Friday, November 14, 2008

Happiness is a warm sunbeam...

Claris can find a good time anywhere; I really admire her for that. A simple sunbeam through a window, a mud puddle in the trail, a field to run through; it is all grist for her mill. It may be her Labrador nature that makes her such a contented creature, but I like to think it is also her unique personality that make her so easy-going.

Labradors are known for their patience, loyalty, intelligence, and their desire to be with their humans. But as to being happy and laid back, I think that Claris has a bit more of whatever genes bring out those qualities than most. She throws herself into life and does not care how it looks, or makes her look afterward...

We hike whenever we can, and I find that I enjoy the time in nature more because she is with me. The simple pleasures she finds seem to rub off on me, and her exuberant play lifts my spirits as I watch her adventures. We should all be so lucky as to spend our lives with our noses sniffing, our ears twitching and our eyes searching out the next plaything!

On our last hike we found a few trees with apples left on them and munched on the last of our fall fruits together. Claris likes a nice apple (or pretty much anything she is allowed to have) very much, as you can see:
Interestingly enough, she would not take just any apple from the ground. She only wanted to eat those apples that I had already taken a bite out of. I guess that makes me her official taster and quality control system. Who has who well trained, I wonder?

The deep grass is dying off, so access to the water and the fields is getting easier. We spent a good bit of time scouting out potential pond sites and swimming holes a few weekends ago, and came up with several places where creating deeper water without too much fuss will be possible. Claris has not had the water experience that Grommit and Deckard had when they were young, so I am looking forward to giving her a place where she can swim and play as Labs love to do.
The field at the bottom has a very marshy section, and we had not been able to get in there and explore until recently. Claris has gotten much better at navigating barbed wire fences, and I can now pay more attention to the birds, critters and plants and less on making sure she does not damage herself. She still stuffs her entire head into any interesting holes in the ground or trees to sniff out the occupants. This gives me great cause for concern, but I am sure with a little more training, we can work that one out too (I hope. The hornets nest she found was no fun for either of us...).

The Farmer's Almanac NEVER Lies...

The Farmer's Almanac says that my region will get lots of snow this winter. There are signs that the Almanac may be right; the trees have grown a bumper-crop of nuts and fruits, and the wildlife is getting a heavy coat in preparation for what may be a snowy season.

The ONE thing I love about a nice snow is the fun I have with the dogs, but sadly I worry every winter about the potential ice and snow that will slow me down, take down the power lines that feed my computers and mess up the normal flow of school days (you'd think working in education I would love a snow day; sorry, it just means more worry and more work for me).

To try and focus on the potential upcoming winter fun, I searched for pictures of the dogs playing in the snow. Oscar finally found what I was looking for, and I am now looking forward to whatever Old Man Winter can throw at me. I am even thinking that a new puppy may be a good family Christmas present... It would be great fun to see Claris romping in the snow with a little buddy (or two?!?).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Heroes Have Always Been Teachers...

I just finished a project that took me to every elementary school in the county I work for, and while I am glad all the driving around is over I am going to miss the school-based staff that made my visits so much fun. My proverbial batteries have been recharged, and my reasons for working in education have again been solidified and renewed. Spending time in the schools is like drinking deep from the well...

For the record, I could never be a teacher: I lack the patience, commitment, dedication and optimism that they all seem to have in common. Every time I travel to schools I am amazed by the work that is done and the quality of service our schools provide. If you want to start a fight with me that may end in violence, start talking smack about Public Education; it may be far from perfect but until you step in and see what is going on for yourself, I suggest you bite your tongue. Every time I work in a school I get a new amazing story that gives me hope, and tells me that while there is definitely room for improvement, we are doing many things right.

Because of the nature of what I do, I am often in the classroom as a silent witness to the lives of students and the work of staff and teachers; I sit at the computer keyboard and try very hard to stay out of their way and not interrupt their instruction. This vantage point gives me a front-row seat to what happens at a school, and I am grateful that I am allowed this window into their world.

Every school I visited I found people coming to work early, leaving late, and never stopping in between. It was wonderful to see our teachers working together as one united front; they stepped in to help each other manage classroom behavior, shared new lesson plans they found or created, and always helped each other navigate the perils, tasks and issues that come along with being an educator in the 21st-century classroom. The staff shined in their obvious desire to do the best they can for every student, and to try and find the right way to give those children the tools they need to be healthy life-long learners and productive members of this ever-evolving world we live in.

I have often found that the image non-educators have about the work of teachers is no where near reality. Comments like "it must be nice to have summers off" or "I wish I could end my work day at 3pm" now make me want to forcibly re-educate those people. Many of the teachers I worked with had to take second jobs during the summer, and some went from their school day to their part-time tutoring work. I also saw that they arrived at school early to get their classrooms (decorated on their own time and sometimes on their own dime, too) ready for their students, and stayed late to work on the next day's lessons, grade student work, or to work on new techniques to use in their classes. If they actually took time to have lunch (without eating with their students on cafeteria duty) they typically ate in the teacher's work room (call it a lounge and I will give you a serious noogie. A bathroom, soda machine, a plain table, a few uncomfortable plastic chairs and a copier doth not a lounge make, people!) and discussed their concerns and needs with the other teachers to try and work out how to deal with their most difficult issues with others who understand precisely what they are dealing with.

School staff have had to transform themselves into educators, role-models, counselors, advisers, health promoters and protectors every day. I have seen them give love, time, care and even food and clothes to their neediest students all the while providing the best instructional experience for all the students.

So, if you have anything to say about teachers or the state of our education system, then I ask you; what have you done to improve things? Have you joined the PTA? Have you contacted your legislators about increasing funding to our schools? Have you gone to a board meeting? Volunteered at a school? Have you even bought a single magazine, candy bar or bake sale item? I find the ones with the biggest mouths are the ones who do the least to find out what is really going on, do nothing to help better things or change what they do not like. Where do you stand?