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 Teaching

The First Week of School, In Review *

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Tonight when I got home from work, I pulled into my driveway and was sitting in my car trying to summon the energy to get up and walk into the house, when a dog walked through my front yard. Not my dog, just a random dog I didn’t know. So I got out of the car (barefoot, because I usually take off my shoes on the drive home) to help this poor lost creature. That’s when he turned around and started barking at me. Really loudly.

I wasn’t scared. I have pretty good dog intuition, and I could tell he was probably friendly, just wary or protective, but I couldn’t approach him like that, and he wasn’t wearing a collar, so there was no tag to read anyway. I said, “It’s okay, boy. Hang on a second.” He hung on, still barking, while I reached back into my car and dug around for the tennis ball I knew I had in there. I was just about to offer him the ball and see if we could come to a compromise when a car pulled up and a neighbor got out.

“Bowser!” she yelled. “What are you doing?” (Note: Bowser is not the dog’s actual name.) She got out of her car and came to grab him, saying, “I’m so sorry! He just ran out the door!”

I said it was fine.

When Bowser saw his mom, he stopped barking and started running around me and my car, happily evading capture. I stood still while the following things happened, simultaneously and repeatedly.

  • Bowser ran around me.
  • Bowser’s mom ran around me.
  • Bowser ran around my car.
  • Bowser’s mom said, “You’re a teacher, right? How’s the first week of school going?”
  • Bowser jumped up and put his paws on my butt.
  • Bowser’s mom yelled, “Bowser no!!!”
  • Bowser laughed with his eyes.
  • Bowser’s mom said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Finally, on one of his trips around my car (which was still open), Bowser decided to to jump into the driver’s seat, at which point his mom yelled, “Bowser! Why are you getting into her car and not mine?!” and apologized about twelve times. Then she grabbed this forty-pound dog, yanked him out of my car, flipped him around so that she was cradling him like a baby with all his legs up in the air, and apologized one more time. I said it was fine. And it was. Truly.

Then I said, “You asked about the first week of school. Well…” I gestured to the big, doofy, furry, bundle in her arms. “It’s gone pretty much like this.”

As the woman carried Bowser to her car, scolding him all the way, I reflected on my little joke and realized how accurate it was.

Exhaustion + The Unexpected + Conflict + Problem-Solving + Remaining Calm During Chaos + Tackling an Obstacle and Subduing It Through Sheer Will + Laughter = The First Week of School

The truth is I’ve had a great first three days, I promise, even though I’m exhausted and overwhelmed and my ears are ringing. The other truth is Bowser didn’t bother me one bit, I promise, even though I had to clean a little dog pee out of my front seat.

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* I don’t want to hear any of your complaints about how it’s not even Friday yet, and I can’t actually review the first week until it’s complete. Let me tell you this: The first week of school takes approximately A YEAR of your life. If I want to say it’s been a week on Wednesday night, I can. Deal with it.

 

 

Posted in Writing

Why I Ran Away From Home

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I love my home. I love my husband. I love my life. But two days ago, I took my dog and left it all behind.

Let me explain.

Teaching takes a lot out of you. Not only is it a lot of work, but it’s a lot of extroversion. You have to be ON all day, summoning patience and smiles and enthusiasm even when they don’t come naturally. On a good day, you get a conference period or two, during which you can bask in forty-six minutes of alone time (mostly spent checking emails or grading papers). But sometimes (like the past two weeks, for instance) practically every second of your conference time is taken up with meetings, which means you have to keep that patient, enthusiastic smile plastered on your face all day.

I love my job, but there are many days where I go home after work and just sit in a quiet room, alone, for half an hour. And often fall asleep. So, when spring break arrives, I’m not screaming, “LET’S PARTY!” and calling all the friends I haven’t seen in ages. Instead, I’m craving comfy clothes, quiet spaces, books, blankets, and tea.

All of which I have at home, which begs the question: Why did I run away?

Let me explain some more.

Writing puts a lot into you. Not only is it mental and emotional work, but it also opens the floodgates of creativity. I’m not good at compartmentalizing my writing. I’m not one of those writers who writes a chapter on her lunch break or gets to the doctor’s office a few minutes early and whips up a couple hundred words of a short story. I wish I could work that way, but I can’t. For me, it’s all or nothing. When I’m writing, I’m not doing anything else, and when I truly open my mind to the creative process, the ideas and inspirations start flowing in. While writing a chapter of my novel, I might also jot down notes for a story, or quickly pen a poem, or doodle a cartoon for my next blog post. My brain is everywhere all at once, and it can be very rewarding to get in to that zone, but there’s no room for laundry or alarm clocks or needy pets or schedules. I need time and lots of it, with no responsibilities except to the process. So, when holidays arrive, I often tell myself I’m going to finish those writing projects, but secretly I know that unread emails and unpaid bills and well-meaning friends and family will likely keep me from truly taking the dive.

And that’s why I ran away from home for spring break. To write and relax and be among people I don’t have to smile at or talk to. It’s temporary, but much needed.

Originally, I was going to take a solo journey, but then I remembered what happened at the Books With Bite Workshop. There, I was in a cabin by myself, but friendly faces were just a few yards away, and I knew the following morning we’d all have breakfast together, my absence noted if some dark thing dragged me away in the night. Since I generally prefer for dark things not to drag me away in the night, I decided to bring one responsibility with me—my faithful guard dog.

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He’s more fierce than he appears.

So here we are, at a cabin in an undisclosed location in the Hill Country. I’m reading and writing and walking and napping and basking in the sounds of nature (and the sounds of teenagers whose behavior I do not have to monitor). So far, I’ve finished reading two books, drafted one and a half blog posts, written two poems, added 1,000 words to a promising short story, and snuck up on my novel-in-progress to spy on it. (I’m planning my attack.) Uno’s stats are not quite as inspiring, although he has peed on an impressive number of trees and chewed on some fairly large sticks.

 

I think my favorite moment so far was the first evening of my stay, when Uno had finally stopped growling at every tiny noise, and I sat down to do a Tarot reading (as you do on the first night of an adventure). I was itching to get to writing, so I decided to do a simple three-card spread about my retreat, symbolizing what led me here, what will happen here, and how it will affect me. My Halloween cards never let me down, and they came through once again. The first card couldn’t have been more perfect.

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According to The Halloween Tarot by Karin Lee, the Two of Pumpkins (Two of Pentacles in the traditional deck) “signifies duality, or a struggle for balance. The masked jester balances on her tip-toes, weighing two jack-o-lanterns (lit and happy on one side, dark and sinister on the other) in her hands.” Yep. A balancing act, indeed. These three days away are all about me holding on to just one pumpkin for a change.

The rest of the reading was spot-on too, but I’m going to keep that bit of magic to myself.

Tomorrow Uno and I will go back home. A few days from now, I’ll go back to work for the last long stretch before the end of the school year. I’ll pack my patience and enthusiasm and extrovert self to take with me. And my smile? Well… I never truly put that away. 🙂