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Monday, December 19, 2011

Holidays and Family

What makes the holidays so stressful for families? I think it is the unrealistic expectations we have of each other. We know the best of our family and, sadly, also the worst. What we want is a happy harmonious gathering where everyone shares the same interests. The truth is, we are all different. If our family members were people we met, we might not even be friends with them. Yet what we have in common is a history. I remember my older brother pretending to read a book about our favorite character, Keeko, when he was in first grade and I was not yet in school. We howled with laughter at his made-up sentences. My younger brother Paul (who cut off a toe at age 2) built a small house in our back yard out of boards he gleaned throughout the neighborhood. I loved going out there. I remember going to garage sales with my mom when I had small children, and her endless back rubs when I had a migraine. My dad always took us camping and fishing on his vacations. Can you imagine 5 people in a rowboat, 3 of them kids? Dad has been gone for almost ten Christmas celebrations, but I will still hear him speaking pretend Swedish and saying, "Deeeeeelicious!" when asked how the lutfisk was. My memories of my children and grandchildren are among the most precious to me. It is hard to describe the joy they bring into my life. I don't have a lot of money or status, but I do have 6 wonderful human beings that have come into my life with beautiful personalities, warts and all. They are perfect to me, although far from perfect human beings (oxymoron). I would have them get together every weekend if I could, but they have lives to live and I am no longer central to their existence. So I look forward to the Christmas gathering with excitement, trying not to get my hopes too high. If I can remember how blessed I am to have such an amazing family, I will have another happy memory to store away for the future.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Economics of Health

In 2009, I lost my first friend to the insurance industry. Susannah J. Kist was a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. She had the misfortune to get cancer while uninsured. Months before she died, the hospital refused to treat her because her bill was too high. I was shocked that it could happen to someone I knew. I have never been willing to go without insurance, and have made the necessary sacrifices to always have my family insured, paying incredibly large amounts monthly, working in jobs that have insurance benefits even when they were difficult. I was also ashamed that I could not help her. I was enraged that the powers that be could allow this to be happening to the people. I was angry that a beautiful person was taken when she was doing so much good in the world.
Last year, I learned that my neighbor and good friend had retired, gotten diagnosed with lung cancer, and received chemotherapy. Her dental bill from the chemo was thousands of dollars. On a fixed income, that means fewer choices for fun activities.
Recently, a coworker admitted that she worked in catholic school most of her life. She and her husband retired, then he died. A few years later, she needed open heart surgery. Now her medical bills are so high she is losing her home.
In 1970, I read a book called The Economics of Being a Woman, by Dee Dee Ahern. The themes in the book still ring true. For the most part, women care for the home, their children, and their parents willingly. They want no money for it, are happy to do it. They earn less, so their social security is less. Their salaries are lower than men's, and if they are divorced, they are expected to support their children while the father pays only a fraction of his income.
You don't have to be a woman to experience such loss these days. Poverty is an equal opportunity unemployer. What all this means to me is that if you are off the financial grid, just as much of the third world is off that grid, you don't get medical care. It's as simple as that.
I remember my mother telling me when I was an adult that I had a friend in eighth grade who was Mexican. Her sister died of the measles. I have no memory of it, but the idea was inconceivable to me at the time. Now, such things are becoming commonplace. When are we going to turn our health industry around and take care of the sick? Am I next? Are you?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giving Thanks

I have thoroughly enjoyed posting something I am grateful for every day this month on FB. Even an early morning Saturday awakening can be funny if you see the humor in it. (My dog woke me up at 6 today because I had set my alarm to a door bell.) What's more important is developing an attitude of gratefulness about all of the conditions of life. I keep having a recurring dream that I am married to my children's father, although it's been 22 years since I became single. Someday that may be funny, too. This month was rough for my son's in-laws because of the death of Mitch Robinson, age 16, in a tragic truck accident. Yet they have found things to be grateful for as well. Listing the things I am grateful for has been a habit with me. I have an alphabet book of "gratefuls" and try to write something each day. More importantly, I have learned not to sacrifice my happiness too much in the service of others or I will become resentful or depressed. My job can become oppressive, with lots of individualization and paperwork, but I have learned to enjoy the students, parents, and coworkers every day. That is why I am truly there, to show how much I care by doing my best. If I push myself too hard, I lose sleep, gain/lose weight, or get sick. I find myself fighting compulsive escape behaviors or just isolating for relief. It has taken me a lifetime to let go of things that I can't get done without harming myself, and I am thankful for that. Last of all, I am thankful for a country that sets aside at least one day to give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hug Your Kids

Those are the words of a dear relative who lost her 16-year-old son last week. He was driving to his aunt's before school to get a backpack he had forgotten. He drove a different truck than usual and hit a railroad crossing which caused him to lose control of the truck. Although he was buckled up, he was killed instantly when it rolled several times. Mitchell was a fine young man, the oldest of five children and a treasure. He was fun, nice, smart and kind. This is one of those events that makes us question the meaning of life. Why did such a good person have to die? Did he know how much I cared about him? Am I living my life with the most important priorities? My daughter-in-law had a profound comment that I must repeat here. She said that Mitchell had no idea how many people cared about him. He thought of himself as an ordinary kid and not necessarily popular. Yet there were over a thousand people at the visitation and about six hundred attended the funeral, which was held in a community of about a thousand people. Lynette wants us all to tell people if we care about them. Don't wait until it's too late.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I Love Parents

When my second child was entering his second semester at college, he was taking wonderful classes. He commented that he was really looking forward to the semester. If his brain didn't burst, he would be really smart. That's how I have felt this fall. I have been overwhelmed with all the changes in my teaching. I have learned PCI Reading Instruction Curriculum, PCI Environmental Signs Curriculum, EQUALS math curriculum, and Discovery Vocational Curriculum. After six weeks of implementing them, I am beginning to feel more comfortable. The students are showing improvement, which is thrilling, and there are fewer meltdowns. I was able to meet with a group of parents to give them work to do at home, and they are working with their students on reading. The improvement was immediate. I could see results in a week. What a blessing to have such a supportive group of parents! I still have a long way to go, but I am feeling good when I go home at the end of the day. One problem I see even here in LASSO (Language And Social Skills Curriculum) is an emphasis on assessment. Let's face it, assessment is useless unless it is given to every child in the same way. Yet students with autism are entirely unique. No one-size-fits-all system is going to work. I am constantly calling on my intuition to empathize with students, based mostly on their body language. It's pretty easy to tell if they know something or not if I don't get hung up on vocabulary or other language skills. I believe in teaching to their strengths. Let's face it, folks. Who among us could learn to read by memorizing every word? These students are amazing! As I move through this year with them, I want to challenge their abilities and help them develop compensatory strategies for the areas they have trouble with. I know I can't learn it all, so please let me know what has worked for you.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Let the Learning Begin

I spent two days last week learning techniques to use with students who have autism. The LASSO (Language and Social Skills Opportunities) classes use a variety of approaches in the classroom and I am familiar with some of them from my work with younger students. Learning what to teach older students will be my brain stretch this year. Thanks to a4cwsn (Apps for Children With Special Needs) for a weekend of sale prices on the apps for my iPod and iPad. Now all I need is some time to play with them and learn how to use them. a4cwsn has videos about each app, so I may take some time each day to watch them. For those of you with children who have special needs, Gary James does a great service by running this web presence. He also gives away free iPads to children in need.

I was stressing out on the making of TEACCH "work systems" since I have none, but I discovered in the classroom there were a few things that I didn't recognize when I was first there. I hope I will have enough to get started on Wednesday. I will be needing boxes and margarine tubs, baby jars (plastic) and applesauce/fruit cups. Luckily, I checked out my laptop when I took the training, so I have Boardmaker here at home. I have also ordered the rather expensive Tasks Galore for the Real World, by Laurie Eckenrode, and I am finishing A Land We Can Share: Teaching Literacy to Students With Autism, by Paula Kluth, this weekend.

Any tips you all wish to send me will be appreciated as I venture into this new area of education.

I am watching Harry Potter and I truly am glad I don't have to teach at Hogwarts!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Beginning My Last Year

Two good things happened to me today as I went to my new classroom to get it ready for the fall. First, I can actually raise or lower my room temperature as much as 8 degrees! This could be a first for me - a classroom that is not too hot or too cold. Second, the pencil sharpener worked! Last year the kids drove me crazy sharpening and sharpening and sharpening until there wasn't much pencil left.

This is the time of year that teachers' moods are hopeful, but sobered by unpacking materials that remind us of the specifics of our job that are so difficult. Special education teachers may have twelve students at many different levels of reading, math, social skills and daily living skills. It's so hard to walk the delicate balance between challenging them and making the learning too hard. (I don't think I've ever made it too easy, don't know why.) Hats off to Matt Damon for putting into words so much of what I believe about education.

Finally, I always try to have a theme for the year. One year, it was "Humans swim in an ocean of language," Mark C. Baker (The Atoms of Language. 2001) Please excuse the informal citation there. Last year, it was "Children of the Future". This year, because I am reading Paula Kluth's You're Gonna Love This Kid, I decided to put up "You're Gonna Love This Class!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I have been slow to post in the second session of Lego robotics, partly because the power went out Monday and I am tending my elderly mom until hers goes back on. One thing that happened today stuck me with such force, however, that I felt the need to write. One of the students had spent 4 days putting together the "Shooter Bot" which shot small plastic balls out rapidly. We demonstrated it today and I told him I would try to keep it together until tomorrow.

Normally we have to share six brains with all three classes, which have six teams in them. The students were so impressed that they, of course, wanted to use the bot and not tear it apart. To make it more challenging, I asked them to aim it at the wall and see if they could bounce it into a plastic box on the floor.

The first shooter put the box against the wall and I wanted to say, "No, that's going to be too close." I have learned to shut up, however, and observe. The students will see if it doesn't work and make adjustments.

Imagine my surprise when all 8 balls bounced off the wall and landed directly into the box! That is the kind of thing that is hard for me, even after years of playing Jardinains. Some people instinctively learn by knowing, as did my middle child. There's no way to explain it, any more than you can explain the ability to spell or draw. I am just grateful I got to see it in action once more.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Diverse Interests

In today's Daily Herald, there is an article about a student who was a talented artist and also valedictorian. I believe the article was titled something like: good at art and everything else. This is not an unusual profile for a gifted student. Students who are good at everything find themselves pressured by teachers, coaches, parents and musical directors to dedicate themselves to only one thing. They see such talent and want to direct it into their chosen field. This creates somewhat of a dilemma for multiply gifted students. How do they decide what to do with their talents? What if they love to do something that is not one of their talents? I was blessed with a wonderful German teacher in high school who asked us to take some time to think about what we wanted to do with our lives and actually discuss it in class! Imagine how revolutionary that was in the 1960s, when most kids were following in the footsteps of their parents and the idea of having a job that you actually enjoyed was a far cry from reality. How do people decide what to do with their lives? I love the Parachute series. It really helped me when I had to make that decision as an adult. I had always been someone's kid, or someone's wife or someone's mother. Suddenly, I had to choose how I would spend the next twenty years. It was not easy. I was fortunate to be in a field that encouraged growth and my passion for technology in education was an asset. Now that I am retiring next June, I shall have to rethink this all over again. I believe there's a Parachute book for that, too.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Worlds of Wisdom and Wonder

It's just about time for my summer job to begin. I get excited about going to work at the Center for Gifted. The kids are happy to be there and want to learn what I am teaching. They take whatever I teach them and go to new heights with it. The staff treats me like royalty and I think they are amazing! This year I am going to try some obstacle course work to challenge the kids. I hope you will follow along in my blog as I update it. I haven't uploaded pictures in the past, but hope to get them online or on a CD this year. The kids love their machine inventions and take pictures just like proud parents. Here are some Lego web sites I have used.
My Lego Logo page
YouTube Tutorial

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stress, Anxiety and Coping

I have been multitasking, and the Senginar on "Stress, Anxiety and Gifted: Coping with Everyday Life" has had some wonderful recommendations. First, one of the recommendations by Michele Kane was to have your child spend more time outside. A new network formed by Richard Louv is the Children and Nature Network. I once read a book called Why Children Need Wild Places, which I picked up in the Grand Canyon book store. Many of my students are not allowed outside because there is no responsible adult to watch them; the adults are all working two jobs. Even families that make sure the children play outside may not make trips to beautiful wilderness. If adults are not aware of what's out there, they don't necessarily know what they and their children are missing.

Another system of looking at the world is Martin Seligman's new work on well-being. Instead of Learned Optimism, his newest work is being called Flourish and he is revising happiness into a "Theory of Well-Being." He is starting a curriculum for teachers. Now I kinda wish I wasn't retiring so soon!

National Poetry Month

I admit it. I torture my students. Here I am given a room full of language-disabled English-language learners (with 2 exceptions) and I am making them write poetry. They get pretty upset with me as I pull some of their words out and throw out others. Part of me is wishing I had more time to spend with each student to coax them into understanding on the "show, don't tell." Reality being what it may, I get them to describe what they see, hear, feel, taste, and touch. Then I write it for them (only one has access to Co:Writer) and encourage them to embellish in Keynote. That part they love. We will post these poems in the hall at school next week. I hope these beautiful individuals will learn the process of creating impressions to work through whatever emotional issues they cannot express with their everyday language.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Too Many Tabs

My children tease me about the number of tabs I leave open on a regular basis. Like so many things in my life, I have trouble setting limits. I often open a tab because I find it interesting, but don't have time to read the page or watch the 48 minute video. I ultimately do go back and learn from them, but only when the demands of my job and activities allow it. Two of the more recent tabs I have opened are Zooniverse and MIT Open Courseware.

Zooniverse is a project that calls on anyone interested in science to help scientists scan the 950,000 images from Hubble Space Telescope. At least, I hope I have that right, for I have lost the link that sent me to this web site. (Found it in my history: NASA Science.) Like so much in cyberspace, we float from place to place and don't remember how we got there. This site links people to eight projects that need more eyes on information to find things. I remember reading in the Wall St. Journal that NASA had a building the size of a football field with images from space vehicles. That was in 1990 or so. The projects involve finding new planets, new objects of undetermined matter, the Milky Way, the moon, galaxies and old weather, to name a few.

MIT Open Courseware has been around for ten years. I have downloaded courses before, but I am hoping that retirement will allow me the time to actually study the subjects that interest me. Most recently, I downloaded a study of Twentieth Century Literature. I am really feeling old, since most of my life was spent in the Twentieth Century. Specifically, I am interested in the Existentialists and how they perceived the world. After viewing a Senginar on Existential Depression in Gifted Adults and Children, I am fascinated by the challenge that others have struggled with these issues and found solutions.

So there you have it. Happy Easter to all those who celebrate it, and enjoy Passover, to those friends, too. Now I can shut those tabs and post some blogs that friends of mine have started. See the sidebar if you're interested.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


There are some times as a teacher that you are doing what you have to do even though you know it is not best for the students. Last week and next I am giving ISATs (Illinois Standard Achievement Tests). Some of my students are taking IAA (Illinois Alternative Assessment). All of my students are anxious and stressed out. Despite the fact that I give them a test whenever I can in class, and preface it with the words, "We LOVE tests. We can show what we know!" My students really can't show what they know on the ISATs. I was distraught on Thursday when one of my students tried to do an extended response item in the Reading test. He could not do it, because he could not read the question. I was not allowed to read it to him. How is that testing his knowledge?!

Kildeer School District was blessed this month with a visit by Robert Marzano. He had some interesting facts about standardized test scores. The reliability for the state test in a large Midwestern state is .87 (the best reliability is .99). This means that every time you give the same test, there is a 13 percent chance that random errors have influenced the score. Subscale reliabilities are lower; .33 to .57. The reliability of flipping a coin to get heads is about .5, so you can see the problem.

What all the hoopla is about is just numbers. It doesn't mean that the children are not learning if their scores don't go up. Maybe it just means they became homeless on the day of the test, or they had surgery that year, or their parents got divorced. Marzano gave me great hope that a new system of assessment is being born that will show what students know: formative assessment or rubrics.

Still, there is one issue that is never addressed because there is no practical measure. "Imagination is more important than knowledge," is Einstein's famous quote. Some of my learning disabled students are talented and creative in nonverbal activities such as music, theater, and technology. Decades have gone by with no state testing knowledge of computers. It was the great promise of the 1990s that technology would not just change the way we teach, but the way our students learn. In the last five years, multidisciplinary collaborative projects have been replaced by emphasis on test scores. Science and social studies take a back seat to reading and math. Technology is allowed if it is related to the curriculum, which is now based on standards.

Resentment against teachers has flamed into political retribution. When will we return the school system to the instructional experts and tell the politicians what should be taught and how? Ask any professor at any university and they will support the view that standardized testing limits what can be done in the classroom, and does not allow for creative possibilities. The students of today need skills we haven't even thought of yet, and their best chance of success is to teach creativity and problem-solving.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Patricia Gangas

The Poets and Patrons has lost one of its best poets. Patricia Gangas. Pat was a beautiful lady with a flair for unconventional appearance. She often wore a hat over her raven-colored hair. Her makeup and hairdo were unusual and suggested she was a creative soul. Whenever she attended the P & P workshops, her poems were startling and poignant. I was privileged enough to take a class with her at College of DuPage. The teacher was Mardelle Fortier, and many of the students were poets who repeated her class every summer. Pat did not discuss her personal life, but I remember a poem that described going gambling to forget about the loss of a loved one. Those two ideas were juxtaposed in a work that described precisely how difficult it is to cope with loss.

Our group has also lost Gert Rubin, who wrote beautifully and was as encouraging a mentor as I have ever had. We have lost Maggie Cantrall, who wrote beautiful sonnets and made me feel like an honored guest at the nursing home in which she spent her last years. While I plan to write after retirement, I am becoming painfully aware of the passage of time and the precious lives that have been beacons for me in the fog of my uncertainty. For you, ladies, I will give it my best.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Cash Society

Has anyone else out there noticed it? Suddenly I am paying for services I have not yet received. Sometimes, I can't write a check for groceries (thanks, Whole Foods) and sometimes I can't even pay for something with my check card (thanks, National Car Rental for making a miserable day). It is more and more common to have checks cashed immediately, which is no problem if you have money in your account. How ironic, then, when Gap would not return cash to me when I had to return jammies that were too big for my granddaughter! I had to wait for their check in the mail. What all this mean to me is that our "cashless" society is over. Money is always an agreement between two people about how much something is worth (thanks, Colin, age 6, for explaining that to me). But when times are tough, only the real thing will do. Holding those bills in your hands, you can buy most anything but a rental car.

I have been telling friends and family for decades that we are in a long, slow inflationary depression. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. Ironically, Greenspan kept salaries low to suppress inflation. He should have checked the prices people had to pay. If you're making the same amount of money, but everything keeps costing more, that's inflation! A neighbor of mine in California once gave me a handful of bills that she brought over from Germany. She remembered the time in the German economy when people had to take their paycheck and cash it, then take wheelbarrows full of money to buy a loaf of bread or a few eggs. The Marks are just stamped over with Tausend Mark (thousand)or Millionen Mark (million) or even Milliarden Mark (billion). I don't know how societies break out of these cycles, but I am certain the government does not bail out the little guys.

Does anyone else out there wonder why the oil companies can continue to charge exorbitant fees for their products? Isn't there a bit of a monopoly? How many new oil companies have you founded this year? Have you even heard of any? Why didn't rates go down for telephone services when the industry was deregulated? Wasn't that what they said would happen? How about insurance and medical costs? The last time they even stayed the same was when Hillary was trying to grapple with a solution to that problem.

I may be misinformed here. After all, I spend most of my waking hours trying to reach learners who have difficulties learning even the most basic academic skills. If you can explain this to me, I'd be happy to hear from you. Be sure to leave a comment.