Doug and I went on a mid-week date night last night. Huey Lewis was playing at Table Mountain Casino, and we have been looking forward to his concert for about a month now. Honestly, although the concert was too short, it's been a very, very long time since I've had this much fun at a concert. Huey Lewis is, as Doug says, "effortlessly charismatic". He's charming, funny, and he geniunely seems to still love doing what he does. His voice is as powerful now as it was when I first started listening to him on the radio. And the horns? And the guitar? Just fantastic!
Danielle's first task in Advanced Art was to draw a cover sheet for her portfolio comprised of five items she liked or which held a special significance for her. She chose a soccer ball to represent her interest in sports, a box of colored pencils for her artistic side, a cross to represent Christianity, an iPod to show her enjoyment of music, and a mustache, because it's a weird fashion statement right now that all the girls are into. (Okay--that last bit was a little bit of my editorializing. What is up with the mustaches? Kids have 'em on their binders, on t-shirts, dangling from sunglasses....I don't get it.)
Anyway, I thought she did a great job. I'd love to know where she got her artistic talent from. It's highly unlikely that it came from either her dad or me!
Monday schedules wipe me out. Those are the days we see every class, every student. When I was in high school, and when I started teaching, every day was a 'Monday' schedule. I can't imagine going back to that again. However, there's a good chance, with all the changes coming down the pike, that we may revert back to the old way of doing things. But oh, those other days, our two hour block days--the days when we can relax into the class and the conversation, when we are afforded the opportunity to speak to each and every one of our 41 kids in a class--those are the days when meaningful interaction takes place. Those two hour classes allow me to connect with and get to know my students because I'm not always running a million miles an hour, trying to take roll, make announcements, pass out papers, collect papers, lecture, conduct informal verbal assessments and formal written assessments, direct discussions, play psychologist for those who need it, field phone calls, and of course, do my best to 'entertain' and be engaging.
Naturally, I do still have to do all of those things on two hour block days, but I've got two hours at a time in which to do it, rather than in 50 minute stretches times seven. Going on a long jog is so much more relaxing and productive than several sprints in quick succession.
Although I wasn't able to be with
Bree on the day she moved in, I was able to take a little trip down
south just a few days later for the weekend. Bree and her roommates
were largely settled in, but there were some things they thought they
still needed to make their house a home: some cooking utensils, an
ironing board, a broom, some groceries. She and I made the trip to the
local Target (where is the newest employee) to stock up. When we came
back to the apartment, her roommates and I helped her unpack and put
away everything. I think I handled everything well, this being not much
different from helping her move into the dorms last year. And yet, I
will say there was a brief moment, quickly pushed back into the
subconscious, when I saw the girls sitting at the dining room table and
it occurred to me that one day--perhaps not very long from now--there
would be holidays spent at her own home, in her own kitchen, with her
own family. The future is not so far away as I would like to believe.
I am a person who enjoys astonishing art and alluring athletics. I live in a quaint neighborhood where everyone is friendly. I hear gregarious greetings getting passed to one another. I am heard as a shy squirt when following, but a booming loud dictator when in charge. I see pleased people playing publicly on their porch. I am a superlative soccer star and a intimidating goalie.
I am a part of a overachieving, but lenient family. I eat fresh fruit that crunches when you bite into it. I give help to sorrowful small fries who need a friend. I am born a young girl who strives for perfection. I am a sympathetic thirteen year old.
I worry when I have to speak in front of a grand group. I hope to graduate college, earn a teaching credential and do graphic design on the side. I say don’t knock it till you try it. I am afraid of hearing a heart monitor in a hospital go to a one note beep. I am Danielle Lutjens, a multitasking minor.
The time has come. This morning, Austin got on a plane with his mom to
start his new life in New York. Austin has been like a brother to
Brianna and has been my 'extra son' since they were in the second grade
together. This brilliant young man was given the opportunity to go
study in Albany at a college which offers a major in nano-technology,
his field of choice. I'm thrilled for him, but also a little nervous.
Clear across the country, so far away from his family....I'm thankful
that we have Facebook and Skype to make those miles seem less like a
chasm. Of course, he'll not be alone long--he's such a kind-hearted and
friendly guy that he'll have a new 'adopted' family on the East Coast
in no time, I'm sure of it.
We are three days in to the school year now, and the annual shuffle has begun. After twenty-one years, I expect it. I know that within a week or so everything will shake out evenly, but these first days are always a dance of ever changing partners. Classes shifting, schedules changing, classrooms bursting at the seams, then dropping to a manageable size, then filling up again, almost as if by magic beyond anyone's control.
One of my classes is sitting at 43 right now. Ten years ago, I would have been tearing my hair out and firing off emails left and right. DO YOU ALL KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING IN MY CLASSROOM? HELP!! QUICK! But you know, it's not tragic. The counselors are scrambling as fast as they can, and our administration is aware of the situation. There are always glitches in the system and kids who show up unexpectedly at the beginning of the year. Figuring out where everyone will end up each period of the day is a delicate balancing act--you can't move one piece of the puzzle without shifting another one. It will get handled though; it always does. Will I end up with a class of 25? No way. Not happening. But by the end of next week, I can reasonably assume that won't have a class of kids so full that it's standing-room only. I can wait a few days 'til the dust settles.
The thing that was a little unnerving for me this year, though, was not that I had so many kids in each class; it was that in one class in particular, I have a full class with several kids with unique needs--various learning disabilities, English language learners, medically fragile kids, and a whole host of other issues. Often we try to group specific types of needs together, the idea being it will be easier to provide what the students most need if there's a concentration. I've had lots of these 'concentrations' in my classes over the years, and I like to think I work well kids who need a bit of extra support in the classroom. But several 'groupings' of kids in the make up of a single class seems a bit overwhelming.
And yet. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that every single one of my classes is a collective of kids with individual, unique needs. Always has been. It seems pretty obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in the labels we place on kids in order to get them the additional help they might need that we lose sight of the fact that, labels or no, every kid comes to us from his or her own perspective--with his or her own individual needs. Sometimes those are academic needs: dyslexia, for example, or auditory processing difficulties that may hinder a student's access to information in the classroom. Sometimes those are social or personal needs: kids who don't fit in and are looking for their place in the world, or kids with absent parents (and sometimes, too ever-present parents, afraid to let their kids make and learn from their own mistakes), or kids who struggle with extreme anxiety, or lack self-confidence, or are perfectionists. Sometimes they're teen mothers, or are homeless, or are searching for the right time or the right words to come out to their parents and their peers. And it's my job--label or no, 'grouped' or not, to take them as they come to me, figure out how I can meet them where they are are bring them into my environment--our environment--where they can get everything they can out of the relatively short time we share together.
It's a privilege I take very seriously, and one that reminds me how lucky I am to have the job I have.
Bree decided to move out of the dorms for her second year of college, and Monday she moved into her new apartment with three good friends. I was really disappointed that I couldn't be there when she got the keys to her first apartment, but it was my first day of class. It would be a little hard to justify missing my first day of school for anything other than an emergency. Instead, I'll be heading down to San Diego on Friday to help her do any 'settling in' she still needs to do, which I assume with entail a Mother-Daughter trip to both Target and the grocery store. How lovely for her to have an actual fridge to stock!
Her roommate, Anna, had her mom with her when the girls moved in, and she posted a few pictures on Facebook so I did get a little glimpse of Bree's new home for the next year or so.
Here we are, another Sunday night the day before school starts up for the year. There's always a sense of nervousness, anxiety, and excited anticipation for the beginning of the school year and all the new kids who will walk through my door in fewer than 24 hours. Yes, even after 21 years, this is a job I still love.
It's said that the biggest fear of 95% of Americans is public speaking. That's over fear of death, fear of snakes, and fear of flying, among other things. And yes, I am the 95%.
I've been afraid of speaking in public for as long as I can remember. As a matter of fact, I used to be scared to talk to anyone at all--my teachers, salespeople, the pizza delivery guy. Everybody was a potential source of anxiety for me when I was growing up. I've gotten much better, though, as I've grown older. I can carry on with the best of them in a one-on-one situation, even with random strangers. But speaking in front of large audiences? And with a microphone, no less? No, thank you! Not for me.
So when I got an email from my principal a few days before school started, it immediately got the anxiety flowing. "Hey there," the email read, "we are going to have a joint meeting with the staffs of both the high school and the junior high on Friday. For the few of you who have been at our school since we opened, I thought it would be nice to share some of our memories with the whole group of our first few years here." No big deal, the email intimated. Easy--just a little anecdote or memory. Out loud. In front of not just our whole staff, but the junior high's staff as well. WITH A MICROPHONE.
I thought about responding, but ultimately did what I usually do when these things come up. I practice avoidance. I deleted the email. I pretended I had never read it, and I went on with my day. I was sure she'd get enough volunteers from the other teachers and she wouldn't need me.
The next day at the meeting, however, my principal found me. She sidled up and asked if I'd seen her email, and with a sweet smile asked if I was going to be able to 'help her out.' For a brief second, the terrified-of-public-speaking me argued with the overwhelming-people-pleaser me. In that tiny stretch of time, I couldn't think of a plausible reason to beg off and I heard myself say, "Sure I will." Terrified-of-public-speaking me couldn't believe her ears. This is what she looked like on the inside:
When the time came, five of my colleagues and myself were called to the front of the room to share. I got to the end of the line, thinking if we were lucky, we'd run out of time before we got to me--or there would be an earthquake and we'd have to evacuate. No such luck. It looked like there were this many people in the audience:
But really, it was more like this:
And you know what? I did it! I shared my little story. It wasn't earth-shattering or even particularly interesting, but I did it, and I didn't faint. I didn't even hear my voice quaver, which has always a tendancy when I get really nervous. It wasn't even until I sat down that my hands started shaking. I think the only people who realized how nervous I was were the people who are close to me and who know what great lengths I usually go to in order to avoid situations like that. I was very proud of myself. Not proud enough to jump in line to do it again, but proud of myself just the same.
Farewell dinner for Austin before he leaves for school in New York. I told Austin I'd take him out to dinner at a restaurant of his choice, and he chose Giuseppe Gallo's. (Obviously, he's a very smart boy!) I'm quite certain we stayed and reminisced and talked about future plans for at least three and a half hours before we finally let the staff clean up and usher us out the door well after closing. I'm so thrilled Bree and Austin had a chance to spend some time together before they both headed off to college again.