Close to Christmas time, my 5’4″ towered over Iris Durfee, the smiling squat Princess of Treasure Mountain Junior High School — a veteran teacher filled with creativity, passion, and love. Mrs. Durfee was a force in the classroom. Students learned and they loved learning. Mrs. Durfee inspired teachers to teach better and students to learn more.
During passing periods, teachers stood in the crowded hallways to monitor behavior. Some complained. I loved it. Not only did I get to interact with students outside my classroom, I got to chat it up with colleagues, like the Princess.
“I went to Salt Lake last night to pick up my car,” I shared. “Jeff had it waiting for me at his house. When I got there, he handed me the keys and said, ‘I put new tires on it.'”
“Wha—at? How?” I asked, knowing that tires are expensive.
Charlie, our mechanic fixed everything that was wrong on my Subaru. The charge to my credit card was over $3,000.
Jeff explained, “When I was driving it, it didn’t feel right. I looked at the tires and knew my sister couldn’t drive on these. Merry Christmas.”
“I wish I had a brother like yours,” said Iris Durfee with tears in the corner of her eye when I finished my story.
That’s when I realized that not everyone has a Jeff.
With 65 days until Christmas, take the time to consider how to be the ONE who gives what someone NEEDS.
‘Disturbing’ lack of Holocaust knowledge in US popped up on my Facebook feed the other day. . I re-posted noting, “this is why we must continue to teach books like Night.” A mom, a friend, and a tremendous advocate of public education asked, “How can that be? My girls have been reading about WW II and the Holocaust since the third grade. They read The Book Thief, Number the Stars, Night, and the Diary of Anne Frank.”
My first year teaching, in 1997, Timmy was in my sixth-grade class. His twin was in the class next to mine. Together they absorbed nonfiction, fascinated by WW II history. The twins grandfather, like my uncles, fought in WW II. Like me, they grew up on the stories.
My mama recounted what it was like to listen to the radio. She was home, in Salt Lake City with her mama, her sister, and her brother — the older boys, her brothers, were in Europe–fighting. Grandpa was in Omaha working for railroad.
When my mother’s pet duck, Cornelia, was hit by a car on 13th East in Salt Lake City, the neighbor, knowing Nana was home alone with three children offered to “take care of it” and asked if his family could . . .eat Cornelia because of the rations. (Mama, to this day, eighty-plus years later describes the sound of Cornelia’s little duck feets slapping on the sidewalk when they called her to come home. Cornelia would visit another duck down the street.
It was rare that kids went into Uncle Bob’s office in the basement of his St. Mary’s home. I remember a red chair cushion and a helmet with a spike on top of it. Whispering, my mother told me he brought those home from “THE WAR.” Even in a whisper, the war sounded so big.
Even though my mother was a child during the war, it remained big for her. Uncle Bob never spoke of the war. Both Uncle Bob and Uncle Dick, like the rest of their generation, just gone on with the business of living.
For me, THE WAR, was big, too.
In Montana, my cousin Sara heard first hand accounts from Grandpa Mac, a Chief Petty Officer and Grandma Evelyn, a nurse.
THE WAR was real.
My teaching career began in 1997. Since then, each year it has been more difficult and taken more time to build background about WW II.
Sophomores read Night by Elie Wiesel. Before that, most read The Book Thief. When I taught eighth grade, we read the play, The Diary of Anne Frank. But, with juniors, I still have to remind them, re-teach, before we listen to King George VI speak to his people in 1939 about entering the war.
Storytelling makes it real.
Scrolling through Facebook, I saw this.
We must tell the stories of our parents, grandparents, and friends. We must read the stories of survivors.
As a fourth-year teacher teaching fourth graders, I was not prepared for the lockdown drills that followed the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999. My pint-sized principal, Mrs. Ure in Orem, Utah, assured me that if someone came into her building, she’d go out to her silver Toyota pickup truck and get the shotgun. I knew she would protect us.
Years later, practicing for a lockdown with my eighth graders, I continued to teach. We huddled in the corner, but I was determined to finish reading Flowers for Algernon. My principal, a former lineman, sent me an email — “Practice like you play.” I knew to take drills seriously after his coaching.
On Thursday, February 15th, the morning after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I walked into my classroom and measured where the safe spots, the places where my students and I could hide, behind my wall of glass after drawing the curtains, were.
Now, in 2020, school safety and security has been pushed aside by the pandemic. Frankly, I am more afraid of Covid-19 than any of the scenarios we practiced in drills. Instead of securing entrances and fencing, districts across the country are installing plexiglass; purchasing PPE; retrofitting filtration systems; and trying to figure out how to keep children separate from each other.
Give me somebody to dance for. Give me somebody to show. Let me wake up in the morning to find I’ve somewhere exciting to go.
I’m like Cassie, but I’m a teacher, a teacher teaches.
Each August, I get the back-to-school jitters. I set out my outfit for the first day of school a week early — just to make sure I’m ready. I read my attendance lists. I see if I have repeat customers — those students that I taught in 10th grade, then 11th, and finally, as seniors.
Right now is when I start planning, loading my Canvas pages, and organizing relevant readings. I’m doing that. My colleagues are doing that.
On August 20th, the scheduled first day of school with students, I want to “wake up in the morning to find I’ve somewhere exciting to go,” if it is safe for my students, my colleagues, my community and me.
If Covid-19 is not contained, we need to ensure that teachers can teach; students can learn; and that we are not acting irresponsibly and spreading the virus.
Therefore, maybe my somewhere exciting to go is my laptop and a GoogleMeet. I hear over and over to “look for the silver lining.” The silver lining is keeping everyone safe. Let’s use what we have, build on all the good we created in the spring, and transform education instead of rushing into full classrooms. Let’s use our talent and our tools to be even more effective.
When I choose my nail polish, I buy it because of the name, not the color. I own colors like “I’m not Really a Waitress,” “Do You Lilac It,” and, even “Exotic Birds Don’t Tweet,” not because they look good on me, but because I like the names.
Today, while in my favorite state-managed store, a “natural wine” on sale for $23 caught my eye near the register. With the dramatic uptick in cases of COVID-19, Salt Lake County is tightening up restrictions — thank God!
While my bottles of Sauvignon Blanc were being boxed, I asked, “How is that?” Both the guy behind the plexi glass at the cash register and Christine, the darling woman who was manning the front door said, at the same time, “I haven’t tried it.” Christine added, “a $25 bottle is out of my price range.”
We laughed. I shared my philosophy for buying nail polish and said, “I just have to have it because of the name.”
Christine showed me on the box that it needs to be served chilled. I promised to return with a review.
In the beginning, I joked. I called it CORONA-cation.
Years ago, we had SWINE-cation with the Swine Flu. The day Superintendent Timothy put Park City School District under quarantine, my principal and I drove to the Governor’s Mansion to watch our eighth-grade student, Skye, receive an award for her essay on bullying.
SWINE-cation came and went.
It did not interrupt learning. It did not cancel prom. It did postpone graduation.
Even though I knew better, I assumed CORONA-cation would be a quick re-set and we would all be back in the classroom, skiing, and in the grocery store in a few weeks.
My first wave of panic, yes – panic– that’s the right word, came in Smith’s on Sixth Avenue in Salt Lake City. Gloved and masked, I heard silence. I paused in the produce to find what was missing – there were no children. No kids asking for this or that. No babies crying. No laughter.
Going to the grocery store every two weeks became daunting. The quiet overwhelmed me. It felt surreal. It was dystopian.
Now, I order groceries online and have them put in the trunk of my white Volkswagen and hope that my eyes twinkle enough to express gratitude while wishing the personal shopper could see my smile under my mask.
Sure, it was 2020: The Year I Actually Was a Stay-at-Home Dog Mom and I made lists, long lists: clean the baseboards; write; practice yoga; organize the pantry; put the Christmas decorations in the garage (well, now Christmas is just a few months away, so they will have to stay put in the closet downstairs); clean my closet – if it hasn’t come out in a year, OUT with it; read; exercise; plant a garden . . .
So many things to do with so little energy.
Teaching took twice the time and provided none of the fun.
As an English teacher, I get to see the rawest and the most real sides of my students in their writing. COVID changed their plans for college as parents were furloughed. COVID changed their schedules. Some became nocturnal gaming until 4 am, sleeping, waking, and doing it all over again. COVID challenged their roles in their families. Some became providers. Some became the parent – parenting their parents and their younger siblings.
Now, however many days, however many weeks later – I lose track – all I know is that I have been in COVID-casual clothes (“pants” without a waist) since Thursday, March 12th. I know this because the last day of school with my students was Friday the 13th – a school spirit day so I “twinned” with my colleague wearing sweatpants and a basketball hoodie.
I’m angry. I try to control things that I can’t.
I’m frustrated. I don’t understand why others won’t control things that they can – wearing a mask in public, washing their hands, writing complete sentences, and using spellcheck.
Instead of my “to-do” list, I shopped at Hell’s Backbone Grill online, of course. I made biscuits and smothered them with apricot preserves. I didn’t gain the COVID-19; I added 10 pounds.
I drank too much. In fact, it was that afternoon cocktail that I looked forward to, that gave me hope—that, I told myself was my reward for figuring out how to deliver curriculum to my students who were separate from me, from each other. That was my reward for answering questions and having writing conferences online. I looked forward to a glass of wine as a break, a stop.
But it didn’t stop. Instead, the lid on my laptop stayed open – just in case – just in case someone needed an answer, clarification, or, just me.
As for reading, I read a little. I consumed Hot Zone, started The Magicians, perused Erosion and listened to Glennon Doyle read Untamed as I drove between Salt Lake City, Park City, and Francis.
Now, from her book, I know, “We can do hard things.”
Last night, I was filled with sadness.
“Please I can’t breathe,” said George Floyd before succumbing to his injuries in Minneapolis. I grieve for Mr. Floyd. I grieve for the families and friends of the more than 100,000 killed by COVID-19. I grieve for students missing out on tradition and moving into a new world. I grieve for what we called normal.