21 February 2011

Educators: Can We Close the Gap on a Disparate View Concerning Writing Preparedness?

Forty-four percent of college faculty believe that incoming students aren't ready for writing at the college level. Ninety percent of high school teachers believe exiting students are well-prepared.

--from "A TEST OF LEADERSHIP: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education"
A Report of the Commission Appointed by
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
Pre-Publication Copy September 2006

Being a teacher, you experience this disparity every year.  Are the teachers before me preparing them for the level I am expected to teach?  Am I preparing them for the rigor of the writing curriculum for the following year?  How will my students' writing be perceived by their future teachers?

The media hounds us enough as it is, demonizing educators and crying foul over our meager salaries.  With the seat only getting hotter, we start pointing fingers at each other simply because it's all we have left.  We are not allowed to blame the system: apparently, politicians whose children attend private schools know how to run our schools better than the ones who sacrifice their lives in the trenches.  We can't blame parents: our years of experience and time spent in educational training obviously doesn't mean squat in comparison to the fact that they birthed the students.  We can't blame sociological elements, like bad neighborhoods, low SES, or single-parent homes.  Students aren't to blame, either, even if they are chronically absent, aren't fed enough at home, don't get enough sleep because the meth heads next door are running their lab at 2:00 am, or haven't bathed in a week.  It's out of the question to blame the length of the school year (since we don't work "enough") or budget cuts (makes us sound "whiney") or the superintendent (they sign your paycheck).

So what's left to blame?  I guess it must be us.

While my sentiments are flippant, I am well-aware of the influence I have over my students each year.  Even more important is knowing that no matter what circumstances or X-factor an educator has to face, we are in this together.  We should see a statement like the one above and be concerned for the future academic successes of students who will be in the college and working world one day.  There's no doubt about it: writing skills are indicative of intelligence and academic success.  A fifth grader who struggles with where to place a period in a sentence?  That's a serious concern.  We are the mediators of these skills when students are developing them.  The best writers come out of schools where the teachers communicate with each other about the writing curriculum and expectations, as well as share lesson plans that are effective and engaging for students.  I have worked in a school where we met regularly with teachers from other grade levels to get everyone on the same page, to speak the same language, and to adjust everyone's thinking about one of the most essential forms of communication.  The school where I currently work is moving toward that model, and it's hard for me to contain my enthusiasm!  The "every man for himself" model will only continue to precipitate statistics that evoke negative attention.  From the blood, sweat, and tears of true teamwork, we will put those stats to bed.

Will there be obstacles?  They're as certain as death and taxes.  Will outsiders understand and appreciate our efforts?  Not always.  Will your students reap the benefits of our team efforts?  Absolutely.

Feel free to give your two cents!  I would love to hear your opinions on the statistic above and ideas for how it can be improved.  We have to be in it for our students.

14 February 2011

They May Have Smiled, but They Forgot the Next Step

Like I could have waited until tomorrow to take a pregnancy test…

I know, I know, the NP said to wait until then.  But my reasons for taking a pregnancy test today are three-fold:

  1. Tomorrow is also the day the Wanderlust and Lipstick website announces the winner of the writing contest I entered on New Year's.  My usual optimistic self isn't feeling, well, optimistic.  So I figured, "Why get TWO pieces of bad news in one day?"
  2. I'm at day 30 in my cycle.  Anything past day 28 is considered "testable" in my book (even with my cycle's unfortunate track record).
  3. If it turned out negative, at least I could have a Yuengling with my Valentine's dinner with my hubs.
With all that said, plus an influential text message from my friend, Sandra, who was thinking along the same lines in testing a day early, I peed on yet another stick.

And yet again, it turned out negative.

I can't say I'm surprised.  I'm used to getting the minus sign each month.  Not that I'll let it discourage me, but it's a heck of a lot less disappointing when you don't get your hopes overly high.

So tonight's focus for this Valentine's Day was a quaint home-cooked dinner of spicy pork chops, edamame, and handmade oven fries with Michael while we watched the IBM computer go head-to-head with Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy!.  We each nursed a bottle of Yuengling and helped ourselves to second helpings of the oven fries.

And hey, if I don't win that 10-day trip to Asia tomorrow, there will still be a vacation to be planned with the ol' hubs to someplace we've never been before, like central Europe or the American northeast.

And it will be awesome.

And then I'll write about it.

11 February 2011

I'd like to thank the Academy…of fellow bloggers

A bit cheesy-looking, but I like cheese.

What a fun way to be honored!  Earlier this evening, a fellow blogger of mine "awarded" me with the Memestastic Award.  Not entirely sure what it means, but I'm honored all the same.  You see, the gal pal who passed the balloons-and-shooting-stars badge onto me is one I have known since the 2nd grade.  We met in ballet class and danced in tutus for three years.  Then we traded in our pink leather slippers for the much cooler suede-soled jazz shoes during our 5th grade year.  We shared in a lot of memories and horrifying recital costumes (the one we danced in for jazz was a black body leotard covered in bright orange flames).  Sadly, between our 6th and 7th grade years, our county redistricted the school system's neighborhood boundary lines.  We lived less than 2 miles apart, yet we never went to the same school again.  Today, she is a PhD student at Auburn University, proving to the world that her writing is worth way more than a damn.  I fully expect her to be a bestselling author one day.  Kismet (read: Facebook) brought us back together after years of not seeing each other.  What's really funny, though, is that we have similar blogger identities.  She's A. Hab (her first name is Amanda, and "Hab" are the first 3 letters of her married last name).  Most of you know the story behind mine: V. Dub.

See why I'm honored?  :)

The future A. Hab and V. Dub in 1992 before our final recital of our ballet careers.  We pirouetted to John Phillip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever". 

With this award, I am required to fulfill certain duties.  They are as follows:

  • link back to the blogger who gave you the nod
  • link the post back to jillsmo, the creator of the award
  • display the Mematastic graphic on your blog
  • post 5 items about yourself, BUT 4 of them must be lies (and I'm soooo bad at lying…)
  • pass the award on to 5 other bloggers who must follow these rules

Here we go on the mix of falsies and truths.  Post in the comments section your guesses at what's real and what's not:
  1. The only surgery I ever had was when the docs removed my appendix.  The scar is hidden by the crevices of my innie belly button.
  2. Out of all the items I collect, I am most proud of my stamp collection.  Little pieces of history on perfectly scallop-edged squares…
  3. The boat my grandparents named after me was a pontoon they called "The Sick Vik".  Since I always got sick while on board and I was their only granddaughter, they thought the name was hilarious.
  4. When I was 12, I hated my "Cindy Crawford" mole so much, I had my dermatologist remove it from my upper lip.  I didn't think it could happen, but the damned thing grew back.
  5. I once went streaking.  It took place in the dorms of a south-Georgia town at the end of a very emotional summer job.  The streaking last all of 10 seconds.

Awww, you better recognize!  Here are the blogs I have chosen to receive the coveted confetti badge.  I bid you happy reading.  You won't regret it.
  1. Teaching Ain't For Heroes: I stumbled on this blog through the BlogHer network.  The author is a young woman who teaches freshmen in the Bluegrass state.  She has a refreshing candor about the politicking side of education.  When I read her posts, I feel as if she may have been my twin and we were separated at birth.  We have extremely similar perspectives on what we THOUGHT being an educator would be and what it ACTUALLY is.  She writes with the hope that the dark side will be bright again.
  2. still thinking…again: This was another "stumble upon" blog.  One of the first times I sat down to write about our issues with fertility, I surfed the net for an image that captured my feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated.  Her blog had what I was searching for: an egg about to crack.  She has endured a long journey in trying to conceive.  The way she writes about her experiences with hormone injections and "what the hell" moments keep me coming back for her next post.
  3. The Epitome of Us: This is the only blog on the list written by a married couple!  Jason and Laura are two of the cutest, sweetest people you'll ever meet.  The metaphorical glove on the hand couldn't have a better fit than these two.  They are new to the blogosphere, showing the world their love for music, food, DIY projects, and life in general.
  4. From the Eastern Edge: The author of this blog is someone I met when we worked together at GHP one summer.  She's young, ridiculously intelligent, and she's tasting the life of living abroad.  I followed her posts when she lived in Italy, and now I enjoy reading about her life teaching English in Japan.  She has traveled more places than I'll probably ever dream of, so I live vicariously through her.
  5. Feels Like Home Now: I gave this girl kudos in my post about making your own detergent.  She writes about her life of being a mom, an educator, and a do-it-yourselfer.  She even shows her readers how easy it is to incorporate "green" acts into your everyday life.  Her attitude is positive and her outlook realistic.  I've been taking notes from her site.  She has taught me so much already!

There you have it!  Have fun trying to figure out the "truth" from the list and enjoying some new reading material.  Take in some sun this weekend.  We all need a little vitamin D.

09 February 2011

12.4! 12.4! 12.4!

I went in for my monthly progesterone test yesterday afternoon after the whole ultrasound thing didn't work out at my last appointment.  My hopes weren't all that high, especially since my levels had plummeted last month.  Even my NP predicted that if they came up at all, it probably wouldn't be anything significant.

I prepared myself for the worst: If it was only a 2.2 last month, then it'll probably be all of 2.3 this month.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

My phone vibrated violently in my back pocket while I conversed with another teacher.  I just knew it was my NP calling to leave me a no-good-news kind of message.  It took every ounce of my being to resist yanking my phone out of my back pocket to listen to what she had to say.  Ovary news may be important, but my kids learning about area and fraction-decimal conversions had to be done first.

What felt like 50 years later (it may have only been an hour), I called on my next-door neighbor, Tamela, for one of our routine tag-team teacher bathroom breaks.  She took her position in the hallway to monitor both of our classes, and I headed toward the ladies' room.  I've never understood people who felt compelled to talk on the phone while peeing, but this was going to be my only chance until lunch time to hear what I needed to hear.  I set the phone on the edge of the sink and turned on the speakerphone feature of the voicemail while I took care of the rather large Sprite I consumed during math class.  The news that came from my NP's recorded voice almost made me fall off the toilet.

"Good news, Victoria, your progesterone level went up to a 12.4!  That means you had a true positive on the OPK you mentioned from last week and that the medications are working.  Based on the day you tested positive on the OPK, I would recommend taking a pregnancy test the day after Valentine's Day.  Call me with any questions!"
Holy crap, it worked.  I mean, a 12.4?  That's significantly higher than any number I was anticipating.  My no-good ovaries really DID do what they were supposed to do.  If I could take them out for drinks to celebrate, I would buy them the good stuff off the top shelf!  I'm not going to get my hopes up too high with the possibility that I could be baking a bun at this very moment, but I sure want Tuesday to get here.    Waiting is part of the game, and that virtue we call "patience" is starting to mock me.

12.4!  Woo-hoo!

07 February 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent Powder

Ever since I saw an Atlantan woman make her own laundry detergent on a local news show, I have wanted to give it a go.  She seemed to get her clothes just as clean and for way less money.  Plus, it's a much greener approach to getting your clothes clean.  I was ready to try it for myself.

Except, I didn't pay attention to the ingredients she used…and I didn't have DVR at the time…

So…my good blogging buddy, Katie, must have been reading my mind one day when she published the steps to making her own liquid laundry detergent!  She's a mean, green do-it-yourselfer who is great with kids with special needs (it's actually how we met--while we were mentoring a young woman with autism) and has a soft spot for the great outdoors.  After I read her entry on liquid detergent, I told her I wanted to do the same--except in powder form!  This entry will focus on the steps to make your own powdered detergent that will cost you only pennies per load.  It's biodegradable and will last you a while.  You can even add essential oils to it for a personalized fragrant touch.  Make sure to visit Katie's page, too, so you can compare the differences between the two processes.

Ingredients needed:
  • 1 bar of shredded Zote soap (a bar of Ivory or Fels Naptha will do--I found the Zote at Home Depot for $1.49)
  • 1 cup of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (baking soda is NOT a substitute--found it at Ingles for $3.49)
  • 1 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax (also found at Ingles for $4.29)

Materials needed:
  • airtight jar or container
  • measuring cup
  • large bowl and mixing spoon
  • grater OR food processor

Here are the steps through pictures:

Step 1: Double-check to make sure you bought the right ingredients.  Baking soda will not serve as a sub for washing soda.

Step 2: Make sure your jar or container is large enough and has a tight lid.  You may be making a powdered detergent, but it can cake up if exposed to humidity.

Step 3: Set up your food processor with the rough chop blade.  Yes, you're about to put soap into your processor. No, it will not ruin it.

Step 4: Use a large serrated knife to slice your soap bar into slices that will easily fit into the neck of your processor.  Have an artistic moment on your cutting board.  ;)

Step 5: Put shredded Zote soap into your mixing bowl.  It sure looks like Big League Chew, doesn't it?

Step 6: Add that washing soda to the bowl. 

Step 7: Now add that cup of borax.  Don't mind any spillage.  You can always wet it to clean the counter afterward.

Step 8: Hire a cute little girl to stir all ingredients.  You may have to set the bowl on the floor.

Step 9: Portion your detergent into your containers.  I'm using Ball jars for mine.  Your little friend can also serve as the poster child for your creation.

When you go to actually use your detergent, follow these guidelines:

  • Small-sized or lightly-soiled loads = 1 tbsp powder
  • Medium-sized or somewhat-soiled loads = 2 tbsp powder
  • Large-sized or heavily-soiled loads = 3 tbsp powder
I've noticed that my laundry smells delightful when using the powder.  I'm a fan of pure soap smells, and that's what you'll get with this recipe.  The powder may need a little shaking if your soap flakes are on the large side (gravity works, things settle).  The total cost of the ingredients was just under $10, but you most certainly won't use all of it when making a single batch.  Each load is only costing a few pennies, and I'm sure to have plenty of the powdered ingredients to last me for most of the calendar year!  I will have to buy a new bar of soap each time, but it will still be easier on the wallet than Tide or a store-bought biodegradable variety.  If you happen to give this laundry experiment a whirl, drop me a line!

The following pics have nothing to do with the entry above.  I simply bought a new camera (Canon Rebel T2i) and wanted to share a couple of shots I took with it.

Tulips on our foyer cabinet.  I'm loving the color saturation this camera offers.

Check out the macro feature! Canon, you had me at "yellow"…and pink and green and white.

06 February 2011

Chevys and Fords and VWs...Oh My!

In pursuit for our first "family" and road-trip worthy vehicle, Michael and I have recently taken a few models out for a test drive.  We did a lot of Internet research first to analyze the stats on crossovers and wagons.  There are a few features we are dead-set on:

  1. Fuel economy: We're TIRED of getting only 15-18 MPG in our trucks!
  2. Roominess: My truck (which will most likely be the trade-in) has room for 2.  No place to put a dang baby.
  3. Bang for buck: You guys are smart enough to know what that one means.
  4. Aesthetics: This one's more Michael's make-or-break than mine, but if a vehicle even somewhat resembles an egg or a cube, it's not up for consideration.  As for me, I refuse to drive a light-colored vehicle.

There are other things we are looking for in our next car, but it's not going to be a deal-breaker if the gas cap is on the right side versus the left or if a model is only offered in front-wheel drive.  Here are the models that we have driven so far and a little info on each.

Test Drive No. 1: 2011 Chevy Equinox
  • Where: Hendrick Chevrolet in Duluth
  • MPG: 22/32
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Drive Type: front-wheel or all-wheel
  • Nifty Add-Ons: OnStar subscription; Pioneer soundsystem; rearview camera
  • Pros: Smooth drive; tight steering; easy-to-clean interior (exactly what my neuroses need); every part (inside and out) felt like high quality; fully customizable; able to name price; full factory warranty.
  • Cons: Terrible blind spots; head rests get in the way, even when let down all the way (I'm only 5'4"--I'd have to sit on a phone book to see over them when checking).
  • Overall opinion: Even with all the bells and whistles, as well as the ability to name our price, I don't feel I meet the height requirements of driving the Equinox.

Test Drive No. 2: 2011 Toyota Rav4
  • Where: Atlanta Toyota in Duluth
  • MPG: 22/28
  • Transmission: 4- or 5-speed automatic
  • Drive Type: front-wheel only
  • Nifty Add-Ons: Touch-screen DVD navigation system; roof rack
  • Pros: Easy-to-clean interior; stagecoach door in rear; fully customizable; already familiar with company (my ride is their Tacoma); can seat up to 7 (if you install 3rd row seat).
  • Cons: Every piece on this SUV felt SUPER cheap; less fuel efficient; not a fan of the spare tire on the back door.
  • Overall opinion:  It's off the list.  It felt cheap, so it didn't seem we would be getting our money's worth.  Sorry, Toyota.  You lost me on this one.

Test Drive No. 3: 2011 Ford Edge
  • Where: Gwinnett Place Ford in Duluth
  • MPG: 19/27
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Drive Type: front-wheel or all-wheel
  • Nifty Add-Ons: MyFord Touch; Ford SYNC (first time testing voice command--very cool); back-up camera with gigantic viewing screen
  • Pros: Hands-free technology; incredibly smooth drive; blind spots not as scary for short people; fully customizable; financing options for government employees.
  • Cons: Less fuel efficient (6 cylinders come standard); much more costly since there's a lot of technology; not a great history with Ford cars in my family's past.
  • Overall opinion:  It's on the short list for how it drives and for its technological capabilities, but the blind spots still aren't what I was hoping for.  If we did purchase one, I would almost have to get the back-up camera so I could avoid running into shopping carts and small humans.

Test Drive No. 4: 2011 VW Jetta and Jetta SpotWagon
  • Where: Gunther VW in Buford
  • MPG: 23/30 (gas); 31/40 (clean diesel)
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Drive Type: front-wheel only
  • Nifty Add-Ons: Panoramic sunroof (on wagon); roof rack; bluetooth technology; Mojo floor mats (soooo not making this up)
  • Pros: Drove smoother than butter; responsive gas and brake pedals; 36,000-mile free maintenance warranty; roomy; best fuel economy (especially in the diesel models); pinch-free windows; German engineering; 2 free T-shirts if you buy from Gunther's.
  • Cons: Leatherette interior is standard (no cloth option); only fully customizable if you're willing to pay the price and wait 5 months for a car to be shipped from Germany to Mexico to here; ride very low to the ground; not as much room to haggle on price.
  • Overall opinion:  Drivers wanted?  This driver is sold!  I would have walked out with one in every dark color available and ordered a vanity plate for each.  Love the look.  Love the way it handles.  Love the fuel economy.

After leaving the VW dealership, we headed over to the Subaru dealership out on Satellite Boulevard in Duluth.  Since we began our hunt for the perfect vehicle, I had placed Subie Forester and Outback at the top of my short list.  They have a zero-landfill production policy and are widely-owned by some of the greenest Americans out there--West Coasters.  But after laying hands on a couple of floor models, I was less than impressed.  They both look great and have attractive interiors.  Both are made for the outdoorsman, which would be great for road trips and camping excursions.  Yet, they didn't feel nearly as solid or high-quality as the Ford or VW models we had driven.  Upon opening the front door of the Forester, I felt like I could rip it off from its hinges, and I have no upper-body strength worth bragging about.  Neither had the fuel economy I expected (20/26).  No salesman approached us, so we didn't get the chance to take one for a spin.  So all in all, Subaru has booted off the list.  Reinforce those doors and up the MPG, and maybe we could talk.

We'll let you know when we make our decision!  A car is not a must-have at this very moment, but it's nice to know what's out there.  Send me your opinions on your crossovers/small SUVs/wagons.  I'd like to know if there's anything we've missed.  Nothing in the luxury car tier, OK?  Later!

01 February 2011

My Smiling Ovaries

I love digital OPKs!

Lo and behold, I CAN ovulate, folks!  It says so right here on this digital contraption.  My ovaries must be smiling today despite the cold, gloomy weather.  Thanks to great girlfriends who have been looking out for me through our frustration by recommending this reliable and easy-to-read OPK.  I will continue to use it for monitoring until we either get pregnant, or I run out of eggs.

So now I'm thinking that the papers that need grading will have to wait a little while.  An item on my to-do list has been moved to the very top.



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