Saturday, April 21, 2012

Snippits of a Week

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"Can we take them on the track?" the photographer asked when he arrived to take team pictures. I didn't laugh in his face, or cry in frustration. Instead, I said "wouldn't that be nice?" and explained our current predicament: two weeks left, and a track still fully covered. This time last year we hosted a meet. Yesterday might have been a gorgeous day for such things--high 50's and sunny--yet it would be more of a snow shoe race than anything.


"It reminds me of a communion wafer," Curtis said after tasting the crisp white garnish that flanked my salmon filet. We went out to celebrate Curtis's dad's birthday this week while his parents were on a brief layover en route to greener and warmer places. I celebrated the occasion by wearing no coat--just a down vest.

"What does it mean to be born out of wedlock?" my student asked as he researched his chosen character, a person he determined to impact history. As soon as I started explaining the concept, he blushed and made it clear that no further explanation was needed: he got the point.

"My eyes are going to be burning," Curtis commented over french toast this morning, when we realized we never go lap swimming at the same time. Nearly five years of marriage and we've successfully shared one swim cap and one pair of goggles. Though I'm the one training for a triathlon, Curtis is hard-pressed to pass up any workout opportunity--especially if he has the day off.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Unmentionables

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Adolescence is an interesting phase in life, and if you take the time to ask, most people have an opinion about it. Good or bad, I have yet to meet anyone who would like to go back to junior high. The awkwardness of transitioning from being a child to an adult is exhausting, and I observe this phenomenon regularly as my students try desperately to learn the unspoken rules of being an adult. Occasionally, and sometimes frequently, these teens fail miserably as they misread or just totally miss a key rule in "grown up" existence.

Perhaps one of the classic moments in the teenage-filled classroom is the moment that a bodily function happens: burp, sneeze, gas--silent, smelly or noisy. The reaction from the doer is sometimes pride, other times embarrassment. The reaction of those surrounding the perpetrator is sometimes silent ignorance, other times gleeful proclamation. In professional adult existence, these things are typically ignored. In teenage existence, they ruin concentration for minutes at a time.

Then you have the visible snafus: food spilled on an article of clothing, shoes that are clearly worn well past their prime, pepper etched in between teeth and overly zealous makeup application. These tend to be less distracting in the general scheme of things, though an unaware student might still proclaim the existence of one or more of the above items. In these moments, in a way not so different than when I discover the presence of bodily functions, I strive to run interference. I ask the student with foot odor to not take off his shoes during class; I note to the girl with smeared make up that a quick swipe will remove the distraction. Yet as much as I try and protect the students against the tactless observations of their "friends", I fall far from reaching all students before the attack. Inevitably a student falls prey to the honest observations, and when I note to attacking students that their commentary is neither appropriate or necessary, their reply, "but it's true!" is a difficult one to combat.

Perhaps the hardest observation to counter is when a student is absent. When the student is sick, most students hear. Modern communication with cell phones and texting leave me to find out what is going on with students from their peers long before I receive an email from a parent. But other times a student is out for other reasons--problems at home, personal issues, decisions that have left him or her suspended or enrolled elsewhere. Most of the time I am aware of why a student is missing from my class, but I of course can't divulge this to the students. Yet they notice, and they ask. "She's out," I reply when they ask where "she" is. Such an answer communicates nothing; all I have done is repeat back to them what they already declared. Yet somehow, when I note an absence with that clear declaration, they know that the appropriate response is to move on and be quiet. Wherever "she" is is not someplace they want to go.

I try to create an attitude of transparency with my students over the course of the school year. If they ask me how my weekend was, I like to be honest. If they ask why I was absent, I typically tell them. In return I expect the same from them. When I sit next to a student that is refusing to work and ask him if he's planning on passing this quarter, I expect an honest response. When I sit and grade stacks of essays and journals, I am rewarded or cursed with volumes of honesty they would probably never say to my face, or even their closest friends. Unfortunately this leaves me with a problem at the end of the school year when I have created relationships with so many of my students only to find they have quietly disappeared, departing my classroom without a word or even any warning.

Spring is upon us, and with it comes an onslaught of poor choices, it seems. Everyone becomes crazy when the snow melts and the school year nears the finish. For a handful of students this manifests in ways that leave them absent for a week, two, or even the rest of the year. And when my students ask where a particular student is, I can't mask my frustration, my disappointment, my hope for a student that has been dashed.

"He's out."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Weekend Embrace

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It was quiet when I returned from church. My face was speckled with mud, my forehead sweaty, my legs worn from a morning bike to and from church. I peaked in on Curtis while I collected items to shower, tip-toeing around while I gingerly opened drawers and creaked the door closed, chiding myself for not planning ahead and gathering my belongings earlier, knowing he'd be asleep when I returned.

Muddy clothes in the wash, I counted down minutes until I could wake him up, eager to share the few remaining hours of the weekend together.

This morning as I readied to bike on the slush-littered sidewalks I called Curtis to see how the night had progressed. While he'd hoped to be home by 10 this morning, he knew now it would be much later. A busy night made for a busy morning, with many patients to see and notes to be written. Even after over 24 hours of work he sounded alert and surprisingly upbeat. I know better to expect this demeanor after a three hour nap reminds his body that he has gone far too long without rest, yet I love to hear his positive outlook after so many patients have demanded his attention. To have work that is fulfilling is truly a gift.

Today I find myself embracing the silence, a few hours with Curtis before he returns to bed, and the hum of the washer as evidence of my earlier adventure. Tomorrow I look forward to students' questions on writing on grammar, on track events on injury, and even the occasional inquisitive student that cares to know what filled my weekend. "It was quiet," I will tell them, "and filled with laundry, and bike rides, and softly playing Josh Ritter while my husband napped in the other room." And when they proclaim--with their expression or their words--that my weekend doesn't seem very fun, I will close the conversation content to know that someday they may find themselves craving the very same weekend.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Behind the Scenes

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Taken last year at a track meet in early May; I'm holding out hope that we'll get a grassy infield at some point...
If someone had told me that coaching is half excel documents and spreadsheets and a quarter corraling I would have written that person off as cynical. Now I know she would have just been being honest. When practice is over and the locker room locked, my voice sore and attendance marked, there is so much more to do. First is the wait for tardy parents, the ones that have gotten stuck in traffic, an appointment, or just decided that their grocery shopping was more important. Then begins the data entry: absences excused and not, parent permission and volunteers, t-shirt orders and sizes and funds collected - not to mention the papers to be submitted with the funds later on.

As an athlete I thought all my coaches had to worry about was coming up with new and exciting ways to exhaust and challenge us, now I know that workout plans are just the beginning.

Even as the details threaten to overwhelm me, I still love my role as coach. Changing into running shoes and circling the halls is a a totally different way to connect with students than correcting their grammar. Students that struggle to construct a sentence might dominate all others in 200 meters. It is good for them to succeed; it is good for them to know I see them as more than just a struggling reader.

Today is our first meet. Though the sun has been shining in generous quantities, we will be racing indoors. Unfortunately, the tracks are still buried, as are many of the sidewalks and back roads. After a week of temperatures in the high forties, minus a couple days and inches of snow, we have been making progress slowly. We really need some rain and wind if serious gains are to be made quickly.

Tonight, when the buses have gone and the athletes are home and I have finally finished the day, I know the rush of satisfaction that comes from the culmination of racing will carry me through. Practice is fun; measuring and recording the fruits of their labor is thrilling. And as I stack my clipboard meticulously--order of events, attendance, sign out sheets, event assignments, bib numbers--I get excited for the first start of the season, when the gun goes off and athleticism is tested, and all spreadsheets and comma splices forgotten.

Monday, April 9, 2012

White As Snow

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On Saturday we broke the record, accumulating over 130 inches of snow so far this winter. While my spring-craving heart was not happy to see the thick flakes on Friday morning continue all day Saturday, I would be lying if I didn't admit that it was satisfying. If it is going to snow almost 50% of the days in a winter, we might as well break a record while doing it.
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Last week we completed our third week of living out of a suitcase in four weeks, half the time as part of our spring break excursion, half the time at my mom's house while she was out of town. Only three days after unpacking and settling back in to jobs and routines, we packed up and moved across town and up the hill, gaining a view, a hot tub, two dogs and my brother.

Only three days into our ten day stay, I had already settled in as indicated by startling awake early in the morning worrying about packed lunches and soccer practice. Dinner doubled in size by necessity, as Curtis and I put together eat about the same amount as a growing teenage boy. I spent my afternoons calculating what meal plans were for the next twenty-four hours, even as my brother assured me he was capable of fending for himself. My own concern for grading papers was replaced with helping him edit his AP compositions, and instead of gathering Curtis's medical reading from all over the house I was now stacking my brother's high school texts as well.

As we found ourselves back at home this past week, I was amazed at what had been neglected in a few weeks worth of travel and house sitting with only a handful of days at home. This weekend, our first fully at home in over a month, was spent stocking the fridge and catching up on laundry and dishes, scouring the bathrooms and dusting window sills. The amount of daylight we've gained in the last month has showcased the amount of dust not readily visible in the dark winter hours that I am home.

With the fresh layer of snow white-washing everything in sight, I was content to whittle away the hours indoors baking Easter pie and dreaming of track practice outdoors. Even with a record breaking accumulation, I'm still holding out hope that our surface will be clear before the end of the season.