Thinking ahead… keeping space and opportunity.

Posted June 4th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

What will the coming summer and school year bring?

I honestly do not know.

I am certain I have a position as a teacher, but more than that, I am not sure how the year will start out (depends on infection rates…). I am hoping to return to third grade – a near-perfect blend of acquired skills and perpetual curiosity – they want to learn and can do a lot of work independently!!!

I actually love teaching any age (and have mentioned this before). Each age has its own challenges. Each age has it own gifts. Every age – every child – is special and wonderful.

Sounds pretty sappy, right? Examples:

Kindergartners scare me… they are still so young and inexperienced and can move really fast! They rapidly can get into situations during unstructured time that spiral out of control. On the other hand, they have amazing powers of observation and once they know their teacher will work so hard to master any new skill. They grow a huge amount in just a single month. The joy of this past year has been being a small part of some kindergartner’s lives, watching them change from very young children with babyish faces and interests into more thoughtful social beings.

First and second graders might be my favorite grades (if my body would cooperate). Kids at this age have generally acquired the “learning bug” and want to dive into new challenges immediately. They aren’t yet discouraged by years of testing cycles that suck the joy and momentum out of new knowledge, and yet they are able to honestly identify areas of academic strength and weakness. Many second graders have strong reading and writing skills, and willingly work independently – which can make small group instruction or group projects more productive. Teaching these grades requires an ability to both teach at the most beginning points in many areas (not all students entering first grade have encountered classroom instruction before!). It also requires the ability to support parents who may be new to the expectations and current teaching goals in elementary schools, and who may have several children under the age of 10… good juggling skills are useful.

Third and fourth graders are thought of by many as being the “sweet spot” of elementary education. This is an age when most of the students can read and write independently; when they still enjoy working with each other; when they are willing to share and be authentic; and when they accept redirection for their actions and their work. In general, this is true. Having subbed and taught in several locations, I have found that in some districts the students “grow up fast” and by third grade have the social skills (and hangups) that developmentally are more common in fifth or sixth graders. In those classrooms, a significant amount of energy is taken up with the drama of belonging – who’s in, who’s out, and who’s angling for recognition. The challenge is to recognize that despite the outer appearance and interactions, these are still very young children with tender hearts, and without the more mature powers of observation and abstraction, or knowledge of consequences, of older students. In these classrooms, we are teaching social skills and coping strategies just as much as the “3 Rs” — and truthfully sometimes those skills and strategies are more important. I really enjoy the challenge of teaching students in this age band!

Fifth grade is usually the highest grade in U.S. elementary schools, although some districts include sixth grade in the elementary school model. Depending on the local population, it can be very helpful for sixth graders to continue to be in the more coordinated model that often sees one teacher overseeing most instruction, thus enhancing the related nature of various topics and skills. Many districts, however, now start to move fifth graders (and 6th) into a model of instruction that has students changing teachers several times a day and tracking students into ability groups for each subject, more like a traditional middle-school. These students are always looking forward – they watch older students, often siblings or neighbors, and emulate them. It can be difficult to remember that these, too, are still young people who need a safe, welcoming space and an awareness that changing bodies are only the tip of the iceberg. As these children move from fifth to sixth and into seventh grades, their brains begin to mature in significant ways; most importantly, they begin to truly understand perspective taking and abstract thinking. This both opens up the world to them and can be terrifying: personally and intellectually the world can seem to be shifting and changing around them (in reality they are the ones who are changing!). As can be imagined, a lot of their energy and attention will be focused on non-academic topics. It is a fine teacher indeed who understands and chooses to see this as an opportunity to build long-term critical thinking, problem solving, and social skills while supporting academic goals.

Middle school? I LOVED teaching middle schoolers! They are prickly, awkward, and completely amazing. They can resist and be obnoxious, definitely, but they also are intellectually curious, energetic in pursuing just causes, and growing SO fast that from the beginning to the end of the year they can be nearly unrecognizable. Smart, snarky, silly, sophisticated, superb. Teachers still need to appear to be “in charge” because the students need to know there are limits and that they are safe; but more autonomy can often be provided in choices for how and what to study.

High school? I only had the pleasure of teaching a few high school classes when I substitute taught nearly a decade ago. In general, I enjoyed it. They are so close to adulthood, and they are motivated to prove they will be ready for it. Students who struggle have either decided to simply “put in their time” (which I admit as a teacher is frustrating) or they are taking the bull by the horns, determined to graduate. Either way, by high school most students have a pretty clear sense of self, and that allows them to approach learning on their own terms. A teacher’s job at that level is to present opportunities, set limits and deadlines, and help the students learn; it’s not less planning, and it’s not less grading, but it can be a much more cooperative endeavor than in younger grades. A sort of conversation between teacher and student.

Older students? I have had a few, and the older the student, the more self-directed, and the more satisfaction they have in seeing progress. It is always a joy to work with someone who has their own goals and can help design their learning.

SO… one more week of being this group’s teacher. A couple days past that to finish report cards (grading is already underway).

And then some learning of my own, and hopefully a lot of time working in the garden and sewing…

And then we’ll jump into full-on teaching again!

Let’s get real:

Posted May 23rd, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

[Post was started in March, finished in May 2021.]

This has been weighing on my mind for a year now. It’s time for me to be very clear about the vitriol that is flying that accuses teachers of putting convenience over the well-being of students.

Those of us who requested the opportunity to stay out of physical contact with students this past year did not do so out of anything other than fear: for ourselves and our families, and for our students. The SARS-CoV2 pandemic that swept the world beginning sometime in 2019 is a highly contagious disease with a significantly disastrous affect on older people and people with underlying heart, lung, or immune problems. In many areas, a very high proportion of teachers and other school staff are in populations that have a much higher rate of hospitalization and death with this disease. There is increasing evidence that long-term disabling effects can occur even with asymptomatic infection. While most students might be relatively gently affected if they are infected, they can transmit that infection – to teachers and other vulnerable people.

Although it is clear that, with the right precautions, transmission of SARS-CoV2 can be minimized, the right precautions are simply not possible in many schools. For decades most states have not kept up with maintenance or construction, and many schools (most, in some areas) have outmoded ventilation systems that do not effectively exchange air. Many schools are overcrowded in the best of times. My own classroom, with the (bare minimum) 6-foot spacing would have been able to effectively accommodate only about 9 students, 12-14 if they didn’t need to see the board or the teacher’s demonstrations clearly. And, in my classroom, there was a large corner where the air exchange was minimal…

Though there are now vaccines, and both I and my immediate family are fully vaccinated (as of May), there are large numbers of people who are apparently refusing to be vaccinated. I know just enough about viral mutations and the sneaky ways that each generation of virus can shift to outmaneuver medical or pharmaceutical intervention to be concerned about humanity’s long-term survival. The best way to avoid a new, even deadlier/more contagious/less vaccine-preventable mutation is to stop transmission of the variants that already exist. Without vaccinations coupled with the other measures that are shown to work, I doubt life will ever be “normal,” as we knew it, again. With new variants already in circulation around the world and some already not fully , there are so many reasons to reduce any and all transmission.

Yet, large numbers of people are not only refusing to follow the simplest of medical advice over the last year (wear a mask and maintain physical distance whenever in public) but also refusing to use a vaccine that has so far been proven safe and effective (effective in reducing an individual’s chance of catching the disease, reducing the effects of the disease if caught, and reducing the likelihood of transmission to others if exposed…). Please note that the safety of the vaccine can be measured in many ways – I look at the comparison of exposure to known harm, which is far less for people post-vaccination than for actually being infected.

As well, there is always the question of basic hygiene, the ability of families to keep ill students home, and mask wearing. The most-effective tool for prevention during this pandemic turned out to be physical distancing and mask wearing accompanied by hand washing. The younger the children, the less likely they are to be successful in school without a teacher frequently providing side-by-side support. The younger the children, the less likely they are to be able to leave a mask alone- or on, and the less likely they are to be proficient at washing their hands.

And let’s go ahead and bring economics into the picture: better-off families generally send their children to schools that have sufficient funds for maintenance and smaller class sizes. Better-off families are more likely to be employed in jobs that allow time off for family needs (working-class families on the other hand often are told that they can choose to come to work and stay employed or choose to take care of their families when illness strikes and lose their jobs); thus better-off families both can afford to keep children home when they are ill as well as feel more confident that when they send their students to school the risk of infection (from anything) is lower. Better-off families, when push comes to shove, may be able to stay financially afloat if one wage-earner needs to stay home (not earning money) for an extended period. Better-off families generally also have more up-to-date tools for remote learning, more-reliable internet connections and power supply, more ability to provide space for all family members to have some independent work zones. Better-off families, in other words, have been able to afford measures that minimized the impacts of the pandemic in general, and of remote instruction in particular.

There is NO teacher who believes that all-remote instruction is best for all children and families. It may be best for students who are ill or who live so far from the physical school that transportation time (let alone expense) prohibits most in-person time. It may be best for students whose physical schools are limited in opportunities to provide targeted instruction (rural and remote small towns can struggle to provide the variety of courses of larger schools, and may not be as adaptable or as well staffed for students who have exceptional needs). It may be best for families who have to travel frequently and for whom in-person schools just start to feel “right” and then another move happens…

There are in fact times when remote instruction is a boon. For over a century “correspondence courses” and distance education have provided a much-needed option for many people. With my own health conditions, I far prefer remote instruction (when done right). I learn just as much, and often more, as I learn when I must be physically present because I am less-constrained by struggling to hear a speaker over the background noise, less exhausted from the effort of getting to (and then from) the class, less anxious about exposure to common substances that can be life-threatening to me, and more likely to be able to reach for notes or texts from prior learning to support my newly-acquired knowledge.

And there is the question of whether asynchronous or synchronous instruction is “better” which I suggest is a red herring. The implication is that only real-time communication is valuable, thus only real-time instruction is enduring. But as with distance education not being new, neither are asynchronous communications: think, penpals! I have friends around the globe, some of whom I have acquired through “backchannel” communications that are asynchronous. I have other friends I because I was able to be online at the same time and serendipitiously connected.

There is no doubt that basic instruction can be videotaped and delivered at any time the student is ready; and it can be just as effective as in-person basic instruction. Again, for some students more effective as they can pause the recording, rewatch/relisten, slow down (or speed up), as much as needed to grasp the concepts. This is particularly useful for students with language processing issues or students for whom the language of instruction is not the person’s home language.

But for feedback from a teacher or peers, or for the “implementation” or practice phase of instruction? It can be far more efficient and effective for a student to see and be able to ask for additional clarification if the teacher is immediately available. It also allows a teacher to ask the student to quickly demonstrate whether the feedback worked! As a teacher, it has been difficult to rely on feedback that may never have been seen/heard, and wasn’t useful to the student. Even when trying to work with a student in a video meeting there have been moments that a quick gesture or a finger pointing to the page would have been more effective that a two-minute explanation.

I want to mention a “middle of the road” strategy that many schools and districts have been using: hybrid learning. In true hybrid learning, some instruction and practice takes place away from the physical school – at times with synchronous instruction via video meetings and at times with asynchronous instruction via recorded lessons and independent work – and some takes place in the school with the teacher and other support staff present. Hybrid learning offers a “best of both worlds” promise – that class sizes during in-person instruction are reduced enough to provide sufficient physical distancing between students while still providing that all-important peer interaction and personal connection to the teacher. This approach can work! But it is less effective when done by teachers who have little comfort or familiarity with adaptations that “leverage” the positives and minimize the negatives. And it is, at least at first, a LOT of extra work for both teachers and families/students as new methods of instructional delivery, including learning to watch and pay attention to instructional video.

The modern term for this is “flipping” a classroom. It can maximize the time spent in the classroom, while simultaneously relieving some of the stress from families trying to support learning in content they don’t feel very knowledgeable about. Truthfully, the basics (even through high school) haven’t changed; but the language used to talk about everything from math to history, to science and English has. New developments in science aside, the reclassification of Pluto as just another object in the Oort cloud is an example, there really isn’t much new under the sun. At least not in K-12 education.

We have new buzzwords, a lot of great breakthroughs ways to support our students-as-people, and some amazing new technologies that both open up the world to kids from restricted backgrounds and level the playing field for kids with exceptional needs. But fundamentally, teaching is still about helping kids develop into whatever they dream of. Fundamentally, we are still partners with families and communities, dreaming the future into being.

Let’s be real: everything has changed; nothing has changed. We might need to rethink our expectations and what constitutes basic services (internet connections, for example, should be as available as power, water, and phone…), but thoughtful infrastructure support can meet these demands. We might need to rethink “schooling” in terms of where and when (and how often), but we can still teach and learn. We might need to rethink social gatherings, but we can still love, share, and spend “time” with and for each other. We might need to rethink work environments… but all of these are possible and hardly unusual in the long course of history.

Times change. We can change, too.

New Era?

Posted May 12th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: politics, Politics and War

On Wednesday (just 4 days ago as I began to write), Joe Biden was inaugurated as president in Washington, D.C. He is a career politician, known for taking mostly moderate stands on issues and following the times more than leading the wave.

Kamala Harris was inaugurated as the first vice-president of color, and the first woman in that office. She made a name for herself as a prosecutor who was “tough on crime” in a very conservative way, although always as a Democrat.

Neither were my first choice during the election cycle, but the message of healing, of hope, of harmony is very much in line with all the yearnings of my being.

Our nation has been rent nearly asunder in the last several years, and it will take people willing to find common ground, to work with those who recently were literally violently in opposition…

The only way to fight an enemy as insidious as –

did you think I was going to say a pandemic?

No, this is more difficult to identify, and far more difficult to eradicate. This is invisible and much harder to eradicate.

The enemy is hatred born of fear.

The enemy is hatred born of ignorance.

The enemy is hatred born of envy.

The enemy is ourselves when we refuse to recognize our commonalities because we find it easier to rant about our differences.

Yes, the pandemic is raging across the face of the planet, fed in part by strongarm politicians around the world scrabbling for control rather than working together for the benefit of the people. Not “their” people, mind you, but THE people. Those who wake up every day and go to work, who bear and rear children in hope that the world may be kinder and more prosperous.

Sadly, too many people find the world an increasingly hostile place, where immigrants are bullied and beaten. A world where people born with innate differences are demeaned and demonized. A world where those who start with little end with less.

Right now… (May!)? Right now I have students and most of my attention is on them, and on their families.

Right now, I am slowly getting back to finding out what is going on with the pain and mobility issues I experience on an almost-daily basis.

Right now, I am not in a position to make much of a difference in the larger world. What CAN I do?

There is an acceleration of hostilities between the state of Israel and the occupied West Bank.

There is continuing oppression (and full-on assault) of civilians who are protesting a military takeover in Myanmar.

There are escalating political rhetoric and military posturing between several “nuclear” powers (including the U.S.).

There are hundreds of thousands of people dying daily from the pandemic (still) and (still) not enough vaccines getting to people who want them.

There are still people dying of preventable diseases because of a lack of access to vaccinations in general – or dying from treatable diseases because healthcare is unavailable or financially out of reach.

There are still thousands of children dying every month of malnutrition.

There are still millions (billions?) living in poverty because of a lack of education…

What can I do?

I can refuse to look away. Witnesses are needed.

I can refuse to stay quiet if/when I am in a position to speak up.

I can choose to be involved to the limits of my health and my family’s needs.

I can choose to rally others who may be able to make a difference.

I can choose to do my best at this moment, and all moments.

I can choose to love, to seek understanding, and I can choose to not hate.

It may be that others will hate me for the positions I take; that others will work to undo that which I strive to accomplish. It may be that others will not choose the same path. And yet:

I can do as much as I am able… which will be “enough.”

And another change

Posted May 7th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

Although I liked the simplicity of the “Bertha” theme I didn’t like the menus being at the very bottom of the page, requiring extended scrolling to find the list of specific pages.

So we are back to using Abstrakt3c, which will be good enough for now. I will apologize in advance for the ‘menu’ at the top of the site not working. Please use the choices in the right-hand sidebars to navigate between pages and topics.

Learning to be OK with “just okay” or, “Why being the richest doesn’t mean being the best.”

Posted May 7th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

Starting this very long, somewhat rambling post with a disclaimer: I do not pretend to be completely knowledgeable about the history and social dynamics of any country other than the United States. Most of my direct experience in life has been from a somewhat privileged vantage point of the child of two college graduates (both had master’s degrees by the time I was in high school), predominately northwest-European heritage, Standard American English-speaking (and beyond that, speaking academic language in the home), and for most of my childhood (until I was a teenager) a solidly middle-income household, with most of my at-home teen years in a household where (somehow, miraculously and due to sacrifice on the part of our parents) we never lacked the essentials but didn’t generally have “discretionary income” any more. My parents identify as “white” and worked very hard to fit the middle-class fantasy seen in shows like “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” We were never at risk for being singled out for negative treatment based on external signals or superficial appearances. When I left home for college my family was just re-entering middle class income after several years of financial struggle, and a year later I was on my own — in other words: I had to decide between eating or having a place to stay. I know how people treated me and thought of me when I was a cashier in a store… and how different that was from being the pampered child of a military officer.

The myth of exceptionalism underscores so much of “American” life. The ideas that somehow a person is inherently better by virtue of one’s birthplace – or that only those who excel are worthy – or that certain occupations have more importance or status – or that people “deserve” a certain life or even specific events in their lives (whether good or bad). We spend so much of our energy and resources trying to prove that we are indeed exceptional. In this way, we miss so many perfectly imperfect (but good enough) moments along the way, as well as missing the acquaintance of people whose “station” in life is different from our own.

No person “deserves” a life of complete ease, no more than any person deserves a life of pain or struggle!

Some people seem luckier in general than others, but if we are honest we acknowledge that we all have unfortunate moments (or years), disappointments, and losses. Some people seem to lack so much in terms of resources but have a great deal of peace and love in their lives. Certainly most movies and television shows depict low-income people having hard lives and being the outlier and wealthy people having (generally) easy lives as well as being normative – and so our children and young adults aspire to a standard of living that is not, strictly speaking, normal; a standard that would be unsustainable if everyone on earth attained it as well as not necessarily a significant contributor to actual happiness. (see footnote 1)

So why then, is it considered in poor taste to acknowledge one’s difficulties? In some cultures one doesn’t mention what is going well (boasting being in poor taste); in the U.S. it seems that we are expected to seem to be doing well even when we aren’t. Perhaps we are afraid that if others know we aren’t “blessed” it makes us bad people?

This would be a holdover from some ancient “heresies” (beliefs that run contrary to conventional/mainstream religious teachings) that re-emerge in western Christianity periodically. One such belief is the idea that when one believes correctly, or worships correctly, or acts correctly that life on earth becomes easy (the idea of wealth being a sign of righteousness), leading to the idea that somehow a person who is well off (financially, or in health, or …) is more worthy than a person who barely scrapes by. The obverse of that particular coin is that the poor somehow do not think/pray/act appropriately and thereby bring on their own misery. This belief has been used for at least a thousand years to justify policies that favor the wealthy and gradually take more and more away from the (undeserving) poor. One could, if one wished to counter that belief: simply mention the story of the widow’s mite… or Job… or any of a number of other tales from the Tanakh and the Christian Bible.

There is also, almost diametrically opposed (but still favoring the wealthy) a message that insists that the poor are not necessarily less worthy, but that that poor who are “always with us” will somehow reap their reward in heaven; that their assigned lot here on earth is precisely to bear their burden, to suffer in silence… etc. Therefore, poverty is not directly stigmatized, but neither are those with more assets held to the expectation that they should do anything about helping those who are less-fortunate. A shopkeeper, factory owner, or other member of the well-heeled classes can rest easy knowing it’s just the way the world works, and not be too disturbed by knowing that employees’ children go to bed hungry… And, this way of thought has also been used to keep people in their place by reminding them that good servants (or slaves) obey their masters and thus earn points for better rewards in the hereafter. It is reflected in stories and bucolic paintings with farm workers/serfs/slaves smiling or singing while they work or dancing in a carefree manner in the evenings; an expectation, and sometimes a command.

There are a number of errors (fallacies?) embedded in such thinking. One is that the poor are content with “their lot.” They aren’t. Although people in the middle of crisis, like a drowning person, are focused on surviving the moment at hand and are not as able to problem-solve and find ways out and up… they do know they are struggling, and they do look for opportunities to make the situation better. Eventually, people living in poverty and less privilege generally do begin to actively work together to improve the situation. This does not generally bode well for those who are in the “upper” echelons of the society.

Another error is that only people with “disposable incomes” should count in political-economic calculations. In fact, people who have lower incomes might count for considerably more in the long run. Here’s why: at a certain point, people who are “well off” no longer actually spend more. They stop purchasing on a regular or predictable basis — at least the staple commodities that are most often needed; and therefore the commodities that form the foundation of economies small and large. However people who are not well off – including those even at 300% above the U.S. “poverty line” (which in many areas is laughably low and in no way resembles the point at which people go hungry…) – those people always have something they will purchase immediately when they have “extra.” And those are items that bolster economies: food, clothing, household items, materials for work, materials for children, materials for LIFE.

To push that point a little more: if, without an additional income or sudden windfall, a person or family is prioritizing food or rent or healthcare or medications… or similar items and immediately uses “extra” funds for those necessities, then the money wasn’t really extra. The family wasn’t really doing okay.

It can be a very big problem, and history provides abundant examples of mistreatment of people who are perceived as less powerful and less valuable (although the existence of these people — specifically their labor — is necessary for the excesses and luxuries of the ruling classes). Too often, religious platitudes (and “conservative values”) are used to extract sacrifice from those who have the least – those for whom a single dollar represents great sacrifice but who nevertheless are required to pay poll taxes or other fees as if they had money to burn. And at the same time there are numerous deductions and exemptions that provide some relief in taxes for those for whom a missing thousand dollars isn’t even noticed. The poor, who truly have always been with us, have not always actually been so dramatically less well-off. There is a noticeable shift within my lifetime (although I suspect it started well before I was born) for owners and bosses to retain more and more of the profit that comes from other peoples’ labor – with not even the medieval expectation that in time of illness, war or famine the lord of the manor will provide relief. And therein lies this modern problem, for me at least.

While our family has usually been comfortable, we rarely indulge in conspicuous consumption. But even though for our income and educational levels we are not “flashy” (nor do we live beyond our means by borrowing…) we are nevertheless very much better off than most. Still, it is only very recently that we (as a couple) have significant income and can both afford to purchase what we need and also set aside a bit for a rainy day – a luxury for us, but hardly still what modern “experts” recommend for both immediate savings or retirement. Note that until the last 100 years most people – at least working-class people – didn’t ever actually retire, though some may have lived past their ability to work. My great-greatgrandfather (born 1880) was the first generation to qualify for social security… The idea of a time of relatively good health and leisure before one’s death is new and unusual!

In part, the lack of conspicuouse consumption is due to my health issues (I don’t enjoy being in crowds or unfamiliar places due to allergic reactions), but also because we haven’t had a lot of discretionary income most years. We also don’t generally purchase one-use items, whether clothing, furniture, or cars – we try to purchase well-made/durable items whenever possible even though they are more expensive initially. (That, in and of itself speaks to our privilege – we can choose to buy longer-lasting items!) Note that we regularly contribute to a number of charitable organizations now that we have that extra money, but not to the point that it significantly reduces our own comfort… which again is a privilege: we are not giving up very much when we help others. We are still setting aside a little bit for the future, in case we need a emergency fund.

I can justify it all day long, but I finish many days wondering if I could and should be more generous to those who have less: What if we purchased less-expensive (less well-made) items and treated them more gently? Or didn’t purchase as many items? What if I always purchased two of each item: one for us, and one to give to people who need it? What if, instead of a new outfit for myself for a special occasion I instead purchased a new outfit for a person who actually needs one?

And given the time we live in, with climate change a very real concern, there is always the overlying problem of using resources (not just the raw materials, but the energy required to obtain and transport raw and finished goods). People in my part of the world, and in the stratum of society I have generally “always” lived in, are sheltered from a great deal of the already-disastrous effects of climate change. Every item I purchase, whether “high tech” or “sustainable” or “cruelty free” or “fair trade” — EVERY item carries with it costs that are not generally reflected in the price I pay. Could I, should I, calculate those costs myself and “tax” my purchases by contributing to carbon offsets or worker aid, or medical clinics…

One way or another, we need to rethink how much is “enough.” In terms of income, in terms of acquiring property, and in terms of taking care of others and our world. Can we be “okay” with a comfortable (but not opulent) chair in the evenings, a satisfying if not gourmet meal, and a warm, dry place to lay our heads in the evening?

What will it take for us to value others’ needs above our own desires and comfort?

Originally started in Feb or March 2021.

Sometimes the losses pile up

Posted February 21st, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

I don’t know how we managed to be so fortunate. Only a few of our friends have been diagnosed with SARS-Cov-19, and as far as I know none have died of it.

But still, the last year has been brutal on our family. Like most families right now, we are doing the best we can to maintain social distancing, and it’s difficult to stay connected with those we rarely see. So unless there is a set time or day to connect (at least for me) it can be a long interval before we speak or write.

And on top of that, life does indeed go on: and so does death.

We seem to be losing people at the rate of about one every two months.

And in the middle of the commotion sometimes the losses happen and I only find out about them months later.

Tonight, I learned a dear friend died several months ago – in the middle of my own issues I hadn’t noticed she wasn’t posting anymore. And facebook’s algorithms don’t put “most recent” at the top of the feeds anymore, so I didn’t think too much about not seeing specific peoples’ posts…

We knew she was gravely ill, but somehow I didn’t expect her to go so fast. Here is a link to a lovely article in the local news about my friend.

And a couple of close relatives also died in the last six months.

And a friend from high school.

And this is in addition to serious health issues with people in our families that sometimes take our full attention.

And … none of these were Covid-related, but I cannot help but wonder if perhaps the need to keep physical distance, the lack of opportunities to have close support from a variety of people, didn’t play into some of these losses.

Tonight, I just feel “done.” I am crushed, and sad, and trying to remember to give myself the same compassion I give to others: even if things were “normal” these would be hard losses. We can’t always be present for everyone. We can’t always anticipate how long we have left with anyone – and it is “okay” to do the minimum right now – for as long as we must to keep our heads above water.

Even so, these losses are hitting me hard.

Could have.

Should have.

Would have (if only I’d known).

The older I get, the more familiar the feelings of guilt, of inadequacy, of hopelessness in the face of loss.

And, no matter how many losses I experience, they get harder. Practice, in this case, doesn’t make any of this easier.

Is it too soon for 2021 to be over?

New Year, More of the Same…

Posted January 9th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

More, and Worse?

The democratic institution of allowing citizens to vote was threatened even before the recent general election. The votes of tens of thousands of people were at risk of being ignored. And then?

THEN irresponsible and unprincipled people began to advocate for open defiance of the laws of the land, and even for violent insurrection.

Again, I am a student of history. What happens in the next few weeks, months, and years could determine whether my nation, and the world at large, survives with grace or with difficulty… or at all.

2021 needs to improve, and fast!

New Year: 2020 part TWO?

Posted January 5th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

Remote Learning. Pandemic. Covid. SARS-Cov-19. Social Distancing. Masks. Quarantine. Isolation. Work-from-Home. Black Lives Matter.

These terms are not isolated to the year 2020, and except for Covid and SARS-Cov-19, are not new.

The issue of public safety sadly took a back seat in an election year with a grossly under-prepared national leadership and woefully underfunded state and national health, research and distribution systems. The extent of the disaster in the United States will not be fully known – perhaps for decades – until there has been time to compile and assess data on a) all the ways that this particular virus directly and indirectly affects the human host, b) the number of dead who succumbed to the virus, c) the number of people with permanent, disabling repercussions such as reduced stamina/strength, heart disease, brain damage, susceptibility to other infections, etc., and d) how many businesses closed entirely or permanently downsized, leaving individuals unemployed, families in need, and communities impoverished.

Realistically, while the deaths are tragic – and more so because many if not most were avoidable – the more devastating result is item (c) in the above paragraph. From an economic standpoint, what will the permanent (or even just long-term) drop in productivity do both nationally and world-wide? Will we see opportunities arise that allow people with disabling conditions to contribute in meaningful ways to their families and society? Will we see massive workforce gaps as family members (usually female) stay home to care for people who can no longer care for themselves? For people who worked in skilled but physical jobs, will they have to retire or find other employment that is less demanding… only to learn that there are no opportunities available?

Yet, it’s 2021, and there is hope on the horizon: vaccines have been developed and are beginning to be distributed; new industries have developed or become stronger; and due to reduced travel and work-from-home there are areas where ecological conditions have improved. If people can remember to stay home when possible, wear a mask when they must be away from home, and wash their hands frequently, the vaccine should eventually allow a return to more-normal socializing and work patterns.

It’s 2021, and it has been a week and a half since Christmas, when so many families and social groups gathered despite warnings to stick to household-only celebrations. It is less than a week since the New Year when many parties were held, in defiance of health orders to avoid crowds and restrict public gatherings. Already the hospitals in some places are overflowing (and turning people away) as a result of the much smaller Thanksgiving gatherings.

It’s 2021, and in the Pacific Northwest we have had a very mild (temperature wise) autumn and winter so far although the last few days have set rain records in my area. Still, mudslides, windstorms bringing down trees, and general flooding is threatening homes and businesses again. And milder winters here mean that plants don’t get the rest they need, and the pests (I am looking at you, banana slugs!) aren’t reduced in the spring.

It’s 2021, and I am fully employed but worried about how long that can be sustained with my health and mobility concerns and the needs of the age of students I normally teach (a moot point this year and maybe next year, but after that… ??). Even with a vaccination available soon, I will still struggle with regular episodes of anaphylaxis when students eat or otherwise bring allergens into my spaces. Will I have the ability to continue to teach as long as I had hoped when I went back to school?

It’s 2021 and our home is finally getting cleared out of things we no longer need – including many boxes from the fire and before… it’s slow going, but they’re going! I am letting go of so many mementoes – things only I care about and that are spoiled from mildew, soot, or both. The only memories I care about now are small, personal ones: marriage, parenting, people I love.

It’s 2021, and the surge of racially and religiously motivated hate crimes continues. It never went away, but in the last four years with a prominent example of a demagogue who celebrates racism and refuses to stand against hate crimes, there is a resurgence of harassment and assaults – and murders based on the color of a person’s skin, the accent when they speak, or the clothes they wear. With so many people I love being from other nations, “minority” religions, or races that don’t identify as white… my heart aches. In the schoolyard when bullying is not addressed swiftly and decisively by teachers and administrators it gets worse. Grown-ups are just bigger kids, and when bullying is allowed to happen or even encouraged, there are many hangers-on who want to affiliate themselves with aggressors.

It’s 2021 and we have plans for the yard and garden… but not sure if our income is up to all the somewhat urgent needs. We’ll make removing hazardous trees a priority, then fence the vegetable patch. Other improvements like extending paved walkways (for wheelchair access) may need to wait for another year.

It’s 2021 and with the death of my last grandparent in the autumn we no longer have any reason to travel long distances twice a year, so my world has become much smaller – day trips only from now on, so that I can sleep in a room that is free of most allergens and eat food that I am (usually) assured is safe. I’ll leave the over-the-mountains visiting to Tom, whose parents are more than a day’s drive away. I haven’t flown in years though I love flying, and cannot envision ever setting foot in an airport again.

It’s 2021 and I have to admit that I am a “bundle of nerves” around the political upheaval both around the world and in my own nation. For only the second time in my life do I feel that there is a probability for civil unrest that rivals that of the mobs of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unrest that, at its core, is the result of accumulation of wealth and power in an ever-diminishing circle of corruption; and the cynical manipulation of those who are not powerful. Also, I am acutely aware of “saber-rattling” around the globe. As a student of history, I see far too many alarming parallels in these situations to be sanguine.

It’s 2021.

Happy New Year?

Playing Around: Geeking Out

Posted December 27th, 2020 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

Round about October-November our son, Matthew, was discussing the “Raspberry Pi” computer he was using (an adjunct to his other devices). I asked if he was interested in getting the magazine and as a bonus (surprise!) it included a “free” basic raspberry pi device for me.

It arrived last week.

Tonight, Tom is helping me get it set up. It required a micro-SD card to hold the OS – Tom set this up for me because it was simpler on his computers, but he is going to walk me through the other set-up processes. This is MY fun toy. I haven’t played around with or used any hard-core programming for at least a decade (since I went back for grad school), so it’s going to be a steep learning curve. But I need some sort of hobby other than smashing zombies (a post for another time), and to pull me away from teaching-related tasks when my work day is done.

The image shows our “media wall” above the gas fireplace. In the center of the image is a flat TV being used as a monitor for my Raspberry Pi. In the center of the TV is the “Update Software” box with the infinitisimally slow progress represented by a small gray square on the extreme left of the bar… It’s going to take a while!

While we wait, it’s left-over chicken pie and The Expanse. Geeking out with the man I love.

The handsomest man.

New Year, New Look

Posted December 18th, 2020 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

It was past time for an update!

2020 is almost over. I will be glad to see it gone.

2021 is an unknown – but I am hopeful.

The WordPress folks have a new theme called Twenty Twenty-One, so I am playing around with it. So far, I like it. I wonder if the year ahead will be something I like, too?

I am not yet fully comfortable with “block editors” as they remind me overmuch of early WSIWYG editors that were extremely unfriendly to screen readers and people with accessibility challenges. However, I am told that this particular theme is very friendly as it allows for the viewer to make adjustments on their end. Let me know if you are (like me) a person who has some adaptations pre-selected on your browser: does this theme adapt properly for you?

It also is supposed to adjust automatically for desktop/tablet/phone viewing. How do you like this theme for different types of devices?

BIG news this autumn has been my transition to full-remote instruction. I was already well-prepared to have a “flipped” classroom model and had been taking courses since the spring to prepare for that style which easily transitions between in-person, hybrid, and full-remote instruction. However, I was given a position NOT as an actual teacher, but as a mentor for families who are using an online platform. This was made possible by our friend, the pandemic… and hasn’t been a smooth move at all. However, there is a silver lining!

Because I am not driving an hour each way, and because I am able to take actual breaks during the day, my health is improving! Not my mobility – I still need a wheelchair when I am in public*, but my ability to breathe and the number of serious allergic reactions are WAY down. Still, there are challenges: the online lesson provider isn’t always reliable, the materials the families were promised never materialized (and now we know they won’t I have the added burden of making sure I have resources for the lessons – there are over 40 lessons EVERY day that I need to know what’s going on at least a month in advance….), and internet/power from Oct-March is not guaranteed.

  • I keep trying to just use a cane or crutches when I leave the house to stop by school or go to a store where I don’t have to walk far. The last two attempts resulted in my being virtually immobile by the time I got home and back in the wheelchair for the remainder of the day.

And I DO get to teach some. I am providing Social-Emotional lessons for all 6 grades that I support, and in the process of those I manage to fit in some reading/literature and math (and let’s be honest, it’s me! – Science and Social Studies) instruction. I also grade writing for the students, since computer algorithms aren’t yet sophisticated enough to adapt to developmental standards.

I have found that I am able to explain how online platforms work better and better. No real surprise there, but the thing that caught my attention recently was that despite having been full-remote since March a LOT of the students (and families) don’t know how to access their school-district online services. We use GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and all students by grade 2 have pretty much learned the routines. Except…

The stress and uncertainty of this year has caused so much mental and emotional overload even simple, straight-forward tasks are sometimes mystifying. I see it in myself – and I hear it in the voices of the families when they call for advice or guidance; and in the faces of the kids when we are “zooming” together; and in the language colleagues all over the world are using to describe their days. So many families struggling with food insecurity, impending homelessness, job loss, health concerns, working from home while supporting students whose schools are not open. And of course, the families and communities who have lost loved ones…

I am teaching full remote because I asked my doc in the early summer if I should return to in-person teaching if the pandemic was still raging. And he advised me not to.

Knowing I could take a year off without extreme financial distress (if I were denied the request) I asked for full remote, hoping they would offer a part-time position or a remote support position. I was thrilled to be able to say yes to this particular job title because it handshakes nicely with so much of my previous “hats” and gives me a chance to refresh and update skills: computer programming, website design and maintenance, lesson design, resource finding and development, family education, student encouragement… and in the process of getting the spare bedroom ready to teach in (the study with the dog door being not excellent for professional purposes!) my painting techniques. I really am just geeky enough, and just socially awkward enough, that while I miss actually seeing people I do find myself not badly flustered most of the time to be working on computers and seeing people through screens.

And yet… for my colleagues who were not comfortable asking for this kind of assignment, who have health issues but need the job to have the insurance for the health care… those who are working in unfamiliar territory and with tools they don’t enjoy using. They do not enjoy these challenges. They are not comfortable with being on camera. Many of my colleagues are not okay.

Our families, our communities, our world are not okay.

(stidmama says)

2020 has been a horrific year, a devastating year made more horrible in the United States by internal political posturings and strife. I suspect this is what it must have been like in the run-up to several notable moments in the 1800s when our nation nearly fractured. Economic distress, race-based hate crimes, sex-based hate crimes, religion-based hate crimes, nationalism/fascism, self-declared militias taking up arms against citizens, blatant and hysterical ignore-ance of educated authority figures, threats to public officials who are trying to do their jobs, threats to private citizens who are attempting to follow the laws and advice of authorities, and all in the context (at this point in time) of 3,000 people dying every day in the United States from a relatively “new” virus that is more contagious, more deadly, and has more unknowns for life-long impacts than most other viruses we have encountered.

Of course instances of domestic violence are up as stress makes already-fraught situations untenable. Of course instances of violence against strangers are up –

Of course?

Why must our tendency always be toward violence when times are uncertain?

Perhaps it’s time to focus not on what we don’t have, but on what we do.

Maybe that “attitude of gratitude” and practicing noticing what is RIGHT instead of what is wrong could help us move toward focusing on appreciating what is good in other people instead of being threatened by what is different. Maybe an attitude of gratitude for what we HAVE instead of constantly enumerating what we lack compared to others would allow us to build each other up instead of tear down. Maybe we can cultivate the attitude of gratitude so our personal weaknesses become a source of another’s strength – and allow us to graciously accept the help we need without feeling self-conscious.

Maybe.

That’s my biggest hope for 2021: that we can move toward gratitude for what is good, compassion for ourselves when we fall short of our expectations, and kindness toward others when they need us.

We can make 2021 better. We can, we must, we will.

(stidmama says)


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