Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NYS Refusal....

Well, I did it.

I'm pretty sure there are lots of people that get really nervous when they read that phrase coming from me.... :)

I finally worked up the courage to send my letter and emails in to the middle school to refuse my middle school children from taking the NYS tests.  I have to admit, considering the tests are next week for ELA and at the end of April for Math- I was a NERVOUS wreck!  And I had doubts.
Doubts I was screwing up big time.

Doubts I was going to have my children targeted by the school admin or worse, the district admin.  (I admit, I have been just a hair outspoken about common core-I may have given my name a bad taste in some mouths because of things I've said....but in my defense, it's my hair's fault....)

But Monday morning I emailed every teacher and principal I felt needed to hear my refusal of the tests on behalf of my children and yesterday I sent in with my oldest daughter, a letter to just make sure they got my electronic one. 

Well.  Nothing like the devil to stand there and cast doubt.  Serious doubt.  Not five minutes after sending the letter, our NYS DOE commissioner sent out a letter to superintendents and when I first read it, I thought, oh crap, I messed up big time.

Because when you read his letter, it sounds just like the tests that I would love for our schools.  I have to be honest, I'm not against testing.  I give my daughter at home tests over every subject we cover- it's important. I actually make most of them and use the curriculum I am teaching and the materials we've gone over to test her.  It's important to have that as a method of making sure she is retaining what I'm teaching.

But I also grade her work, watch her complete assignments, and teach her lessons.  All of which give me a full, well rounded view of how she is learning.  Is she a test taker?  Absolutely not.  She's terrible at tests.  But am I going to stop testing her?  No.  I adapt her tests, started out easier, and have gradually made them more difficult each time.  To the naked eye, it would seem they are too easy, but at this point in her almost 11 years on earth and the first half of her 5th grade year being made miserable by over testing, over assigning inappropriate materials, and over close reading, she needed easy.  She needed to feel successful.  She needed to feel as though she could do it and she can.

She has learned that she is a smart little girl and if she puts her mind to it, she can accomplish anything. 

I haven't stopped testing her.

On the contrary.

But Commissioner King almost made me feel like I was totally mistaken in refusing these NYS tests.

But then common SENSE set in and I snapped back.

Because you see, this week, (and last week, and probably weeks before) several of my children have been "preparing" for these stupid tests.  I can safely call them stupid because my kids don't read this blog.  I tell them that word is reserved for use during serious matter, and quite frankly, NYS tests are a serious matter.

I read his letter and I sat there.  First in absolute disbelief.  He made it sound as though the best teaching for the tests is to just teach.  Not cram test taking practice, skills, etc, but just to teach.  As though, shame on all those teachers that EVERYONE OF MY KIDS HAS HAD who has felt it necessary to take old NYS tests, practice tests, and this week alone, take grades on practice tests.  Didn't they read the same letter I read?

Unless, his words are just that, words.  Meaningless, worthless, worth a melted snowball (yea, I've officially become tired of the snow) words.  Worthless. 

Here is the link to the article I found with his letter attached.  Please read it and come to your own conclusions.

But then he said something that caught my eye.  Now, I'm no expert.  I only taught in the school systems for 6 years, and one of those years was a long term subbing position.  But I LOVE teaching and if I could go back (without having to pay a pretty penny for my renewal) I would do it in a heartbeat.  I'll copy and paste the phrase.

"He said every question on the tests was written for New York, reviewed by New York educators and field-tested with New York students. "Do not let anyone say otherwise," he said."

Wait, what?

So you're saying, these tests were written by educators here in NY, reviewed by educators here in NY, and field tested by NY students?

Then why did 70% fail?

Are there 70% of our teachers/schools/districts that are teaching the wrong thing?
Aren't there NYS guidelines for each grade level?  Why yes.  Yes there are.  So are the tests not designed in regards to the curriculum guidelines for each grade?

Here is a link where the NYS guidelines are in fact, listed.

Don't take my word for it, check it out.

When I was teaching, I followed the Arkansas State teaching curriculum guidelines.  I taught the subjects required of me, the lessons required of me and at various times during the year, we tested to see if what we were doing to teach these methods were working.  I saw first hand what I needed to work on as a teacher.  Now, things may have changed that was in the dark ages of 2005, so I know things may be different.  But the point of tests, I thought, was to test knowledge taught, create lesson plans that include the required learning, and learn where areas need refining, less work, etc.

If 70% failed last year, and good ole Arne Duncan has already predicted a failing year again this year, than this begs the question....

What are we doing wrong?

Are teachers not following the same curriculum guides?

Is Arne right?  Are we "suburban moms" just raising a bunch of idiots? (that almost made me shudder to type because that article nearly sent this psycho red head on a ranging trip to DC....but I digress, as usual...)

 Is our state creating tests that purposefully confuse and fail students?

I'm inclined to lean with the latter.

Let's take a stand, shall we?  Let's send a message.  Let's tell administrators and commissioners that we want our teachers back.  We want our crafts back.  We want our hands on learning back.  I want to buy glitter glue for my 3rd grader's teacher!

Heck, we want recess back.  At least for Kindergarten????

Or we can be like the frog left in the water, cool at first, but unnoticed by him the heat turned up on high and before the poor little amphibian realizes it, he's a boiled delicacy.

It's time to take back our classrooms and stop this crime against our children. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Massages and other fun times.....

This past Friday I finally had the opportunity to use a gift card for a massage I've had for a while.  I love to get massages, but to be honest, cause that's how I am, I am kind of a freak when it comes to them.  I'll explain...

To be sure, I absolutely LOVE massages.  I think they should be packaged nicely in our health insurance, because the benefits physically, mentally, psychologically are just undeniable.  I FEEL better after one, I am calmer, my body doesn't ache, and I do believe in their healing benefits.  But like I said, I'm kind of a freak about them.

So my appointment was at 2:00 on Friday.  I went to the hospital where they are located and made sure I went to the bathroom (not once, but TWICE-hey when you've had six babies all weighing 8-9 pounds each- you'll know EXACTLY what I'm talking about)and signed in.  Once you sign in, you fill out a sheet talking about your points of discomfort, sensitivity issues, etc.  Of course, as always, I try to be very sweet when I explain how if they touch my feet, or anywhere in the vicinity of my feet, I can not be held responsible for my actions.  Meaning, if I kick the crap out of your face, because I swear it's a total involuntary reaction to anyone coming within a few feet of my feet, you can not sue me!!!!

Slightly off subject, I had a masseuse once ask if he could do a really deep tissue rub on them if I would give it a shot- needless to say, he was in training and I believe learned a valuable lesson that day.....

So when you sign in and fill out the paper work, the massage therapist takes you to the room where there is this really awesome bed (that is HEATED!!!) and you are supposed to get naked.  Yes, naked.

I know you all know my fears of nakedness.  Again, even having six babies and having an audience of friends and a PRIEST at the last birth, I have a serious fear of people seeing my nakedness.  I'm fairly certain it's because of multiple reasons, one being a fabulous low self body image issue I've blogged about before, but also because I'm tall, skinny, have a road map on my stomach that has skin that no matter how many sit ups I do will NEVER regain it's elasticity (yes, I can "tuck it in my pants"), and certain other body parts that will remain nameless, but let's just say that they both have fed and nourished six babies for a total of six years + (yes, I am still breastfeeding once a day) and not only do the poor little fellas look like tiny baby blue bird eggs dropped in a sock, but the exterior part of them would give women in Africa featured on National Geographic a run for their money.  Seriously.  Have you ever tried to disguise something like that?  Thankfully Target now sells a sports bra that won't break my bank account that takes care of those unsightly "headlight" issues...

I'm digressing, and probably being a slight bit disgusting, but I'm just keeping it real for you.  Especially those who think the grass is greener over here.  It's green alright, but, well, I'll stop before I really stoop any lower..... :)

So there I am, once again, in my freakishly nervous way, getting undressed.  Now, you can leave your underwear on- I've done it both ways- but to be honest, a butt massage actually is phenomenal because you KNOW when you're back is tight, and therefore all the muscles down to your shins are tight?  That butt muscle, which is huge, no matter who you are, actually feels so dag gone good after a massage-but this massage therapist doesn't really give a butt massage.  (I've had one, so don't knock it til you've tried it....)

I just reread the last two paragraphs and honestly, I can totally see why I don't have many friends.....ahhhhh....I'll continue....

I debate for a second about where to "hide" my bra once I take it off.   Women, aren't we hilarious?  I mean seriously.  It's the same when I have my yearly exam with my OBGYN and with my every six month exams with my dermatologist.  (dang, I get naked a lot for people).  I strategically place all my clothing so it appears I don't wear a bra ever.  Or underwear, too.  I'm so embarrassed that someone might see it, I actually stuff it down my pant leg, which makes getting dressed even more fun.

Anyway, I get undressed like I only have about 30 seconds to be completely under the covers and by the time I'm finished I'm breathing like I ran a marathon.  Seriously, I have some issues.  I know.  At least I'm aware of them.

Then my next debate arises.  Do I keep my arms out of the covers, or under the covers?  Good-ness.  Does anyone else on God's green earth worry about the crap I do?  I was actually cracking myself up when I settled on under the covers because the therapist had not turned the bed on yet, so it wasn't quite as warm as it could be.

The massage starts and my trip to Heaven begins as I slowly begin to be lulled into an almost catatonic state.  I even warn the therapist every time I go that if I snore, please nudge me, because I'm fairly certain in the almost 15 years I've been pregnant, had kids, nursed, I have maybe gotten about 4 years of sleep total?  That seems like a lot, so it might even be 3 years of sleep.

This time however, I get a tickle in my throat.  It was like the gods were against me having a relaxing time where I didn't have to think about kids, diapers, menus, bills, groceries or life, but hahahahahaha- crazy red head, you're going to get a tickle and the hour of relaxation is going to turn into a disaster.  You know when you get a tickle, how you start swallowing like your life depended on it?  Oh yes, that was going on, but I swear, every time she massaged a certain spot on my neck, the tickle got worse.  Finally after about 10 minutes of coughing, gagging, drinking water (which frightened me into believing after about 10 more minutes I would have to pee), my therapist felt so sorry for me, she gave me one of her personal throat drops and tried to tell me it's ok, lots of people are dealing with dry air and tickles.  She earned her tip that day....

The tickle subsided, and we moved onto my back.  Have you ever tried to flip over, half asleep, almost completely naked, under a sheet?  Not that I have anything "flopping out" but the idea that this therapist may see me naked, once again, freaked me out. I  think if I would just calm down, and flip over softly and in a controlled manner, I wouldn't look like a whale that marine biologists are trying to heave back into the ocean.  The sheet gets caught on one of my goofy lanky legs and I nearly dump the entire sheet on the floor!!!  God help me!!

At least I can laugh at myself as I made some comment about awkwardness, and feeling like a giraffe, still growing into my body.  She laughed, but I'm certain her concerns for my sanity (or shall we say, insanity) were affirmed at that moment. But I didn't care.  We were going on to my back and that is where my stress places itself so heavily.  My shoulders, because I hold my shoulders up like I'm in a perpetual position like my kids saying "I don't know," and my shoulder blades and lower back.  Every one of those places I can point to the exact spots where all my lactic acid is built up creating these "knots" that at times, can feel like huge tumors!  I remember the first time I got a massage, the therapist was shocked at how tight and hard these knots were and I believe earned every penny that day once finished with me.  She was so worried about me, she made me drink 10 glasses of water before I left because she thought all that lactic acid was going to be reeking havoc on my system!!  (ok, maybe it was 5 glasses, but it was a lot and I was sore!!!!)

My hour was up before I realized it and once again I was left in the room.  I love how they say, "take your time getting up."  Because if there was a hidden camera in there, they would see me lying there, watching the clock, and after about 15 seconds, I jump up, and start throwing my clothes back on faster then they came off.  I know, I might need counseling.  Don't think that hasn't been suggested..... ;)

I did something a little more daring this time before I left though.  Instead of saying the usual, "man, I should really do this more often," and make a mental note to call in a few months and forget until someone gives me a gift certificate as a gift, I made my next appointment!!!  I of course, told my husband that this could be my Mother's Day gift (he's always asking for ideas) so at the end of April I will be heading back for another round of a freakishly delightful massage.

I hope if anything, I've encouraged you to get a massage.  They really are amazing.  If not, and I've left you scarred, well, if you've read my blogs before, I always say, I warned ya....  I am what I am and that's as real as it gets.

Blessings to you~

Monday, March 10, 2014

What is most important in your life?

Some days I seriously would like to find that "do over" button, or that "easy" button.  The last few weeks I've been really searching for either, or both...

Then something happens and you begin to realize that while yes, there are some really self absorbed people in this world, and also some very misguided people in this world, there are also a whole lot of good people in this world.  It makes all those petty problems in your own life seem just that, petty.

There's a little boy up here in WNY who is dying.   He's only 4 years old.  The fact that he's only 4 is what really hits me hard.  The fact he has an aggressive form of brain cancer not usually found in children hits hard, too.  But what is really amazing to me is the mom of this young boy.

The little boy is a twin.  He also has a younger sister.  They've given him weeks to live and quite frankly, if you heard how he was doing, you'd think it was longer, but that's the scary thing about cancer.  It's so sneaky.  Slowly killing a person on the inside and sometimes no signs are even there until the bitter end.

This mother is so amazing and I'm sure she would balk at me saying it, but her strength is out of this world.  And to be true, it probably is out of this world.  So many thousands of people are praying for this family and a miracle for the little boy, that I'm certain it's what is carrying her.

It certainly put it all into perspective for me and my family.  There is a lot of drama in this world.  Sometimes I feel like I have to apologize to so many people for how my husband and I choose to raise our kids.  I'm that person that would just as soon blend into the wall then stick out (and with six kids, sticking out is exactly what we do).  Lately, it seems as though the evil one has been testing us to the limit.  Almost testing us to the point that I'm ready to call it quits....he's very good at being very manipulative and remember my earlier post about sin?  It would be easy to avoid it if it were nasty and scary and gross..... but for me, wanting to run away and hide and avoid all conflict is exactly why I know it's from the evil one.....

So this mom, amazingly enough, gave an interview with the local television station last week.  She encouraged people to enjoy the moment and what is important.  Wow. 

My faith, my relationship with my husband and my kids are what is important.  Spending time with these three are what I should focus on.  She is spot on.  And perhaps, I will try to make that my Lenten focus as well.  It's so easy to fall into that woe is me trap.  It's so easy to let the anger of others, the problems of others, dictate how we live our lives.  It's so easy to lose focus of what is important.

Putting our faith first.  Placing God and time with Him alone is most important.  I tell my kids all the time, how do you learn about someone?  How do you grow closer to someone?  You spend time with that person, read about them, pray with them, focus on them.  Our relationship with Christ is no different.  How are we to ever grow in our relationship with Him if we never spend time with Him?  Reading His Word?  Sitting with Him in prayer.  Praying before the Blessed Sacrament?  I currently have my 5th grader memorizing scripture and this week our focus is on John (which by the way, happens to be my FAVORITE Gospel writer of all time because of John chapter 6....but I digress)  This week is verse 1.  "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

That verse is so simple, yet so very profound.  Literally it means, In the beginning when there was nothing but God, Jesus was with Him and Jesus was Him.  Kind of how we figured out that whole Trinity thing???  You know, God in three persons, but one God???

Let's focus on those three things.  God, (our faith), our spouses, and our family.  Perhaps by placing these three things first (what is most important), we, like that awesome mom with that courageous little boy, will discover what is truly most important.  And perhaps, those days when we wake up and can't find that darn easy button, or even that do over button, we can still stay focused and remember what is most important. 

A few of my most important peeps...