Summary of Debate

I am close to finishing my summer writing courses. So, so close, and yet… so far. One long piece of creative non-fiction, one 1500-word research essay (with a proposal – how is that long enough for any real research? Whatever. I’ll take it.) and one 500-word close reading. I can get this done. 

In the meantime, I am amusing myself and, hopefully, the poor “tutors” who have to read these assignments day in and day out. It was with them in mind that I wrote the following slice of life. The assignment calls for a one-paragraph summary of both sides of “a specific, local debate” in under 250 words. I had to present the two sides in an objective, neutral manner. I decided to go extremely specific and local…

Debate: What Is That in the Sky?

The debate in our car is heated: is the giant glowing white orb that we see in the sky above us the moon or is it something else? The person taking the affirmative position states that it is the moon and develops her argument relying almost exclusively on logos. She begins with a concession, acknowledging that the glowing orb does, in fact, look larger than usual, which is part of what attracted the attention of the passengers in the car. She continues to support the affirmative position by pointing out that, despite its size, the orb is in the place where the moon is usually seen, looks like the moon, and appears to be moving along the moon’s expected trajectory. Finally, the person in the affirmative attempts to use ethos, pointing out that years of experience in observing the moon makes her a credible source for determining if the orb is, in fact, the moon. For these reasons, the affirmative asserts that this is the moon. The person defending the negative position contends that what they are seeing is not the moon. This argument, too, relies largely on logos. For one, he argues, what they see in the sky right now is clearly much larger than the moon. The person assuming the negative position points out that he has never seen a moon this large. He then refers to authority, maintaining that “someone” recently read him a book about planets and that planets are, in fact, very large. He concludes his point by reminding his opponent that he, too, has seen the moon many times, which gives him vast experiential knowledge, if not quite as much as the other side. He closes with a clear statement of position: “I know a lot about moons, and that is not the moon.” In summary, the affirmative position is that the large, white, glowing orb in the sky is the moon; the negative position is that it is not the moon but, more likely, a planet.

In case you are wondering, it was the moon.

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Homework

My older son just finished a big school project. He had to research and write a biography of his hero – in French. For reasons beyond my comprehension, he chose George Washington Carver, someone he had never heard of before and whose accomplishments he can barely describe in English, much less French. “Crop rotation” anyone? He is also writing a Halloween story in English and reading a book for a Literature Circle. And he’s supposed to read in French for 30 minutes a day AND he has weekly French worksheets which he regularly does the night before they are due.

My younger child’s teacher photocopies sheets and puts them into a red duotang (one of those 3-pronged folders for all you Americans out there) then sends home things to be learned or reviewed every week. Also, he is supposed to read in French every night. And there are other kinds of homework: the other day, for example, the teacher asked the kids to bring in shoeboxes for a diorama. My child told me not to bother sending one in because “there are loads of kids who will bring more than one.” I was not allowed to explain his decision in a note to the teacher. The 8-year-old told me he would “take care of it.”

Now, I don’t know how other teachers fare with this stuff, but I am the WORST about my children’s homework. For the love of all that is holy, I read way too much about pedagogy to be anywhere nearby when the kids pull their assignments out of their backpack. Their teachers are lovely thoughtful people at various stages of their careers. Their expectations are not completely outlandish, and the workload really isn’t over the top. Well, the older one was a *little* overwhelmed this week, but I’ll admit that he rarely does a full half hour of reading in French and it’s not like he began his project early… and, there, I’ve already started.

I’m an American who speaks French for Heaven’s sake. Worse, I’m an American who is qualified to teach English and French in Canada – and my children are doing immersion French. Oh, and I’m a card-carrying member of the helicopter parenting generation – right down to my attempts not to be a helicopter parent. Homework gets complicated.

This year, we decided that it was time for the kids to make their own lunches and do their own homework. Lunches = no problem. Homework = well… the grade 3 teacher wants us to sign off on a chart that says that our son has done his work at least four nights a week. And I know that it’s good pedagogy to get parents involved in what’s going on in the classroom. And it’s not like my kids prattle on about school (I literally relied on the girls down the street to tell me everything until, tragically, this year they are not in my children’s classes), so homework can be a good window into the classroom. Right?

But then we lost the damn duotang. Actually, to be fair to me, I don’t think it’s in our house, so “we” didn’t lose anything. Sadly, the red duotang is also not in the classroom. Nor is the “personal dictionary” or some mysterious orange duotang, and I’m pretty sure those suckers never came home. I’ve read the teacher’s notes home and, sure, the message is in the subtext, but it’s clear that he thinks we lost these things. I don’t dare tell him that I’ve never seen the orange duotang, but I kind of want to send him a picture of our organized after-school system. Then again, maybe I don’t… I mean, I’m doing the best I can, but things around here can get a little hairy between 5 and 7:30. We’re, um, mostly organized. And I have torn the house apart; that red duotang is not here. I’ll tell you what: I know my third-grader, and I will not be at all surprised if these items reappear magically at the end of the school year. In the meantime, until his busy teacher gets around to replacing it, we have no sheet to sign. My child is delighted.

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And the fifth-grader, oh the poor child. It’s gotten to the point where he sometimes bursts into tears upon merely hearing the word “homework.” This would be distressing if he ever ever ever actually did any homework without significant “prompting”. And by “prompting” I mean “threats.” And, as I threaten him, I remember that this is the year he’s responsible for his own homework, so my brain starts up…

“Just let him not do it and see what happens,” hisses 1970s-Amanda-mom.

“What will his teacher think of you if he comes with yet another half-done, crumpled, food-stained worksheet?” fusses the 2010 version of me as a mother.

“Those worksheets are completely inappropriate and in no way promote learning anyway,” counters teacher-Amanda.

“Google translate is the devil,” sneaks in French-teacher Amanda. “Also, check that he didn’t forget any of the accents.”

“You were just like that, and you turned out fine,” the voice of my very own mother echoes in my head, thus confirming that things have really gotten out of control.

Meanwhile, my 10-year-old has snuck in another 20 minutes of screen time and calmed down enough to be able to summon up a fresh round of tears when I remind him that he really does have to do his homework.

So tonight, it was a real victory when he finished a project in French about a man he had never heard of three weeks ago who did something important that he can’t really understand but whom he claims, for the purposes of this project, is his hero. I tried to help him choose a hero (without commenting on how the project was presented), and I didn’t say anything negative as he hand wrote his first draft (because the teacher didn’t want them to type the first draft but required a typed final copy). I didn’t point out that there was no feedback on the draft. I will admit that I typed some of it from his rough draft because he’s 10 and watching him plink keys one finger at a time makes me crazy, but I didn’t make any corrections for him, and I only sort of helped with the French spell check. Also, I let him cry more than once. When he finished, I congratulated him on all the work he did and asked if he felt proud. He did.

I felt proud, too. Because I didn’t email the teacher one single time to tell her what I thought about the assignment. That’s got to count for something, right?

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Night light

See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life .

It’s bedtime, but he is just home from his friend’s house and full of energy. He’s not ready to stop bouncing. As I hurry him towards bed, he dances about. In the bathroom he hops on one foot and tosses a balled up sock towards the laundry basket. It misses. No matter. He switches feet and does it again. It misses again.

“You need to pick those up,” I scold.

He wiggles towards the corner to fetch the wayward sock balls, bumping things with his boogie-ing butt. One something falls, kerplop, into the toilet.

He stops.

“Uh-oh.”

An old night light. No longer necessary but it can’t stay there. He looks into the toilet to confirm what he already knows, then he looks at me. Quickly, he glances around the bathroom: he can take care of this himself. He grabs the toilet brush, gives it a disgusted look, and goes fishing in the toilet. Turns out a toilet brush doesn’t make a good fishing rod. The night light is wedged.

“Um, Mom?” His face has fallen. He is chagrined. But then, curiosity fires in him, “What are we going to do?”

My sleeve is already rolled up. Wordlessly, I plunge my hand into the toilet, fetch the offending night light, and deposit it in the trash. He sucks in his breath.

“Have you done that before?” He is impressed.

“Yes,” I say simply, as I soap my hands again and again.

“Thanks.”

Then, casually confident of his mother’s competence, he dances on out of the bathroom, pausing long enough to say, “Good thing I don’t need that night light anymore.”

My personal IEP

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Age: not as relevant as it used to be. Let’s just say that she no longer tells people she is anything “and a half”; also, she is old enough to have forgotten her age on more than one occasion
Address: Really? This is a blog. I don’t think so.

Assessments:
Educational Assessment: 18 years of formal schooling, mostly tests at the beginning, but strong performance on tests led to the increased use of essays and presentations
Assessor: teachers, professors
Notes: achieved well, though she sometimes demonstrated signs of stress during peak testing periods; possibly overly conscious of teachers’ and professors’ opinions and not focused enough on her own learning; well, maybe not in grad school. In grad school she kind of figured it out.
Diagnosis: Clever Enough, but kind of a Slow Learner

Social Assessment: observational and anecdotal
Assessor: family, friends, husband; recently her children have provided keen and unrelenting observation – although they are clearly biased, they are also painfully honest
Notes: appears friendly and outgoing but needs quiet time to recover her full energy; often over-commits and then struggles with time management; subject to bouts of righteous anger when things aren’t working the way she thinks they should
Diagnosis: Executive Processing Disorder brought on by adult responsibilities; possible movement towards introversion, but this may have been influenced by Susan Cain’s book Quiet; sometimes prone to Expecting Too Much of Self and Others

Exceptionality: yes
She’s exceptional according to her mother *and* her mother-in-law, so that has to count for something. Label: “Generally Pleasant”
Her children have recently told her she is grumpy but acknowledge that this may not be a permanent diagnosis. Label: “Occasionally Grumpy”
Her students have not yet shared their label this semester, but previous students admit they appreciate her more as they age. Label: “Fine wine”

Strengths: avid reader, bakes well, willing to have friends over even when her house is a mess, can change lesson plans in the middle of class if necessary, really likes most people, generally enthusiastic, pretty creative

Needs: reminders to look on the bright side, lots of sleep, more exercise, snuggles with her children, laughter encouraged by her husband’s cockamamie ideas

Accommodations:
Instructional: turn off the background music so she can hear what you’re saying, for Pete’s sake; make sure she has eaten recently before imparting new or potentially emotional information; repeat information, especially if she is doing other things – like cooking, talking on the phone, packing lunches, talking to another student/child or reading – while you try to talk to her; allow for texting of friends when she is feeling snarky and needs to vent

Environmental: benefits from fresh air and sunshine; may become bad-tempered after extended winters or exposure to excessive complaining; needs at least one hour per week for yoga; is calmed by hot baths

Assessment: performs best when given a non-negotiable deadline. She may insist that she can complete the project without the deadline, but she is fooling herself. Ignore signs of stress and leave her alone until the task is complete. Produces best blogs when involved in a supportive writing community.

GOALS:

  1. Make sure she continues blogging after the end of March – it makes her happy. Aim for a minimum of one blog/week. Timeline: begin in one week, continue weekly or more often, indefinitely.
  2. Now that spring is nearly here, add at least two or three walks per week in order to maximize life satisfaction. Timeline: as soon as all this dang snow melts.
  3. Create a reading challenge (a la Elisabeth Ellington) and read loads of books of all kinds. Timeline: at least once per year, repeat regularly forever.
  4. Learn Patience. This appears to be her life challenge. See diagnosis of “slow learner” and “occasionally grumpy” above. Timeline: every single day until she dies.

Special thanks to Romeolitcoach whose slice about her dog Bella yesterday inspired me to write my own IEP.

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Slice of Life Day 28, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

It takes all kinds

Every morning my older son, T, leaves the house at about 7:40 and walks half a block to pick up his friend R. Together, they walk another half block to pick up their friend F, and then the three of them walk together to school. These three have grown up together: they were born within 10 weeks of each other; they attended the same daycares, the same preschools, and now the same elementary school; they have sleepovers together, go to camps together and read books together. They are each the oldest in their family, and when they were babies their mothers (me, my friends) spent hours and hours together trying to make sense of our new world. They could not have more in common.

So this morning, when my guy had trouble getting out the door, I texted my friends to let them know he was running late. You see, the elementary school has this thing where the 4th graders have to give a short speech to the whole school – in French. The project was announced last week, and my son is really struggling with it. There have been a lot of tears (but he swears he is NOT afraid), and since they don’t give the speeches until April 17, I expect there will be more tears. As a parent, I don’t know quite how to help except to love him, offer what support I can, and remind him that he has done hard things before and he can do this one, too. And then I send him to school.

I’ve been assuming that his buddies are equally nervous about this BIG SPEECH. So today, I sent a text as he ran out the door, late. The responses from my friends – immediate, of course – made me laugh out loud with their clarity. Please meet our three children, friends since birth, practically the same age, who live within 100 metres of each other:

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It takes all kinds, my friends. It takes all kinds.

 

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Slice of Life, Day 27, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

The first kisses

I had some ideas for today’s slice, then I drove the swim team carpool. Nothing like a bunch of 9-year-olds to throw off your plans. 

Tonight as we left swim practice, one of the little girls kissed the other on the nose. They giggled. Then she came towards my son, the only boy in the group of three.

He said, “Don’t you dare kiss me” but she was on her way over before he even started to talk. She kissed his cheek. He wiped it off. “GROSS.”

She giggled. She kissed his arm. He wiped it off. “GROSS.”

The three of them tumbled through the hallways of the sportsplex, chasing and catching, twisting and turning, giggling and gasping.

She caught him and said, “Your choice: I can kiss you or I can lick you.”
He furrowed his brow, “Gross. I think I’d rather if you bit me.”

I tried not to laugh.

She kissed his shoulder. He twisted away but didn’t go far.

I wanted to be reasonable, to be appropriate, to talk of consent or, well, something. I said, “You know that it’s not ok to kiss someone who doesn’t want to be kissed.” Three sets of eyes looked at me pityingly. “WE KNOW.”

We got in the car. He sat in the middle. They whispered and giggled. As the door opened for her to get out, she kissed his cheek. “I’d rather you bit me!” he yelled after her. 

She just might, at that.

 

This is the first time I’ve seen him act like this. This is the first time he let himself be caught. Later, I reminded him that no one should be touched or kissed if they don’t want to be. He told me he knew. He said he “didn’t really mind.” Oh, my heart!

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Slice of Life, Day 21, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

Lockdown

We knew it was coming that day. Fire drills and practice lockdowns are covertly scheduled on the teacher calendar as “Admin days” so that we know not to plan guest speakers or tests on those particular days. And since we’re in a cold climate, we do the fire drills one-two-three in the fall before the weather changes. That means that the remaining Admin Day is for a lockdown. So lockdown practice is no shock: the only question is which period will be disrupted. Since we’d made it to last period, we knew the answer to that, too.

My colleague Margie and I shared a prep period, so we had to decide where to spend the lockdown. The English office is in what used to be a photography suite. The front room where we have our desks looks ordinary enough, but there’s a regular rabbit’s warren of rooms attached to it:  near the back, a little coat closet where we also store our DVD collection; off to one side, a large-ish half-empty room where we keep the printer, extra supplies and the shared Chromebooks; next to that, crowded with books, a refrigerator, a tiny desk and a phone, a mini room, and through the mini-room the former dark room, which now serves as a kitchen. We glanced around as the class bell sounded – the coat closet was too small, the printer room too bare, but the kitchen was just right: far from the door, dark, hard for anyone to access.

We set up quickly, dragging in two chairs, our laptops, and some grading. We made ourselves a cup of tea. After all, lockdowns can take a long time. The admin team goes door to door releasing everyone on all three floors of the school. Classrooms get released first, usually from the basement upwards; teachers’ offices on the second floor aren’t a high priority. Sure enough, a few minutes into our preparations, the PA blared about the lockdown and we went into the kitchen, closing the office door, the mini-room door, and the kitchen door behind us.

We settled in. First, we discussed when we should “get small.” Obviously we were supposed to turn off the lights and be silent for the whole time, but this seemed like overkill; we were three doors away from the hallway, snug in our cozy kitchen. We decided to turn the lights off but chatted amiably in the darkness – her family, my family, our classes, plans for the upcoming break. After a nice long conversation, we realized that we would probably be released soon, so we stopped talking in case an administrator came in. We knew that we shouldn’t have our laptops out but, we chuckled, “better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and opened them up. For a while we worked away in companionable silence. Finally, one of us suggested that since we were already breaking one rule, and since we really were very well hidden, we could probably get away with turning on the light so we could grade. We would keep our ears open and snap the light off before an administrator came in. So we started to grade.

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We are English teachers. We had a lot to grade.

I finished up my tea and thought about making another. It was nearly silent all around us. This has been an incredibly productive lockdown, I thought, just as I registered my previous thought. “Nearly silent.” NEARLY? Wait a second. I looked at Margie.

Did you hear a toilet flush?”

“Yes. We’re right next to the girls’ bathroom,” she replied nonchalantly, focused on a creative writing piece.

Wait…Wait… She looked up. “Wait a second. Who’s flushing the toilet during a lockdown?”

My eyes darted around the room. “How long have we been in here? Does it seem like a long time?” I checked my watch. I nearly shrieked, “Margie! We’ve been in here for nearly an hour!”

“But no one has come! There was no-end-of-lockdown announcement. We would have heard.”

“But I heard the toilet flush.”

We looked at each other in complete confusion. “What should we do?”

We slowly turned the handle on the kitchen door. The mini room was still dark, the door still closed, but light seeped through the crack at the bottom. Surely we had turned off the office light? I crept out of the kitchen and reached for the phone. Quick as I could, I dialed the secretary: “Cindy? It’s Amanda,” I whispered, “Is the lockdown over? Margie and I are hiding in the English kitchen.”

At first there was dumbfounded silence. Then hysterical laughter. When Cindy caught her breath, we learned that the lockdown had ended about 40 minutes earlier. Our new vice principal didn’t know about the crazy English office layout. She checked the main room then moved on. And there’s no PA in the back rooms, so we missed the announcement, too. We just hung out in the kitchen and graded right through it all, uninterrupted by the normal hurly burly of the high school. The VP apologized over and over; the principal stopped by to apologize, too. Our colleagues were vaguely horrified: “You were stuck in there for an hour? Oh, how awful!” Margie and I tried to be graceful, to look appropriately put out, to pretend that we had been bored or worried, but really, that was the best – and only – productive lockdown I’ve ever experienced. 

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Slice of Life, Day 19, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.