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I am no Erin Gruwell. I am no Esme Codell. I am no Rafe Esquith. I'm just a career, veteran teacher who has learned along the way like millions of others. I'm a pioneer in my classroom, because here in America, we are cut off from nearly all meaningful planning time with colleagues. I am an innovator because I've had to be. And I am a survivor of the ed biz. I'm first going to talk more about my time at my last middle school, with some reference to my first middle school out here in California, as well as my beginning teacher training in another state, in order to set the scene. And then, because it's necessary to know background, I'll then talk about being evaluated as a teacher under the TGDC, or as I like to call it, That God-Damned Crap.

Recently, my ed biz survival skills were called into play over the past several years. As many of you may know, education is under attack from billionaires with ideas and money, but no experience whatsoever in teaching or dealing with children. Many want to privatize education, taking only the children they choose, invariably those who are gifted, highly capable, able to play the education game, leaving behind those who are poor, less capable, who don't know the rules of the education game, and who have no resources. This very mindset undermines the idea of public education. Charter schools are funded by taxpayers, yet have no accountability to taxpayers, and that idea must die once and for all. I'm here to tell my story, in condensed form, of the past several years, at one particular school, with one particular principal and one woman, who was technically an underpaid assistant principal, whose official title was instructional specialist. I'm here to tell how I survived, specifically, and concretely, all those reformer/deformer ideas and ideals, because they just don't work. They are abusive. I was abused at this school, and especially by the evaluation process, and this is just one story among many.

I came to my former middle school under a cloud, but did not know it. I had been at my first middle school here in California for 10 years, and it was getting really old driving 30 minutes a day one way. (Previously, I had started out teaching in another state, and moved to California with several years of teaching under my belt, two or three years in graduate school as a teaching assistant, and three years teaching public school, one year of high school, two of middle.) In all those situations, I had respect from my peers and from older teachers. I got along with everyone. With most people, I was at least a work friend, and a few I counted as friends outside the workplace. But after 10 years of commuting, I wanted something closer, and this new school looked promising. It was a beautiful campus, three miles from home. Everyone seemed nice -- at first. And then it turned into something out of a nightmare.

A friend of mine from my first middle school here in California once said, "This district makes Alice in Wonderland look like a documentary." Truer words never spoken. This new middle school made me think often that I had fallen down the rabbit hole.

Looking back, though, I could tell something was going on the day I was hired, but I had no clue what. It turns out that I was hired on the sly, with a rather last-minute interview that deliberately did not include one particular teacher in my department. It was that teacher who turned out to be a fragile, vengeful narcissist, someone who would make my life hell over five years before she thankfully retired. She tried everything to get me written up and possibly even fired. I'm glad to say nothing she said against me ever worked, and both principals, the outgoing one who was nice overall, and the one who came in, who, by the way, was also a fragile, vengeful narcissist, ever took what she said very seriously. I only knew about her campaign against me the last two years she was there, and after she left. I just made sure all along that she never saw me sad or hurting. I made sure she only saw me happy, productive, and collegial. I killed with steel-in-my-spine kindness.

What it came down to was that several teachers hired before me were truly new to teaching, and this narcissist, hereinafter referred to as Prima Donna SourKraut, or PDSK for short, would swoop in, take them under her wing, train them up, and keep them around as providers of narcissistic supply. And then I came on the scene with 15 years of experience. She really, really wanted me to be another protege, an idea that I poo-pooed, at which point she immediately set to work to undermine me, discredit me, ruin my reputation, and possibly even try to get me fired. Hell hath no fury like a scorned narcissist.

What ultimately played out was that I was ignored by PDSK, which turned out to be quite a blessing. I had complete freedom to do whatever I deemed best with my students in my professional opinion. I had complete freedom to work with all other colleagues in my department. After a while, I twigged on to what she was doing, and it took me awhile, because I had never had this happen before, and also assumed that she was a functional, well-meaning adult like 99.9% of all other teachers and adults I had ever worked with. But the dark side turned out that she tried to make it difficult for me to get supplies, which I did anyway; my head of department was only two doors down from me and rather liked me. She tried to make it difficult for me to speak up in meetings, but she underestimated me as a badger-type of person who has always spoken up, and who tends to speak up MORE when I've been repressed or ignored by others, and who simply will not give up. I am always that 1% more stubborn, more persistent, more determined than anyone else. And given how toxically and dysfunctionally she was treating me, I rather reveled in being annoying. I spoke up, I smiled, I kept offering ideas, and kept contributing to the department.

But there was, of course, much more darkness. One fragile narcissist was enough, and after I confronted her, after intercepting one, then two rather petty, unprofessional comments made about me in meetings I did not attend, her treatment of me, behind my back, got worse. I think she amped up her campaign against me. However, it came to naught: those who knew me kept on being my friends, some from the very first day I walked into that school. Others who believed her didn't talk to me much anyway, and I can't say I missed talking to them. I learned later that the faculty had a history of being divided and divisive, with clear lines drawn around who talked to whom, who interacted with whom, who could and could not work with whom. I was always cordial, always professional. I deliberately remained inclusive and kind, and felt the best revenge was living well and continuing to be kind in the face of unkindness. I worked with everyone. I included everyone. I worked hard, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, for my students, for the department, for the school.

But then Dr. No came on the scene, and things radically changed for the worse for the school, for teachers, for students. The most important fact to know was that over Dr. No's tenure, the school lost over 600 students in about four or five years. Dr. No was the principal who came after the first principal left at this new, closer middle school. Former principal Mr. Magic was very nice to me, although not always to other teachers -- but overall, a kind, caring man who valued teachers and who liked interacting with students. Mr. Magic cared, and that alone was enough to forgive most weakness and failures as a human being.

But Dr. No was ice-cold, and I knew this, with dread, from our first meeting. There was just something not right about him, something missing, which was my first visceral, gut feeling. Whatever personal feelings I had about him as a person, as a man, played out professionally, in that he actively preferred the company of men over women. He had many more men in his confidence than women. He talked more to men, less to women. He promoted and hired far more men than women. He listened more to men than to women. And as a woman, an older woman, a veteran teacher, and someone who worked at a physical distance from him, he and I never had any type of professional relationship other than the most perfunctory. I never felt seen by him. I never felt acknowledged, or validated, understood, listened to, or valued. Around Dr. No, I never felt that I actually existed.

That feeling of invisibility, of not existing, not mattering, was extraordinarily demoralizing, and not just for me. Teaching as I did out in some bungalows far away from the main office, I was forgotten most of the time, which suited me, but which was not at all good for support, which we all need from time to time. And fragile narcissist that he was, there really was no support to be had, because support requires care, concern, and effort. As the years wore on, there was increasingly less care, less concern, less effort for everyone, until last year, there was none at all.

The first staff-wide meeting, in his first year with us, told me that things were not right at all. The staff had been grumbling for some time about Dr. No and his behavior, so we finally had a sit-down, where nothing got resolved. The staff basically said in so many words, that they weren't feeling listened to, that certain major concerns weren't dealt with, and that Dr. No just didn't seem to connect. All of this was true, and none of it, from Dr. No's surprised, blinky-eyed, clueless fish-out-of-water look, could possibly be his fault. We all left that meeting disspirited, blamed, and victimized, but not quite knowing what was wrong. What was wrong was that we were dealing with a narcissist, someone too weak to admit wrong, too incompetent to address social/emotional concerns, and too indifferent and spiritually stunted to know why he should do anything. Clearly working for him, being in his presence, should have been more than enough. And people started leaving, several teachers every year. I stayed on, thinking and hoping things would get better. Besides, the school was pretty; it was close; it was convenient. And still things kept going downhill incrementally but incessantly.

It's this last year, my last year at that middle school, as well as Dr. No's last year, that was simply breathtaking in the scope of its abuse and neglect. Our UTLA chapter chair made up a list of 20 things off the top of her head that Dr. No was doing illegally, like letting the clock run out the time on school site meetings, without ever deciding anything; ignoring seniority in next year's matrix; not holding instructional leadership meetings, ignoring complaints from teachers, and so much more. Our last Open House, the last public event of the year, there was no all-call to parents, no email reminder to faculty and staff. The day simply came and went. We all had a handful of parents show up, the die-hard few who were really in touch with their children's education, the type who come to parent conferences. The type we don't need to see, but for whom we are profoundly grateful, because they are on top of their child's education, they nag, pester, push, praise, cajole, and do what it takes to make their child or children succeed. We all turned in our parent sign-in sheets. To have had half a dozen parents show up that night, for any one teacher, was an accomplishment.

The main thing that happened last year was that I and other teachers had the class from hell. For me, it was my third period. These kids, looking back with 20/20 hindsight, because we were all in hunkered-down survival mode, were traumatized. They more than likely spoke fluent violence. They would throw BIC (Breakfast in the Classroom) at me, at other teachers. Fruit was popular, because it splattered. I was only hit once or twice, but the ongoing threat of having a missle lobbed at or near me contributed to my own trauma and hyper-vigilance. I and other teachers had security on speed dial. Security followed that one class around all day. Teachers regularly called, every period, to report or suspend one or several, for a day's reprieve. Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet never did anything about that class. Occasionally they would show up, make a speech, then leave. And something would be thrown at me, at the white board, after they left. There were no consequences. Yes, we could suspend, with UTLA paperwork. We could, for a day, with the cooperation of another teacher, send a kid to work in another class. We could call home, through Connect-Ed, if the parent chose to pick up. We could call home, if the home number was working.

I should add here as an aside that my husband went into the hospital during Thanksgiving, and got out after New Years. I'm a caregiver for him; it's light caregiving. He's older, less able, but still mobile and able to walk around. It was the fourth time in a year he had had to go to the Emergency Room. He had Fournier's gangrene, which was life-threatening. I had to take personal necessity leave. Fortunately he survived and now takes better care of himself. But at the end of the year, Dr. No said, "You've been absent this year 30 days," and he did not bother to differentiate that over 20 days were to care for my husband, before, during, and after his prolonged hospital and rehab stay. So all this was going on in the middle of everything else at the school. It was a grim, ugly year.

And finally, 85% of the way through the year, in spring semester, I finally had the bright idea to have this particular period, the only period I have ever had to do this with in 20 years, put their backpacks at the side of the room. And still, I had to watch for items smuggled in pants and shirts. We had to take time to let them come in, one at a time, be seated, then let someone else come in. We had to take time at the end of the period for them to get their backpacks, because otherwise, if they did not do so individually, they would steal other backpacks, unzip and empty backpacks, turn over tables and chairs, fling open windows, write on the walls, and throw/smear more food as they left. It wasn't every day. Some days were better than others. They forced us teachers to be their jailers.

And by the time third period got to me, they were already triggered, by who knows what? It was completely unpredictable to know what would set them off. I've never been in an ongoing trauma situation. I come from a secure, loving, attached family. And never in 21 years did I ever have to deal with unattached, possibly sociopathic children in a group. Teachers have no training whatsoever in how to deal with trauma, how to recognize it, what to do in a classroom setting. Our insistence on bell-to-bell instruction, teaching, testing, without any arts, with less time for recess, play, and movement, traumatizes already-broken children.

I myself broke one day, after days, weeks, months of dealing with this one class. I am ashamed to say that, in the spring semester, after yet another piece of BIC fruit was thrown at/near me, I snapped. I threw an orange around the room, never hitting children, but ranting and raving to them about their attitude and behaviors and intentions, until I realized that they WANTED to provoke that. And I told them that if that's what they wanted, I was sorry I was manipulated into such a display of temper, and would make sure to withhold all anger. They were already traumatized and rejected, yet they brought on themselves more trauma and rejection. That was the lowest point.

I should not have snapped, but I was pushed into it, day after day, week after week, month after month, with no support whatsoever. Third period, to their credit, reined it in, at least for a few days, but that's how it went, throughout the year: they pushed it, I pushed back, growling and snarling, they would rein it in. I suppose I and other teachers did teach them about boundaries and limits, with some habilitation into the human community, but it was grim, physical, grueling. I did not get written up for that; I got away with it.

I did, however, get written up for hate speech after sending a desperate call for help. That email had others who were not strictly teachers. And I was the scapegoat, written up for referring to this third period as "hooligans", because what mattered was that I tarnished Dr. No's carefully polished image. It wasn't that important that I was a desperate teacher being assaulted daily by sociopathic children, in a school with no consequences, no leadership. I got written up another time because I yelled at a child who for weeks had been pushing it with me, muttering under his breath, cursing near me, being an all-around difficult mess. I didn't call home, mainly because it was sixth period, I was tired, and this child normally didn't cause that much problem. But this sixth period boy, too, was traumatized, like the children in third period. Sixth Period Boy, too, came from an abusive, neglectful household. He was also special ed, and had learned misogyny, anger, and hate speech, tinged with racism, from his father. Sixth Period Boy told me later that he was worried about his grade, and when he gets worried, he gets angry. Sixth Period Boy had never been taught how to handle worry or anger, or the original emotion of fear.

That day, Sixth Period Boy wanted to sit somewhere where he could slack off, talk, and not do any work. I would not let him sit with a friend, slack off, and do no work. He refused to comply, even after I told him, ordered him, and then moved in front of him to prevent his walking over to his friend. I grabbed his backpack, a mistake after a long and hyped-up Halloween day, when I was tired, worn out, hadn't eaten, and got reported for touching a student. He did, however, do all his work in another classroom for the rest of the year, which I was glad of, and never ever cursed at me or was difficult toward me again. I have a feeling that I was the first, possibly the only strong woman he had ever dealt with in his life, who had ever stood up to him and imposed limits and boundaries on his behavior. And I have a distinct feeling that these write-ups were meant to push me out, to make me want to quit, to move, because I was an expensive veteran teacher.

I and other teachers of this group, this third period that still haunts me, tried everything we knew to change up the mix in that class. We begged, pleaded, cajoled with Dr. No and the educational leadership/underpaid assistant principal Ms. Crumpet (aka Blackbelt Barbie) over and over, through fall and spring semesters, but nothing could or would be done. The schedule did not allow them to be moved. I and other teachers were not convinced of this, since other kids had been moved the MOMENT a parent complained. Ways were found, weeks and months into the semester, to move children when a parent complained. But when teachers complained, nothing was done. Looking back, I think that administration blundered onto the perfect storm of kids, and then hoped that these kids would do their dirty work for administration, by forcing older, veteran teachers to resign, or move, or quit. After all, it didn't matter that we teachers were experienced, had tons of professional knowledge, cared deeply about education and children, and wanted to help others. What mattered is that we were more expensive to pay, so we did not help the bottom line.

I should say here that after this last year, I was displaced (but ended up at a far better school, thankfully). Another teacher moved to a different state. One teacher moved to get married. Another colleague fought hard against displacement, since he also lives close and has a child going to a nearby school; I think he got to stay. That meant that for all core subjects, me in English, and in science, math, and history, 80% of teachers that that third period had, left. This year, for better and for worse, those kids will get a new principal, someone I'm told who is pro-teacher and pro-student, more humane and caring. And they will get a new slate of teachers.

Other things contributed to a rapid decline in morale at this middle school. Coffee with the Principal went by the wayside, perhaps as early as fall semester, definitely by spring semester. Phone calls home to parents from administration, to alert parents to events happening at the school, decreased and finally stopped. Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet stayed increasingly holed up in the main office. Dr. No often left before school ended, while legally, under contract, administrators were supposed to stay until 4.30pm. Whenever they did their mandatory yard duty, Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet never seemed to interact with any students; instead, they were on guard, vigilant against children, forming a shield wall of adults, us against them. And tellingly, when Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet evaluated me, kids shuddered when these adults were next to them. Kids would not sit next to them. Kids were afraid of them and took all necessary measures not to be near them.

My evaluation process spanned over four years. During Dr. No's first year or two, I submitted a letter from our chapter chair and UTLA, asking to be evaluated every five years as a veteran teacher. It was ignored. I was evaluated four years in a row under TGDC. It felt punishing, abusive, demeaning, demotivating. I was never good enough. I was made to feel troublesome, lacking, as if I were just not getting it, when there was no real support, no collegiality, no way to ask questions without being made to feel needy, bothersome, annoying, clingy, childish, incapable, incompetent. I learned nothing, or rather how to plaster my walls to impress the evaluators, how to put on another dog and pony show, and then when they were gone, go back to doing what my students needed, to get them literate.

The TGDC guidelines were intimidating, and I'm not one to be intimidated by much. They were for superhumans, not mere humans. No teacher, no human being, could possibly do what the TGDC deemed advanced or even at an acceptable level, every day, every period. The most I ever got was "developing" and "meets standards" which is the same kind of back-handed compliment as telling someone they're not bad looking, or that'll do. Whatever sop to improvements were given were phrased in the most abstract, ed-biz jargon. I took all TGDC reports, put them in a binder, and shoved them into the back of my supply closet.

Going online and accessing the TGDC website was always iffy, because it didn't always work. One time, after procrastinating all weekend and feeling increasingly resentful and angry, I finally logged in to do my initial planning sheet, only to realize that the whole site was down. One good thing about Dr. No was as long as you had a plan, he would actually leave you alone, so I typed up my proposed lesson, presented it, and agreed to type it into the TGDC platform when it was up and running again. That was a rare positive interaction with Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet. It was actually sane, adult, and relatively benign. And for being so utterly banal, it stands out as a bright spot in all our interactions, for not being toxic, dysfunctional, and indifferent.

Under TGDC, I never felt like I could do enough. I never felt like I could be a competent teacher, no matter that I have two degrees, 20 years of experience, and have taught in two states and have taught both high school and middle school as well as college. I could not keep all students on task all the time. I could not control how they talked, or about what, so I was constantly dinged for not having 100% accountable talk. Students didn't move around enough. Students didn't do enough of this, did too much of that. Without ever being told exactly what kind of lesson they wanted to see, or what constituted good teaching, nothing I ever planned was quite enough. Teacher standards were piled on for me, for professional growth. Ultimately, it reminded me of why I divorced my first, passive-aggressive, withholding husband: if it was good, it wasn't enough, and if it was good enough, then it wasn't enough. There was no way, for me at that school, with those administrators, to get high marks.

During one particularly telling debrief or post-observation conference, I received no feedback at all on my teaching, and no guidelines for improvement. I asked several times what they liked and what I could improve. Dr. No's and Ms. Crumpet's answers were abstract, vague, and listless. Instead, the whole post-observation conference was spent complaining about one special ed girl who talked off-task the entire time they observed me. I honestly did not hear her, intent as I was on the other students. Miss KM, the student, looked like she was on task, and I think I remember that she turned in her work for that day. Dr. No even said that he had no power to make a child stop misbehaving, at which point I openly goggled at him. No, of course he had no power; he was only the principal, the school leader. And rather than letting them make me defensive, I smiled and agreed with everything they said. I defended nothing. Yes, she did talk a lot. Sure, I could move her seat, like I've done so MANY times before. Yes, I could make sure she sits with another student who is more capable and who would be willing to help her... which she already does. On and on and on. And not one word about my teaching, or that lesson, or ways I could improve. They had to find something to criticize, to be fair and balanced, just like Fox News.

Later this last year, before I left, and after I knew I was being displaced, I was told by a colleague whom I liked and trusted that my style of teaching had gone out of style a couple of years ago. I, however, wasn't helped at teaching in the new CCSS style, and although I do now teach mostly CCSS style, it's all been done by me, on my own, doing my own reading and research, implementing here and there as I see fit. I still mostly go by what my students need and are deficient in, and am guided by what they like and are interested in.

This colleague and I also talked many times about there being a two-tier system at this school, those who could do no wrong (and who were seldom if ever evaluated), and those who could do no right (and were evaluated year after year). I had always been in the tier of those who could do no right. My colleague had been in my position, too, and had had a horrible year the year before. Other evaluators, the now defunct ISIS, came into the school, saw his teaching, praised him to administration, and suddenly he became a darling, a go-to teacher, whereas before he had been looked down on, disparaged, ignored, and bullied by administration. Fortunately he resisted becoming a golden boy, saw the sexism and misogyny of Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet, and kept his usual low-key, sympathetic demeanor and robust resolve to help all students and be a colleague to all teachers.

Just one more thing, and I will close this already long, ranty blog post. Dr. No informed us sometime after spring break that several teachers would be displaced. We were dismayed but not surprised, because we all knew that the school had been hemmorhaging students for years. It was when Dr. No said, casually, offhandedly, in front of the faculty at a Tuesday PD, "Oh, I think some people would be DELIGHTED to be displaced," that I and several others just shook our heads. Who says this? What kind of leader says that to and about his faculty, in front of them? This past year I had been praying for Dr. No to leave, and finally one day during spring semester, we got a terse, three- or four-sentence email informing us he was leaving. Of course he got kicked upstairs, working in the bowels of the bureau-crazy, where like the capital of Panem, no citizen goes in want of anything, and offices are lush and amply provisioned. One can only hope that Dr. No continues to work with orgasmic reams of data, and never again has to work with teachers or children.

So mote it be.

dealing (or not) with visibility

Short and sweet, since I'm hungry, want dinner, and want to get offline for a while. I've had my fill of yet more males who 'desire' me. What a crock.

A couple of years ago, over summer, I had a number of messages from some of the thousands of Facebook friends that I have online. These were men who wanted to chat. I didn't mind. I chatted. They were complimentary. Weird, but ok. Nice in its way. Huh. How about that. Men actually think... I look nice? When did THAT start happening? I was a tiny bit freaked out, but blew it off, kind of liked it a little, got my ego boost, and forgot about it, especially in August when the new school year was revving up and I was super-busy as always.

Then this past year it happened again, only moreso, much much moreso. Many men messaged me. Many men chatted me up, claimed I was beautiful, gorgeous, pretty, attractive, etc. etc. etc. To me, this comes out of nowhere, left field, out of the blue. And given that I'm someone with 40+ years of body image issues, I was, this time, more than a little freaked out. I was bothered. And finally I just became angry and exasperated and out of patience and resentful.

Just go the hell AWAY. Have a nice life somewhere ELSE.

Apparently Facebook had me as someone who adds easily, and for years, I did, because I LOVE having game friends. Game friends online are awesome, because they don't chat! They're just people who also happen to play the same games. They give you stuff, you give them stuff, and you do not chat. That not chatting is awesome, especially for me as an introvert. All I want from social media is to see pictures, like pictures, see interesting quotes, like said interesting quotes, and play games. Seriously, that's it. That's as social as I care to be online. And the MOMENT anyone messages me, damn. A red notification. Ugh, I don't WANT to talk to anyone. Noooooo, please just NO. Fine, whatever. I'll click on the message, just so I don't have to see the red notification. (This is seriously how introverts think when people message us, even people we know at times. Strangers, multiply the reaction times 10 at least.)

So now, I'm just so done. Some seriously messed up excuse for a human being, who shall remain nameless and utterly forgotten, messaged me tonight. He wanted to pay me to go on cam and "help" him. I'm not even going to dissect how wrong that is or on how many levels that's wrong. I let him know, cursing him up one side and down the other, just how wrong it was. And I told him to eat shit and die. And then he asked how big my tits were. Again, motherfucker, eat shit and die. You don't get or deserve an answer. Go suck YOUR MOTHER.

If this is what being a visible woman means, then I do not like it. There is no going back to 425 pounds. There is only forging ahead, losing more weight, gaining and re-gaining more health, strength, endurance, flexibility, stamina. But I don't like being visible. And I have nothing but contempt for the so-called "males" who think they're entitled to any part of my attention or affection. You're not.

Ironically, I'm 47, post-menopausal, way past the "useful" stage of life. I'm not only married, I'm very married, so I don't want to hook up or fool around with anyone for any reason. No one interests me that way, and it's absolutely not worth it on any number of levels. I'm in the best shape of my life, and if you looked up "emotionally unavailable" in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of me.

Seriously, I am so damn tired of males and their peacocking and their often desperate, stupid bids for attention. I don't want you. I look FORWARD to the time when I "lose my looks" and get ignored by males. All of this makes me want to be 20 years older, grey-haired, wrinkled, and invisible yet again. It's going to be a LONG 20 years.

This will be short, because I'm considering going to see "Spectre" the new James Bond Movie. But a recent Facebook post triggered a very powerful memory from my past when I was married to Peter.

This must have happened in the early 90s, maybe even from the couple of years when we didn't have a television -- I miss those days. I would not mind not having a TV now, although that's beside the point.

I do remember that I was at this point 20something, perhaps already a first- or second-year teacher, still in graduate school, so juggling a lot: work as a beginning professional, work as a grad student, being a first time wife. And I was poor. There was no getting around it, being a first-year teacher in Louisiana, and being a grad student didn't pay jack shit. And so at one point, Peter and I ran out of food.

Technically, that wasn't true. There was food in the house, but nothing terribly palatable, mostly just canned goods. I think this was before the start of the cold war in our house, but it was probably brewing by then. I was expected, as a female, to hunt and gather, although I made sure he brought home food just as often as I did.

Anyway, I don't know how I found out about getting "government cheese", Peter's term for free food for poorer people, but I did. I showed up at a school gymnasium, where I was one of VERY few other white faces in the crowd. And I could feel the resentment. It wasn't overt, and no one said anything to me, but there was a definite feeling in the air of, what are you doing here? You're white. You don't look poor enough.

I got to the front of the line to register, and the kindly African-American lady asked how many in my family. I naively said "two". She looked at me up and down, rather quizzically, and said, "Just two?" I remember at this time that being childfree was a BIG issue in my life, all about retaining sovereignty over my body, my life, my choice for how my life should go. So I was adamant. I think she kind of shook her head, called out "two" to the person who would give me a bag (or more) for the people in my family.

As other people queued up, they got asked how many in their family, and I heard answers ranging from three or four, to 14, to 27. But no one said anything. Later on, I realized what was happening. They weren't lying just to see what they could get away with. They were lying because they were poor, they were hungry, and they needed to feed their family that possibly, probably included others, and they needed enough food to last for a month, given limited, perhaps even non-existent job prospects in my small, insular, Southern college town.

That day was a wakeup call to my own privilege. Peter got paid the next day, and I immediately legged it over to the supermarket. I got paid soon after, either later that week or early the next week. And we never had to go back for government cheese. And our own personal economic circumstances improved each year. But yes, what a wake-up call.

reflections of childhood trauma and teaching

"His hyper-vigilant scanning for any threat he might perceive in the classroom created a wall between Danny and others. Often, Danny’s traumas could be retriggered by a classmate’s slight shift in position, or the most innocent comment or look. It was impossible to anticipate. Sometimes Danny arrived at school already triggered by events at home or along the way. When his fears were triggered, Danny could go off track quickly with a loud, nervous laugh, or an equally disruptive threat yelled to someone across our classroom. Then he would rip up his classwork, and throw his books, dump his desk, and often make a run for the hallway, with angry tears, screaming “f___ you”. His classmates watched, gripped in fear. Danny didn’t know it, but 11+ other children in the same room had similar life stories filled with trauma."

This comes from a new blog I just found today, and it PERFECTLY describes a child I had last year in that awful third period. For the sake of discretion, I'll refer to this kid as Caesar from now on, not his real name. All of this happened, quite regularly, over and over. And Caesar, in copying yet another traumatized kid in third period, also threw things at me and/or the white board. In that one class, I'd estimate there were a core group of perhaps five or six traumatized kids who all fed off each other. That whole "monkey see, monkey do" thing, acted out among several who were traumatized, just contributed to such a horrific, surreal climate in that class. And last year, I had NO CLUE how to deal with any of it. I had no clue what was happening, what had happened, how to deal. Teachers are simply not trained in how to recognize or respond to trauma. And we desperately need to be trained!

Caesar would regularly arrive to class already triggered, and who knows by what? I think now simply the act of coming inside the classroom could have been triggering. A recent article I read says that it's impossible, from the outside looking in, to know what triggers acting-out behavior. Whatever it was, I NOW know, after having read and learned a little, that the child may not know what triggers him or her, but whatever it is, it's stored in the deep part of the brain, what I call the reptile brain. This also explains why I spent all year looking at them and wondering, "Who ARE you?" because they were just so alien to me. I now realize WHY they were so alien: their brains were different, distorted, immature, and perhaps even shrunken from dealing with violence, trauma, abuse, neglect, substance abuse, etc. These kids were RADICALLY different from me, someone who has experienced only an inkling of trauma (fat-and body-shaming, some PTSD fairly long ago in the past to do with my knees), and always had the wherewithal to fight back and make it stop.

And I am so, so sorry that I contributed to this and all other kids' trauma. However, that said, they pushed me and all other teachers, way past any normal human's endurance, and when I did break, it was because I could not take it anymore. They knew it. I knew it. And little by little, over the course of the year, I suppose I (and I hope all the other teachers they had) DID teach them some about boundaries and limits, but it was so, so physical, so grim, and so unhappy. And yet, when I yelled or made my displeasure known (never again throwing anything), they always did pull back and rein it in for a day or two. It does not excuse what I did (throwing an orange around the classroom, after it was thrown at/near me, which just KEPT FUCKING HAPPENING, ranting and raving about their behavior and attitudes), but it does explain it. I'm beginning to understand this. I had no time, no resources last year, and certainly no help at all. Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet were the abysmal vortex of inefficiency, indifference, and narcissism. I had mistakenly thought that these third-period kids were CHOOSING to be rude, disruptive, non-compliant, aggressive, etc. Now I see that they really could not help it.

What I would give to do that year over again with them, even knowing the tiny bit that I know now. What a year it was. And yes, I realize what I would be letting myself in for when I say that. I can only hope that I can learn from them and apply what I know to future classes and future traumatized adolescents. I look back now, with some shame and a lot more understanding of my own behavior, and see where I was deficient. I felt pressured as a teacher to focus on academics exclusively. I did not at all feel we had time to focus on what was going on with them, and moreover, suspected absolutely that something was going on, but I had no clue or training in how to approach them or help calm whatever storms were brewing. And as a natural academic myself, someone who is a low-level Type A personality, I like making efficient use of time. I didn't think that talking about feelings would be productive or useful. We had state standardized tests to prepare them for. This is the insanity and the inhumanity of schools now. Hearbreaking.

I'm also so, so sorry that the whole school system, and that school in particular, were so awfully punitive and punitive mainly by being ignorant. We had absolutely no tools at our disposal to deal with these kids when they acted out. We framed them as "bad" when yes, their actions were way out of control, but as I've since learned, all misbehavior is the result of unmet needs. And the core group of kids who constantly acted out, threw stuff, made noises and disrupted were masses of unfilled, unmet needs. No one, especially a teacher, could ever meet those needs. But we could start meeting them in the classroom, give those kids some sense of structure, limits, boundaries, appropriate behaviors and responses, and try to deal with triggers and fear, blame, anger, etc.

What I hated most was how they were already amped up by the time they came to me. They also kept each other amped up, and this more than anything was what I hated most, especially as an introvert. I find it easy to relax, to lower my heart rate and breathing. I'm not sure now that they could do this. I am quite sure that any education about meditation or relaxation techniques might have helped defuse them as ticking time bombs. Their constant talking, activity, and refusal to comply, and actively LOOKING for distractions amped ME up, and I hated being in that hyper-vigilant state. I could neve relax around them, and they simply could not relax at all. This can't have done anything positive for anyone's heart health, or blood pressure, or blood sugar. All that stress, all the time. If anything, though, I did get a visceral education in what they felt all the time, and I could barely handle it for 50 minutes, five days a week.

I often think of these kids, and hope they are doing okay. I wish them luck, resilience, and peace. And I'm so, so glad not to be around them this year or ever again.
This past school year, I was displaced. That meant I had a job with the school district overall and was still being paid; I just didn't have a school, or a set of classes to call my own. So I was and wasn't at the same time worried about finding another job. I knew the school district was working hard to place teachers so they wouldn't just have to randomly assign teachers as pool substitutes and hope for the best. And now, I've won the lottery: I was placed, by default, at a really good, prestigious school. I tried to do some interviews and just gave up on it, realizing at my age, I'm just not willing to get out there, promote myself, razzle-dazzle, and sell myself on interview after interview. So I left my placement to fate, hoped for the best, and as it turned out, I won the lottery anyway with my placement, and I'm extremely grateful. I'm a high school teacher again for the first time since my first year of teaching, which was 1994-1995. I put in my time doing 20 years of middle school teaching. And I've grown and matured as a person and as an educator.

But what's stuck with me is how disparate my first two schools out here in California really were, especially compared to the school I'm at now, one I want to stay at until I retire. At my first school, in the San Fernando Valley, I had a 30-minute commute, but felt very appreciated. So there was physical distance, but collegial closeness. At my former middle school, the one I just left, I had a 7-minute drive or a 50-minute walk to school. (I REALLY miss being able to WALK to my job. Not many people get to do that in Los Angeles!) So there was physical closeness, but collegial distance and even hostility. Being at this new school, where there are no fragile narcissists (that I know of or have any meaningful contact with), and where I'm liked and esteemed, has put fresh wind in my sails.

I had promised to write about my time at my old middle school, and being at this new high school, having the summer off, hiking 100 miles of the Camino de Santiago (which was such a blessing and an accomplishment, that it's now made me a hiking addict), has given me some needed perspective.

Basically I couldn't afford to admit to myself, during the seven years I was there, just how abusive this middle school was. I did admit it at times, and railed about it here when I wrote about the over-the-top bullshit that Prima Donna SourKraut pulled, or tried to. And I admitted it when I wrote about Dr. No and his more egregious pettiness and lack of leadership. That said, overall I'd rate my time at my former middle school well over 90% positive, simply because it was so close, and so convenient. It was and is a pretty campus. Overall, the kids really were nice, with a very few exceptions, but such is dealing with people. I met some very nice people there that I'm still in contact with and consider work friends. A few of those I'm even connected with on social media, and it's nice to keep up with them. In spite of two fragile, retaliatory narcissists, I simply refused to let them, or their stunts, get me down. That said, though, I'm happy to have moved on. I was there for seven years, at a time when the school declined badly, and it was time to move on. The displacement turned out to be a blessing.

(A sidebar: I'm naming my former principal Dr. No not just as a James Bond reference because I'm SO looking forward to "Spectre" when it premiers next week, but because that name is highly symbolic of NO support, NO love, NO empathy, NO sympathy, NO leadership capability, NO depth of feeling, and NO actual competency in dealing with people. I'm sure I've forgotten some other negative descriptors, but this will do for now.)

Let's talk about that abuse, though. Once again, as with any and all abuse, it never broke me down; it just added even more steel to my spine, and made me even stronger. I'm a BIG believer in "never let the bastards wear you down". I stood up, kept standing up for what was right, kept speaking up for what was right throughout my time there. And yes, it did wear me down in that I was written up for yelling at a child and for indirectly touching him through his backpack when he was asked then TOLD to move elsewhere -- a child who for weeks was hostile and abusive toward me, who was stubborn, moody, irritable, defiant, uncooperative, and damn difficult to teach or get along with or interact with. And why did I finally explode? No support, of course. It took, though, a change of venue for me to realize just how unhappy and untenable a situation it was at my old middle school, for many, many reasons that I could not control.

I was written up for something else too, which I can't even now recall. It was a small, even miniscule lapse of judgment on my part, but far more was made of it than needed to be. In re-reading this, I do recall now: I emailed a rather desperate letter to other colleagues, about my third period of course, asking for help, for restorative justice, for a break, and referred to them as something less than darling little angels. I believe the word I used was "hooligans". I was written up for "hate speech". That email, which I had assumed was private, actually wasn't, and I fully suspect that I was simply the scapegoat, and that Dr. No was publically embarrassed at the lapse. It wasn't really that I and other teachers were having major issues, like assault, with this one period. No, what really mattered was the public embarrassment, the public tarnishing of Dr. No's carefully polished image, that was the real mistake in the matter. Oh, I'm sorry. I thought it was the children's education that actually mattered. Silly me.

And it's when we can't control things that despair, anger, and resentment set in, take hold, fester, and grow. When teachers get no support, are actively worked against, things get awful. I and others are unlucky enough to teach at a time when billionaires are trying to take over schools, privatize education, bust unions, take away all protections for workers, and test children into insanity or at least conformity and compliance. I and others are teaching at a time when teachers are treated with contempt, disrespect, and arrogance, by people who have never taught, who know nothing of child psychology or physiology, and yet who have the power to make major decisions that affect millions of people. That was, and alas still is, the setting.

At a time when Rafe Esquith, one of THE best teachers in the entire world, was complained about on an utterly trivial misunderstanding, led out of his classroom in handcuffs, put into teacher jail (where there is no representation, and no communication of wrong-doing), had his finances gone through for over 15 years, then fired -- at a time when educational administration is on the far, dangerous, ugly side of punitive, punishing, and pompous, things are not good for anyone, especially teachers and especially for children, the people for whom education matters most, and the people who have the least power to influence what's done to them. This is the setting from which, and about which, I write. Fortunately for all of us, Rafe Esquith, a fantastic teacher who also happens to be a published author, retained a particularly sharp lawyer, and is pursuing as of this writing, a $1 billion (with a b) lawsuit against the school district, against teacher jail, on his own behalf and on the behalf of all present and past jailed colleagues. He MUST win. He simply MUST win.

Much of what we as teachers could not control at my former middle school involved administration in particular. Parents we can never control either, but that's another story. We could at least contact them and talk to them, and listen to them, which usually brought about some minor change for a while. My personal thought were that a lot of these particular parents at this particular school were rather flaky, immature themselves, and not very competent as parents, or else they were working so hard and so long to provide, that they didn't provide enough attention, direction, consequences, and supervision at a critical time for middle schoolers who need to internalize a lot of social rules. However, an indifferent administration, coupled with flaky parents, overseen by an overweeningly punitive school district, backed by ignorant billionaires, just isn't a good situation. And yet, we soldiered on. What else could be done?

My former union chapter chair made up a list, off the top of her head, of 20 things our former principal did and continued to do that were absolutely illegal. This is really where the powerlessness and anger came from: an incompetent, uncaring, cold, indifferent administration that worked against children, teachers, and its own self-interest. The principal, Dr. No, would get up and walk out of meetings, letting the clock close the meeting, where of course, nothing ever got done or was decided. Ah, the ever-popular passive aggressive hostility! Always a crowd pleaser. He was vague, uncommunicative, a back-stabber as well as demanding, impatient, and critical. He also hogged the limelight, loved ceremony, and never gave his staff (without whom he would have no position) any credit. I think if one of us had published a book, or won a televised award, or found a cure for cancer, he would have claimed the glory, and we would not have been let anywhere near the spotlight. And narcissist that he was, he continued to wonder why we had turned on him, as if we were the traitors, we the wrong-doers, we the betrayers. He also, more tellingly, did not know any students' names, although I think he might finally have learned the names of the habitual repeat offenders that cycled through the dean's office. That was the level of the lack of control at my former middle school. Enraging. Day in and day out, maddening as hell.

His was the enraging, maddening sort of banal evil because he absolutely didn't care. That utter indifference to the school, the administrators, the teachers, and the students allowed no one to prosper and grow, and allowed everyone to waste away, remain angry, unfocused, frustrated, blocked, stymied, and helpless to make positive changes. Dr. No himself was always attired in a freshly-pressed suit and tie. He drove a Cadillac. He had a private office that had an outside door, and at the end of his tenure at my former middle school, we were not at all surprised to see that he had gone home quite early, well before school let out for the day. Administrators were supposed to stay daily until 4.30pm. He was often gone by 2.30 at the latest. That school, under Dr. No's tenure, lost over 600 students in about four years' time, and yet, at the end of last year, Dr. No was given a promotion -- downtown, to the bowels of the bureau-crazy, where at least now he is not interacting directly with teachers or students. One can only give thanks for small favors. One can only hope that Dr. No is now enraptured by orgasmic reams of paper with lots of data. So mote it be.

The kids knew, on a visceral level -- I doubt most seventh or eighth graders could actively say, oh we know the principal is phoning it in, and no one is really in charge here, so we can do whatever we want because we know no one cares, but it was apparent in their behavior. Kids will push boundaries; it's in their nature, and it's a developmental need. I don't fault them for doing it. I fault him for not enforcing any boundaries or limits, for tying the hands of the dean and security officers, and for allowing absolutely anti-social, harmful, abusive behavior to continue, even to thrive. That school became, at the end, rather a Lord of the Flies kind of place, where the strong pushed the weak around, and it was the law of the jungle. It was hell.

I and other teachers of one particular class, my former third period, endured being assaulted in class nearly every day, and I do not exaggerate. Kids in my third, and in later classes with other teachers, would hide fruit and other items in their backpack, and invariably when our backs were turned or we weren't looking directly at them, would throw things at us. Often they threw fruit scavenged from breakfast, but once they threw an onion deliberately brought from home -- rarely ever hitting us directly, but aimed toward us, and in the case of the onion, stinking up the entire classroom for one day and much of the next. And they threw it several times, making sure it broke open for maximum odor. Such little sociopaths, well on the road to being psychopaths.

And Dr. No (my personal name for this former principal, a fellow fragile narcissist like Prima Donna SourKraut -- perpetually miserable, grasping for power, always ready to retaliate, and forever self-aggrandizing to an empty audience) had absolutely no authority. One story in particular encapsulates his complete lack of, and complete abdication of, any and all authority. One day toward the end of the school year, after I had had the brilliant idea, 85% of the way through the year, of having my third period put their backpacks beside the wall so they wouldn't throw fruit at me/assault me, I caught one little fucker red-handed. Never in my previous 20 years of teaching had I ever had to make secondary students put their backpacks by the walls, as if they were elementary students. But I did, and even without the backpack, I FINALLY managed to catch one evil little girl throwing something at me. What a sneaky little piece of work. I had suspected her for weeks and months, but could never catch her in the act. Glorious moment when I did!

I told her to get up, take her stuff, and report to the dean. She refused to budge. I told her again; she refused. I called school security (by this time in the school year, I had them on speed dial and had done so for months -- I called school security almost every day, and wasn't the only teacher to do so). School security came by, and still she wouldn't budge. Dr. No happened to be passing by, and he stopped in, told her to get up and come with him, and she refused.

But it was his response, a rather tepid, milksop, "Well, okay then," in nearly a falsetto voice for a man well into his 60s if not close to his 70s, that absolutely disgusted me. It was impossible in that moment to have more contempt than I did. If by this time I had retained a shred of respect for Dr. No simply for being the leader of the school (and doing a really difficult job -- I recognized that he got pressure from the school district, parents, and teachers) -- I lost it, and that respect plummetted into the negatives, where it had been threatening to dip and stay for quite some time. This was the last straw, and I was embarrassed for him.

Seriously, what principal gives an order to a child, then says, "Well, okay then," when a kid refuses? Of all the choices he had, such as getting up in her space, putting his face right in hers, and COMMANDING her to get her butt up out of that seat and come with him RIGHT NOW, what are you thinking, and how DARE you disrupt the learning environment? -- nope. Just pure milksop, pure beta male, nay even I would say gamma male, and that enraging, suffocating indifference. He did not care, at his own school, that a child was holding education hostage, had assaulted a teacher, and was being openly defiant, depriving herself and her classmates of an education. He had no authority, no command, and more importantly, no feeling. He had stopped caring about the school, about me and all other teachers, and about all students. And that level of indifference breeds a rather banal version of evil.

Finally, another administrator came, somehow managed to get Miss Girl With Huge Problems out of her seat. However, she stopped outside the door and was refusing yet again to go any further. Right after Dr. No had given his milksop "Well, okay then", I had called school police, who presumably were on their way directly to my classroom to remove this girl with whatever force it took. The administrator knew this, and told her, come with me NOW. I am trying to save you FROM the police. This girl was African-American; so was the administrator. I can only hope that once he FINALLY convinced her to come with him, that they had a short, direct, blunt discussion, with him doing most of the talking and her doing most of the listening (for once), about precisely what could have happened to her had she not complied with the police who carried weapons and were authorized to use them. I hope they talked about how the cops would probably have been white, and that no matter what the race of the cop, that any defiant child, any defiant citizen, especially an African-American who was defiant, would almost certainly have been manhandled and treated with violence. But I don't know if they had that conversation. I can only hope.

So I endured. Every day late that spring after my epiphany, the backpacks went by the wall, and most days things weren't thrown. But no learning got done, and I could never truly relax around them. They were perpetually chaotic, disorganized, hyperactive, and uncommunicative. Almost always they were surly, disrespectful, angry, with free-floating anxiety that they could not articulate. I was shocked and upset when I had missed an email about an official observation. Dr. No and his lackey, Ms. Crumpet, had chosen my third period by default, since they were doing a number of observations. I was absolutely in a state of dread and panic. I begged and pleaded with them to reconsider. My second period, although loud and boisterous, was my honors class, quite bright and capable. My fifth period, a regular class, was a sweet, funny class with lots of spirit. Either second or fifth period would have been great classes to observe, and I would have felt no major misgivings. But nothing doing. Third period it was. Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet came, and lo and behold, third period were little angels. They performed magnificently. They did everything I asked, were helpful, kind, cooperative, and seemed to learn and grasp what I was teaching.

What little fucking scammers.

The next day, I sat down in front of them and asked if we could have a class discussion. This was near the end of the year, and all kids love classroom discussions because it means they aren't reading or writing. It IS a type of learning, though, more social, not as direct. I first of all thanked them for doing extremely well, told them I was proud of them, asked if they enjoyed the lesson. Yes, yes, it was good. All cool. Then I asked, very carefully, so why not do this all the time? No answers, blank stares, mumbling. I didn't expect an answer out loud; this was middle school, and in this particular tribe, being cool and being loyal to one's classmates absolutely trumped honesty, civility, responsibility, etc. I did, though, pass out index cards, and asked them to explain their really good behavior during my observation, and their usual lackadaisical work habits. Basically it came down to expectations: they did not want adults to expect too much of them, because they did not want to have to live up to those expectations and work hard every single day. My takeaway was that they were deliberately dimming their lights. And that made me sad.

And that got me thinking. It made me sad for the entire group, but it explained a lot. A recent book I've begun to read has explained a lot too, as well as one I read over the summer. I'm convinced, from a variety of sources, that these children were victims of domestic abuse, trauma, instability, disconnection, upheaval, what-have-you. I'm also convinced that quite a few of them, together in this particular class, formed a perfect storm with a poverty mindset. I'm convinced that these children had known violence up close and personal, that they spoke fluent violence, regarded all relationships distrustfully, and simply were not quite habilitated into the human family.

That poverty mindset, as opposed to my middle-class mindset, and my mindset of coming from a warm, attached, loving family, made understanding them next to impossible, mostly because they would not and could not trust or connect or be appropriately social for any extended period, due to fear. Day after day, they and I would regard each other as aliens. It felt as if I were shouting over a chasm, and could never quite be understood. It felt like the words I said to them, while perfectly clear and reasonable to me, were distorted by the time they heard. There was, throughout that year, persistent, dogged, absolute refusal to attach. This particular group was extremely avoidant. In typical irony, they were in such abject fear of being rejected and disapproved of, that they actively CAUSED rejection and disapproval.

It was an endless, miserable, downward spiral, one I had no clue how to remedy. It would take far more expertise than I or any other classroom teacher had. Last year, my first, second, fifth and sixth periods were good classes. There were a few kids with issues, a few bobbles and misunderstandings, but overall, they were normal kids who OF COURSE could connect, trust, and learn because they had those survival needs as well as social needs, taken care of. Those classes did well. My third period, I realize now, were simply suffering, much of it brought on by their families, but quite a bit brought on by their choices and habits of mind.

One very bizarre thing I learned from my former third period's poverty mindset was about silence. As a strong introvert, I'm from a quiet family, a family where loving quiet, cultivating quiet, cherishing quiet, existing blissfully in quiet, is second nature to me. For those with a poverty mindset, quiet is disquieting, pun intended. Finally, near the end of the year, my third period told me that they found quiet threatening. In their world, there is always noise and happy chatter, and the moment someone becomes quiet, that quiet signifies anger and the very real possibility of violence erupting.

They had thought, all year, that I was just about to lose my temper and become violent. I, on the other hand, felt increasingly agitated by and irritated by the constant chatter. I felt like I could not ever just relax because it never would get quiet. To me as an academic introvert, noise and talk just doesn't mean true, real, deep focus. And I recognize that's my bias, that some kids need to think out loud, to discuss, to bounce ideas off one another. But there comes a time to STOP talking, to get inside one's head, and FOCUS. They had a completely different, opposite outlook, one that made a very uneasy co-existence five days a week.

I felt devastated on one hand, thinking that how could they possibly think that, and on the other hand, utterly mystified. This was so not my social class, so not my experience growing up, so out of my league. I immediately began wondering what else they thought about differently due to their upbringings. And I realized I had no clue, so I would have to read about it. Over the summer, I read a couple of books on poverty mindsets in the classroom, and several things clicked. I was relieved to see I was doing most things right -- like giving a pen, pencil or notebook to a child, just so they could do the assignment and not just sit there doing nothing, and being somewhat easygoing about turning in papers, since some children don't have adequate space, or time, or resources, to do homework at home, in apartments or houses that may be cramped, noisy, violent, chaotic, or without enough space.

Thankfully, this last school year ended. I was displaced, tried to interview, gave up because I was too tired, and decided to put it all in God's hands and hope for the best. I'm lucky I got the placement I did. I'm happy to be back in high school and at this high school in particular. Dr. No got kicked upstairs. Another, kinder, more humane principal came in, and a former work friend told me earlier this year that the school is beginning to heal. Initially I had thought to give it a few years, and I would re-apply, but I've rethought that. I'm content to stay at high school, even though my former middle school would be close, and I could walk to work again. I'm content to let it be a part of my past. I moved on, on many different levels.

There may be more to add, but this is the bulk. It feels cleansing to write this all out. I feel purged. The Camino helped enormously. I walked through all pain, suffering, resentment, anger, frustration, confusion, dread. And I'm grateful now to be in a much better place.
First of all, although wi-fi was easy enough to get all along the Way, it wasn't consistent. Sometimes I could play games and check email; sometimes I couldn't, and got minimal internet access, even though two or three bars of wi-fi reception would show up. Who knows? I for one have no clue what makes some internet more powerful than other forms. Now I know to ask for a local "locutorio" or internet center in major towns, where I can access a desktop. That's just one of many lessons learned along the Way. I might think about bringing a portable keyboard along with me, but "every ounce counts", so we shall see. I know for this next Camino, summer of 2016, I'm going to try to go ultra-light, which may mean journaling on paper and just typing it all up later. One thing I didn't do this time was journal, so maybe this upcoming Camino (and hopefully others), I can make a point of doing that.

I began in Leon, really wanting to hike 200 miles and best a friend's measly 62 miles or 100 kilometers. He had suggested, in kindness and without condescension, that perhaps I should build up more endurance, lose more weight, and try the Camino next summer. And with love in my heart, without malice, I just thought, "Fuck you. I can do this. I want to do this. I NEED to do this." So I started out, in hope and ignorance, and the very first day of my very first time to hike, I did 17 (!) miles -- and ran right into heat exhaustion. I stopped sweating, vomited about seven or eight times, and felt faint. It was extremely scary. However, I knew that if I wanted water, a room, and food, I had to walk. For an hour or so, I lay down in the shade along the trail right next to one of the major roads, close enough by car -- who knows, perhaps five or ten minutes! -- to Villedangas. And I rested and drank water. Fortunately people kept coming along the trail, always asking if I was okay. That's one of the many good things about the Camino: people are always coming along, and there is such kindness all along the Way.

For the rest of the afternoon, I hopped from shade to shade, resting and drinking as needed. I noted that in the morning, I was walking fast and well, and the hotter and later it got, the slower I got. I got to the hotel FINALLY, which had blessed air conditioning (thank you God) and took the next day off. I took a couple of hot, then cold showers, and drank more water than I thought I could, and realized I needed to keep drinking. And I made sure to take potassium and magnesium tablets; that was a very good thing I did, to bring those, and will again. In fact, the potassium and magnesium might literally have been life-savers, and saved me from heat stroke. Lessons learned: hike in the early morning when it's cool and damp. Big miles are made in the early mornings. Get where you're going by around noon or only a little later because the hotter it is, the slower I walk and the more rest I need to keep from overheating. When you come to a fountain, finish what you have in your bottle, fill and drink again, and once more if necessary. There are always places along the Camino to hop off the trail and pee. Water is life. Drink water all the time.

And people like me who are overweight and diabetic are at increased risk for heat exhaustion, even heat stroke; once you have it, you're more susceptible to it again. Water really did mean life and health; I learned that in a deep way. From then on out, I took heat and hydration very seriously, and had no more bad episodes. And I kept taking, as needed, potassium and magnesium. My fingers didn't swell from needing potassium in my system, and the magnesium helped my endurance and stamina. Since diabetics for some reason are always low on magnesium, I have decided to make this a regular part of my pill regiment. It even helps regulate sleep! But as far as eating goes, I could not get enough sugar or salt. Everyone has told me I lost weight and inches on the Camino. I regretted not being able to eat a vegetarian diet, but by the end of the day, with only initially fluent Spanish and deep tiredness and with an increasingly aching ankle, I ate whatever I could. I was ALWAYS hungry; that's life on any extended hike.

The very good thing along the Camino is that there are always people in front of you and behind you, at any time of the year, any time of day. People were never more than five minutes behind me at any time, and that was a comfort. One wrong step over one badly-positioned rock could mean an end to anyone's Camino. From Villedangas, I made it the next day, 13 miles, for a total of 30 right out of the gate as a first time hiker!, to Hospital del Orbigo. (Not a real hospital, just part of the name. When I posted about that on Facebook, everyone got confused.) I had done 30 miles in three days! I kept marveling the whole Camino over just what my body could do, when I just let it go and walk as much as it really wanted to. That told me that here in America, I didn't walk nearly enough, partly because there just weren't enough local trails that I knew about. Maybe there are. That's part of what I want to discover now that I'm back. It's mid-September, and my ankle is mostly healed. I'm champing at the bit to get out and walk extended walks, even if it is out in the desert. Hiking here in the southwest desert is a different experience than hiking in the green, lush, verdant, stony, hilly, even mountainous Spanish countryside.

From Hospital del Orbigo, I took another day, drank water, took hot then cold showers, to help keep heat exhaustion a memory, not an active burden and health risk I would have to deal with. I was a bit frustrated with myself: ever the optimist and idealist, I thought I'd just be able to walk and walk right from the start, but not so. Although the Way prepares you for the Way, and hiking a lot prepares you to hike a lot, I for one had to build up some more endurance. I had stamina. I had strength. But for an extended hike like this in summer, I built up more endurance over the ensuing weeks. By the end of my Camino, I was doing 10 to 15 mile days consecutively, with no sign of heat exhaustion or exhaustion in general. And it felt fantastic. I would walk six to eight hours, and I had no problems whatsoever with insomnia. My body was always rested.

I really wanted to keep going! Other Caminos, other trails here in the US, other trails in Europe are definitely trips to look forward to in retirement. I want to go back around this time, late August, September, October. It would probably take me a good two and a half to three months to walk the entire Camino Frances, 490 miles or 800 kilometers. While I was there, blackberries and apples were just coming into season. A hike during fall would mean lots of free food along the trail! I ate a handful of early blackberries, and a couple of small apples during this Camino. Yes, a hike right at the beginning of the traditional school year, my first year of retirement, while the fall fruit is just in season, is definitely something I want to do.

But after Hospital del Orbigo, Spain was under a heat advisory. I was feeling it, and knew I could not risk heat exhaustion or heat stroke at all. I knew I had limited time, could really not hike 200 miles as I was wanting to while building up endurance, so I needed to skip ahead with some regret. I bought a bus ticket, changed once, and headed to Sarria, the place 62 miles or 100 km where you have to walk from to get to Santiago, to get the compostela, or certificate of completion. But the bus trip itself was an adventure, an education. I got to trace the trail by eye from the bus, from Hospital del Orbigo to Astorga, where I changed, and then from Astorga to Sarria. It was so mountainous! At this point in my hiking career, I would have had trouble hiking all those mountains. It would have taken me too long, and it would be far better done in fall when the weather is turning cooler. For me, I could not have done it in summer under a heat advisory. But I did get to see what the trail looked like over the next 120 miles.

When I got to Sarria, I felt good that I had indeed bested my friend's goal by 30 miles, a not inconsiderable distance. He had walked from Sarria; I had added more miles for an even 100, which calculated out to over 400,000 steps. Over the 60-plus miles, though, I turned and twisted my left ankle over and over, and realized that a 35 year old injury I had sustained when I was 12 was now going to be something I had to deal with on extended hikes from now on. When I was 12, a friend and I were playing. For some reason, there was a hole in the front lawn of our school. She told me to watch out, but I backed up, fell directly on my ankle, sprained it the worst possible way without breaking it, and was in a cast for a while. I even stayed home from school for a couple of days, the pain was that bad.

For the past 35 years, I knew the old injury to my ankle was there, but it had never bothered me. What had bothered me most of all were shin splints when I was 150 pounds heavier and out of alignment. My ankle, thank goodness, never had until now, when I pounded it for hours on an uneven trail. Fortunately, 150 pounds down, the shin splints disappeared years ago, the more I lost and the more proportional I became. On the Camino, my ankle bothered me intensely because the walking made the tendon tighten up. I had to keep tucking it in and stretching it. I had wanted it to pop, but it only popped a few weeks after I got home and it had begun to shrink down from swelling. My podiatrist said that I had made the tendons and muscles around it very, very tight with repeated steps and repetitive motion injury on a spot that will always be a weak point. In 35 years, it had never seen that much repetitive motion. From now on, when I hike the Camino again summer of 2016 (or do any extended hike), I'll wear an ankle brace on the left ankle all the time, and bring a back-up brace for the right ankle in case I start over-compensating.

So I started out hiking one day, really overdoing it, then having to take a day. I hiked a day, took a day. Then I began to be able to hike two days, and take a day. Then three days and take a day. Near the end of my hike, I was hiking four or five, then taking a day, or hiking five or six days, but taking extended rest stops along the way. I was even, by the end of my Camino, getting used to hiking somewhat in the afternoon, but I always made sure to stay in the shade. For a first-time hiker, I felt amazingly badass. I had learned, adapted, and persevered. I weighed 270 pounds, but I had hiked 100 miles in about three and a half weeks. That meant an average of 33 miles a week, so not too shabby, and certainly far more than most Americans ever walk in a week, perhaps even a month. And of course I wanted to do it again! (I did recently buy my airfare for LAX to CDG, Charles de Gaul Airport in Paris. From CDG I'll take the TGV train to Bayonne or Biarritz, then take a bus to St. Jean Pied de Port, and start my next Camino at the traditional starting point of the Camino Frances, and see just how much I can walk in a month's time. This time, 150 miles? 200 miles going ultra-light or using a sherpa baggage transfer service? Let's see! I am SO excited!)

One of the blessings I had along the way was meeting Kathy, an older woman from New York state, in a little cafe outside of Leon. It was my very first day and I needed a cafe con leche and something to eat for breakfast. Kathy had walked a Camino before, and I learned later she had walked all the way this time from Lourdes. I learned also later that her husband was with the military based in Germany; she was also a long-time mother of four nearly grown or already grown kids. And she was so relaxed, open, laid-back, easy-going -- traits I admire but don't have myself. She's one of what is called the "long walkers": people who start off from their front doorsteps or a site outside one of the traditional Camino trails, and meet up with it along the way. I met some people who said they had walked from Sweden! Long walkers like Kathy and the Swedish hikers get maximum respect on the trail, with reason.

Much later on, three weeks later in fact, in a little cafe out in the middle of nowhere, within a day or two of the Camino, within a day or two of Santiago, I met Kathy again! Kathy kept complimenting me, after we found each other again, telling me how that very first day she thought I just didn't look quite balanced (I wasn't, quite), and how I had picked up my trail feet and gotten my balance. It was nice to hear, especially from a long walker. She, I, and another woman, Pam, walked most of the rest of the way into Santiago together, and I saw Kathy again several times inside Santiago Cathedral, where we attended masses in English and Spanish. (My one disappointment was that I did not get to see the Botofumiero, or massive incense holder, swing during a mass!) Running into Kathy again, especially out in the middle of nowhere at a roadside cafe, and meeting a new hiking friend, was such a blessing. It made finishing the Camino a little sweeter with amiable companionship.

The Camino brings you to people who you need to meet; it's one of the mysteries of the Camino. I had read it, wondered exactly what that meant, then experienced it with Kathy when we first met, and with Kathy and Pam weeks later. For this Camino, I found no one who really irked me or with whom I argued, and that was a blessing. That said to me that I was hiking my hopes and dreams, not my fears or issues. The only minor annoyance was that one morning, there were a group of young hikers. One blasted tunes from a boombox. But I thought, like the teacher I am, it's what they needed for stimulation. Music for them was a boost that helped them hike, like silence and solitude was my boost. It was a bit too early in the morning for my taste, but I knew as a "snail hiker" that they would soon pass me, and take their bouncy if slightly annoying music with them, and leave me to my blessed silence.

Another mystery was that I felt absolutely pulled along, compelled to finish my Camino. Every day I took off I still felt like I really wanted to be out there walking along the trail. Perhaps because the Camino lies on ley lines, directly under the Milky Way, I always felt a surge of clean energy when I was out walking on it. And yet, when I got to Santiago, the spell of the Camino simply vanished. I felt Sant Iago, Saint James, pulling and urging me along. Throughout my Camino, I had prayed to Sant Iago several times: help me make it up this hill, please let me come upon water, thank you for the shade and the breeze. He seemed to hear my prayers better when I could phrase them in Spanish, but he heard me in English, too. I felt pulled along the Way, but I when had made it, I metamorphosed effortlessly from being a pilgrim into being a tourist. I had also picked up one hiking pole along the way (next time, two, worth the expense -- it's iffy to pack them due to TSA regulations), and that helped my balance, feet, knees, ankles, and weight enormously. Hiking poles function like shock absorbers. They are worth their weight in gold. Maybe Kathy noticed I had developed my trail feet because I was using my hiking pole and that gave me added confidence.

This time, though, I want to go ultra-light, and see just how light I can get my pack. I carried a basic Jansport backpack, nothing technical, no proper hiking backpack, although I might go for one later on, if it's significantly lighter. But even though I kept the weight down to about 12 pounds, that has had major impact on my ankles and feet. By the time I walked into Santiago and the Plaza Obradoiro, I was hobbling. I had ankle pain, obviously, but also shooting pains down the outside edges of my feet. My shoes by this time were just shot, and this was even a second pair I had had to buy in Melide. Since I tend to under-pronate, or walk on the outside of my feet, this shooting pain was pronounced with now worn-out shoes and significant pounding for hours every day along a rocky, uneven trail. One of the BEST things I did was ship clothes and new shoes to myself. Indeed, that motivated me quite a bit to finish the Camino, since I packed them in a backpack I wanted very much to reclaim. This backpack had lots of patches on it that I had hand-sewed; all the patches were from past trips which represented experiences and memories that I wanted to keep. I could not let that backpack go, so I knew I would pick it up in Santiago, preferably by walking to it, or if needed, by train or bus if I could not complete the Camino. I picked them up at the Santiago Correos (post office) center. It was a gift to myself. Praise be to thinking ahead!

I had also read that the Camino teaches you lessons that keep coming long after you've stopped walking the trail, and this is true. I appreciated the immediate lessons about hydration and heat. I appreciated learning what my body could do, what it needed, and how much food, water, and rest to give it. But I've learned most of all that our whole life is a Camino. Quite a lot is out of our control, but what matters is how we react when we face challenges, obstacles, setbacks, or shifts in our plans. We can go around, climb over, or go through. But most of all, perseverance and determination plus self-care do a lot to make a physical Camino, plus our own life walk, a pleasant one for the long haul.

More later on being a displaced teacher, thoughts about the final year and the past seven years at my old school, the principal (who shall henceforth be referred to as Dr. No, a Bond reference and short for Dr. Always Says No, Dr. Nothing, Dr. Nobody, Dr. Do-Nothing, Dr. Be-Nothing, Dr. No-Help, ad nauseam. And more later on being placed in a really good high school, and receiving a pleasant, kind welcome that made me realize just how bad in some ways the previous seven years had been.
And my Camino is now closer than ever! I´m here, I´m finally here, and it´s good, especially after checking into a really good hotel with really good air conditioning. I took a siesta this afternoon, and have never felt more refreshed.

There´s a lot to catch up on. I know I blogged some about my awful third period, and they did not disappoint. Right up until the last day, I was fighting them tooth and nail, although we did have a good last two months when inspiration struck and I made them put their backpacks by the door. Still, there was an egg thrown, just like before we put the backpacks by the door, there was an onion thrown. It just still amazes me that some kid would go to all the trouble to bring an onion, and even moreso, a fragile egg, to school, keep it until third period, JUST to throw. I´ll never understand.

And I´ll especially never understand because now I´m a displaced teacher. I knew about it, though, well before my principal and assistant principal told me. I had wanted, for next year, to move into a better room. When I asked my principal about it, he said to ask him tomorrow. We had already been told that there were going to be displacements, and in that moment, when he didn´t give me a simple yes or no, I knew. And I was okay with it.

It had been a hard seven years at that school. I came in under a cloud with Prima Donna SourKraut and her gossip and pettiness and narcissism. The principal, ever a cold fish who never bothered to learn any kids´names, was impossible to connect with because he himself was a narcissist. But the school was so convenient! A seven minute drive or a 50 minute walk. And I might try to go back, once the school has improved and taken on more students. ç

But today here I am in Leon, Spain. I start my Camino day after tomorrow. I´ve elected to have a second night here in Leon, because my first couple of nights have been less than ideal with not nearly enough sleep. I took a siesta this afternoon and have never felt better, better certainly than I have felt for the past couple of days.

Going to London, I got no sleep on my flight, partly due to the brightness of the screens. I´m sensitive to that, and it reduces melatonin if I look for too long, right before bedtime, at a computer screen. I just don´t feel sleepy, and it´s way too easy just to stay up all night. I suppose as I´ve gotten older, I´ve gotten much more sensitive to melatonin suppression, so now before bed, for several hours, I try not to be too close to a computer screen. Even my phone screen can suppress melatonin to the point where it´s difficult to go to bed.

I got to London, got to my hotel, and I had made a mistake in my booking, fortunatel only for 10% of the total, probably less than $10. I had no room. The people at the front desk offered me an air mattress for 15 pounds, which I happily accepted. But when I came back from eating and walking around, there were people in the common area that just would not leave. I talked to the new guy behind the desk, and he didn´t feel comfortable asking them to leave, and neither did I. I sat there for a while and looked at hotels and other hostels, but just didn´t want to pay because I realized that since my flight here to Leon left at 6.25am, I needed to get to Heathrow in just a few hours. It would not be worth the money to pay for a full hotel room. It would be far easier, and better, just to kip down somewhere in Heathrow for a few hours, and get some sleep there. And that´s what I did.

Even on the London bus to get to Heathrow, I got an unexpected blessing. I didn´t realize that London buses no longer give change, and the driver wasn´t very helpful. Suddenly, this guy comes up and gives me a travel card! By the time I was on the bus, it was around 11.30pm, so the travel card was almost expired for the day, but it was a blessing. Yes, I could have walked back a few steps to the Tesco grocery store and gotten one, but this saved me steps, and it was utterly kind. I felt very blessed and very grateful.

So for the past two nights, I´ve snatched sleep where I could, up to 50% at a time, which is survival sleep only. Today´s siesta, a good long sleep of several hours, was amazingly restorative. I don´t think I´ll have any problem whatsoever finding food here in Leon, investigating the cathedral, locating the post office, then coming back here to the hotel and crashing again. Tomorrow I´m taking off and not beginning my Camino immediately. I feel like my body needs a good, solid 24 hours of rest before I´m able to start.

And already, after our flight landed, I met one pilgrim who was on the plane with me from Barcelona here to Leon. She was going to begin today, so I´ve already lost her on the path, but such is the Way. In the taxi from the airport, I saw several peregrinos, one a man leading a donkey and a dog! I saw several with hiking poles. I´m not sure if I want or need a hiking pole. I might investigate if I can find a place that sells them, and if one feels right and isn´t that expensive, then maybe.

I need to go find food and get a few more steps in. I want to see the cathedral here. I want to begin my pilgrimage from there, and say that I went from cathedral to cathedral, Leon to Santiago. The more I think about this, the more intimidated I am about being a pilgrim. What have I gotten myself into? Am I going to be able to do this? There´s really only one way to find out. From what all I´ve read, the best thing is not to think about all the miles and the distance you have to go, but simply just to start walking and keep walking. See where the road takes you. Just remember to eat and drink, and listen to the body. And that´s what I plan to do. After all, I would be walking the same amount of steps every day, out and about. This trip, I´m just concentrating my steps in a far more organized way than I´ve ever done before.

So tomorrow, exploration of Leon, more exploration of the cathedral. I want to get my pilgrim credential stamped, so I´ll have access to the albergues along the Way. I´ll find a post office, Correos, and post my backpack of fresh clothes and shoes ahead, poste restante, to Santiago, thereby creating a massive inducement to get to Santiago, simply so I´ll have fresh clothes and brand new shoes waiting for me. And more rest tonight. More water tonight and tomorrow. It´s crucial.

I just hope I can deal with the heat along this pilgrimage. I know having lost 150 pounds that I´m way better able to deal with heat, but the proof is in the walking. So we shall see. I also know that I´ll be walking uphill and downhill, and even attempting parts of the ¨Camino duro¨or the hard Camino, right before getting into Sarria and the last 62 miles/100 km that one must do in order to earn the Compostela.

In my pride and possibly foolishness, I decided to do three times as much as a dear friend who already walked part of the Way suggested. He in fact tried to tell me that I might put off doing it for a year. He didn´t think I was in good enough shape, and the most he suggested doing was from Sarria, and that, he said, was pretty tough going. Nope, not for me. I determined to start from here, Leon, and walk 200 miles/300 km of the Camino. And most of all, I wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could, that I had it in me, that I was in good enough shape, and had enough endurance and stamina. And now that it´s here, I´m having a few second thoughts, but only because I have never done this before. Tomorrow, I´ll start. And God willing, I will do it, and get more fit along the way, develop more stamina and more endurance, perhaps than I ever thought possible.

Off to find food and explore the city. More as I can and as I´m able. I don´t know what the situation with wi-fi is along the small towns here in northern Spain, so it might be catch as catch can. I´m excited, if a little trepidatious. This is going to be the ultimate adventure for me as a traveler!

taking a day off, catching up on everything

This year I've taken off a lot of time from work, all for various reasons: doctor's appointments, days when I knew I had to catch up on sleep from an insomniac night before and would be useless in class, and to help J-- after he's come out of the hospital. He's doing well, but my role as a caregiver has expanded. Much like childcare, caregiving often requires that I take time off from my job. I can only hope that my administration at my school understand that. I also hope that next year, he'll be even better and more independent, and I won't have to take off nearly so much time, but life happens. I refuse to feel guilty about taking time off to care for him and for myself. My health -- physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually -- is important, and I prioritize it.

I just sent off a request for information from a nearby university that also offers online work. I'm applying for the school counselor program. For the past couple of years, I've thought that it's time to get out of the classroom, having done it for 20+ years now. I can feel the edges of being burned out, and Common Core, although overall a good thing, adds more pressure, as does the ever-increasing, ever-insane levels of testing. I'm mostly just ready for something else new and different, ready to expand my horizons and continue in education because I'm invested for my pension, but do something different.

This program would meet once a week, and would take me three to three and a half years to complete. I have about seven or eight more years anyway, and this would give me something else to work toward, a new goal. Right now, I have no real goals professionally, and while I don't find that worrisome, it is boring. I'm 47; I'm a veteran teacher, and "just hanging in there til retirement" doesn't cut it for me. I need new horizons. However, that said, even if/when I complete this program, it doesn't guarantee that I'll get an immediate placement. I've also heard that you can be called up out of the blue and told to report to a different school the next day! It would be sad and disconcerting to leave (abandon!) students in the middle of a semester, but truthfully, I'd jump at the chance. So maybe this will work out. Time will tell.

This past winter break was one of the bleakest I've ever experienced, with my husband first in the hospital for a month and a half, then in a distant recovery hospital, for a total of two months. I didn't get to go home to Louisiana for the first time since I moved out here in 1997, so I'm REALLY looking forward to spring break in a week and a half (YES!). I'm looking forward to time off, time with family, time to chill out, and mostly to unstructured time. My time is so over-structured, and the needs of life so many and so various, that ironically I had to take off time today to deal with an impending observation tomorrow, as well as take care of other stuff around home that needs to be dealt with as well. Pretty ironic to have to take off work in order to complete work at home! But whatever it takes, that's what I'll do.

Already I'm feeling relieved, having gotten some online work out of the way and completed. The observation tomorrow will go okay, I'm sure, and the debrief on Friday will be okay as well. And then the observation will be done for this school year. I and many others hope that this particular observation system will go the way of the dodo since it is intense, rigorous, wordy, and rather pedantic, and takes entirely too much time. Teachers and administrators both hate it. However, what will replace it, who knows? Let's just hope it's not worse!

I was NOT pleased that my principal decided to observe me twice in one semester, since I took time off during the first semester when my husband was ill and recuperating slowly. At first I was angry and resentful, and made my displeasure known, albeit politely and professionally. By the time they contacted me about this second observation, just a few weeks after the first, I was simply resigned: let's just get it over with. I'm not putting on any dog and pony show, just amping up what I intended to teach anyway. An added benfit will be that this activity will generate textual analysis charts that I can hang up in my classroom; these will look very impressive for parent conferences next week. It's nice to have enough experience and confidence that I don't feel the need to go all-out anymore, just be thorough and encourage quality thinking, reading, writing, and speaking.

I'm also looking very forward to traveling this summer at the end of June and the first of July. I fly to London, as usual, but then I need to decide what I'm going to do. I recently saw a movie, "The Way" starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Estevez, about people who walk the Camino de Santiago. Sheen in the movie plays a father who travels to Europe to reclaim his son's body; the son had just started to walk the Camino and was killed in a freak storm. I got pulled into the story, despite its somewhat under-developed parts and a few stereotypes, and laughed and cried. And the more I've read and seen, the more I want to walk the Camino as a pilgrim, or peregrina. For me it would be both a religious experience and excellent exercise: six or seven days covering 100 kilometers, walking from France into Spain.

There is a company called Camino Ways that provides a sherpa service. For the last 100 kilometers, they transport your bag to the next hostel or hotel, and you walk that day, carrying only necessities like food, water, and clothing, like a poncho or sweater or jacket. I might very well take advantage of this, since I bring one backpack with EVERYTHING I need, plus a carry-on with nutrition bars. It would be nice not to have to lug everything in case there are steep hills or rocks, where I would need all my balance. I'm sure my knees will thank me, as well as my feet.

I can also tell that I'm getting fitter and stronger; looking at the distances, I'm not at all intimidated. Six, seven miles a day is something I can do now, with only a little extra effort. I was regularly walking that much and more every single day in Spain and Andorra this past summer.

But after that, I'm not sure. Part of me would like to go and hike the West Highland Way in Scotland, always a pleasure to go to, although for a teacher who hasn't had a cost of living increase or any kind of raise in eight years, the UK is expensive nowadays. That's a possibility. The other possibility is to go down to the Balkans -- Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia -- especially to hike Plitvice National Park again, where I left a part of my heart. I need to look at a map, plan, and strategize.

Other than all that, things are going okay. Students this year are okay: a bit slap-happy, lazy, and immature, but overall kind. One class I had major problems with in fall semester has begun to calm down and mature, although school security and discipline are nearly completely lacking, so we all just do what we can. I and MANY others sincerely hope that the principal will move on or retire. We need fair, firm, consistent discipline with someone who is more assertive and hands-on and pro-active. No matter what, things will change as they always do.

I'm tired, really tired this year from kids who aren't adequately parented at home, and who regularly push boundaries every day. I'm noticing that all my colleagues are tired from constantly having to enforce boundaries and limits. We have kids and years like this, but having a supportive administration helps loads. As I said, we do what we can. Ten more weeks! These last few weeks will be a complete overload of trying to get everything done, but that's what spring semester is. Oh and I'll have to move classrooms, but I'm excited, since I'm moving right next door to the room I had a few years ago. This particular room, and the rooms like it in this area, have two BIG, LONG boards so I can write more and won't have to copy as much! Plus this room has more storage space and is on a solid foundation. The room I'm in now is a bungalow off the ground, so occasionally the floor squeaks. And even though I teach two grade levels, I have one small board, divided into half so I have to make copies all the time. Moving is always a bit of a hassle, but this year I'm determined to pare down, throw out, and scale down my stuff, especially stuff I just haven't used in years.

More later, especially about travel this summer.
As many readers know, I never had kids and never wanted kids. In my 20s, I was grateful to discover all the childfree blogs and books. They saved my sanity throughout my 20s and 30s.

But as my 30s passed into my 40s, the whole childfree thing became rather a moot point, mainly because I am, and have been for quite a while, post-menopausal. Just as my periods started BAM! when I was nine (!) years old, they ended with very nearly the same abrupt BAM when I was 42. That's it, thank you, the ride is now over. Such, such relief.

Lately, though, I've been thinking about that brief window of time in my 20s, during my first marriage, when I actually contemplated having *A* child, and just gave up. Mainly, it felt monumental, like I'd be climbing forever uphill. If it's true that it takes a village to raise a child, then in my 20s, I had no village. I did not know how to create said village. And the thought of actively involving yet more people in my life when I was firmly on the path to knowing myself to be an introvert... well, just no. I think that's the main reason that whenever I thought about having kids, I'd just sigh and shrink inside. Way, way, WAY too much work. Too much effort. Too much time, too much money, too many resources I didn't have, didn't know if I'd ever have.

So had my life been different -- one of my favorite thought experiments -- and if I had decided I really wanted a kid, what would I have had to have done to make this come about? How would I have created a village? Here is a non-exhaustive list of things, people, resources, and more that I think I would have needed, but it's probably not nearly complete.

-- regular, reliable, affordable babysitting services while I completed my degree -- NOT AVAILABLE THEN OR NOW
-- reliable, enthusiastic mate who also wanted a child -- NOT AVAILABLE THEN OR NOW
-- enough money to feed a child and myself -- NOT AVAILABLE THEN, BARELY AVAILABLE NOW
-- enough diapers and all the accoutrements that kids need just to be presentable -- UGH

Actually I can't think of anything else because the list would just be too overwhelming. I didn't have any of that. Most of all, I had no one who actually would have helped me. There was no one. My ex-husband never wanted a child. I had family in the area but I would not ever have wanted to impose on my brother and his wife. My sister and father lived 90 miles away. I didn't have nearly enough money to feed and clothe myself, much less anyone else. And more importantly, I had NO CLUE how to go about getting a village together. I'm not good at reaching out to others and asking for help. In fact, I'm loathe to do that. I'd much, much, MUCH rather handle everything on my own as much as possible.

I didn't want to have to deal with an obstetrician. I've heard many, many, many reports from many women of being infantilized, of being treated as if the woman didn't know her own body and this anonymous doctor knew better than. NO. I didn't want to have to deal with other mothers; I didn't want to compete vicariously through a child. I didn't want to have to deal with being a teacher and putting a child through school. I didn't want to deal with any part of it, especially any part that included other people.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend, who said he can see the appeal of pets over children because pets offer unchallenging love, while people are exceptionally challenging even at the best of times to love. I am all for un-challenging love at home. There's a guy I know who said that he loved the challenges of parenting; once again, I just sighed and shrunk inside. JESUS, to go out in the world and be challenged all day, and then come home to be met with challenges and backtalk? No, no no no no no. Could. Not. Handle.

I'm glad the door of any possible pregnancy and parenthood is now firmly closed. It's just such a relief, and a road I was never meant to travel. I absolutely do not have what it takes.
Fortunately the last couple of days I´ve been here could not have been better for weather. The daily rains that the desk receptionist said were coming every day since June apparently let up, luckily for me, not that I would have minded rain at all. And so today, Naturlandia! This is the culmination of my trip, and a real dream come true.

I rode the ToboTronc SIX times. I LOVE downhill toboganning.

The first time I got to Naturlandia was by taxi. The desk receptionist said I could take two buses, but that sounded time-consuming and difficult. It really wasn´t since I did it on the way back. I have to remember, Andorra is SMALL, very, very small. Nothing here is more than about 10 miles from any border.

However, I must admit, on the first ride there via taxi, I was a little fearful. The taxi driver took me way up into the mountains, and although she was a very good driver, she was taking twisty, turny, hairpin mountain curves at, to my mind, a rather breakneck speed. I hung on to the door! We got there in one piece, suffice to say, but I was very happy to get out of that taxi. Yesterday on the gigantic coach, I absolutely could not look out the side over the great expanse or drop-off of the mountain. I HAD to look on the inside of the curve. And I´m not even afraid of heights, but when someone else is driving, I have to give up control, so I know it´s a small control issue.

Naturlandia! A total dream come true. A VERY active day out. I stopped twice to eat and drink, but from about 10am to 5.30pm, I was going hard. I rode the ToboTronc six times. I did archery, and I took a turn in the Jeep pedal buggies.

TurboTronc was simply amazing. First of all, I fit quite easily into the seat, and that was a relief and a thrill. I love how as I´m losing weight and gaining muscle, I fit more easily into everything, without even a second look. For the first 10 minutes, you do nothing: you´re simply going up the mountain, approximately 25 meters behind the person in front.

There was a point where I came to a first stop along the way, and from there, I really started zinging down the mountain at top speed. Just grand. I had to get used to it of course; the operator at the beginning said to use even MORE speed coming down so I wouldn´t hold back other people on the way down. So I did just that. I have to admit, in a downhill activity like this, my weight does work in my favor, especially taking the corners, and in going downhill overall. It worked so well, in fact, that a couple of times I got behind slower, first time people and had to slow way down.

From there, I went and did archery for a little while, but it was really a joke. Naturlandia had extremely cheap bows, the exact same brand I picked up at a local Los Angeles sporting goods store. And their arrows were atrocious, not well kept up at all. Everyone only got three arrows at a time, and one arrow completely missed the entire target, no matter how carefully I aimed.

None of the arrows had all three fletches. Every single arrow was missing at least one fletch, and the other two, plastic as they were, were coming undone. Had they had better equipment, I would have done more for longer, but I quit in disgust after about 30 or 45 minutes. I suppose I´m spoiled having trained at a JOAD center in Los Angeles (Junior Olympic Archery Division) with really good equipment and a really good, if slightly picky and snooty, archery community.

My one slight peeve with Naturlandia is that it´s still not quite tourist friendly. They have the main park at 1,600 meters up the mountain, and they have a whole other part of the park at 2,000 meters further up, a distance of 400 meters as the crow flies, but eight kilometers to walk or drive. Mind you, there are tons of things to do at the main park, and I was quite satisfied there all day long for many hours. The park desperately needs a chair lift!

It´s possible to get a bus, I realized only belatedly as I was leaving, but it´s an Andorran bus. The park needs their OWN bus, to run on a 10-15 minute interval, bringing people up or down from one part of the park to the other. In fact, Naturlandia could do with one bus inside the park, for the two levels, but furthermore, they could use a bus within Andorra to ferry tourists to and from their hostels or hotels up to Naturlandia and/or back. There´s money to be made there, for them. And they should also install a chair lift. These people should pay me for being a tourist consultant!

Now, having eaten dinner and gotten back to my very nice hotel, I´m preparing to call it a day, go up and read for a while, and prepare for a lot of sitting tomorrow, alas. At around noon, my Novatel bus comes and picks me up to go to Barcelona. That´s about three and a half hours. From Barcelona, another three and a half hours to Madrid, Atocha station. From Atocha station, the Metro to the airport, where I have an airport hotel for two days until I fly back home.

I realize that all the way out by the airport that I´ll be a little cut off from the main part of Madrid, but I was right in predicting that by this time in my travels, I´m a bit tired. If I´m correct, the hotel should have some excursions available, so I might just book there at the hotel. If not, it´s not that much extra to go into Madrid and walk around and do some last minute shopping or looking. I´d love to do a coach tour of Avila and Segovia for the day, beginning and ending at my Madrid hotel, then come back, eat dinner, and crash. Rather touristy, but one needs touristy stuff along with more adventuresome traveler stuff as well.

Tomorrow I´ll write more as soon as I can get checked in. This trip has been awesome, and I´m more than pleased at how everything has gone. I´d love to do this trip again, and fill in more gaps of all the stuff I missed the first time or just didn´t have time to do. Or another trip would be to begin again in Madrid, then go down to Granada and see the city and the Alhambra, then go over into Portugal, or go down into Morocco, and go back up to Madrid. Both itineraries would be easy to do. However, Andorra holds a special place in my heart, and there´s more to do here to warrant at least one more trip. I´m indifferent to the shopping, but hiking the nature trails, doing Naturlandia again, and going up on the chair lift again, YES!

So until tomorrow, adios and adio´. I´ll write more when I can.