Posted in Life

I Shall Be Telling This with a Sigh

In 1995, I left my home in Richardson, Texas, to go to college at UT in Austin. I studied English there for four years and got my teaching certificate, and when I graduated in 1999, I decided to stay. Austin was a cool town: liberal, young, easy to navigate, and full of green spaces and swimming holes and bats and music. There was a lot to love.

Littlefield Fountain and UT Tower

The longer I stayed, the more I found to love. Over the past twenty-seven years, I made life-long friends, taught more than 1500 seventh graders, married my husband, and found myself. I lived all over Austin—north, central, east, southwest—with roommates and alone and with pets I’ll never forget. I swam in Barton Springs, went to concerts at Stubbs and La Zona Rosa and The Continental Club, took countless strolls through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Violet Crown Trails, and tried every coffee shop I could find. I let Austin become a part of me, and I’d like to think I, in turn, became a part of the city I loved.

Austin has changed a lot over the past couple of decades. Apparently, you only have to be an Austinite a couple of weeks before you get to start complaining about other people moving in and ruining things, but I definitely put in the time to earn my opinions about outsiders. Despite the growth, though, I still love Austin, still think it has a lot to offer, still think there are plenty of people keeping things weird.

That’s why it was so hard to leave.

At the start of June, I packed up my house and life and moved back to Richardson with the hubby and pets.

There were many reasons for the move. Mostly, I wanted to be closer to my family, a feeling I’ve had for a while but which was deepened by the pandemic. I was also ready to walk away from teaching again. (Permanently this time? Maybe. Probably. But all that is for a different post.) So, it seemed natural to combine one big move with another.

Part of the decision can probably be chalked up to a mini mid-life crisis on my part. After the past two years, I found myself wanting CHANGE. Covid shrunk our worlds. When the pandemic forced us inside our homes, I obediently folded myself up into a tiny package, got comfy, and stayed there. My isolation was safe and cozy, and I was grateful that the tiny world that became my cocoon was such a happy one. But when society opened up again, I found myself wanting more than just out of my house. I wanted something new.

Not too new, obviously, since I chose to move back to my hometown. Living in Richardson as a woman in my forties isn’t the same as living here as a kid. The town’s changed, and I’ve changed, but our roots are still the same.

We’ve been here two weeks now, and I already miss the people and places I loved in Austin. But there’s a lot to love here, too. New scenery, new walking trails, new coffee shops, and new opportunities to jump back into some dusty writing projects. Plus, a lot of familiar faces I love seeing every day.

What does this mean for future blog posts? Not much. I’m still writing from my same little desk, just with a new view out the window. And I still have my same writing companions, just with new spots to fall asleep to the sound of my typing. I’m looking forward to my new life here, and looking forward to sharing it with you.

Note: This piece is being posted from my favorite new coffee shop, Staycation, because after two weeks of living here, we still don’t have internet. We’ve had two cables buried in our yard, two installers who came to the house, two installers who didn’t come to the house, and we’ve racked up roughly eight hours of phone time/ hold time/ trying-to-keep-our-blood-pressure-down time with Spectrum*, but we still can’t watch Stranger Things. (So don’t you dare talk to us about it!) Based on the empathy we’ve received from family and friends over this, I know we’re not alone. I’m thinking of forming a support group for people whose lives have been negatively affected by Spectrum, but we’d have to meet in person because… no internet.

* Before you suggest we go with someone else, we have very few options where we are, and I refuse to start over with someone new after going through all this. But, if you have a choice, I recommend you don’t choose Spectrum.

Posted in Teaching

The Future of Education Works for Belly Rubs

Dogs are amazing. This is not debatable. Their eyebrow expressions alone earn them a spot in the Best Things About the World Hall of Fame. But dogs are not just adorable pets with droopy jowls and waggy tails and happy paws that tippy-toe when their humans come home from work. They’re intelligent, loyal animals who have been trained to do some very important jobs. More than once, I’ve met a dog whose responsibilities humbled me. Like the black lab who worked at the same elementary school as I did. My job was to shelve library books. Hers was to detect a little girl’s seizures before they happened and alert an adult.

Dogs guide the visually impaired, rescue people buried in avalanches, sniff out illegal substances, provide therapy for children, and calm veterans suffering from PTSD. They. Are. AMAZING. Therefore, I propose one more career option for canines: substitute teaching.

Hear me out.

Schools are currently facing a teacher shortage and a sub shortage. When a teacher is absent and no substitute can be found, other staff members have to give up their conference times to cover classes, or students must be sent to the library or gym to be monitored in large groups, resulting in a more stressful, less effective learning environment.

The best way to solve this problem is to pay teachers a salary that matches the demands of their job, and treat them with the respect they deserve, so that people want to apply to work in education. The second-best way to solve this problem is to compensate teachers for their unused personal days when they resign or retire, so they’ll be less likely to take a bunch of days off at the end of their career.

But, since no one seems to want to do any of those things, I suggest hiring dogs as subs.

Picture this: Your unruly, end-of-the-day advisory class is getting squirrely. Students are kicking the desk of the person next to them for no reason, leaving their assigned seats to roam around the classroom with evil intent, and shouting at people walking past in the hallway. Now imagine that their sub is a 120-pound German shepherd sitting ramrod straight and perfectly still at the front of the room. Every time a student stands up, turns around in their seat, or speaks above a whisper, the dog lets out a deep guttural growl that makes every hair on every middle schooler in the room stand on end.

That’s effective classroom management if you ask me.

I. SAID. SIT. DOWN.

In elementary schools, subs aren’t just required within the classroom. They’re also needed to escort students between spaces. This is an excellent job for border collies. No child will be lost on the way to lunch or wander off during P.E. with a border collie as a substitute. Disobedient kids might come home with a sore ankle or two, but the pack WILL STAY TOGETHER.

Even mature, well-behaved classes can benefit from dog substitutes. Are your choir students nervous about their upcoming competition? Hire a husky that sings along and makes them laugh. Got a stressed out senior AP class cramming for exams? Send in a corgi to offer a soft belly for them to scratch while they study.

My face when students ask, “Is this for a grade?”

From pugs to poodles and beagles to basset hounds, every dog has a special gift to share. So, teachers, the next time you test positive for covid or need a mental health day and can’t find a sub, see if your neighbor’s labradoodle is busy.

What could go wrong?

Posted in Random

3 Poetry Exercises

National Poetry Month is almost over, and I haven’t written more than a haiku or two. I’m determined to pen some lines today and am using this post from 2015 to get me started. (It can sometimes be good to take your own advice.) If you’re in a poetry slump as well, maybe these exercises will help you, too!

Carie Juettner

If you’re like me, when it’s time to pen a poem, your brain tends to wander in the same directions over and over—regular routines, similar themes, well-mined locations. There’s nothing wrong with revisiting the same concepts, especially when you find ways to see them through new eyes, but sometimes it’s exciting to step outside your comfort zone completely and make room for fresh ideas. I recommend allowing a little randomness into your brainstorming sessions. Some of the best poems come from unexpected places.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share three poetry exercises that are fun, easy, and great for generating unique ideas.

Image from Cliparts.co (Image from Cliparts.co)

#1. Audio Found Poems (a.k.a Effective Eavesdropping)

As you know, I love found poetry. I’ve always loved creating poems from cut-out words in magazines, and one of my new favorite pastimes is making book title found poems. But…

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