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Looking in the Mirror

I have a bad habit.

I measure myself against others.

I know it’s bad and it doesn’t matter how many times people say, “don’t measure yourself against others,” I still do it. It doesn’t matter that I say that to other people, I find myself doing it.

Yesterday, I went to a scholarship breakfast sponsored by a local chapter of an African-American female sorority. The theme was “Hats Off to Sisterhood” and a “loose” requirement was to wear a hat. I am not a hat person; I’m very casual and the one hat I do have is a University of Arizona baseball cap. A good friend, who bought my ticket for the event, had extra hats and told me she would bring me one.

Now, as I stated in the last paragraph, I’m very casual, to a fault. I did not wear jeans, but I wore business casual, not dressy. When I arrived at the hotel, I saw beautiful African-American women wearing these hats one would see at the Kentucky Derby! They were dressed in heels and cocktail-type attire. I was floored! I was embarrassed! Although I wore business casual, I felt like I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt compared to them.

My friend kept reassuring me that I looked fine as I tried on hats. Everybody kept saying, “You look beautiful” but I didn’t feel like I did.

I told you it’s a bad habit.

I had all types of mixed emotions flowing through my head as I looked through the crowd of these fabulous dressed women of color adorned with these fabulous hats. It was more than what I was wearing: I began to think about how all of these women knew each other and I knew only the people from my church.

I began to think about how I have lived here all of my life and I don’t know people! How sad is that? Most of these women come from the East Coast, the South, or the West Coast and they have connections!

I don’t want to sound envious, and I hope I am not by writing about this, but I was worried about how I am not in the community – a person who loved the public, a former journalist, what happened?

So, I thought back to a time where it all began: high school. I was intricately involved in high school: high school newspaper, president of the Black Culture Club (they had that type of club back then because black kids needed a space for identity and purpose in high school other than sports). My involvement in that club promoted a Thanksgiving Concert fundraiser at my school where we invited local church choirs to come and sing. That was a blazing success! This landed speaking engagements for me. I was a keynote speaker at a statewide Black Youth Conference. Prior to all of this, the summer of my junior year, I was a contestant in the Miss National Teen Arizona pageant! I look back and wonder how I got over!

In college, I did not do as much as I did in high school; however, I was the photography editor of the U of A’s yearbook. I loved taking photos and I was hired based on my enthusiasm of taking photos. The job led me to get a part-time job as a sports reporter for high school sports at the Arizona Daily Star, which led me to an internship in the editorial department. As the string of jobs continue, I became a reporter at two newspapers in Moreno Valley California and I was given an award for my reporting and published in a Los Angeles publication.

Then, I was done with California and moved back to Arizona, where I started a weekly publication for the African American community called The Tucson Sun Press. It was free, but if people wanted to subscribe, they could get it mailed to them. I was featured on KVOA-TV, an affiliate for NBC about the newspaper, which was very exciting for me! However, the excitement did not last; an angry man called the Sun Press line and left a nasty racial message and asked, “Why aren’t there white newspapers?”

Ugh.

Internal grumblings were happening within the volunteers of the newspaper and some African-American businesses were not supportive; in fact, the community was less than supportive, so I decided to let it go.

And there it is. I was discouraged. Discouragement played a key role and I went into a quiet room, worked as a teacher, and wrote. I did not frequent events, I did not get into the public eye; I was a hermit.

But, as a hermit, I wrote. I wrote poetry and I delved into my feelings and thoughts. I wrote when I was angry and when I was sad. I wrote when I was happy. I wrote poetry and attempted to write novels and short stories. I found the convenience of self-publishing and published my books and recently, I found camaraderie with my work colleagues and sold my books at a local large book festival! I felt my self confidence rise again and I felt determined to concentrate on my craft in writing.

And then Saturday hit. I saw that I did not know the public, my peers, my community. Although people said affirmations to me, I felt out of place. The keynote speaker had us doing something wonderful: she had us say our name at our table and everybody at the table had to repeat our name and say an African mantra which translates to “I see you.” The reason why, as she explained, is because we go around asking people how they are doing, but we never really pause to listen to people. Therefore, we don’t really “see” the person we are talking to. I loved it!

I have to admit this that sometimes, specifically around African-American women, I feel invisible. I don’t wear braids, not a lot of makeup, big shiny jewelry, nor am I in a sorority. I am different. My two older sisters are in the community and are known; people know who they are and will stop and talk to them; but, I am different. They know me as “the youngest sister.”

Another blow to my ego, happened on Saturday when I got home. I am working on my doctoral degree and I had to submit an assignment on Friday, which I did so. I opened my grade and I got an F. The professor’s comments ripped through my self-esteem like blood on the brain! I had thought I did a pretty good job, but according to the professor’s words, everything was wrong! And to make the wound more painful, his comments were, “If you have any questions, contact me.”

“Yes!” I exclaimed out loud and frightening my poor, sleeping doggy. “I have questions! Why am I doing this?!”

I want to quit going to school, but I have a passion to help teachers, and my dissertation is all about helping teachers become leaders in their school! I have the potential, but I lack the courage. I am in battle and my armor is falling off and it is dented. I guess this is how my students feel when they get a poor grade. Yes, it is damaging and you want to quit.

OK. You’re reading this and saying, “Wow. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are worse things that can happen.” And, you’re right.

I am writing this for a reason.

I don’t need the limelight. I don’t need to be seen. I need the “F” on my assignment to work harder at what I want. I mean, who do I want to please and why do I want to please them? What’s the point to be everybody’s friend or have everybody talk to me? Why do I need that? I’m 53 years old and I have made it so far with few friends in my corner and without a lot of limelight! In my younger years, I was in the limelight like the saying says, “Been there, done that.”

I had to examine myself yesterday and find out why do I allow my emotions to take over my senses? I have appropriate clothes to dress, I just didn’t know what the event was all about: now, I do. I had people at my table who didn’t even look at my clothes and we laughed and talked and loved one another: therefore, I had a good time. The professor gave me comments to improve my assignment and said he is excited to work with me during the residency event next week: I am relieved.

The problem is I overreact. I jump to conclusions, and the truth is I judge others. That’s the the problem. People are doing what they need to do and what they are passionate about! I should do the same thing. While I am spending precious moments worrying about what I am or not wearing, or if people know who I am or not, I am wasting time not writing, not doing my assignments correctly, and adding unnecessary gray hairs.

My parents raised me better than that!

I look back at all of this and realize it is really silly. However, I had to confess this because the first step to healing is to admit your mistakes. I am transparent in acknowledging the mistakes I have made, and I have made lots of them!

I feel lighter. I am going back to work on my assignments now.

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Doug Ducey and The Flood

The past week

This past week, Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey visited my school for his annual education tour of Arizona schools. The weeks prior to his visit, the school was buzzing with preparations. We had a select few classes and students to make glorious presentations for the governor – and it was a very exciting, yet stressful time for all teachers and administrators.Doug_Ducey_by_Gage_Skidmore_10

Needless to say, the visit was warm and welcoming and best of all, the students behaved and the governor was impressed.

[Insert silence here. Maybe a round of applause or quiet clapping].

Doug Ducey visited my journalism class. It was a topsy turvy effort that molded into a “mock press conference.” We had planned to ask the governor some poignant questions about Freedom of the Press for high school journalism students because last year the Arizona legislation markedly indicated that high school reporters did not have the same right as professional journalists. Other issues they wanted to know is why did he cut the education budget and pour more money into the prisons. My students did their homework.

Unfortunately, when the questions were sent to his office, they were changed or altogether replaced with “cute questions about what he does for fun, and his plans for the Teacher Academy to recruit more people in the STEM areas (and for those of you who think that STEM is the part of the apple or cherry…no…it stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics). Since our school is a STEM school, this question was relatable.

My students wanted to know why their teachers are not getting paid equally as other teachers in the nation.

But, we were quashed. We were silenced.

My students shined and smiled, and even had Ducey do some selfies with them, after all, they are teenagers. He was impressed with my group because we abided by the rules of the Ducey team. This wasn’t the time or place to get into controversial conversations, I get it, and they did too.

But to add to my chagrin about impressing him, our school became a beautiful sanctuary! The rain-stained ceiling tiles were replaced – the walls were painted and beautifully decorated with awesome positive quotes. Banners were hung with the various accomplishments of the school, and I walked into a place that was the beginning of something great! I’m not complaining about the beautification of the school…no…but it took a person who came into the governor’s office and placed Arizona’s state of education last on his list in order for us to make the school look better!

Not only that but for the past seven years, the road next to the school was pocked with potholes! Driving down that road every morning and afternoon was disastrous for tires and shocks on your car; however, weeks before the governor’s visit, the road was razed and paved to a smooth path! Some former graduates who dropped off their younger siblings mocked “Oh, now that I’ve graduated they paved the road – after all the damage it did to my car!”

Everyone can say what they want, but it was all for the governor. Everything we did was to show the governor that we are doing well despite his budget cuts. Although we are hurting on the inside, although teachers are struggling to make ends meet (or maybe that’s my personal issue), we showed the governor that he can continue to cut the budget because we’re surviving.

Arizona is ranked 43rd in education and 49th in education funding.

I will repeat the statement.

Arizona is ranked 43rd in education and 49th in education funding.

As we all know there are 50 states in this great country of ours.

My school is a charter school – a school of choice. Therefore, compared to a district school, the funding is lower per pupil. My principal said, in passing, that we lost about $300,000.00 this year due to cuts in the budget.

Now, I’m quoting from other sources, but Ducey is proud and repeats the top 10 best schools in the nation includes 3 schools in Arizona. That’s great, but those three schools are from the Basis Charter school system – the same Basis that now has a school in China.

When Ducey addressed the journalism students, he touted about how he helped regain the money (Proposition 123) to help increase teacher salaries.

I’m still struggling.

He is also proud of convincing other states to follow him in providing a high-stakes Civics Test for high school students. But, the quality of education is still poor, despite the wonderful efforts of my many colleagues in education. We have the passion to get our students to a level of understanding the world even if it spits in your face; wipe it off and keep fighting, is what I say.

So, in the end, Ducey was highly impressed with our students – and I am happy about that. I’m glad we made a great impression on him, and I hope that when he goes to sleep at night, he will dream about their little faces and presentations, and he’ll wake up one day and say, “I need to help our education system. They need more money!”

[Rolling my eyes].

The next day after his visit, Trump arrived in Phoenix. He held a rally and alluded to pardoning former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio. After he left Phoenix, he made good on his promise, of course. Saturday Night Live created a parody of the rally in Phoenix, including the African-American man who held a sign that read “Blacks for Trump.”

Really?

And, the most catastrophic event that happened in this country is Hurricane Harvey that struck most of Texas, and it is still occurring.

The flood waters are billowing as the rain continues to pour. Since my parents came from Houston, Texas, most of the Watson family still resides there, and I am concerned. Thank God prior to the publishing of this blog, they’ve all sent a sign that they’re OK.

Ducey and the flood. It doesn’t really relate, but in my mind…it kind of does.

 

The Wonderful World of Disney

“It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears…”

You get it, right? Small World. Disneyland. Anaheim.

Currently, I’m in Anaheim, but not in Disneyland. I’m here for an educational conference right across the street from Disneyland. And, the hotel (like all hotels in Anaheim) is chocked full of families with 2.5 kids dressed in either Mickey Mouse attire or princess dresses.

I’m up early because breakfast at the hotel begins at 6:30 a.m., and you know what? They’re up too. Children donning their Disneyland gear; adults wearing the ears; babies crying; children yelling, “Daddy, can I…?” or “Mommy, can I…?” I’m barely awake and slapped in the face with announcements like: “The water bottles are all filled.” Or, “Here’s the charger for the…” I couldn’t hear the rest.

This is a different world for me. I’m not a parent, but I understand the excitement about Disneyland. When I was a kid, I was hypnotized by the magic and wonder of Disneyland and star-struck to see the Castle, Pluto, Donald Duck, and Minnie Mouse. But as a kid, I did not pay any attention to the preparation for going to Disneyland.

Now my excitement is swelled in networking with fellow English teachers and becoming a lifelong professional learner. I got to the registration table at the conference, and my eyes grew wider when I saw books and free stuff!

“I’m so excited to be here,” I whispered. A woman in front of me turned and smiled.

“I heard that,” she said. “Me too.”

This. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is my Disneyland.

To be continued.

Quietly Quitting

This past week I was on fall break, similar to Spring Break, just in the fall season.

Anyway, I didn’t go anywhere. I got my flu and updated COVID booster shots, and I rested. You see, I’m a teacher, and it was much needed. We began the school year in August, and it already seems like we’ve been in school for an entire year. It’s not about the school I’m at, but it seems like, across the country, it’s clear that educators are feeling the effects of the post-pandemic fallout.

With this being the last day of fall break, I’m in a contemplative mood: I’m thinking about quitting.

I have mixed emotions because I’ve been teaching since the 1990s. I’ve had some outstanding students whom I will not forget – but my excitement for teaching is depleting. I’m not sure what has happened to my enthusiasm, but there are a few hints.

First, I believe it’s when officials decide what to teach and how to teach. While in my doctoral program, I researched how teacher autonomy is necessary for schools to engage students. If teachers are motivated, then students will be encouraged. However, when teachers are told how to teach by those who have forgotten what it is like in the classroom, it becomes frustrating!

I get tired of hearing, “You’re the expert,” and then getting treated like one of the students.

I want to quit. I’d like the music from the Exodus to follow me down the hallway at school as I turn in my keys, walk out into the parking lot, get into my car and drive away into a future where I will…

Where I will…

And that’s the issue. What can I do? I was a former journalist and taught English Language Arts for years, and I don’t want to be a journalist anymore. I’ve combed the Internet about what former English teachers can do.

Curriculum Developers. Educational Consultants. Adult Education instructors.

Yeah. I’ve thought about becoming an educational consultant, but that takes a lot of work (not that I’m afraid of work). I have to find that niche that educators would want to know and learn.

I worked as an adult education instructor at the local community college and enjoyed it. This is a position I found very rewarding because the students were eager to learn, and they wanted to get their GED to improve their employment prospects.

I’m 57 years old. I am not slowing down because I am researching a big project in education, and I am excited about it; however, I believe that starting a new job would be futile in this case. I read an article about people who are “quietly quitting,” and I think I am flowing in this realm.

Quiet quitters are disengaged employees, and according to an article written by Jim Harter last month for Workplace on Gallup.com, about 50% of the U.S. workforce are quiet quitters. The reason behind this trend is that jobs require extra effort to meet the company’s and customers’ needs (Harter, 2022). In the case of education, there is this invisible push to make students achieve on assessments. I am not sure if money is involved in getting students over the “pandemic gap” or what, but getting students to bring a pencil and a notebook to class is a struggle. No joke!

Most people who find out I’m a teacher either thank or pity me, and sometimes they do both. These people who understand the struggle know that we are battling several elements: government, administrative decisions, students, parents, and our hearts. Teaching is an art we love and enjoy, but when you throw bureaucratic crap into the mix, it gets clunky, messy, and confusing!

“Teach but make sure you assess (it’s testing)them frequently!” Why don’t I stop teaching and just test them daily? If I do that, they will get better at the assessment, and it will be shiny and beautiful data to display to the government!

Yes. Quietly quitting. Harter wrote, “Actively disengaged employees tend to have most of their workplace needs unmet and spread their dissatisfaction” (2022). Some teachers constantly complain (even in earshot of students who are not professional), teachers who aggressively want to be on top or in charge (what they don’t know is that it’s not that glamorous), and their dissatisfaction spreads to the students.

What a mess!

So I’m imagining that you’re thinking, “Tell your principals! Talk to the district!” Yeah.

They’ll tell us, “It’s not one more thing,” or “Take care of yourselves.” Thank you.

I want to ask them, “Do you really care about us? Do you really believe we can do our jobs without these additional programs that we (the teachers) need to execute?” After this alarming pandemic that disrupted student learning, we need quiet. Remember the calm after the storm? Where’s the peace? What happened to that?

Oh, readers! I’m a full-time fan of education, specifically when it comes to my subject – engaging students to love literature and writing. But we teachers must take a hard left and address anxieties, disabilities, and complex home lives (and that’s not only about the students either). On top of that, we have implemented traffic such as new programs and constant assessment.

Therefore, as I write this, my desire to get these students to enjoy reading and learn how to correctly write reminds me of why I want to teach. Programs are from competing companies who wish to have the money. The funny thing is that I didn’t ask for anything “new.” I want to teach without any type of additional program or an additional assessment. I believe I’m a good teacher. I’ve had students come back and tell me about how they read a particular book in college that we read in their high school class. Or, they remember working on group projects or writing quick writes (short responses) that they had to do in college. They do not reflect the programs and remember the extra assessments with disdain.

I’m going to stick with it. Hopefully, our voices will be heard before I retire in five to 10 years. In the meantime, I will be quietly quitting.

Harter, J. (2022). Is Quiet Quitting Real? Workplace from, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/398306/quiet-quitting-real.aspx

The Love of Each Other’s Lives

I want to breathe

with ease

Play the piano with my heart

and describe the part

of you whom I love.

Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain

climb that Japanese mountain

to show my love is irritating

yet invigorating

I bought you a goldfish

instead of a ring

because loving you is a hard thing

I’m watching time as the ceiling fan turns

My heart yearns

While you behave so pious

since you’re in love with being self-righteous.

By L.S. Watson

Gaining Perspective

The lighthouse in the midnight

resembles the dawn of the day.

Followers flock to the light

to glimpse at the perspective of life.

A seedling so small

can become an oak.

Just a sprinkle of rain

is an insult to the tree,

its knowledge of living

is a cliffhanger

to those who gaze at its greatness.

Moments are fleeting

like the muscles

of a Cheetah’s limbs across the African plain.

Looking upon the wrists at the time,

the chartreuse sky

eliminated the thought process-

the contemplation is over.

By L.S. Watson

Broken Glass

Each piece

of glass

contains one word,

one letter,

one phrase

that I have said, and the pieces

are now scattered

and shattered

I can’t put them back together

none of them make sense anymore

I see a “the” and a “when.”

I reach for “love.”

and a “how do I begin?”

When I try to gather

the pieces

I hear, “don’t. They will cut

and harm you again.”

I will leave them be – broken glass

from the past

scattered and useless.

By L.S. Watson

Elegy For The Child

My heart breaks

My body aches

For the child

That was slain.

I start to cry

Asking God, “Why?”

For the child

That was slain.

Weapons are loaded

While politicians are bloated

Against the child

That was slain.

Schools are not for education.

But for platforms of premeditation.

For the child

That was slain.

Innocence has broken

Ugly words are spoken

For the child

That was slain.

But despite the pain

There is hope again

For the child

That was slain.

Eyes will see

How the future will be

For the child

That was slain.

And God hears

Our prayers and fears

For the children

That was slain.

It’s Duck Season! It’s Rabbit Season! It’s Prom Season! It’s the End of the School Season!

I wish I had $800 right now.

Anyway, my school’s prom happened last night, and I joined in with close colleagues to chaperone the socially awkward teens during this rite of passage night.

Prom, short for promenade, was an east coast ritual for college students to introduce young women properly into society. The event was adopted at the high school level for seniors from a quaint “Sunday Best” dressed tea party to a formal dinner and party. And, if you have been to a prom, it usually ends up a big party full of dancing, sweaty, and loud teenagers.

But, seriously, our students looked so lovely last night! They were dressed formally (some had on tuxedos), shined shoes, elegant long dresses, makeup, classic updos, and smiles! It was great to see them out and about, dancing (or at least trying to dance), holding conversations, and scoping out each other.

I tried to remember my high school prom, but it’s a bit fuzzy. Perhaps I’ve been out of high school for about 40 years. But, I know that prom is the season of vulnerability – every teenager is on the hunt for a prom date, and it is the brilliant time to ask that one person to the most magical night of the year.

Most of us crotchety adults think prom night is when teens lose all inhibitions and decide to have sex. Yeah. It’s one of the buttons we adults push in our heads because either we: 1. Remember our prom night 2. Have forgotten what it means to be young, happy, and always willing to celebrate.

It’s not my business what the teens do after prom (as long as they’re safe); I was glad that they enjoyed the music, danced, ate lush delicacies, and drank Hibiscus lemonade and water. It was an uneventful evening.

Now that is over…

We have five weeks left of school, and within those weeks, there’s one more hoop to jump through: graduation.

Stayed tuned.

Still wish I had $800, but that’s another story.

Teacher Woes

It’s April.

April showers bring May flowers. April brings spring and warmer days, with sunshine and flowers – the birds and the bees are back. Easter is celebrated among Christians worldwide – as a sign of renewal and hope.

Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

But for teachers, April is a long month.

For the teachers in Arizona, it is testing month, and it is a month where students are challenged to sit at their desks for hours and take tests to compare themselves to their former selves and others.

Maybe that was a bit much. Let me try to simplify it. These tests measure students’ growth from previous years, and it is a measurement to see how our Arizona students are doing against the rest of the country’s children in schools.

It is also a glimpse of whether we teachers are teaching like we should be doing. We could be doing more if we didn’t have testing interruptions! At my school, we have two weeks of testing, and yes, the students have to stay at school after testing, but I’m worried that I’m not going to get 100% attention from the students.

Do you want to know why?

Students will use the “I’ve been testing all day! I’m tired!” Or, “Ms. Watson, can we have a free day today? We’ve been testing!”

The excuses teachers hear daily are overpowering and tiring!

I know that in other parts of the country, schools are not out until June. In Arizona, our school year ends in May. It should be an easy coast downhill to May, but the hoop in April is testing, and we still need to finish our units or novels for a proper closure to school. April is like rolling a stone uphill with curves (I think I heard that from someone else recently, and it’s a great analogy)!

I am grateful to be a teacher; please don’t get me wrong. The beauty of teaching students to look deeper into the text or novel and write about it using new vocabulary and other skills brings me joy! However, the testing portion of this educational system puts a damper on keeping the students motivated. The older students get, the more they become aware of what testing is all about. Some high school students deliberately tank the test because they don’t care: “I’m not getting a grade for it, so what do I care?” When I was in high school, and we had to take the Stanford 9 tests, this guy who sat in front of me bubbled the four-letter word that began with F for his answers. He showed it to us, and it was funny. Everything was funny at 16. Although I always tried my best, the results were the same: I had high scores in Reading and Language but lower scores in Math.

Well, things are different now in Arizona. The Stanford 9 has been long gone; we had the AIMS, a high-stakes graduation test (I was glad that came after I graduated). The AIMS morphed into the AzMerit tests, and now the state has decided to use the ACT as the state-mandated test. Students are confused about why they are taking the ACT, and a few of them asked me, “Do we need to pay to take the test?” “What if I don’t score well? Will I not go to college?”

Ugh!

Arizona in April is not a teacher’s best friend.

Teachers are worst than the students with senioritis!

Or, maybe it’s just me.

March Madness!

It’s no secret that I am a sports fan. But, dagnabit, March Madness makes me – well – mad!

I will admit that I have several (and I do mean several) brackets out there, and I’ve listened to sports analysts about different teams, and bless my soul, two teams have busted my bracket already!

Ugh!

Madness!

I am not a basketball expert, but this is an exciting showcase for these young men and women in college basketball. They get a chance to showcase their skills and talents on national television against mega teams who have flexed their court muscles!

We have heard of Kentucky (who lost, by the way), Kansas, Villanova, Duke, Michigan, and now Gonzaga, and Arizona are in the pedigree of basketball. But teams like Richmond, St. Peter’s, and Akron are giving these significant basketball schools migraines!

I love the excitement and the commercials – it’s like the Super Bowl all over again! I’m flipping channels affiliated with CBS, and I’m rooting for teams based on my brackets. I guess that’s the fun part because I’m an alum from the University of Arizona Wildcats, and I am a fan of those colleges that I’ve chosen to move on in the tournament – it’s so odd!

Madness!

You see, I love college ball better than professional basketball. These young people play honest and genuine (especially the men’s basketball teams), and they have the drive, ambition, and integrity to make plays – and they do not showboat.

So, I’m going to hunker down tomorrow and Saturday and flip channels to watch these exciting games!

Oh – who do I have winning it all?

Well, like I said, I have several brackets with a few winners, but the majority has the Wildcats winning it all – and it sure isn’t Kentucky! LOL!