Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Health Update--Kind of a Funny Story

Okay, actually, it's kind of a gross story.  I just e-mailed my mother with the gory details, so I'm probably going to paste that e-mail here because a lot of people have been so caring and supportive of my recovery from the concussion that I feel an obligation to keep y'all updated.

Also, it just gets more and more surreal and reminds me how lucky I am to be able to laugh at life since, as I've been saying a lot for the past week and a half, "Why does this sort of thing always happen to me?"

I've had a fair amount of pain medicine, so this might not be coherent, but here's the bottom line.

I went back to work on Monday.  I was soooooooooooo glad to see my students and my friends at work and stuff.  I was exhausted and headachy by the end of the day (and there was the barfing incident during third period), but I'd made a goal to make it through all of my classes, and I did it.  I went home fully expecting to get my grades caught up and go to bed and have all be right with the world.

Yeah, not so much.

As yesterday afternoon and evening went along, I got a ridiculous headache that sort of joined with some tooth pain I'd been having for a few days.  I've been pretty sure for a few days that I had an abscessed tooth, but I was going to wait until vacation (next week) to deal with.  I mean, in the great scheme of things health-wise, it seemed pretty small.

Yeah, that headache plus toothache kept me up virtually all night.  The pain was so awful that I was pacing the house and crying and going on Facebook to complain about not being able to sleep and ... yeah.  BAD night.

Needless to say, I didn't think going to work today was a good idea.  My original plan was to take painkillers until I fell asleep (stupid, I know, but lack of sleep is a huge problem for me under the best of circumstances, and ...) so I could actually get some rest.

Instead, I called the dentist.

To make a long story short, I had two serious problems.

First, when I fell in the shower and landed first on my face, I severely bruised most of my front upper teeth.  This would explain much of my continued pain.  Nerves are a funny thing, and who knew that tooth bruising would make your head hurt?  She was shocked that I hadn't felt pain in my teeth more directly as, over a week after the fall, the bruising was still pretty intense and showed up very clearly on the x-rays (dental x-rays are very cool, and so is my dentist ... she gave me a crash course in reading them today, and it was fascinating).

Secondly, and more significantly, the fall made whatever infection was going on in one of my back upper molars run completely amok.  Amok to the point where it had to be extracted.  Like, immediately.  Well, that's not exactly true--my dentist's office got me an appointment for an hour and a half after I left their office, which is pretty cool considering that, while I was at the oral surgeon's, people were calling to make appointments for extractions and they were booking into mid-March.

Yup, I was a bona-fide emergency.  How exciting ... (God, do I want my boring old life back when playing with my kids and hanging with Henry was how I spent my time!!!!)

So I had a tooth extracted today, fortunately a way-back molar that hopefully no one will notice until I get an implant.  The crazy part?  I think the pressure and nasty fluids swelling the now-gone tooth played a huge role in why I've been struggling with headaches and pain for this long.

I'm starting to zone out from the pain meds, plus the story's about to get a bit more graphic and disgusting, so I'm going to cop out and paste the e-mail I sent to my momma so you can get the details if you want.

Thank you for the thoughts, prayers, and love that people have sent my way ... I'm a lucky woman.

Hi Mommy,

It was horrible :-(  The doctor was really, really nice (like, if anyone had to have a tooth extracted, I would recommend him in a second), but it hurt so much!  The thing is, I don't know if you remember, but this is the first tooth I had a root canal done on and they had a really hard time getting it numb...I can still remember that from all those years ago, and let me just say that it's still not an area that is conducive to Novocaine, which I had to have in the roof of my mouth several times today.  Oh my God, Mommy, it was horrible.  Anyway, he'd get started, and then it would hurt, so he'd put more Novocaine in, then he'd do a little more, then it would hurt, and it was a horrible cycle.  He and the dental assistant/nurse person were really nice and patient, but ... owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  He said a lot of it was probably because it was so infected, but ... yeah, owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  And I took out the gauze when I got home to change it, and I can't get another piece of gauze in to fit comfortably, and ... did I mention owwwwwwwwwwwww?  I took two Vicodins that Dr. Myregulardenstis gave me, so hopefully they'll kick in soon because this freaking kills.

On a positive note, I'm almost positive that it's what was causing the horrible headache.  It hurts a lot where the tooth was (I think I mentioned that already ;-)), but there was a ton of pus and drainage and other lovely stuff, so hopefully I will be feeling better.  Ironically, other than the acute pain (I have to say it one more time ... owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww), there's almost like a huge relief of pressure in my whole head area.  In fact, I feel more like myself at this moment (on two Vicodins lol) than I have since I fell in the stupid shower in the first place.

I don't need anything at the moment (other than to figure out how to get the stupid gauze to fit, but that's something I'm just going to have to figure out for myself :-)), but I do have to get a prescription filled (more Vicodin, muahaha) and something to eat for the next couple of days.  Yeah, today we're talking liquid and that's it, tomorrow I can move on to yogurt and mashed potatoes for a couple of days, and then play it by ear from there.  Oh, and no straws :-(  Well, you and I WERE talking Weight Watchers, and it'll be hard to snarf down Big Macs and Girl Scout cookies in this state.  Every cloud has a silver lining, right?

I know you'll be home late, but do you know how late?  I am hoping to avoid the grocery story as I look like I got punched in the face and the bloody gauze hanging out is very attractive ... I'll drop off the prescription when I go to get the Fairy.

I think that's about it ... sorry this is so long.  Oh, also, I hid in the bathroom when the dog walking lady came.  Please don't judge ... I'm scared of her.  The funny thing is, Sonja and Mollie didn't want to go with her ... they were pretty much scratching at the bathroom door to be with me.  It should have been on YouTube, seriously ...

Love you,
:-) K
--- On Tue, 2/21/12, KLo's Mommy wrote:

From: KLo's Mommy
Subject: tooth
To: KLo
Date: Tuesday, February 21, 2012, 6:15 PM

Glad you made it home…was it very painful to have it out?  Can you feel the difference now that the pressure is out of there?
Sorry for so many questions, I am just trying to make sure you are ok.  Do you need anything?  I am so sorry that you are going through this.

Love, Mom

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Education Conundrum--How to Teach Every Kid?

Yes, I'm still out of work ... one more day, according to my recheck yesterday with my primary care doctor.  I'm resting on the couch with my computer (I seem to be okay until I get up and start moving around, so I guess this counts as resting, which is the big word in my recovery ... I mentioned that I'm a failure at resting, right?).

Anyway, I got talking to some friends in the education world (many of my friends are teachers, which I suppose is only natural), and we got talking a lot about the education conundrum--namely, how to teach every student (I will not insult anyone's intelligence or fan flames of government distrust by using the words "no child left behind").

Schools are in different places.  VASTLY different places.  I have to say that, if nothing else, I was pleased to learn how truly cutting edge my school is in a lot of ways.

Anyway, I view education through three lenses--as a former student myself, as a parent, and as a teacher.

My hope with this post is to generate conversation.  Nothing would make me happier than for the comments to fill up, for people to share their thoughts and experiences, and for all of us to do a little thinking, a little learning, a little growing.

And, okay, I want to write a professional article on the state of education today for a national ed journal (I actually have a Master's Degree in education along with a B.A. in English ... I just play dumb sometimes ;-)).

Just to get a little bit of jargon out of the way, I want to give you two words which have significantly impacted my own philosophy of education: Personalized Instruction.

Basically, this is the notion that every effort should be made to make learning accessible to all students.  Obviously, writing a separate curriculum for every single student is patently impossible, but allowing students some voice and choice, trying to make learning interesting and relevant to all students, considering that there are many different ways to demonstrate knowledge ... yeah, it's hard to explain (and also VERY hard to do), but hopefully that makes some sense.

I learned how to read when I was a toddler.  While it sounds impressive, it was actually a huge detriment to the basic foundations of my education.

Why?  Because, while I learned early on how to delve into literature, to lose myself into the magic of a story, I never learned how to read strategically.  If I had no interest in reading something, I wouldn't.  If I was assigned a chapter in a science textbook or a history article or something, I simply couldn't force myself to do it.  I had no skills for how to read something that was difficult for me, and I never learned how to do that until I was a teacher myself.

Between the precocious reading and strong skills in writing I demonstrated at a very early age, I managed to write my way into correct answers for most of my school years.

And math?  Yeah, let's not even go there.  To this day, I cannot add two digit numbers in my head, never mind multiply, divide, or subtract.  I was too busy reading--and reading what I wanted to read, at that.

Because of the way tracking was done at my school, however, I could not take Honors English and Pre-Algebra.  I had to make a choice, and so I ended up in Algebra I with no preparation at all.  Math, which had always been hard for me, became a nightmare--I walked into Algebra I thinking that "X" meant multiply, and it only got worse.

I carried the "laziness" burden around with me for most of my school career.  When I was a high school junior, I finally convinced my mother that I really was trying, and I got evaluated, tested, and diagnosed with two learning disabilities, one in auditory processing ("in one ear and out the other" was the story of my life) and one in spatial awareness (explains why math is such a struggle).

I also learned, as an adult, that I have ADHD, which retrospectively explains why I long struggled with focusing, with completing tasks, with making good choices, and with basically sitting down and shutting up when told.

If my teachers had been trained in personalized instruction, in student-centered learning, school would almost certainly have been a more positive experience for me.    

Like all parents, I want my kids to get a good education, to learn lots, and to be successful in school (as measured by things other than report cards and test scores).

Addie is a senior now, and she has always been tracked into high classes.  She's in her second A.P. English class this year, and she just started French V.  .

Addie is extremely bright, but she's also a very lazy student.  She knows how to get by; she learned early and well how to play the game, how to jump through the right hoops.  She's always gotten good grades, but I wonder sometimes how much she's really learned.

The SAT experience was a perfect example of this.  She took the SATs, did slightly above average but not good enough for the schools to which she's applying, so she did a bunch of prep-work, figured out how to raise her scores, and received exceptional numbers when she retook it.

She is also--and I know she'll read this and probably freak out, but it's God's honest truth--an academic snob.  When she is taken out of her Advanced Placement ivory tower, she gets very frustrated with her less book-smart classmates.  The superiority complex she's developed as being one of the "smart kids" has not prepared her for the real world, nor has it given her the skills to teach herself when the going gets tough (as it inevitably will when she starts college).      

Addie's education has been largely what I refer to as "old school"--ability grouping, lots of paper and pencil tests, little opportunity for collaboration with peers, and so on.  I'm pleased with the education she's received (and I'll be proud as heck at graduation that she's going to be among the "chosen ones" wearing the National Honor Society cord), but I'm also aware of its limitations.

Belle's school approaches education very differently.  It's all collaboration, groupwork, projects that might or might not be reflective of a child's efforts (you can read my rant on a recent situation here, if you so desire), and so on.

Belle, who is also a very bright kid, takes great pride in helping out classmates that struggle.  I'm pretty sure she's more computer-literate than I am.  She loves conferencing with her teacher about everything from her writing to the books she's reading.

At Belle's parent/teacher conference a couple of months ago, I got the unmistakable impression that her teacher knows Belle as a learner, is well aware of her strengths and challenge areas.  I have no doubt whatsoever that her teacher (who is absolutely outstanding, by the way) personalizes instruction for Belle and her classmates.  

That being said, I worry that Belle is, at some point, going to hit a wall as well.  As the gaps between "the smart kids" and those that struggle widens, the personalization piece becomes increasingly challenging.

Is it fair to expect Belle to "self-teach" while the teacher focuses on skills she's mastered with the rest of the class? Should Belle have to do the lion's share of the work in group projects?  Is there going to come a point in time when she, like Addie, realizes that it's all about jumping through the right hoops at the right time?

Unlike Addie, Belle is a child absolutely driven by intellectual curiosity, so I'm hoping that she'll manage to avoid those pitfalls.

Personalized instruction has become extremely important to me as a teacher.  Like, it's the driving force of my personal philosophy of pedagogy these days.

I know my students.  I know them very well, their strengths and their challenge areas.  I know the specific ways to motivate each kid (sometimes it's positive reinforcement, sometimes it's the iron fist, sometimes it's calling home, sometimes it's bribery with doughnuts, and so on).  I know what each student is capable of, and I know how to help them set realistic goals for improving their reading and writing skills.

I know which kids freeze up during paper and pencil tests, and I know enough to go over failed assessments orally with them so they can demonstrate that they do in fact know the material being assessed.  I know that, if a student is missing an assignment, I can get him or her to make it up pretty quickly by staying after school with me or eating lunch in my classroom.  I know that, even though my students make fun of me for being lame when I make a big deal over them understanding complex literature, it invokes a sense of pride in them.

It's actually not as impressive as it sounds; I work in an extremely small school, and we are fortunate enough to have very wise district-level administration that arranges for consultants to be brought in to train teachers based on specific need (kind of like personalizing instruction for teachers ... genius, really).  The district admin is also quite gifted in grantwriting, which makes a lot of things possible that wouldn't be otherwise.

The friend that was most frustrated during our recent conversation works in a huge school.  HUGE.  He was distraught because a high percentage of his kids failed the first quiz on a play they are reading aloud as a class.  Each student had a study guide, encouragement to take notes during class discussions, and plenty of opportunity to ask for clarification knowing that an assessment was forthcoming.

"I don't know what else I can do!" he lamented. (there might have been a F-bomb or two thrown in there as well ...)

I probably didn't help much.

I suggested the idea of differentiated assessment (in other words, giving kids a choice of how they want to be assessed on the material).

It's actually not as loosy-goosy as it sounds; if your performance assessments are rigorous, which they should always be, and they are measuring the same thing as a traditional quiz, does it really matter how the students demonstrate the knowledge?

My friend was assessing whether students could identify the characters and major plot points from the first section of a work of literature.  The assessment was matching, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice for quotation identification.  While students are given the option to re-take the quiz if they fail, their potential grade caps out at a 70 for a restest.

The reason for this, as texted to me by my friend this morning?
The cap is a result of A.P. parents bitching to the school board about how unfair it is to their kids that someone with "more time" can get the same [grade] as their child, who "did it on time".
As the parent of an A.P. student, I find this appalling.  If I want Addie to be challenged--and I do--then it would be my (and, presumably, her teacher's) expectation that she be held to a different (and definitely higher) standard than a kid that can't read.  That seems like a no-brainer to me.  

According to my friend, every student (not just in his particular section of the class but those taught by other teachers as well ... huge school, remember?) is supposed to do the same assessment for an agreed-upon work of literature.  The same paper and pencil, boring as heck assessment.
The attitude is that standardized tests aren't done that way, so we're not helping them if we don't give uniform assessments.  "Students need to learn to take ALL forms of assessment" is the attitude of the consultant who makes policy.
I gave a recent assignment to my students where they had to write a letter to Romeo or Juliet from the point of view of another character.  The rubric was very specific and, in my opinion, very rigorous.  They had to identify and describe at least three plot points from Act I, they  had to demonstrate their knowledge of a character by taking on his or her persona, and they had to make a judgment as the character on their impressions of Romeo and Juliet's first meeting.

I could have given them a multiple choice test.  I could have said, "Write a summary of Act I".  It accomplished the same objective, after all; I mean, I could tell by the letters if my kiddos understood the play so far.

You know what?  They had a freaking ball writing those letters.  A large number of kids challenged themselves (with absolutely no prompting from me, I might add) by attempting to write their letters in Shakespearean language.  One of them, writing as Mercutio, talked about being very busy with his "interest in Indian opiates" after referencing Mercutio's vision of Queen Mab.

Kids who would have flat out refused to write a standard summary, who would have randomly picked letters on a multiple choice quiz, became engaged in this assignment beyond my wildest dreams.

Now, please don't get the impression that I think I'm the world's greatest teacher.  I'm definitely not.  I have lessons flop all the time, although since I've received training in inquiry-based learning, in increasing student engagement, in allowing students a degree of choice in what they are doing, in looking at bottom line objectives tied to curriculum standards instead of hoping that they'll circle the right multiple choice letter, it happens a lot less often.

So why is the idea of at least exploring this sort of student-centered instruction and assessment so abhorrent to some schools?  According to my friend, it comes down to three letters--SAT.  I'm guessing "NECAP" is in there as well (that's the state standardized test that decides whether or not a school is "failing").
The major problem in this district is that the entire system is built on the idea that every kid should be on a path to college.  Therefore, every kid must be able to do well on the SAT, and therefore they must be able to do that sort of test.
I think it's an even deeper problem than that, though.  I'm totally convinced that half the reason students flub the SAT is that they have never been engaged in school, they have experienced little to no success in school, and so they walk in expecting to bomb the SAT ... and we all know how powerful self-fulfilling prophesies are.

Will a student suddenly do a 180 because he or she experiences success by summarizing the first part of a work of literature in an unorthodox way and subsequently blow the SAT out of the water?  No.  Of course not.

But if students can experience success at school, if they--dare I say it--actually push themselves to go above and beyond merely identifying plot points on a multiple choice test because the assignment is *gasp* kind of fun, I don't see how that can be seen  as anything but positive!

And there is no doubt that, in this day of standardized testing as the be all/end all, we have a responsibility to teach students how to take a test.  It only stands to reason, though, that the likelihood of those "test-taking lessons" going over well increases exponentially when you're dealing with students with some degree of school buy-in.

And that's not going to happen if all they have to look forward to are circling letters (and, just in case anyone's wondering, "B" has been proven to be the most common multiple choice answer ... when in doubt, go with "B").

Please share your thoughts on this very serious crisis in America ... I like to think, learn, and grow as much as anyone :-)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Morning On Twitter (Or "Tweeting the Day Away")

Fact: I am horrible at resting.

It's been quite a week trying to recover from Saturday's "I got a concussion falling in the shower" incident.  I have a constant headache which sometimes rages into high gear, I can't concentrate enough to read a book (I know, I can't believe it either), I pretty much hate television, and it was a huge disaster when I attempted to go back to work yesterday (I threw up, my headache exploded, and I got sent home and told to rest until I was well).

Just to reiterate, I'm horrible at resting.

So I figured I'd spend the morning on Twitter, since it's a social networking experience that I haven't used as much as Facebook.  I mean, I tweet sometimes (usually links to blog posts or retweets of cool things other people far wittier than I say), but I never really got immersed.

It's been an interesting (and yes, restful) morning.

First, if you're interested, you can find me here on Twitter (I suspect after this morning's experiment, I'll be spending more time there).  As long as you're not a crazy porn kind of thing, I'll follow you back.

So here are my specific observations, interactions, and such following a very eventful few hours ...  I'm setting it up as kind of a bulleted summary since, as mentioned before, I'm struggling with concentration.  I'm going to start at the beginning of my morning and just sort of share what happened.

* I started out by posting a link to my post yesterday, asking the provocative question, "Should Stephen King have shelved Rage?"   There were no retweets, although I think it's a very cool piece, arguably one of the best things I've written in recent months.  I was informed, however, that the post made it onto The Stephen King Daily.

* As I have an obsession with celebrities, I tend to follow a lot of them, just because it's interesting.  I keep hoping I'll get a personal response from a bona fide celeb one of these days, but no dice so far.  I added Jenna von Oy after reading about her new venture into blogging on People, leaving a comment: "So exciting! Blogging definitely opens a whole new world with tons of connections, help, and places to vent angst ;-) Welcome!"  

* I also attempted to interact with Alec Baldwin, his daughter Ireland, Sarah Silverman, Dara Torres, and Rose McGowan.  I figured it was worth a shot, although I definitely recognize that celebrities have more exciting things to do than Tweet with a high school English teacher from New Hampshire ;-)

* I had a really interesting exchange with DogWalkBlog beginning with his comment, "Time to figure out how to make a living without the Internet. Dependence on all this tech is stressing me the hell out."  I told him about my recent positive experience with the internet, and we had some cool banter about tech highs and lows and how pathetic it is to have "I fell in the shower" be an explanation for how one gets a concussion.  Oh, and the double entendres popping up all over Romeo and Juliet ;-)

* Some people are really cheerful in the morning, notably Melissa Foster, Sandi Krakowski, and Annie.

* Henry responded to my standard angry insomniatic rant something like, "The pain meds didn't help you call asleep?" (he's since deleted it, so I don't remember the exact quote). I, of course, responded, "Well, I could call, "Asleep! Asleep! Asleep!", but it didn't help me FALL asleep :-( Love your "just woke up" texts <3"

* I had a little back and forth with the very cool Simon Jadis about my "Cullenesque tendencies" since I'm hating sunlight these days.  He could relate ;-)

* Poor Conservative linked to an article talking about how Guantanomo detainees have a tendency to return to lives of terrorism when released.  I noted, "Kind of like American prisoners returning to the proverbial "life of crime"?"  I have an innate urge to antagonize political extremists, but I didn't get any sort of response.  I was kind of hoping for a debate on that one since my point is extremely valid ... c'est la vie.

*  I got some great random useless information from UberFacts, including
   - "If you type 'illuminati' backwards, followed by '.com' in your address bar, you end up at the U.S.    
     government's national security page."
   - "A whale's penis is called a "dork."”
   - "There are at least 100 chemical reactions taking place in our brains every second."
   - "There are 12 calories in a tablespoon of semen. Same as eating 4 Tic-Tacs."

* I complimented Frank Marcopolos on the title of his book, shared mine, and was informed by him that Unbreakable is the title of a Bruce Willis movie.  Dammit, back to the drawing board ...

* I figured I'd continue the theme of pieces I write that no one comments on by referencing my recent ZL piece on the Komen Foundation/Planned Parenthood debacle.  No response.  Still no comments, either ;-)

* Vive le Nerd and I had a fun exchange about the craziness of CAPTCHA.  I mean, type in "penus" or "foxsexppo" to prove you're not a robot?  Come on ...

* dLittle Prince gave out props to educators on Twitter, one of which was yours truly.  Very cool :-)

* I posted a link to a post I wrote some time ago asking for assistance with the novel I'm working on.  No response.  Clearly, people either ignore my links or I really suck ;-)

* I had some great political dialogue with Marshall Talk, mostly about the dichotomy between big businesses claiming the need for tax cuts and those of us regular folk just scraping by.  Really interesting conversation, actually ...

* Aspiring country musician Doug Briney was talking up his debut CD.  I Tweeted him that I'd try to check it out, and he sent me a Tweet back thanking me.  He was very polite and legitimate, so if you're a fan of country, definitely give him a listen :-)

* Dan Krokos tweeted, "My mom just sent me her first FW: email ever. It was a nice one about puppies but this is a slippery slope."  I replied that it reminded me of the first text message my mother ever sent: "howdoispace" (Dan tweeted me an LOL in response).

So I've talked kale with rightingteacher, toilet paper rolls with Selah, the double-edged sword nature of the internet with Ray Banks, and cameltoe with Jade Harley.  There were other small conversations, too, but I'm losing concentration here ;-)

I guess the bottom line is, Twitter is a lot of fun.  I find that, with Facebook, a lot of people know me in real life, so I tend to hold back saying things sometimes.  Interacting with complete strangers on Twitter was much freer.

So final conclusion after a few hours on Twitter?  Not a bad way to spend a morning.  

And I rested lots while in the midst of this fascinating experiment and study ... win/win :-)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mourning the Loss of Stephen King's "Rage"

When you throw a rock into the ocean, it creates ripples.  If you skim it, a skill my brother Adam possesses like you can't imagine (he gets eight or ten skips on a single rock sometimes), there are lots of small, fast indentations in the water.  

If you heave a huge boulder in, the splash--and possible impacts--are larger.

Both rock-skipping and boulder-hurling are kind of cool to look at, to contemplate, to consider the possible effects on the oceanic ecosystem beneath.

Which leads me to Stephen King's short novel Rage, which he wrote as his malevolent pseudonym, Richard Bachman ... and which is now out of print at his request.

I read Rage a long time ago, and rereading it had been on my agenda literally for years, but it was one of those things I never got around to doing.  Then, it was out of print--the other works in that omnibus known as The Bachman Books--The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man--have been republished as individual books under King's own moniker, but Rage was slightly more elusive.

I was over at Henry's a few weeks ago, and he was going through his vast collection of books (one of the things that I love about Henry is that he might possibly own more books than I do, a feat which takes skill).  My urge to read Rage returned and, when I mentioned it, Henry whipped out a copy of The Bachman Books.

Needless to say, I was pretty pumped.

If you don't know the basic premise to Rage, it involves a clearly disturbed high school senior named Charlie Decker who takes his Algebra II class hostage, killing two teachers in the process and keeping his classmates subdued (at least at first ...) with the gun he smuggled in.  

Yeah, it's disturbing.  Yeah, I get why King felt some guilt following the association of the book with a number of school shootings, most notably the 1997 shooting at Kentucky's Heath High School when senior Michael Carneal fired a .22 pistol at a youth prayer group, killing three girls and injuring five others.  A copy of Rage was apparently found in Carneal's locker.

Here's the thing, though ...

There are some deranged people out there.  A lot of them.  You can blame music, video games, books, Ted Bundy even infamously blamed porn for his murderous streak ... but it only goes so far.

I can't imagine that I'm making some sort of  negative judgment on Stephen King, who I think is pretty much one of the most amazing human beings on the planet, but ... well, yeah.

Because Rage is an incredible book.

King will go down in history as a literary master of characterization.  He doesn't pull punches, which is one of the reasons he's such a genius.  His characters are not always nice people, and they always--ALWAYS--have flaws.  They're real, people we can all imagine knowing in reality.

Yeah, Charlie Decker is off his rocker.  

However, he didn't get there by accident.  

His abusive father, who mistreated him physically throughout his childhood and went after him with a hatchet with murderous intent, who made a comment on a hunting trip that Charlie overheard about cutting off his mother's nose if he ever caught her with another man, unquestionably played a role.

As did his mother, who took him into her sewing room and comforted him with hot chocolate to mitigate his father throwing him to the ground with all his strength after he broke a bunch of storm windows (which seemed like a good idea to a three-year-old Charlie), who forced him to wear a formal suit to the birthday party of a girl he was crushing on because she wanted to make a good impression on the young lady's mother.

And let's not forget the science teacher that Charlie almost killed with a socket wrench shortly before the hostage-taking incident.  Yeah, that's the teacher that forced Charlie to the blackboard to solve a complicated chemical equation then yelled at the young man repeatedly when he couldn't get it right, who berated him in front of the class ...

Charlie had just returned to school following his suspension for the horrible beating which nearly resulted in the death of the science teacher when the events of the story begin.

Now, I'm not defending Charlie Decker, nor am I trying to portray him in any sort of heroic terms.  The kid was totally off the deep end.

However, consider the life lessons inherent in the totally unhealthy relationships between Charlie and his parents, the reminder of how valuable sensitivity is for teachers, not to mention others in positions of power.  It's ... well, just striking.

I was also stricken almost to the point of tears at moments of beauty that showed through very early in the book.
A girl I didn't know passed me on the second-floor landing, a pimply, ugly girl wearing big horn-rimmed glasses and carrying a clutch of secretarial-type books.  On impulse I turned around and looked after her.  Yes; yes.  From the back she might have been Miss America.  It was wonderful.
Tell me that's not brilliant writing, a truly remarkable sentiment that can really make you think about things differently.  The book is full of gems like that, and it's a shame that the stigma that surrounds school shootings has taken away a work of literature that contains not just brilliant writing but also an in-depth look into a disturbed mind and seeing that, like all of us, it is still capable of seeing good in the world.

I don't want to spoil the story overmuch, but the gist is that Charlie somehow gets his classmates to spill their souls, to come to terms with their own personal demons in the public forum he's somehow created inside the classroom he's co-opted.  Surely his ability to make a safe environment for his classmates while holding a gun--albeit loosely--on them is amazing.  

Obviously, there's more than a bit of Stockholm Syndrome alluded to throughout the course of the novel, not to mention Charlie gaining the upper hand in figures of authority ranging from school officials to the police getting him hard-core points with this classmates.

Consider these stories, though, that come to light in a kind of warped impromptu group therapy session that springs up while the body of a teacher goes into rigor mortis on the floor ...

* A girl publicly admits that her mother is a whore ... and she loves her in spite of it.

* A young man nicknamed "Pig Pen" shares the pain of being raised by a coupon-clipping cheapskate whose penny-pinching proclivities contribute to his one new shirt a year ... and hence his nickname

* The quintessential "nice girl" losing her virginity to the Big Man On Campus, finding it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and making it right by hooking up with a dirty, dangerous hoodlum at a local roller skating rink

And so on.

Issues for the ages, seriously.  These were worthy of conversation when the book was originally published in 1977 (when, by the way, I was not even a year old), and they are still relevant today ... perhaps even more so when you put the very fact of their longevity into the conversation.

Even the induced breakdown of the aforementioned BMOC by his classmates is an opportunity for discussions of huge portent by a huge population, young and old alike--this is a bridge-gapper if I've ever seen one ... and, as a high school English teacher, I've seen a lot.

I love books, which any regular reader of this blog knows.  I love to lose myself in books, and I love to discuss them.  If those discussions were kept to "safe" topics, it would be limiting.  

The best conversations are never based in mundane topics.  

You talk about why the Komen Foundation tried to stop their annual $600,000 donation to Planned Parenthood that was used exclusively for breast cancer screening just because 8% of Planned Parenthood's overall service involve abortions.  You talk about the banning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird .  You debate the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.  

I mean, that's how you learn.  That's how you grow.  If all of my friends agreed with everything I say, I'd be pretty bored.  

And that's how I feel about books.  The best books are the ones that bring out a visceral reaction in me, ones that make me think and want to engage in discourse with others to explore the human condition.

Rage was a perfect book for opening up the doors to conversations that are in the "let's not talk about it" zone, and that makes me both sad and scared.

As a final note, Marilyn Manson was interviewed by Michael Moore during filming of Bowling for Columbine.  Manson, who was tangentially blamed for influencing the unspeakable actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had this to say when asked what he would say to the Columbine kids and community if given the chance.

"I wouldn't say a single word to them--I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did." 

Conversations about school shootings are a veritable minefield, and I don't envy artists ranging from Marilyn Manson to Stephen King for feeling the pain.

I just think it's a shame that the opportunities afforded by Rage have been taken off the table ... because not talking about it, not thinking about it, avoiding the fact that there are potential Charlie Deckers in schools all over the country is definitely a step backward.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Concussion: Can't Think Much, But Feeling the Love Like You Can't Imagine

Sometimes, it takes an extreme event to make you realize how lucky you are, how love surrounds you everywhere even if you're not aware of it, that people care.  I think I must be a bit obtuse (or else a little bit negative, which I hope is not true because negative people irritate me ...), though, because it always seems to take some sort of crazy experience to make me realize how good the world really is.

When I was taking a shower on Saturday afternoon, I slipped and found myself suddenly airborne.  I landed on my face straight on the solid wood wall behind the tub (with such force that the shampoo and conditioner bottle flew into the toilet ... yeah, it was funny later), and the next thing I remember was sitting on the floor of the tub with blood gushing.

It was really scary, to say the least.  My first concern was my teeth (like most people that wore braces, I'm ridiculously paranoid about my teeth), but they all seemed to be there.  Relieved that I wasn't toothless, I figured out that I was bleeding from my upper lip and nose.

And that it hurt.  A lot.

I was really dizzy and my head was throbbing, but I was more caught up in the blood (oh, and okay, the very good possibility that I was going to have a huge scar on my face ... I really am a bit more appearance-obsessed than I'd like to think).

I got dressed quickly and took a picture.
The reason for a shower at two in the afternoon was because I had to be at school to chaperone a dance and wanted to be clean for the occasion.  My mother, who helped me ice and seal the cut on my face so I would not need stitches, did not think driving to work was a good idea, but I'm Co-Advisor of the senior class, which was putting the dance on, so I really had to be there.

I took this picture at a red light, just so I could monitor progress ...
Anyway, I felt okay until I got to school.  Once there, I got extremely dizzy, the muscles in my neck started killing me, and what had been a minor headache started to boom out of control.  My colleagues and the principal very kindly let me leave early to go to the hospital to be checked out.

When I got to the hospital, they put on a neck brace since the side of my neck was really sore.
As soon as the neck brace was on, my arm started to hurt horribly.  Now, it had been hurting a bit, but I figured I'd just fallen on it when I went down (I don't remember what happened after hitting my face on the wooden shelf), but the neck brace caused it to just scream.  It was awful.

Turns out my arm was black with bruises, and they thought I might have broken or dislocated my collarbone.

After x-rays and CT scans, it was determined that I had no broken bones (arm, collarbone, or face).  I did, however, have a concussion, a neck strain, and a rather ugly cut on my upper lip.  Oh, and a bad attitude.
My mom came and got me, and I introduced her to the joys of the drive-through pharmacy, then we went home.

I actually felt pretty good on Sunday and wanted to go to work on Monday (I hate missing work, and it ends up happening far too often because I'm unlucky), but the doctor note said I could not work on Monday, so I was stuck at home.

Which ended up being a really good thing.

I started off by being all upset at how awful I looked.  I posted this pic on Facebook stating that I guess now I know what I'll look like when I'm old (or if I became a meth addict or something).
As the morning went on, I started throwing up, which was, according to the discharge papers, something I should be concerned about.  I also got extremely dizzy (like, standing up and trying to walk was like being on a ship in the middle of a hurricane) and my headache just exploded with pain.

I don't remember doing this, but I wrote on Facebook meaning to ask my sister (she's a microbiologist, but for some reason I go to her for medical advice) if throwing up multiple times and being dizzy a couple of days after a concussion was normal, but I ended up posting on my own wall and tagging her in it.

I guess what got scary was that I was making typos and spelling/grammar errors.  I am ridiculously anal about spelling and grammar (I even put semi-colons in my text messages ;-)), so a lot of people started to get nervous and worried about me.

My mom also just forwarded me the following e-mail exchange we had yesterday morning, which scared her badly (I should note that my mom is a nurse practitioner, so I asked her for medical advice, too).  I'm sharing it here because I still can't believe that I wrote it ...

Hi Mommy,  
 I just threw up for the second time this morning. Is this something I should be worried about? I've felt "sick" all morning and figured itwas from the pain medicine, but wanted to see what you thought. Myheadache is really bad, too, so maybe that's why (sometimes when I get bad migraines I throw up). I wanted to let you know, though. Hope your day is going well Love you, Kate
 Hi Katie, Two things:  Is your headache the same or worse?     And:   Can you just take the valium and not the Percocet (it has Codeine in it and that gave you some trouble before)?   Try to drink some coke or other liquids and keep me posted. Love, Mom
Hi mommy,About the same. I think as long as I just sithere and don't move I'll beokay. I feel like I'm going to trow up again, though, so I'll probablyhave to figure our how to get to the bathroom. Well not how but howwithout getting more dizzy. I'm okay though.
I love you!Kate
Sent from my iPhone
Hi Mommy,
My headache is worse (althoug that might be from throwing off)
U'll take just the Valium after my stomach settles. Can I take ibuprofenthough. My head hurts.
I'm also dizzy, but that might be from throwing up. 
Can I use the cursed word lol?
Love you,kate

My mom came home from work and helped me get dressed and took me back to the ER.  The worst part was that the sun was so bright I thought my head would explode.  It was horrible.

Anyway, they did another CT scan and gave me medication via IV, and I felt much better when I woke up.  They'd given me Percocet (for pain) and Valium (for muscle relaxant) on Saturday, and they changed it to a prescription Naproxen, and I'm feeling much better now.

I have a headache right now and I'm a little sensitive to light (and my arm is still pretty sore), but I've had lots of migraines worse than this.  Also, pics of  me today don't look like mug shots ;-)
But none of that, believe it or not, is the point of this post.  It's just relevant back story.

I wrote a piece for Zelda Lily that ran earlier this week that dealt with the way technology has really taken over communication in 2012.  A guy named Jake Reilly gave up social networking (from Facebook to texting and everything in between, including cell phones and e-mail).  I thought it sounded cool, but opined that I'd never be able to do it myself.

You know what?

I'm awfully grateful for technology.  Not only did my mom come right home from work as soon as she realized that something funny was going on with me (she thought I had a subdural hematoma and would need surgery--I have no idea what that means, but it doesn't sound good), but my Facebook wall just lit the heck up.

It might sound small and insignificant, but people that I haven't seen or spoken to face to face in years were offering concern and advice.  One friend texted to say that they needed my address since they were calling an ambulance.  That just totally blows my mind (which, thanks to the concussion, probably doesn't take much, but still ...)

Now, I might be an unusual case since anything I write with spelling and grammar mistakes is kind of a flashing red warning light, but still ...

From a fair distance away, people were not only worried but willing (and able, which is just remarkable) to take action and get me help.  That's just ... well, mind-boggling.

That and the number of people that cared.  My mom kind of has to care about me (as she tells me all the time, it's in the job description), and Henry drove straight to the hospital as soon as his work day was over (he didn't find out before then because he follows the "no cell phones at school" policy ;-)), my aunt who is an O.R. nurse at the hospital I was at came down to see what was going on (she'd been following the concussion drama online), but ... all those people on Facebook, man.

All those people caring.

It's not just mind-boggling ... it's humbling.

I am so full of love for everyone that showed caring and concern for me yesterday.  I am incredibly grateful ... and I am incredibly lucky.

Just curious, if you get a chance to go read my ZL piece, what are your thoughts on technology?  Is it overused?  Are we turning into vegetables (or angry birds) as we drool at computer and/or cell phone screens, or is technology a good thing?

After yesterday, I am singing the praises of technology.  Something else to be grateful for :-)


Monday, February 6, 2012

Teachers and Relativity ... and Masochism

I figured out today that my standard "workweek" is somewhere near 80 hours.  Yes, I'm serious.  (I'm also something of a masochist when it comes to work, so to be fair you should probably figure that in)

This is why I'm wondering why teachers, who work incredibly hard and are entrusted, via in loco parentis, with the safety and, yeah, upraising of a veritable battalion of students, always seem to be on the political defecation list.

I don't want to hear, "You have every summer off."  No, I don't ... I'm working a second job (usually summer school ... this year, it might be flipping burgers) for the full month and parts of two others that I'm not teaching.

I don't want to hear the downright scary stuff coming down on teachers from the New Hampshire legislature ... walk in my shoes for a day.  In fact, never mind MY shoes ... my shoes are pretty comfortable as I am very fortunate in many, MANY aspects of my job (such as the fact that I have the most amazing students).  Put on the wingtips or sensible pumps of some of my colleagues ...

Sorry about the incoherent rant ... I've had Ambien and it's clearly showing, but this one's been coming for awhile.  I'll write a more ... well, coherent post about it soon.

Until then ... thank a teacher.  Seriously.  It totally means the world!

Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...