Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I'm officially out of my funk

I've been holding quite a pit party for myself (here) lamenting the fact the end of summer vacation was approaching and it was time to go back to work.

While checking my school email I came across an email written to me by a former student. I have not had this student in my class for 8 years but she took the time to find my email and send me a nice letter. She was a student of mine back in the days when I was my school's ESL teacher. My favorite part was this:

I wish I could turn back time and sit and listen to you read one more time. That was the best time of my life, I think. I don't know If I ever told you, but when we had to take the TAAS test, I would never try because I was afraid to be taken out of your class.

I was always a firm believer that children, especially non-English speakers need to be read to and I chose the books I loved to read to them.

This same young lady also asks if I will attend her graduation, as she is a senior this year. As her former teacher I couldn't be any prouder and have already marked the date on my calendar.

I am now armed and ready for a new year of school. NOW I remember why I became a teacher.

I'm no one's child anymore

As the new school year quickly approaches I have to confess I am not looking forward to it. Besides the usual feelings of not wanting to give up sleeping late and mostly doing nothing, sitting through endless mostly time wasting meetings the first week back when I have a ton of work to do and having to learn to go to bed at a decent time, the thoughts of going back are also stirring up other feelings.

I lost my mother to cancer on April 12th of this year. She had battled it for 5 years but around this time last year it came back with a vengeance. The real problems began for her around November of last year. The cancer, which had been in her neck, began to close down around her throat. The week after Thanksgiving her doctor decided she would need a stomach feeding tube, as she was having so much difficulty swallowing. After this surgery she was terrified and needed someone with her round the clock. My siblings who still live in New Orleans were determined she would not go into a nursing home, and with none of us being rich, a schedule was developed so that someone would be with her twenty four hours a day. We also found someone who could sit with her during the day several days a week. Another sister and I each live about 6 hours away in Texas so we could not help much.

I visited the week before Christmas to give my siblings a break and was shocked at my mother's appearance. The night I arrived breathing became so difficult for her we had to take her to the emergency room. The next day we were told she would have to have a trach tube inserted to help her breathe or she would die. The surgery was done two days later. I returned home the day after her surgery and two days later returned back to New Orleans. We all had to undergo training on how to clean the trach tube but the worst part was suctioning it clean. My mother would now require additional care from her children.

My memories of the spring semester of last year are always centered around my mother's health Roaring down two lane highways late at night on the way to New Orleans, reading email updates from my sister and always wondering how long till the end came. Nights with my mother were often spent tending to her needs, many of which were more for the company she needed because she often could not sleep. When she did sleep I would watch the rise and fall of her chest, thousands of times I watched it wondering if each would be her last and not knowing what I would do if it were.

The end began on a Friday afternoon in April. I have received several emails from my sister concerning the hospice nurse's opinions that it would only be a couple weeks more. My cell phone rang during the day (no one calls me on it during the day, they all know I teach) and my sister informed me things were not going well, and the nurse said it could be any day. The next morning I made my final trip to see my mother. The cancer had actually broken the surface of her skin, her face was swollen to a degree I wouldn't have thought possible and she was barely conscious. The next 3 days we tended to her physical needs. One of my sisters was the bravest of us all and she did things I could barely stand to watch her do or help her with to ensure that my mother was not in pain. On Tuesday morning of the 12th she stopped breathing for a 5 minute period and then, just as we thought it was over, began breathing again. The rest of the day was a long vigil waiting for the end, which came around at 9 o'clock that evening. The hardest part was watching the funeral home people take her away.

Returning to school helped take my mind off of it and even provided a laugh or two. During my week's absence there had been an unbelievable storm that had flooded part of my room and the room next to it (our school building is two years old). The woman who subbed for me, also a Mom of a student, had cleaned it all up and dried out my items that had gotten wet. She could've spent that time sitting around doing nothing. A 2nd grade class had made me sympathy cards, with one child drawing a stick figure, complete with arms and legs, protruding from the casket, on his card. His teacher was mortified but it actually made me laugh.

Throughout the summer I have suppressed most of the thoughts about this time but now the arrival of a new school year is bringing them back. Many of the things I do outside of teaching require long hours of sitting at the computer and updating class lists for the educational software we use or working on the school webpage. It was those times I was always on the lookout for emails about my mother's health, or what the nurse said that morning when she visited. I'm not ready for the daily struggles the new year will bring, the rushing in the morning to have the day's experiments set up for Science lab, the daily afternoon car rider duty in the 100 degree heat and the always horrible fight of trying to teach 7 year olds how to log in to the school's network. I have for years begged for a change to this procedure without any luck (last name, first initial, middle initial); our IT dept. just doesn't understand that most 7 year olds have no clue what their middle name is.

I'm just not ready for the return of it all.

Monday, July 25, 2005

No Texas Teacher Left Behind

A grassroots organziation of Texas teachers has been founded in East Texas. Calling themselves No Texas Teacher Left Behind the group aims to:

"restore the respect owed teachers by our governor and by our legislature, secure pay increases, expand health benefits, and make retirement benefits equitable for all retirees."

A featured story in the Longview News Journal describes how the group gave Texas educators cards reminding them that a million educators live and vote in Texas, and they are not happy with the Texas Legislature.

This next Thursday, July 28th at 10:30 A.M. the group will be conducting a meeting at The Depot restaurant at 1023 Kilgore Plaza in Kilgore, Texas. Guests will include Republican candidate for governor Carole Keeton Stayhorn's campaign manager and son Brad McClellan. I may attend as this is only an hour drive from my home.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Texas lawmakers give themselves a pension raise in a cowardly no record vote

In their continuing effort to save the taxpayers of Texas money the Texas legislature has given itself a pension increase. The bill was passed by a no record voice vote, so they can't be called on it afterwards.

Via the Houston Chronicle, a representative with 12 years experience will now receive an annual pension of $34, 500. Not bad for a part time job that only requires you to work a few months every two year.

At the same time Republicans are trying to change the rules about teacher retirement. For teachers like myself this amounts to a broken promise, as when I became a Texas teacher your age and years of experience had to equal 80. Now the Republicans want to change that effectively to 90, citing fiscal problems. They fail to mention though the state has repeatedly cut back the share it pays into the program beginning in 1997.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The businessman/Republican puppet master

The Texas Observer has a great article on the so called "reform" movement in Texas and who is really pulling the strings. Turns out its a businessman named Sandy Kress who is also a Bush cronie. If you read the article it turns out that Kress is, WHO'DA THUNK IT?, a lobbyist for some of the very companies that want to take over for public schools.

To show you the Republican mindset here are some choice tidbits:

Eighteen people representing teachers, administrators, parents, and public school advocates testified against the bill. They asked for fewer testing mandates and more public school funding. The critics of the bill are part of a growing movement against the Texas education model, enshrined in the landmark federal law No Child Left Behind. Opponents say the current focus on testing degrades education and drains resources from the neediest schools.

Only one witness testified in favor of the bill. There was a small stir as Sandy Kress came to the microphone; in gatherings like this, he is something of a celebrity. Ten years ago, public school accountability was a vague, unenforceable ideal from free market enthusiasts who wanted to see schools run more like businesses. Kress, a Dallas lawyer, was serving what would be his last, tumultuous term as president of the Dallas school board. Fellow board members were calling the newspaper to denounce him as a racist and a bully. The fortunes of the reform movement and of Kress have risen together. He is one of the principal designers of No Child Left Behind, and has used his knowledge and connections to earn millions as a high-powered lobbyist for test publishers

And more:

Despite the lack of an endorsement from any major Texas education group, passage of HB 2 out of the committee was a foregone conclusion. Accountability, with its powerful allies, seems unstoppable. Its supporters are free market reformers who say test scores bring a needed dose of reality to lazy educational bureaucracies. Others are education reformers who believe that the best hope for poor and minority students lies in the public humiliation of their “low-performing” schools. And a select few enrich themselves supplying the demand public school reform has created for tests, and the tools it takes to pass them. Kress appears to be all of the above.

Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in January 2002. Five months later, Kress registered with the U.S. Secretary of the Senate as a lobbyist for NCS Pearson. Kress specializes in helping his clients tailor themselves to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, something Pearson has done with startling success. A publishing conglomerate that owns The Financial Times and Penguin Books, Pearson had been a bit player in the education market, concentrating on the scoring of standardized tests. In 2000, however, Pearson acquired National Computer Systems, the company that held the contract for designing and scoring the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Since then, Pearson has built an accountability empire of sorts, becoming the third-largest testing company in the country, behind CTB McGraw-Hill and Harcourt Educational Measurement.

And the most grevious accusations against him:

black school board members saw accountability as an attempt to undermine the city’s 1974 desegregation order, which allotted extra money and resources to Dallas’s historically neglected black schools . . .Secretly taped conversations alleged to be between Kress and fellow board member and political ally Dan Peavy supported the accusations. Peavy used racial slurs when describing plans to curb the influence of black board members. Kress’s identity on the tapes was never confirmed, but soon after they came to light in 1995, he announced he would not run for another term as board president.

What a guy! I'm sure he has the best interests of Texas schoolchildren at heart over the multi-million dollar enterprises he works for.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Roy Blake named best new furniture by Texas Monthly Magazine

Texas Monthly magazine has come out with its list of the best and worst legislators of the 79th Session. My local rep, Roy Blake, was named best new furniture. The term is an insult meant to convey uselessness. I think its a tad harsh as he was a good little Republican soldier and voted the party line on everything.

The chair of the House Education committee, Kent Grusendorf, who is pretty much the arch enemy of public schools in Texas, was named one of the worst legislators, an honor he very richly deserves. I tend to have some very un-Christian thoughts about Grusendorf. In fact, I hope there is a special place in hell for people like him, who place more value on money than people.

Not very nice of me, but then again I've never claimed to be an angel.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Watch the comet impact live

The Stephen F. Austin State University Observatory is running live updates to the observatory webpage. They are hoping to capture live images of the image and display them over the web. According to their site the page will automatically update itself every 100 seconds.

You can view their webpage here

Friday, July 01, 2005

One for the Science teachers

NASA's Deep Impact is on path to smash into the comet Tempel1 in the early morning hours of July 4, according to a CNN story.

The Deep Impact spacecraft is composed of two probes mated together -- "flyby" and "impactor."

Flyby is about the size of a small car and will monitor the impact. It carries two cameras -- a high-resolution one, which will be tightly focused on the crater, and a medium-resolution camera, which will take wider views.

The impactor is an 820-pound copper-fortified probe designed to produce maximum wallop when it hits the comet. It also carries a medium-resolution camera that will record the probe's final moments before it collides with the comet.

If all goes well, at 1:52 am ET on July 4, Tempel 1 will run into impactor, busting a hole in the comet and revealing its inner core.

"It will be all over in the blink of an eye," Grammier said.

Until its death, the impactor will record images and gather data while flyby passes 310 miles (500 kilometers) away, observing the impact, the ejected material, and the structure and composition of the comet's interior. Most of the data will be stored on flyby and radioed back to Earth after the encounter.

Hopefully there will be some really cool pictures of the event from one of the space based telescopes.