The Plague of “Right” Answers

I’m laughing to myself as I compose this post. It’s sort of like walking through a huge puddle of glue and hoping to get to the other side without (a) getting stuck in the puddle or (b) spreading the glue farther or (c) tripping on all the other people already glued in place, hahaha.

When we’re all so entrenched in something together, trying to describe it is like trying to lift your foot out of that puddle without the glue sticking to the bottom of your shoe. Yeah. I’m covered in it too.

See, I figure that’s what makes it a plague: It’s widespread; it’s infected all of us. Read more


Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part II


(Click here to read “Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part I”)

When I transitioned to herbal remedies in place of drugs four years ago, I remember thinking, “Good thing we aren’t in the medical profession!” If I were a pharmacist or married to one, for example, I’m not sure how well that switch would have gone over for all involved hahaha.

But as a college writing teacher married to a tax accountant, I figured we were safe from such life-altering displacement. Taxes are as certain as death, they say; and everyone believes in education.

Insert corny sound effect: ba-dum tshh.

This past summer at the most recent adjunct-faculty meeting I attended for the English department at Salt Lake Community College, I made my big confession: “Guys, I’m a traitor. I’ve converted to unschooling.”

It got the laugh I’d intended, but also lots of questions. “Unschooling? What’s unschooling? I mean, I get that it’s not doing school, but what does that look like?” Read more

Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part I

It doesn’t look like school anymore . . . because it’s not.


I still tell people we “homeschool” since most inquirers just want an explanation for why my kids are home every day. When they ask follow-up questions, like what time we “do school,” I have to take a deep breath and hope I’m not judged as a weirdo—especially in a brand-new neighborhood where those next door are just getting to know us.

“Oh, we used to have a set schedule, but we don’t anymore. Now I’m letting my kids follow their own interests instead of me teaching lessons.”

The word I haven’t tossed around much—not yet, not until I get a little braver—is unschooling. Read more

Vacation Stress

What it is about vacations? They are supposed to be relaxing. They’re supposed to be stress reducers, as in, “You look stressed. Maybe you need a vacation.” And yet I find myself always feeling more anxiety before and during, relieved to finally get home.

Okay, with one exception. Going to Cancun a couple years ago without children — that was relaxing.

So obviously the children are a big factor. There will not be much relaxing at Lake Powell this weekend because I will be constantly worried about where the kids are and if they are (a) getting hurt or (b) getting into trouble.

But another factor in the stress is getting everything done in time to leave.

Here’s a taste of how crazy the past few days have been.

I ordered a birthday package to get to Arizona in time for my mom’s birthday today (happy birthday, Mom!); yesterday it showed up on my porch. Yes, there was a forehead smack involved and some minor swearing: I’d forgotten to change the shipping address when I processed the order.

Then there’s been  job stress. My students have a report due tomorrow and I needed to finish giving them feedback on all their previous assignments so they’d be able to do the reports. Plus, I needed to put together a lesson plan for last night that would help teach them how to do their reports. Specifically, since they’re required to create a chart or table, I kind of needed to show them how to do that.

So I spent all morning yesterday making sure I knew all the steps myself. I’ve done tables and charts before, but when you have to teach other people how to do something, it’s good to go through the process specifically with teaching in mind.

And — don’t laugh too hard about this — I decided the simplest chart to make on the spur of the moment was the one I’d been wishing to come across in all my cloth diaper research anyway: a comparison of brands and types and prices, etc, that I could see at a glance.

There it is, in all its glory! And maybe by posting it here it’ll be of some use to somebody Googling cloth diapers. Although I should mention that this isn’t a very comprehensive list. I’m not particularly interested in cloth diapers that require separate covers, so this only shows All-in-Ones and pocket diapers of the major brands that offer 30-day trials.

The other thing that took me all morning yesterday was then figuring out how to convert the table from Word into a jpg image. I Googled the question and was not impressed with the results, which including everything from transferring to a PowerPoint slide to pasting the table as some kind of html which would supposedly save somewhere on my computer as a picture file.

Have you ever tried to find a file that you didn’t save yourself and you don’t know the name of? Well, I’m sure some people know exactly how to do this, but I do not.

In the end, the simplest thing was to copy the table, paste it in Paint, click “crop” under the Image tab at the top, and then save it as a jpg. This takes exactly 16.2 seconds (depending on the speed of your hard drive). So there you go. Maybe this post is just for people Googling stuff that I was Googling yesterday and couldn’t find. See how helpful I can be when stressed?

Today has already shaped up to be better. I finished reading and leaving feedback for all of my students just an hour before the internet went down at our house. I’m writing this post in Word, hoping the internet will come back on before we leave so I can publish it. But maybe it’s possible that I can leave today with a little less stress. 

Anybody else hate vacation stress so much that it’s tempting to just stay home . . . always?

Leave a comment!

Change the World

Yesterday was the first day of spring semester for Salt Lake Community College, and while I’ve never considered myself to be one of those movie-type teachers that inspires and changes lives, last night I decided to give it a shot — because the more I thought about it, the more it fit with the curriculum for my intermediate class.

When they came in, I had them answer three questions. The first two were just “warm-up” questions to get them primed for the third, but I didn’t tell them that:

  1. something nerdy about you
  2. your claim to fame
  3. one issue you’d tackle/change

(Originally, question three read “one thing you’d change about the world,” but I tested it on my intro class, and half of them said “war” or “world peace.” Oops. A little too broad.)

My answers were (1) I have my library card number memorized but not my bank account number, (2) I have students who like me enough to take both the intro and intermediate courses from me (about a third of the class last night), and (3) I’d change how English teachers teach grammar.

And my students had awesome answers. They’d change CEO overcompensation or disability awareness or put more reform in the healthcare reform or more initiative and inventiveness in education reform or stop the ways we put third-world countries into debt. I wish I could remember all the ideas.

Then I showed this clip from Pay It Forward:

Best of all, it’s not only possible to have one idea change the world, it happens all the time. In the newspaper over New Year’s I read about “People to Watch” in the next decade, and they were all working on different things: studying stem cells, mapping Down Syndrome genes, saving the Jordan River here in Salt Lake County, using saliva as disease diagnosis, running cities, serving in the senate, drawing alternative energy from waste lagoons, writing plays.

That’s how the world changes. You decide on the thing within your reach you want to tackle, and you tackle it.

My dad is part of the 29th Street Weed & Seed Coalition in Tucson — a neighborhood group that unites residents, schools, and businesses in working to reduce crime and build community. They’ve had some amazing success, including a 43% drop in crime compared to 15% in Tucson in the same period.

Also, my dad gets grants of all kinds to help improve the education of his middle school students and the lives of their parents. Last year he started teaching a weekend/evening workshop for parents that focuses on how to have stronger families. The course is free for those who are selected because of the grants my dad applied for. And it helps end cycles of domestic abuse, neglect, poverty, etc.

That’s how the world changes.

For my students this semester, they’ll be changing the world with a website. I showed them some of the ones from last semester, how one student’s site worked to educate people about the connection between drug abuse and gang violence, how another helped families of people diagnosed with a particular form of sclerosis learn how to cope, how one student used his experience working at a credit union to set up a site teaching people about avoiding debt, how another focused on finding happiness by avoiding consumer mentalities. (There are links on my English 2010 page for anyone who wants to see the sites.)

Now that I’ve taught one semester of this class, I realize that it is exactly like that Pay It Forward clip. It really is about changing the world and teaching students how, through writing, they can make things happen — the way my dad writes proposals and gets grant money.

Writing can change the world, and I like that thought a lot.

What about you? What’s something nerdy about you? What’s your claim to fame? And what would you tackle? How would you change the world?

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YA as Diversity Course?

How cool would it be to fulfill one of your general ed requirements at your community college by taking a course in young adult lit?

That’s what a fellow teacher and I are trying to make happen. SLCC requires every student to take a diversity course, and we’re thinking, “What better way to explore diversity than through literature–particularly YA lit?”

Of course, there’s tons of work still to be done with researching requirements, gauging feasibility, designing the course, submitting it for review, etc, but naturally the first thing I wanted to do was make a list of potential books for the course!

What do you think of these?

American Born ChineseMake LemonadeThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Beyond the diversities of race in these ones, I also like that American Born Chinese is a graphic novel, Make Lemonade is written in verse, and The Absolutely True Diary is journal-style–complete with doodles. So there’s that diversity of style, too. That makes me most certain about these first three choices.

It also helps that American Born Chinese won the Printz award and was a National Book Award finalist, The Absolutely True Diary won the National Book Award, and the sequel to Make Lemonade–True Believer–also won the Printz and was a National Book Award finalist.

True Believer deals with sensitivity toward homosexuality in a very honest way, which is probably part of the reason for the two awards. Since it’s also told in verse, it’s a quick enough read that it might be possible to do Make Lemonade and True Believer together.

Mississippi Trial, 1955

Mississippi Trial, 1955 gives a historical perspective on African American rights issues, and I think historicity is one of the requirements of the course.

The Chosen OneA Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life

The Chosen One is a frightening look at the extremes religion can be taken to, and that makes me a little wary. But of course, I wouldn’t want students to think any of these are representative of a whole race or religion, so maybe this book would provide an opportunity to discuss fictional portrayals of people.

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life is also about religion, among other things, and stars a main character who was adopted and raised as an atheist but meets her birth mother, who is Jewish, and has to decide what meaning that heritage will have in her life.

Those are just the ones that I’ve read. Some others that I want to look into include The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas and The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson.

The Possibilities of SainthoodThe Day of the Pelican

What YA books have you read that have enhanced your perspective on the diversity in America? Which would you recommend?

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