Monday, December 22, 2014

My Niche will be like a Boulder in that Puddle, not just a Pebble,

Lucky finds a comfortable spot amid the mess.
How do people find their niche?

The word and concept of "niche" have long fascinated me.  To me, the actual word seems odd.  In my ignorant youth I pronounced it "nitch" and it rhymed with ditch.  Later I learned that it is closer to "neesh" and stumbled over its pronunciation for years.  I now understand the word is French in origin and "ch" is pronounced "sh" like in "Michigan" and "Chicago".

The actual definition proper use of the word "niche" has taken longer for me to grasp.  At first glance it is simple.  A niche is the place a species occupies in an ecosystem, how it interacts with others and the resources it exploits.  Simple.

The problem came when I learned more about niches.  What happens when a species is removed from an area?  Does that make a "vacant niche"?  According to the definition- no.  There is no such thing as a vacant niche.

Think of a shallow puddle of water with a large stone in the middle.  If the water is the ecosystem and the stone is a species occupying a niche, what happens when the stone is removed?  The puddle immediately spreads into the empty space.

Our world of work is not that different from the ecosystem and niches.

Millions of people are fortunate to have found their niches.  They have stable jobs that pay a living wage.  They know their place in the world.  Most of these people followed the traditional paths of college to work and have not suffered from unexpected job losses or other tragedies.  I hear many talking about the unemployed and underemployed with no concept of how difficult it is to break into the workforce for nontraditional people.

I could have been one of those people.  I went to college, graduated with honors, and started working.  When my son was born, I made the choice to focus on him instead of a job.  He would only be little for a such a short time and I didn't want to miss a minute of it.  After his brother was born, I had my hands full.  A decade passed before I could even think about going back to work.

I had always assumed I would be able to find a job.  I was educated, hard working, reliable, respectful, honest, and never had any encounters with the law.  I applied to all types of jobs at all and truly thought I would get some of them.  I was wrong.

For years, I was only able to find work as a substitute teacher making $80 per day.  That sounds somewhat reasonable until you consider I would only make $14,800 if I worked every single day of the school year.  In reality, my income was never more than $7,000 a year.  In eight years, I never once had an increase in pay.  Instead, I listened to teachers complain that their cost of living pay raise wasn't enough.  Not only didn't I get a pay raise, I wasn't even considered when positions became available.

My niche would not be created in the schools.  

I will create my niche.  I will be recognized as a valuable and contributing member of society.  I do not fit into any category.  Therefore, I will make my own.

I will be an author, an artisan, an advocate, and a motivation to millions.  I will share all I have learned raising my son with autism to become self-reliant and my struggles finding work.  I may never have a steady salary, 401K and benefits but I will make a difference in the world.

My niche will be like a boulder in that puddle, not a just pebble,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On Getting Fired for a 2nd time in 6 months

My life is just as out of focus as this picture
Getting fired for a second time in one year has really messed with my mind.  For five months my work was praised.  I was given more and more responsibilities- responsibilities and access an $11.50/hour temporary employee probably shouldn't have.

  The week before Thanksgiving, I was told by the HR manager I would never be made an actual employee and would be kept only until after the first of the year.  I tried to be strong and not let my disappointment and confusion show.  Eventually it did.  Just before I was leaving for the day, the plant manager saw me crying.  He asked why and I told him I would not be there after the holidays.  That's all I said.  No rants. Just sadness.  My disappointment was unacceptable to the HR manager and I was fired before noon the following day.

  I did my job.  I did much more than most temporary receptionists.  I audited nearly a thousand I-9s.  I audited all the plants training files, revamped the spreadsheets, and entered the training records into the employee file database.  I was in process of developing a comprehensive training course guide, a review for corporate of the employee database training system, a guide for the duties of the position, a guide for the weekly newsletter and planning holiday festivities for the plant.

   Once again, I am unemployed.  I am either overqualified or under-qualified for every job I seek.  My dreams of having a real job with a living wage and benefits are just that- a dream.  My reality is a nightmare.  I did everything people say to do.  I went to college.  I worked.  I took time off to raise my boys.  I started subbing to try to work my way into the schools.  I volunteered at organizations.  I applied to hundreds of positions in a wide range of fields.  Fast food restaurants and other minimum wage positions, numerous secretarial/administrative assistant jobs, education related jobs, police dispatcher, and more jobs than I can remember.  Most, including fast food type, never even call.  Some like the police dispatcher interviewed me but "I'm not the right fit" and "you'll easily find a job better suited for you".

After 8 years of looking, I am convinced I am unemployable.

To all those who think the unemployed are simply not looking hard my case you couldn't be further from the truth.  There are no jobs within driving distance.  If we lived close to a university or city, I could probably find work.  But, here in rural America, there are no jobs for me.

I want to work.  I want to contribute to society.  Every time I am feeling close to reaching my goal, I am pushed back down.  I am good at anything I do except playing politics at work.  I do not understand the games and I simply deal with people honestly and respectfully.

I will survive.  I always do.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Remembering Simplicity- A Fairy Tale?

Once upon a time...

A simpler life must only exist in fairy tales or in the "good old days".  Life in our modern world is the polar opposite of simple.  Our world is filled with constant noise, demand of our minds and reminders of all we aren't.  Wasn't there a time when life was at least a little simpler?

I am old enough to remember having four channels on the television: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS.  Saturday morning was the only time we could watch cartoons.  The news was on at 6 pm.  For school delays and closings, we huddled around the radio and listened carefully for our school's name.

I can even remember when we had only one telephone in the house and it was a "party line".  A certain double ring announced the call was for us and not our neighbors.  All calls were to be kept short.  There was no such thing as call waiting or voice mail.

In that long ago time, I researched my family history by interviewing relatives and scanning microfiche at the library.  To find articles and books for research papers, I looked in the card catalog.  Then I would spend hours in the stacks looking through books.  I loved it.

Today...We have three phones for our land line.  Four of us have smartphones.  I skimp on cable and only have the basic with some 60 channels.  The internet provides instant access to almost everything and almost everyone.

I start my day by looking at my cell phone.  It is my alarm clock.  After feeding the animals and making coffee, I check my emails, Facebook and Twitter.  If I am not careful, hours are gone before I even realize it.  Worse than the time lost is the constant reminder of all the bad in the world, all the success that isn't mine and all the ways my life is less than perfect.

I have no intention of becoming "unplugged".  I love the access to information and being able to be reached by my kids.  I have learned to turn off the news after hearing the headlines once, be extremely selective in the programs I watch, and stop myself from clicking on all those tempting gossipy links.

Our modern technology is my connection to the world but I need to temper it.  Too much and I feel like I am weighted down until I can't move.  Or, I feel like I will explode from too much being shoved in my face.  I am better at tuning out the ads and "recommended links".

At times, I leave my computer.  I sit in a chair with just a paper and pen.  I let my ideas flow and they flow faster, easier and more creatively.  When I remember simplicity, I remember myself.    

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Not Just a Cog

Sadly, I learned the week before Thanksgiving that I am just another cog in the machine.  Just an easily replaceable body that can be discarded with a second thought or valid reason.

On Tuesday morning, I was busy planning company Christmas parties, organizing holiday activities and updating employee training information.  I was looking forward to a busy few weeks.  I was hoping that I could impress my employers enough to change my status from "Pre-hire" to "Permanent".

Tuesday afternoon I attended one of the plant-wide meetings.  I saw my ideas and handiwork presented to the plant.  No credit was given to me and none was expected.  I was just doing my part to help the company prosper.Before the end of the meeting, I was called into the HR manager's office and told I would not become a true employee of the company.  My services as a temporary employee would no longer be needed after the holidays

I was stunned.

My work was praised by everyone.  I volunteered to help whoever needed help.  I poured myself into the company trying to achieve the coveted status of "EMPLOYEE with BENEFITS".

My sadness resulted in my termination less than 24 hours later.  I didn't yell.  I didn't confront anyone or beg to be hired in as a permanent employee.  I was just sad and a couple people caught me crying before I could leave for the day.

The HR manager didn't like my reaction.  I still do not understand why it was such a big deal to her.  I was trying to come to grips with the end of yet another shot at employment.  Since 2006, I have been trying to get a full time job.  This was the closest I'd ever come to one.

My extensive education has done nothing to help me find work.  I can't even get interviews for minimum wage positions.  When I do get an interview, I am told that I am overqualified but "surely you will easily find something more suitable".

Yes, I was sad to hear I would not finally get to become a full fledged employee.

But, the way I was "cancelled" devastated me.  I could have understood if I had not been able to do the work or if there had been any complaints about me at all.  I did the work above and beyond their expectations.  I had no issues with any of the employees including the HR manager (at least before she fired me).

Still, I was replaced in the blink of an eye.  To her, it was a minor inconvenience calling the temp agency.  To me, it was my livelihood destroyed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

People Profiting from Autism

This morning I read an article from BBC NEWS about people preying on parents of autistic children.  As one of those parents desperate for answers, hope, or guidance I was vulnerable.  At one point I probably would have bought anything that might help my son.  Fear of the future drove me

I was lucky.

The internet was in its infancy and we lived in the middle of nowhere.

In our community, people had to depend upon each other and had developed an incredible support network parents of special needs kids and an awesome early education program.

I also have two parents who spent there lives working to educate children with disabilities.

Finally, I am a trained researcher/scientist/teacher.

My son went from "needing constant 1:1 support" as a 4 year old to a fifteen year old high school athlete/honor student enrolling himself in PSEO for his junior year.  (PSEO- college classes taken during high school).

I have been writing about this journey since he was reference for intervention.  Now I am finishing his story and how we NEVER paid for special therapies or services to treat his autism.  Everything was through the schools or Real Life Therapy.

It makes my blood boil to think of those profiting for other parents' fears. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Approaching 50

Next week I will be one year closer to the half century mark.  According to the rules of rounding, I already should be rounding up to the big 50 but in my mind I wasn't.  Soon.God willing, I will be need to think of myself as in my 50's.

I joked this week that maybe it is time to decide what I want to be when I grow up.  Sounds trite but it is actually very much on my mind.  I have never had a definite career.  Life got in the way and I did what needed to be done as a mother and as a wife. My time is slowly becoming my own again.  Once again I can start to schedule my life according to my wishes.

For the second time this year, I started a new job.  Once again, I like the job and feel it could become a career.  I really like my job.  I get to help people find jobs.

It has been an emotional roller coaster.  Stability will be nice.  Financially stability would be even better.  Time to pursue my craft and my writing would be beyond incredible.  I have trouble knowing what to do when I'm not panicked about money.  It has been way too long.

By the time I am really 50 and not just approaching 50, I will finally have chosen a career.

That is my goal.

Let's see if Life cooperates.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Forced Child Labor in America- Modern Version of Slavery

The United States of America is a civilized country that has laws protecting our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.  These laws, including child labor laws, have been in place for decades.  Our children are to be in school learning all that is necessary to become responsible and productive members of our society.  Of late, school has changed.  It has become a place to be even more dreaded by students and loved by the opportunistic educational supply companies.

In the good old days when I was in school, our district only tested us with standardized tests every couple years with the California Achievement Test.  We were told to just relax and do our best.  The results didn't effect our grades.  They just provided information for the teachers.  Not much fuss was made about the results.

In college, I studied pedagogy otherwise known as teacher education.  I sat in class that ripped apart the effectiveness of standardized testing.  Culture, language, and economic factors vary greatly across our country and the world.  Standardized testing cannot accommodate these variations.  Subsequently, one group benefits and the rest suffer.

Ironically, this was the same time period when standardized testing was beginning to gain momentum in education.  The NTE (National Teacher Exam) and grade level mandatory achievement test were implemented.  I remember thinking that this madness should end long before my sons reached high school.  I was wrong.

Why the increasingly desperate push for standardized testing and now the Common Core Curriculum?

Money and Politics

Bashing the current education system is a simplistic but effective campaigning tool.  Terrify the constituents into believe that the schools are doomed and can only be saved by your new program.  With each new program, the schools need to buy new materials.  Millions of dollars are funneled into the pockets of the publishers and education "specialists".
Each test costs the school money.  Each test is taken by a student.  Not only are they taking this test which feeds the database, they are losing essential time for other more productive activities.  The students from Ipswich Middle School in Massachusetts opened my eyes to the reality of the situation.  They are being forced to essentially work for Pearson and other such companies but are not compensated.  Neither is the teacher nor the school administration.

People profit greatly from these tests in part because of the use of forced and unpaid labor.  It is, in reality, akin to slavery.  The profits would not be there if the schools weren't forced to partake.  Not only are they not compensated for "trial runs" but they are forced to pay for the final versions.  The whole education model has become a slave of the standardized tests and the Common Core or the latest and greatest "revolutionary idea".

This sickens me.  It outrages me to see the effects on the schools.  The stress of my sons as they prepare for tests is ridiculous.  The number of bright students burned out by high school shocks me.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer Break Begins- Celebrate!

Today is the first day of summer break since I don't count Saturday or Sunday.  We never have school on the weekend.  Today, the kids will wake up for the first time and not have to worry about making it to school before the tardy bell rings.

I wonder how many kids will sleep until 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, or even later.  Bad habits will start today that will make going back to school difficult.  Sleep late, eat at weird times, and become a night owl.  That is all part of summer break, right?

Not this year.  Not for my boys.  I have a plan.  I want to do things.  I want the boys to look back at the summer and say, "Wow.  Look at all we accomplished."   That will not happen unless we make it happen.

This summer we will:

Outside the house
1. Finish the patio and move the camper.
2. Plant a garden in the old gazebo/patio area.
3. Move and split the plants that need it. 
4. Replace the trim that the woodpecker has attacked.
5. Paint the trim.
6. Seal the driveway.
7. Mulch

Inside the house
8. Paint 
9. Purge
10.Clean (made easier by the purging)

For the brain
11. Read daily
12. Study for the ACT
13. Practice problems solving by accomplishing all the other tasks we need done.
14. Visit the zoo often
15. Visit various museums
16. Go fishing
17. Visit and explore new places.
18. Have campfires and roast marshmallows.
19. See movies.

***20. Put together as many old Lego sets as we can from the huge storage tote of Legos***

Lots of work to do.  Lots of fun also.  I'm not a horrible task master.  I won't start playing the piano and singing loudly until 7 am.  We have a small house and the sound reverberates nicely.

Oh...and the Lego project is mine.  I already have two large Star Wars sets almost completed. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Diagnosis: Understanding or Excuse?

A few days ago I had the pleasure of taking my second son out for coffee/hot chocolate before school.  I love the exam schedule that allows us special time together.  It is a joy.

During our latest coffee break, I told Gabe how I realized that I probably have Aspberger's.  He reacted more strongly than I anticipated.  How could I?  Wouldn't I have known before now?  Why wasn't it diagnosed when I was little the way his autism was?

I explained that this type of diagnosis, autism/Asperger's/ADHD, was not common until fairly recently.  As long as a child could walk, talk, and some what function in the world parents didn't normally seek help from doctors.  It just wasn't ever considered.  There were also not the vast array of doctors and therapists available to offer help.

Our conversation continued until I dropped Gabe at school.  One of his final comments was about the increased demands on kids today versus his grandfather's generation.  He is exactly right.  We expect very young children to start reading, writing and sit still for long periods of time.  We expect them to be able to think and function in a world that is filled with constant noise and distraction.  Television, radio, computer, cell phones and video games are constant distraction for kids and adults.

In our present society, we hyper-analyze everything.  We compare "Johnny" to "Joey", Ohioans to Californians, and Americans to Japanese.  Each difference must be explained.  Each deficit must be analyzed.  This has led to more and more people seeking to understand our children's behaviors and developmental issues.

In and of itself, this is a good thing.  Understanding can lead to improvement.  Realizing a problem exists is the first step in a resolution.  This is how I viewed Gabe's evaluation and diagnosis for Autism.  The label would not change him in any way.  I needed the information to better understand how to help him and to rule out other issues such as hearing loss.

Never should a diagnosis be used as an excuse.

I see it happening all the time.  I hear people using a diagnosis of ADHD to excuse poor behavior or bad grades.  Students tell me they can't do something because they have ADHD.  Baloney!  I respond that they have to understand their ADD/ADHD/Autism and work to overcome it.  The look of shock on some of their faces is priceless.

The rules of life do not change just because someone has a diagnosis of ADHD or Autism.  Just because echolalia, poor eye contact and pervasive behaviors are typical for autism doesn't mean they are acceptable behaviors.  I have been criticized for attempting to correct these behaviors in Gabe.  "Don't you know they are characteristics of autism?"  Yes, I know.  I also know they can annoy me to distraction and I don't want to live with them.  If I didn't work to correct them, the situation would never improve.

No Excuses!  If I wouldn't accept a behavior from my neuro-typical son, then I could not accept it from my autistic son.  The ways I went about correcting him and teaching him were the only differences.  What worked with Nate often fell flat with Gabe.  Some people thought I was too harsh or unrealistic.  I have one simple reason to hold Gabe to the same standard as his brother.

Laws do not change for those with Autism.  No excuses. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Original Purpose of Memorial Day

I learn much as a substitute teacher.  I never know what the day will hold or what topics I will be discussing, especially in the elementary grades.  Yesterday was no different.  One of the assignments was to read and discuss a short booklet about Memorial Day.

This short booklet explained the origins of Memorial Day.  One town dedicated a day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers.  This expanded to the whole country and to include all soldiers who died fighting.  The original name, "Decoration Day", emphasizes the focus on the deceased and the cemeteries.  The booklet went on to explain that Veterans' Day is the day we honor all soldiers.

Yesterday, this distinction of honoring only the fallen on Memorial Day fascinated me.  I really hadn't thought about it even though I'm sure I'd heard it previously.  All of our modern celebrations of Memorial Day include all soldiers and is not limited to those who died while serving our country.  I asked the class why we include all soldiers and if it is the right thing to do.

The kids are mainly nine and ten years old.  Most looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  I provided some ideas for thought.

We are currently involved in conflicts and there are daily reports of casualties.  Soldiers never know if they will be alive to see the next Memorial Day.  We need to honor them for the dangers they face daily.

Even those soldiers who come home from war alive are casualties of war.  I very briefly explained Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Shell Shock from World War I.  Many soldiers come home with visible injuries.  All soldiers come home with memories of experiences no one should have.  The invisible emotional and psychological effects of war alters their lives just as much as a visible physical injury.

I used J.R.R. Tolkien as an example.  The students all know at least some of the story of the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit".  I had recently read or what a television program about Tolkien.  (I visualize my readings so much that I often forget if I read it or watched it.)  Tolkien was a soldier in World War I.  The trench warfare and the horrors he saw are reflected in the darkness of the trilogy and its prequel.

I tried to summarize my point by saying that we need to honor all veterans because a part of them died during the war and they live with memories I hope the kids never have to experience.  One student made the point more clearly than I ever could.  She said that it happened to her brother.  He just isn't the same now.  When they go to the fireworks displays on the 4th of July, he can't stay for long.  The noise gets to him.

In a few short sentences with unscripted emotional pauses, she conveyed to the class the reality of soldiers coming home but life never truly returning to what it was.

I honor all soldiers for all they do.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What is "Normal"?

Many years ago I was subbing in a high school biology class.   The topic of the day was genetic variations such as color blindness.  As usual, I expanded the lesson to include my knowledge.  I studied genetics and even extracted DNA as a graduate student.  Without fail the kids encourage me to tell stories.  Anything to deviate from the normal monotony of the school day.  On this day I remember posing a question to the students.

How do we know that the way we perceive the world is the same as others?

I talked about the color blindness and wondered if we really have any idea how others really perceive colors, sounds and touch.  I thought I was giving some good examples and raising some interesting philosophical questions.  The kids started laughing.  Quiet giggles at first.  Followed by real laughter.  Not what a teacher wants to hear when trying to open minds to new ideas.

I looked around the class and quickly realized my mistake.  Sitting in the front row closest to the door was a student named Jenna.  I was lecturing about how some of us may have very different ways of perceiving the world and the kids were all looking at Jenna.  I had totally forgotten that she was blind.

For this bunch of students the idea of different ways of perceiving our environment was nothing new.  Most of them had known Jenna their entire lives and watched her interpret the world in her own ways.  She never let the absence of sight stop her from doing what she wanted.  Most spectators at a Friday night football game didn't have any clue that one of the drummers had been blind since birth.

After laughing with the class, I expanded the idea.  Could some things we find comforting like a shower or a soft touch actually cause pain for others?  They scoffed at the idea a little.  When I took certain medications to treat my migraines, the shower became a place of torture.  Each spray of water felt like a needle being poked into my body.

When Gabe was little and struggling to learn to talk, I noticed that he seemed to hear sounds differently than the rest of us.  "Keys" sounded more like "kitties".  I think this would probably be called an auditory processing disorder but I never pursued a diagnosis on it.  Instead we worked to help him "translate" what he hears into what the rest of us expect to hear.

Now I am learning that my understanding of the world is more different than I thought.  I have always been slightly "off".  A friend called me an "odd duck".  Actually she would say "from one odd duck to another".  I am realizing my special odd duckiness could actually really be Asperger's.

Yet another failed career has had me searching for answers.  I read a post about Asperger's and saw myself.  I read more about it on another site and saw myself even more clearly.  This type of realization happened once before.  I was watching Oprah discuss with a guest the horrible side effects of a medicine.  I don't remember the medicine that was discussed.  I do remember thinking that the horrible side effect was somewhat normal for me.

Now I am on medications for anxiety and depression but... I sometime miss the out of body floating feeling.  Too bad it's not normal.  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

I Thought I was Normal. I was Wrong.

I always thought I was normal.

I thought that how I experienced the world was pretty much the same as everyone else.

I knew there were some things that I just couldn't understand no matter how hard I tried.  I knew I have failed at every job I ever held because I couldn't understand the "politics".  I knew my mind worked in a way that was different than most people's.

Yesterday, my world collapsed and was rebuilt when I read a blog by Tania Marshall describing life as a woman with Asperger's.  In her short blog I saw my life.  All the fuzzy unknowns were brought into crystal clear focus.  For years I had thought that I shared some of my son Gabe's autistic characteristics but I had never once truly thought of myself as being even remotely near a diagnosis.

Autism is a spectrum disorder.  There are a wide range of characteristics and many of the traits are typical to all people.  The intensity of the trait is the variant.  In my job as a substitute teacher, I have meet hundreds of kids.  In many of them I see traits that are similar to Gabe and his autism.  I recognize them and adjust my interactions accordingly.

My focus has always been on Autism and Gabe.  I studied everything I could about it in order to help him become the best and most he could be.  His diagnosis at 36 months of age was definitively "Autism".  There was not a shred of a doubt.  Nor was there any leaning towards the now outdated (but still valid in my opinion) diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome.  For this reason, I never read much specifically related to Asperger's.  I also skipped over anything related to girls.  I was only concerned about Gabe.

Yesterday, for the first time, I seriously considered my life and Asperger's.  As I read Ms. Marshall's post, I saw myself.  What shocked me most was the fact that these things were being described as "not normal" for everyone.  I thought they were.  They were normal for me.

I shared the link on Facebook and mentioned my thoughts about possibly having Asperger's.  A friend shared another link describing more about Asperger's  (  I read with growing understanding all of the problems I have faced in my life and how many of them are because I truly am different.

I am unique.  I now know my uniqueness has a label.  That label will help me understand myself and how to better interact with others.  It does not change me nor do I want to change me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

End of My New "Career"

A random shot of of the high school gym floor.
Most likely this was an unintentional photograph.  My finger hit the screen again instead of hitting the home icon.  I usually delete all the random and blurry photos without thought.  Today, this one caught my eye this morning when I was looking for a picture for my post.  Something about the way the lights reflect on the wooden floor fascinates me.
The lights- fleeting and  delicate.
The wooden floor- Solid and unchanging.
The corner of the chair means I was there for an awards ceremony or meeting of some kind.
The edge of the school logo reminds me that the floor is meant for sports.

The gym floor at the high school has a set routine of beginnings, middles and endings.  Every August,  the parents of incoming freshman attend orientation for a new building with new and higher expectations of the students.    Throughout the year there will be sports practices and competitions, pep rallies, assemblies and dances.  Each season begins with a parents' meeting and ends with an awards program.  The year ends with the ultimate awards ceremony, graduation.

It is a very well defined schedule of beginnings and endings.

Several months ago when I looked at this picture, all I saw was a mistake.   I used it to illustrate a post about writer's block.  Then, I only saw the problems with the photo.  It wasn't planned and at that time I saw no value in it.  Now I find it a fascinating metaphor of life.

Life is not scheduled.  For our lives and many parts of it, we never know how long they will last.  In the past two years, my small community has experienced unexpected deaths.  I've written about them.  Elliott- a 10th grade student who was at school on a Tuesday and dead the next morning.  Most of us didn't realize how fragile his health had always been and that his short life was a gift.  Zenan, James and Lauren died when their apartment caught fire in the middle of the night.  A friend, a few years younger and seemingly much healthier than me, suffered a heart attack and died shortly after doing what she did best: motivating parents and students to sell mulch and support school athletics.

These ending were sudden and irreversible.  Each one impacted my life but Tammy's death continues to change the way I live my life.  The day she died I was offered a new job.  The first time in decades that I had an offer for a job where I could make more than $10,000 a year.  I was scheduled to start the day of her funeral.  I reported to work only to discover that I was not allowed to start because my background check hadn't been finished yet.  The owner claimed to have thought he told me he would call me when I should start and acted surprised that I was there.

I went to Tammy's funeral.  I spent the week thinking about life, death and my purpose.  I pondered working for a man who claimed to not remember telling me to start on a specific day.  I have no doubt he did.  I remember saying I hated to ask but I needed to leave early on the first day and take my son to his orthodontist appointment.  Selling insurance was not something I wanted to do but I wanted a job that paid a fair wage.

I almost didn't take the job.  I almost saw the delay as a sign that I should walk away.  Reality prevailed.  I could not refuse a job.  Two months later, all my hopes have been dashed and any respect I had for the owner is gone.  I learned much.  Earned a little money.  And ...lost more than ten pounds due to stress.

The first month was great.  The job was easy.  I had much to learn but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle.  I thought I could finally have found something I could do and make a fair amount of money doing.  I wasn't going to become rich but at least I could afford to take the boys to the movies occasionally.

Less than month later, everything changed.  A co-worker who happened to also be the owner's daughter changed her attitude towards me.  She became passive-aggressive and tried hard to undermine my confidence.  Not long after that her father's attitude changed also.  I continued to do my job and be as professional as possible.  At one point I tried to discuss it with him.  He turned everyone of my concerns back around to my faulty behavior.  Then he started talking about after I quit.  I said I felt pressured to quit.  He vehemently denied anyone trying to force me to quit.

A week later, his wife who had not been in the office until that day met with me to outline all my faults and convince me to quit.  I refused to quit.  She shredded my personality and behavior.  If they didn't like my work, they should have been telling me all along.  If I made mistakes, I needed to know immediately.  All the mistakes they claimed I made were bogus.

My first "mistake" was refusing to take the blame for errors his daughter made.  My second "mistake" was questioning whether certain activities were legal before I was licensed.  I probably would still be working if I hadn't expressed my concerns.

I was studying and learning about the laws and became uncomfortable making calls to customers before I was licensed.   I had expected him to respect my concerns and wishes to err on the side of caution.  I had expected him to respect the fact that I try to do everything according to the laws.  It was only a matter of a few weeks before I was going to be licensed.

I do not regret any of my actions.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Unconventional Resume

Since being fired last week, I am once again considering my resume.  How do I present my life on a single sheet of paper?  When I was younger and had a conventional life, it was fairly easy to assembly my resume.  List my jobs and education.  Nothing too hard about that.

I worked odd jobs in high school and college:
    1. Cleaning bathrooms on the Turnpike, then food service and cashier.
     2.Busboy and then waitress at a nice restaurant.
     3. College cafeteria worker.
     4. Anthropology research assistant
     5. Botany research assistant
     6. Accounting clerk at the college bookstore.

Then my life starts to get more interesting.
     7. Long Term substitute teacher in a high school learning disabilities class
     8. Math teacher at a community college
     9  Research laboratory technician in immunology
     10. Graduate research assistant in anthropology.

At this point I became a mother and my life no longer fits the typical resume.  I graduated with my MA just months before I had my first son.  I did not have a job to leave.  My home and my son became my life.  I taught myself everything I needed to know.  Not long after that my second son was born.  He is the reason for my unconventional resume.  He is the reason my life has had a purpose and I have found my passion.

My son has autism.

Since then I have:
    1. Studied autism- causes, symptoms, treatments, and theories.
    2. Studied Ohio's special education system and laws.
    3. Closely monitored my son's diet, behavior and growth.

My resume is now result based.  The result of my work for the past 14 years is a child once described as incapable of doing anything on his own to a young man who is actively pursuing his dream of studying finance in college to become a leader in the industry.  The child who couldn't count in second grade is now the tenth grader studying the stock market.  The child who could not tolerate a touch is now a wrestler and football player.

My life work has produced this photograph.  It is not just any head shot picture.  I took this picture to complete his ACT registration.  Not just is he taking the college entrance exam, he is the force behind college visits and registering for the exam.  As a tenth grader, he has done more to prepare for his future than most seniors.

The academic success, self reliance and moral fiber of my son and of his brothers has been the result of my hard work.  I did not do it alone but I was the force behind it.  I was the constant.

This is my true resume that can not be reduced to a single sheet of paper.  It covers more research and study than I did in graduate school.  It meant mastering every subject that effected my son's life.

I failed in one area. I failed to grasp its significance was his toe walking.  That failure on my part resulted in two major surgeries to rebuild his feet.  I made the mistake of assuming a symptom was caused by his autism without exploring other possibilities.

My unconventional resume will become a book.  I will share what I learned.  It is comparable to writing a Ph.D. dissertation.  I am approaching it as I would a dissertation or thesis.


Is It Truth or Slander?

Is it slander to mention being fired on Facebook?

I was fired, posted about it and was threatened with a lawsuit.

In truth, I was extremely careful to not say anything that could be considered as a personal attack or in any other way inappropriate.  I said what the owners said when they fired me.  I was good at my job but they felt I threatened their authority.  I also said I liked and respected my co-workers.  Finally, I said that they told me I made numerous mistakes but were unable to back that up with any examples.

Is that slander or the truth?  Here are some details.

At the beginning of March I started a new job in a totally new field.   I thought the job was a gift from God.  I'd been looking for full time work for almost 10 years without success.  Out of nowhere I got a call from the owner asking if I would be interested in interviewing for a position even though I'd never even applied.  I got the job and began to learn as much as I could as fast as I could.

In the beginning, it was wonderful.  I liked the people in the office.  I liked interacting with the customers.  If I didn't know something, there was always someone to ask and they would explain it.  I learned the daily routine of the front desk and was slowly beginning to understand the details of my new line of work.  For the first few weeks, I spent an hour every day at an on-line skill training program.  I was told I was doing an amazing job.

Then it all changed.  I can pinpoint the day when one of my co-workers started to feel I was a threat to her job.  Her sudden animosity was like a slap in the face.  I still have no idea what triggered it.  At first I tried to attribute her change in attitude to a health issue she was facing.  We all have bad days and days we vent towards people for no reason.  After a week or so, I couldn't use that excuse for her behavior anymore.

Around this time, my "training" stopped.  I was no longer allowed time for the on-line training program.

Office procedures were changed frequently.  When I started, I was told to take notes, do whatever needed done and then shred the notes.  That evolved into a very elaborate system of recording activities.  I actually think that this was a huge improvement.  I also documented everything I did in the parent company's client management computer program.  Since the system was designed for adding information about customer contacts and follow up reminders, I used it extensively and wrote in the phone log.  I did not realize these changes were really a way to "catch me making mistakes".   For that, it was a failure.

Around the same time as my training stopped, I was told I had to start making outbound phone calls to customers.  My knowledge was still very limited but before my boss would agree to let me order study materials for licensing, he said I had to prove I could do the job.  That made no sense to me.  How could I discuss something with customers that I don't understand.  He wanted these phone call to be a way of cross-selling products.

I became frustrated by the increased pressure and his refusal to provide study materials.  I bought my own.  I started with a Dummies Guide to the industry and then order my own set of licensing materials.  If there is one thing I am good at doing, it is studying and learning.  So, I did what I do best.  I studied..

I tried very hard to be pleasant and friendly with everyone.  I worked hard to make sure I made no mistakes.  The biggest mistake I made was telling my boss that I didn't think I should be making these outbound phone calls until I was licensed.  Through my studies I learned that much of what he told me to do during the phone calls was not legal for an unlicensed person to do.  Those phone calls were not worth six months in prison. Another month or so and I would be licensed to make all the phone calls he wanted.  He got very upset and defensive.  He said the blame would be on him as the boss.  Since he is not an expert on the law, I wasn't convinced.

Three days later, he asked how things were going.  I told him I was concerned that the co-worker was not happy with me but I had no idea why.  I also said I got the feeling she wanted me to quit.  Somehow that turned into a big discussion where I was to blame for not going to her with my concerns.  He also started throwing all sorts of accusations at me like being defensive about my mistakes and not asking for help before doing things.   I asked what mistakes.  He had nothing.  When he started talking about "after you quit", I got mad.  I never once said I was considering quitting.  After almost a half hour of this nonsense, I asked him to leave my office.  I had nothing further to say.  I went back to work.  He came in an hour or so later and said we needed to work this out.  I had no idea what he wanted.  I told him I felt that they were trying to make me quit.  He flatly and emphatically denied it.

One week later I am told all of my faults and numerous errors are unacceptable.  I still have no idea what errors they mean.  When pressed, the owners list opening the water bill, making up a potential clients phone number, volunteering to do more than my share of a project, and not completing a contract for a client.

Since when is the company's water usage confidential?
The client gave me an old phone number and I am blamed?
Doing more than my share of editing a tedious spreadsheet was horribly presumptuous?
Why was it my responsibility to ensure that licensed staff do there job correctly?

After an hour of this ridiculous talk, I finally asked if I was being fired.  Oh, no! They didn't want to fire me but they also didn't want me to work there anymore.  I should take the high road and quit. Another 20 minutes of the owners trying to convince me to quit.  They turned all of their character flaws around and blamed me.  The even had the audacity to tell me that I had some deep seated issues that prevent me from being employable.

The truth hurts those who choose to believe a lie but it is not slander or libel to speak the truth.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How demeaning to be treated as less than the family dog?

In the spring of 2001 I had a flash of insight.  I could almost see the light bulb floating over my head.  Maybe it should have been a giant wooden mallet smashing down on me and a voice saying “Duh!”  What caused this miraculous insight?  Our dog.  A little obnoxious mutt we had rescued from the pound a few months earlier.

When Gabe was just starting his early intervention program, I decided we needed a dog.  A dog would distract the boys from all the chaos in our lives.  They would be able to focus on something else and learn to care for an animal.  I was especially concerned that Nate was worrying too much about his brother and a dog would distract him.  Maggie, the cat, had been with us for years but was getting old.  She no longer wanted to be around little energetic boys. 

One cold winter day after picking up Nate from preschool, we headed out to the county dog pound.  The three of us looked at all the small and medium sized dogs.  A small, reddish, mixed breed caught Nate’s eye.  Since he was red, the Nate, my oldest, decided his name should be James after the red engine on Thomas the Tank Engine.  This was Nate’s suggestion since Gabe was still not speaking.  Even without saying a word, I knew that Gabe was happy to have a dog.

James was the distraction I thought he would be.  

The boys were elated to finally have a dog.  Nate couldn’t believe I got him one. Neither could my husband when he got home from work to find a mutt in the house.  Being a mutt from the dog pound with an unknown background, James had some terrible habits and only occasionally obeyed me.  In other words, he fit right in.

James and the boys quickly bonded.  

The dog had patience with them and they loved him.  Gabe and the dog formed a special bond.  Many times I found Gabe in the dog cage with James which was located in a hallway off the kitchen.  It had James’ cushion and toys in it.  My dad explained that it should be the dog den, his safe place to go when the boys get too wild or he is tired.  As predicted, the boys were often too loud and James would retreat to his den.  Gabe would follow and the two would sit quietly together.  I even have a picture of the dog and Gabe in the cage.  Both of them are relaxed and content.

The dog was great with my sons but had many behavioral problems.  The dog was rambunctious and undisciplined.  Nowhere in his past had he gone to Obedience School.  I set about to training the dog as best I could.  It is not easy to change the habits of a full grown dog of unknown age.  I thought if I had patience I could.  James was a stubborn dog and did not adapt to the rules of the house quickly.

One afternoon James had done something he shouldn’t.  I don’t remember the particular offense.  I do remember telling the dog that he knew better.  The dog looked back at me sheepishly.  He did know what I expected and he knew he hadn’t done it.  In that moment I realized that I was communicating with the dog, a nonverbal creature.  I wasn’t reading his mind or anything like that.  I was using my tone and posture to express displeasure.  He was reading my signals and responding.

At this point in time, Gabe was still nonverbal.  He would occasionally say a word or two but did not use language to communicate his needs, his wants or his concerns.  As long as he was doing what he wanted, he was quiet and content.  He seemed to ignore me unless he wanted the same thing as me.  He did not eat at the table.  Whenever we tried, he screamed.  We gave in and he ate while playing trains on the floor. I felt like there wasn’t much I could do since Gabe didn’t talk.

That afternoon I looked at the dog and realized I expected more from that ill-mannered mutt than I did from my own son.   

Not a pleasant revelation.  My attitude changed immediately.  I had no idea what was happening in Gabe’s head or how smart he was.  I did know he was at least as smart as the dog and probably incredibly smarter.  I needed to treat him as if he is an intelligent being capable of learning.  I remember thinking I don’t know how much he can learn or how far he will go but he can learn. I also remember thinking that he will never learn much if we don’t expect him to be able to learn.

How demeaning to be treated as less than the family dog?  

I had not intended to treat Gabe that way.  I love him and have always wanted the best for him.  Somehow our expectations had not been nearly as high as they had been for his older brother.  Realizing what we were doing, albeit unintentionally, was a profound eureka moment.  It changed the way I looked at everything.  How much were we holding him back by not pushing him?  I started pushing Gabe to follow the same rules as his brother.  He needed to behave, to sit at the table while eating and follow the rules of the house.  Why shouldn’t I expect Gabe to be capable of the same?

It was through my attempts to train James that I realized a horrible truth about myself.  

I expected the dog to learn the rules of the house and follow them.  When the dog disobeyed, I reprimanded him and guided him to proper behavior.  When Gabe did something wrong, I didn’t reprimand him or guide him to correct behavior.  I did not expect him to be able to follow the same rules like his brother or even the dog.

I realized I had higher expectations for my dog than my son.  

Not a pleasant realization but an honest one.  Neither talked but both were intelligent and were capable of learning the rules.  Why should I treat my son like he is less capable of learning than the dog?  After a few months we had to return James to the pound.  He was too aggressive and protective.  The lessons he taught me endure.  Whenever I start to slip into the old habit, Nate will remind me that I am treating them differently.  
Brothers never want to let the other one get out of doing chores or allowed more privileges than themselves. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Homemade Strawberry Pie

In our fast paced lives filled with fast food, it is easy to forget the pleasures of a homemade dish.  We also tend to forget how easy some foods are to make.

Once upon a time, my brother, my sister and I cooked and baked just about every day.  We liked food and we liked trying new recipes.  There were many failures.  No matter what we put on the table, my father ate some of it.  If it was bad, he didn't say anything but after leaving the table he went to the cupboard to retrieve his favorite blue bowl.  He filled it with saltines and milk.  He quietly went to the living room and ate.

Actually, I do remember one time Dad reacted to my cooking.  I made chili and accidentally used paprika instead of chili powder.  That was bad.

Now I have three boys, a husband, and a job.  Cooking and baking every night has lost its appeal.  Pies are the only exception.  I love making pies.  Blueberry, apple, pumpkin, peach, and, of course, strawberry.  Sometimes, I just make the crust and top it with butter & cinnamon sugar.

My grandmother taught me how to make a good pie crust.  It is not a secret recipe or complicated one.  It is actually the one usually printed on a rolling sheet.  The trick is to respect the dough and not overwork it.  Grandma said, "If you need to re-roll it, toss it and make new."  This coming from a frugal woman who only let us use half a napkin left a lasting impression.  I don't toss it.  Instead I make the cinnamon sugar crusts.

I have increased the crust recipe because I like even numbers and lots of crust.  I also have given very detailed directions.  So many people say that pie crusts are difficult.  Not really.  They just take patience and practice.  The results are well worth the effort.  I have never had a strawberry pie in a restaurant or from a store that even came close in taste to my grandmother's recipe.

3 cups flour
1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt

Combine these with a pastry blender or fork until it is evenly crumbly.

Slowly add about 8 Tablespoons cold water. Mix with the pastry blender until mixed.  Don't over mix.  The exact amount of water needed can vary depending on humidity.  I usually add 2/3 of it and then slowly add more until it is the right consistency.

Rolling it out takes a little practice.  Flour the sheet and the rolling pin.  Divide the dough in half and pat them into flat patties.  Turn it in the flour. Start rolling.  Flip the dough and change rolling direction frequently.  Roll larger than pan will be.  When ready, carefully roll it on the pin and unroll in the pan.  Cut any excess that touches the table.  Fold over and pinch the edges.

Since this will be baked unfilled, pierce the crust's bottom with a fork in several places.
Bake at 425 degrees (F) for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden.

Strawberry Glaze

1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup water

Simmer for 5 minutes.

1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch, heaping
Mix well.

Sprinkle the sugar mix into the simmering strawberries and stir.  Do this slowly or lumps will for.  Stir constantly until it boils, thickened and becomes clear.  Let it cool for 15 to 20 minutes before pouring over strawberries.

Fill the crust with strawberries (sliced or whole depending on preferences).  Cover with glaze.  Refrigerate.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Epilepsy and Intellectual Disabilities

Yesterday morning on Twitter, I saw a question about epilepsy and intellectual disabilities.  Are they one condition or separate?  I worked closely with a student with epilepsy and saw the effects it had on him.  I commented that the epilepsy can be the cause of intellectual disabilities.  Another person asked if anything can be done to help them.  I replied with what I thought was a very basic and common sense suggestion.

"Helping them understand what is happening reduces anger & blaming self. Love & accept them."

Given the very low character limits of a tweet, I thought it was a decent suggestion. I angered the original tweeter.

"It isn't that simple, most parents love & accept children, cold parents theories are not valid." was his reply.

I honestly don't understand how he took my simple suggestion of helping the kids through a difficult situation as condemnation of parents and parenting styles. Helping people understand scary situations is a very basic idea. Fear of the unknown can be debilitating. When the unknown involves epilepsy and the person experiencing it is a young child, the fear can turn to anger and self-blame easily.

Loving and accepting them is also very basic- I thought. I was picturing the child in the midst of a seizure. The mild ones can look like he is just not paying attention. The more severe ones are terrifying. Their unpredictability adds another level of fear.

With mild "absence seizures" people do mistake them for the child just daydreaming. A young child won't know what is happening anymore than an observer. He can start to blame himself and think he is just lazy. Frustration and anger follow.

I have no idea how my comment was interpreted as any sort of cure-all or a suggestion that parents are cold. Once upon a time autism was blamed on the mothers being cold and unfeeling. These despicable women were dubbed "Refrigerator Mothers". I thank God that we have moved beyond that theory and no one blamed me for Gabe's autism. Besides, he was my little cuddle bug. He just didn't like anyone else holding him.

Back to the Tweeting....

I said that I was commenting as a teach, not a parent.  

To this he replied " I am sorry in that case. You are not the right person to comment. No offence meant."

Why am I not allowed to comment on this? I worked closely with the family and the child for several years. Even as a substitute teacher, I think of the students as my children. Now that I no longer sub, I still think of them that way. Their health and well-being concern me. If there is anything I can do to help them I will. I watch for signs of a problems. Same as my own kids.

When the original tweeter thought I was a parent, he thought I was condemning other parents for bad parenting. When he found out I was not the parent, he dismissed me as not qualified to comment.  

Damned if I am. Damned if I'm not.

I stand by my original statement but would change "anger" to "fear"

Helping them understand what is happening reduces fear & 

blaming self. Love & accept them. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store

Monday, March 10, 2014

A New Chapter Begins

My life can be neatly divided into chapters.  Childhood, High School, College, Research Tech, Grad Student, Motherhood, Autism/Special Needs, Subbing & Crafting.  And today I get to start a new chapter.  Maybe it will be titled "My Career".  Maybe "My Job".  

I am starting to work in an insurance agency office.  How well I like it and it likes me will determine the eventual title.  I am hoping for the career.  I have been searching for almost a decade for a job that is suitable.  Local, some flexibility in hours, respected profession and people who respect me.  

You will notice that money and benefits are not on that list.  I have gone so long with extremely low pay and no benefits that I hardly dare to dream of them.  Forget six figure salary.  I am hoping I will finally get a five figure salary.  Maybe even one that doesn't start with "1".  

Yes, I am or was the working poor.  Highly educated and extremely under employed.  Soon, I hope to just be "the employed".

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If I Die Today...

If I die today....

...Would my family be alright?

...Can my boys survive without me?

...Have I done enough?

I have no intentions of dying today.  Not many of us do.  I am 100% positive Tammy had no idea she would die yesterday.  It had been a normal day.  Work. Academic Boosters meeting at 6:30.  Spring sports meeting at 7 pm. Workouts at the hospital after that.  Dying was not on the agenda or even considered a remote possibility.

Reality check.  It happens.  It happened yesterday to a woman who was the picture of health and life.  Alcohol, drugs, violence, or anything else suspicious had no part in her death.  There is no one to blame and nothing to blame.  It just happened.  We may find out later that she had an unknown heart condition or something else but Tammy took as good care of herself as anyone can.

All I can think about is the family she left behind.  She had no intentions of leaving them.  Her husband and her two sons must learn to live without her.  How will they cope?   How well would my boys and my husband?

I have worked to raise my sons to be capable.  They can cook, clean, do laundry and all the other things to run a house.  I plan to be here for years to help them as they establish themselves but what if I'm not?  What if I'm gone tonight?

Last year our small community experienced a couple sudden deaths.  I started thinking then that I need to get my affairs in order.  If I had died then, my husband would not have been able to find anything.  I started organizing important papers and clean out files.  I still don't think Doug could find anything but it is getting more organized.

I also started worrying about all my online accounts.  My accounts were scattered.  I made a master list and explained it to my sons.  My husband is not computer savvy.  My boys would help him figure it out.

My oldest son has a clear vision of his future and has a wonderful woman in his life.  He will be fine.

My middle son has struggled with autism but it no longer defines him.  He understands finances and people.  He knows what he wants to do with his life.

My youngest son worries me the most.  He is only 10 years old.  He has much to learn.  I have much to teach him.

We have no control over the length of our life.  It can end without warning at anytime.  We must do the best we can.

Death of a Friend

Tammy- life eternal 
This morning started like almost every other school day.  I made coffee.  Put the dog out.  Fed the animals.  Drank coffee and checked email, Twitter and Facebook.  My favorite time of day.

All that changed when my son asked if I had been online yet.  Had I seen anything about an accident?  Had I heard anything about Mrs. Clifford?  I knew he was worried.  He pushed his young brother out of the room and spoke quietly.  He told me that his friends were all talking about Mrs. Clifford's death but he wasn't sure he understood the cryptic comments correctly.  He hoped he was wrong.

He wasn't..Once again, his class is dealing with the sudden and totally unexpected death of someone they all know.  Last year it was a classmate, Elliot, who died on a Wednesday.  He had been in school on that Tuesday and only complained of feeling a little sick in the afternoon.  This year they are mourning the loss of a classmate's mother and the wife of their high school principal.

Just like Elliot's death, Tammy's death makes no sense and was completely unexpected.  Tammy was energy, life, and health.  She exercised and lived a healthy life.  Of all the people I worry about dying, she was not one of them.  I envied her healthy lifestyle.  I try to eat right but have never exercised like Tammy.

I can't imagine our town without her.  Tammy was a force of nature.  She was the person who took charge and organized things.  She made sure things got done.  She was never a wall flower.  Sometimes she rubbed people the wrong way.  That happens whenever people aren't afraid to speak.  It happens to me all the time.

I deeply regret that we had a disagreement last spring and never resolved it.

I thought we had time.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Call from the School

I love the automated message systems that our school use now to keep parents informed.  Almost all winter long we have been getting call from our superintendent announcing a school delay or cancellation.  Mr Eaglowski records a unique message for each occasion and always gives an explanation for the decision.  With all the horrible weather this year, hundreds of people can now recognize their superintendent's voice even if they don't know his face.

The vocational school my eldest attends also uses an automated message service.  Sadly, they only use the computer generated voice or one that sounds just as generic.  This same system calls to report student absences.  I got an unexpected call from them today saying my son wasn't where I thought he was.
I quickly called the school office and asked about my son.  I said he should be there.  The secretary looked at her information and said the teacher had marked him absent.  At this point she could have said "well, he must be absent" but she didn't.  She dropped whatever she had been doing and worked until she found an answer.  

My son's class is Precision Machining.  There is no way she could simply make a quick phone call to the classroom and ask the teacher.  Odds are the phone would never be heard.  She walked to the room and found the class gone.  She tracked them down to the computer lab.  

Within a few minute she called me back with her results.  There are two "Nathaniels" in the class.  The teacher marked the wrong one absent.  A simple and easy mistake to make.  I am very grateful to her for taking the time to find an answer.  

In a time when so many things are computer generated and automated, it is nice to know that there is also a person I can call.  A real live person who will listen to my question and find an answer beyond the one on her computer screen.  

Thank you Sentinel Staff! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who is Getting Rich Off of Our Schoolchildren?

Who is getting rich off our schoolchildren?  Certainly not the schoolchildren, their parents, their teachers or even the college professors.

Who is reaping the benefits of all the "education reform"?  Certainly not the schoolchildren, their parents, or teacher or college professors.

Why are so many corporations and politicians interested in education reform?  There is big money (and votes)  in our country's education system and they want their piece of the pie.

More than 20 years ago I was a new teacher and had my first assignment as a long term substitute in a high school Learning Disabilities class.  During that time technology was just beginning to become a presence in the classrooms.  If I wanted my students to use a computer, I had to reserve it.

Yes, "it".  Singular.  There was one computer available for use and it was wheeled from classroom to classroom on a cart.  I did use that computer and helped boys who hated to write because their handwriting was horrendous find joy in writing a short story.  This computer was a glorified word processor and had no internet access.  It was a useful tool.

During that time, Channel One was just entering the classrooms.  Channel One is a program that places televisions and cable connections in every classroom as long as the students watch the Channel One news program every day.  The issues come not just from the news program and taking time away from instruction but from the commercials that accompany it.  Twenty-five years later, the program is still in classrooms.

As a substitute teacher, I have been in hundreds of classes during Channel One.  On average about 95% of the class ignored the program.  This is a completely unscientific figure but is also probably accurate.  This figure includes teachers.  So why is it still there?  Advertising.  Money.

Channel One Controversy Article from 1990

Every year there is a new and improved program that will revolutionize education and make it easier for our kids to learn.  My favorite is the "New Math".  Really?  How is math new?  What has changed in the past 3,000 years in regards to arithmetic and basic geometry?  Nothing.

The new math, I have learned, is a system of shortcuts.  Instead of "long division", the kids do "short division".   They are still doing the same work but are expected to do most of it in their head.  That is fine for math whizzes but not for kids still struggling.  It also goes against my number one rule in math...Show Your Work...Show ALL Your Work.  Most mistakes are basic computation mistakes and conceptual problems.  I can't the arithmetic error if it was only done in the student's head.

Another very basic but still costly "necessity" in the classroom...calculators.  I know.  Each calculator is not very expensive but the cumulative price is high.  I have also seen a reliance on calculator at such a young age that the students are forgetting their basic math facts.  There is no place for calculators in elementary or middle school classes unless they are used as a tool for the student to check their work.

I was trained as a middle school math and science teacher.  I have worked in countless classes including special education classes.  I remember teaching in a room equipped only with a blackboard, overhead projector, and books.  I remember learning in the same environment.

Now most students have endless resources available to them at the click of a mouse or a touch on their smartphone.   This access to information has not improved anything except the ability of corporations to market their products and make a buck off our desire to better educate our children.

Getting rich off of schoolchildren Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store

Monday, February 17, 2014

Standardized Testing: Who Profits?

Standardized Testing & Common Core: Follow the Money to Profits.

Common Core...Just the latest in new "revolutionary teaching" ideas that will save our country from impending doom.  It started with the Red Scare and Sputnik but was further fueled by the 1983 report "A Nation at Risk" which lambasted our schools.  This report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education was undertaken at the request of Terrel Bell, the Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan.  This report called for sweeping reforms and standardization of education.  It compared the problems with education to the very serious Cold War and not properly educating our youth was tantamount to educational disarmament.  This report brought education into the national spotlight and to the attention of the business community.

People saw an untapped market and very quickly education became big business.  Like our toothpastes and cars, the businesses and politicians were always looking for the "new".  With this "new and improved" systems to sell, school districts and parents are coerced into buying it.  If they don't, the other countries might continue to have better test scores.  The politicians benefit by renaming the programs every few years and making big promises to win votes.  Who wants to vote against our children's futures?

Standardized tests are the supposedly best way to measure our students' understanding of the material.  I graduated with a degree in Middle School Education shortly before standardized testing was beginning its cancerous growth.  In class we learned about testing methods and all the problems with standardized tests.  So why are they becoming the norm?  Someone is profiting but it's not the students. 

Recent years this supposed education revolution has taken on new life in the form of charter schools.  Some charter schools are great and live up to the promises.  Unfortunately, for each success there are countless failures that offset that success.  Recently in Ohio a great number of charter schools opened and closed just as quickly.  The waste of money, time and resources pale in comparison to the educational damage done to the students.  

The problems aren't limited to K-12 programs.  Colleges and universities have become more interested in there sports programs than in the education of there students.  If you doubt this, examine the salaries of the athletic departments versus the academic departments.  How many of the coaches are paid on the same scale as an associate professor?  How many are contract employees who do not qualify for benefits and earn only $17,000 a year despite working at three institutions? 

According to a recent report by NPR 76% of college instructors fall into this "adjunct" category.  Public school teachers earn twice or three times the wages of the college professors who taught at least half and possible most of their college classes.  They also enjoy benefits and job security.  Colleges cite rising costs as the reasoning for this trend. Forget about athletics for a moment, how many in the administration are "adjunct"?

‘A Nation at Risk’ Turns 30: Where Did It Take Us?