Monday, April 20, 2020

Written in Facebook on 4/19/20
I remember driving to work on March 13th. It was a teacher work day for the end of the 3rd quarter and the beginning of Spring Break. I pulled into Dunkin' Donuts for my coffee, and on the radio, the announcer said that there would be a 7:30 a.m. press conference with the Superintendent of Schools for Hillsborough County. I don't live in that county, but I was wondering what in the world would necessitate a press conference that early in the morning.
Since it was just about that time, I parked the car in the shopping center parking lot and waited to hear what it was going to be about. I had already started to hear rumors about this sickness, but it didn't seem real yet. When the press conference started, the Superintendent announced that one of their middle schools was to be closed as they had had a staff member who had been identified as having COVID-19. When I arrived at work, we were asked to finish up what we needed to do and not to linger, and that the custodial staff was going to be cleaning down the classrooms. Even then, it didn't really seem real. The rest, as they say, is history.
Here we are, more than a month later, and school as we know it has changed. Life as we know it has changed. The transition to online learning was amazing, and it was accomplished very quickly. I think our leaders in my district and the staff and teachers have taken a very rough situation and are making it work. Is it perfect? No. No one would ever say that. But it is certainly exceeding expectations with all of the roadblocks and obstacles that have presented themselves.
These are historic times. We are living through something that will surely be added to the next editions of our US History textbooks and courses. There will be heroes mentioned, especially our medical people and all the self-less first responders, and there will surely be those whom history will criticize as not having done things the ideal way. Lord knows there will probably be stories of Spring Breakers and stories of beaches opened too early.
But I hope the history books will include the stories of caring, of kindness, of perseverance, and of the truly strong people who are bringing us through all of this. And, of course, I hope there are stories of how teachers haven't given up on their calling to be educators, and the need to be strong for our students. Students: we miss you guys, and we hope to see you after all of this is over, being stronger for this life-altering time, and being a force for change in the future, because one day, you will be the leaders of this world on whom we will all rely, and we know you, and we know you will be ready for that, the biggest challenge of them all. Making the world a better, safer place for us all.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Mothers' Day Tribute to My Mom's Pumpkin Pie

If you've ever been a student in my class in the last few years, you may know a little about this story. 

Sometimes, when you are going through life, the little things are what catch your attention. I remember when my parents were packing up their Florida apartment, getting ready to move back to Pennsylvania due to my mom's declining health. My dad didn't seem to get it - that mom was sitting there watching us decide what to keep, what to give away, and so forth. He came across a small little fishing pole that she had always used when they went fishing, and said that it could be gotten rid of. 

In a small, quiet voice, I heard my mother say, "I guess I'll never get to go fishing again." It both broke my heart and made me irritated that my dad couldn't understand what was going through my mother's mind. She always pretended nothing was wrong, but this was probably her first verbal acknowledgement that something was indeed very wrong with her. At that moment, I told my dad, "Pack some suitcases and get ready to drive to Pennsylvania. I'll take care of finishing everything else and getting it up to you." 

It was the week of Thanksgiving break, and it took about two more days to finish up once the two of them had gone. I was finishing up late Wednesday evening and called my husband. As we were talking by phone, it dawned on me I hadn't even gotten a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner. When I finally got home, we made a quick trip to the store to purchase what we needed. Stu had gone off to get something at the back of the store, and I was up at the front by the deli/bakery. 

All of a sudden, I saw the largest display of pumpkin pies and I just froze. I must have looked noticeably shaken because an elderly woman who happened to be beside me at the time turned to me and asked if I was okay. I started to sob uncontrollably, and said, "I just realized that I will never have my mother's pumpkin pie again." 

The reality of the entire situation had finally hit me. The last few months she was alive and living in Florida, I had made it a point to call her every evening to make sure she was okay. She had had a couple of falls, and because I lived an hour away, I couldn't rush down to help. This was my attempt to reassure myself that she was still there, still alive, and that everything was still okay. 

Now, when I teach students about exploding a moment, this is one I use as an example. I can never get through it without getting emotional, but it helps them see how one moment can last a lifetime. I know this one will always last for me. Love you, mom! Happy Mothers' Day.

After 19 Years, I finally had a resolution

Posted in Facebook on March 3, 2016

The very first year I taught in public school, I had a student who was an extremely troubled young person who would do anything she could to cause a disruption. I finally had to write a discipline referral for her because she just would not behave. She ended up getting an out-of-school suspension, and while they were escorting her to the bus at the end of the day, I can remember her passing my classroom door yelling, "I hate you Mrs. Gabbard!" I was extremely upset about the whole thing, and I had always dreaded the possibility of running into this student outside of class, not knowing what she might be capable of where there were no other authority figures to keep her in line. Well that was 19 years ago now. Tonight, I ended up going to my night class early. I don't know why, but I was about an hour earlier than normal. I had everything ready for class, and my students were going to be taking a test. Being bored, I decided to go to the student services building to get some coffee. I realized I only had a $20 bill that wouldn't work in the coffee machine, so I went into the bookstore and wandered around a little to try to kill some time. Up by the cashier was a young lady trying to rent the textbook for Comp I, and she was talking about whether she actually needed the class as she had passed the PERT with a really high score. Since I teach Comp I, I told her that she probably did need the class, but that her scores were very high and that she should do well. All of a sudden this young woman said to me, "Hello, Mrs. Gabbard!" I didn't recognize her, but she told me her name and that she had been in my class in middle school, and that she was very good in English because of having had me for a teacher. I was delighted that she remembered me, and that she felt this way, but I still didn't remember who she was. As I was walking towards the door to go on to my class, it finally dawned on me who she was. I whirled around and said, "Is your step-father a doctor?" She nodded, and then I said Oh, My God. I know who you are. I told her and the cashier how I had always dreaded the possibility of seeing her in public fearing that she would decide to scream at me or something. She apologized profusely for how she had behaved in my class, and said that growing up, she didn't have the best family situation, and that she was very confused as a teenager. She had finally left home at 17, getting her dad to sign papers for her so she could join the military. She had spent 4 years in the military, and now she is married and has children of her own. She works as a welder, of all things, and was going back to school to become a psychologist so she can help people who have the same kinds of issues she had as a teenager. She could tell how seeing her had affected me, and she gave me a huge hug, and she repeated how she was good in English from being in my class, and that she was sorry she had given me such a hard time. By the time we were finished talking, the cashier who had been listening to our conversation was practically in tears from our story. I have to say that it had always disheartened me that I seemingly couldn't reach this student, but now, more than 19 years later, I feel so blessed to have run into her. She is happy, healthy, and filled with hope for her future. It really felt great to know that, even though it took so long to see it, I really did make a difference for her.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

I don't know whether I can actually write this blog today.  I think I need to, but as I begin, I can already feel my eyes swelling up, my stomach tying in knots, and I get the sickening the feeling that I have so many emotions ready to explode and gush out onto the page that my writing will suck and won't be anything more than just an opportunity to get it all out there.

I was always told that saying the most in the least amount of words is good writing, and that poetry is (what did Wordsworth say?) "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." So. I guess this won't be very good writing today, and it certainly won't be poetic.

I've lost my husband. My heart is breaking. I don't know who to talk to...who to confide in, and I feel so many different emotions that seem to go silent for a while and then hit me all of a sudden when I'm not really doing anything that feels like it would or could be a trigger. How do people go on through this and survive to the other side? Is there "another side" to this whole roller coaster of emotions?

Worst of all, it is summer time. Stuart used to say that I was at my worst during vacation times because it gave me too much time to sit around and think.  He was right, and summer is such a long vacation break.  I have lots to do, and lots of time to do it, but so much of it can be so painful that I am avoiding it all. I keep telling myself if I get one or two "things" accomplished in a day toward putting all this financial and paperwork nightmare behind me, the day was successful.

It's really hard, you know. Going places we used to go together, and there really aren't that many places we didn't go to together. I could go to some of those places, but I'll see people or things that I know will remind me. I can already feel how bad a day this is starting out to be, but I can't keep letting it spiral downward. I have to bounce back and think of things to do to keep me pushing on.

I know I am going to learn something from this.  Maybe just how fragile life is, and how losing someone is probably the worst feeling in the world.  I can understand, now, how people can become hoarders or depressed in these kinds of situations.  Losing someone you have loved so deeply leaves a huge hole in your heart and in your life. But there are still others around to whom I mean something, so there is that.

I'm not sure how to close this one out.  I don't really have the wisdom yet, but I'm going to come out on the other side.  It will just take time.  Just keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Aubrey Girls of Liberty High

     Two teenage sisters in one house bring lots of drama.  Three is almost unbearable, but four sisters? And all of them in high school at one time? The drama never ends.  Natalie, Karen, Tori, and Frannie. The Aubrey girls of Liberty High.
     Natalie was the oldest of the four.  There had been an older brother, but he died shortly after his birth. So soon afterward, Natalie was told, that there hadn't been any chance to name him, and on his birth and death certificitate, his name simply read, "Aubrey, male infant."  Nat had always wished he had lived so that she could have had an older brother, and that she would not have had to be the "oldest."
     Being the oldest was never easy.  Especially with three younger sisters who had a habit of trying to get around the rules her mother and father had set down for the four Aubrey girls. Natalie would just as soon sneak off somewhere with a good book to read, but it was usually her responsibility to keep track of her younger sister Frannie.
    There was four years difference in their ages, but Frannie was considered the baby, and she was always completely the center of attention anywhere they went.  It didn't help that she had bright blue eyes, golden Shirley-Temple curls, and a cute little button nose.  Nat hated having to drag her along when she went anywhere, especially if a cute boy she liked would be there.  Frannie always seemed to steal the show.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Because I need to say my piece

          I know that I am a highly effective teacher in the classroom, and that I am, indeed, a dedicated and caring teacher with loads to pour into the lives of my students, and that no matter what else others may think or feel or believe about my abilities, or supposed lack thereof, it really shouldn't matter to me because I make a difference in the lives of my students.  Period.  I really, really, really want to stand by that feeling and forget about anything else.
          But those nice things like pay raises and bonus money that are dangled in front of teachers' faces frustrate me, (especially since National Board Certification Bonus money was done away with in our state - the reason I thought I could afford my $1100 monthly mortgage payments, BTW).  I think about all the reasons I really do qualify for the new bonus that has been created and will likely become law, and I feel that perhaps I should start to look outside the teaching profession to regain some self-esteem. (I recently saw an advertisement for someone to work in a rent-a-car office, and the starting pay was over $10,000 MORE a year than I make now as a teacher with 18+ years of experience and a Master's degree.

          Consider my reasons and some of my accomplishments:

  • having my master's degree 
  • being a National Board Certified teacher
  • teaching in my district and the public school system for 18+ years
  • teaching over 9 semesters at the local state college level
  • serving on multiple state-level committees for standardized testing
  • working as an item creator for the Florida State Teachers' Certification exam
  • creating items for the state's multiple-choice component of the previous writing test
  • being a member of the Board of Directors for my state-level professional-development organization for more than ten years
  • volunteering to do things above and beyond what I am required by contract to do 
These things and more that I do should demonstrate that I am not simply there to collect the paycheck, and that I do whatever it takes to stay current in my field in order for my students to be successful.  But then when I think about it, it really ticks me off that all of these things including the 18+ years I've spent teaching in my district, and the 18+ excellent evaluations I've had along the way don't seem to matter.
          And wouldn't you think that an exemplary school such as mine should be filled with exemplary teachers...not teachers who are made to feel unappreciated for the all those extra things they do? Wouldn't an administrator who is proud of the level of hard work the schools' teachers put in everyday feel that the school has the best teachers in the district, and that they should be recognized for this? You would think so, right?  
          So why would someone brag that there are going to be very few "highly effective" teachers at the school this year (a school that is only one point away from an "A," I'm told), and that even teachers who have consistently demonstrated proven student success are now rated as "needs improvement" for things that just don't make sense.  For instance, imagine a group of students in a class discussion who are excited and engaged; these students were permitted to participate in an authentic discussion that was completely on topic and that completely answered the Essential Question of the day, but that they sometimes spoke over each other because they were so passionate about the discussion.  Apparently, this faux-pas overshadowed the realness of their genuine engagement.
          Yes, they should have been more patient and polite, and yes, they should have waited their turn to speak, but when teenagers get excited about something, it's just crazy to put a damper on that. It was such an awesome discussion, and I wouldn't change one single second of what happened.  You know, I have seen adults who don't wait their turn to speak when they are passionate about what they have to say.  Even when those adults have very LITTLE to say, they often demand to say it right away, even though someone else is still talking.
          Well. Okay. There isn't really anything else to say.  So. My rant is over for the moment, and I will go on doing what I do because I love teaching, and I know I have the most personally rewarding job in the world. Every time a student lets me know that they trust me by sharing what is going on in their world, or when they tell me that they have learned something they didn't know before, I feel successful and highly effective.  No one can take that away from me.  No. One. I will continue to do what I know is best for my students, regardless of the effect on my own paycheck. The paycheck is not the point.  The genuine learning of my students IS the point.  There are so many more things that could be added to this rant, but I will leave it at this: Facebook gave me my Bible verse for the year, and it really is very appropriate: II Timothy 1:7 [KJV"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Thanks, Facebook.  I'll take it. Amen!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

This is the first page.  Joe is an 8th grader in this.  I like this as the beginning, but in many respects the voice sounds too "academic" and I think it needs to be less formal, although the conversation here takes place with his English teacher...

Working Title – The Shadow People

             “Joe! Sit up!  What time did you get to sleep last night?” the teacher scolded.  Joe struggled to straighten up, nearly sliding out of his chair. The dark circles under his eyes and his disheveled hair were signs that it had once again been a late night for him, and it was hard for him to pay attention in class when he was this tired. “Please see me after class.”
            When the bell rang about twenty minutes later, Joe was still groggy.  He wandered up to Mrs. ___’s desk, sure he was about to get a lecture about how important getting a good night’s sleep was.  He really didn’t want to be bothered, and the last thing he needed was another lecture, but he knew it would be worse for him and that he would get in more trouble if he tried to ignore her. 
            “You wanted to see me?”
            “Joe, what’s going on with you lately?  You’re falling asleep and your grades are starting to slip.  I’m really getting worried.  Is there something going on that I can help you with?  Is there anything you need to talk about?  You’re usually such a good student, and I hate to see you in this condition.  What’s going on?”

            “I’m okay, Mrs. _____.  I guess I’ve just been playing too many video games lately, and sometimes the time just slips away from me.  I just got the newest Night Stalker game last weekend, and it’s really intense. Before I knew it last night, it was four o’clock, and then I tried to get to sleep, but I couldn’t get the game out of my mind. Just please, don’t call my mom.  I promise it won’t happen again.”