Sunday, February 26, 2012


       In the educational world, there are things called IEP's.  An IEP is an Individual Educational Plan.  Students  who have some obstacle to learning can qualify for an IEP.  The qualification process typically begins when a teacher, counselor, parent, or even student begins to question a student's ability to learn.  Data about the student's  background, physical, mental, social, and emotional development and academic growth are gathered.  Generally, this information is brought to a formal meeting which includes the student's teachers, parents, any educational support personnel that might be involved, and, depending on the age of the student, the student as well.  At this initial meeting, a plan is made for the student's continued growth and a decision is made regarding assessment for special ed services.

      Assessment for special ed always includes an academic evaluation and might also include a psycho-social evaluation, a speech and articulation evaluation, a auditory and visual evaluation, and other assessments as needed.  Once the assessments are completed, the planning group reconvenes and makes a decision regarding special ed services and / or other kinds of support for the student.  Students can receive special ed services for a variety of concerns including auditory, linguistic, or spacial processing issues, fine or gross motor issues, psycho-social issues, and lots of other concerns.

     Recently, I began thinking about how all people deserve IEP's.  No one learns exactly like another person and we could all use an IEP to help us get through life.  For some people, that IEP might include academic services but others might have other kinds of special needs.  If they had a meeting like the aforementioned IEP meeting for me, there would not have been academic concerns - not as a child and not as an adult.  As a kid, I daydreamed a lot. I STILL daydream a lot  (when I am not running like crazy to get things done).  Although I was always accepted by other kids at school, I preferred to play alone or with one or two other kids at school. I still prefer solitude to much socializing.  I preferred quiet to noisy and I STILL prefer quiet to noisy.  I always wanted to be outside as a kid and I am still energized by being outside, preferably in the sunshine. As a kid, I struggled with not being "good enough" and, yes, I still struggle with that one too.  I don't know that any of these things get in the way of my learning but they can get in the way of my comfort.

     So what would my Individual Educational Plan look like?  Somewhere in the plan would be written an accommodation for my need for silence.  I would be allowed to wear ear plugs or go to a quiet place whenever the world got too loud.  There would also be an accommodation for my need for isolation.  Every day, I would have a guaranteed block of solitude.  In fact, I would have two or three of those blocks of time.  Additionally, as long as I was employed full time, I would also have at least a full day of alone time on the weekend.  My IEP would need to include an accommodation allowing me time to be outside.  If the sun is shining, I would be allowed to be outside, no matter what.  Perhaps a semi annual trip to the tropics should be included in my IEP.   I would also have access to physical and massage therapists on a regular basis so that those parts of my body that are starting to malfunction can be attended to.  And sleep:  there would need to be an accommodation for naps.  They are essential to my recharging.  I always get up early to have some solitude but I pay the price in a lack of sleep.  Naps are the perfect solution.

      I need to keep thinking about this IEP.  Perhaps I can even pay attention to my own recommendations.

     What would your IEP look like?

  ****  The beautiful girl in the photo is the wonderful and spectacularly talented Ms.  Isabel Grace Seekatz.     xoxoxxoxooxxo to her :) Love, Auntie JT

Monday, February 20, 2012


      I watched an old episode of Northern Exposure last night in which 30 year old Maggie encounters her 15 year old self (imagination runs amok in this Alaskan town sometimes).  Maggie's 15 year old self was mortified when she realized who Maggie had become at the ripe old age of 30.  This older Maggie was no where near what the younger Maggie thought she would be.  Younger Maggie had assumed that older Maggie would have a prestigious  law practice and would be married, with two beautiful children and blended into the genteel life of Grosse Point,  Michigan.  Maggie the elder does not see the need to ever get married, may or may not have children and loves her adventurous life as a bush pilot in remote Alaska.  My, how people change. Naturally, the episode set me to thinking about how such an encounter would go in my life.

      I turned 15 the year Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.  This was the year after San Francisco's Summer of Love - a summer also known as the Long, Hot Summer for the race riots that battered the country.  I was an aware 15 year old, who paid attention to politics and even thought about politics as a career. I watched the Democratic Convention in Chicago with fascination and was shocked by the riots.  I was already inclined towards pacifism and anti-war activities  and, at 15, I was idealistic and, yes, naive.  Who isn't at 15?  And, in those years, it was hard to be a thoughtful young person and not get pulled into the fray.  After all, you weren't supposed to trust anyone over 30.

     But, beyond that political awareness, I can't tell you who or what I wanted to be at 15.  I don't think I thought much about getting married, though I am sure I assumed that I would have a family.  I am sure I assumed I would go to college but the details were vague.  My parents had not gone to college and there was no college account so I suspect I knew, as a 15 year old, that I would be going to the local public college and living at home.  It's odd for me to think about myself at 15.  I can only get a small glimpse of who I was and that is based on what I knew was going on in the world around me at the time.

     I suspect my 15 year old self would not have been too annoyed with my 30 year old self.  My world view at 15 was narrow so my 30 year old self (complete with college degrees, husband, house in town, and a VW Beetle of my own) would have impressed my younger self.   Would my 30 year old self approve of my 58 year old self?  You know, I think she would have but that's because even at 30 there was a TON of learning left to happen.  In much the same way that my 15 year old self was on the edge of an exiting leap into adulthood, my 30 year old self was sitting on the brink of a new life as well. Thirty was a new marriage, a new career twist, and the beginning of first time ever unprotected sex.  Babies, here we come!  At thirty, I thought I knew a thing or two and I am sure I did but there was so much more to learn.  I suspect 30 would find my 58 year old self acceptable though rather boring.  58 is a strong contributor to the community and 58 has done the hard work of parenting.  30 would enjoy 58 year old's children.  I don't see 58 as on the edge of change but that's where I might be surprised.  I wonder what 75 will think of 58?

Saturday, February 18, 2012


The word
could be

But is it break apart?
Break ( as in the rules)?
Break up?
Break open?
Break down?
Break a ten spot?
Take a break?
Break bread?
Day break?
Break away?
Break even?
Break off?
Break out into?

Or is it brake?
as in  STOP.

What's the evidence?
Are there pieces?
Are there cops?
White coats?
Is the sun shining?

Breaking up is hard to do.
Even when it is
that is breaking.
Or braking.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dreams with the Boys

      Night time has been quite captivating recently.  Men and boys seem to dominate my dreamworld these nights and they are always entertaining to me.  Who knows?  Maybe because I grew up in a household that resonated with male energy but I am amused by and so very comfortable with men and boys.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my girlfriends and I am in love with the feminine side of me but males?  They are fascinating to me and so much fun.

      So what's up with dreams filled with men pretending to be my father, with uncles refusing to hug me when all I wanted to do was connect with my dead father, with brothers not letting me drive, with wannabe male cousins telling me I can't drive, with me being banished from "Papa's bathroom" and being relegated to using the shower in the "boys' bathroom"  (clarification:  as a teenager, there were two bathrooms in our house.  One was for use by the 'rents and the two girls in the family;  the other was for the seven boys in the family)?  The dreams are resplendent in male references and female energy is completely absent, except for me, and I am all girl in the dreams.

       I am one of those characters who likes to explore dreams.  I think any meaning ascribed to my dreams has to come from me.  With that in mind, I looked up the definition of masculine and feminine:

masculine:  having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness

feminine:  having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness

  So, what might these dreams be saying to me?  The males dominate but usually in a negative way.  When the uncle refuses to hug me, he is denying me strength.  When these men won't let me drive, they are taking away my power.  No girls in these dreams, not even in the bathrooms!  What happened to delicate and pretty?  Oh, that's right, that's for more youthful people.... or, delicate suggests fragile.  Fragile is absent.

     It's all stream of consciousness, right?  Maybe there is strength to be uncovered?  Maybe I need to push past the strong influences in my life and emerge as a more balanced person?  Maybe I need to look more for vulnerability and fragility?  Maybe my own pseudo strength gets in the way and leaves me open to assault of one kind or another.  I suppose I will just have to wait and see what else is yet to be revealed.  Interesting stuff.

PS:  When I took the dogs on a dawn walk, I wrote a diatribe in my head about the state of California schools, particularly underfunded, small, non rural districts like my own.  Composing this rant in my head made me so angry that  I could literally feel the physical effects of rising blood pressure.  I decided instead to throw the piece onto the ground in the cow pasture which was along side the road where I was walking.  It belongs there with its own kind.
Aren't you proud of me?  And perhaps this is the toxic emotional waste to which you were referring, Tangled Lou?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Funk City

Life is one disappointing landlord.
She makes promises
she doesn't deliver.
The picture window cracked.
The roof leaked.
The drains backed up.
Weeds everywhere.
No one is home.

No contract.
No promises made.
No guarantees.
Hopes and dreams?
Fiction and wannabe.
Wishful thinking.

Overboard expectaions.
And the funk goes on.

   So, in case you were wondering, I wrote that last night.  It was Sunday after a disappointing and funk filled weekend (in which I pretended to be upbeat and cheerful).  Made it through a Monday and the sun kinda came out this afternoon - that makes a big difference after a cold, cloudy wet weekend.  What can I say?  Funks happen.  I can write about them.  Funny thing is, the paintings I am working on?  They, I think,  are going to bring a balance to that funk.  I say "I think" because I never really know where they are going to go -- but I have ideas.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Really, People?

Some background first:

       About ten years ago I began a silly program at my school that, for lack of a better title, we called "red tickets".  Every week I put packets of ten blank red tickets in every staff member's mailbox.  I also keep a limitless supply in my office for any staff member who wants to grab more during the week.  I put them in the mailbox as a reminder to staff to USE them.  The deal with these red tickets is that they can be given to students for anything.  For example, if you wear an O'Neill brand tee shirt and you show it to me, I will give you one.  If you come to me at lunchtime and tell me something you learned in school that morning, I will give you one.  If you give me a multiple answer question about anything in your world and I get the answer wrong (which is usually the case as I know very little about Sponge Bob or Star Wars or some other hint of popular culture), I will give you one.  If it is your birthday, I will give you three.  If you do me a favor and run into my office at lunchtime and bring me my coat because I underestimated the temperature outside, I will give you one.  If I catch you picking up a piece of random litter, besides jumping up and down and saluting you to the high heavens, I will give you one.  Teachers might deliver on all of these same things, or perhaps tie it to some success in the classroom, or just distribute randomly.  You get the point.

       So what happens to the red tickets?  There is a wooden box in the office that is festooned with red tickets. Kids drop by the office all week to put their red tickets in the box.  Part of what makes Fridays fun is that I do a short "radio program" over the intercom during homeroom.  I begin with my hearty, "Welcome to Friday" greeting and then proceed to salute the efforts of whatever teams played this week or announce the winners of the walk and roll to school poster contest or play up the upcoming dance.  Finally I announce the red ticket prize winners for the week.  Typically, I have secured 10 or 12 prizes (for example, Baskin Robbins or Round Table Pizza gift certificates - donated by the companies -  or perhaps some treat of the season - chocolate Valentine hearts last Friday) and I pull the corresponding number of tickets.  I do spread them out and try to get a balance of winners across grade levels.  Between you and me, I also won't allow a kid to win repeatedly when others have not won (yes, I occasionally manipulate the drawing but all for good cause).  I pick the tickets before air time so as to have the chance to manipulate if necessary and to keep the radio program going smoothly.  Trust me, I am good at playing up the fake suspense.  It's also fun because often kids will include a "shout-out" to a teacher, friend, or celebrity and I am happy to read those over the intercom.  It's all about the levity.

    So what's the "Really, People?" title all about?  One of the three disgruntled parents with whom I dealt on Friday has a second grade son and a preschooler.  She came to the office after homeroom on Friday to protest the red ticket drawing.  She felt that a drawing like that was harmful to kids.  Her concern was that the ten or twelve winners were exulted and the remaining 480 or so kids were losers.   She wanted there to be a prize for every student or no prizes at all.  Of course, I listened to her complaint and thanked her for her feedback.  As you might expect, I pointed out that life has times when you don't get what you want and the red ticket drawing could also be seen as a chance to practice graceful "losing".  She would have nothing to do with that.  In fact, she strongly reiterated her concern that children are damaged when they can't be winners.  She walked out of the office in a bit of a huff.

      I wished she could have been open to more conversation and, perhaps, at a different time she might be.  What I wanted to say was, "Lighten up." I know she is being a mama bear protecting her cub but what if, instead of consoling him when he didn't win and enhancing his disappointment, she chose to say to him, "Oh, kiddo, it's just a silly little game JT plays.  Let's put another ticket in next week and see what happens." What if, instead of feeding his disappointment, she gave him some coping skills.  Let's face it.  Life is going to give him  plenty of opportunities to cope with not getting what he wants.  Rather than shelter him from something as insignificant as a weekly drawing for a candy heart, maybe she could model ways to deal with disappointment.

      From where I sit the red ticket drawings furnish many positive moments.  They add a bit of fun to Fridays.  They provide occasions for positive feedback.   They build connections between kids and adults on campus.  They make people smile (both donor and recipient).  They give kids a chance to come into the office and say hi to me and/or our principal.

     Here's the thing.  I've had my go at parenting but I am interested in what my blogging peeps say about this practice.  Are red ticket drawings damaging for kids or not damaging for kids?  What do you think?

**** PS.  I kid you not.  I thought about this topic BEFORE  I saw this morning's  Doonesbury comic strip.  Check it out!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Visit from Spring

      It was yet another challenging week at work.  I did my best to ride it out and yet this morning I felt sad and frustrated.  In a funk, for sure .  Some of the funk is about the increasing number of kids who are getting such a difficult start in life.  This week alone,  I dealt with one girl who had used a needle to carve frightening words into her upper thigh - deep, etched carving that will forever remind this girl that she is a "worthless piece of shit" and that she "deserves to die."

      Another girl came to me with her story of literally being caught in the middle between her parents who have not yet been able to resolve issues from a divorce that occurred eight plus years ago.  This girl swallowed a bottle of pills about two weeks and was hospitalized overnight.

       Ugh.  I don't want to regale you with the other stories of the week.  I guess I am searching for my own answers to why such young kids have to be in such pain and how I can change the patterns.  I was told by a high school student this week that the only way to do anything is one conversation at a time.  So slow.  And I don't have time for those conversations..... IEP's, yard duty, club moderation, parent emails, public relations work, board reports, scheduling, staff meetings, impromptu subbing for teachers who get sick in the day, serving as the after school crossing guard, building SARB cases -- so much more - not complaining - just saying, I need to work double time in order to be most effective.
       So why then do I have these hopeful photos of budding flowers? Because today winter parted her curtain and spring peeked through the crack!  It is NOT the real deal but a sneak preview.  I am amazed that spring has a feeling but she does.  When I took a walk downtown this afternoon with Sonny Boy, we were in jeans and jackets but the air felt as if spring were checking out our town, wondering if people remembered who she was.  She was a bit skippy and bounced around in and out of clouds.  But she spilled enough sunshine to make the trees and vines think that she was serious about kicking it with us for awhile.  I knew her secret but I decided not to tell anyone.  I could smile at her and play our game.

     The sadness with which I began my day melted into the air.  I gradually let go of my discouragement.  Perhaps that is what hope is about - setting aside frustrations and fears, and maybe the recognition that you are doing the best you can and tomorrow is another day.  Who knows?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

If Jesus Walked on Water......

  My blogger friend Tangled Lou over at Periphery posted a cool piece the other day that touched on the connection between memory and truth vs memory and fiction.  Her opening hook gave three incidents that occurred with she was four years old.  She recalled them as she remembered them, which admittedly, may or may not be the way they actually occurred.  As I read those three memories, I was flooded with a memory of my own.

      Once upon a time when I was five years old, I was playing out along side the garage (right over there by the clothes lines).  My dad had recently deconstructed an old house and had been able to salvage the windows.  He had stacked them on the ground along side of the garage but out of the general play way.  Remember, now,  that I was brought up in a devout Catholic home.  I had heard the religious stories over and over again and one that always intrigued me was that one where Jesus walked on water.  How did he do that?  There must have been pictures in the prayer books of this mysterious event because it was so real in my imagination.

     Maybe you've guessed where this story is going.  That (maybe) one foot high stack of windows looked like water to me.  I remember clearly thinking that  Jesus walked on water.  Maybe I would be able to as well.  Okay, so maybe I wasn't the brightest five year old but I was curious, adventurous and I was a risk taker.  Step on up.  Walk across that window.

     Oops.  Though I was a fairly slight 5 year old, I was not slight enough to be held by the glass.  My foot (which actually had a shoe on it that day) went right though the glass - all several layers of glass.  Oddly enough, I can't remember an injury (though there must have been at least some scraping).  What I do remember is being overwhelmed with fear and anger.  I was so mad at myself for having done that.  Papa was going to be SO MAD.  He was going to yell at me.  I distinctly recall laying down on the ground right there by the stack of windows and sobbing and hitting my hands against the dirt - ENRAGED  at myself.  After a bit, I went into the house looking for Mama.  Papa was at work but I needed to tell someone what had happened.  I don't recall much other than that she insisted that I would need to be the one to tell Papa when he got home.  Let me tell you.  I was one scared little girl.

      That evening, Papa came home from work.  It must have been a Saturday as the parents were getting ready to go out somewhere.  Papa had taken a bath and shaved and was dressed in his very nice jacket and tie.  I could smell his after shave lotion and that usually made me happy. Not that night.   For some reason, I went into to talk to him while he was finishing getting dressed.  Likely he had saved the bath water for me and I was supposed to be getting into the tub.  I remember approaching him with great fear and telling him I needed to talk to him.  He sat himself down on the toilet (all dressed in his fancy clothes) and gave me his full attention.  I remember crying while I told him about wanting to walk on water like Jesus had done and that when I tried to do that, I broke the windows.   My memory says he was holding my hands and he asked me if I learned anything (that man was all about learning things).  Very clearly I remember telling him, "Yes, I learned that I couldn't walk on glass."  My memory says he told me that he was glad that I had learned something and it was going to be okay.  I was so relieved.  He didn't yell.  That was my biggest fear.  He never hit me and I wasn't worried about that.  I was worried that he wouldn't want me anymore.

    All parts of this story are lodged in my memory.  It's odd to me that I think of him as holding my hands because I don't have many memories of that sort of affection. But it really does fit.   I suspect that Mama had prepared him for my words and, the fact that he had likely had a cocktail or two while getting ready to go out, might have helped my case.  That's the thing with Robert.  You never knew what to expect. You didn't  know if  he was going to yell or be patient.  You didn't know if he was going to want you along when he went to the hardware store or if he was going to rage off .  You didn't know if he was going to be a storyteller while you peeled those potatoes for dinner or if he was going to shoot pots and pans across the kitchen because he had detected some residual from last nights' dinner that the dishwasher of the night had not removed.

     In retelling the story, I am reminded that, even as a 5 year old, I did not cut myself any slack.  I am also reminded of how difficult it must have been to be a little kid in a world where love hinged on doing the right thing and where you really had to watch carefully to note the signs around you.  I think I was born an observer and my childhood honed my observer / people skills.  I learned how to read the 'rents and I also learned how to negotiate with the siblings.  All good skills for life, heh?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Goody Two Shoes

       Two 7th graders were suspended this week for fighting.   They are both "good" kids.  Rarely have I seen them in the office for discipline issues and they both maintain 3.0 or above gpa's.  Apparently one, in a fit of bravado,  told the other he could beat him in a fight and the gauntlet was thrown.  Knowing that fighting on campus would be the ticket to suspension and, for at least one of the boys, something that would upset his parents, these two guys decided to take the fight off campus.  

      Although no one officially sold tickets for the fight, pretty much half the 7th and 8th graders showed up for the entertainment.  Quite a crowd of hormone driven 12 and 13 year olds was mobbing on a trail just outside the school grounds promptly at 3:05..  What they failed to realize is that, legally, the time between home and school is the school's  responsibility so fighting ten yards off campus was the same as fighting on campus.  The PE teacher called the office the minute she saw the crowd.  I got on the PA system and immediately called every male teacher by name, asking them to go out to the field.  Purpose?  To let kids know supervision was on the way.  Males?  Yes, female teachers would go too but, in a fight, 12 year old boys more readily respond to the big male figure (even if he's 60 years old....).  

     In the end, Brett*  clearly came out the winner (after immediately knocking Justin* to the ground and then taking off on foot through the adjacent neighborhood).  Justin took the walk of shame to the office.  Of course, Brett got his comeuppance when he showed up at school the next morning (really?) but Justin had to face the music right then.  Dad responded at once and 20 minutes later, Justin was walking out of the office with a blend of defiance, confusion, embarrassment, and just plain defeat.  

       Justin is new to our school this year.  He is a quirky, creative, funny, guy who has that "old soul" feeling and who struggled to fit in at his previous school.  From the first day, I connected with Justin.  He has some health issues and I worked with him on how to explain his situation to teachers. He was upfront with me from the beginning about the bully issues at the previous school and I checked in with him regularly in the fall.   Our school is bigger and more diversified than his previous school.  He found acceptance by our kids in ways he that was never accepted before.  He flourished.  

     So when Justin was suspended, I wanted to give him some feedback.  Actually, I needed him to know a few things.  I sent him the following email:

Hi Justin, 
It's JT at BHS. 
         I wanted to check in with you just to see how you were doing.  I really enjoy having you at BH.  I find you to be an interesting, smart, and creative guy who also has a delightful sense of humor.  Back a few weeks ago (maybe in December?) , we talked one day at lunchtime and you wanted me to know you were not a "goody two shoes".  There was something about that comment that stayed with me. I guess I wondered if you assumed that I considered you a "goody two shoes".  Perhaps a definition is in order.  For me, that term means someone who somehow thinks they are better than everyone else.  They believe they have a market on always doing the right thing.  A "goody two shoes" is the kid who always has his/her hand up with answer, always is sitting prim and proper, always is focused on the impression they might be making on the authority figure ( whether that is a teacher, a boss, a cop, whatever)  -- BINGO  -- that's it - they care only about impressing.  

        Okay, now with my definition aside, I will say that you are not , in my mind, a goody two shoes.  I think you mostly do the right thing b/c that's the kind of person you are.  You come from a family where doing the right thing matters (however YOU see the right thing).  I think that , despite this fight incident, you are still a person intent on being kind, respectful, and honest.  I have been on the planet long enough to know that all people change.  I know that younger people are still determining who they are (frankly, older people too).  I know that that process means that you try on different ways of being to see if they fit and if you like them (much like you try on shoes to see if the fit and style are yours).  And one style might work for a while or shoes will fit for a while but then you will outgrow them and that is the process of becoming who you are.  

        All this is to say, again, I think you are a wonderful addition to our campus.  I like your spirit and your ability to accept everyone.   I am sure you have looked at your behavior the other day and likely talked to your parents and/or grandpa about the decisions you made that day.  In the big huge scheme of things, this is not going to be a big deal.....but it is a big deal right now.  How you see yourself now and how other kids see you might change and you can make that into a positive.  If you want to look at anything that might be helpful for you here at BHS, you know my door is always open.  Glad to have you here and I'll see you next week --


What do you think?  Will it make a difference to Justin?

*  Of course, these are not their real names.