“Growing Older but Not Up” Jimmy Buffett
The question would appear to be, Is this a good thing?
I am getting on in years, as they euphemistically say, so if I am to conform to the norm, I guess I am supposed to adopt a sedentary lifestyle, curb my youthful impulses and retire to my rocking chair. Yes, that’s me all right, wool sweater stretched tightly around me, fuzzy stocking cap firmly in place, gray-muzzled Dozer nodding sleepily to my left, while I take in some pro golf on the tube.
I must admit that I am down for the count by eight o’clock most nights of my life, and I have not participated in a game of baseball since 1991, when I blew out my left knee, but when I take stock of myself in terms of the “norm,” all I can say is that I leave normal for those who are good at it.
I have tried to be normal; honestly, I have. I taught school in the local school district for sixteen years, and would be there still had I not been driven out by standardized testing. Driven out? Hell, they sent an ambulance for me and strapped me to a gurney. I was a basket case. If not for Annie, I would be making baskets even as we speak, in the nearest padded cell available.
|My life's "balancing beam"|
I actually retired a full year earlier than I was eligible for, but had accrued more than a year’s worth of sick leave/personal-necessity days, so that I received a “normal” paycheck that last year for no work. I guess never once picking up the phone to inform Donna that I would not be in that day, paid off.
Actually, that’s not quite accurate. There was the time the big rig jack-knifed right out in front of the Black Oak Ranch, spewing its hazardous cargo out onto the highway. Short of backtracking to Highway One in Leggett, and going around to Branscomb Road (before it was paved), to make the run into Laytonville, we were stuck on the outside looking in.
I wasn’t willing to take the scenic route to school and back, so we bailed.
The second time was when Annie had prepared all of the food for the Science Fair judges, one fine spring, and we got hammered with one of those classic Gulf of Alaska storms that dumped more than two feet of fresh powder down on us in the fourteen hours between arriving home Thursday night and getting up Friday morning. The Trooper bottomed out on an open stretch of Bell Springs Road, its tires spinning useless because the snow was piled up so deeply underneath us that the tires could gain no traction.
|Mama's house, or the Big House|
We made our way back to Mama Pauline's house, and the folks rolled out the red carpet. They provided the shelter, we provided the food and we all went out and built an igloo.
Oh, we ate well that weekend.
Why was I a basket case? As an educator I felt betrayed by the System. In my second year of teaching, 1991, I participated in the writing of a grant for restructuring our educational system, and watched as our district not only received the $500,000 grant over five years’ time, but used it wisely.
First we purchased three mini-vans so as to be able to transport students to sporting events at a more economical rate than the bus provided. The idea was to get the students out of Laytonville as much as possible, so as to broaden their perspectives.
In that same vein we also went full-bore into the world of technology, acquiring a class set of computers and the money to pay for a computer lab tech specialist. We wanted our students to have the same capabilities as the kids from urban areas.
Of course, the internet was still quite a ways off, but when it made its grand entrance, Laytonville was well-equipped to make the transition. This restructuring period was unique in my teaching career because we were forced by the terms of the grant, to work together as a district.
Elementary school teachers, from kindergarten through fifth grade, and middle school/high school teachers, all met together and broke off into small groups represented by all teaching levels, and got ‘er done. The high school AP English instructor may well have found himself hammering out future district policy, alongside the first grade teacher.
We did team-building exercises and tried to break down barriers so as to make our school perform better for kids. And we took huge strides forward. Paul and I teamed together and spent a lot of time that first summer planning.
|Paul and I had a clear view of our school year.|
All teachers plan but Paul and I took our families over to Westport, and while they enjoyed some vacation time, we did some serious brain-storming. We put sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the same class, made literature the basis of our language arts program, and integrated what we were reading into all facets of the curriculum.
We developed a hands-on program, made our expectations crystal clear, and watched the students respond accordingly. We created an environment which tried to blur the distinction between eighth graders and sixth graders, asking them instead to regard each other as classmates.
We observed as the eighth graders formed a protective bond with their sixth grade compatriots, and kept an eye out for social injustices on the playground. We also watched as they worked together in the classroom, the eighth graders readily sharing their experience and their knowledge with sixth graders, and welcoming input from them as well.
Cross-age tutoring going on in front of our very eyes.
We knew we had created something special when the first dance of the year rolled around. The DJ had the music blasting, the refreshments were abundant, and the students were all more or less lined up on either side of the multi-purpose room.
Boys on one side, girls on the other. Weird, I know.
After an interminable fifteen or so minutes of this, a trio of determined individuals arose, and took over the show. I will never forget it.
Dancing out from the girls’ side of the MPR, were three sixth grade girls, Olisa W, Jacole G and Rachel M, and there was to be no denying their demand that the rest of the school join them. Paul and I just bust out laughing. We could not have wished for a better test of how well our program was working.
Back then we did standardized testing also, but it was just one way of assessing students, not the way to assess them. The STAR testing fiasco destroyed my willingness to go on. Required to meet in small venues with lots of people, for the purpose of learning to "teach to the test,"I simply melted down emotionally.
The No Child Left Behind is and was a joke, implemented by a joke of a President, who could not string two sentences together that made any sense, whatsoever.
As educators we suffered. Our kids suffered. Our system suffered. I bailed out.
Now I have abandoned all pretext of normalcy. I am approaching 64 years of age, I spend twelve hours a day growing food and medicine for our community, and I have no prescription drugs I must ingest so I am lucky to be healthy.
If I will no longer wear shoes or socks, if the backs of my pants-legs are ripped and torn to shreds, and if I am seen rocking out to music at Reggae on the River, do not pay any heed to it. I mean, I like rocking chairs and all; some of my favorite people have rocked themselves to sleep in their comfortable nests.
Just not me, just not yet. And when I do, you can figure that though I am rocking in my chair, I am also rocking in my head.
Just not so’s you would notice it.