I Think I Found America


I was walking today.  It was a beautiful New England Fall day.  It was just the kind of day that makes us all think of those hardy Pilgrims, and their brave adventure to this new world.

I teach fifth grade.  I teach the children about the basic themes of Colonial America.  I teach them that a group of intrepid adventurers dared to travel across the known world to start a new life.  I teach them the basics of economic theory, too, because this is the basis of the entire settlement of the New World. I teach them about wanting to make a profit. Wanting to find a life that is better for their children.  I tell them that mothers and fathers, way back in 1615, decided that it was time to leave the country of their origin behind.  I ask them to imagine what it must have been like to pack up their favorite books and most treasured mementos.  I ask them to put themselves in the place of those seventeenth century families, trying so hard to create a better life in a place that was completely foreign to them.

Today I was walking.

I was strolling along the back roads of my small, rural New England town.  I was looking up at the golden maple leaves above my head, and swishing my feet through the russet oak leaves that lay on the rutted dirt road under my feet.

I was happy.  The sun was out, after ten straight days of driving rain.  Birds were singing and darting back and forth in the treetops. I could hear squirrels and chipmunks rushing about under the cover of those crisp leaves.  I drew in a deep, cool breath.

The road turned left under my feet.  I was walking along what used to be our town’s main farm road.  The remnants of old apple trees spread out on the hillside to my right.  An empty field, now covered by purple asters, spread beneath the old orchard.

On my left were new houses. Houses that have been built in the past ten years along this beautiful, winding rural road. I passed one home that proudly displayed a row of jack-o-lanterns on its front steps. The drifting yellow leaves that fell gently from the trees around the yard confirmed my impression of the quintessential New England homestead.

And then I walked on. The gray stone wall on my left wandered along the road, looking as if it could have been there for two hundred years.  I came upon a big yellow house on the left side of the winding road.  Its front yard swept forward in a beautiful arc, curving along with the road.  Three bright golden maples stood along the road, just behind the old stone wall.  The yard was separated from its neighbor by yet another graying stone wall, and there were two strong oaks standing just inside.

On the lawn in front of the typically New England Colonial house I saw a young man and his wife, raking diligently as a million other New Englanders have done before them. A tiny boy was jumping into the pile of leaves, shrieking in delight. His much more mature older sister, perhaps 8 years old herself, was torn between watching him frolic and helping her parents to rake up the piles. A typical New England fall image.

I stopped on the street, smiling at the scene.

The father was wearing a baseball cap and a black sweatshirt. His graying hair was tightly curled and cut short. His wife wore a beautifully colored yellow and fuschia skirt, draping to her feet.  Her black hair was wrapped in a rose colored kerchief.  Her face was serious, the glistening dark brown of her skin interrupted by the bright white of her smile. Her little boy’s face, a beautiful mahogany brown, was lifted to the golden morning light. Her slim, strong daughter wore her coffee colored skin so proudly.

I stood still for a moment, watching this happy, beautiful family enjoying the morning light.  And I heard the father call to his son, in a lilting Caribbean French.   I stood there, unseen.  And I thought about what I teach my students every year. I thought about what I know of the forced slavery that happened in the Caribbean.  I thought about what I know of those who showed such courage to bring their families so far across the ocean to start a newer, better life.

I thought about the news stories that I read every day now. I thought about our fear of strangers.  I thought about our panic in the face of legal and illegal immigrants.

I stood still, the old stones from a New England farm of long ago stretching out in front of me. I watched the beautiful young mother as she raked up the oak leaves and let her happy little boy jump into them.  I stood quietly, shaded by one of those golden maples, watching as a loving father scooped his serious little girl into his arms, and dropped her into the pile of crisp leaves on his lawn.

I drew in a breath. I brushed a few tears from my cheeks.

I think I found America today.

And I think that, at last, I feel a sense of hope for my country and for its future.

Oh, the Hypocrisy!!!

"Keeping America Safe"

Yay, Congress!  You brave, brave fighters for America!

The outcry from Congress is deafening. They WILL protect Americans, dammit!  They DEMAND that the government take steps to keep our country safe! They don’t care how inconvenient it might be to some people, they don’t care if there is an impact on business, they. do. not. care. if it costs a lot of money to do the right thing!  They are Congress, and they want everyone to know that they will not sit idly by while the US Government refuses to take active steps to keep every American safe.

You Go, Congress!  Go get ‘em, Michael Burgess, Republican Representative from Texas. You will not sit idly by while people conduct business or travel back and forth with West Africa. You demand a travel ban! So what if this would represent government interference with international business? You know what’s right, don’t you?   And good for you, brave Marco Rubio and Dennis Voss.  You don’t intend to let the government continue its laissez faire attitude in the face of such a terrible threat. You insist that we deny visas for travel between the US and any of the affected countries in Africa. You make us feel so well protected.

And let’s not forget Rep. Tim Murphy of Texas, who wants to go even further.  He wants to impose a mandatory quarantine, for three full weeks, on anyone who has been in the hot zone.  His words, “I don’t care if its inconvenient!”


They sure do want to keep us safe, don’t they?  They are willing to restrict basic rights like freedom of movement just to prevent the spread of a disease that has so far infected 5 out 316,000,000 people in the US. And which has killed one.

Makes you feel pretty sure that the same guys would be stepping up to deal with a threat that has killed about 32,000 a year for the past five years, right?  I mean, they don’t care if safety precautions are inconvenient! They don’t care if those precautions interfere with business practices or with profits.  They certainly wouldn’t balk at the imposition of government regulations that might save thousands of lives, right?


So I wonder why Tim Murphy has an A rating from the NRA?  Probably because he voted to prevent people from suing gun makers or gun owners in the event of a homicide. Probably because he opposes any laws to impose background checks for gun sales.

And, gee whizz, I have to wonder why Marco “We must protect Americans” voted against banning high capacity magazines of over 100 bullets?  I wonder why he adores the Constitution when he thinks it means that anyone can own any guns he wants to own, but doesn’t think much of it when it insures freedom to move around the country and to carry on business?

Maybe Congress just isn’t very good at math.  More people have married Kim Kardashian than have caught Ebola in the US, but 32,000 of our countrymen die from guns every year. One Ebola death causes a panic, but 32,000 gun deaths cause a big yawn.

My chances of catching Ebola in my classroom are so minute that I can barely represent them here.  They are about 1 in 13.3 million, according to NPR.  My chances of dying in a car crash in the US are about 1 in 9,100.

My odds of dying from a gunshot in the US are about 1 in 300, according to the website MedHelp.

Look again:

We demand that you restrict the rights of Americans because of an epidemic with a 1 in 13.3 million chance of death.   We demand that you preserve the rights of Americans in spite of an epidemic with 1 in 300 chance of death.

Oh, the hypocrisy.

Shifting dreams

Its funny, how your dreams change and evolve over time.

It seems like it was only a few sunsets ago that I was dreaming and yearning for motherhood.  More than anything, all I wanted from life was to have my own babies to hold and cherish.  My entire focus was on making that dream come true.  Diapers and stuffed bears and powder and blankies. That seemed like “the good life” to me.

And then for a while, my dreams were about having all five of us take a vacation together. Somewhere new and special.  Somewhere that seemed a little adventurous. That would be “the good life”, wouldn’t it? Taking the kids to Europe? Camping in the Canadian maritimes? We did those things, and they were fabulous.  The good life dreams still seemed elusive.

Along the way, “the good life” started to seem like it would be out there when we finally had enough money to relax a bit. Maybe we’d hit that point when the kids were grown up and our salaries had increased some. Maybe it would come when we finally paid off the mortgage.  I started to dream and wish for “new”.  A new couch, a new dishwasher, one of those new fridges with the automatic ice maker.  I still don’t have everything all shiny and new, but I definitely have enough. I have finally reached the point where an unexpected car repair doesn’t lead me to panic.

This morning I woke up in the pitch dark again.  To the sound of pouring, driving rain. Again.  The room was chilly, and damp. Even the dogs were sound asleep. I rolled to my side, pulling the blankets around my neck. “Just five more minutes,” my brain begged. “Just five.”  I didn’t want to get up in darkness again. I didn’t want to gulp down my coffee while checking my email. I didn’t want to drive for an hour through the flooded highways yet again, dragging my weary bones to work.

Retirement.  Ah, yes.  Won’t that be “the good life”?  To sleep through the darkness, and only get up when the sun is high?  To pull on flannel pants, and keep them on for the whole wet day? That’s my new “good life.”  A cold, driving rain, and me inside with the dogs and a blanket and a good book.

I guess its good to have dreams, right? Its good to be looking forward, to embrace the future with joy.  But I am trying to be careful about it at the same time.

Today I will slog through the traffic, endure the wet leaves and dark highway, strive for patience as the whole world tries to get to work at the same time.  I’ll feel my aching back and neck, and wish for my soft flannel pants.

Then I’ll get to my classroom, flip on the lights, feed the fish and get ready to greet the gang of giggling children who will rush in the door to chat with me.

Maybe this is actually “the good life” right now, and I’m right smack in the middle of it.

Back to Nature


Why, you might ask, would a slightly cranky aging teacher agree to lead a three day field trip for seventy fifth graders into the wild woods of New Hampshire? Why would she agree to sleep in a small, damp, musty cabin for two nights, knowing that she’d need to walk through the mud and rain to get to the bathroom for the nightly 3AM nature call?

Why in the world would a somewhat demoralized old fashioned teacher agree to eat in a big camp “eating lodge” for three days, passing around plates of chicken fingers and pouring water for the ten kids at the table, when she’d really love to be sitting down to a dinner of homemade ravioli and a glass of chianti at home?

When the weather forecast is for rain and wind and possible lightning, when the trip involves no less than three hours on a packed school bus (each way), and when the camp experience will include at least 5 miles of traipsing up and down various hills and trails, why would the aging teacher agree to go along once again?

Let me tell you why.

From the vantage point of just having arrived back home at last, and having changed into clean, dry clothes, I am ready to share my adventures. From the lovely viewpoint of a woman who has just had two good glasses of wine and a huge plate of Asian take-out, I am ready to share the secret joys of the annual fifth grade trip to the woods.

Please forgive any typos, grammatical errors, confusing references or dropped ideas.  I still have the “Moose Song” reverberating through my skull. I’m reallllllllllllly tired.

But here are a few of the highlights of our three day trip to Camp Merrowvista in New Hampshire.

In the days leading up to the trip, when I thought I had done everything I could to reassure my nervous little travelers, I finally said, “Listen, I know you might get homesick. I’ll be right there with you, and you all know me. I know I’m not your Mom, but I do care about you.”  And one of my sweet little smarties replied, “Well, you’re not Mom, but you’re the next best thing.”

On the bus heading up to the Camp, one of the kids asked me, “If I get lonely at night, will you come to say good night?”

And as we arrived and the kids fanned out to meet with their Camp Counselors, and the teachers and chaperones drew back to let them get to know each other, I was struck by how grateful I am to the parents who are willing to trust me and my colleagues with the care of the people they love the most on earth. A very, very humbling thought.

Late on the first night at camp, I was stationed at the door of the bathroom, shooing the boys to the right and the girls to the left. Making sure that no one would be accused of “peeking” at anyone else, making sure that everyone was clean and toothbrushed and ready to sleep.  I greeted each set of “bathroom buddies” and then wished them “good night” on their return trip.  Finally, after almost two hours of coming and going and washing and brushing and changing and marching to and fro, I began to wear out. My colleagues and I found ourselves telling the kids to just stay in bed already. At one point, as two lovely pink clad ladies wandered back to the bathroom for the fourth time in an hour, I heard myself barking out medical advice. “I know how the human body works!”, I informed them firmly. “You have emptied your bladders. Its impossible for you to need to pee again before six am.  GOOD NIGHT!” I ushered them out the bathroom door and back to bed.

As fate would have it, I woke up at 6 and headed back to the bathroom to shower before the horde of little girls arrived. As I stood at the sink brushing my teeth, who should walk in but the same two little pink wrapped bathroom buddies. “Good morning!”, I chirped, as I tried to casually spit into the sink.  The two girls stood there, mouths agape.  “Um….” one of them began.  The other chimed in, with awe, “Were you here all night?!”

And there were the moments just before each meal, when the kids were all seated and the adults were looking for places to sit.  The kids who reached out, who called my name, who said, “Karen, sit with us!”   The greatest gift in the world. Nothing, nothing, nothing could mean more to a worn out old teacher who is tired of rigorous assessments and data and testing. Nothing could ever mean more to me than those smiles and beckons of welcome.

The beauty of spending three days in the woods with the children is that I become reacquainted with the true meaning of education.  I step away from the worksheets, where I have to poke and prod and beg the children to do the work with focus and energy.  I get to watch them march through the mud, picking up sticks, asking about plants, looking for bugs. I get to listen as they let their minds soar. I am overwhelmed by the sheer power of their thoughts and ideas, and the flexibility and speed of their connections. “Do you think this is a moose footprint?” “No, moose don’t have round feet.” “Deer have pointy feet.” “My feet are soaked.” “You have to step over the mucky spots.” “I think monarch caterpillars have spots.” “Right. And this is milkweed.” “I can knock it down with this stick.” “You can’t knock down a moose.” “You can if its small.” “But not with a milkweed.” “I know. Its because of global warming.”

They might not be scientifically correct, but they are thinking, and comparing, and asking questions. They are wondering. They are filled with wonder.

On the first night of our trip, we went on our “Night Walk”.  The Merrowvista staff dressed up in awesome costumes, and we all walked quietly into the woods, with all lights off. It was a very dark, misty night with no natural light to guide us. The kids walked in a nervous clump, followed by smiling, but slightly anxious chaperones. The Merrowvista leader remained calm and in control as the children sat in a circle on the damp ground. As one of the adults sitting behind them, I tried to stay silent as I listened in.  In the course of a half hour, the young camp counselor taught the children about animal adaptations, night vision, echolocation and why pirates wore eyepatches. He managed to impart all of this knowledge while the kids shared these whispered comments. “This is scary!” “I see a light!” “I think those are zombies.” “Dude, zombies don’t use lights, they just attack.” “I don’t want to be attacked by zombies.” “SHSHSHSH. I’m learning about rhodopsin.” “I still think there are zombies.” “Oh, my God, my tooth fell out!”

And finally, on this last morning of our trip, as I sat in the dry dining lodge, nursing a second cup of hot coffee, I looked out the windows to the garden area just outside of the lodge.  Two children were playing in the rain, completely unaware of any watching adult eyes.  The girl was wearing a pair of pink flannel pants and a bright kerchief.  The boy was in muddy jeans and a gray t-shirt.  The rain that had been pouring down all night was now falling in a gentle mist. The kids were already wet, but they had just finished breakfast and were eager to set out on their next adventure.  Each one stood on a wet gray stone, and they were face to face.  Although neither of them spoke, they began to jump from stone to stone, in a perfectly synchronized rhythm.  He jumped to her stone, splashing the water that lay on top. As he did, she jumped to the stone where he’d been standing, turning around at once to face him again. Their heads were bent, toward the muddy ground. The rain fell steadily and gently on their shoulders and heads. They didn’t speak, but both were smiling.  After a few minutes, the sun began to shine its way through the melting clouds, and the kids were almost coated with light.

I stood inside, looking at them. Realizing that without a single word or plan, two children had instinctively created a beautiful, natural dance pattern on the wet stones. There was no competition, no sense of purpose. They simply jumped and danced and changed places. They were simply there in the moment, enjoying the fact that they were alive and young and dancing in the warm rain.

Who knows what lessons were learned in that brief time while the sun worked to show its face? There was no rubric. No data was collected. I can’t begin to assess the progress of the children toward any academic goal.  But make no mistake: those kids were thinking and cooperating and problem solving and taking in the lessons from all around them.

That, my friend, is education.  And that is why a tired old teacher finds it worth her while to give up the comforts of home for a few short days to have adventures in the woods with the kids who are entrusted to her care.

Changing my image

It is definitely time for me to update my image.  Probably past time.  But I’m not sure that I can do it.

Let me start by telling you a story.

About 15 years ago, when my Nana was in her 80’s, she told me that every morning she would wake up and her first thought would be, “Oh, good. I’m not dead.”  Then she’d get up and walk to the bathroom. On her way there, she would have an image of herself in her mind. An image of her twenty year old self, bright and beautiful.  She’d get to the mirror and have her second thought of the day. “Who the hell is the old lady in my bathroom?”

I’m starting to feel that way.  In my own internal image, I look a lot like this:

You mean, I don't look like this anymore?

You mean, I don’t look like this anymore?

Smooth skin, dark hair, big bright eyes that aren’t all wrapped in wrinkles.  That’s the “me” that lives inside.  I think I need to update her, because sometimes now the shock of the real me is hard to handle.

And I’m not as hale and hearty as I used to be; I don’t want to kill myself by having a heart attack when I look in the mirror to brush my teeth.

The teeth I have left.

I have spent 58 years thinking of myself as strong and healthy, too, and all that seems to be changing.  A good friend once referred to me as “robust” as I bounced back from a tough pregnancy and delivery.


I like it!

I just don’t match it anymore.  I mean, I’m lucky overall, and I have nothing dire to complain about.  But you get to the point where you have to time your coffee so it doesn’t interfere with your prednisone and your inhaler, and you start to feel…..well, what’s the opposite of “robust”?  You decide to take a nice long walk in the woods, and you realize that you’re going to end up with knee pain and neck pain and back pain, so you choose a short walk and a nice sit down on the deck instead.

So not robust.

I know my allergies will get better, and I know that I live a very active and happy life.  I know I shouldn’t complain, blah, blah, blah.

But I hobble to the mirror, coughing all the way, and I wonder where that bright eyed, easy breathing girl went.

Way past time to update that internal image…….!

Familiar Faces

One of the interesting things about living in one place for a long time is the way that the faces around you change with the passage of time.

Of course, the people I see every day have aged along with me in the nearly 25 years since we moved to this little town.  I don’t really notice the changes in their faces.  When I look at my friends, I see the person, not the skin or the hair or the shape.

But once in a while I see someone that I once knew slightly, someone I may have chatted with once or twice, but haven’t seen in a long time.  Seeing the changes of time in those faces is like watching time lapsed photography of my own life.  I’ll give you an example.

I used to shop at a grocery store in the town to our south.  Every week I would push my cart, often with my children along for the trip, up and down the aisles of that store.  I would smile at other Moms and chat with the cashiers and baggers. We weren’t friends, but we recognized each other. Familiar faces. If I saw one of them at the local library or coffee shop, we’d greet each other and wave.  Passing acquaintances, right?

Then a new store opened, in the town to our north, and I took my shopping that way. For years now, I have gone to the new store, and have come to recognize new faces. I have lost track of those older acquaintances.

Last week, I stopped in at the old store, to our south. My daughter lives near there, and I was at her house. I stopped by the store for a few things, and I saw some of those once so familiar faces.

One was a man who I know to be at least ten years younger than I am.  When I met him, my daughter was only a little one, sitting in the seat of my grocery cart.   He was tall, thin, dark haired. He smiled a lopsided smile as he bagged my groceries. He told me that he and his girlfriend had just had a baby girl themselves.  I could tell from the words that he chose and the way that he strung them together that he was a young man with some cognitive challenges.  But he was bright eyed, cheerful, charming my little one and myself.  I tried to connect with him every week.  I liked him. His good humor and friendly chatter always made my kids and I grin. He was a friendly, familiar presence in our lives.

And the years rolled by.  I stopped seeing him, and forgot about those gentle interactions.

I saw the man again the other evening, still bagging groceries where he’s been for at least the past 25 years.  His shoulders were stooped. His hair, thin and lank, is pure white now.  His eyes, the ones that used to sparkle with pleasure as he talked with pride about his little girl, were dull and blank. He didn’t speak to anyone as he carefully placed each item in the bags. His jaw was slack, and I could see that he had lost several of his teeth.

It was a shock. I wanted to ask him, “Do you remember me? You used to talk to my kids every week.” I wanted to ask him about his daughter.  But the years had clearly not been as good to him as they might have been. I smiled at him when it was my turn at the register.  He looked blankly back at me.  I chatted with the young cashier, thinking that she was just about the same age that the man had been when we’d met.  I thanked the man as I took my carriage, but he didn’t answer.  He had already turned his empty eyes to the next order, and had begun to carefully put each item into a bag.

That magical moon


It was a normal morning. Boring and prosaic, completely devoid of magic. A shower, a coffee, the long commute. The students, and math and emails and correcting. Busses, a hair cut, home to feed the dogs and sweep the floor.  An unremarkable dinner and a glass of unremarkable wine.

And then the day was over.  I yawned, stretched, trudged down the hallway to my bedroom. Wrapping myself in my furry red robe, I rubbed my tired eyes and stepped onto the deck.

And magic poured down over me like honey.

The moon was full, or near enough to make no difference.  I slipped into the hot tub, and the briny mist rose past my face and reached into the sky. The black tops of the pine trees made a curtain of lace in front of the moon’s silver face.  I lay back in the water, watching the sky above me.

I know that I can’t describe it. I know that I lack the special talent that it would take to let you see and feel and hear the wonder of tonight in the skies above my house.

I don’t have the words to catch and hold it, but I can tell you that the sky itself was further away than I have ever seen it. It was stretched above me, so very far above. It was a deeper, richer blue/gray, and tonight it looked like the vault that it is so often called.  And up there, so far up, there were glittering, dancing stars, high, high up. Clinging to the deep blue velvet sky.

Below them, in the magical air between the moon and stars, great piles and pillows of the whitest clouds were rushing northward, moving up and over me as I lay there in silence below. The moon was closer to me, just rising at this evening hour.

I could see the layers of the sky!  Closest to me, closets to earth, were the tips of the pine trees, tossing back and forth in the wind. Dusted with silver from the moonlight that lit them. Above them were those rushing piles of stacking white clouds, running away, brightly lit from below by the huge white moon.  And then the farthest layer, the so distant sky, displaying its tiny diamond chip stars. So far away!

The stars were still, held in that blue ceiling. Below them the clouds were moving, marching, flying north. They raced past the winking stars, giving a rare depth to my view of the sky.

And far below, nearest to my view, the strong old pines stood tall, held to the earth by their solid roots. As the stars winked, and the mountains of clouds marched on, they reached out their lacy hands and waved goodbye.

That, my friends, was a true glimpse of nature’s magic.

Say, Wha?


Don’t you just hate it when you think you’re pretty smart, and all of a sudden you realize you’re an idiot?

Yeah.  Me too.

Especially when it happens in a room full of other teachers.  It’s a little disheartening, to say the least.

Let me give you a little glimpse into the Attack of the Killer Acronyms.

It seems that a few years ago, the federal government (the USDOE) became upset with our state education department, (the MADESE) because of its failure to help our ELLs make progress on the MCAS.  So the USDOE formed a consortium called the RETELL to make a plan. RETELL then ordered the MADESE to train all of its teachers to become SEI certified.

You with me so far?

So I signed up to earn my SEI Endorsement under RETELL. Of course, to enroll in RETELL, I had to go to the MADESE ELAR page.  And naturally, I wanted to put the SEI on my IPDP.  I did all that, and felt pretty darn good about life.  I was almost sure that the IPDP (fondly referred to by teachers as the “Ippdip”) had something to do with keeping my teaching license and I thought that “RETELL” must mean something about repeating a good joke.

When the day finally rolled around, I went to the class and greeted my colleagues. I’m pretty interested in languages and language development, and I’m eager to help my non-English speaking students.  So I was looking forward to learning more about them.  Plus, I like a good joke.

Within a half hour, though, my head was spinning, and I was feeling like a complete idiot.

The nice instructor lady was showing us slides and guiding us through the text book that went with the class. And she was moving really fast.  REALLY fast.

“OK”, she said as the class started. “So the RETELL is intended to make sure that every teacher can provide SEI to our ELLs using ESL and ELE.  They need to be helped to pass the ACCESS (which used to be the MEPA, just like the PARCC used to be the MCAS).”

Uh.  Ok…….so, SEI for ELL with ESL and ELE….got it…..ACCESS not MEPA……My mouth was getting a little dry, and I was glancing furtively around at the other teachers.  Did they understand what this was all about?  At this point, I wasn’t sure exactly what was a test, what was a kid and what was a book……

I gulped and tried to stick with the discussion. I was sure that after a while it would start to make some sense.  That was when we turned to a discussion of standards.  We heard that the WIDA was sort of the CCSS for the ELLs.   Wait, what? WIDA?

My left eye began to twitch.

I was trying to take notes, but when I tried to jot down ELL, I sometimes got mixed up and put ELE or ESL instead.


There certainly seemed to be a lot of E’s and L’s around here!

The teacher guided us into small groups where we began to read about the changes in the educational law that had lead to the current RETELL situation.  (Or was it the SEI situation? Crap. I’m not sure.) I know a little bit about education law, so I gave a small sigh of relief and started to read.

And you know I found out? That a law passed in the early 2000’s stated that “In order to provide services to an LEP, a teacher must have demonstrated ELP.”

I’m not kidding.   I didn’t want to seem stupid, but it was starting to feel like a big spilled bowl of alphabet soup.  I turned to the attractive, intelligent high school teacher beside me.  She didn’t look dazed and confused. I felt so inferior.  I decided to bluff.

“Obviously”, I said to her with what I hoped sounded like supreme confidence. “If you want to teach an LEP, you’d have to be ELP. Right? I mean, really!”  I lifted my palms up, showing how silly it would be for a non ELP to try to teach an LEP.  My colleague frowned a bit, “Well, of course, ” she agreed, “Unless the student is a FLEP.”

My jaw dropped.  As the high school smarty pants turned to talk to the instructor, both my eyelids were twitching.  I decided not to say another word. I think I might have been drooling a little.

After a few minutes of deep breathing, I tuned back into the classroom discussion.  The instructor seemed to be talking about vocabulary growth.  Hooray!  A subject I actually understood!  I sat up straighter.  I looked at the screen in the front of the room.

And I read,   “How to differentiate between BICS and CALPS in an ELL under SEI.”

My forehead hit the table as I slumped into a friendly little coma.

Glossary of terms.  Really.   No, I didn’t make these up.

ELL= English Language Learner    aka   LEP= Limited English Proficient                                                                                   ESL= English as a Second Language           ELE= English Language Education                                                                               ELP=English Language Proficient                                                                                                                                             FLEP= Formerly Limited English Language                                                                                                                                        SEI=Sheltered English Immersion   also  Sheltered English Instruction                                                                     RETELL=Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners                                                                            ACCESS for ELLS=Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners. MCAS= Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System                                                                                                 WIDA= Word Class Instruction Design and Assessment                                                                                                  BICS=Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills                                                                                                     CALPS=Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency                                                                                                 CCSS=Common Core State Standards                                              

Sudden Sunset


It’s early fall here in New England.  As is typical for this time of year in this fickle place, we have been swinging gently between cool, crisp air and the heat and humidity of summer.  The air smells of late summer; browning leaves, cooling earth, a breeze from the north.

Today was a steamy day.  My classroom was thick with heat and moisture and excited fifth graders. I came home with my blouse damp and clinging, my hair lank, my spirits slightly sagging.

The sky was a uniform slate gray; we desperately need rain, but we seem to be limited to occasional cloudy days.  Rain has been glaringly absent for the past couple of months.

I made dinner, cleaned up the house a bit, checked my email.  I set up tomorrow’s coffee and made my lunch. Paul came home and we ate supper quietly. The air stayed damp and warm, the sky stayed gray.  I thought for sure that rain was coming.  I thought that the solid silver cover over us would be there for a long time.

When dinner was over and all cleaned up, I sat on the couch, ready to do some lesson plans.  The news was on in the background, but I wasn’t fully tuned in.  The big bay window on my left showed the yellowing leaves of the trees against the dark metallic sky.

But all of a sudden, without any warning, the sky turned the most beautiful shade of rose gold. The clouds lit up, the air suddenly felt cool.  I ran outside to try to take a photo, knowing that I couldn’t possibly capture that beauty with a smartphone.  Still, I gave in to the powerful demand to capture and hold the image of that sky.

I was right.

I couldn’t really grasp it. I couldn’t hold onto the shifting shades of pink and salmon and mauve.  I couldn’t find a way to frame the golden leaves against that amazing backdrop.

Still, I had to try.

A sudden, unexpected burst of glory like that has to be grabbed and held and described, no matter how feeble the effort.

Otherwise, how can I be sure that it was even real?

Well, gee. What a coincidence.


Well, go figure.

Just as my little town gears up for a battle against the giant Kinder-Morgan Company and its proposed natural gas pipeline, we are told that our electricity costs are going to skyrocket by 37% this winter.

Why, you ask?

Well, obviously! Because there is a desperate shortage of natural gas, and that’s how the electricity is generated.


The big energy companies obviously figure that we’ll all panic at the high costs, and will immediately throw ourselves into supporting the pipeline.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline (a subsidiary of said Kinder-Morgan) is supposed to stretch from upstate NY to almost the coast of Massachusetts, running through pristine wetlands, forests, fields and streams. If built, it will run right through neighborhoods, and even through backyards.  You see, once the fossil fuel giants convince the government that we desperately need the natural gas, they will be allowed to take any property by eminent domain.

So what is a rural homeowner to do? I don’t want to pay 37% more for my winter energy! Yikes! Should I support the pipeline? Maybe we really do need more gas!

But that gas will be accessed through fracking.  Is this process safe?  I did some research, which was harder than you’d think. I dismissed any reports generated by either the gas industry or any environmental organization. I went to the NY Times, which ran a very non-committal pros and cons article, telling us that though there may be dangers, there may also be benefits.   Here is an excerpt from the article: (NY Times: “The Facts on Fracking”)

“The fracking cocktail includes acids, detergents and poisons that are not regulated by federal laws but can be problematic if they seep into drinking water. Fracking since the 1990s has used greater volumes of cocktail-laden water, injected at higher pressures. Methane gas can escape into the environment out of any gas well, creating the real though remote possibility of dangerous explosions. Water from all gas wells often returns to the surface containing extremely low but measurable concentrations of radioactive elements and huge concentrations of salt. This brine can be detrimental if not disposed of properly. Injection of brine into deep wells for disposal has in rare cases triggered small earthquakes.

In addition to these local effects, natural gas extraction has global environmental consequences, because the methane gas that is accessed through extraction and the carbon dioxide released during methane burning are both greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. New fracking technologies allow for the extraction of more gas, thus contributing more to climate change than previous natural gas extraction.”

Earthquakes? Unregulated acids and poisons in the water? Radioactive elements in the soil?  And this article was neutral on fracking?!!?

But, gee, aren’t we in desperate need of natural gas?

Funny thing about that.   I was watching the news on CNN the other day (you know, just to keep my blood pressure up, I track the beheadings and bombings and Ebola deaths).  While watching the endless parade of “Breaking News” stories, I noticed that pretty much every 7-9 minutes, I saw an ad featuring happy, smiling people who were extolling the virtues of natural gas. And one ad in particular, by ChooseEnergy.Org, kept breathlessly informing us that “America is now the #1 producer of natural gas in the world!!”

So…..could it be?……Do you think that, possibly, just maybe……a giant multinational corporation and its giant multinational buddies might be putting the squeeze on us in Massachusetts, just so they can force through a dangerous, unnecessary pipeline in order to make even more money?

Shocking, isn’t it?

Please go to these sights for more information:

No Fracked Gas in Mass

Berkshire Environmental Action Team