Unfolding Lotus Perching Butterfly

lotus_butterflyI’m no longer pounding the pavement. I’m back in the classroom as a substitute teacher in residence. Instead of being called to different schools in the district, I will be at one school everyday to sub and support as needed. I’ve come full circle in one respect. My first internship was at this school, and I am honored to be working at this excellent institution.

My search for a permanent teaching job has been rocky. In the last four years, I’ve only taught one full academic year. All the rest have been part year during which I joined the faculty late. In these cases, the school needed to add an additional class because of increased enrollment or the teacher resigned before the academic year ended. I’ve learned a great deal about teaching, learning, children, and school communities during this time. It is highly unlikely that I will accept another part year contract. If I am hired, it must be in the window before the school year begins.

I continue to work part time at the public library. I have no idea where I will end up: a full time teacher or a full time library associate. I don’t know and that is okay. In the daily moments, whether at school or at the library, I’ll soak everything in and sharpen every skill. I know I have a passion for teaching, learning, and service which work well in either setting. It feels refreshing not to grasp for it but to let it unfold…like a lotus and the answer perch there as a butterfly.

Ebola Rewind

ebola4I am interested in origins. Where did Ebola come from? What is its history?

My first introduction to this disease was the film, “Outbreak.” In the movie, I remember the level 4 trauma ward of the CDC where the dreaded virus was housed. One of my favorite parts of the movie was when one character proclaimed, “It’s airborne!” I remember the scary images dramatizing those affected, bleeding from every opening. The virus in the movie was reported to be worse than Ebola.

I saw “Outbreak” when I was a sophomore in college attending Emory University and living a stone’s throw from the CDC, not that the proximity mattered. The CDC could have been housed on Mars at the time for how far fetched the movie’s premise was to me at the time. I’ve never forgotten about those fictional images or the movie.

Where did this virus come from? Fruit bats. The World Health Organization warns people in affected regions in West African countries against eating bushmeat to prevent animal to human transmission.

The first known case of the virus occurred in 1967 in Marburg, Germany. The origin of that small, contained outbreak was a group of green monkeys imported from Africa to be used for research and vaccine production. The monkeys were euthanized. There were only 31 human cases.

In 1976, the next known outbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Yambuku near the Ebola river, later becoming the virus’ namesake. The aforementioned outbreak in Germany was referred to as the Marburg Virus. The Marburg and Ebola viruses are from the same virus family, Filoviridae. There were 318 cases and 280 deaths. In 1977 and 1979 there were small outbreaks in Sudan, Zaire (DRC), and London (laboratory incident). In 1989 the virus was introduced in a Reston, VA primate facility by infected monkeys imported from the Philippines.

From 1989 to 2013, there have been 30 relatively small outbreaks in the world, mostly in West African countries. The largest fatal cases–in the hundreds–were all in this region. The 2014 outbreak is horrifying because the number of human cases are over 4500 with deaths edging toward 2500.

This is the brief origin story of Ebola before the recent American cases. I’ll write about those in a later post.

Talk to Children about Math Early and Often to Combat Math Anxiety

I recall the stories my mom told me about how she and her fellow classmates in grade school had to demonstrate knowledge of their “times tables.” The teacher would line students in front of the room to recite their tables from the ones to the twelves. What I remember most about her retelling is not the “butterflies in the stomach” feeling she said she experienced, but the confident assurance that she and her classmates knew their tables. How did the students study for these drills? Did the acquisition come from studying or the daily oral drilling? Mathematics instruction has changed for the better since my mom was a child, but it remains the Achilles’ heel for American students.

The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000) advocates building deep conceptual knowledge in mathematics before drill and practice. This viewpoint is different from the mathematics instruction of my mom’s era when drill and practice was considered the best practice for attaining math skills. While I wholeheartedly agree with the NCTM, I think that there is something to be gained from oral assessment in mathematics. In my mom’s experience, oral assessment gave both the teacher and student an authentic means of assessing acquisition of multiplication facts. In today’s K-12 classrooms it is rare to witness oral assessment used in any formalized manner and definitely not in mathematics classrooms. You would be hard pressed to find much talking going on during mathematics instruction or assessment.

All throughout school, I never considered math my best subject. I was a solid and sometimes borderline “B” student in math because of help from my mom. During grocery store trips when I was a child, my mom would ask me to figure out math problems. She would point to items and say, “These are 3 for $5.00, but these are $1.50 each. What is the best deal?” She would also say, “These are buy one get one free, but nothing is ever free, so how much would one cost?” I hated being put on the spot like this, but she seemed to genuinely want my help. As the dutiful daughter, I would work it out. If I was right, she would affirm the answer. If I was wrong, she would talk it out with me until we got the right answer. The oral nature of her mathematics education seemed to make talking about math second nature. It helped me both then and now to see the benefit of reasoning orally. I was always anxious about math because I never felt like I truly understood many of the concepts especially as I took higher level math. I could memorize really well and relied on that to get me through. To my surprise, I qualified to take accelerated math classes all throughout school which increased my anxiety level.

I have found that most people dislike math, and are adverse to talking about the subject. In my graduate math class on how to teach mathematics in elementary education, the instructor gave us a problem to solve. He encouraged us to work alone for a couple of minutes and then confer with a partner to discuss our problem solving strategies. The vast majority of us worked alone and never consulted a partner. My hunch was that most of us didn’t want to broadcast our lack of knowledge or confusion on the subject. Since taking this class, I have had a paradigm shift when it comes to math, due in part to the excellent instruction of that professor and my experience of having to teach math. I have relearned and in some cases learned for the first time many of the underlying concepts in math. Consequently, I no longer see it as the enigma it once was. The oral nature of teaching and instruction in which I have to explain concepts to children played an indelible role in my shift. The process of preparing for math instruction and having to explain mathematical concepts and reasoning to my students has increased my own mathematical knowledge. This has made me wonder the extent to which discussion and oral reasoning can increase student’s math knowledge. When I have taught math to younger elementary students, many of them are eager to raise their hands to answer questions about math even if they do not know the answer. In older students, I have found that this eagerness disappears. Students would rather labor away in their own individual silos in pursuit of the right answer. Once that answer has been reached, they do not want to talk about the process. The over focus on standardized, multiple choice assessments has reinforced the silo mentality among students in mathematics.

Math anxiety is learned overtime. Parents can mitigate this anxiety by talking about math in a non-threatening environment. Encourage your child to talk out a math quandary. You can do this by example. Let them hear you figuring out loud. As shared earlier, my mother did this sort of thing with me in the grocery store. I did the same with my daughter when she was smaller. For example, I would give her a pad and pencil in the grocery store with the directive to round the prices to the nearest dollar and keep a running total of our groceries. I will admit that as she has gotten older she has rejected my math talk, but I continue sometimes out of necessity. There was the time she overtipped the hair stylist because she was fuzzy on her percentages. We had a long talk about that one with a lesson in figuring percents mentally. On one occasion when we were out to eat, I brought up the lesson again to see if she could figure the tip percentage. My mother wanted to show her how to find the percentage using multiplication. When my mom pulled out a pencil and paper, my daughter groaned and grudgingly worked out the problem. My mother’s algorithm method was traditional, but it didn’t teach the number sense gleaned from talking it out using a benchmark. For example, knowing how to find 10 percent of something can help in finding most any other percentage.

During these conversations, it’s okay for all parents to admit if they do not know the answer. Today math is taught less with algorithms and more with a stress on using a plethora of strategies to carry out mathematical operations. I know that parents balk at the “new fangled” ways students are learning math and thus don’t feel equip to help students with homework. I would encourage parents to enter into a dialogue with children about the ways they are learning math. This may involve asking your child’s teacher for recommendations on websites, workbooks, or other resources. In the long run, it will teach your child that math is not something to be feared but embraced and explored.

Ebola and Police Brutality

Which is the biggest menace in America (for blacks), Ebola or police brutality? I’d say the latter based on recent reports of black men and women being harassed and killed by police without cause. Even after producing papers or following other police orders, these black men and women are still in peril. They can still be shot. I must mention the children that have been present in some cases. When I roll by a person being pulled over and he or she is black, my heart jumps in fear for that person and in some cases for myself. Could that happen to me? I don’t worry, at least not yet, about Ebola.

If this is not addressed aggressively, no one (black, white, or brown) will be safe.

In Georgia the open carry law has been passed. This law allows you to carry your gun in public spaces at will. What would happen if black folks en masse took advantage of this law and began to carry just for protection…against the police?

These are two thought experiments that popped into my mind. Food for thought.

Second Person in US Contracts Ebola

It has been confirmed that a second person has tested positive for Ebola in the US. A healthcare worker who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the US, has tested positive for the disease. The worker was following CDC protocols including taking body temperature twice daily when an elevated temperature was discovered. After reporting the temperature, the worker was tested and found to have the virus.

How did this worker contract the virus? The worker, whose identity has not been released, was reportedly wearing full protective gear. What happened then? Officials continue to say that it is extremely difficult to contract the disease yet cases continue to crop up. They say you can’t get it through the air, only by contact with bodily fluids. Aren’t droplets of water passed through the air with a sneeze? Their assurances are not helpful in light of this latest development. Did the worker not handle the protective gear correctly?

More questions need to be answered. This makes me want to dust off my science knowledge. What is the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection?

The Magical Job Hunt

jobhuntI am convinced there is something magical about the job hunt. I refuse to call it a “search” because the all encompassing aspect of the process, the exertion of mental and physical effort makes this process a hunt. The process is not magical so much as the end…of achieving the goal, capturing the prey: that coveted, hunted for position.

What metaphor should I use for the process? Releasing bottled messages in the ocean? Whispering messages in the wind? Writing messages in the sand? In other words, engaging in pointless and fruitless activities in hopes that you…abracadabra…get an interview!

Richard Bolles got it correct in his yearly publication, What Color is Your Parachute? Employers and job-hunters are at cross purposes when it comes to how each looks for the other. Employers look for candidates in the opposite way job hunters look for jobs. It’s like ships passing in the night. This is even true for low-wage part time jobs. Let me explain. You are hard-pressed to find any company that doesn’t direct you to their website if you approach them about job opportunities. Most likely, there will be a description with the directive to send a cover letter, resume, references, and in some cases, salary requirements. No calls please! For part-time low-wage retail or service jobs, one is directed to the company website to fill out screen after screen of information and in some cases to answer a personality assessment. One imagines some person or persons sifting through resumes, choosing candidates, and setting up interviews in a sort of equitable way. Giving everyone a shot at a the very least a perusal of their application. Humph! One imagines wrong.

First, most companies would rather promote or laterally transfer from within. I understand this reasoning. It’s efficient, cheaper, and less risky. Second, companies will ask current employees or colleagues if they know of anyone who might be a good fit. This is where the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” rings true. Third, companies might hire an employment agency to manage the candidate sifting and selection. This happens in large institutions as well when the “employment agency” is really the human resources department. These opaque, goliathesque departments are the first gatekeepers to getting your resume in front of the right person. I think the very last resort for companies is to actually review resumes and cover letters.

I agree that the job hunter has to create inventive ways to take out the various gatekeepers. Volunteering with the organization is a great way to make some headway, but that is not always possible. What if you are trying to obtain a part time job just for the purposes of say…paying off student loans or other debt as a supplement to your full time job? Suppose you apply at a chain grocery store, restaurant, clothing retailer, or movie theater? I guarantee that each company will direct you to their website. You’ll apply and the waiting will begin. No call back. Why ask for all that data if you’re not going to review the applications anyway? What do they do with all that data? It’s a little scary.

But you know what? Sometimes magic happens and they do call back. Until then…the hunt is on. The waiting begins. Be as creative. Be vigilant. Be positive. Hopefully some magic will come your way.

Connection in the age of 1s and 0s

AttachmentsThe last two novels I’ve read have similar plot points: The protagonist falls in love with someone within the 1s and 0s, online via e-mail or social media while said protagonist is going through a rough patch in life. Lincoln O’Neill takes a job as an Internet Security Officer on the cusp of the Y2K hype in Rosemary Rowell’s Attachments. He soon realizes that his job mostly involves being Big Brother, reading employees’ email messages, and issuing them warnings for sending personal e-mails, using profanity, or other such infractions. Lincoln can’t stop reading the messages between co-workers, Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder, who frequently operate outside of accepted e-mail policy. He develops a fondness for their messages and he finds himself falling in love with Beth. He makes the conscious decision not to give them a citation and reasons that he should stop reading their e-mail. He does not stop. That’s where it gets deliciously good. This problem and the mess it creates helps Lincoln push through his rough patch. After a breakup in college, he never quite recovered and has been a perpetual wanderer since then. This novel will make you long for the days of e-mailing your best friend instead of spitting out those choppy text messages. You won’t get enough of reading Beth’s and Jennifer’s correspondences or rooting for Lincoln to make a move…in person! I can’t say more. Spoilers. This is a highly engaging novel with smart and witty dialogue.

wife22In Melanie Gideon’s Wife 22, elementary school drama teacher, Alice Buckle is a married mother of two and not quite happy with many things, that extra 5 pound, that she never recovered from a failed play debut, that her daughter might be anorexic, and her son, gay. Most of all, the spark in her marriage is barely there. In search of something, Alice decides to participate in a “Marriage in the 21st Century” research survey via e-mail. In the interest of anonymity, she is assigned the alias, Wife 22. She begins to receive batches of questions from, Researcher 101, which she answers enthusiastically. As she intimates, who knew that confession could be such a powerful aphrodisiac? The twist in the story had me talking out loud to the book. I knew it just before it was revealed.

There was an e-mail exchange between Researcher 101 and Wife 22 that resonated with me:

Researcher 101,

Sometimes when I log on to my computer I feel like I’m in a casino sitting in front of a slot machine. I have the same shivery feeling of anticipation—that anything is possible and anything can happen, i.e. press Send.
The rewards are immediate. I hear the machine churning. I hear all the lovely chimes and whooshes and pings. And when the symbols come up “Kate O’Halloran likes your comment”; “Kelly Cho wants to be your friend”; “You have been tagged in a photo”—I am a winner.
What I’m trying to say is thanks for such a quick response. 
Best, 
Wife 22

Wife 22,

I understand what you are saying completely, and often feel the same way, although I have to admit it worries me. It seems like we’ve gotten to the point where our experiences, our memories—our entire lives, actually—aren’t real unless we post about them online. I wonder if we might miss the days of being unreachable.
All the best,
Researcher 101

The equating of “winning” with the chatter one receives from others on line, the likes, reblogs, friending, etc and the tendency to post our lives on line (often the best parts) as a sort of validation really got me to thinking. Hmm… I highly recommend these two novels. Honestly, I hated for them to end. On to the next book.

On Hold and other Random Thoughts

For once in my life, I’m relishing the idea of being on hold but there are contingencies. See, I’ve been working at my entry-level part-time position for three months. I love this job and see myself advancing in the regular course of things. However, a position came open last month that is perfect for me. I applied. Now, here is the contingency. According to organizational policy, current employees cannot apply for another position until after 6 months. I understand the reasons for this policy. Six months is the standard probationary period of employment. However, I threw policy to the wind and applied anyway. The job in question, the job I really want requires a particular of skills, (cue Liam Neeson in “Taken”) degree, and experience that I have. Also, I was told that I beat out over 30 people for my current position. Nothing fuels hope like want of the thing one hopes for and a little evidence that the thing cometh, right? I really want it so I have to hope that this organization will cast this 6 month rule out of the window.

The days after the deadline to apply, I waited and hoped for that call. I didn’t receive it. When I checked the position status, two little words gave me hope, ‘On Hold.’ Why? Of course it doesn’t say why. But here’s my theory. The hiring manager saw my resume and cover letter and was totally wowed. “This candidate seems to be a good fit, but uh oh…she’s only been working with us for half of the probationary period. Let’s wait. It’s the end of the year so we can reopen the position in three months,” said the hypothetical hiring manager.

My supervisor and the other powers that be know that I am interested in full time, but I didn’t talk to them about it since I am still within the probationary period. I can’t hope with those who are supposed to tow the company line! I am realistic. I know that jobs can be put on hold for a number of reasons: lack of funding, change of direction, etc. This is a new position so anything his possible. Daily I check the website to see if the ‘On Hold’ still holds, if you will.  I have hope as I am on hold, but really I’m not on hold. I am moving forward, learning, growing, and flourishing in this current position.

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content.” Philippians 4:11

This verse is aspirational and I am getting there daily! 

I’ve got a copy-editing job! The job began as a simple task to ensure that the dissertation had citations, bibliography, and order of content according to Turabian and MLA style. However, it has expanded to consulting with the author on content. That morphed into a reconceptualizing of the author’s topic. Yikes! Unfortunately, this person is not receiving the help and direction needed from their committee. Go figure. I’ve been delighted to be a sounding board, offer critique, and encouragement. That’s one thing I loved about school, learning in community and I guess I should add inquiry, the exchange of ideas, critique, evaluation, analysis…all in the context of community. I miss it sorely now. I get snippets of it at work, reading, blogging, and writing fanfiction (when folks review). I think that’s why I had a hankering for a penpal back in the summer. But there is no such thing as an adult penpal phenomena unless you take social media into account. I don’t hang out on those sites as much. 

October is upon us. September is gone. 2014 is slippery, but I’m yet holding on.


Shopping While Not Paying is Bliss

Today I dropped my teenaged daughter off at the salon for her hair appointment. After ensuring that she was clear on her percents so that she wouldn’t again overpay the tip, I zipped off to my mother’s house for a visit. This was an expense SHE was incurring. Yippee!

Less than two hours later, I returned to collect her and we headed to the mall for a homecoming dress. But (the but is everything) the dress was on her! Her dad and I aren’t total misers. We brought her dress and all the accoutrements in previous years, but she has a part time job. Now back to the bliss…we walked into the dress shop, and after trying on a mere 4 dresses, she found the one, a frilly black strapless number embroidered with jewels that sparkled like the aurora borealis. This is fitting for the “Out of this World” dance theme. After she bought the dress (with HER debit card), she wanted to go to another store for an unrelated purchase.

After that last purchase (of hers), we headed home. The reality of it all finally set in for her when she took a gander at her bank balance. She’d spent her own money on two of the biggest items for the dance. I was able to talk her down from raiding her savings to get her balance back up to what she thought was an acceptable amount. “I feel broke, Mom,” she said. For me, however, it was bliss, at least for those couple of hours.

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