Becoming That Person

You know the type. That person digs paper out of the trash can to put in recycling? That person composts food scraps, brings lunch from home, uses reusable bags instead of plastic, uses a clothesline to dry their clothes and things like that. I suppose that person could be labeled as “crunchy.”

Many experiences in my childhood generated a propensity towards the reduce, reuse, recycle lifestyle. Although I have talked about some in relation to composting, much more contributed to this transformational process.

My mom provided for my sister and I on a single parent income starting when I turned 10 years old. She had insufficient resources for many years before that as well. Granted, my mother had resources through the strong family network and active support form my grandparents, that others in our situation lacked. We had little money so when my mom spent money, she spent it wisely. I grew up believing it normal to reuse printer paper by printing on both sides or squeezing every last bit of toothpaste out of the tube before throwing it away. We still took care of our teeth through regular cleaning but instead of paying through the nose, figuratively speaking, for a dentist, we headed to the local technical college and offered ourselves up to be practice patients for students in the dental hygiene program. We could have skipped this altogether but instead, my mom helped instill the wisdom of prevention care.

Additionally, I learned early on the importance of good stewardship in my personal life of the things that I own and my environment, my tiny footprint on this planet. I saw how my mom cared for the tiny house she owned and the far different way that others in our low-income neighborhood cared for their rented homes.

In school, in Sunday school, in my family, I learned that God owns everything on this planet yet He has entrusted certain things to our care-taking. In the future a time will come when we will present back the things we have had in temporary custody and give account for our care while it was in our care.

With the groundwork in place, how have I started becoming that person? Many people have similar backgrounds or nearly identical backgrounds in the case of my sister, yet not everyone becomes that person. What makes the difference?

My background and personality type contribute significantly to this process. I often call myself a font of useless trivia because certain facts in a wide variety of subjects stick in my brain in a permanent way while others pass through in an irretrievable manner. How else can I explain the fact that at the beginning of last year, I had to place my car key on top of my lunch box to make sure I wouldn’t forget to bring it with me. I call it useless trivia because it’s not always the most important thing that I remember. I like to eat. I get “hangry.” Food is very important to me. I have yet to figure out what makes things stick in my brain over others. When I do, count on a post.

Over the years, things in the crunchy lifestyle have passed through my brain and gradually, some of them have started to stick. I have been on the recycling train for quite a while. I watched the aftermath of having to clean up after hoarders and started weaning myself off my need to collect and save just in case. I became intrigued about minimalism through the influence of my cousin. I started learning about composting after Ellis mentioned that he had started a compost bin in their backyard. Most recently, a single comment in one of the blogs I read served as a catalyst to change my thinking about the total waste I generate. I knew all of this in one form or another for years yet it took small comments here or there or repeated iterations for it to sink in. One stone built upon another until I come to the point where I am now. I am just starting to become that person. I pull recyclables out of the trash. I just restarted the habit of saving paper used on only one side to reuse before I place them in the recycling. I bring home leftovers from from everyone at my table to compost. (I did this a couple weeks ago at 5 Guys when I brought home the peanut shells that my family discarded.) I purchased reusable baggies so that I would no longer keep adding plastic to landfills. I sold my Keurig on my church Facebook Marketplace rather than throw it out. I collect extra food to distribute to the students. I set up a makeshift compost bin in my room and encourage the kids to toss the cores and peels there instead of the trash can. I reuse the bag that I use to collect extra food at lunch. I am working towards setting up a space in my house to set up a clothesline to dry my clothes as well as find some old clothes or material to make into rags to use instead of paper towels.

In the end, I still want to become that person, but without all the connotation laden overtones. That’s a whole other post.

Chicago Marathon 2017 Race Recap

Race #135
Marathon #10
State #7
Illinois Marathon #7
2017 Race #18
2017 Marathon #2
Chicago Marathon #1
Marathon Major #1

I enjoyed this race so much.

Going into this race I had three goals
A (extreme reach) – BQ – sub 3:35
B (reasonable reach) – Chicago Qualify – sub 3:45
C (reasonable goal) – sub 4 hour, technically sub 3:56 aka 3rd fastest marathon

After my test half a month ago, I decided that the A goal was pretty much off the table unless all the stars aligned. With the alert level at moderate, I took that goal off the table completely.

Then at Charlotte when I earned that 1:50 with relatively easy effort, I decided that a 3:40 would be completely reasonable. With better weather, I’m sure that would have been a slight stretch but doable.

Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017

We arrived super early. I ended up waiting a while without my jacket since Mom couldn’t come closer to the corrals with me. I didn’t mind that much and had enough time to cycle through the relatively short portopotty line twice. (The longer lines occur at the portopotties inside the corrals. I stood in that one for a little while, just in case, but then ended up heading back out to the corral. I stood relatively near the 3:40 pacer thinking that I would try to run with that group and just drop off if the pace ended up being too fast.

I lost the pace group early on but didn’t stress. Instead, I switched my screen over to the heart rate screen aka the blank screen and left it there the entire race.

I decided to run by pace and not worry about anything else.

I struggle with remembering minute details about many of these miles, especially the early, really good feeling miles. The one thought I do remember had something to do with thoughts of turning my music off since a lot of the time I could barely hear it.

I also decided to take Gatorade at every water stop, starting at the first one. I even managed to drink it while running, a major feat for me. I barely spilled anything on myself. When I did, I just wiped my face to get some sweat and then rubbed my hand so it wouldn’t stay sticky. A tad bit gross, I know.

I also really enjoyed having my name on my shirt. Laura came up with that idea and provided the duct tape, sharpie and handwriting. Every so often I would hear a cheer for “Jeni!” At one of the hydration stations, I even got a “Jen-nay” as in Forest Gump.

Mile 1: 8:33
Mile 2: 8:07
Mile 3: 8:17
Mile 4: 8:10
Mile 5: 8:18
Mile 6: 8:32

For some reason somewhere in mile 7, doubts started to creep into my head about my ability to finish the race. I still felt great. The temps had yet to heat up. These doubts come in to just about every one of my long distance races. Thankfully these lasted just a few miles and I continued on the race, on pace, for the next several miles.

Mile 7: 8:45
Mile 8: 8:41
Mil 9: 8:45
Mile 10: 8:47
Mile 11: 8:42
Mile 12: 8:45

In the 12th mile they handed out Gatorade Chews. I have used these before so I grabbed a pack but waited until I crossed the halfway point before I managed to get the pack open and pry out two chews, barely getting the second one out. If I had any criticisms of these chews (which are actually my favorite out of the various brands I have chosen) it would be that the packages are notoriously difficult to open, especially while in the middle of running a marathon.

By this time, the temps had started to warm up. I started to notice this when I no longer had to wipe the sweat off my face. That’s never a good sign. I still felt relatively good and strong. Plus, I looked forward to just before mile 16 where Laura and Aaron would be spectating in front of one of their friend’s houses.

After crossing the half marathon mark, I started trying to remember which side of the road I needed to be on. Even though I asked specifically, my running-drained brain could not remember. Thankfully, I picked the right side and got a nice boost of energy when I passed by. Laura noted that my speed increased after I passed them. Ah, that wonderful placebo effect.

Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017

Mile 13: 7:57 (I should have not been going anywhere near that fast.)
Mile 14: 8:13
Mile 15: 8:39
Mile 16: 8:53
Mile 17: 8:47

During the 18th mile, my legs started to feel fatigued, not fatigued due to lack of fitness but heat-induced fatigue. I wondered how I would be able to make it to the finish at this pace. A temporary boost of energy came from a rude runner who side swiped me somewhere within the mile. Arm bumps happen, especially in a race this size. Every time that happens, I say “excuse me” or “sorry!” If it happens to me, the other runner usually says something similar. Not this time. I muttered “excuse you.” She shot back. “It’s a race, honey.” The “honey” is what did it for me. That’s what galled me the most. Afterwards I wish I had been able to think of something like “It’s been 17 miles and I haven’t run into anyone yet.” Instead, I just shot back , “when you run into someone, you say something.” She simply glared at me and kept running.

This indignation fueled me for the next couple miles, almost to mile 19. That’s when the heat started to get to me. I knew it would likely be a bit of a slog to get to the finish. I thought about walking at mile 20. I walked a little but my stride felt weird so I started running again. I thought that I might walk at each mile marker but by the time I got to mile 21 I thought that I would definitely make it to mile 22. That was a mistake.

Sometimes during this these few miles my left big toe started to hurt which perplexed me a bit. Recently, I had twice developed a blister on the big toe side of my second toe. It only recently healed so I decided to put a bandaid over the sensitive area, just in case. This turned out to be a terrible idea. When I finally took my shoes off, I discovered the the bandaid had rubbed a nice dime-sized section of skin off of my big toe. Yeah. No wonder it hurt. (I’ll spare you a picture.)

I definitely had slowed down by this point.

Mile 18: 8:52
Mile 19: 9:09
Mile 20: 9:06
Mile 21: 9:40 (reflecting the walking at mile 20)
Mile 22: 9:05

I barely made it to mile 22. I cannot believe that my pace was that “fast.”

I ended up walking at the water station just beyond mile 22 and ended up walking through the entire hydration station. I took two cups of Gatorade and then two cups of water. I wondered then if my sub 4 hour goal was fast flying out the window. I wanted to check my Garmin but refrained.

From there, I tried to pick the pace back up by my jog was barely a jog. I ended up walking through each water stop save the last one which also happened to be the only one I did not take hydration at.

I wonder if miles 23 – 24 had some sort of incline. I thought I might have to seriously slog to the end. After mile 24 and a half or so, my legs started to feel decent again, not great mind you, but enough so that the idea of jogging through the final hydration station became a possibility.

I did wish that my duct tape name had stayed on through the whole marathon. I really did try but somewhere between miles 17 and 23 it blew right off. Yeah, that’s marathon brain for you.

I managed to jog through the end not looking at my Garmin until after I crossed the finish line and stopped the time.

Mile 23: 10:13
Mile 24: 10:17
Mile 25: 10:10
Mile 26: 9:38
Last “.2” 8:40
Final time: 3:55:49

Chicago Marathon 2017

Even with the heat, I am more than pleased with how well I ran this race. I think my training lacked what it would take to get to a BQ. If the weather had cooperated, I think that this race would have been my second fastest race rather than my third.

I had so much fun running this race! I can’t wait to run it again, whenever that may be.

We Can’t All Be Bad Teachers, Can We?

A new coworker expressed this thought a couple weeks ago when a few of us gathered to chat after school. Sometimes we call these “vent sessions” or “unloading.” This particular session stemmed partially from decisions out of our control.

This year the administration decided to split the school on the basis of test scores. Each grade level has two teams, one titled “G/T – Gifted/Talented,” the other “Inclusion.” Although not formally labeled as such, this boils down to a research-disproven method called “tracking.”

This single decision has already acted as the proverbial pebble dropped into the still pond with further ripples yet to come. Some of the potentially adverse consequences already visible are as follows. First, the students have already begun to internalize the unspoken labels, especially those on the “inclusion” team. Second, classes lack the diversity of ability levels that has been proven by research to benefit lower-performing students who teeter on the brink of improvement. Third, almost all of the neediest students, from English language ability to those with a variety of learning disabilities, are grouped in the same classes. At some point, not every student in the class can have preferential (ie front row) seating. Fourth, everyone looks askance at the teachers on the G/T team if they express any sort of issue. “But you have the good kids!”

Then comes the biggie, the assessments. I touched on this several weeks ago and want to return to it briefly.

This split system means the following with regards to the assessments. For the inclusion teacher, she faces the daunting reality of a roster full of students who did not meet state standards, did not even approach meeting state standards. She, thus, has the Herculean task of bringing students who score so low on reading tests that they do not have a lexile level. For the seventh grade English teacher that means trying to teach things like context clues when every word is unfamiliar or teaching them how to analyze a text they cannot read.

Some of the G/T teacher’s students deal with some of the same things too. Many of them scored much higher but that is relative in a school like mine. The baseline, unspoken, unconscious expectation for the G/T teacher is that she is expected to bring the students all the way up to grade level and possibly beyond. Don’t get me wrong. That’s what I want for them. I also want to set them up for success, not failure. When we express frustration, or try to tailor to the abilities of our students, we’re met with that question I mentioned earlier.

Then comes planning and pacing. Both of teachers for each grade level, especially the inclusion teacher need time to reteach material. After all, each time the administration talks about the required benchmarks or similar subjects, they stress to us the importance and requirement of reflective teaching. Look back on your lessons. Figure out what went right or wrong.

We would love to do that and would actually do that, save for the pacing guide. In those same meetings, although not directly connected, the administration also stresses the importance of sticking with the pacing guide or else. Last year, I nearly got reprimanded for being two days behind the pacing guide, only weeks after two snow days. On top of all that, administration expects us to move at the exact same pace as our partner, even with the split in academic levels of the students.

All of this leads to potentially extensive frustration and burn out. Not all schools have these same issues. Some schools have similar ones. Some have issues completely foreign to these. That being said, these issues all point back to a bigger issue, that of evaluation of teacher performance based on student abilities as measured by assessment data alone.

Teachers internalize this. From the very beginning of our education in teaching, this is ingrained in us. This can produce beneficial results. A good teacher is a reflective teacher. We look at each lesson in light of how the lesson benefited or did not benefit the students. This is how a person learns and grows. This beneficial process becomes distorted when the assessments measure the wrong thing. When a teacher is repeatedly told that success equals mastery, the color red and the word “remediation” signals the poor performance of the teacher, not the student. Thus, the comment that the serves as the title for this post.

This post addresses a systematic problem in education. As such, I have no satisfactory answers. I want to find them though. Our students deserve that.