February 24th, 2015 | Tags: , , ,

So I headed out to work today, thinking we’d probably be getting early release (most forecasts called for afternoon snow). About two-thirds of the way through my 45-minute commute, i.e., 6am–yes, I leave typically around 5:30am–it began snowing. I checked the county Web site when I got to the parking lot, and my suspicions were correct: lo, we were set for delayed opening. A few other early-arriving teachers were dumbfounded as I shared the news with them; they too had been snared by the vagaries of travel time and school hours. I caught up with a few beloved colleagues also making their way in, and as the big, fat flakes drifted noiselessly and unrelentingly down to the whitening tarmac, which had done its best to retain heat but eventually gave up under last night’s brutal chill and the morning’s crystalline onslaught, it was patently obvious that the delay was only to buy the county some time before the inevitable decision.

Read more…

February 17th, 2015 | Tags: , , , ,

But it’s not over yet, and I feel like I can get it back. To start, here’s my HabitRPG for February so far:

A Healer, supposedly

So, I made it to level 10 and became a Healer by the end of January. I was rocking out, learning how to use “poison” Dailies to good effect. But when the school semester began in earnest, I started to lose my grip on the really important tasks. Plus side to it, I’m actually getting consequences, rather than just feeling guilty; half my gear has been destroyed and I’ve lost so much coin. I’m at the point of losing something really valuable to me, my Gumdrop Sword. (Oh noes!) I can’t just re-buy it, and it’s just cool-looking. So I just need to suck it up, McNugget, and do the stupid poison dailies that have been plaguing me.

One useful side-effect about this is that it’s also a calibration of my self-honesty. In January I was getting a handle on how to use it, and I had only been plugging in things that were vaguely important (I mean, sure, ideals, but not a lot of practical substance). And it was good practice. But now I’ve pared down, relegating the idealistic stuff to Habits and using the Dailies for the truly consequential items. It is showing me how badly I do procrastinate on things that seem patently easy to do, and the more important it is, the more likely it seems I’ll quail at the task. Shame rears its ugly head and nibbles at my soul.

So, going forward, I’m going to stop wearing armor. I’ll buy stuff to wear for costumes, but boosting my CON is just protecting me from the harsh reality of bad habits. (I will, however, accept other stat boosts, because they increase my rewards for doing good things. It is, if you will, a double-edged sword.)

I introduced this to one of my ADD kids, and he really took to it. To his credit, he immediately saw the importance of honesty that this system requires, and that it actually nourishes. I feel like I’m actually doing some good in the world these days.

Back to the grind!

February 12th, 2015 | Tags: ,

Fear and shame have a feeling of insidious tendrils, twisting and winding their way through the cracks in your wall of identity, forcing it asunder and exposing the inner, small, worthless you to the world. It is these times that I cling to the small beauties of life: rays of light flooding from holes in cloud-darkened sky, a side comment from a well-meaning friend that reminds me of my worth, a pleasant greeting from a feline who knows nothing but affection and trust. As the semester lurches onward, my duties spiral into near untenable heights, but the joy of seeing students make those connections–I see it every single day–slakes my thirst and invigorates me even when I am sitting in the driveway after an hour’s commute, ears ringing, head stuffed with cotton. Love propels me forward, knowing that there is another day and another chance to do better. To pick up in the here and now the threads of obligations laid aside in the triage of yesterday’s panic.

February 4th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

I began using a language study tool, [Duolingo], a few weeks ago, after the burning shame of being unable to call my Spanish-speaking students’ parents directly got to be too much to bear. So far, I’m learning a lot about elefantes y platos, but also about how yo como mientras leo. It’s nice for someone with a command of a highly-inflected language, but the pace can be maddeningly slow. It does help with vocabulary retention, though. I can bull through a lot of it with a broad knowledge of English–granjero is cognate with granger ( = farmer), for instance.

Magistrula is working out very well, also; I am in the process of developing a homework sheet around it. Rather than come up with specific assignments every single night, I can shift some of the burden to the students (with an option to assign something specific once in a while), allowing them to direct their own studies to supplement what we learn in class. Ted Gellar-Goad’s [excellent article on automaticity] was a shot in the arm for me, reminding me of the broader concepts and terminology to aid my own thinking about my teaching. Ms. Andresian has been wildly responsive to my feedback and requests, and already it’s become an integral part of my classroom, saving time spent before on things the students can now take ownership of, while in the class allowing us to move still faster as well. I use it for drills and warmups, and I also use it to seed our games. It works as an excellent random vocab generator, which allows students to engage in the forms without the contempt of familiarity obscuring their vision of the different parts of the words.

Fluency is as much a matter of knowing what not to say, and I have been learning how to say less. I am faced with a poverty of time, and prioritizing means accepting that not everyone needs to be communicated with by words–sometimes action or inaction speaks volumes, and words can actually dilute the message rather than supplement it. But I’m doing more listening, less talking, and more action, and that is making so much of a positive difference in my life. I have begun writing letters, and allowing time and space to ferment the words into something richer and more valuable than a phone call or email can provide. If you’re inclined, send me your address, and I’ll send you a letter. I’ll try to write something worth reading.

January 24th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

The gasp, the rush, the plunge…the cavitating shock of a new medium, carrying you, enveloping you, holding you close. This year has been a wild ride, one of ups and serious downs, but in the span of it I have become a different sort of person, with a deeper understanding of my fundamental goals and values than I ever had before. And I have been taking action to realize them, not holding up my life or acting for others at the expense of myself, much more of late. Having meds on board helped–it kept me alive this fall, if I may be frank–and since the winter break my vision is clear and growing clearer. This is life, lived with intent. Maddening, complex, and exhilarating in the fullest. This is calefaction.

[HabitRPG] has been a bit of a boon in this respect. I am having a hard time now that the semester is in full swing, but having gotten it up and running has made for more proactive task management than I had ever employed before. Here’s me, with my white lion pet and my gumdrop sword of task-slaying:

Just a bard of passion and mirth

I need to invest in some better armor. These task gremlins are going to chew me up if I’m not careful. ;-)

January 21st, 2015 | Tags: ,

Here we go again. That creeping feeling, building into a low panic, has bubbled up to the surface. It has been a pleasant few weeks without it, but it’s back with a vengeance. Find a car, get the semester started right, keep living in the present moment, oh and also try to unmuck the remains of the MAT. And drive 2 hours every day.

Hey, I’m getting some great audiobook time in. Hooray, Google Books + [Gutenberg.org] + “Read aloud” + Car audio Bluetooth. Also, did you know that there are also [audio books] on Gutenberg? I didn’t until today.

And did you see that sickle moon at dusk? Just a sliver, with Venus hanging out just to the left. Diana was giving her some bowmanship lessons, I think.

January 19th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

Speaking Spanish has been one of my minor little tricks that isn’t much to sneeze at. I took a couple years in high school, and let it go at that. But it helped enormously when I went to Latin & Greek much later, and with the massive demographic shifts, even learning a little bit more has helped my teaching. (The Spanish teachers in my department are also awesome and bear with me as I try to improve on the fly.) So, after feeling slightly ashamed of needing to ask one of my department members to help me with a parent phone call, I decided to start taking matters into my own hands. I signed up for [Duolingo]. After the placement test, it busted me back to very elementary Spanish, past initial stuff but still way early in elementary verbs, because I lack so much vocabulary. I have been testing out, but not as quickly as I had imagined myself. It’s humbling but also nice to get reinforcement with some basic gaps in my vocabulary.

It’s also been nice to observe how it rewards you for completing tasks. Not just the actual prizes, but the process rewards–clicks and dings for success, sad trombones for failure. The bells and whistles are rather alluring to win. Also, you earn coins (“lingots”) that allow you to unlock not just treats, but more things to learn, like how to flirt in Spanish. It’s an interesting concept–hey, kid, do you want to learn something cool? So many things to teach kids in Latin. That’s for another entry, though, I think.

But it does tie in nicely with my other gamified Web site, [HabitRPG]. I have been progressing well in that, taking my lumps as I merit them equally with the rewards of completing more habits. I’ve been drinking much more water, I haven’t bitten my nails in a solid 2 weeks, and managing this wreck business on top of preparing for the beginning of the semester has been far more navigable than I frankly thought possible. P(l)anic attacks are–well, they’re not gone, but I’m able to fall back on a much more structured way of approaching planning, even as my goals feel like they’re dizzying in their complexity and scope. And the motivation is a double-edged sword, because I want to avoid taking damage and also gain the benefits of experience and gold. And now I have a party member to think of! (My undone dailies damage him too!! I won’t let you down, rf!)

All in all, things seem to be looking up after passing through the mirror of the winter break. Just taking time to see family at my own pace, and allowing myself to actually relax, has proven to be absolutely the thing I needed to refocus and look at the world in a growth-mindset orientation. Practice, practice, practice is what it takes, even amidst abject failure. Keep trying. I have written “I’m not giving up” so many times, both here and elsewhere, but it’s not just about one leg in front of the other. It’s about being present for each footstep. And we must give ourselves space to breathe in order to do so.

Keep practicing, folks!

January 18th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

I received the news on Friday about my car’s condition. It was determined to be a total loss–the axle damage sent problems all the way up into the transmission. (That’s about what I figured. But it’s still a minor shock to have confirmed such a drastic event from so small a span of time. Seriously, from the lady stopping in front of me, to the swerve and crash and the engine shuddering to a halt, to me getting out of the car and making sure I was ok was something like 15 seconds, tops.)

Allstate is paying out $10,575.42 for the car, but I still had $12,610 to go on the loan. This is where a little thing called gap insurance comes into play. It’s something I simply factored in when I got the loan: you pay a small premium as part of your loan payments, and if your car is totaled, the insurance covers the difference between the amount you still owe on the loan and the amount the insurance pays for the car. I had altogether forgotten it was a thing–I don’t even know if I even did more than think “Yes, that makes sense to get” when I got the car–so when the Allstate guy asked me if I had it I was a little concerned. (I can’t exactly trust past-self from doing right by future-self. I try.) But, I confirmed that it was part of my loan. So, yay.

On the other hand, this basically leaves me at square one as far as having a car goes. Allstate’s rental coverage lasts through Wednesday the 21st (the first day of the new semester for my students), which means I cannot piss around on finding another vehicle. As things go, I am less interested now in getting another major loan, given that I have a vastly different outlook on the next six months than I did even six months ago. So I’m not getting another new car–the fact that I had any heartache at all about owing $12k after a year and a half of regular payments is warning enough for me.

As best I can tell, the easiest way to get a used car in very short order is through something like Carmax, and they seem to sell cars for no less than about $10k.  I’ve put a placeholder on a 2012 Accent GS (same car as my old one, just a year older) at $13k. I must say, I loved the way that car drove. But at this point, I’m looking for something I can reasonably pay off before summer. I definitely want a hatchback still–beyond just being a fashion statement, it behaved the way I want. So I’m looking at a Nissan Versa SL, which looks to be about $8,000 for the [2008] or [2009], ~70k miles on either car. I’ve put in the inquiries, and I’ll be test-driving the 2009 tomorrow.

I don’t have a lot of time to really get comfortable with the decision, but from scouring the various car listings sites it looks like the Versa is my only viable option in the local area for hatchbacks under $8k. It seems like a good car, and a worthy successor to my Accent. And, anyway, it’s not like I didn’t get the Accent in the same hurried timeframe. (Though that was because of a spiteful will rather than genuine loss of use.) So, here we go!

January 14th, 2015 | Tags: , , ,

So, casting about for useful online Latin resources as I was wont to do earlier this fall, I stumbled across a little corner of the Web. I was just looking for something to help my struggling level Is practice their noun declensions. At first I scoffed, thinking it was some teacher’s personal pet Latin Web site. But just a little more digging, and I discovered the tip of a rather useful iceberg. Maybe it’s just a floating diamond, who knows. :)

The site is [Magistrula] (“little teacher”). And it’s fantastic.

It’s a labor of love for one former Latin teacher turned full-time programmer, Anna Andresian. It’s all done in JavaScript (and it’s open source, on a [git repository] to boot!), and it provides immediate feedback on a huge variety of exercises, ranging from simple noun declension and verb conjugation, to form recognition, all the way to sentence translation and construction! The exercises are easily tweaked to include or exclude just about any variable you might imagine (person, number, tense, voice, mood, case, gender, declension, conjugation), meaning you can fine-tune what you’re trying to practice.

But the best part about it is the virtual classes. I was able to set up my Latin I students with a series of exercises that I prescribed, and because they registered for my class, I was able to examine their practice data and infer ways to help them along in class. I’ll be deploying it for all my Latin classes this semester, and modifying the way I do homework–the onus can shift to the students to determine how they need to practice. Which allows me considerably more time to spend on teaching them where they’re having real difficulty.

One other huge plus for this semester is that I can finally flesh out the first tool I ever developed for the Latin classroom, the Passport to Latin. I’m sure many teachers have come to some form of this–a little collection of the various patterns and forms we learn in one compact unit. But I had always dreamed of somehow using it to reinforce practice by having students earn ’stamps’ on the various categories. I never got there when it was me facing the notion of finding time to quiz students with paper–making sure they don’t cheat–running off the photocopies–making sure they’re different enough–having enough time to grade them–etc. Now I can just set a series of benchmark practices and have one marked as a quiz–it’s auto-random, and I can view the results instantly.

One last thing to gush about is the game engine. Yep, it has games, too! The player controls a zombie who runs around zapping stars with lightning bolts. But the real fun is the fact that anyone can make a new game! So I’m envisioning having my students create games for each other to practice different skills. Or, you know, simply allowing them to, and seeing what develops out of the chaos.

It’s a great tool for individualization of practice. I must take care not to lean on it irresponsibly; the practices will need to be curated so everyone has a skill level to work from. But I sense a moment of power.

January 12th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

I’m grateful to be writing this post, and grateful to be sitting here on this couch typing it, and grateful to have had a full day’s work done before coming home to do so. The things we own can do mighty works. This laptop is my tool to communicate, to express with the written word, and to gather information. My phone does these tasks in smaller batches, but adds greater ease of voice contact (at least for this curmudgeon–YMMV concerning Skype/Hangouts/et al.). My car gets me around far distances, farther and faster than the best bike, and hauls things in speedy fashion that I could not even carry all together at once.

Well, it did these things, until I wrecked it Thursday. :)

First things first: I am alive and well (completely without injury, as best I can tell), and so is the individual who caused the accident. But my car, a 2013 Hyundai Accent, is rather the worse for wear. Commuting to work Thursday morning, someone pulled out directly into traffic and stopped in my lane instead of at the stop sign some yards back. I managed to avoid her, jerking the wheel hard right and braking like a boss, but neither momentum nor angle of attack were sufficient to avoid careening with my front left into the square’s sign on the corner. Not an insubstantial sign, let me tell you. In the disagreement of physical space that ensued, I was unable to generate a clipping error, and the car shuddered to a halt. No airbag (apparently I am to be thankful for this), and boy howdy the bumper tried to do its job. It got so excited about it that the radiator and my left wheel joined in the fun.

After the police called in the tow, I got a doctor’s appointment that day, and secured a rental by the afternoon. (This was not without some help getting around–again, for which I am eminently grateful.) I checked out of the doc with no neuropathy evident & no muscles spasming, and a weekend’s rest has seen the tension that built up Friday melt away. (I am to call the doctor if anything comes up.) So, now all to be done is to ensure the process of insurance goes smoothly.

I keep thinking about how I could have just T-boned that car. I don’t think the driver would have lived. I keep thinking about how the sign crunched as my car hit, and my seatbelt did its job without me even noticing. (I found my glasses down by the accelerator–they had flown off my face, unsecured by the same.) Had I struck the windshield or steering column, I would be in a much greater world of hurt.

I felt a great deal of anger this weekend, thinking about the various things that should not have happened. But as the days pass, I am realizing that that was more of a physical process than any real substantial reasoning. It was an accident, in the strictest sense of the word. And all I can do is breathe a sigh of relief that my only worries are how much it will cost to fix, who’s going to pay for it, and what about the loan that I still owe a fat chunk on. Seriously, it’s just stuff. Neither I nor the other driver need to pick up the broken pieces of our livelihoods.

[Update: her insurance is accepting responsibility. I'm glad, because while it's just stuff, the initial estimate alone is $5000 worth of damage to my car. Everything is proceeding smoothly, knock on wood.]