Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Hard Course

Sometimes in life, you draw the hard course.  It's a steep and dirty uphill climb that takes a painful toll on your body.  It can fill you with dread and leave you wishing you could trade places with the one whose course is moderate or easy.  But with enough faith and perseverance,  you eventually reach the finish line grateful for the feeling of accomplishment.

For Caleb, this is a victory even greater than the mere completion of the course.  In many ways, he's drawn the hard course in life.  But I'm continually grateful for the strides he makes to overcome all that is hard for him physically, socially and emotionally.  Just watching him participate in these events is enough to move me to tears.

Well over 2000 high school runners--men and women--participated in yesterday's Three Course Challenge in Seaside, OR.  The night prior to the race, each runner reached into a bag to draw a colored poker chip which determined the difficulty of the course they would run the next morning.  Caleb was hoping for anything but red.  

He reached his hand into the bag and tried to feel the colors.  He stirred the chips around and turned a selected chip between his fingers before deciding to trade it for a different one.  At last he pulled his hand from the bag to reveal his final choice.

The red chip made his heart sink.  "I'm dead," he thought,  "I might pass out."
Caleb was not at all excited about drawing the difficult course.  He wished he could trade chips with a teammate but life doesn't work that way.  We play with the hand we're dealt.  

He ran hard through the winding trails, gravelly roads, steep sand hills and mud pits of Camp Rilea--a military base.

The course left his legs feeling like jello as he ran into the finish line.

But a smile of accomplishment crossed his mud-stained face. 

Soon enough the dirt and grime are washed away.  Sopping shoes are aired out and slimy socks run through the washing machine.  But the lessons learned along the hard course are life-changing.

Caleb continues to inspire me as he tackles life's difficult courses.

Way to run hard, Buddy.  You make me proud!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I Love You More Than

We have an ongoing banter at our house than attempts to quantify our love for each other.  It always includes the words, "I love you more than..."  

Jon, being the eternal tease that he is usually finishes his sentence with words like "peanut butter."  This is a joke, of course, because he actually hates peanut butter.  So let's hope he loves us more than that!

One day, I came across this adorable decorative block that allows us to write in our completions to the sentence we frequently use.  It was perfect for our family.

We take turns adding our words and then we can erase them and start all over.

One day, I noticed Alyssa had written "gymnastics."  Whoa!  That's a good one.  'Cause she really loves gymnastics.  It stands to reason, however, that she would love us more.  I wanted to come up an equally good answer.  Knowing how much our family loves the Cougars, I decided to write "BYU."

Sometime thereafter, Caleb noticed my addition.  

"What??!!?"  He shouted with a tone of complete disgust.

"WHO wrote this?" he demanded to know.

"Well, Caleb, don't you love our family more than BYU?" I asked.

He stammered a bit and then said, "Well, I'm not saying I love BYU more, but they're probably about the same."

So there you have it.  That's how much he loves BYU.  And his family.  We're about the same.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Superman and Me

It turns out that Superman and I have something in common.

Shortly after I accepted my new teaching position, the principal called to discuss some details he'd been working on.  The job was created because of the insane number of students at the school so it shouldn't have been surprising to learn that my options for office space were extremely limited.

In the end, he didn't really give me any option other than "the phone booth."

First of all, it's not a booth.  It's a very small room.  Think walk-in closet.  But the principal kept calling it a phone booth, which sounds so much worse--but hilarious!  It was the perfect metaphor, really, of how I was feeling coming into this position; I was the leftover teacher with the leftover job being stuffed in a phone booth.  All I could do was laugh.

That's what you do when you're the joke of the school.  News traveled quickly that my office was the phone booth.  Staff members couldn't believe it was really true.  And since the "booth" is located within the teacher's lounge, there is frequent traffic outside my office.  Constant comments and many sympathies were expressed in the first two days of school.

But then I did some decorating.

Since a certain superhero has been known to emerge from phone booths, I decided to go with a Superman theme to make this the place that I turn into SuperTeacher.


And after:

The view of my desk before:

And after:

I found the cutest SuperTeacher logo online and used it to add some cute details:

This is the view from the desk side of the "booth":

The view from the door coming into the staff lounge:

No, it's not ideal.  Teachers come into the lounge to visit and vent with one another.  I overhear a lot of conversation.  It's not quiet and it's rather stuffy.  But once reading groups start at the beginning of October, I really won't be in my office much.  And besides that, I think I've created a happy, cozy space.

The parade of teachers coming through seem to like what I've done with the place.  And no one seems to feel as sorry for me anymore.   Thank goodness.

I'm not a leftover.  I'm SuperTeacher!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Day of School

All reports say it was a good first day.  

Have you ever seen a more adorable seventh grader?

How about this third grader?

Jon said I had to pose with Natty because this year,  I was going off to school, too!  

You know what else was different about this year?  Emma wasn't by Natty's side.  She only moved around the corner but she has to go to a different school.  It just didn't feel right, darn it.

Look how grown up my sophomore looks:

I posed with him just so we could have a height reference, but this picture is totally inaccurate because I was wearing four inch heels.  

Here's to a great year!

Part IV: The End of the Ride

After turning down the kindergarten job across town, I found myself in a bit of a funk.  I was waiting for the dust to settle before officially accepting the maternity leave offer.  During that time, our family visited the school for open house.  Though only two months earlier I'd felt at home in those halls, I now felt very much out of place.  The staff that I saw that night were friendly but not one person said one word about the job they all knew I'd applied for but didn't get.  I was the elephant in the room that no one was talking about--at least not to my face.  I avoided the principal.  Everything about it felt awkward and uncomfortable and I came home and cried for an hour.

It took me several more days to decide to express my intent to cover the maternity leave.  I was a few sentences into my text to the teacher when my phone started ringing.  It was the principal.  I could've never guessed the reason he was calling.

Our school is so overcrowded--currently at 720 students--that the district approved a .5 learning specialist position to help cover the demand that that many students would place on the current team of specialists.  The principal had received permission to bypass the usual job posting and interviewing procedures and he was calling to see if I were interested.  At the time of his call, he still hadn't had a chance to work out the scheduling details but he just said that I would most likely be supporting reading groups.  He wasn't even sure what grades I'd be teaching at that point.  We visited for about thirty minutes, I asked a bazillion questions and then he told me to think it over and get back to him.

During our conversation, he asked about the status of my certificate because back in June, I had told him I would pursue my testing over the summer.  It was then that I had to admit that I didn't pass the science portion of the subtest.  Oh the humiliation!  He had already discussed the issue of my certificate with the district prior to calling me and it had been decided that should I accept this job, that I'd be hired on as a long term substitute until my testing was complete and my certification achieved.  At that point, the principal would petition the district to switch my job to a contracted position.

Curse that stupid test!

I hung up the phone, deleted the half-written text to the teacher needing maternity leave and went back into decision mode.  Now I was deciding between a half-year, full-time long term sub job and a half-time contract position (assuming I pass the test), both at our neighborhood school.

Even with all of the uncertainties surrounding the learning specialist position, it seemed a no-brainer.

But there was the issue of my pride.  This was an ideal job in so many ways.  No classroom to prepare and maintain, no conferences, report cards, etc.--and yet I felt like the leftover getting the leftover job.

However, this could be the perfect balance of work and family.

So I put my pride on the shelf and called the next morning to accept the position.  Within a couple of hours an email welcoming me to the staff was sent to all of the school's employees.  I should've been excited--and I really was grateful for the opportunity--but mostly I just felt sheepish.

Sure, I'd ended up with the perfect job in the perfect school, but most of the staff didn't know the pride-trampling roller coaster I had to ride to arrive at this point.  I just looked like a leftover.  Or so I felt.

I soon learned that my mornings (I'm done by 11:40 each morning!) will be spent teaching reading groups in my favorite grades--kindergarten, first and third.  I love teaching reading.  It's right in my wheelhouse.  I have a lot to offer so I'm letting that notion carry me back into the halls that I'm hopeful will soon enough feel like home again.

And I sure hope this is the end of the ride because I've had all the loop-the-loops I can handle.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Part III: Decisions

Several days after the call of rejection, I received a call from another principal in the district.  He had actually been on the panels of both of my district interviews.  He was aware that I had applied for a specific position at our neighborhood school but said that I was a standout candidate and wondered if I might consider a half-day, a.m. kindergarten position at his school.  My first instinct was to say no but with the wounds of rejection still fresh, the idea of being wanted was appealing.  I expressed my hesitations but something within me couldn't quite turn down the opportunity--at least not yet.

This principal invited me to visit his school so I could see how long the drive would take and get a feel for the classroom.  We spent an hour visiting about the position while he showed me where I'd be teaching and the materials I would have to work with.  It was clear that he wasn't going to look at any other candidates until I decided I wasn't interested.  There were several details surrounding the job that should have made it easy to turn down and yet something about it had me feeling rather excited.  Sure, I had some uncertainties, but the opportunity was terribly tempting.

For all my excitement, Jon was equally hesitant, particularly about the 20 minute drive required to get to the school.  Still, he pledged his support no matter what my decision and I knew he meant it.

I went through all of my old classroom materials just to see what I would have to work with.  The color bears, birthday cakes, calendar pieces and bulletin board sets seemed to be calling me back to the classroom.

This word strip shows just how long it's been since I've used these materials:

The decision was agonizing and because the hiring was taking place so late in the summer, there was a great sense of urgency to make my choice within a 24 hour period.

Late that afternoon, amid my weighing of pros and cons, a first grade teacher from our neighborhood school called to offer me her maternity leave.  She is due in February and will take the rest of the year off.  First grade!  My favorite grade level at a school close to home.  It would be full time, but for only half of the year.

Now I felt as though I was choosing between a part-time, contracted position across town, and a half-year, full time, long term substitute position close to home.  And now I had less than 12 hours to decide.

Ultimately it was Natalie that tipped the scale.  She had said she wouldn't mind if I chose to teach at a school 20 minutes away, but when I imagined rushing her out the door each morning so I could race across town to teach at another school, my heart would nearly break in two.  Our family doesn't need this job.  If we were financially dependent upon it, I may have decided differently.  But in the end, I knew I needed to be where Natalie was.  She only has three more years of elementary school, why would I give up a chance to be where she is?  I wouldn't.  No matter how exciting the kindergarten position seemed.

So I woke up at 6:00 a.m. the next morning and sent a text to decline the job.

You might assume this story ends with me accepting the maternity leave.  That's how I thought it would end.  But this roller coaster isn't quite to the loading dock yet...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Part II: The Test and the Call

Since the job had been temporarily put on ice, I threw myself into hours of studying for the WEST-E, the test upon which my residency teaching certificate was dependent.  I ordered a study guide online from a company that produces such products but is not related to the company that actually writes the test.  I was immediately overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of its content.

However, I diligently followed the suggested course of study which began with reading the entire study guide cover to cover.  I then went through a second time to highlight troublesome content and make notes in the margins.  I felt quite confident in the language arts, humanities and health and fitness.  I thought I'd be OK with the math once I reviewed formulas and terms, but the science seemed impossible.  The content covered everything from thermodynamics and geological eras to hydrocarbons and eukaryotic cells.

Once I felt I studied the material sufficiently, I took as many practice tests as I could find online.  They were always very difficult and I consistently struggled with the science.

I scheduled the test--which cost over a hundred dollars--for the end of July, figuring it would be to my benefit to get it out of the way before the interviewing process resumed.  After hours upon hours of preparation, I felt as ready as I could ever be.  The computer based test was made up of two subtests, each with 50 questions.  The first subtest evaluated my knowledge of math, science and health and fitness.  The second test contained questions on language arts, social studies and fine arts.  Both were terribly difficult and to my dismay, the study guide did not prepare me with the necessary information, particularly in the areas of social studies and science.

Luckily, I enjoy reading memoirs and non-fiction is often my genre of choice.  That came in handy for the social studies portion of subtest two.  I'd read memoirs about the history of South Africa and the Chinese cultural revolution.  My sister-in-law's blog about her recent trip to Ireland even came in handy.  But I don't read science text books, so you can probably guess where this is going.

I submitted my answers  and then waited for my pass/fail printout to be presented by test administrator.

I willed my eyes to hold back the impending floodgates until I reached the privacy of my car.  There I melted into a big, ugly sob.  It was a good five minutes before I regained enough composure to safely drive home, but the tears of discouragement and embarrassment fell down my cheeks for the next hour.  I felt stupid, incapable and just flat out beat down.

I would have to wait a whole month to receive the official report which showed that it was indeed the science that kept me from passing.  The most frustrating part?  I missed passing by one or two questions.  And I'd have to wait 45 days to attempt a retake.  This put my certificate on hold and also meant I'd have to go back to studying. Ugh!

The second interviewing pool was pushed back from its original date due to district employees' vacations and I don't know what else.  All I know is it was mid-August before I went in for another district-level interview.

In the meantime, I heard again from my would-be job share partner.  She told me about the supplies she'd purchased for the classroom and then said, "I just want us to be able to be in the room and working together on organizing the cabinets, shelves, room placement.  Not to mention all the super fun times planning together!"

The second interview was much like the first, only this time, my principal was on the panel of interviewers.  Most of the scripted questions were the same but a few were different.  Still, I left feeling fairly confident.

The next day, the principal called to tell me that I had nailed the interview but that he was going forward with [the wife of the principal down the street.]  His reason?  Her previous professional experience was in kindergarten.  Mine was in first grade.  I wasn't even given the opportunity to have the more personal, principal interview that was supposed to be the next step in the hiring process.  Shock, disbelief, bitterness and confusion accompanied the deep sting of rejection.

The principal did give his sincerest apologies for leading me down this path.  "I care about you and feel so guilty.  I meant what I said that I want you on our staff.  I think highly of you and blah...blah...blah..." it all sounded like hot air at that point.

I took comfort in knowing that this outcome must have been what was best for me even if it didn't feel like that at the moment.  But I wasn't at all prepared for the fact that this roller coaster ride was not nearly over yet.  There were many more twists and turns to go.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rejection and Acceptance: Part I

My kids are somewhere in those back cars!

Wanna go for a ride?  It's a long roller coaster chock full of crazy ups and downs.  It's not recommended for the faint of heart or those prone to motion sickness.

If roller coasters are not for you, here is the short version: I applied for a job and didn't get it.  I was offered two other positions and turned them down.  A fourth opportunity was presented and I accepted.

If details are your kind of thing, make sure your safety harness is securely fastened because this ride is so long and draw out, it can't be experienced in one sitting.

Let's start with a little background information.  Several years ago, while our family was struggling through unemployment, I started the process of getting my Washington state teaching certificate.  It was a rather lengthy process which included getting transcripts, fingerprints and all sorts of other documents.  In the end, I was able to come up with all of the necessary elements except for one: I was required to take an elementary education endorsement test called the WEST-E.

In the meantime, I was granted a temporary residency certificate that was good for six months.  I started subbing but soon enough, Jon went back to work and I let my temporary certificate expire without ever taking the test.  

Two years later, when things fell apart with my coaching job, I decided to return to subbing.  I contacted the state certification office and was told I could apply all of the elements of my previous certification application toward a lifetime substitute certificate.  That way, I could sub and I wouldn't have to take the test.  I never intended to do more than sub--at least for the foreseeable future--so I did just that; received a lifetime substitute certificate.

Sub jobs came quickly and in great quantity.  I stayed as busy as I wanted to be--sometimes even more--working only in our neighborhood's school.  It was busy, and sure, it had its down sides, but I very much enjoyed my job.

At the end of May, as I was signing in at the office for that morning's position, the secretary said to me, "[The principal] shared with me that it's his goal to get you on the staff."  I was taken aback and flattered, but I awkwardly mumbled something about liking the job that I had and went about my day.

Less than a week later, the principal himself said to me, "I'm just waiting for you to tell me you're ready to come back."  Again I was flattered and again I said something about liking the flexibility that being a substitute offered me.  He responded by saying, "Well, it has to be right for you and your family, but when you're ready, you let me know."

Three days after that, I was busy writing a report for a teacher for whom I had just subbed when the principal came walking in.  He said he came to "put a bug in my ear."  A three-day-a-week, full day kindergarten, job-share position had just become available.  He had spoken with his kindergarten staff--teachers for whom I had subbed regularly throughout the year--and they had recommended me as an ideal candidate for the position.  The principal added his opinion to theirs that I would be great for this job.

I was stunned.  I love kindergarten and a three-day-a-week job seemed the perfect way to return to a career in education.  It was the right school, the right grade level and the right amount of time.  But there was the issue of my certificate.  I shared this issue with the principal and he seemed entirely undeterred.  We agreed that he would check with the district HR department and I would call the state office to see if the current state of my certificate would prevent me from being able to accept this position.  The principal told me to take the weekend to think about it but that there was also a sense of urgency because the job was closing in one week.

"Oh my word! [The principal] just offered me a job!" I said to Jon when I got home.  Of course, he hadn't, really, but that's how it felt.

After thinking about it over the weekend, Jon and I decided this was an opportunity worth pursuing.  What followed were a few crazy days of gathering professional reference forms and letters of recommendation.  As I went about this process, I discovered something that would change everything: Another regular, well-respected sub at the school had learned of the position and had decided to apply.  And then this significant detail: she is the wife of the principal of the middle school down the street.

I was deflated.  I thought seriously about ceasing the application process but ultimately decided it might appear unprofessional to do so.  After all, the principal himself had encouraged me to apply.  So I gathered the necessary documents and submitted them, along with a cover letter to the district office.  I also called the state office and was told that should a hiring district request it, I could be granted an emergency certificate good for 180 days as long as I was also pursuing my testing.

Over the course of the next week, I felt buoyed by the support of many staff members, some of which even voiced that they felt I was the best choice for the position.

Exactly one week after the job closed, I had my first district-level interview.  It consisted of 12 scripted questions administered by a panel of principals from different schools in the district.  From these interviews all of the new teachers for the next school year would be hired.  Each interviewer took feverish notes of my responses and then the quality of each answer was graded on a 1-5 scale.  There was very little eye-contact and zero feedback--a very formal and rather intimidating format.

I left feeling like I'd interviewed well and went home to wait for the call to schedule a second-level principal's interview.  While I waited, the teacher with whom I would be job-sharing texted me to ask how the interview went.  She added, "Keeping fingers and toes crossed!  It would be so much fun to work together!"

The message I was getting was that the principal wanted me, other staff wanted me, even the teacher with whom I'd share a classroom wanted me.  And yet days went by without a call for a second interview.

At last the principal sent me a text to tell me that the position for which I'd applied was not going to be filled from the pool of interviews that I'd been a part of the previous week.  He said that kindergarten positions were now going to be filled through a separate job posting which would require me to submit a new cover letter and go through another district-level interview.  The worst part about this news was this: the new posting wouldn't close for another month!

So the "hurry up and get your application in" turned into "sit around and wait."

Next up in part II: I take the test.