Fall–behind?

As I drove back from some errands yesterday around three, I had a strange sense of something wrong—out of sync. No dogs trotted down the sidewalk alongside their owners. The neighborhood pool was deserted. I reached for my bottle of water—almost empty. The temperature gauge on my dash read 94, and a perky voice on the radio put the heat index in the hundreds. Gee, thanks! A yellow bus lumbered by.

That was it! The bus. School was in session, but where was fall? When would the little children fly down the street in jeans and long-sleeved shirts? When would Mom bring the family dog to the bus stop and wait for her kids while sipping coffee? When would the grass stop growing and the lawn fill with leaves?

Cool, crisp Septembers in Northern Virginia are about as mythical as White Christmases, but still, I hope for them. The alarm on my “teacher clock” goes off in September and I’m ready for the energy of a new year, even though I walked out of the school door three years ago. Activities at church kick into high gear. Everybody and everything has a meeting the same week. Summer salads disappear from my favorite restaurant, and pumpkin spice beverages appear. (So what if I need something cold and icy?) When I reach the air-conditioned comfort of home, I salivate over catalogs that feature purple boiled wool jackets and plaid skirts. Fall, where are you?

Not Another School Supply List!

Christian radio station, WGTS 91.9 has a back-to-school resource guide for parents who are preparing to send their children back to school. You’ll find articles on topics such as spiritual preparation for the year, handling rejection, and homework. There are also notes for kids and teachers to download, and signs for your first-day pictures. Enjoy!

In her Come Have a Peace blog, Julie Sanders tells “Why School Mom Prayers Matter” and shares her ABCs of prayer resource.

Focus on the Family has a full slate of back-to-school resources, with sections on Transitions, Homework Help, and Challenges.

Looking ahead into the fall, parents might want to read up on Bring Your Bible to School Day, which is October 4. This is a wonderful opportunity for your children to exercise their rights and witness for Christ at the same time!

Teachers can easily feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the year—even before the students arrive. Christian educators in public schools face unique stresses. Check out Christian Educators Association International!

Have a wonderful school year!

 

A Year with Mr. Gruff

You just learned the awful truth. Your little Susie will have Ms. Oh-so-strict this year for fourth grade or John has Mr. Gruff for algebra. What should you do?

It happened to me more than once, and I survived. Chances are your child will, too. Mrs. Reed, my fourth-grade teacher, resembled a short, gnarled, weather-beaten tree. Drill sergeants bark; Mrs. Reed growled. I feared the sudden thunderstorm of her wrath when it came to math. We lined up by her desk to have the mistakes in our word problems pointed out. After a growl of frustration from Mrs. Reed and much red ink from her pen, I’d return to my seat, condemned to try again. Math hadn’t been my forte before fourth grade and having Mrs. Reed didn’t change that.

How about a little reassurance here, Pam?

My mother always struck a great balance between advocating for me when necessary and backing up the teacher’s authority. In fourth grade she thought I was learning enough math and not suffering too much, so she didn’t intervene.

The bottom line: don’t overreact and don’t panic if John has a “problematic” teacher. Wait and gather more information while trying to remain unbiased. In time, you may see that the teacher’s strong points outweigh her weaknesses. Depending on your child’s age and personality, this is also a great way to encourage some independence.

Here are some suggestions for a successful year with Ms. Oh-so-strict or Mr. Gruff:

  1. Start the year with an email just to establish a line of communication with the teacher. Don’t complain or even ask questions. Indicate when and how to contact you. Without being threatening, this shows that you intend to be involved in your child’s education.

 

  1. If you still have concerns after a week or two, contact the teacher directly and arrange to discuss the situation face-to-face. Emails discussing problems can be misunderstood without the benefit of eye contact and other cues.

 

  1. At the conference, relax. View the teacher as a partner in helping your child. Get a feel for how Susie is doing in class, then bring up your concern in a non-threatening manner, using “I messages”: I’m concerned because Susie seems afraid to ask questions about her math assignment. I’ve learned that Susie needs to sit near the front of the room near attentive neighbors in order to concentrate.

 

  1. Ask the teacher for her recommendations. Chances are you will come to a resolution without difficulty and leave the meeting with an action plan that will be easy for all parties to live with. For example, if John never seems to understand the specifics of his homework assignment, he’ll write out the details in his assignment book and the teacher will check and initial it. If you object to the book that John’s English class is reading, you and the teacher will work together to find an alternative meeting curriculum guidelines.

 

  1. Discuss the action plan at home and make sure Susie understands what’s expected of her. Email a thank you to the teacher. You can keep friendly tabs on the situation throughout the grading period.

 

  1. If the meeting doesn’t help resolve the situation, you can seek help from another staff member. A guidance counselor could help with relationship issues or even learning strategies. High schools offer peer or volunteer adult tutoring.

 

  1. If possible, avoid going to the school administration. Your protective instincts may tempt you to bring in the “big guns,” but this move may figure into the teacher’s evaluation and create a hostile relationship. In a middle or high school, the department chair may be able to help, or the guidance counselor may be able to arrange a schedule change.

 

  1. Involve the administration when you have exhausted other avenues. Documentation of how you’ve attempted to resolve the problem will be helpful to the administrator.

 

Did you survive a year with Ms. Oh-so-strict or Mr. Gruff? What did the experience teach you?

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with difficult teachers?

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

For Cassie Franklin, the heroine of my novel The Substitute, back-to-school time is without a doubt the most wonderful time of the year. For years she and her husband Joe, a school administrator, have transmitted that enthusiasm to their children. Cassie puts her home economics skills to work in August, trying out new recipes for breakfast muffins, bread, and sandwich spreads. Children Jen and Paul help their mom make a schedule of menus for their lunches. As the children got older, Joe gave them a budget for clothes and school supplies and drove them to the mall. Cassie used the quiet time to get started on lesson plans. But this year, it’s different. The kids are both in college, and Cassie doesn’t have a job. Will her life ever get back to normal?

By mid-August Sully High School assistant principal Michael Lansdowne is racing around the building. His mission: to locate missing boxes of supplies and file cabinets moved into the wrong classroom after all the floors were waxed. For relaxation, he straightens his desk and stocks up on evaluation forms for his assigned teachers. How did he wind up with more teachers to evaluate than any of the other APs?  He’s already stressed, and school doesn’t start until the day after Labor Day.

Newly-minted P. E. teacher Holly Bush, the heroine of The Jesus Car, doesn’t have as much to do as Cassie or Michael. She’ll be buying a couple pairs of athletic shoes, some shorts, and a whistle. She’s already purchased Sully Lions sweats, polo shirts, and ball caps. If only Katrina and Yolanda would get in touch so they could go over the safety and procedural lessons and field hockey rules handouts! And then there’s the matter of her anemic bank balance. How will she make it until the end of September when she gets her first paycheck?

Francine Paris, the culinary arts teacher at Sully, works for at least a week in her demonstration kitchen before the contract year begins. She runs all of her dishes, glasses, and flatware through the dishwasher and hand washes the pots, pans, baking sheets and knives. She inspects everything in her pantry to make sure no pests have wreaked havoc there. Then she’ll write a purchase order for Foodie Village and get that to the finance technician before the rest of the faculty monopolizes her time. She works hard and she works alone, which is what puts her in a predicament as The Substitute opens.

Like their real-life counterparts, fictional teachers and administrators work during the summer.  Even so, most of them anticipate the newness of the first week of school and enjoy the ritual of getting ready for it.

What are your back-to-school rituals? Are you anticipating the start of the school year?

The Singing Dog Walker (Part 2)

 

Angie on walk.jpegAngie settled me into my routine without delay. Four walks a day became a necessity since even at five years old, she wasn’t house trained. Those walks turned me into “the singing dog walker.” Don’t be fooled by the nonchalant sound of the name. I exuded ineptitude with every walk we took for the first couple of months.  Whatever I did, Angie would not walk unless she was in the mood. And so, I sang. I danced. I did cheers. We moved a few inches. I picked up the twenty-five-pound Angie and carried her a few yards, then started over.

Take me home, Virginia roads

To the place I belong…

Add something that looked like moon walking on mom’s part.

Let’s go, Angie! Let’s go!

I’m sure there are YouTube videos of us out there taken by amused passers-by, but I’m not going to search. Be my guest, though.

It got better. I got a trainer. Now I don’t wind the leash three times around my wrist and gear up like we’re going hiking every time we go out. I still sing, though. When I’m hustling Angie along on her walk so we can get to the sitter’s, to the tune of We’re Marching to Pretoria:

We’re marching off to Emily’s, to Emily’s, to Emily’s.

You’ll watch TV at Emily’s, at Emily’s, at Emily’s.

 

Angie expects me to sing when we walk. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty! This indoor girl has seen more of All Creatures of our God and King in two years than in the rest of her lifetime. We’ve had a rather gloomy, rainy summer here in Virginia, so on the rare sunny days I’ve sung Sunshine in My Soul.

I’ve relaxed that death grip on Angie’s leash and she enjoys our walks. Even when she plops down in the grass for a few minutes, I don’t fear the covert videographer like I used to. We’ve found our rhythm together, and I’ve found more time to communicate with our Creator.

How about you? Do you sing silly songs to your pets? (Please share them!) Do you worship God outdoors?

 

 

The Singing Dog Walker (Part 1)

My first dog, Inky, was not the typical car-ride-loving dog. She balked at the idea, and she also had a tendency to run away. After just a few months of Inky love, Mother made an announcement. We were moving from Illinois to Virginia, and Inky couldn’t come with us. She wouldn’t put up with the long car ride, and even if she got in the car, she was likely to bolt at the first opportunity.

I was only five, and parting with Inky was a tough introduction to doing what was best for a pet. It would be decades before I owned another dog. I had two cats as a child, and as an adult I became a cat lady. Cats fit a busy teacher’s lifestyle better than dogs.

With a lifetime cat experience of six cats and some research on dogs stored away, I figured becoming a dog owner couldn’t be too difficult, right?

Wrong. I was totally unprepared for having my quiet life turned upside down! I adopted Angie the purported “beagle mix” in August 2016 from Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation. The coordinator steered me to Angie, a sweet dog from Puerto Rico. That was Saturday. I could see her Sunday afternoon and adopt her on the spot if I wanted.

I dashed out of Bible study that morning right after the final Amen and made it to PetSmart within the hour, my heart beating rapidly in my throat.

Sensing that I was a rookie, Angie was skeptical when we met. I attempted to maneuver my new fur girl around the slick floors of the store as an employee helped me outfit her. Thank goodness the adoption representative didn’t shadow us—I was sure she’d rethink her decision, even though I’d already paid the adoption fee. Finally we were in the car, and in a half hour, we were home.

Now what?

How do you think I did? I’ll tell you about it in my next post.

What was your first month as a new pet owner like?

Inky & Pammy
Pam and Inky

 

The Worst Summer Ever

Hot and rainy, this summer doesn’t even begin to register on the scale of bad summers. Nothing can top that awful summer when I wasn’t allowed to check any books out of the library. Not. One. Single. Book.

Since I’m a writer of fiction, allow me to fudge on the details a bit. I probably served my sentence in the summer, when time crawled for this non-athletic introvert. We’ll say it’s the summer before fifth grade. Perfect. That’s the same summer Mother made me memorize the multiplication tables the weekend before school began. Let’s make it the day before school began. Oh, unhappy Labor Day, stuck in the bedroom until 9×9 always came out 81!

In the olden days, when this tale occurs, the only other source of books besides the library was a bookstore! When you find out what my literary crime was, you won’t even bother asking if my mother let me go to the bookstore.

What was my crime? Too many overdue library books and a fine that broke my piano-teacher mother’s budget. We’ll say  $3.65! Gasp! In the interest of authenticity I double-checked my estimate. After all, I’m no Dr. Evil, holding the world hostage for a million dollar ransom. Okay, Google. What would $3.65 be in today’s economy? $29.20? (http://www.in2013dollars.com/1965-dollars-in-2018?amount=3.65) Not bad for someone who learned her multiplication tables so late in life!

So now you know the scandalous reason I was banned from going to the library.

What’s a suffering bookworm to do after she rereads her meager personal book collection? Write some stories of her own? Of course.

And now for the true confessions. I’ve always loved to write as much as I loved to read. My mother and my teachers were generous in their encouragement of my writing. In fifth grade, with the times tables under my belt, I wrote and starred in the class American history play, Ghosts! Ghosts! Ghosts! In junior high, I wrote a two-book YA series, Everyday Escapades. (If I become famous, no one will find it.) In my thirties, I tried my hand at freelance writing and had a handful of articles and poems published.

I wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Fast forward into the present. I’ve done some more living, losing and missing the mark. Thankfully, God has kept a strong grip on me through all the ups and downs. Fiction helps me share what He’s taught me. My characters are women and men confronting challenges in their lives–people like us. I invite you to let them entertain you and encourage you.

Root for the heroine or the villain–it doesn’t matter.

Anybody can grow…in grace.