Tag Archives: teachers

Some days require flowers

I spent a lot of time last week pondering the situation at Columbia–the teachers are tired, the kids are traumatized. Thursday would be open house, a longer than usual day for the staff. What could I do to make it any better? The idea of flowers popped into my head. I had done that a few years ago, taking flowers to the teachers in their classroom, and the kids enjoyed them as much as the adults. Perhaps I could do that again. Fortunately, Whole Foods had enough of their little bouquets that come in their own vase.

While picking up the flowers, I had to step aside for a moment and let another customer choose ahead of me. She saw me getting flowers and thought it was a good idea for her plans, but then found out I was taking seven of the bouquets. I told her to choose hers first and I would take the others. We talked about what I was doing with so many bouquets, and she was pleased to know that there were people looking out for teachers.  Or at least trying to. “Teachers need more appreciation.”

The teachers were quite pleased with the flowers, as were some of the students. A few of the kids thanked me during lunch time for bringing THEM flowers. Knowing these teachers, they are sharing the pleasure of getting flowers with these little ones. One of the teachers nearly cried when I handed the flowers to her. “No one has ever done this before.”

The long-term sub who seemed to be at the end of her rope the day before couldn’t quite figure out why I was delivering a bunch of flowers. She was almost hesitant to accept them. I could she was wondering what this was all about.

“I want you to know how much you are appreciated for doing this hard work.”

She was able to stammer a “thank you,” and I disappeared out the door. I just hope it made her feel a bit better about where she is working. Some days require flowers.

Hug a teacher

It looks like the teachers in Fresno will go on strike in the next couple of weeks. Negotiations are not going well. It’s not so much about wages and benefits as it is about smaller class size and better discipline measures. The president of the teacher’s union is a friend of mine. I encouraged her to run for the position. She is smart, she is passionate for kids, and she’s a born leader. If she can’t get this settled, then no one can.

Because of these  tensions, and all of the usual school-related stress that comes at the end of each October, teachers are feeling pretty low right now. Every teacher I know is feeling the pain. They are questioning their career choice. When my grandchildren visited two weeks ago, we went to See’s Candy and bought Halloween treats for the teachers and staff at Columbia. The kids even helped load up the goody bags:

school discipline is just not my thing

First, let me review my classroom management skills with you. I taught high school students for 21 years. All grade levels, all sizes, all personalities. I got them all in the elective classes that I taught. I believed that those classes should be so engaging and the students so involved that they didn’t have time nor inclination to get into trouble. I set up the room and the lessons to maximize classroom control. It worked most of the time, but there were occasional miscreants.

I handled those miscreants on my own. Occasionally I moved a belligerent student into another room or made them step outside, where I could still see them, while I continued with the class. When I got to a point where I could step away, then I lit into the kid with the bad behavior, pointing out what they did and what they should have done and were they ready to get back to work OR did I need to call home. My method worked better than 99 percent of the time. I seldom had to send a student to the office, but I did occasionally write up a conduct referral if I thought a good talking to from the vice principal or counselor would make a difference.

The last year I taught was one time I had to call the office for help. I had a kid show up in my advanced multimedia class and insist he was in my class now. Nope. Not on my roll. Go away. He refused to do so. Just sat himself down and would not leave. My students were busy with a website design so they didn’t have time to pay much attention to this character, but he was a little scary in that he continued to loudly insist I give him an assignment. I called the office to send help.

When the campus assistant (CA) showed up, he was rather sheepish. “Did you call for help?”

“Yes, I did,” pointing to the young man. “This kid is insisting he is in this class but he is not enrolled. Please take him away.”

The CA chuckled and got the kid on his feet and headed to the door. “I couldn’t believe it when I got the message that YOU needed someone. You never call for help.”

“Darn tootin. I don’t have time for such nonsense.”

Now fast forward to my days at Columbia Elementary. The office always has kids in there that teachers have sent to the office. I don’t get it. These kids are much smaller than those high school kids. What’s going on? Why can’t the teachers handle these kids? Things have changed, but that much? Who is in charge? Who is the grownup? What is going on in those rooms, curriculum-wise? What are the assignments that these students are trying to escape?

I sit with some of these miscreants and we talk. It all seems easy to me to handle, but I’m not the one in the classroom. I’m not the one whose back is up against the wall to produce higher test scores. I’m not the one who has to answer to parents. As I said in the title, school discipline is not my thing.

Addendum: Maybe teachers would have fewer problems if they had lessons like this one.

The end of another school year

Six years ago, when I retired from teaching, I never expected to write such a headline again. Yet, here I am, with my life revolving around the school calendar.

Yesterday I wrapped up year 2 of being a school chaplain and working with first graders. I handed out certificates from the police department and police badge stickers. The kids were thrilled. The teachers were pretty pleased, too. They all asked, “you are coming back next year, aren’t you?” Yes, I will be back. They also gave me lovely gifts, which they shouldn’t do, but I love them for being so kind. The kids wrote lovely notes to me on the cards they included.

The principal and vice principal of the school will not be returning. I don’t know the whole story, but the principal has orders from her doctor. Her health has deteriorated this year and she needs to take time to repair it. Running an urban school is not the way to do it. That’s a job that needs energy and vigor.

This year has been a hard one for the principal. Her mother fell ill in the fall and died at Thanksgiving. The parents of students were murdered. Other caretakers died. Staff spouses died. A few teachers decided they couldn’t keep doing the job so they left. Substitutes came and went. One of the students died during Easter break. Some students moved, others arrived. It was a chaotic place with so  much coming and going. Tempers flared. Unkind words could be heard.

And I was only there 3 hours twice a week. I can imagine what life was like for the staff and students who were there day in and day out. Children need a soft place to fall. The children at this school have hard lives and home isn’t the soft place. That means school must be. The kids need kind, caring, generous adults who speak softly but firmly. Adults who are consistent, who show up every day for the kids. Adults the kids can count on.

I don’t know who next year’s principal will be, but I hope the person can fill the bill. The students will be counting on it.


No substitute #2

The Ladies Who Lunch turned into The Ladies on a Mission this week. We met for lunch on Tuesday, and these gals loaded my car with an abundance of mission-building supplies. I asked our server to take a picture of the group to share with the 4th graders to show them who had gotten them all of the supplies.


From the left: Cathy, Jeri, Gladys, Diane, Delaine, Janet


One of the Ladies is missing from this photo, but she has promised to be there when they  come out to Columbia to view the finished missions and meet the students.

I delivered everything on Wednesday and handed out almost all of the supplies that day. After the final bell rain, and the 4th graders headed out, a group of 6th graders showed up at the door and wanted to know what I was doing. These kids knew me from the craft days I’ve done for the after school program. They wanted to know if I would be coming on Friday for crafts. No, I did that last week, and now I’m giving all my attention to the mission projects.

They talked about their missions that they made two years ago. They wanted to know why I hadn’t brought supplies to them. I wasn’t even around two years ago. This was the first time I had even thought of the need for such a project. Then they asked if I could be their substitute. NO.

That is one position I now know I cannot do. I have never wanted to be a substitute teacher even though I have been asked by numerous teachers (including the four first grade teachers whose classes I read to each week) to do them a favor and sub for them. After the last three days of intense work with kids, only four hours each day, I know for sure that I do not have the energy or wherewithal to do that work for an entire day. Sure the extra money would be nice. The district is paying $135 a day for a credentialed sub. But not that nice. It’s too much responsibility and too much hard work. I like being a volunteer.

As the day wanes…

…so do I.

The invitation arrived a couple of weeks ago. It verified news I had heard a week earlier. A long-time teacher friend had retired and there would be a party to celebrate the occasion. I had been a bit surprised to hear of the retirement, months after one would normally announce their retirement, only a week before a new school year began. Those in education know this is a bad time to announce one’s leaving as it makes the principal scramble to find a replacement and usually means the class will start with a substitute teacher. Actually, this is how I got my job at the inner city high school, but being credentialed in the subject, I was allowed to keep the position. Most teacher candidates, though, have already found a job and are settled in by the start of school.

So, the invitation comes, for a party that will be held late in September, late in the evening, on the other side of the valley, at a residence of people I don’t know. I laid it aside, contemplating the whole situation, but especially vexed by the date and time. As I stated at the beginning, I don’t do well late in the day, and especially after sunset. My extrovert personality only works until about 4 p.m., going off the clock when my introvert self shows up. And I use the term show up lightly. The introvert sort of sidles in, preferring no one see her, and if no one says anything to her, she sits mute and still. Certainly not a party personality.

This has been slowly coming on over the years. I used to have no problem going out at 8 p.m. and having a good time until midnight. Now, by 8 p.m. I am done for the day and heading for bed with my book. A couple of months ago we attended a backyard dinner at a friend’s house only a few blocks away. Although pleasant enough as I came onto the scene, I didn’t talk much, didn’t mingle, and by 8 o’clock I had slid down into my chair, ready to head home, which fortunately was only 5 minutes away. It just felt so wrong, though, because that behavior annoys my extrovert personality that shows up every the morning. That persona comes in the door talking, finding friends to greet and new people to meet. I offer to help with the food or service. I talk with different groups, moving around as the mood strikes. I don’t get stuck in one place. The extrovert doesn’t slink down in her chair, trying to disappear, hoping no one says a word to her.

The quandary is what to do with the invitation. In early morning, when I am typing this, I am gung-ho to go to this event, find out why the retiree made her decision so late in the summer (I just know there must be a good reason), chat with people I may not have seen in awhile or even met, eat some delicious food at a venue I’ve never been…then by late afternoon I know this will not happen. Ms Extrovert, who would do all those things, will have checked out hours before the party is scheduled to begin. Ms Introvert will sidle in and will be a party-poop.

The lab rat gives blood

A few weeks ago I posted about a couple of health research projects in which Terry and I are participants. Terry’s involves strokes in regards to geographic and racial differences. Mine is for women teachers and involves cancer studies.

Here are two websites that can provide more information about the cancer studies.

California Teachers Study

Cancer Prevention Institute of California

This morning, bright and early, a delightful phlebotomist showed up to take my blood for more research. The blood will be stored, along with some of my statistics, for later study. My name is not attached to the sample and I will never hear what they found in the sample.


It was easy, painless, and I feel like I’m contributing to what may be better health for a future generation of teachers. The phlebotomist told that the women in the study range from age 42 to over 100, and that the majority now are retired as the project has been in place since 1995.

Due to the large database and the amount of data collected, they have now started a study that compares a woman who gets cancer with one who does not but is of the same age and in the same area as the cancer patient. I think those results would be fascinating.

Too much talking (or writing)

At the beginning of each new school year, I would give my students a journal in which to write during the next two years. We didn’t do a lot of journal entries, but I liked to take a survey of how they were feeling about certain events or projects without having a whole class discussion. With the journals, they wrote during class and I would read them afterwards. And, because they knew I was the only one to see these entries, I learned some interesting things about my students.

The journals were always handed out the second day of school and the first question to which I wanted a response was: How did the first day of school go for you? Almost every student, every year, would write that the teachers talked too much, they got tired of listening, they shut down and quit listening. This was due to the fact that the teachers were required to give out their rules and syllabus on the first day. I don’t know WHY that was a requirement, but it was. Being the rebel, I quit doing it after reading my students’ responses.

So, what did I do on the first day of class? I introduced myself. I told a little about the class and what we would be doing. Then I let them talk for the rest of the period. They had been away from school all summer. They wanted to talk to their friends. However, while they talked, I watched and listened. A few would engage me in conversation. They had questions about what was going on at school or how to do certain things like sign up for a sport. The next day, after they wrote in their journals, we would do a few of the record keeping tasks like hand out permission slips for all those field trips we would be taking. I would introduce marketing and talk about customer service. The third day, more paperwork, more rules. But, each day, I didn’t talk the whole period. No one wants to listen to someone talk at them for an hour.

The program in which I taught had a separate graduation ceremony for the seniors. If you have been with me on this blog for a few years, you may remember some of those events. We had a student speaker, a faculty speaker, and a member of the community speak. I had a rule for speeches: five minutes ONLY. I would tell the speakers that no one wanted to listen to them talk for more than five minutes. The students and their families appreciated this and would often complain about the BIG graduation for the whole school where the speakers talked FOREVER. Sometimes the kids would say, “Mrs. Zody, you should be in charge of graduation.” Uh, no thanks.

The other day I saw this infographic on Twitter and I had to laugh. It visually shows what I’ve been saying all these years:


Lab rats

For the past 18 years I have been part of a research group on teachers and cancer. I signed up at a meeting that was held at our school one day, not realizing how long the study would go on. There were a number of female teachers I knew who had been diagnosed with cancer. Many had died. The idea was that there might be a correlation between the profession and the disease.

Over the years there has been an assortment of questionnaires to answer, usually arriving during the summer vacation months, when teachers would have plenty of time to fill them out, asking about our lifestyle, the conditions in which we teach, the foods we eat, etc. I’ve really lost track of the whole thing except when a newsletter would arrive, filling me in on what was going on. That happened a few months ago where I saw a notice that the study was looking for participants who would be willing to provide a blood sample for the research. I emailed that I would do that and received an email saying that the study had not yet reached the San Joaquin Valley, but would be here soon. Yesterday, the phlebotomist called to set up my blood draw in a few weeks. She told me the blood will be stored at one of University of California campuses, but I forget which one. She asked about medications I take, mainly if I’m on any blood thinners, and if I had recently undergone surgery or chemotherapy. Having no health issues, we set a date and time for her to come to my house and take the blood. She also told me I would  receive $10.

Terry is also involved in a long-term health study. His is on stroke and is out of the University of Alabama. He has lost track of how long he has been in the study, but it’s over 10 years. Like mine, he gets a yearly questionnaire as well as a phone call to see how he is doing. When Terry signed on for the study, a doctor came to the house and examined him. A few weeks ago he received a phone call asking him about all sorts of ailments, surgeries, diseases, etc, to which he could answer in the negative for all of them. There was, in addition, a list of medications which he answered no to all of them. The researcher, on the other end, was a bit surprised that a man his age was on no medication and had no ailments. They didn’t ask about hearing. I know Terry doesn’t hear as well as he used to.

The way it was


A young Facebook friend of mine posted this on Monday morning:

 >>Migraine quelled, apartment cleaned, clothing laundered, props acquired, sound cues programmed, new lighting board installed, (stage light) lamps replaced, third quarter grades finalized, student transportation arranged, new unit prepped, tomorrow’s lunch concocted, copious amounts of caffeine consumed, bedtime wind-down now commencing . . . show week, here 39 7th and 8th-graders and I come!<<

 She is a fairly new teacher who has six periods of classes having given up her prep period so as to teach a theater class at the middle school that is attached to the high school where she teaches five periods of theater arts. As you can probably guess, she is very young. You need to be to keep up that pace for months on end.

Her post reminded me of when I was teaching and how jam-packed my weekends would be during the school year. Every minute was precious, and as I mentioned in my post about the inner city café and the long wait for lunch, I could not waste such time during those teaching years. If I met friends for lunch on a Saturday, I sat with one eye on my watch, just knowing that I had to leave by 1:30 due to a still long list of chores to accomplish. On Sunday mornings, if the church service ran a bit too long, I was chomping at the bit to get out the door because I had an afternoon of grading to do. I was always planning the next hour and what I would accomplish with an eye on a list of more to do when that hour was over. There was just never enough time.

Looking back, I know I did a really good job as a teacher, but I also know that I raced through life, always counting how many more days before our next break when I could breath. In reading journals from those years I see, over and over, where I am desiring time to just sit and think.

Which brings me to now, in retirement, when I can do exactly that. Or, like on Saturday, when Terry and I could take a couple of hours to have a leisurely lunch and not fret one bit about the time. Then yesterday, a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, when I attended a chamber music concert for two hours. Two glorious hours. Next Saturday I am planning to spend my morning at a garden show. Weekends are no longer a marathon of school work and household chores.