Nothing to fear but fear itself

Pottery 2012 009

On a scale of 1-10, how afraid are you to try something new?

Oh, I’m sure most of you are quite courageous, but when it comes right down to it, if you really want to know how brave you are, measure your progress compared to your procrastination.

I have always been the artsy type. I got my first guitar at about age 12. As an elementary school student, I entered water color paintings in the country fair—and won. My all-time favorite class in high school was Mr. Jimmy “Grouch” Jones’ art class. I learned how to make pottery and to make torn-paper mosaics and to how sketch. I loved every minute of it. And you know I love to write and take photos.

But last year when I received a gift certificate to paint pottery, I was THRILLED, but I was scared. I wanted to paint, but I didn’t want to fail. So I put off going until I was sure I was ready. I waited and waited and waited until the day before the gift certificate expired. I went on my birthday. I figured it would be the PERFECT time to go.

I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I went by myself on my birthday, my personal vacation. (Well, after my dentist appointment.)

When I get nervous, I turn into a total geek-clutz-dork-goof ball. So when I pulled into the parking lot in front of the studio, I was extremely timid about parking. I pulled into a space, but then I wasn’t sure if I was in the handicapped spot, so I backed out. I got out and checked and changed my mind. Then I pulled back in. I got nervous again and pulled back out. Then I thought I had better be on the safe side, so I decided to back into a regular space behind me, so I did. But I parked crooked, so I got out and had to check the lines and pull back in again. It was insane.

By the time I worked up the courage to get out of the truck and go to the door, I was a nervous wreck.

I had wanted to go to the studio since the first day it opened. I imagined my pottery would be the most beautifully painted of the bunch. I have a knack. But when I actually stepped inside, I froze. I didn’t know what to do. There were children and adults of all ages doing their thing. And then there was me.

I explained to the young girl in charge that I was new and didn’t know what to do. She gave me the run down. Pick a piece, go to the paint station, sit down and paint. Easy enough.


I mean I am the queen of indecision. I didn’t know what to paint. A vase? A box? A picture frame? I chose a plate that was a triangle because it was shaped like a guitar pick, and I wanted a music themed piece. Perfect choice, so I thought.

I noticed everyone around me had water and a palette. I did not. I saw some water on a table. I took it. Later I would find out I stole someone else’s water. I played dumb. Well, I pretended to play dumb. I really was dumb.

And the table I chose had very few brushes, just big ole fat brushes. And there was no little palette. So I went to the young lady and explained my plight. She told me the palettes were at the paint station. Well, duh. My bad.

Then I sat there staring at the colors of paint. And sat there. And sat there. And sat there. Finally, the girl came over to me and whispered, “You know, you don’t have to wait on me to tell you that you can get the paint. You can go by yourself.”

I knew that. I just didn’t know what colors to chose. I wanted it to be PERFECT. I blushed and told her I was just having a hard time deciding. I finally moved to the paint station and began transporting bottles of paint to my table.

I was in trouble again. She came back. “Please don’t take the bottles to your table. Other customers have to use them. Just put the paint in your palette.”

Oh, why does life have to be so complicated?

When I started to paint, I realized that I could not draw a guitar on my plate with the big fat brushes. I had no choice. I had no pencil. I did the best I could.

Everything would have been fine except the two people next to me were apparently pottery painting experts. Penguins. SHE was painting a penguin on her plate, and SHE had a pencil to draw hers out first. Meticulous little lines. Step by step. HE watched her every move and applauded her technique. Me?I was slapping paint on left and right. I tried to paint notes, but they didn’t look right, so I painted over them.

Nothing looked right, so I slapped on more paint. And more paint. And more paint. Good thing it dried quickly.

But SHE was really making me feel like that total geek-clutz-dork-goof ball I tried not to be. And HE, her date, boyfriend, or significant other, whatever, was critiquing her every brush stroke as if she were the next Van Gogh.

“Do you think my penguin’s foot is too close to the edge? Should I bring the other one down?” And he came back with some artsy, fartsy detailed description of what she could do with her brush. Yeah. Good thing she didn’t ask me.

I just slapped on more paint. When I finally did all I could do, I had to get out of there.

I wanted to exit gracefully, but I never do anything gracefully. My purse got caught on the chair, and I dragged it across the studio to the register. At least I didn’t break my plate.

The girl looked thankful I was leaving. “Christmas eve,” she said. “That’s when your piece will be ready.”

I hated to leave it, truth be told. Despite how ugly I felt my pitiful attempt at painting was, I had done my best. I hated to leave it in someone else’s hands.

But on Christmas eve, I traveled back to the Boro to pick it up. I prayed that I for once I would not make a spectacle of myself. Everything else had gone wrong during my first-time painting. When I got out of the truck, I was careful not to trip.

But there was one problem. I was so nervous about not coming across as a total doofus, I went into the wrong store—the painting store, not the pottery store. I was so confused. Nothing looked the same. And there wasn’t any pottery anywhere. Well, duh. At least the lady working there didn’t catch on to my faux pas. I covered myself and asked a genuine question that I really had been pondering for some time. When do painting classes begin?

I found my way to the pottery store, and without further incidence I picked up my piece. I had to face the same girl, but she was sweet and told me I wouldn’t be so nervous next time.

At least I didn’t drop my plate before I made it back home.

Sure, it’s not a masterpiece. The paint isn’t even, and the guitar looks as if a toddler painted it. But I accomplished something. I overcame my fear. I had a little fun.

So what is it that YOU are putting off? What are you afraid to try? I challenge you to take the first step for the new year.

Tell me about it.

Pottery 2012 004

These are a few pottery pieces I made from scratch when I was in high school

and during my first years teaching.

Pottery 2012 008Pottery 2012 007

My last rant for 2012


Hold on, boys. This one’s gonna be bad. I’m on a rant, and there’s no stopping me. My only apology is that it comes on Christmas eve (even though the date posts as Christmas day).

I mean no disrespect, not to my employers nor to my co-workers. We’re all doing our jobs to the best of our abilities under conditions of which we have no control.

But I have decided on this day I am a conscientious dissenter. I do not endorse the current trend of data-driven education.

Before I get started, let me say that data does not scare me. I have always had exceptional test scores. My students have to work hard to fail my class, and I never curve grades. When my students leave my class, I’m confident they know how to write. When I don’t do a good job, I do my best to fix the situation. I don’t need a computer program to tell me if I am not doing my job. I know–I don’t like the way it feels. I am intrinsically motivated to do what is best for my students.

So what’s the problem with data-driven education?

It’s dangerous.


Data-driven education promotes competition—external competition, the need to beat others. And what’s wrong with that, you might ask? Let me give you a few reasons.

Let’s suppose there are teachers whose sole motivation is to promote themselves. Instead of doing what is best for the children, the teachers will more than likely endorse programs that look good on paper but create a disconnect between teacher and pupil.

If teachers’ jobs are based on test scores, how long will it be before teachers resort to cheating? Oh, say it isn’t so.

Don’t be naïve. Baseball players do it. Football players do it. Performance enhancing drugs help them keep atop the stats. No, I don’t expect teachers to take drugs—but if there were such a drug, I would have no doubt suppliers would make a pretty penny.

And if test scores are paramount, how long will it be before students resort to cheating? ACT? SAT? EOC? Core curriculum?

And drugs? Yeah, performance enhancing drugs are already out there. Kids take them to stay awake to cram. Just how many Red Bulls can one kid endure?

And let’s talk reality here. The purpose of our current education is to increase the AVERAGE and BELOW AVERAGE students’ abilities to perform well in science, technology, engineering, and math. Now we’re including language. My question is WHY?

Let’s suppose all the AVERAGE students get their degrees in engineering? Just how many jobs will be available for the average engineer? My bet is that the jobs will go to the OUTSTANDING candidates—as they should. Well, that is, IF there are any outstanding candidates left.

I am the mother of a child who was in the gifted program. I can’t think of anything above average the schools did to enhance his specific abilities. If our attention is focused on helping moderately motivated students score well, how will the highly motivated, exceptionally talented students get the assistance they need?

And if we’re talking reality here, let me add that there are some students who are quite content NOT going to college to major in something in which they have little interest, regardless of their test scores. I saw a former student in the Walmart checkout line yesterday. I’m pretty sure he is now working at a plant in town, probably making a lot more money than I am making as a teacher. And he and his three children looked very happy. He told me I made a difference in his life. You know what? I call that success–for both of us.

If my students do what they love, they will never have to work a day in their lives.

I do not support this data-driven regiment. It does not paint a picture of the truth. Just because students make advanced scores on a test does not mean they will enjoy, excel in, or even pursue a certain field.

The current trend in education is to make all teachers teach the same subject the same way and give the same test. Can you say cookie cutter curriculum? I feel as though the powers that be (beyond my district, of course) are trying to brainwash me to be assembly line worker.

Again, I respectfully disagree. I am not afraid I can’t knock the top off test scores. I’m afraid I will. I am very competitive, and I am tenacious.

But I don’t want to change. I like the way I teach NOW. It works. Teaching is NOT about me. It’s about the children.


If we continue with this data-driven trend, we are going to drive home the point that competition, the need to win, is paramount. The need to win teaches the importance of self. It teaches NOTHING about sacrifice.

Let me transition to the end of my rant by mentioning the names of two teachers: Anne Marie Murphy (52) and Victoria Soto (27).

These teachers are remembered NOT for their outstanding test scores but for their sacrificial love for their students.

Ms. Murphy’s body was found covering the bodies of her children as she tried to shield them during the Sandy Hook shooting. Ms. Soto hid her students in cabinets and faced certain death when she faced the gunman.

And you know what? You can check all the state manuals, but I’m willing to bet the teachers had to deviate from the day’s SPIs to instinctively do what was best for their children.

Producing high test scores does not scare me. However, having someone force me to change what I know is right deeply disturbs me.

I used to play softball. I did all right. When I moved to Murfreesboro, I had a coach who didn’t know much about pitching. I had been playing pitcher with older players ever since I was in junior high. This coach tried to get me to change, but instead, I respectfully and conscientiously found the rule book and proved he was wrong. He conceded. He had misinterpreted the rules.

Teachers and parents must step up and take back what is right. Our children are not protoplasmic bodies that are all alike. They are living, breathing souls with individual purposes.

Spending time getting to know individual students is worth the effort so that teachers can help them achieve their purpose. Sticking to the SPI every moment diminishes bonding time, and, thus, students become mere products on the assembly line.

Parents, do you really want your children to lose out on cutting out pumpkins in the fall, swapping Valentines, playing tag at recess, or eating too many cookies during the Christmas party just so teachers can prepare them for tests that will make or break the teachers’ individual careers?

These tests don’t really test the children–they test the teachers’ so-called effectiveness. There is no formula, however, to account for the students’ emotional or physical well-being on test day. Surely these factors do matter?

I know of a student who went straight from the ER to a test because he was afraid to miss it. Do you really think his test performance accurately portrayed the effectiveness of his teacher? Is that fair?

How about the child whose parents’ fought the night before the test? How about the child whose puppy was run over the morning of the test? How about the child who is so bored with testing that he would rather make pictures with the bubble sheets than focus on the test?

Parents, you KNOW the effectiveness of your child’s teacher. Do you really need a brochure at the end of the year to tell you if your child learned anything?

The special days that put standard SPIs on hold are often what motivate children to love school. Children who can’t read well sometimes are the best artists. They’re proud of what they CAN do when maybe they CAN’T test so well.

And never mind allowing the children the time to form social bonds. Already we have conditioned our children to interact almost exclusively through technology. Now we’re taking away the limited opportunities they have for real face time. Once children leave school, they go home to a TV, an iPod, a cell phone, or a video game. They don’t play with each other anymore, at least not in person.

I’m sure all of our students will eventually get the mediocre stamp of approval when it’s time to promote them to the next grade.

But what have we taught them? Have we helped them find what they love to do? Or will we have brainwashed them into preparing for a career they will hate?

What about the gifted auto repairman who has a knack for making engines purr? What about the artist who paints the next masterpiece? What about the musician who composes a song that brings comfort to a spouse who has just lost her husband of 50 years?

How will they find their gifts if no one gives them the opportunity to explore, to deviate from the imposed curriculum? Do we really want all of our children to be the same?

That’s it, folks. My rant. I guess I’m on Santa’s naughty list for sure. There will be a stocking of coal left for me. Or a pink slip.

Ones and twos

Alan Wake

I really wanted to post a blog on 12-12-12. I think the day would be quite nifty to commemorate with a scribble or two. It just didn’t work out.

At 12:12 on 12-12-12 I found myself in a Mexican restaurant with 18 crazed teenagers. But I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be. I love working with my students, and this mini field trip was a way to thank them for doing such a good job this semester, producing three issues despite the predictable unpredictable obstacles that always come our way.

There’s a feeling in the air that something ominous will occur 12-21-12. I’m not saying it will. I’m just saying that the feeling, like an aura, hovers about our people. That’s why I wanted 12-12-12 to be special. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make a wish on such a special day and that wish were to come true?

There is no need to worry about 12-21-12 because whatever happens will be according to God’s plan. And wishes aren’t magical. They don’t always come true, except maybe for writers who can make anything happen in their books.

My wish, of course, has been for the last few years to be published. Oh, the ironies of life.

Last week I received an email that said I had a publicist who would set up book signings for my tiny little Christmas story in a Chicken Soup book. On the same day I received a rejection letter from the New York agent I met in Dallas.

Regardless of whether I am published, I am a writer. I can thank God for giving me that gift. I don’t doubt my abilities, even if I haven’t signed a contract yet. I do doubt whether I’m deserving. That’s up to God. Deserving may not have anything to do with publication. Purpose is what matters. Does my writing serve God’s purpose?

All I can do is keep plugging along.

The winter solstice is coming, the darkest day of the year—12-21-12.

We don’t know when the final day will come; nor are we supposed to know. It doesn’t matter.

We have our bucket lists, things we’d like to do before our final day here. But we probably won’t be able to do everything. Life lets us down. People let us down.

I like to write. I like to play music, but those things really don’t matter. God made me who I am. My one desire when it comes to goals is that I don’t lose the one gift God gave me that really matters. I do a pretty good job of loving people.

I guess that’s why I teach, although I don’t always like the profession of teaching in a public school.

When I care, I give my whole heart.

But people, the world, don’t always take what you offer. So it is with professions like teaching, nursing, counseling, etc. People and circumstances tear at our capacity to offer love.

I hope that I can keep my heart intact and not be overcome with bitterness and anger that shadow hurt and disappointment. I’ve always been a little childish, or childlike, one of the two. I like that about me. I love like a child, people and life. Most of the time I look in the mirror, and I see something I really don’t like, my body, my hair, my teeth, etc. But I’ve always liked my heart.

I’m not making an early New Year’s resolution. I’m making an “on the way to the end” resolution. Time is running out. Even if the sun rises again on 12-22-12, time is running out, if not for me, for someone else.

So my “on the way to the end” resolution, is to do the best job of expressing love that I can, through teaching, writing, playing guitar, or just living.

It’s all about purpose.