Sunday, August 31, 2008

Note to Self


Keep left hand far removed from direction in which right hand is moving with the box knife. Or...just don't use box knives any more for any reason.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Other News...

Sorry for the lack of explanation of my recent outburst. I don't have anything more to add.

So, let's talk about something else.

School. Is. Great.

I teach six 50-minute classes of Reading and one 50-minute class called "Block". Block class consists of 10 or 11 students and we rotate groups every 6 weeks. My principal gave me some leeway in determining what sort of enrichment I would provide for students during my block time.

I chose theatre and my 10 kids and I are putting on a play. It's called, "The Odyssey-A Greek Play for Students." I am having an absolute blast with this. I intend to spend a good chunk of my weekend working on props and scenery and I'll post pictures soon.

A few evenings ago , I made each of my block students a mini-toga that drapes on over their clothes. I feared they might be shy about putting them on and walking around the school;
we make a little bit of a trek from my classroom down to the band room for rehearsals each day. The togas are not full length, but they are definitely toga-looking as evidenced by the band teacher who, passing by us on our first day out and about in our new duds, leaned toward me, put his fist in the air, and chanted quietly in my ear "toga toga, toga". Maintaining non-dork status is of utmost importance to 6th graders, so I had no idea how these costumes would go over.

Turns out, being in theatre block class seems to have become the latest cool thing to be doing at our school. We've transcended dork status and become "that thing Ms. Ferguson is doing that I'll get to do at some point and by the way when is it my turn?" I'm pretty sure I could dress the next rotation up as polka-dotted bunny rabbits from outer space and they'd be okay with it.

I love school.

Got to run for now. I have the back seat of my car crammed full with great big boxes I scavenged from the furniture store so that I can create a ship for Odysseus and a horse-drawn chariot for a couple of other characters. I'm in my element.

love and grace,

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


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Sunday, August 24, 2008

More on Love

I just found this on a friend's Facebook and wanted to add it to my blog for posterity or whatever.

"Love is handing your heart to someone and taking the risk that they will hand it back because they don't want it. That's why it's such a crushing ache on the inside. We gave away a part of ourselves and it wasn't wanted.

Love is a giving away of power. When we love, we give the other person the power in the relationship. They can do what they choose. They can do what they like with our love. They can reject it, they can accept it, they can step toward us in gratitude and appreciation.

Love is a giving away. When we love, we put ourselves out there, we expose ourselves, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

Love is giving up control. It's surrendering the desire to control the other person. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all of the desires within us to manipulate the relationship."

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Thursday, August 21, 2008


So, the saying goes, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Really? I mean, is it? At some point, you've got to wonder.

I did a tiny bit of research about that saying and found out that Tennyson wrote it while grieving over a friend who'd died suddenly. We must typically apply it to romantic love because it's harder to reason it out when the risk you're taking to love someone is of a romantic nature.

If you've read here long, you've heard me talk about love being a choice. And I've referred to romantic love in those terms as well because ultimately, I believe it IS a choice. The part that's SO frustrating and that is NOT a choice is that part that makes you attracted to someone in the first place to the point that you have a choice to make about loving them. That's the part that really wears me out at this point in my particular life. It's so unpredictable sometimes, and just when you think you have it figured out, it will turn on you and bite you in the butt.

So, this is my cryptic way of working through some of this stuff without actually saying much about it. Sorry. But, hey, it's my blog. *wink*

More details to come. You guys know I never (or rarely) disappoint when it comes to details.

love and grace,

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Good kids? Good teacher...

Teachers are frequently asked about their students. It’s pretty common for us to hear “How are your classes?” or “How are your students?” I’ve come to realize that the answers we give to those questions say a great deal more about us than our students. The fact of the matter is that my kids and my classes are, for the most part, a reflection of me.

Oh sure, we all get the random psycho kid now and then who doesn’t respond, or responds in a completely off the wall manner, to our very best efforts. I taught a 2nd grader, or maybe I should say I “housed” him in my classroom that year, who would, on occasion, curl up in a ball under my desk and growl at me. This was actually a preferred behavior to many of his other quirks, some of which would make a sailor blush. I shudder to think what’s happened to him. That was well over 10 years ago so he’s probably either graduated early from college or is serving time. He was the sort that was going one way or the other to the extreme.

For the most part, however, my students are as good as I am. When I’m happy, content, and well-mannered with them, they tend to reflect that manner back to me. When I’m in a foul mood (it happens sometimes) and I’m abrasive and short with them, they reflect that as well.

Kids appreciate boundaries that are put in place with respect and dignity for them as individuals. Respecting kids builds trust and yes, it does take longer to build trust with some kids than with others. But, I can guarantee that if kids don’t feel safe and able to trust a teacher, there will be acting out. Every time. I could talk for hours and write reams about this. But, I’ll shorten it all down to this: Trust and relationship are the components that set the great teachers apart from the adequate ones. And those are the reasons that great teachers can never be replaced with online study or computer generated lessons.

It’s a sad truth that even the great teachers don’t reach every kid every time. Or, it doesn’t appear that we do. I have had kids come back to visit me or email me to tell me that I made a difference for them, and many times it's one with whom I’d never felt a great connection. And it's not just me, I hear about this happening a lot among my colleagues who are also great teachers. That sort of thing motivates and inspires us to keep slogging along and giving it our best every day with every kid. And you know, I guess I've taught long enough that I don't mind admitting that I'm good at it. I mean, I'd have to hope that if I weren't any good at it by now, I'd find something else to do.

As far as teacher pay goes, well yeah, it sucks. And the suckage in Oklahoma really does seem to be the force that keeps Texas from falling into the gulf. But, here’s the deal with that; great teachers could never possibly be adequately compensated for what they do. And, even though I’d love it if the world would wake up and at least try to adequately compensate us for providing a place for every single young person in this country to go and spend time every day, let alone educating them while they’re there, I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen any time soon. If I’m working at top form there’s no amount of money that can buy what I do.

So, how are my classes? How are my students?

They are incredible.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

De-Skunking Your Dog

In an effort to drive even more traffic to this site than arrives here via the search for "heart shaped rocks" or even the old faithful "baby possum" posts, I've decided to share the sure-fire remedy for de-skunking your dog. Why, you may ask, the sudden interest in de-skunkifying dogs???

Yep. It happened. Sparky and Emma, in what I believed to be their normal frenzied pursuit of one of the cats that frequents the front porch, met their match tonight in the form of a skunk.

I'm pretty sure they're both emotionally scarred at this point; I know I am. It's after midnight as I sit here with all the windows open in an attempt to air out the house. In my panic at the sight of them going after a skunk on the porch, I opened the front door very wide and the odor came flooding inside. It's a nauseating mixture of nastiness like I've never known, as if an oil refinery invited a sewage plant to a local bonfire and they both jumped in the flames.

I bathed them immediately in regular dog shampoo which seemed to only anger the odor, causing it to jump onto ME. After Google searching and confirming in more than one
official-looking place that tomato juice really doesn't work at killing skunk odor, I found this recipe.

1 quart hydrogen peroxide
1/4 C. baking soda
1 tsp. laundry detergent

I had to soak them down in this mixture and let it sit on them for 5 minutes. This is where most of the emotional scarring occurred. Sparky and Emma aren't used to me splashing freezing cold, irritating liquids on them and then forcing them to stay in the bathtub while they shiver like full-sized doggy-shaped vibrators. They were a sad and pathetic sight to say the least.

But, that mixture DOES work. And thank the Lord for a roommate with a well-stocked medicine cabinet because I've never even considered owning a quart-sized bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Go roommate!

I was absolutely exhausted and headed for bed 2 hours ago when this event occurred. And now, well now, I'm still having a hard time taking deep breaths since the odor is not just lingering, it seems it's propped its feet up and is making itself at home. Ugh.

We're definitely sleeping with all the windows open tonight. Hopefully, I'll eventually be able to rest. For those of you in the weeks and months to come who arrive here via the nastiness of an evil skunk, I feel your pain.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Olympic Musings

First of all, who picked China??? Can we not please next time have the Olympics at least on THIS side of the earth so that we don't have to stay up until ALL hours of the night to see the really good stuff?

Also, am I the only one who secretly cheers for the Chinese athletes simply because I'm afraid if they don't win someone might cut a few of their fingers (or maybe an arm) after everyone goes home??

Next time we have these things on the other side of town, we need to make sure that no school districts are allowed to start classes during the same week that this thing takes place. Think of the children. Please.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

First Day Back

I taught my 20th first day of school today.

I remember so vividly being literally scared to death in a room full of first graders on the first day of school back in 1988. I was so terrified that they'd be able to tell that I had no idea what I was doing. Much of the time I was figuring things out second by second as we went along. The benefit of teaching very young children like 1st graders was that they were every bit as scared as me. Somehow we all made it through that year, and I still credit much of my success as an educator to 5 veteran teachers, all long retired now, who walked me through that first go-round. I still use many techniques that I learned from those great teachers that year.

Now that I'm teaching middle school kids, I feel a bit sorry for young, first-year teachers who have middle schoolers as their first experience with teaching. These kids can smell inexperience and they feed on it. Like tiger sharks, circling their prey, they work the young teacher into a sort of frenzy until she completely loses her composure. The sheer enjoyment of
seeing her at her wits end, causing her to discipline them, makes up for any consequences she may exact on them.

We have a couple of brand new, fresh out of the oven, teachers in 6th grade. They are both well-prepared and incredibly intelligent, but no amount of education or depth of knowledge in a subject can make up for having a bank of experiences from which to draw.

Today, one of the new teachers came over to me at passing period and said, "Just wait until you get the group I just had. They were horrible! You should probably go ahead and make a seating chart for them before they get to you because I had to move several boys around and they do NOT need to be sitting together." I thanked her for the heads-up but told her it wouldn't be right not to give them the chance to screw up with me, proving that they actually needed a seating chart. She agreed but went ahead and told me their names. Turns out, I'd all ready had that group. And they were perfect in my room. I didn't tell her this because I don't want to discourage her in any way.

Inside I was giving myself a great big high five. I've waited years to be the sort of teacher whose very presence inspired a certain level of discipline. There's a confidence and a sort of air that surrounds a more experienced teacher. I remember admiring this trait in the teachers I looked up to when I was young and inexperienced. And now, I finally have it!

I'm not a heavy-handed teacher by any means. In fact, it is typically for me to be lifelong friends with my students, and I keep in touch with more of them than I can count. But, I do say what I mean and mean what I say, and the kids can sense this. At least they can now. Now that I've got the confidence of experience to back it up.

So, here's to a great 20th year of teaching!

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Thursday, August 07, 2008


I realized today that as of a few weeks ago I've been blogging for 4 years now. And, it was almost exactly two years ago when I wrote this post. When I think about that time, that horrific, horrible time, it's almost as if it's a movie I saw once. It's weird, but I've actually had the thought of asking some of you, those of you who've been with me from the beginning, to tell me about that time. It's almost as if I wasn't really "there".

This may sound odd, it does to me, but I have never gone back and looked at any of the posts from back then since the time that I wrote them. And so, today, I thought I'd give it a shot and just scoot back into the archives and take a peek. I pulled up the one that I linked to because it was the one title I DO remember writing. Honestly, of all the things that went on during that time, one of my most coherent memories is of sitting down at the computer and writing something titled "I Hurt." And that's seriously my most vivid memory from the entire ordeal of that week that went by when Tdub made the decision to leave.

I pulled that post up, read it, and immediately began to sob uncontrollably. It was a very physical sort of reaction. It was almost as distinct as flipping a switch, no kidding. And it just happened. I didn't work my way into it or get mopey and sad first or anything. I just read it and then sobs burst out. Very. Very. Strange.

I'm over it now. The sobbing, I mean. Which is why I'm writing this. It's just so very odd to me. The sobbing stopped almost as quickly as it came and I decided to look at a few of the posts preceeding that one because I've wondered on reflection if there were any clues that could have alerted me at the time as to what was about to happen.

I found this quote from the book I'd read that summer:

"Closing Sohrab's door, I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night." (from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini)

I posted that quote 10 days before the "I Hurt" post. And I'm not sure what to make of any of it which is why I'm writing about it. The only thing I can come up with is that the "I Hurt" post is very much like a gravestone marker.

I remember being at my Granny's graveside service. Not far from the place where we were burying her was the marker and grave of a very young cousin of mine who'd been killed in a truck accident about 6 months before. His mom, one of my aunts, had been holding things together just fine for the entire time. But eventually, some strange force seemed to pull her away and she walked over to her son's marker. As she was just close enough to be able to read his name, she burst into huge, gasping sobs and fell to her knees at that site. She is a woman full of faith and confident in the knowledge that she will see her son again in heaven. Yet, she will never fully overcome the sense of loss she suffered when she is faced directly with the marker of his death. And why should she? It hurts.

I don't for a moment presume to compare this situation in terms of the depth of pain suffered. I refuse to entertain the thought of losing one of my boys. And yet, it must be similar in the way the physical reaction can sweep over you in an instant. We are strange and wonderful creatures indeed in that we are set up to respond in this way to certain life-altering events.

I don't have a catchy ending or moral to tell for the end of this post. I am sort of interested to know if any of you have ever experienced anything similar to this.

love and grace,

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

The De-Tragification of Me

I went to work in my room at school today. It's grrreeat to be able to simply walk across the street to do this. As I left, Drew was on the computer AND the phone simultaneously. He and Hayden were playing Club Penguin and having a great time. It almost felt like Hayden was here because Drew had him on speakerphone.

I got to school and started unpacking a box full of mementos. I came across a little stack of papers that I've saved over the years - notes that I'd find on my desk from the boys. Zachary (now 17 and about to start his senior year of high school) was the most prolific of the note writers. Their note writing would happen during the school day when one of them would come down to my classroom "needing" something. Judging from my stack of notes, they frequented my classroom quite a bit while I was away at conference, lunch, or recess.

I look back so fondly on those days. I'd come back in with my class full kids, and sitting on top of my computer keyboard (smart boys know where to put a note so that mom will actually FIND it) would be some torn scrap from a notepad, or a post-it, or sometimes a whole sheet of notebook paper. There'd be things like; "my retainer came out, i have it, come and get it.", "i need lunch money.", "do you have my library book? i all ready looked in the car.", "can you call ryan's mom? he wants to come over.", or "can i have money for the book fair? i'll do chores."

My boys were always blessed with teachers who were fond of them. Thank the LORD. :) Zachary's fourth grade teacher had known him since birth and was so thankful that Zach had a mom, and at school no less, that it seems he had his own private hall pass to use at will.

Many of the notes have little smileys or hearts drawn on them, and they ALL start with the word "Mom". Very few are missing the word "love" either written out, abbreviated, or even included as an entire "i love you" sentence.

As I looked through those notes of handwritten "i love yous" with hearts and smiles from all FOUR boys, I felt really stupid and ungrateful for having complained of the tragic nature of my life lately.

My life is not tragic. It is rich and full and meaningful. Sure, it's been tough, and I've taken lots of risks. But I've gained the MOST important things of all and the only things that last. Relationship. Love. Family.

I have these downward dips occasionally. I guess we all do. I get to thinking that I'll never find true love and devotion. And yet, I have it already. No, it's not there in the form of romance or commitment from a man, but love is love. It's come at great cost to me personally
and its worth and value is immeasurable. And if I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

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