The Poky Little Pundit


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The best teacher you ever had

bad teacher 2

No, I’m not talking about me, though if I am being honest, I hope a few of my former students reading this are thinking of me when they consider that (fragment of a) sentence.

I’m going a bit off course on my post today and I hope you will indulge me. What I want to write about is good teachers. Because while my teaching colleagues are busy winding down the school year, counting the days until summer break, and secretly hating every single student in their classes (don’t lie), I am already thinking ahead to returning in September. Given the time off to reflect and consider the successes and failures of my 12 year career, I am feeling strangely optimistic. I am teaching a new class, and the thrill of learning new things and inspiring new people has overtaken my brain space.

Every one of us has a distinct memory of a great teacher in our heads – usually from high school, when high emotion sometimes eclipses reason in all the best ways. And most teachers – certainly the amazing ones I work with – are striving to embody that uplifting image kids take away from their school years. So today, I want to talk about two great teachers from my old high school: Mr. True and Mr. Blizard. And I want to know what you, dear reader, consider to be a great teacher.

Mr. True was my math teacher for two years. I had him twice because I failed the first time, which was definitely not his fault (there were WAY too many cute boys in that class). After my junior year ‘F,’ Mr. True stayed after school to work with me almost every day my senior year, trying to squeeze out whatever mathematical abilities my brain contained, and managed to pull me through trigonometry with a C. I was so proud. He never made me feel stupid – but he did make fun of me a lot, which taught me to laugh at myself and accept failure gracefully.

Mr. Blizard, who taught me English, was the first adult with whom I actually connected. He was a frustrated writer, a fast runner and a passionate teacher. He pushed books towards me like they were drugs – stuff like L’etranger by Albert Camus when my parents were divorcing and I first felt the futility of life. He looked beyond my silly teenage drama and saw that I was struggling, and he helped. He saw me as a person.

And what else could we possibly want from our high school teachers? Regardless of what you think of merit pay or private schools or teacher salaries or charter schools, I’d love to hear from you today: Who was your favorite teacher, and most importantly, why? What makes a teacher great?

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Don’t ever dig holes under fences

thepokylittlepuppy

Recently a friend asked me about the title of this blog – I naively assumed everyone would get the title without me explaining. Isn’t everyone’s favorite childhood book The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey? Apparently not.

So, for those of you who don’t already know, I stole part of my blog title from the aforementioned text. And it is basically about an independent, adventurous puppy who disobeys his mother and eats lots of desserts. At least that is my childhood memory of it. In actuality, it is about accepting the consequences of our bad decisions and facing up to our responsibilities.

Which is essentially what I am trying to do here with this blog. Face up to being something other than a self-serving ignoramus who complains about ‘the man’ while leaving all the decision-making up to him. Especially when I should be making that man a woman. (Ha ha.)

On that note, last week was Filing Week – when candidates register to run for stuff in WA state for the August 6 primary election. I spent a bit of time on the King County website, going as far as registering to see what I could possibly run for. The obvious choice is the unpaid School Board position – others include City Council or Commissioner, and I don’t think one should run for an office one has to Google in order to understand it. Michael DeBell is vacating his seat on the school board (that’s my district) and three candidates have filed to run for his position. I have not, because I simply do not feel qualified. (Here’s a list of all candidates who have filed, if you are curious.)

So what does it take to become qualified? Why aren’t there little ‘starter’ positions for people who want to ease their way into politics? Teaching involves a great deal of politicking, but truly I should not be making large decisions on behalf of the people of Seattle – I’m still deciding myself on important issues in education, such as teachers’ unions.

Which brings us to Timothy Noah’s article, “The 1 Perfect Are Only Half the Problem.” Firstly, how lovely to read an article by a writer whose bias was not immediately apparent. Secondly, I had no idea he was going to be talking about labor unions until the very end of the article. Basically, he thinks labor unions are a great way to fix middle class economic woes. And while my socialistic leanings predispose me towards loving unions, I don’t.

I want to be clear, though (before my colleagues think I am crazy, and Progressive Majority kicks me off the farm team): I am not anti-union. The NEA and the WEA (the National and Washington Education Association respectively) are integral to supporting teachers. But I do think there needs to be serious reform, including the right for teachers to choose how their union dues are spent – especially since in WA state, we are forced to join them. (I’m still deciding on the right-to-work debate – for the moment, forced unionization seems necessary. Read more about a recent right-to-work debate regarding Boeing here.) Perhaps a trifle petty, but if I ran the teachers’ unions, the first thing I would cut is the eight pieces of propaganda that arrive at my doorstep every day. Seriously? A group of educators made this decision?

One thing I will do in September, when I step warily back into the public education sector, is become involved in the Washington Education Association – boring, but necessary in terms of understanding how unions function. In the meantime, read up on the candidates who have filed – a brave step by many quite amazing individuals! I thought by now the path into politics might become more clear; alas, the murkiness continues unabated. If only I could cut under the fence and still get the dessert, just like my favorite poky puppy.


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Why down under is tops

another baby change pic

Love the skirt.

Last week, instead of posting, I was snorkeling on a beach on an island off the coast of Perth. I could use the excuse of no Internet access for not posting, which is true, but mainly I just didn’t want to spend one second in front of a computer when I could spend it gazing out at the Indian Ocean. I am sure you agree I made the right choice.

I’ve been to Australia twice before, but both times were ages ago, before kids, when I didn’t really notice anything going on around me. This time, I went to visit friends with little babies. Which reminded me how hard it is to have little babies. The lingering smell of bodily fluids on every surface. The mucky milk bottles haunting the sink. Squeezing your day’s plans in between nap times. Good thing they are so damn cute.

So here’s some things I learned while in Oz:

1) Birds sound completely different there. They look like American and European birds, but then they open their little beaks and you are not in Kansas anymore.

2) Women have paid time off to raise babies. Like LOTS of time. One friend I was visiting had been off for three years raising her now 3-year-old girl and 8 month old boy. Her career is still there, waiting for her, when she goes back in another year. To a teaching career. Wild.

3) MEN HAVE TIME OFF TO RAISE BABIES. Another friend was alternating time off with his wife so each could have six months off with the baby. And he was being paid to do so. CRAZY.

4) They have “baby care rooms” in public places stocked with a large changing table, appropriate bins for nappies, wipes and other baby detritus, a grown-up and toddler size toilet in one stall, hot and cold water, room for a stroller, a comfortable seat and a microwave. If you have a kid, you totally get how absolutely amazing that is, and you hate America for not emulating this. Seriously, parents have to use more of their political power to get these implemented. I am annoyed I didn’t take a good photo.

5) It is really, really far away. Like REALLY far. Unless you live there, of course.

This week, I plan to rejuvenate my political aspirations. I have a few ideas, but I have to admit that I am foundering a little. The problems I see are just so big, and I feel so small. I am still compelled to enter the race, which is a good sign. Especially when people like Warren Buffett write articles like this which make me think I need to get a move on. But overall, after joining every political group known to humankind and sifting through 20 e-blasts a day detailing our current political climate and attending bill hearings in Olympia, I still have no idea where I belong. I am loathe to waste my or anyone else’s time by channeling my energies down the wrong path, so I am just standing here at the top of an impossible hill…gathering information.

It seems as good a time as ever to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!” Only I don’t plan to kill anyone…just trying to stoke up some resolve here. Ideas?