My Trouble With The Holidays

My Trouble With The Holidays

We are late this year getting the holiday decorations up. Yesterday, we finally got our tree – a live one – bummed off some friends with a tree farm for a bottle of whiskey! Hey, it pays to know people! Right? Most of the tree farms have opened and already closed for the season. Today, I will fight with the lights to get them on the tree just right, invite my husband and boys to help hang the ornaments (which probably won’t happen), and by bedtime, maybe get around to putting some gifts under the freshly decorated tree.

I like the house once it’s decorated; the twinkling of the lights with soft Christmas music playing is a favorite scene for me. It is just the process of getting there that seems to take forever. All the other decorations are up and the tree is the very last thing to be done. I have done some baking and wrapped some gifts, as well as sent out packages to family, all of whom are out-of-town. So, it is not like I haven’t been getting ready for the season. It just always creeps up on me, no matter how well intended or organized I am.

The sad truth is that I do not really enjoy it. Our holidays are quiet and have been since we transplanted ourselves in the mid-west. At least nine of the last eighteen years, my husband worked Christmas (hospitals never close for the holidays).  We never travelled back to visit family during the holidays because I wanted our boys to wake up Christmas morning in their own beds. And, other than my sister-in-law, our families did not come here in the winter – holiday season or not. I have always wanted this to be different. You know, using my best china (and, I do have two sets – one from each of my grandmothers), fabulous food, festive music and merriment, all in a beautifully decorated home.  We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to “put on” the type of celebrations we see in the media or house in our own heads. But, you know it really is not necessary.  And I am getting to the point of feeling like we really do not “have” to do it in the “suggested” way.

We are late this year with decorating. So What?!  Why should it even matter? Who does it matter to?  No one, actually. And, it shouldn’t really matter to me. But, as you can tell, it does. I am trying not to let it.  As I get decorations out each year I think I will put them away in a more organized fashion, but that never happens. When it is time to put them away, they just get put away.  I told my husband yesterday, as we went to get our tree, that next year I need to do this differently. Maybe earlier. Maybe not as much. Maybe a fake tree. I don’t know, specifically, but definitely, differently.

I do know that for years, like many other people, I have some problems leading up to and getting through the holidays. I try not to, but I do. I have acknowledged it long before now. It does seem less this year – other than the decorating lateness. Less is bothering me. I think it is because due to a health scare I experienced this fall, I have realized that there are more important things than the “perfect tree” or things finished by an arbitrary date that I have set in my head (the 10th, actually).  I am trying to keep it all in perspective. Some days are easier than others.

On to decorating……….

 

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Which Path? An Exploration of Whether or Not to Take Advanced Placement (AP) Classes in High School

Which Path? An Exploration of Whether or Not to Take Advanced Placement (AP) Classes in High School

When my oldest entered high school, there was no question whether he would take advanced placement classes. He had completed all his high school math in middle school, and thus, was on track to take AP Calculus as a Freshman.  So, when the time came we did not contemplate what taking an AP class would mean. It was just the next class in a logically progressive sequence of the mathematics curriculum.

Sophomore year, he took AP US History, fondly referred to as APUSH in our high school (HS), and Calculus II via a distance learning course through UW-Madison. At the time, our HS did not offer AP Calculus BC, so he had to find an alternative for his math credits. The alternative we found was not a good fit.  In hind sight, we should have enrolled him in Youth Options for Calculus II.  This is also sometimes referred to as dual enrollment and allows students to take a course at a local college for credit while in high school, usually as juniors and seniors.  Our son was a licensed driver within 2 weeks of the beginning of the fall semester of his sophomore year, which would have allowed him to reach a local campus during the day.  But, unfortunately, youth options was not thought of by any of us – the TAG teacher, the guidance department at our HS, us, or our student.  It would have been the best option.  But, alas, as parents new to these challenges, we did not see this path and therefore, it was not pursued.  By junior year,  AP classes were taken in several subjects. But, by this time our student had open enrolled out of our resident district to a virtual HS to complete his education. In his words this was to allow him to “be more efficient in the use of his time, and be more challenged.” Youth Options was still available through the new virtual school district, so he took Calculus II, III, and differential equations or multivariate analysis (I cannot remember which)  at a local university and AP classes through his new, virtual school.  Senior year brought more youth options courses in mathematics at the university nearest our home and more AP classes at the virtual high school.  As you might guess, advanced placement classes worked very well for our oldest, as they challenged him while still allowing him to excel. He entered college with 46 credits under his academic belt!

Our son who is now a senior, took his first AP classes last year as a junior. He took both AP calculus AB (1 credit) and AP physics (2 credits), along with a full load of required core classes. The AP experience was not as positive for him.  He is not taking any AP classes this year.  Simply put, it was too stressful for him. He fretted over each class, at times becoming bogged down in the material, the way it was taught, or the unfortunate event of having questions go unanswered.   Physics, especially, caused him angst.  Calculus was difficult but the teacher met with our son outside of class on a regular basis and offered him the material in a different format. He was able to comprehend it more easily because the teaching method was differentiated in order to fit his learning style. Not many teachers, especially at that level, go to this extreme extent to insure a student is successful. Still, my son had to redefine what success meant when it was applied to the AP courses. According to the AP College Board analytics, he did better than approximately 60% of the students taking the Physics 1 AP exam last year. He also earned a very respectable score on the AP calculus exam. He will still receive college credit for both classes, despite not doing quite as well as he wanted.  Yet, when considering the amount of stress he experienced during his junior year due to these classes, we felt that experiencing more stress during his senior year was not worth the potential college credits, and allowed him to take a course load without any AP classes. He is much more relaxed this year, able to sleep, and attack his pre-college work with more zeal.

Finally, our youngest son is a sophomore now. He attended our high school as an 8th grader for geometry and Algebra II. Pre-calculus and a math based computer science course were left for his freshman year and this year he is in AP Calculus. It is going well enough that he will continue taking AP classes throughout HS. He was eligible to take APUSH this year, but being a varsity level athlete, we were  concerned as parents that it might be too much with the AP Calculus. So, he is taking just the one AP math class as a sophomore.

The above scenarios are all  part of what you need to help your student weigh when they consider taking AP classes in high school. It is, and should be, a highly individualized decision. Very often, we find much of what needs to be considered and/or discussed with students about the decision to take an AP course is not.  As a parent, you should help them answer several questions before registering for these classes.  Can you handle the workload? What are your other time commitments? This includes hours spent at a job, volunteer service, sports, and/or music groups.  Will the class cause undo stress? How have you done with stress in the past? Are you ready for an increased pace? How will the increased workload effect your other classes? In other words, will you have time to take this AP class? Will you have time to dedicate to learning the material?

Advanced placement classes move more quickly. There is more material to be covered by the teacher and digested by the student. Is it possible to know if the teaching style matches your student’s learning style?  Of course, in the future that will most likely be impossible to know. But, it is a consideration. I mention it because it is part of the difficulty my second oldest son had with the AP Physics class. There was not enough opportunity for him to apply the material. In truth, he did best on the lab assignments (which were all practical applications of solving problems). Also needing consideration is whether the AP course subject area is something of interest and/or future use to the student. Why invest extra time and effort in what should be a very demanding class if it is not in a subject area in which the student already enjoys and excels or will need in the future.  Struggling through AP US History or AP Chemistry just for the sake of taking it and racking up credits does not make sense.

Then, a few more things need to be considered. Are the AP courses weighed at your high school?  This requires some explanation.  At our resident district, courses are only weighted for credit value, not for content difficulty. So, if you go to our HS an A+ in an AP class will earn you a 4.33,  the same as an A+ in a non-AP class – even something like gym class or foods.  Hmmmm. Yes. That is something to consider. A lot more work for the same contribution to one’s cumulative grade point average (GPA). Now, other districts will grant a heavier weight to honors and AP classes. This means that given the system guidelines, in some high schools a student might earn a 5.33 for that A+ in an AP class since it is considered to be “more work”.  This means that a B+ in a school that weights an AP class in this manner, would earn the student a 4.33 for that class. It is much more beneficial to the students taking these difficult courses to have a system that will grant heavier weight to those classes requiring more of the student. They have less to lose by taking the risk of adding an AP course to their schedule, because they will be credited more for taking an advanced class. It might also be a motivating factor to have this “bonus” to your GPA for working hard in an AP class. And likewise, it is demotivating to not have that added weight.  I have actually heard students say, “why bother”.

You also need to consider why you or your student wants the AP class to be undertaken. Is it for more rigor and/or challenge? Is it to obtain college credits? Is it to actually skip core courses in a college curriculum? From my personal experience, this varies widely from family to family, Some see it as a way to pay less college tuition. The AP classes that are taken successfully will garner the student college credits. Credits they do not pay for! (Bear in mind the AP tests have a fee for each one taken and it has crept up over the years.) So, that can add up, but is certainly less than what college credits cost these days.  Some see AP classes as an affordable way to get college credit. Some students choose to “skip” the class from which they obtained the AP credits – if their chosen college will allow it.  Some families (like ours) encourage their students to take AP classes for the purpose of increased rigor and challenge.  Finally, in some cases, the AP classes are taken just because it is the next logical class in the progressive sequence of classes – such as what happened with the mathematics curriculum for our sons.

But, you must also be aware that the way colleges are dealing with incoming students with AP course credits is changing. It seems there are more and more students taking advanced placement classes.  I know at our high school, students can now “self-select” and register to take any AP course of their choosing as long as the pre-requisites are completed.  Gone are the days that a student needed “permission”,  a teacher “recommendation”, or a certain GPA to take an Advanced Placement course. This means more students are electing to take one or more of these classes (probably, a lot of times, for the reasons mentioned above).  But, if the reason is that your student thinks they will be able to opt out of a certain class in college due to taking an AP course and receiving credit for it – you better do some checking.  Less and less often is opting out an option at colleges any longer. Universities will grant you the credits but you might still end up being required to take the very course you thought you were going to be able to avoid. The credits granted might have to be used for elective offerings, not a way out of difficult core courses like Calculus II. This presents a problem because you have to look at specific university policies to find this out and who knows where they are going to university as a freshman or sophomore in high school?

In summary, I think AP classes are a great option for some students. It definitely deserves some discussion between you and your student, or your student and a school guidance counselor.  However, I would strongly advise taking them for increased rigor rather than an intent to “opt out” of a course once in college.  There are many factors to consider, and each student has individual needs. However, if one is objective about themselves as a student and what they can handle in terms of workload and stress, nine times out of ten, the right path will be chosen.

The Daily Post, Weekly WordPress Photo Challenge: Ascend

The Daily Post, Weekly WordPress Photo Challenge: Ascend

The Daily Post on WordPress, Weekly Photo Challenge for the week of December 13th is Ascend. Here are my interpretations of the word through my photographs.

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“Ascend” while hiking Brady’s Bluff. 2016. © Carol Labuzzetta
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                        “Ascend” the stairs at the Fairmount SouthHampton Princess Hotel, Bermuda,                                     ©  Carol Labuzzetta, 2017.
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“Ascend” Lifeguard Tower, 2012, La Jolla Cove Beach © Carol Labuzzetta
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 “Bald Eagle Ascend” 2017, Mid-Western Coulee © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
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Ascend (or Descend), 185 Steps, at Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Bermuda, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
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Rocket Launch, 2015. “Ascend”  © Carol Labuzzetta
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Rocket Launch II, “Ascend” © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015.

Inspired by the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Ascend.

Are You a Real Customer or Just a Potential Customer Chewing up Everyone’s Time?

Are You a Real Customer or Just a Potential Customer Chewing up Everyone’s Time?

pixabaytree-63972_1920Currently, it is holiday time in much of the world – with Christmas, Hanukkah,  and Kwanza all being celebrated this month. Many of the holidays, whether secular or spiritual, involve gift giving.  I am all for giving home-made gifts – scarves, sweaters, photographs, cookies, candy, jewelry, and even wine or a specially made cocktail like the limoncello I made last year.  But, very often time moves forward too quickly, squeezing out every last opportunity for making a specially handcrafted gift. And, when that happens, one goes shopping!  Right?!

With jewelry made, cherry cordial brewing, supplies for candies in my cupboard, cookies yet to be made, and an absence of lemons from my lemon tree, I headed out Tuesday morning to see what I could find for a couple of special friends.  I ended up being the first one through the doors at Pier I Imports, a store I used to frequent quite often, especially in the early years of our marriage when one was within walking distance from our third floor walk-up apartment in Buffalo, New York. At some point during the span of the last 30 years, I got out of the habit of going to see what Pier I was stocking on their glittery shelves.  But, having gone in about a month ago and also having received a lovely birthday present from a friend this fall which was purchased at Pier I, I have started to visit the store once again.

Not looking for anything in particular, I came across something I thought a friend would like – more so, the object reminded me of her, so I headed to the register to check out.  It is here where the trouble started! It should have been a simple purchase. One item. Cash paid.  But, the clerk entered the amount tendered wrong and had to void the transaction. Then, she rang it in again, and again made a similar mistake. She apologized profusely – grumbling something about it being a year since she had rung up any sales, which gave me the impression she was probably a college student home on break. I was not in a hurry or upset in any way at her mistake with the register. But, after the second mis-entered amount, the cash drawer locked and she needed the manager to come open it with a special key. Here is where I started to be irritated. The manager had taken a phone call from a POTENTIAL customer, who seemed to need many items in the store DESCRIBED to her (I am assuming it was a woman. I might be wrong). For ten minutes or more (maybe twelve) the clerk and I stood and waited patiently for the manager to get off the phone and take care of the problem with my transaction. Another customer asked where the monogramed wine goblets were located. Apparently, she was waiting direction from the manager on the phone, so she asked us instead. My clerk couldn’t tell her, but I had noted where they were in the store and pointed to the general direction. She thanked me and made a comment about the manager taking a “very long time” on the phone.  In the meantime, another woman was ready to check out.  My clerk left the register she was on with me to check this woman out on the other register. Meanwhile, the manager was still describing various snowmen in the store to the POTENTIAL customer on the phone.  Finally, she hung up and attended to the register that was locked. In thirty seconds, (well, more like 15 minutes and 30 seconds) I was on my way out of the store, gift in hand.

You know, this whole scenario left me irritated! I was IN the store with money in my hand and the person on the phone – who did not buy (order) anything but got the manager’s attention and 15 minutes of my time was waited on with priority.  WHY is that? I just do not understand it. When I was a teenager, I used to work retail. When there was a line or one of the other employees needed the manager, the phone was the LAST thing to be attended. Yes, it was important to answer the phone, but the POTENTIAL customer on the phone – was the one who was asked to wait, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, although I know this could have happened anywhere, it happened to me in a store I just started to frequent again. And, you know what? It will take some time and a day I am feeling filled with patience to visit it again, no matter how much I like it there.

 

Feedback on Writing

Feedback on Writing

What kind of feedback do you offer your students on their writing?

Are you red pen crazy? Do you mark up the paragraph, page, or essay with slashes, carots, and circles every where there is an error? Do you do this with another color pen – trying to conceal your zeal for marking the page?

Or, are you a minimalist, just circling the area of the rubric which critiques the writing with a 4-3-2-1, offering nary a hint at what was right or wrong in the writing sample?

Are you correcting Greenbelt Writing? Ralph Fletcher says this is a no-no. Did you interrupt the flow of that student’s Slice of Life to point out a mis-spelled word? I hope not.

Luckily, I do not think I fit into any of these categories!

But, I do know that feedback to students on their writing is extremely important! Yes, I know, I know; it is also extremely time-consuming.

The reason the topic of feedback is part of my slice today is that I am awaiting my grades from a graduate course that ended on November 22nd! The course was Environmental History – I have talked about it on my blog before. There was a paper due each week from the 8th of October through November 12th.  The final project was due November 19th, and was worth 30% of our grade. But, here’s the thing – none of it has been graded! Yes! I said none! Five papers, requiring the synthesis of a great deal of reading material, complete with citations turned in on time, but sit ungraded in the course drop box. As a perfectionist, a hardworking student, and someone who looks for teacher feedback to use with which to improve myself, I find these ungraded assignments hard to understand.  Yet, I have not choice but to wait. So, wait I will….and hope for the best!

This week I also told the third grade teachers whose students I borrowed for the last six years that I will not be back to lead writer’s circle this year. This was a group I founded when my youngest was in third grade because he liked to write. As a parent who liked to write (and, teach) I asked his teacher if I could lead a writer’s circle for a small group of her students, including my son (who is in 10th grade now). It worked so well that the following year, I was given students from each of the three third grades in the building for a once a week writer’s circle meeting in which we wrote, shared, laughed, and learned together. It was a great experience for me, as well as the students, I think – at least that is what I was told.  Throughout our time together we explored narrative and expository writing, poetry (my favorite), newspaper writing – which we shared with their classes, travel brochures, pourquoi (another favorite – although difficult), and more. Over the years, almost all of my writer’s circle students were published in a national poetry compilation.  I am especially proud of that accomplishment. In terms of feedback, I tried to offer a mix of both verbal and written praise and suggestions, as well as guided constructive criticism. These were students who already liked to write – I was cogniscent of that and did not want to do anything to diminish it.  So, I carefully guarded what actually flowed from my pen onto their paper.  It was a difficult decision to let this group go, but one I feel whose time had come. I am looking for opportunities to build a similar group in more of a community setting.

Once my next semester of graduate school is underway, and I can gauge my own workload, I will look into some possibilities.  Hopefully, I will also know by that time how I did with my own writing assignments!

Inspired by my weekend reading of Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher and by the TwoWritingTeachers.org blog and Slice of Life Tuesdays! Thank you for the opportunity to share our stories.

 

 

Holiday Haiku

Holiday Haiku

Snow, Softly Falling

White Blankets Sleeping Green Grass

Wondrous Winter World


Twinkling Lights Shine

Bouncing Off Dark Wet Pavement

Leads Us Into Night

 


Wrapping, Baking, Fun

Music Festively Playing

Christmastime is Here

 


 

Friends Remember Us

Told Through Open Greeting Cards

Peace, Love, and Kindness

Five Days to a Tailspin

Five Days to a Tailspin

This is a story about my intensity as a person and why I cannot make a run for a seat on the school board.  You need to know that I wish I did not notice every little thing or have the intense desire to want change and educational reform. It is a story about letting go and accepting what I can and cannot do to implement change.  It is a story I wrote in October and am just posting now.

Over the last decade, I have done a lot of thinking about whether or not I should consider a run for school board. I am student centered, passionate about education – especially excellence in education, worked extensively as a school and district volunteer going so far as to form groups that not only benefit our students, but their parents, and our community, as well. Given all that, it sounds like a no brainer!  In fact, a number of people in our community have told me that I should take this political leap, especially as I became visible as a student advocate.

In truth, our school board really needs a change in membership. A few members have been on the board as long as I can remember, and we have lived here almost nineteen years! That is much too long to be calling the educational shots in a growing district. You might respond by telling me that they keep getting re-elected because they are good at what they do. To that I would respond that they keep getting re-elected because the rest of us are too complacent and down right lazy to take their place!  It takes a large commitment of time and investment in community to serve on any kind of community board, school boards included. While I appreciate their time, it is their perspective I have come to question. I strongly believe that to in order for our district to move forward we need change. And because the board governs our schools, it is where the change needs to occur.

If I were to run, the first thing I would do is to advocate for term limits.  Serving too long on a board negates the infusion of new ideas.  New ideas are often needed to move forward and can be the impetus for change. New people bring new ideas.  So, I would suggest that no board member serve for more than two consecutive terms or six years in our district. That is long enough. After six years, let someone else have a chance to serve. This would insure a change, but not constant change, and also eliminate stagnation in the group making policy decisions regarding our students, teachers, and facilities.

Did you notice how I put students first in the above list? Students should come first. We need to be student centered and student driven. We cannot just say it, it has to be implemented and publicly evident!  We need to show – especially to outsiders – that students’ needs are paramount. We need to take a look at poor teaching practices and out dated policies that prevent us from better serving our students. Someone has to make some hard decisions, reprimand, re-educate, and re-evaluate how students are being taught – the methods being used, the tone being stated, and the words being delivered. Humiliation and sarcasm have no place in a classroom. And, although I know I am singing an old song,  someone has to get around to putting a stop to those actions!  The effects on students are too devastating.

But, I realized that I am too intense for making a run at a seat on the school board. Yes, I want excellence for our student body! In many ways, I have worked to achieve that end. However, the desire for excellence, and what needs to be done to achieve it, consumes my thoughts when I let it.  I know this because five days ago, I agreed to a meeting of some significance, a meeting on a topic in which I have been personally invested in for years.   It is a topic in which I have depth of personal and practical experience. In the last five days, all I have done is to prepare for that meeting. (This is what took place in October.) If you could have seen the sleep deprived look on my face, it would have proved it!

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If, and it is a big IF (I am not at all sure I am popular enough to win – and popularity is a part of it folks!  Do not be naive!)   If I were to obtain a seat on the school board, I would be living and breathing advocacy for three years. I think it would kill me. No, I am sure it would kill me!  Before the meeting I had in October,  I told myself that if things went well and I was able to voice my position, rationally providing evidence and reason, all the while being a good listener, I could probably handle taking a run at a school board seat. I did all that during the meeting. We shook hands and I left. Our meeting was collegial, congenial, and ended well – both sides being heard, any initial hard feelings dissipated.  But, upon arriving home, my husband asked me a simple question that I had not obtained the answer to during the course of my meeting. And, I realized that while trying to be a good listener and keep my composure, I forgot to be a good detective.

In fact, my husband was the only person I lost composure with on the issue I went to discuss. But, loose it – I did! There were tears, and sobbing, and even some shouting! It only took me five days and a well thought out question that I could not answer, to send me into a tail-spin! I realized that despite how badly I want change in our school board and advocate for over-all educational reform, as well as helping our district to become student centered, I cannot do it and remain healthy!

The time is drawing near; I believe candidacy needs to be filed by the end of day on the 2nd of January 2018.  I have been contemplating this potential position for a long time. In fact, it is really the only thing I can think of that I have not tried to do to effect change in our educational system.  Last year, I did not file – although, I thought about it – a lot!  I was very close to doing it.  Last year, the two board members whose terms were ending ran unopposed. This was incredibly disheartening to me, and I admit, maybe to no one else except a few of my closest friends.  I distinctly remember feeling I had missed the boat and reset my sights on running this year. But, this year is here, and now I know more. I know that I cannot do what it takes to run for school board. My intense personality will prevent me from doing it.  The collapse in composure with my husband when passionately discussing what I saw was a problem at hand will prevent me from doing it. Being consumed while preparing for a meeting, and being sent into a tailspin within five days, will prevent me from running for a seat. Not wanting to be a dissenter all the time, or not even knowing if I can be a dissenter some of the time when it comes to board agenda items prevents me from doing it.  There are other things more important to me – namely, my health and my family.

My boys are in a good place and doing well.   I am fearful of that being altered if I become a person who rocks the boat in a public way.  I really want them to enjoy school and do well – just like they are right now. Their time is almost done.  In fact, some of the intangible traits they have gained – self-reliance, self-advocacy, a strong work ethic, and pride in what they have accomplished have risen out of the system adversities and incompetencies they have faced. Those are invaluable attributes. They have had some absolutely great, outstanding teachers and some that really need to improve or do something else. But, I have asked myself, is this not the same in every educational system?  I have come to the conclusion that yes, in fact, it is the same.

Over the years, I have made solid contributions to our school district. If I were to be honest, these contributions have been much, much more than the average person or parent makes to a district.  I have been donating my time for 17 years! I have served on building and district committees, formed groups for parents, formed and led several groups for students, organized fundraisers, worked in numerous classrooms from kindergarten through the middle school grades,  donated time and money to school groups, and risked putting myself “out there” by meeting with administrators about outdated policies or inept teaching practices, and advocating for our students – ALL of our students, not just mine (which, in and of itself, is highly unusual).

But, since it only took five days, one meeting, and one question to send me into a tailspin, I know now I have to let it go; I cannot do more. I cannot serve.

I hope someone can. We still need change.