On the Way


   

It’s a long way to the top,

but I’m going to get there.

I’ll fight, scrap, and never stop

until my soul is ‘most bare

Step by step I slowly march

eyes focused, brain sharp, heart pure

even though my mouth may parch

I continue on, straight and sure

My goals are set as I go

Do this, then that, this once more

Never complaining, aglow

toward the heavenly shore

I move, completing my plans

Surely as a mountain goat

Until I hear golden fans,

Only then I get to gloat

For here I stand, smiling me,

Successfully satisfied

My Lord, my God, soon to be

My guide, my shelter; I cried. 

The Perils Confronting Classroom Teachers

            My first teaching position was in a preschool organized by the local recreation department. Students ranged in age from two to almost five. They had to be potty-trained, but they still peed on chairs, floors, carpet and outdoor equipment. They weren’t supposed to arrive sick, but they did. They wiped snot on everything in the room, from puzzles to paint brushes. They coughed on everyone and sneezed without thoughts of the safety of others.

            It wasn’t any better when I taught Kindergarten and Third grade. The older students still had accidents when urine pooled under their desks. One boy opened his desk and vomited inside where textbooks and materials were kept. Another threw up on my desk, covering attendance records, my grade book and lesson plans.

            My next full time position was as a Special Day Class teacher for fourth and five grade students. No longer did I have to deal with urine, but these kids, like the younger ones, loved to hold my hand. Considering where those hands had been, like digging deep inside nostrils, and taking care of bathroom needs, all most likely without using even a tiny bit of soap. It was no wonder that disease spread rapidly and constantly.

            Even when I moved to the high school I was not spared the contamination students brought into the room. They coughed and sneezed without protection. They came with pink eye and the flu. They distributed bronchitis and pneumonia germs with equanimity.

            Throughout all these years and changing circumstances, there was one constant: I fell ill. If I was lucky it was just a slight cold. If not, it was pneumonia. As an asthmatic, both were dangerous.

            Advance into the present. Parents want their kids in school and teachers love sharing the classroom with students, not teaching over the Internet. However, what has changed over the past thirty-plus years since I first took over a classroom? Nothing.

            Parents will still send sick kids to school. Kids will still wipe noses and cough all over everyone. Kids will pee and poop and vomit. Kids will want to sit on the teacher’s lap and hold the teacher’s hand. Kids will contaminate materials despite limited sanitation unless done by the teacher, who is then touching possibly contaminated objects.

            Imagine yourself in that classroom with little or no protection. Most classrooms lack AC and those that do have no windows to open to provide some circulation of air. Most classrooms have windows on one side of the room and only one door, on the same side. Some teachers installed ceiling fans in their rooms, at their own expense, but those fans do not provide sufficient circulation to keep people safe.

            Elementary classrooms generally have a sink, but not all do. Those with sinks often have empty soap dispensers. Unless the district provides sufficient sanitizer, the teacher has to buy it. There is limited cleaning done as maintenance are on a tight schedule.

            At my last position, the room was allotted three minutes of cleaning time. That meant a quick sweep of the floor and empting trash cans. Desks were cleaned by me or not at all. I only had time to clean them once or twice a week, at most. Think about the germs that developed in between?

            My students shared textbooks, crayons, markers, rulers and other materials. They were never cleaned. We had one set of dictionaries that were shared by two teachers. They were never cleaned. I shared an overhead projector with two other teachers. It was never cleaned.

            The entire time I taught, over a span of thirty-three years, we never had a pandemic such as the one the world faces today. The flu, yes. Pink eye, yes. But COVID-19? No.

            Considering that districts pack thirty-four students in most classrooms, squeezed together in poorly ventilated rooms, in-person teaching is a disaster peeking around the corner. With little kids the desks can be further apart, but not six feet. High school students have much bigger bodies and so desks are often inches apart.

            Elementary teachers are figuring out ways to use corrals to keep students’ emissions behind Plexiglas or cardboard. If it’s cardboard, how does the teacher make eye contact when the students’ eyes are hidden? You can’t put cardboard corrals around high school desks. Perhaps Plexiglas would work.

            Who’s paying for these dividers? Cash-strapped districts or the teacher? Are teachers expected to supply these devices just as they buy tissue, crayons and paper?

            While I am glad to be retired so that I am not worried about the germs floating around my classroom, I sympathize with teachers who do. If I was still working, I’d have to quit rather than risk my health.

            Parents want their kids in school. So do teachers. In order to make it work, responsibility has to be shared. Parents don’t send sick kids to school or kids who’ve been exposed to the virus. Teachers try to keep the classroom as safe as they can with the support of the district. Districts provide the PPE necessary to make the environment as safe as possible, even if it means buying industrial-size fans for every classroom.

            This is a huge dilemma for which there is no tidy answer. The virus is predicted to be with us for a while. What are the stakeholders doing to prepare?

            That’s the most important question to the most serious threat to public health that we’ve seen in modern history.

Faith in Those Little Things

Whispers in the silent night

Tender touches by starlight

Words unsaid in angry voice

Actions fulfilled by free choice

Love’s strong arms held open wide

Know that God walks stride by stride

Watches like a parent proud

Mistakes expected: allowed

Understanding, patient, kind

Always there for us to find

Calls our names in winters wild

In spring, He gifts breezes mild

Summer’s heat sends us outside

God’s gifts in flowers abide

Rains remind of deep pain felt

Tragic death, deftly dealt

All these things, of faith speak

Comfort to all those who seek

God’s good grace, offered free

Sin’s release, for you and me

Faith defined in little things

Given by the King of kings

Pandemic Woes?

            The mayors of the San Francisco Bay Area announced the pandemic shutdown as we were returning from a trip. My initial reaction was shock and confusion. What will be open? What would I be able to do? How will this change the life I’ve created since I retired?

            Now that we’re all these months into the pandemic response, I have to admit that not a lot has changed. I still go hiking three days a week with a friend, with masks and social distancing.

My two book clubs are held via zoom, making it fun to share thoughts.

I belong to two critique groups that help with my writing. We also meet via zoom, so I’m still getting ideas about how to sharpen my stories.

My Red Hat group went into hibernation as we are all in the older population. The last month, however, we’ve figured out that we can bring chairs and lunch, sit six feet apart and keep in touch.

One addition that I hadn’t planned on was all the free interviews with authors! Several bookstores host these events on a regular basis.

Yes, the pandemic has changed my life, but alternative activities and methods have arisen that allow some semblance of normality. That’s what life is all about: adapting to changing circumstances.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

The author in 1968.

            I recently came across my high school graduation photo from 1968. Granted, it was taken a long time ago, but I still recall how I felt. That time in my life was filled with confused emotions. I was excited about college, but knew nothing in my situation would change because my parents would only allow me to attend the local community college. That meant continuing to live at home, which was not an experience to look forward to.

            I’ve shared stories of what my life was like back then. Let’s suffice it to say that I was miserable. I understood that something was wrong at home, but I lacked the words or experience to understand what it was. As I aged and my knowledge base expanded, I learned the words.

            My mother smothered me and my dad terrified me. I was a middle child, close in age to an older brother who tormented, teased and at times, physically hurt me. I was many years older than a sister who commanded my mother’s attention and could manipulate mom into believing fantastical stories about the evil things I did when mom wasn’t looking.

            My sort-of-safe world was school. No one teased me there because I was invisible. My clothes were made from recycled material, pieces cut out of hand-me-down clothes. My mother chose the styles, so everything was old-fashioned and ultraconservative. I wore saddle shoes that had gone out of style years earlier but they were the only ones I was allowed to have.

            When I look at that photo I see a young woman with a forced smile. She’s showing just enough teeth to categorize it as a smile, but not enough to show joy. The woman is wearing wing-tip glasses which were in vogue back then and her hair is teased and lacquered in a somewhat popular style.

            When the photo appeared in the yearbook, anyone flipping through the pages might stop for a moment and wonder about the pearls. Would they think my family had that kind of money or that they were a gift from a relative? Or would they correctly surmise that they were a studio prop? Assuming they guess correctly that I never owned something so fine, then they might be able to see through the mask.

            I walked the high school halls as a nobody. Academics distinguished me from my peers, but in a social world, I blended into the bricks. To the best of my ability I styled my hair in a contemporary do. I was allowed to choose glass frames similar to what others wore.

            However my physical presence exacted no reaction. No smiles, nods, or words of greeting. I was alone. For four years.

            Is that loneliness reflected in my eyes? In the fake smile? The tilt of my head?

            I think it is, but then I walked in those shoes. All I wanted then was for someone to see me as a valuable human being, worthy to be called friend. Because of my poor self-esteem ingrained and reinforced at home I lacked the ability to initiate a relationship. The person would have to speak first, look my way first, nod first, wave me over first.

But who would want to do that? In high school you are who you are friends with. Anyone wanting to be known would not have called me over. You don’t invite a nobody into your social circle if you’re hoping to rise the ladder. My presence would either have knocked them down a rung or held them on the floor with one foot raised.

You didn’t know me then, so when you look at the picture you see a happy soon-to-graduate girl who’s got her hair done, a smile on her face and a glint in her eyes.

Looks can be deceiving.

Innocence

Innocence, so sweet and mild,

Proudly stood, and broadly smiled

Thinking of yon water cool

Standing in the narrow pool.

Azure eyes with sparkling gleam

Laughter sparked the languid scene

Boldly stepped with shoulders high

And sighed, but did barely cry

Father stayed close by her side

Beaming with heavenly pride

Leading her toward the Lord

Blessing her with word and sword

Of righteousness born from love

And belief in God above

Prayers he said; held her tight

Down came a heavenly light

Radiant beams all aglow

About her head they did show

For this was her baptism day

Chosen by the Lord, they say.

Innocence, so sweet and mild,

Proudly stood, and broadly smiled