Money, Teachers, and Teaching

The state is messing around with our pension. The pension they force us to pay into and promised teachers years back in exchange for lower pay. The county is now claiming they’re going to give us raises, when they’re actually playing a shell game with our money.

Monday, at lunch, one of the association reps was explaining this to the people at my table. A younger coworker in her second year mentioned that she knows she should have extra retirement put aside, but she doesn’t even know where to start or what to do.

I lost out on five years of retirement planning in my first five years of teaching. I have no SSA for that time because my old district didn’t pay into SSA (not that I think SSA is going to be around for me).

I had only a small pension, which sat around for several years after I left the county, until they eventually sent me a letter saying I was no longer going to get interest on my account. That finally got me to roll it over.

I told her I don’t want her to make the same mistake, and I dragged her up to my classroom. She set up a 457b before we left for the day. It felt really good to help her out, and she was grateful.

While we were opening her account I said, “I know talking about money is socially unacceptable. I hope this isn’t making you uncomfortable. But I really want to help people not make the mistakes I made.”

“No, I am so grateful for this, because nobody ever taught me about this, and I just had no idea where to even start.”

A few years ago, my job helped me discover that I truly wanted to become a gifted and talented teacher.

Working with an intern this year has taught me that I really like working with neophyte teachers. My mentors were all assigned to me by their principals, and they had no choice. I was assigned an intern because I asked for one.

A few months ago, an instructional coach said she could see me in coaching or admin. I don’t see myself in either position, but I do see the appeal of working with adults.

Running on Fumes

I have been running on fumes at work. Blame The Test. Thirty days to go. Not that I’m counting or anything.

Today I found an envelope in my mailbox that simply had my school’s name on it. It was from our interoffice mail system, but my name wasn’t on it.

When I opened it, I found a letter addressed to me from one of my former sixth graders. She told me she was a freshman in high school and that she was a freshman because of me and what I’d done for her.

My heart sang.

And suddenly, I wasn’t running on fumes any longer.

Teaching can be such a thankless profession. When a former student tracks me down and thanks me, it keeps me going for months.

And what still surprises me is that the students I’m afraid I didn’t do enough for? Those are often the ones who write me, years later.

Teaching, in America at least, is a profession that encourages self-doubt. But I reached this student. I mattered to her. I made a difference.

My closest coworker, when I told her about the letter, said, “You were nominated for GT teacher of the year! Of course you make a difference!”

“But that nomination came from my boss. This letter came from a student. It means more.”

I have thirty more days with my current batch of students. I have thirty more days to push them, to stretch them, to make them say “Oh! I get it!” I have thirty more days to make a difference.

Doll Destruction at the Hands of My Brother

I’ve been cleaning house, getting rid of some old things, and came across these.

I given this Care Bear for Christmas 1986, I am fairly sure. It was the Good Luck Care Bear and I loved its winking eye, which reminded me of frosting! I think it’s time to let it go.

Good Luck Care Bear

And then there was my beloved Cabbage Patch Kid, also received sometime around 1986 (although I don’t think for Christmas). Look at her, she’s dressed in the very first thing I wore as a baby. Awwwww…

Cabbage Patch Kid

But if you look closely, you can see the destruction that happened to her at the hands of my brother. He decided to drag fangs on her with an ink pen. Then, some adult (Mom, Dad, a babysitter who smoked like a chimney and had white walls stained yellow?) decided to fix the fangs by covering them with White Out. Yes, really.


And tell me, what in this world do I do to her poor hair??

“I Think We Might Get Shot.”

This weekend, Good Man and I were supposed to go on a hike at a state park on Pennsylvania. We’d get to see one of three iron bridges on the state, there were few trails, so it’d be hard to get lost. Sounds great, right?

Except that the park was undeveloped, which meant no rangers and no toilets, and every single car we passed was full of hunters in blaze orange.

We don’t own blaze orange.

I looked at Good Man, who was managing the car quite well on a pot-holed old state road and said, “You know, I think if we hike, we might get shot. I’d go off in the woods to do my business, and then I’d get shot.”

Good Man nodded, “I think so.”

So instead, Good Man and I went to the fossil pit. Shortly after we started searching for fossils, we heard gunshots.

Good Man looked at me. “No hiking.”

House Falling Down Near Swatara State Park

House Detail

Zombie Driving

My brother and I chatted last night and somehow got talking about…zombies.

“Wouldn’t you want to go to an island if zombies attacked?” I asked.

“Oh no, no, especially if they can walk on the ocean floor. Nope, bad idea.”


Good Man had his first behind the wheel driving lesson. Because I love him, I am paying someone else to teach him. I asked him a few days ago if he was nervous.

“Well, no, not really, they will not make me drive the first day, right?”

I looked at him. “Probably not in the first twenty minutes, but if we’re paying for two hours of behind the wheel, you’d better drive!”

“But… I do not know how to drive! What if I hit something?”

“They have dual controls, so the instructor can use the gas and brake on his side, too.”

Good Man looked at me. “That is simply not possible!” I just laughed and he changed his tune. “Fine, fine, I will see.”


I called him at lunchtime today to ask how his lesson went.

“Nnnn-kay. I did not kill the man.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“You said he would not put me on highway right away. You said we would do side streets, but he did put me on highway! He just told me to drive! For two hours I drive! I went to that area, by public health, um, Seven Corners, and it was so scary! The signs are too confusing. And I do not understand why I can only use one foot. You use two feet to drive—”

I nodded at the hell that is Seven Corners and said, “I drive a stick. You’re driving an automatic. You only drive an automatic with one foot.”

Good Man slowly shook his head. “I think that is not true in Korea.”

“Well, that would explain why Koreans are scary-ass drivers.”

“I drove all over! And turning is hard. Why don’t you accelerate in a turn?”

I was confused. “You have to accelerate in a turn if you start from a stop.”

“But when I hit accelerator I go vrooooom too fast, even when I am gentle!”

I laughed, “You just need practice. Want me to schedule you for two times a week?”

“No! It is too scary! One time a week. Two hours is a long time!”

I let Good Man continue a bit longer. I finally said, “And this is why I want you to learn how to drive! It’s stressful and it’s not fair that I always have to be the one to drive!”

Good Man raised an eyebrow. “You are very sneaky! You let me complain and never disagree just so you can make me not quit and have to learn more!”

Ownership: Socratic-Style

Amanda Teacher: So can something you own own something? If I own this book, what does the book own?

Dead Meat, mumbles.

Amanda Teacher: What? I didn’t hear that.

Dead Meat, shakes his head, finally, after I’ve assured him he’s not going to get in trouble: The book owns the pages.

Amanda Teacher: But I can tear the page out.

Dead Meat: The pages still own the words.

Amanda Teacher: And the words?

Dead Meat’s classmates are grinning, whispering answers, and egging him on.

Dead Meat, after a pause: The letters.

Amanda Teacher: And the letters?

Dead Meat: The lines!

Sub-Atomic, beating me to the punch: What about the lines?

Dead Meat: … The ink!

The class cheers and looks at me as if to say, “Ha! What now, Ms?”

Amanda Teacher, slowly: But who owned the ink before it was on the page?

Dead Meat, jaw drops: That’s not fair.

Student Aide: Wow, this is like philosophy.

Quiet Student Who’s Suddenly Been on the Ball Lately: Can we do more of this?

Sure, kids, we can do more of this.

Snowmageddon 2010 Photos

Snowmageddon 2010 Album

Damn. This is some snow.

Being snowed in for one weekend is fun. Being snowed in for two weekends in seven weeks? Not so fun. Today Good Man and I were going stir-crazy and since it’d finally quit snowing (!) we could go out without risking life and limb. Well, went out we did for a 3.5 mile walk and some lunch at Cosi. At some points I was thigh-deep in snow.

Now, I grew up in Minnesota, but even this is unusual for the Great White North.

School is canceled tomorrow and the custodians aren’t even expected to go in. This makes me suspect we won’t be back Tuesday, either.

Heck, the Federal Government is closed tomorrow. That’s how you know it’s a bad, bad storm!

Making a Snow Angel

Making a Snowball

I Think It Is the End of the World Going On

OK, Virginia, I thought you were in the South. The South politically and physically. So what’s up with the damn snow?

My school district canceled tomorrow’s classes as of 4:15 this afternoon. We aren’t even supposed to get snow until noon tomorrow. I’ve taught two days this week, and we’ve now used up all of our snow days and we have to give up holidays to make up the days.


Good Man ran to the grocery store, called me, and said, “I think it is the end of the world going on.”

Yes, it is, Good Man. The snow is coming!


As part of my GT endorsement class I had to survey a small group of gifted students on curriculum. I surveyed my math class.

I only have six students in my math class, so it was fairly easy. I told them that I would only use their answers to make math better and I wouldn’t be upset with anything. They must trust me, because I got very honest answers.

Their responses were interesting, funny, and… surprising. Five of my six students said that algebra is their favorite part of math. It’s their favorite thing to do.

What I like MOST about math is: when we solve algebra problems because it helps you in real life.

We should do more word algebra problems because they’re more challenging than the regular algebra.

What I like MOST about math is: Algebra, some I get, and some I don’t. I feel good when I complete it.

When I was in sixth grade, around February, thirty of us (twenty boys and ten girls) started doing seventh grade math. We were with the math specialist and even though I’d always been strong in math, algebra stumped me. Oddly, the teacher had done Hands-On Equations from September through January with Mark and one other student. But when we came through, that went out the window and she made us just memorize all of the steps. I didn’t understand. I remember getting in a huge argument with my mom over it in the car one day.

Plus, under the Chicago Math series, we were allowed to re-test and re-test as many times as we wanted until we got “mastery.” As a teacher in a high-stakes testing environment, I know why this is done. We have to re-teach students until they show mastery. However, as a student, I know that we took advantage of that. What’s the point of studying and trying and learning it the first time if you’re never allowed to fail? (One student asked another teacher at my school, “If I fail this test you’ll just keep me after school and re-teach me, right?” Things don’t really change.)

I did come to love algebra, once we got into more interesting questions—one of my major difficulties was that “x + 7 = 12″ was too stupid to solve step-by-step, so what was the point? (“Mom, they know it’s five. So why write x?!”)

But while I wanted my students to struggle a bit with algebra, I didn’t want them to dread it. So I introduced it like my mother did: as a game, as a puzzle.

And whatever I did worked, because most of my class loves algebra and wants more of it. And even the one who didn’t claim it as his favorite part of math said it’s OK when they’re not “those super long algebra equations […] they just are paper eaters.”

And we’ve gone far, far beyond the one-step equations that the curriculum mandates and onto “set it up, simplify it, and two-step it” word problems.

There are four brothers. The oldest gets $10 more for Christmas than the second oldest, who gets $10 more than the third oldest, who gets $10 more than the youngest. If the total money they receive is $220, how much money does the oldest brother get?

My students know how to set that up, solve it, and check it. And almost all of them like it.


A Compliment (and an Insult) and an Ajumma

After my surprise birthday party, I did a lesson on longitude and latitude. One of the problems was to find a location and name the state it was in. Dead Meat was the only student who knew the state was Colorado. He threw his arms up into the air and yelled, “Yes!”

I drew a cartoon of Dead Meat wearing a crown on my Smart Board. The students were intrigued. I wrote “[Dead Meat] wears the smarty pants crown.”

“Wow,” Subatomic said, “it’s like a compliment and an insult all together!”

My students are funny.


The only way I’m really going to get some Korean learning done is to actually made Good Man speak Korean at home.

I am an ajumma.

I can strong-arm him into this.

Or whine my way into it, in that annoying way that Korean women whine. Good Man told me he hated that whine, but whenever I do it he says, “너무 귀여워!” That’s very cute!

After all, I know taekwondo!

Speaking of Korean, 화 as a root means both angry () and peace/harmony (和).

There’s some sort of metaphor here about being a 화/火/和 strong-arming, whining ajumma. But it’s late and I can’t quite sort it out…