Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snow Day 2011

Last night as I lay in bed, I set my alarm and made a mental list of how the rhythm of the following day would flow; be at the gym at 7:00 so I can workout for exactly 30 min, so I can come home and shower…be out the door to work by 8:30 so I can prep for my first student at 8:50, so at 9;00 I can greet the parent and commence testing, which will take approximately 1.5 hours, ending at 10:30 so I will have exactly 30 min. before I see my next student at 11:00, ending at 11:45, which will allow me a 15 min lunch break before my next student arrives at 12:05…etc…etc…etc… these are my thoughts before I drift off to sleep at night. Most days, they go pretty much as I plan, and I glide through my day, satisfied with the schedule I’ve kept and the tasks I’ve accomplished. Today however,  as my alarm awoke me in the early hours of the day, I looked out my dark bedroom window to a white, powdery dusting on the ground….could it be SNOW??? Yes, the forecasters were predicting snow, but could they actually be right? I’ve learned that when you live in Portland, you really shouldn’t plan your life around the weather forecasts. So in my head last night, my day was still scheduled, and productive; but now this SNOW put a sudden hault to my agenda. Then I got the blessed phone call: an official Snow Day. I could almost hear the shrieks of joy from millions of children across the Portland area as they laced up their boots and managed to make a small, watery footprint in their driveway. Forget watching anything on TV this morning; every single channel is focused on the panicked newscasters as the brave the breezy elements of  (cue deep, ominous, voice)“February Snow Storm 2011”.  
Anyhow, days like these remind me that life can change quickly. We are planning, scheming, trying to figure out how we are going to go about our day when all of a sudden, everything just doesn’t matter anymore. There is something better. It’s like God saying, “take a coffee break today.”  Curl back into bed with your plump cat and just enjoy. Grab a blanket and an extra cup of coffee and write a blog entry. Call a friend and talk a little longer on the phone.
And even if you don’t get a day off, the snow still slows the pace of everything down quite a bit. Perhaps I may get time to count the snowflakes as they drift towards the ground; is each one really different? I don’t know, but I have time to consider it! And I have time to consider the possibility that we plan plan plan, and that’s good; but when God decides he has something different, all our plans suddenly evaporate. 
And I’m learning that’s ok;  a snow day is just what we wanted anyway. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Binder Woes

I’ve heard that you can tell  how smooth a household runs by examining the organization of the pantry. I don’t know if that is true; but, after working one-on-one with Jr. Highers this year, I know that you can tell a lot about a student by looking at the state of their binder.
I work with one Jr. High boy who came to me his first day with a binder full of loose papers, some in tact, others sloppily taped back together. The day before I was to meet with him, his mom called me distressed: she didn’t know what was wrong with her son! “He’s failing everything, but he’s such a smart boy!”
Well mom…I hate to break it to you, but it’s not your boy’s intelligence that needs a good makeover; it’s his binder.
 During our first session together, I thought we should do a complete purge of his binder and rebuild from the inside out. “Show me what you’ve got.” He opened his binder, and I was fully expecting to see flies circle out from it. If his binder represented his life, then we had a lot of work to do. You see, after working with kids now for six years, I’ve come to realize that a binder is a window into whom they are as a person.( A palm reader...a binder reader!!!!!??!! )
 To start out, I explained to this boy (whom I’ll call Todd) that the purpose of a binder was to bind papers together; hence, the three metal rings in the middle. He paused for a moment, and then I saw the light go on: “Oh, that must be why the teachers put those three holes on the side of the paper.” 
 First, we sifted through the clutter and purged anything that wasn’t school related: song lyrics (with a lot of four asterisks in place of words)….  penciled caricatures of his classmates …several candy bar wrappers adhered to the inside by several wads of hot pink chewing gum….and a plastic baggie of something that was way past expiration date. 
I think it was best to start from a clean slate.
We dumped everything, and I asked him where his actual school papers were. After a moment, he explained matter-of-factly that they were "tucked away in his locker." 
 I decided to take a little journey up to his locker. 
We marched right up to it, and I noticed a fruit fly circling nearby in the hallway. Upon opening his locker, I realized that yes, Todd did have all his papers; however, they were sprinkled about like seeds. The only thing growing in this locker though, was a stench that needed to be extinguished. He dug through his papers to uncover, at the very bottom of his locker, a plastic grocery bag with liquid in it. Water? Juice? “Todd, what in the world is that?” He crinkled his nose, picked it up with his thumb and index finger like a dirty diaper, and toted it across the hall to the garbage.  “Todd,” I repeated again, “WHAT was that?!” 
He looked at me, bowed his head in shame, and declared that it used to be a banana. 
We also found the source of the fruit fly colony.

After completely gutting his locker, I realized that if he lived in a perpetual state of disarray, how could he accomplish anything?! He failed to turn papers in, thus receiving Zeros.  He lost assignments, notes, and books. His life seemingly got lost in the shuffle of his papers; and like a sinkhole, it was eventually going to swallow him whole.
  He needed an intervention; and he needed it now. 
We installed some locker shelves, binder subject dividers and an assignment notebook. We made goals; personal goals, academic goals and organizational goals.  Yes, I explain his English. I helped him rewrite essays and memorize important dates. However, I realized that none of this mattered unless his binder and locker were in proper working order. This was the root of all his problems. 
Thus, whenever I see Todd, the first thing I do is open his binder. Usually, it looks like there has been an explosion. However, the damage is minimal because we attack it right away, and he knows that it is detrimental to his success as a student. And after four months, I can happily report that Todd is making progress. He is motoring along, improving his grades… and throwing away rotten fruit.