Monday, September 20, 2010

The One Penny Opera

The One Penny Opera 

I've been working in special education since 1972.  I started as a learning disabilities tutor in Brattleboro, Vermont, when the field was very new and I was supervised by dynamic women professors who would later become important researchers and authorities in Learning Disabilities.

From the Brattleboro public schools, I moved to Greenfield, New Hampshire and was part of a new movement in residential treatment at the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  We designed after-school activities for 200+ deaf, multiple-handicapped and LD students ages 5 to 18 years old.  With a team of recreational specialists and dorm counselors, we carried out a rich menu of activities to complement the academics.  

Later, Public Law 94-142 was passed and all students were guaranteed the right to a "free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment".  The LD kids left outside placements and went home to neighborhood schools and I went with them.

I learned the testing and diagnostic side of learning, and that's what I've been doing for the past 35 years.  I do individualized evaluations and observations to find what students are good at -- where are their strengths -- and how to design school/classroom programs that build on these strengths and minimize the weaknesses.  The work almost sounds simple when I write this, the bare bones of the job.  But simple, it's not.

Now I've decided this is my last year of testing and special education consulting.  I have so many other things I want to do -- like rabble rouse for better practices in education and travel and write and teach in the National Writing Project New Hampshire and read and drink coffee on the deck at 10 a.m.

As soon as I said, "Yes, this is the year", the inner drama began.  Reasons to stay, reasons to go.  Evidence of bureaucracy and stupid decisions.  The joy of kids and learning.  The years and years of my life I have given to this work.  Some days, it's very easy to leave, while other days make me wonder...

So, I'm creating my own plan for maximizing strengths and coping skills.  I'm honoring the past and remembering the anecdotes of different schools and students, the small joys and sorrows.  I'm writing -- my way of thinking.

Best of all, I'm marking the big transition in a hands-on way.  My good friend, also a master teacher still in the trenches, gave me these two little pots this September with 180 pennies, one for each working day in the school year.

Each day, I move another penny and the little pile grows.  
Day by day.  Monday through Friday.
One penny at a time.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Power of Place

East Inlet
At 6 a.m. the East Inlet waters are still. Mist hovers and then disappears into the morning sun.  A family of loons fishes the length of the waterway, while I drift nearby and watch the adults teach their young to dive and how to strengthen their wings for the coming migration to the sea.

In early September, the water grasses and wild rice go to seed.  The geese fly in the characteristic V and hawks circle overhead, soaring on thermals and gathering for their own change of place.

It's the end of a long, hot, dry summer and the beginning of a transition time for me.  As a teaching/testing consultant, I begin a new school year.  As a partner, I celebrate a wedding anniversary.  As a writer, I dance the dance with time, responsibilities, and the stories that spill out of dreams, conversations, experiences, glimpsed moments and vistas, memories, and all those other places where the words + images abide.

But first, we make a pilgrimage to the East Inlet in far northern New Hampshire, just a few miles below the border with Canada, where The Nature Conservancy maintains the Connecticut Lakes Natural Reserve.

We've been coming here for 25 years, and yet it feels timeless -- the smells, the surrounding firs, the backdrop of mountains and sky, the rising and setting sun, the quiet.  It still feels remote, a place where we see moose, deer, fox, coyote, osprey, ducks, heron, hawks, otters, turtles and loons.

To my great relief I am a very different person, today.  My kayak lifts gently from the beach into the dark water.  I hear crows, a woodpecker, a loon's call.  A belted kingfisher hurls himself from a far branch and spears a minnow.  The sun breaks through the clouds in its promise of another warm day.

Over the week, I will gather strength for my own migration south.  I'll settle into the season and meet whatever it brings to my life and surroundings, knowing I can return to this source again and again. This is why we need protected places in our world, sanctuaries, reserves where nature can be nature 
in all its glory and grand indifference.