Sunday, February 20, 2011

Certified

I just renewed my teaching certificate for the eighth time, which means I've had nine certificates, with this newest one being good through 2016, for a total of 45 years of teaching certification. In the state of Georgia, you must be certified in order to teach in all public schools and most of the private ones. A certificate is good for five years and, at the end of every five years, you have to renew it. The requirements for re-certification usually include evidence of staff development and that you haven’t done anything dastardly to a kid.

But this story isn’t so much about my teaching. It’s about my life. My nine certificates, so far, have spanned 40 years, my entire adult life, and thinking about each one takes me back.

My first certificate arrived in 1971, along with my 21st birthday, my college diploma, and my marriage license. I thought I would teach for a few years until my children came along, and then I would morph into a full-time mom, baking and ironing and donning high heels when hubby came home from work. I remember my mother telling me that I needed to have a college degree in case my husband died and I had to support myself. For that first year after we married, Gary was finishing up Pharmacy School at the University of Georgia and I taught first grade in Barrow County.

In 1976, I renewed my certificate for the first time. By then, Gary and I had moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where we'd had our first born, Melissa, and had then moved back to his home town of Warner Robins, Georgia because his father wasn’t doing well and his mother had just died. We couldn’t sell our house in Greenville, so we lived with Gary’s daddy for about six months. It was during that time that I became pregnant with Billy, which I remember as being a big surprise.  Now, I'm also a little surprised that I bothered to renew my certificate at all,  since what I was intent on at the time was birthing babies and decorating nurseries.  I do remember Gary looking at me in the grocery line one day and saying he didn't know how we were going to make it financially if I didn't go back to teaching.  That's about the time I realized the rules for women had changed from when my mother had given me her college-degree advice, and so I began to re-think my life plan.

My first day teaching after having kids.  Notice the open window.  It was late August with no air conditioning in the schools.

In 1981, during the time of my next renewal, I was teaching full time, I’d just finished my Master’s Degree, and I could tell that something had shifted in me. I was no longer a mother who happened to be a teacher. I was a professional woman who also happened to be a mother. That was also about the time I decided I wanted to go to law school, so I took the LSAT and did quite well, leading me to apply to law school at Mercer University. I was accepted but ultimately decided not to go. I didn’t really want to be a lawyer; I just wanted to have the opportunity to keep on going to school.

 This pretty much sums up my educational philosophy both then and now.
My son, Billy, was in this kindergarten class.

Five years later in 1986, I received my fourth certificate in the midst of working on my Specialist’s Degree and just before my third child’s second birthday. Molly had been a bit of a surprise when she'd arrived, but, although I was certainly happy to have her and loved her just as dearly as I loved the first two, her wonderfulness didn't stop me from my commitment to moving up within my profession.  She probably wouldn't have survived if Barbara, our neighbor, hadn't stepped in to be my much better suited stand-in.  Then, in 1987, I was offered my first out-of-classroom assignment, a job that had me traveling all over the state, training teachers in an early childhood program.  I was pretty full of myself by then and it was wearing on my marriage.

The professional woman juggling work, kids, Molly's blanket, and a cat.

By 1991 when  my fifth certificate arrived in the mail, I was in the midst of a divorce and a doctoral program.  I wasn't traveling as much with my job, but my degree quest had me engaging in a 240 mile round trip to the University of Georgia at least one evening a week.  In 1993, I became an elementary principal, a position I kept for five years.

In 1997, one year after I received my sixth certificate, I finished my Doctorate in Educational Leadership and started my quest to see what my next job would be.  The Dean of Education at Georgia Southwestern State University called and asked if I wanted to join the faculty there.  I did,  and so I left a job paying $80,000 a year for one paying about $52,000.  Although my life as a college professor was much less grueling than my life as a principal, the pay sucked and at some point I realized I'd educated myself into a much lower paying job.

Year 2001 brought an attack on America and my seventh certificate.  I was still at the college and enjoying it, but I worried that my relatively low salary would affect my retirement benefits, so I checked around to see if I could find a job with better pay.  That came with the Department of Education and a move to Atlanta in 2005.  I loved Atlanta but wasn't crazy about the job and what I really wanted was to teach children again before I hung up my professional hat..

By 2006, I had a new job teaching second graders in a wonderful school in Buckhead, which brought renewed meaning to my seventh renewal and my eighth certificate.  I'd come full circle and was back doing what I'd set out to do back in 1971.

So, here I am to now, with my ninth certificate, which came to me the same week as my 61st birthday.  For the first time, it wasn't mailed.  Instead, I had to download it from the Professional Standards Commission website before I could print it.  One of my young teacher friends seemed perplexed as to why I needed to print it at all since it was safely stored on the PSC website.  She didn't know about the other eight, safely kept in a drawer in my living room, evidence of a well-lived (or at least well-intended) life.
I've been contemplating retirement of late, but I'm now thinking I  might stay on a while longer since I still enjoy my job (most days). 

After all, I'm certified for five more years.

How could you not love working with people this size all day?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why I Can’t Get Any Blogging Done

Today is a school holiday, a free Friday, and while my young teacher friends have taken off to exciting places like New Orleans or the beach, I thought that I could at least get my blog posting done. One I’ve been working on for over a week. This isn’t it.

My current (other) post is about my adult life based on my nine teaching certificates. It’s relatively boring but that won’t stop me from putting it out there as soon as I finish. I did decide that including some photos of me during those times might at least offer some levity. That’s what got in my way today and began my long list of things I’ve done so far that have kept me from finishing that posting. They include:
  •  Thinking about the pictures led me to go through my old photo albums on the floor in my hall.
  • The floor in my hall reminded me what a mess my house is, which led me, not to cleaning it, but to remembering the stinky wet towels I have in my broken washing machine,
  •  Which led to my taking the stinky towels out of my broken washing machine and schlepping them drippingly into my bathroom and washing them in my tub,
  • Which led me to taking off my slippers and rolling up my pajama legs and washing my towels the same way people in Italy (and Lucy) make wine
  •  Which led me to thinking about my feet and how, if I put on shoes, I could at least take out the trash and then go down into the basement to look for additional family photos I haven’t seen in years,
  •  Which led me to deciding to clean out my freezer and refrigerator so that I could gather the old (and I mean really old) food that has been languishing in both and take it down to the garbage cans when I deliver my trash to the recycling bins,
  •  Which led me to deciding to gather up all the old pictures from the basement and bring them up and go through them while watching Regis and Kelly on TV,
  •  Which led me to noticing a Macy’s coupon left for me on the steps by my friend Susan who lives downstairs,
  • Which led me to think about the Old Lady's Macy's, my favorite Macy's, and the fact that I have some birthday money left in my pocket book,
  • Which led me out the door and into my car and on my way to North Dekalb Mall.
Note:  I did change out of my pajamas and put on my bra before I left.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Felicity and the Birthday Cheese

I love teaching second graders, at least in part because they are still cute and sweet with their snaggly teeth belying the beauties they will become. They are also quite funny, primarily because they are just making that big step from childish misconceptions to grown-up logical thinking. These little folks are real rule followers,  black-and-white understanders with little interest in or grasp of the nuances of everyday life and personal interactions. It’s this combination of gapped-toothed countenance and developmental stage-stepping that makes them so much fun to teach.

I have quite a few funny second-grade stories but I’m going to relate just a few here. I’m also changing the names to protect the truly innocent.

Jackson is one of my all-time favorite kids, a truly unique human who will use his great intelligence and quirky ways one day to show the world a thing or two.  One afternoon the year I taught him, I’d stayed late to help a mother who was hosting her son’s birthday party on our school playground. Most of the partiers were little boys in my class and when I arrived on the field, they were busy playing a faux football game that primarily consisted of tripping and knocking each other down. I quickly decided that the best thing I could do to help the mom who was busy putting the hotdog picnic together was to keep the kids from killing each other. So I intervened in typical teacher fashion, reminding them of the rules of the playground. At that point, Jackson ran up, looked me straight in the eye and said with perfect deadpan delivery, “This was a whole lot funner before you got here.”

Another great Jackson story happened some time toward the end of that same year.  I was having my students do some basic research using an old-fashioned but still important source of information, that being the good old encyclopedia. I'd counseled them to choose a topic before going to the stack of Britannica Jrs I'd imported from the school library. In fact, I’d told them to come to my desk to run their topic by me before choosing a book to use. Most of the kids were somewhat patiently standing in line, waiting to tell me their topic, but Jackson, being the bottom-line guy he is, was nosing around the A volume, which, of course, was the first book in the set. When I realized he’d skipped a step, I called out to him and told him that I wanted him to have a topic in mind and not just to pick the first thing he came to. He assured me he’d thought hard and had made a good decision and wasn’t just choosing the first thing he saw. A few minutes later when I asked what his topic was, he informed me, with absolute seriousness and commitment to the task at hand, that “aardvark” was what he'd decided to research.

I also have a couple Samantha stories. Samantha, who was in Jackson's class, is bright and creative and already her own person. She’s also quite mature and outspoken, intent on figuring things out and then articulating her thoughts to us all.

One morning near Valentine’s Day, our sharing time somehow turned to how the kids’ parents had met. Some had encountered each other in college, others on blind dates, a couple while traveling in Europe. Samantha told us her parents had met at AA.

A while later, we were talking about the Trail of Tears and what a sad time that was in American history.  I was trying to get the kids involved by asking them how they would've felt if they’d had to pack up and leave home and walk such a long distance. I asked, “What if, while you were walking, your mother got sick and wasn’t able to go on and your father had to carry her?” Samantha responded with, “Well, my parents are divorced so I don’t think my father would carry my mother. Plus, she’s a lesbian.”

During yet another sharing session, one of my boys was telling about the trip his family had recently taken to Florida.  Martha, definitely a developing thinker, then asked the boy, "When you were in Florida, did you see a woman named Helen?" When he said no, she added, "Well, if you go again and if you see someone named Helen, that's my grandmother."

Just a couple of weeks ago, Mrs. Fleckner, one of my colleagues, came into my classroom to tell me something. Her classroom is just a couple of doors down from mine, but because of our schedules, my students don’t see her very often. Mrs. Fleckner is also quite pregnant, and I could tell by the kids' faces and open mouths that they were surprised to see her in this particular state.   So, just after she left the room, I said, “Yes, Mrs. Fleckner is going to have a baby.”   After a moment's silence, one of my sweet angels asked, “Does she know it?”

Which brings me to Felicity and the birthday cheese. My birthday is this coming up this next week and the kids all seem to know, although I swear I didn’t tell them. Anyway, during our break times, there’s been a good bit of whispering and picture drawing from the girls (but not the boys who lean more toward building tall block towers and then knocking them down). Last Tuesday, Felicity, who is a gorgeous and very quiet little girl came up to me during break and wanted to ask me some questions about my favorite things. It went something like this:

 What's your favorite color?

Green

What's your favorite breakfast?

Muffins (I was trying to give her answers she could relate to)

Dinner?

Spaghetti

Dessert?

Cupcakes

I could tell this wasn't going quite the way she wanted, so she started narrowing down her questions, which, by the way, is a good research strategy,  and one that I'm sure Jackson used when he was learning all about aardvarks.

What's your favorite cheese?

Cheddar

What's your favorite sucker?

What are those suckers with the bubble gum in the middle?  I like those.

Blow Pops

Yes, Blow Pops are my favorite sucker.

The next morning, before school, Felicity stopped to ask me if I also like orange cheese.  I didn't mention that I thought cheddar was orange.  I just said yes.

At break that day, when I returned to my desk, I found a piece of drawing paper with "I love you Dr. Mayo" on it.  Under it was a slice of cellophane-wrapped orange cheese and a cherry Blow Pop.  That piece of cheese just might go down in my personal history as one of my all-time favorite birthday gifts ever.

One last story.  This one is about Frank and it will lead me to my ending.  I was watching Frank the other day while I was teaching math.  Frank appeared to be in great agony as if my boring lesson was causing him real physical pain.  He started out by laying his head back on his desk after turning  around so he could at least pretend to look at the board.  Once his head was on his desk, he let it sort of loll there, kind of rolling around like a big old marble.  As I was busy helping my students understand the differences between centimeters and inches, I thought to myself:  Frank is getting ready to roll his head right off his desk and fall out of his chair.  One minute later, there he went, landing on the floor in an embarrassing heap and then jumping back up, pretending, like a cat, that he'd meant to do it.

All of the above serves not only to help me remember what a great and entertaining job I have.  It also reminds me that elementary school teaching is the only profession, other than bartending, where people fall out of their seats on a daily basis.

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