Yeah, I’m practically a celebrity.

“Beep Beep”

What was that?

Oh that? That was just the sound of me tooting my own horn because…

The January issue of Austin Monthly came out and I helped write the cover story! It’s my first cover story since I officially retired from the exciting world of news reporting and it’s nice to know that people who aren’t directly related to me actually enjoy reading what I write.

But wait, there’s more! In the mail last week I received a shiny new copy of Forty Acres of Fun, a new book published by the UT Co-Op which features funny short stories about life on the University of Texas campus. And who’s name is that on page 131? Yep, it’s mine! This may very well be the one and only time I get my words published in a book, so please excuse me for shamelessly plugging it on this blog.

Thanks English teachers for book learning me real good.

Hook ’em!

Just call me Crabby

Moving has turned me into a hermit crab.

My excitement with home ownership has quickly morphed this once social little creature into a ghastly, fun-forgoing mutant that never leaves the house. Sure, the temporary halt from my usual Austin activities is partly to blame on a sudden draining of funds (house down payments and repairs don’t come cheap and neither does dining out and date nights), but I’ve also backed out of attending one or two freebies without having much of an excuse other than a strangely irresistible desire to choose nesting over nightlife.

Por ejemplo: I realized that despite last weekend being my birthday weekend, an occasion usually celebrated with fancy dinners and elaborate outings, I didn’t leave the house once between the time I got home from work on Friday night and left to go back on Monday morning. Yes, there was house partying in celebration of said birthday (so I’m not to J.D. Sallinger level yet), and yes, I was slightly preoccupied over the weekend working on an freelance piece, but those aren’t really good excuses for bailing on social interactions and general merriment (I backed out on a Halloween house party, Fun Fun Fun Fest night shows and Sunday Brunch at the Dog Majal just to name a few). No offense to the new house, but after confining myself to to our mini piece of property for some 60 hours this weekend (ICK!) I can’t help but feel a little disgusted with myself.

So in service to the blog (which, let’s face it, has been a little lackluster lately) and in service to my mental health, I vow to step out on the town in one form or another every night this week. Look at me, I’m so brave.

Adventures in Handiness

Ladies of the world, heed my words. Marry not for riches but instead for handiness.

The move to doodlehouse 2.0 (working title), fabulous though it may be, has brought to light how helpless I am and how handy the mister is. I’ve shared tales of Heath’s handiness before, but things are getting a little out of hand. Heath has been taking do-it-yourself projects to an extreme level. Pretty soon we may even decide to forgo paying the city to run electricity to our house and instead elect to develop a system in which our house is powered with a rowboat manned by talking Guinea pigs.

In one week of home ownership, Heath has:
• Replaced 3 light fixtures
• Installed our washer/dryer
• Installed a dryer vent
• Installed bathroom shelving
• Replaced a shower head
• Upped the water pressure
• Unclogged the bathroom sink
• Hooked up the ice maker
• Installed a lock and deadbolt

All done in under a week. And lets not forget about the bed, book shelves, study bench, chicken coop, and media consul all built from the ground up by Handy McBuildson.

Renting a moving truck— $40
Cost to dine out daily while waiting for your new fridge to be delivered—$2380423525
Marrying a champion do-it-yourself Wunderkind–priceless.

That was harder than it looked

Paid summer vacation? Twice as much money as a journalist? Where do I sign up?

Admittedly, that’s all I took into consideration before accepting a job as a high school journalism/newspaper/yearbook teacher. How hard could teaching really be? I remember high school. I had fun. This is going to be fine.

It turns out, teaching is really, Really, REALLY hard. It’s probably definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. As I sit here at my desk during the last few minutes of my last class of the day on the last day of school, I am amazed that I lasted through the entire school year. At points, I was convinced I wouldn’t make it. Afterall, I did a lot of things I never thought I would do: I learned how to battle the tsunami-like strength of teen-aged apathy, I learned how to keep my sanity at respectable levels despite regularly repeating the same sentences over and over again like a broken record, I learned how to converse with parents who are overly concerned and with parents who aren’t concerned enough, I learned the definitions of more acronyms than I care to admit, I learned that 12-hour work days are not cool, and the list goes on and on.

Some days were better than others—like when a student told me that after taking my class she decided she wants to major in journalism—and some days were on par with some of my more terrifying nightmares. But whether I wanted to pull my hair out at the end of the day or give big bear hugs to my most enthusiastic, hard-working students, it’s still one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had because of the extreme combination of those struggles and rewards.

Teaching has given me a greater appreciation of the learning process. After delivering lectures and leading group discussions, I found myself coveting the students who get to come to school everyday and simply soak up new information, new words, new experiences. And it made me really appreciate the best of my high school teachers who committed so much time to enabling the learning process. I question whether or not I will ever be able to teach with the same passion, enthusiasm and innovation as those life-changing teachers of my past.

With only a few minutes left before this spring turns to summer, I want to forever tattoo the Internet with a big THANK YOU to my greatest teachers who enabled my learning and, with resilience,  battled the struggles of being an educator that I am just now coming to discover. Thanks for your patience, and your kindness and your intellect. Maybe I didn’t appreciate you then, but I sure appreciate you now.

Now, let’s party.

The Last Ditch Effort

One billion is a big number. If you wanted to pay someone a dollar each second, it would take almost 32 years before they would see a billion. If you traveled one billion inches from the point at which you are standing, you’d be half way across the globe. And if you traveled back a billion minutes in time, you’d land smack dab in the middle of the Roman Empire. So imagine how big $5 billion must look like and how losing that much money doesn’t come easy.

Thanks to the state legislature and business-oriented governor, Texas is about to discover what it means to lose $5 billion dollars to its public education system. It’s hard enough to comprehend the gargantuan size of that number in the first place, much less to determine how each of those dollars directly affects classroom learning, but we are about to find out.

If you have no experience with public education it’s easy to scoff at the outraged rally cries of teachers over losing these funds in the presence of a looming budget deficit. I used to be one of them. Who are these people who work seven months of the year and earn nearly twice what I make a reporter?  Who are they to complain of poor working conditions and lack of resources? How hard could it be to teach a bunch of kids? KIDS!? But now that I find myself waist deep in the mud with the very people I once belittled, I’m singing a different tune. Being a Texas teacher in this decade is hard.

We compete with facebook and text messaging for our student’s attention and are forced to keep wandering minds engaged in rigidly defined material, to which they can’t relate but must master, in order to advance to the next grade. I don’t deny that the system is broken, but I do challenge the idea that cutting a substantial portion of funding is the way to fix it. There is certainly an element of practically involved in addressing debt and the budget, but why at such a huge cost to education?

On March 12, the family and I went to the Capitol to ask these same questions of the legislatures who seem intent on cutting the budget by any means possible–even at the expense of our future generations. We weren’t the only ones there.

I don’t fool myself into believing that redundancies, inefficiencies and unnecessary expenditures are non-existent in school districts across the state, or that we couldn’t all come together and agree to pinch a few pennies here and there to benefit the greater good. But I do contest the idea that there is $5 billion worth of excess in public education. And I know that students will be the ones to ultimately suffer.

Yesterday Heath’s district elected to cut costs by eliminating 11 percent of their employees from the payroll. More than 200 people lost their jobs and Heath was one of them. But his first emotion wasn’t anger, it was sadness over the service he could no longer provide to his low-income, special needs students.

You don’t have to agree with the sentiments expressed here, or with the idea that education is a right of the people. But you should take a moment to appreciate the teacher that taught you to read this.

One down, five to go

Without revealing too much about my job, my students or the school where I work, I still feel the need to make a post celebrating the end of the first six-weeks of school.

It wasn’t easy. That much, I will say. I didn’t think teaching would be a walk in the park or some kind of vacation, but after these few weeks I have a new respect for career teachers. The hours can be brutal (sometimes 12-hour days), the lack of student participation can be excruciating and the unfamiliarity with a new employer’s policies and procedures can make your head spin. Not to mention the hundreds upon hundreds of acronyms we are encouraged to practice, perform and prefer: TAKS, RAMP, PDAS, PASS, PSAT, STARS, SWAG and countless others…yikes.

But all that said, I’m having a good time. Guiding students through the publication process, watching them encourage each other, seeing genuine excitement on (some) of their faces as their work comes together; it really is—for lack of a better word—fun.

The papers are graded, the proof of the first edition of the paper is sitting on the coffee table and all my hair is still firmly attached to my head. Point Kelsey.