Archive for August, 2015


Terrible dreams last night.  In one, Stubb had been diagnosed with leukemia, and I felt helpless and panicked and out of time.  This dream was mostly about my feelings, which is why it seems as though it might be a teaching dream–about the anxiety of not knowing what to do and feeling that whatever one does, something terrible will happen.

Well, that and the fact that it happened two nights before the first day of school.

In the other, I was on the last day of a visit to Hometown, and I realized I’d forgotten to visit my grandmother.  (In real life, she died in 2009.) I was trying to figure out how to see her and also do the other things that mattered to me, wondering if I could also stop by on the way to the airport the next day, thereby having two visits.  I was also horrified at myself for forgetting, but unwilling to give up any of the other plans I’d made.

This could easily be a dream about teaching and administration.  Or it could simply be the residue of having spent quite a lot of minutes this weekend trying to figure out how to use the weekend well.  I split yesterday among course prep (reread 1984), errands (restocking the fridge and pantry, laundry), yoga, and conferring with N. (my mom’s friend, who is extremely handy, retired, and always up for a project) about a broken faucet.  (He went to Home Depot to buy a new assembly and ended up coming back with a more plumbing-oriented handyman he’d met there, who installed it for $70.  A good use of $70–N. could certainly have done it, but he wouldn’t have done it as fast, and he’d have had to buy supplies that this man had in his truck.)

Today, Sunday, the big thing is going in to campus to finish prepping the things there that didn’t get done during the week of meetings and interruptions.  I tried to figure out how to go to yoga and to Costco before going to campus, but the hours of both put me on campus too late for my own comfort, so I’m going to school first, then my mom’s to pay N. for the faucet, then Costco, maybe to my in-laws’ for a quick visit (should also call to see if they need anything from Costco), and yoga tomorrow night.

Here’s to peaceful dreams tonight!

New leaf

Feeling better.  Stubb and I have tentative plans for a weekend getaway in a few weeks.  And my brain has been taken over by the excitement of going back to school.

I have never had so many meetings in one week!  Fortunately, they were generally worthwhile, and some of them were excellent, with actual decisions being made and positive actions being taken.  The new AHS doesn’t say a lot, but what he says is very much to the point.  The new Head of School is more voluble–no surprise there–but he is also pretty concise and extremely thoughtful.  They both seem to be making tremendous efforts to meet people and to understand the institution they’re now steering.  I invited them both to come to the English department meeting, and they did!  So now they can recognize the members of our department and they’ve gotten a sense of what kinds of things we are working on, individually and departmentally.

Dinah and I are on a faculty committee to advise the new HS on the transition–that was one of the better meetings this week.  I think we all agreed that it feels good so far.  We did raise a couple of the most prominent grumbles of the moment, which seem to us to be symptomatic of our ongoing challenges with internal communication.  So it’s not that everything is perfect, but that the right notes have been struck, both to reassure and to infuse with enthusiasm.  While there is definitely a sense that the leadership has changed, that leadership seems congruent with the direction in which the institution has been trying to move anyway.

This week of meetings is actually challenging in a way I don’t think I’ve noticed before.  It’s important and fun to spend time with adults and have lunch together and organize our classrooms and make plans for the year ahead, but it’s also a week in which we are not performing our core function of teaching–and are maybe suffering from opening-night jitters–and it’s therefore a week in which many of us are easily unsettled.  Within my department, I fielded a few overreactions–at least that’s how they seemed to me–and I am greatly looking forward to everyone getting busy with the main business of our jobs this week.



The getaway

My niece (who is 8, born the summer I started this blog) is spending the night tonight and going to a family yoga class with me in the morning.  Stubb and the Snork Maiden are away.  Niece is asleep and I’m scrolling through Facebook and seeing, among the political posts and the funny ones, quite a few pictures of people’s late-summer vacations and last-chance weekends away.  I’m finding myself suddenly sharply envious of the ones who are spending a week settled down somewhere with relatively little to do–a cabin in the woods, a condo at the beach, even an over-the-top luxury resort (there are two in my feed right now–one in Hawaii and one somewhere in southern California).

And, embarrassingly but undeniably, I’m feeling petulant about not going anywhere for something vacationlike this summer.  I was away for my usual conference, and there are many pleasures associated with that, but unscheduled downtime is not one of them.  I had planned a trip in July to stay in a rustic little AirBnB cabin for almost a week, having solo time to write but also visiting with a friend teaching at a nearby low-residency and another friend in a city two hours away.  But I ended up cancelling it because of issues with my mom’s and Stubb’s dad’s health.  That was the right decision, but because of the way I’d planned the summer, there wasn’t another chunk of time to devote to something similar–and the residency week was over, so it would have had to have been somewhere else.  (I also lost the AirBnB money–the place had a fairly strict cancellation policy, which makes me a little more wary of AirBnB in the future. Got the plane fare back, though, because I bought trip insurance, which I rarely do.) Also, I’m not sure even now that I’d feel really okay about going anywhere, since Stubb is away for work, and while my mom is fine now, his parents are still having a somewhat rocky time.

I really am excited about going back to school, but at the same time, I really wish I had had a bona fide vacation trip.  (I have also recently read several articles about the importance of taking vacations and recharging in general.  Maybe I should just get off the New York Times and Facebook.)  I just spent a little time looking at the possibility of a weekend away, either right before school starts, or on one of the first weekends of September.  I remember enjoying a quick getaway with the Snork Maiden in 2009 and feeling refreshed by it even though it was quite short.

I feel a little sheepish complaining about this–I know I get more trips than a lot of people–but what is this blog space for, if I can’t complain about stuff that bugs me?  Also, the subject of how to take care of myself is not a trivial one. I work hard and I show up for other people–Stubb, the Snork Maiden, relatives and friends–when they need me.

There have been good parts to this summer: lots of reading.  A decent amount of writing–and a very supportive and enthusiastic response from my writing group to the section I gave them in July. Leisurely time with friends. Even some nice close moments during the various health crises–it’s good to be able to be there for people when they need you.  Some lovely Snork Maiden time (not much with Stubb, though–he’s been away a lot).  Continuing to develop a yoga practice.  So I know I’ve benefitted from the time away from school and will come back at least somewhat restored.  Planning a little break will probably give me an additional boost–and in the meantime, staying off Facebook is not a bad idea.

Mistaken identity

Or maybe I’m just wrong. My essay workshop met in two separate groups today, each for ninety minutes, and both groups were friendly, focused, followed directions, and got quite a lot done. Totally different energy.  Part of it might have been that I had rearranged the room into a more traditional rowlike arrangement; we’d been in a big circle the first day, which might have been a mistake, because they were all excited to see one another.  On the other hand, the counselors had talked at them in an auditorium for the first two hours of the day, so there might have been no way around the outbursts of energy and socializing when they got into smaller rooms.

Whatever the reason for the difference, I find that now I’m way more optimistic about teaching this grade again.  (I had about 35 of them last year as juniors, and will have roughly the same number as seniors–some repeats, some not.)

An essay concerning human understanding

I generally enjoy the few days of college essay workshops in August, though today the rising seniors were restless and goofy.  It’s a weird class, this one–it has a rep as being difficult, and the kids know it, unfortunately.  I’m thinking that part of the issue might be that this class seems unusually fractured into groups, and more cliquey than other grades I’ve taught.  SA is small enough that pretty much everyone knows everyone else, and that almost no one only belongs to one friendship/activity/affinity group.  The Snork Maiden, for example, has a few groups: one is a group of five more or less like-minded female friends who do things together and are friendly with a lot of people, but not social butterflies; she is also part of a theater group, girls and boys; and she has the band kids, within which she’s particularly tight with a sub-group of awesome nerdy boys with whom she’s been friends since sixth grade. She also has a good male friend in band–a bassist who’s not really friends with the awesome nerdy boys–and therefore is a part of his friendship group, which includes his girlfriend and some of her friends, who are second- or third-tier social butterflies in the junior and senior classes.  And she has another good male friend, the son of a staff member and therefore someone with whom she’s sometimes been thrown together, and she sometimes hangs out with his friends, though she’s more likely to see him one-on-one.  This kind of omnivorous friendship style is pretty typical at SA, although many kids would also have an athletic team context that provides another group of friends.

In this class, however–and I might be misreading it, because I am an adult and only have a limited understanding of their extremely complex social world–there does not seem to be so much mobility between groups.  The football and boys’ basketball teams are particularly packlike, and seem to hang together more than usual.  However, senior year does do weird things, and it may be that there will be some loosening of boundaries and more mixing of groups.  I think I may want to spend extra time with my senior classes at the outset, getting them to trust one another and connect.  I’m not quite sure what I will do, but today made me think it might be important.

I have been taking a little break from writing them short cheerful notes on their first drafts. The essays tend to be overly earnest and expansive at first, but they will get better.  Five more comments tonight and I’m done.

The little friend

Just a brief note to say that I ended up talking with the AHS for over two hours.  There was just so much to discuss!  He’s very eager to understand how things have been done in the past, and why.  We seem to have similar perspectives about some of the directions we need to go in.  For example, the faculty evaluation process we have is superficial and legalistic–it does a fine job of documenting problems with people who aren’t going to work out, but is pretty useless at describing and affirming what basically successful teachers are doing well and helping identify and focus on particular areas in which they can improve. Because I had been part of a committee that interviewed the new AHS, I’d heard about the process he used at his previous school, and I liked his approach–it was one of the things that made me think he’d be a good choice, and I also felt that he wasn’t someone who would come bursting in and upset everyone by changing the process around right away.  There’s a lot of change happening at SA right now, and while the people who’ve been on campus all summer seem pretty energized and upbeat, I’m expecting some anxiety and freakouts when the full faculty returns.

I felt like a fish trying to describe the water it swims in, but it was a great conversation and has been followed up by back-and-forth emails sharing documents and so forth.

We also talked about the current state of the department, and the somewhat fuzzy role of the department chair, which sounds like it’s going to be clarified in the direction of more authority and more responsibility.  This works for me, although I suspect it will not work for everyone.

Twenty-one stories

Oh, that last post was so many library books ago.  I’ve read the fourth volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle, put the novel  Hausfrau aside after growing impatient with it, read some of the new Lydia Davis collection (her work is so concentrated, I can only read one or a few pieces at a time), a Sarah Manguso book, some of Ken Jennings’ Maphead, some of Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Can We Talk about Race?–a What Now? recommendation.  Still several very desirable books on my holds list–who knows how many of them I’ll get to (the reissue of Oreo by Fran Ross, the Oliver Sacks memoir, a different Sarah Manguso book, the Pierpont novel mentioned in the last post, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout).  Still need to get to those school readings, too.

Twenty-one days left of summer.  Or, rather, until the first day of school–of course there will be a rising babble of school-related noise over the next three weeks.  Murmurs begin tomorrow, as I meet with our new associate head of school, the man who’s taken the GGE’s position.  Most of it, that is; having been at SA so long, the GGE had become the person to whom one brought nearly everything, and it’s surely not possible (or desirable) for the new AHS to be that person right out of the gate.  Even in the waning months of the school year, I thought I was seeing greater autonomy from Ivanhoe and other senior administrators; they seemed to be making decisions that would previously have had to go up the line to the GGE or the then-Head of School.  A good development, too, I thought; the place has gotten too big to be overseen so closely by two people. I asked for this meeting to go over a few immediate questions about our department before the school year begins; it may be that some of these items are not things he can decide on, but he seems like the right place to start.

I’m anticipating a lot of much-needed growth and change in our organization and our processes, with a certain amount of accompanying confusion and uncertainty.  In some ways, I reflect, having two new bosses (for that’s what it is, really) is like starting a new job–one can’t count on being a known quantity.  I’m not nervous, but I am curious and excited.

So I’m preparing more carefully for this meeting than I otherwise might.  And yet I’m also aware that an important part of this meeting–arguably the most important part–is simply getting to know the new AHS and letting him get to know me.

Meanwhile, I’m plotting once again how to use this chunk of time, these three weeks, as school overtakes more of my time and energy, but before we’re well and truly immersed in the new school year.