Saturday, February 27, 2010

Being Alone

Pam, the bishop's wife, called me last night because she had noticed that I hadn't signed up for the ward's dinner groups this month. She invited me to come to their house for dinner tomorrow night, so I wouldn't be left out.

"Unless you didn't want to come," she said, laughing at the thought.

I laughed with her, more feebly. The thing is, I didn't want to go. Sure, I've enjoyed the dinner groups I have attended, but I only attend them out of obligation - I don't want to go, but I do because I feel like I should want to go, you know?

I was reading online about the Meyers-Briggs personalities, which I just recently tried a test for. It listed me as INTJ, and on Wikipedia (which I feel guilty citing as a source, teacher that I am) it explains that Introverts "generally prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend energy in social situations (whereas extraverts gain energy)."

That's it precisely! I have a hard time explaining to church-people why I don't want to go to a fireside/activity/dinner group on Sundays after a five-hour church setting. It's not that I don't have fun, it's that I get so drained by such things. People are often surprised when I tell them I'm introverted. I can be social, but it's exhausting, like playing a character for several hours. I can act that way long enough to do my calling on Sundays, but to then summon the energy to do it Sunday night as well before heading off for another week of work (which, while also enjoyable, does involve being around mass groups of people all day)? It's just too much for me most of the time.

It was one of those realizations that's so simple and obvious I should have figured it out a while ago. That's why there are so many activities and social engagements - some people (and I'm certain they're the ones planning them) actually gain energy from such things. And it also makes sense why some people, like Pam, just don't understand that sometimes I just don't want to go to another dinner group.

Whether it's fortunate or not, I now have a legitimate reason to not attend tomorrow night. They're predicting snow all day tomorrow and Monday for our area, so I've decided to drive up to the MT condo right after church tomorrow to simplify the commute to school Monday.

P.S. I hadn't been reading very much for a few weeks, and I know that I do get more anxious and unsettled when I'm not reading enough. No books had been catching my attention lately. I needed something that was engaging and easy, so I pulled the last three Harry Potter books from my shelf this week and burrowed into them. I started the last one last night and neglected many of the things I ought to have been doing to finish it today (although I was good enough to put it down and go to lunch and a movie with a friend). I'm all moody, as usual when I finish a book like that, but I feel a lot more put-together mentally than I've been in a while.

Friday, February 26, 2010

High Hopes

My plans for the summer keep shifting in and out of tangibility. The latter part of my summer is filling up - Mercedes is coming to visit in July, then my little brother's getting married July 31, then I have the whole Cedar City thing in the wee smalls of August before school starts again.

Still, that leaves the beginning of the summer open (aside from the arrival of Rachel's baby sometime in late May), and I very much want to fill it with some interesting trip somewhere.

As you may recall, I wanted to go to Africa. The cost of the Cross-Cultural Solutions program (which is certainly one of the most expensive programs out there) and the cost of the plane ticket to Tanzania, though, pushed that goal out of reach. I've been saving for the trip, but I took a pay cut to work at MTHS which is making the funding a bit trickier than my Yay, 30! trip.

In lieu of my volunteering in Africa, Jason and I talked about taking another adventuresome trip together this summer, since the one last summer went so well. We were talking by phone a few weeks ago and he mentioned that he'd like to firm up travel plans for the summer. I told him that I wanted to travel, but I just couldn't make any plans to spend that kind of money while my job situation at school was uncertain. He said he'd send out some feelers to other friends then in the meantime.

I thought about it that night, did some plane-ticket searching, and sent him a proposal for a trip to Japan in June the next day. I had found some good ticket prices, and I figured I would be comfortable with a shorter, frugal trip in spite of the employment question.

Unfortunately, Jason's friends were much more responsive than either of us had anticipated - in the 24-hours it took me to decide on an amount I could spend, he had already made travel plans with different people.

Since then, as you know, I feel much more confident in my continued employment and also just as eager to find some interesting trip to take in June. Africa is still there, calling to me like Bloody Mary in the back of my mind, but even with the seeming assurances from my principal that I'll be working at MTHS next year, it will come at a cost. They're freezing all salaries and most likely reducing benefits, which means I'll have more costs next year with no increase. (But I'll still have a job, which I am certainly grateful for.)

I was planning to take some time this weekend to look into other volunteer programs. Pueblo Ingles is a possibility again; but although I loved my experience there last summer, I'd rather do something new. There is that French village thing, but tickets to Europe aren't cheap theses days.

However, I got an email this evening from CCS. They're doing some sort of promotional program for their alumni where certain dates and placements will be given this summer for 1/3 the cost. I wrote them back, asking for more details. Perhaps the stars are aligning?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My New Philosophy

In Humanities today we covered Plato's theory of Ideas.

I talked them through the Allegory of the Cave (using an overhead projector and Indonesian Shadow Puppets) (Because I'm always looking for an excuse to whip out my Indonesian Shadow Puppets, that's why).

We talked about it in concrete forms (horse v. Horse), then brainstormed a list of non-concrete capital-letter concepts (Love, Death, Victory, Freedom, Beauty, etc.).

The students each picked one of those capitalized concepts and tried to write a description of what the ideal, perfect version of that concept would be (I am aware of the irony and the impossibility of such a task, but the kids needed a writing break).

Then I pulled out my red-polka-dot turn-to-talk ball and we had a modest Socratic Seminar about their thoughts. It went pretty well, for such a reluctant-to-talk class. At one point, the group had decided that

1) an ideal Life is happy,
2) Happiness is overcoming challenges or obstacles,
3) Death is ideal when you don't know it's coming, is quick, and comes after great accomplishments,
and that
4) Victory is when you are the best you'll ever be, but that moment is fleeting.

"So," I said, "does that mean we should shoot gold medalists at the Olympics' awards ceremonies?"

It caused much amusement and astonishment. As do all of my good teacher-comments.

Also discussed today:
Can Honesty exist if there is only one person involved?
Should Ray Gosling be in jail?
If a tree falls in a forest and only the eagle who dropped said tree is around to hear it, did the tree really fall?

"I'm so confused!" one student wailed at one point, dropping his head to the desk.

"Good for you!" I exclaimed, clapping my hands together in delight. "You'd make Socrates proud!"

Tomorrow, Utopia!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Put on a Happy Face

I feel bad whenever I post a blog entry while in my loss-of-joie-de-vivre mood. That's why, almost immediately after publishing last night, I started thinking about the good things I should tell you.

That in mind, let me catch you up on Making Waves at Cedar City.

I signed the papers today that allows them to make copies of the script. I also read their version of the summative blurb ("This is a "living-newspaper" style production. Think of a teacher who made an impact on you. That is the story we're telling." It's a little awkwardly worded, so we might tighten it, but I like the "living-newspaper" description.) They also need a short bio about me. (Short bio? Have you seen the verbosity of my blog entries where I try to define myself?)

When I talked to the Cedar City guy last week, he was very enthusiastic about the play. Which is very nice. They had already picked out a director for it, which means they already set the dates. I love their choice of the director - I met him a few years ago when I did their summer intensive workshop for secondary teachers. We clicked right away. In fact, he said he had heard of me (such is the fame of a junior high school drama teacher!) and that he felt that we had things do to for each other ahead of us. Except it was worded in a way that was neither creepy nor romantic-sounding, but rather a sweet theatrical-way of saying that there's a kindred spirit spark.

So while I fully supported their director-choice, it made it kind of awkward. Because part of the deal is that I go to Cedar City for a week to work with the actors and director while they're rehearsing, then sit in on the readings and post-show discussions. Which I am totally on board for doing. Except they've scheduled it on top of the first week of school at MTHS.

Duh, duh, DUH!

School next year starts on a Wednesday mid-August. Teachers come back four days in advance (although that will probably be cut to two, budget-crisis and all). I would miss the two teacher work/in-service days, plus the first three days of classes.

"Won't your principal understand? I'll talk to him, if you like. I'll explain that we're a Tony award winning Shakespeare Festival and that this is a big deal," Chuck said when he heard my silent panic over the scheduled dates.

"I just don't know if I can do it," I said, hating those words, dreading the next ones. "Let me go talk to my principal, and I'll call you back."

Do you know how scary it is for me to talk to a principal? Do you know what kind of principals I'm used to? (Meg does! Ben does! Janelle does! Kelley does!)

And before I could procrastinate the scariness/nausea, I did so right away. I went downstairs to the main office and ran right into Mike. I asked if he had a few minutes, and we stepped into his office (Heart! Starts! Beat! Ing! Oh! So! Fast!).

I told Mike about the festival's competition ("So, you know that play I wrote? That I went to Salt Lake City to see last fall? It kind of won this contest.")

He congratulated me on the win.

I explained about the whole artist-in-residence thing.

He said that's great.

I told him the dates of the show.

Without missing a beat he said, "We'll work it out."

"What?" I said. "Really? Because it's the first week of school."

"I know," he said. "But it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, right? You've got to do it. We'll work it out. You'll get a sub, you'll set the expectations, you already know most of the kids anyway. Do it."


Here's the thing. Aside from how awesome my principal is, aside from the fact that I'm going to Cedar City in August to see our play performed, here's the other message I picked up from that:

We're planning on having you here next year.

It's been a perilous, egg-shell-walking month in our district (most districts, really). I, like most teachers, have been waiting to hear that my position is being cut. So when Chuck asked me to go tell my principal that I need to miss the first week of school next year to do a play, I was really worried that Mike would say, "Oh. I've been meaning to talk to you about that. It's not going to be a problem, you see, because...." I mean, what if they were on the fence about keeping me and this request tipped me into the cow-dung of nonrenewal?

Yes, Mike is a great principal who understands that there are bigger things going on sometimes that are worth a little hassle.

Yes, he said I could miss a week to go do those bigger things.

Yes, I get to see my play done at Cedar City.

But most of all, they're planning on having me around next year.

So who am I to complain?

P.S. The other reason they wanted the play to be in that particular slot of dates is it means it will also get the two Friday performances that follow, and they are expecting teachers to come on those days, and they are eager to get the play out to teachers.

P.P.S. I didn't get fired today for taking a sucker away from a kid (which sounds stupid when I type it, but seriously: 24-hours of gut-clenching worry about the yelling and the sucker). The kid came up to the desk I was sitting at during the passing period before class. He sat on a nearby desk and said, "So." Which I knew was his version of an apology.

"So," I replied, with a little bit of a questioning intonation.

"So," he said, in confirmation.

We talked. I asked him if he was confused about the whole no-candy-in-class thing. He wasn't. He explained that he had a really bad day yesterday. I said I understood, that my day was bad, too. I asked if he was going to have any more Dum-Dums in class. He said nope. I said, "Then we're good."

And we are.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

My three-day weekend was really nice, but oh! how quickly the restful feeling disappeared.

I didn't sleep that well last night, and I woke up feeling sick. That keeps happening lately.

It was a typical school day, really. I finished putting together scripts for the first period drama class, casted it, and we did a read-through today. The kids are all freaked out because I decided to do something closer to a black box performance rather than a "show" show. Ruth told me flat out that she would do a show every quarter with every drama class because she didn't know what else to do with them to fill the time. I'm moving more towards a skill-building curriculum, but I can't cut the shows quite yet without all kinds of anger and "that's not what we do!"-ness. So I figured this would be a workable compromise. I cut scenes from three plays for the students to do - no set, minimal props, suggestive costumes, but still a chance to tell stories and try new things. But they've never heard of such a performance and it's not what they usually do and they're VERY. CONCERNED. I just keep plugging it with stubborn optimism. I wish they would trust me, though.

Humanities was a wrap-up of Greek Mythology. For review I had them create a family tree of the gods in small groups. I therefore had to chase groups off the computers several times, since they just wanted to Google and copy it. Over and over again I explained that the point of the project was for them to talk to each other, puzzle it out, figure out their notes, and get used to the names and relationships. Copying someone else's work would circumvent the entire point of the process. And over and over again they rolled their eyes at me, grumbled about my/it's stupidity, and looked longingly back at the computer screen.

Freshman drama was wired. I spent part of my lunch picking up the soda cans, coffee mugs, and Dum-Dum sticks that keep getting left behind in my room. So when class started and three of the kids were sucking on those suckers again (I have a no food/drinks-other-than-water rule for my room, as does the whole school), I felt just... tired. I asked them to throw the suckers away, they crunched the candy instead and ate it, then tossed the sticks at the trashcan.

I had decided to try a new unit with this class, given their comedic strengths. We went over the basic Commedia dell'Arte characters, I gave them some example lazzis, then I turned them loose to create their own short Commedia plays using those stock ideas.

They were just so very restless and immature today. While doing the introductory stuff, two girls kept making fart noises, one girl kept moving to sit in her friend's lap, and a group of boys would not stop talking.

When I pulled the groups back together to talk about lazzis and one kid pulled out a second Dum-Dum and stuck it in his mouth, I took a deep breath, made eye contact with him, mimed pulling it out and tossing it, while continuing the discussion. He crunched it again and strolled to the trash can, stating loudly that he would sue me when his teeth broke from eating it too fast.

So when, at the end of the class period, the same kid pulled out a third lollipop and started sucking on it, I was tired of talking and explaining and repeating myself. I was standing close to him, so I just reached out, plucked the sucker from his hand, and tossed it into the trash.

He freaked out. He started yelling at me - yelling about how he's going to sue me, yelling about my being "violent", yelling about how he doesn't want to talk about it. Just, yelling.

I stood by quietly, saying his name in a calm voice. I asked him to step outside the room to talk about it. He yelled some more. The bell rang, I asked him to stay. He yelled as he walked past me out the door, turning around in the hallway to yell back at me "This conversation is OVER! OVER!"

And so I called his mom's cell phone, left a message about what happened in class, looked up what his first period class is so I can catch him before school tomorrow, and went to rehearsal.

And most of the way home I thought about what happened.

And most of the time during my Relief Society errands tonight I thought about what happened.

And tonight I blog about what happened.

And I wait for tomorrow to come so I can make the next move, make things better, and get rid of this hole-punched-in-my-stomach feeling.

I'm tired today.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jolly Holiday

I celebrated my President's Day by watching a movie about British regents and doing my taxes.

Appropriate, yes?

What about you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Slippin' Through My Fingers

With parent-teacher conferences Tuesday and Wednesday and the Speech Banquet Thursday, I moved up to Mountain Town for the week.

Tuesday morning I left a little earlier than usual so I could drop the beast off at the condo and turn on the power before school. There is a monster of a hill you have to drive up to get to the condo, and the road's dirt. It had also snowed on Sunday, so the "road" was snow-packed and ice-muddy. My car had made it most of the way up, but was struggling on the last steep little bit when another car appeared at the top.

The driver saw me and my spinning wheels, then backed up. Which was nice of her.

But then she kept backing up. And then her car slid backwards over the top of the hill, disappearing out of sight.

My tires finally caught some traction and I made it to the crest. I threw my car in park and jumped out to help. It turns out it was Jane, a teacher at my school. Apparently, she just panicked and backed up way too far. She was distraught and shaken up and couldn't really explain why she had backed up so unnecessarily.

Luckily, her car had caught on the side of the hill, so I could reach down and help her (awkwardly) up. Her husband was just heading out to walk the dogs, and was quickly on hand to help. He offered to call the tow truck while I offered to drive Jane to school. Which I did, as soon as I dropped the cat off.

It was a relief to stay at the condo all week, given the 7-minute commute and the extra time to sleep in. That hill was a battle, though. I came very close to giving up Tuesday night and parking at the bottom of it. I made it up in the end, after three running starts and one very long revving of the engine while my tires spun madly and I coaxed out loud, "Come on, car. Come on, car!" Then, when I suddenly lurched past the slickest part and made the turn, I burst out with "Oh, Good Car! Oh, Good Car!" while stroking the dashboard.

The hill thawed as the week went on, so Tuesday was by far the worst of it. It was not the end of my adventures with ice, though.

After rehearsal on Thursday I had about an hour before the speech banquet began. It was a pot luck dinner, but apparently it was my job to provide drinks and paper items. I had stocked up on sodas, plates, napkins, and so on at Wal-Mart before moving up the mountain, but I hopped in my car to buy some ice at the gas station in downtown Mountain Town (such as it is).

I walked back into the foyer outside the auditorium to find several panicking cheerleaders gathered around one of their own, seizing on the ground. The seizure ended very quickly, and the cheer coach knelt by the girl's head, told one of the girls to call 911, and asked "someone go get some ice".

I had stripped off my coat by this point, said, "Here you go," as I offered up an 8-pound bag of ice cubes, and began folding up my scarf to wrap the ice in.

I've never experienced people looking at me like I'm a miracle before.

I helped the coach administer some first aid, gave the flock of cheerleaders something to do to get them out of the room, and waited out the arrival of the EMTs. Turns out the girl had not eaten anything nor had much to drink all day, which caused her to pass out while dancing. She hit her head on the cement floor when she dropped, which caused the seizure.

Some of the cheerleaders stopped by my room on Friday to see if I wanted to sign a get-well card for the girl. "It was awesome," they said as I wrote a little note on the card. "You just, like, appeared out of nowhere. With ice! It was like you knew exactly what we needed and just, like, appeared."

I shrugged modestly. "Well, I'm good like that," I said, smiling as I handed the card back.

I figured it's a good opportunity to spread a little mystery - let them wonder about my magical abilities/god-like powers a little. Those are the kinds of rumors I cultivate as a teacher.

Conferences were a complete waste of time, by the way. 10 extra hours at school, for a total of five meetings with parents, each lasting no more than 10 minutes. Plus, I was too worn out from teaching all day to use the time there to plan or grade or anything. I made some cuttings for the drama class play, printed certificates for the speech banquet, and accomplished some other mindless tasks, but it was largely a waste of time. As spring conferences so often are.

The speech banquet went well, though. A lot of people turned out, I spent the dinner part of it talking set designs for the musical with two of the parents, a few kids performed, I handed out awards and letters, and we kept it to under 2 hours total. I'm thrilled to have the season over with finally, though. Oh, and the kids very sweetly got me a bouquet of flowers, which they presented at the end. That was nice of them. It almost made up for the article written by one of my speech kids for the local paper that led with the line "The [MTHS] speech team did it again, despite having a first-year speech coach who had never coached speech before."

Monday, February 08, 2010

A Writer

I was going to wait until I had more details to tell you this, but I'm too excited to wait.

When I switched my phone back on after rehearsal today, I managed to snag just enough of a signal in the parking lot for it to say I had a message. The area code was for Cedar City. "No way," I thought.

About 10 seconds worth of the message had downloaded before it lost signal again (I get nothing at school), just enough for me to hear:

"Hello, (my name)! This is Charles Metten from the Cedar City New Summit Play Competition. We've been reading and studying your play, Making Waves-"

And then the message cut off. Damn you Mountain Town and AT&T for your weak rural signal!

I hopped in my car and drove 10 miles until I picked up a signal again.

"We love it. It's one of the best plays we've read in a long time. We're very excited to do a stage reading of it this summer as part of our festival. Call me back at (number) as soon as possible so we can talk about dates."


It was after 5. I tried anyway, and his secretary suggested I call again tomorrow, which I will during my consultation. But when I gave her my name she said, "Oh, of Making Waves, right?"


I'll post more when I know more, I promise.

Friday, February 05, 2010

By Threes

I have three (THREE!) cold sores on my bottom lip at the moment. That makes four cold sores in the last week.

Do you think my body's trying to tell me something?

Yes. Yes I am.

(This photo is dedicated to blog-pictures-of-herself-shy Miranda, who posted a decidedly cute picture today.)

When I got home from school yesterday after spending Wednesday night up in Mountain Town, I found cat vomit in my bed.

Do you think my cat's trying to tell me something?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I don't have a speech meet tomorrow. I do have a bagful of papers to grade before Conferences next week, and I'm going to talk to Rachel about the choreography for the musical; but first I am going to take Brenda's suggestion and stay in bed until "after McDonald's stops serving breakfast."

Am I inspired by Emily's haiku?

Yes. Yes, I am.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Good Night and Thank You

Speech Flowers

I was paged to the main office right after school let out today, but called instead. I was in the other building, about to start auditions, so I didn't want to have to run across the parking lot at that moment. The secretary said there was a delivery for me, and offered to drop it off. In between auditions about 20 minutes later, I got this lovely bouquet of flowers with a thank you note from the parents of one of my speech kids.

My principal was grinning when I got to school this morning, and he congratulated me whole-heartedly.

Former coach Ruth sent a lovely email to my principal and my superintendent, who forwarded it to the school board, raving about how great and "well-coached" the kids were.

My dean stopped by to find out how it went. He said he was proud, that he knew I had big shoes to fill, but that I should remember that I have big shoes, too.

One student said "Thank you" as I got off the bus Saturday.

And I started to feel better.

My conflicted feelings Saturday were, in part, due to exhaustion. I'm still tired. But there were other factors:

1. Ruth showed up at the meet. And I love her, and I was excited to see her, but I was also very, very hurt. I had spent the entire season living in her shadow, and just when the end was in sight and I thought we might be successful enough for me to crawl out from under it, she shows up and it became all about her again. The kids were ecstatic to see her (which was part of the problem - she got to be with them and watch them perform while I had to work in the tab room all day. I didn't even seen my team until the awards ceremony!), and I wanted to be glad for them, but I reacted in a very selfish way to her rather selfish decision ("I just couldn't stay away from the kids anymore!").

2. When I went back into the tab room, all hurt and angry at Ruth, I looked around the room at all of the other coaches who have been very gracious and kind all year and realized how very alone I was. I was at an event surrounded by hundreds of people, and I couldn't talk to a single one of them about how upset I was. They cared about me, but I knew they would be loyal to Ruth, their friend of 20 years. This ties in with

3. My realization a week or so ago how isolated most of my time is. This came to me in church when we were being pushed to have "quality gospel conversations" with people. I haven't really talked religion with anyone in a while, and I realized that was because I was spending so much time at work (and I'm certainly not going to have gospel conversations with my students). The other teachers are perfectly nice, and I could see some of them being great friends, but I don't think non-teachers realize that teachers get very little time to talk to colleagues. That plus minimal socializing outside of school amplified my sense of isolation.

4. My bishop, upon hearing the news of our win Sunday morning, said, "Congratulations! Was it worth all of the lack of sleep?" and I suddenly realized, "No. No, it's not." Which makes a predicament I need to sort out.

5. A friend at church congratulated me on the win by sarcastically saying, "Hey, that's great! You didn't run the program into the ground!" thereby verbalizing my fears and insecurities about the whole thing. Woo.

However, the thanks of that one student (out of 25! I reached a new level of empathy for the lepers story), the grin of my principal, the email sent to my bosses, and the bouquet of flowers on my bookshelf went a long way to help me push past the hurt, angry, unappreciated feelings.

Plus, today we started auditions. And THAT I know how to do.

P.S. A mom texted me yesterday to see if I could help organize a party for the speech team this weekend (as a preliminary to the banquet I'm organizing for the team in two weeks). I wanted to reply, with a sob, "But this is my first speech-free Saturday in four months!" Instead, I was very good and offered what help I could. And I was rewarded - they had a scheduling conflict and changed their minds about hosting the party. Hurrah!