie down for an hour. Was this what they meant by fatigue? It seemed an inadequate word. I could still smell everything, though, and we wondered if it was really covid or just some bad, bad cold. 

On day 4 I woke to a text that declared "POSITIVE" in big red letters. I was now a statistic. Still, my energy had started to return, and I was able to sit through a zoom work meeting and remain coherent so hey! Maybe it's not all that bad. I'm one of the lucky ones. And I am, really, even though Day 5 saw the return of the fatigue and mental fuzziness. 

Well. Now we had gone into clearly unfair territory. I was getting better! I'd fought this off! We were past the worst of it and ... why doesn't my coffee smell as strong? Why is J saying "hey dinner smells really good" when it doesn't smell like anything? (This is especially unfair when I was making a new recipe of folded, filled tortillas and they were just sort of bland, salty and greasy instead of the fabulous treat they were supposed to be. J said they were delicious.) My sense of smell is largely gone. 

I have lousy hearing. My eyesight isn't great and I'm likely getting glasses this year. But my sense of smell? That's the one sense I have that works better than J's. And while the interwebs informs me that a "majority" of people have their sense of smell return in 3 weeks, for some it is up to 6 months and there's just no way to know! I am not good with uncertainty.

We're on Day 6 now, and I'm still about the same, but with increasing congestion. We bought a pulse oximeter to keep an eye on my O2 levels. (They're fine.) True story: my hands are often so cold that it won't work on me, and I have to jump around and rub my hands together to get it to register me as alive. 

I have four more days until I'm allowed back at work. Four days to stop being exhausted, congested and achy. And I'm lucky. I know that I am. This is a mild case. And I have a really, really good job that allows for sick leave and even demands that I stay home for 10 days. So I didn't write this to just be whiny about being sick (though I admit, I get pretty whiny) but because someone mentioned that talking about it makes it more real for people who just don't see it yet. I'm not sure how that is, but there are a lot of folks who still don't think it's real or not a big deal. Or that it's all some kind of joke or a hoax. And no, this hasn't been a huge deal for me, and hopefully still won't turn into one. But imagine this happened to a someone who works at a job with no sick time? They'd likely still be dragging themselves into work, sick, feverish, aching or not. And they do. And more people get sick. Some of them, maybe even me, will face lifelong complications from it. Nobody knows. And frankly that's only a tiny bit about what it terrifying about this disease.

It's not a hoax. The vaccine can't get here fast enough. 

Wash your hands and wear your mask.

*I have no idea. The choices boil down to one of the unmasked Amish people at the gas station where I used the restroom, or someone asymptomatic at work. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

I Manage with a Vegan Diet, Daily Meditation and Horse Tranquilizers†

 Came across this today in one of my FB groups. It was a response to some asking what people with EDS use to treat pain. People mentioned all types of NSAIDS, gabapentin, opioid - derivatives and such, but this one made me do that laugh/cry thing.

"Healthy diet, light workout (sitting or laying down), no caffeine and (wait for it....) Medical Cannabis."

At first I was about to want to smack this woman for starting up with the whole "Oh, manage your pain naturally with yoga and granola!" mantra. (yes, people say this kind of thing.) Then she just brings it all home with the pot. Now, I'm not dissing cannabis as a legit way to manage pain and honestly if a side effect wasn't extreme munchies I'd be trying it myself. But lady, those first 3 things aren't what's doing it for you. You could have a diet of ding dongs and coffee and the pot would still be helping with your pain. (Not to really disrespect a good diet and exercise, either -- I try to do both but I still hurt all the freaking time.)

Speaking of that, it's nearly October now, which is about 2 months after my last update regarding the whole flare-up thing. 

About a month ago, my hands started to hurt again. Like, I can't turn doorknobs, it's hard to turn the ignition key in the car level kind of hurt. I need to get a different style of braces to help with it, but I hate, I mean really, really hate trying to explain to people why I'm wearing a brace so I don't want to wear them. 

This morning, the 29th, I woke after a decent night's sleep with every joint hurting. I'd stay home from work but the truth is that keeping busy is better, even if I pay for it later. The only good part is that there are no digestive issues this time, and no nearly blacking out when I stand up. But I seriously have no idea what is bringing this on. 

Stress? Aging? Bertold Rays?*

I wish I knew. Eventually I'll get myself on the doctor visit merry go round again. Like Charlie Brown and the football, maybe it'll work this time. 

*Star Trek:TNG reference for the non-nerdy

†just a joke, mom. I don't take anything stronger than ibuprofen

Monday, September 28, 2020

Ain't Nothing Standard About This

A teacher friend of mine posted a story today about a teacher in Texas who is ready to throw in the towel. She's plagued with buggy, untested software, no training, no A/C (in TEXAS?!) no time to plan and no support. Excuse my language, but no shit. Of course she's ready to chuck it. I'd be looking for the nearest exit after the first triple-degree heat day with no air and everyone in masks.*

It doesn't have to be this hard.

This is a failure of administration, and from those who fund, (or don't really) schools. It is an utter failure to plan. My heart goes out to this teacher. While I know my district isn't perfect, I'm immensely grateful that they put together teams of teachers to build an online curriculum over the summer.** They offered lots of PD. Our superintendent vowed that if the A/C went belly up, we'd teach online till it was fixed (and by and large the A/C has been okay. It was bad a couple days here and there in a few classrooms.)

Don't get me wrong. This is hard. We see our students 10 days a month, and some of us see them far less. I see mine 1 time a week, for less than an hour and the rest of the time I do my best to help my overloaded teachers have the support they need to support the gifted kids on their own. We still have demands from all quarters that insist we deliver everything to everyone as though it were a normal year. But like the teacher in the story, a lot of us are planning for tomorrow instead of the next two weeks. When half the class may or may not have done the at-home assignments the previous day, even planning for tomorrow is a crap shoot.

We are, all of us, treading like mad to keep our heads above the water while simultaneously flying by the seat of our pants.†

So maybe, the thing we need to do before we drown or crash, is to let go of is the weight of our own expectations. 

The state is considering canceling state testing. That would be a huge start. This is not a standard situation, and standardized testing would do much more harm than usual.
They are also considering canceling OTES. (The teacher-evaluation system, for the happily uninitiated.) At the very least, they should be instructing administrators to take into account the overwhelming amount of work the teachers are doing, for far less payout. I have no idea if that's happening. I can only hope.

But mostly, every single player involved in this drama needs to change their expectations. The students. The parents. The teachers. The administrators. The taxpayers. The State. Every single person needs to wrap their head around the idea that what we get out of this year will not, in any way, match a "normal" year. It can't.

And that sucks. It especially sucks for the Seniors and kids who need extracurriculars like they need air, and for so many others in so many ways. But asking our teachers to work themselves to the bone, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week will not bring normalcy back for everyone else.

Let go of the weight of your expectations.

Every year, I get at least one kid whose parent comes in and says "Her dad and I are getting a divorce. She found out last night." My goals for that child instantly change. Great leaps do not happen during a year of personal trauma. (Maybe you've got a "but this one great exception!" story of the kid who won the Nobel Prize the year her parents divorced. Fine. Go you. But expecting every child to be that super-resilient 1 out of a million is not a reasonable plan, and we shouldn't bank on it.)

This is the year of great personal trauma.

If we can get through it upright and breathing with a little progress thrown in, we're doing fine††. 

I know that some folks have gotten this far and are aghast that anyone would ever dare to suggest lowering our standards and to them I say this: They are not lowered, they are different. You want to talk about personalizing education? Expecting last year's achievement under this year's restrictions is about the least personalized you could possibly get. It's demanding that the basketball player with the broken leg get up and run sprints because that's what he did last year. 

To all involved I say, let go of "should be" and "normal" and extend some grace. Extend it to everyone around you and if you're a teacher, especially to yourself. 

Let go of the weight of our expectations before they crush us all.

*those inclined to complain that we're all being too soft and weak for not being able to tolerate life in masks with no a/c can go pound sand and write on their own blogs. When CEO's of powerful companies have to work productively in 95 degree heat, I will start listening to claims of weakness. Till then, zip it.

**not to brag or nothing, but it's really good. Like, I'm seriously proud of these people. Sometimes I can see my colleagues' imprint and hear their voice in a lesson and it feels pretty cool to know I work with people this excellent.

†yes, I'm mixing my metaphors. Sue me.

††Serious side note: I do know that for some kids, our neediest kids, we need to do more at every level to keep them from losing ground permanently. I know this. Which is why it is so very, very important to maybe lessen our expectations for everyone else just a little more.

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Little Update for Posterity

It's July 24th now. Nearly a month after the flare up of my earlier post began to taper off. It didn't really taper. It sort of plateaued. I finally went to the Dr and she prescribed prednisone, because from all appearances, it just looks like my immune system is still on high alert and attacking, well, all of me. So maybe the steroid can get it to calm TF down. 
My blood pressure was something like 95/62, which is low even for me.* I still get dizzy when I stand up and I'm also having vertigo because the crystals in one of my ear canals is out of whack. There's a neat trick called the Epley Maneuver to help fix it, but it sometimes takes several repetitions. 
To sum up, then, all the symptoms are very slowly receding, and settling into a "current normal" of constant low-level pain. I hope it lets up. 
In the mean time, it's messed with my sleep schedule and I'm up after midnight blogging.**
I have one more month before school starts again to get better. 
Here's hoping.

*Fun EDS fact: it gives you low blood pressure. This has caused nearly every doctor and other health professional I've ever had to comment on my low blood pressure with absolute surprise because fat people aren't supposed to have low blood pressure. We're supposed to have high blood pressure that they can then use as a reason to tell us to lose weight. Instead, I always get sort of awkwardly praised for my low blood pressure. Never, once, did a single doctor (until the one who diagnosed my EDS) ever think that maybe it was a sign of something more seriously wrong. It was just praiseworthy. This is seriously effed up, and symbolic of how fat people are medically treated in this country.

**I also made another large batch of the Spring Roll filling from the recipe I posted a few posts back. I'm now out of curry powder and nearly out of cayenne. Time to order from Penzeys! (Penzeys is awesome. Highly recommend.)

Monday, June 29, 2020

What's Black and White and Inflamed All Over?†

I've never chronicled a flare up before, and it occurs to me that having a record is a reasonable idea, if for no other reason than the next time this happens I can go back and see when this time happened. I'm really bad at writing things down as they occur.* The other reason this seems worth doing is that I kept looking around online to find other reports of EDS flare ups and didn't uncover a whole lot. So I might as well add to what meager collection of info it out there for others to find.

This flare up started around June 10 with severe stomach pain. Like, I've-been-stabbed-in-the-stomach severity stomach pain. I usually take a low dose of omeprazole when this happens, but at the time I was visiting my parents and didn't have any. I took everything else they had. Rolaids, Tums, even some Zantac my father still had because he missed all the recall notices that flooded the internet a few months ago. Pepto Bismol. Nothing helped. Gasping pain so bad it woke me in the middle of the night and I thought about whether I'd need to go to the hospital this time. Eventually I got to the store and bought omeprazole, ripping the package open and swallowing a pill dry in the parking lot. It helped. I don't know why only this particular med helps, but I've stopped trying to reason with that kind of pain.
For the curious -- yes, I've had it checked out. I've been scoped and CT'd and examined from here to Sunday. There is nothing wrong. Nobody can see anything. They never can. I did, once, have an ulcer that was healed, but beyond that, there is no explanation for my symptoms.** Except, of course, that I have EDS and it does strange things to you.
A day or so later, my hands started to hurt.
Ten years ago, after my daughter was born, I developed "babywrist." The contortions I went through to keep using my hands led to golf and tennis elbow, and eventually a strained left shoulder. None of these ever healed fully, though I did regain use of my hands and they don't bother me often. My elbows and shoulder hurt nearly always. One of the hallmarks of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hypermobility type) is that, once damaged, connective tissue just doesn't heal. So it's important to not get damaged in the first place, which is challenging when you want to have a life.
But now my hands were hurting again. Just a little. I thought it might be attributable to an overabundance of work with the pruning shears when I took out a bush in the back yard. That wasn't it, of course, but by the 20th or so, I was pulling out my old babywrist braces because they helped me remember to not try to do stupid things with my hands like turning doorknobs or unbuttoning my jeans.
By this time, everything hurt. Fingers, hips, knees, neck...everything. The plantar fasciitis in my left foot (it was my 5 year anniversary! Remember that thing about not healing?) was exquisite. The brace I wear for it at night caused numbness followed by wicked pins and needles, which was new. My skin hurt. The skin on my left arm where I wore the arm brace felt like I'd rubbed it with sandpaper and coated it with that feeling you get when you whack your funnybone. Every time I stood up I had to either sit back down, or pause where I stood till the dizziness passed and blackness cleared from my vision***.I started taking high doses of Celebrex to help with the inflammation, and full doses of omeprazole to help with the side effects of the Celebrex.
Even so, I spent every morning waiting for painful cramps to send me running to the bathroom where it felt like everything I'd ever eaten was leaving my body, along with half my insides. Fortunately, the exodus was usually done by noon, and after a rest, it didn't bother me much for the rest of the day. I was, however, hyper-sensitive to all the foods I can usually eat a little bit of without too much trouble. Not now. Even small amounts of dairy, or food-gums caused painful bloating.
By the 27th, I was a wreck. Sleeping hurt. Not sleeping hurt. Moving hurt. Baths helped, but there's only so much time you can spend in a bath tub.
Then, on the 28th, it started to let up.
Today is the 29th and I was able to turn the ignition on my car without using both hands. I'm still wearing braces on my arms, but the pain is receding. I have no idea why. It's still there, but it feels like maybe I'll see the back of this in a week or so.
I don't know what brought it on, or what is causing it to taper off.
I wish I knew.
I'm not looking forward to the next one.

*especially when it comes to putting things in the freezer. Like, every time I think "oh, I'll remember putting this in here. This was some memorable stuff." No, it wasn't. It's never memorable stuff. Three months later I'm looking at some frost- encrusted chunk of something, going "what the hell is this?"
Every. Time.

**If you're considering telling me it's all in my head, or I should change my diet, try yoga, exercise, breathing, gratitude, supplements, etc please feel free to keep your thoughts to yourself. I've heard and tried everything you might care to suggest.

*** My kids are so used to seeing this now they just wait for it, sans comment. They know what it means when I'm "out of spoons." In a way, I hate that this is "normal life" for them to see, but maybe it will end up with them being more aware of and compassionate towards people with disabilities, so it's not all bad.

†People with EDS are often called "zebras" since our issues are not the "horses" doctors are taught to suspect before moving on to more exotic diagnoses. The trouble with this, of course, is that many people with EDS aren't diagnosed till after having symptoms for years or decades, if at all. So the title is just a super funny joke for all those with EDS. You're welcome.