Saturday, February 26, 2011

Substitute Teaching

I used to be a substitute teacher and enjoyed that job a lot. It was fun to meet lots of nice kids and get to see how their usual teachers did things. I'll bet nobody but the students themselves can know as much about how and how well a particular teacher works as a sub who has worked in his or her classroom.
Once in a while I'd explain something in a slightly different way than the regular teacher did and a kid would suddenly have an AhHa moment and understand a concept they'd been struggling with. That was very rewarding to me.
It was also nice to be flexible with the freedom to take days off without hurting anyone else. And I didn't need to correct papers or make lesson plans, although I always had some general ones with me for the times a regular teacher hadn't left any or had been out so many days their plans all been used by previous subs.
But eventually I'd miss having my own class and watching the same kids progress from day to day so I'd go back to doing that. altogether I was a substitute teacher for a total of about four years.
I worked a lot with Special Ed classes since my experience qualified me for that. I'll share a couple of interesting stories about those classes in later posts.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Public Speaking

Last weekend I spoke at a writer's conference and enjoyed it a lot.
I've heard that many people fear public speaking more than death, but I can't understand why they feel that way. To me, public speaking is fun. It's an opportunity to meet lots of nice people and possibly help them by sharing ideas and information they can use. What's scary about that?
Of course it probably helps that I've been a teacher and even a substitute teacher. You can't find a more difficult audience than some of the classes I subbed in.
Years ago I was appearing in a play (yes, I think that's fun, too) and learned about the Stanislovski Method of acting. Basically that concept is that the audience will see what the actor is thinking through facial expressions, vocal patterns, and body language so players need to think what their characters would think in each situation. While public speakers aren't pretending to be someone else (well, at least the honest ones aren't) it's still true that what we think is what the audience will see.
If someone stands in front of a group wondering if they'll mess up or if the listeners will hate them the audience will know it. But if someone stands before the same group thinking about how they can help and appreciating the audience, that will show in their demeanor. Thinking such things gives speakers confidence, and the audience can sense that. Even if those two speakers share the same information, the second one will be appreciated a lot more.
I'm eager to do more public speaking and hope some of the people who read this will take my advice and enjoy appearing in front of audiences too.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Honest Presidents

President's Day is now supposed to honor all the past presidents of the United States of America, but it was originally a merger of Washington and Lincoln's birthdays.
When I was a kid everyone knew the story of George Washington confessing to his father that he chopped down a cherry tree and saying, "I cannot tell a lie." However now we know that story was a fictional morality tale originally written by a man named Mason Weems around 1800.
We also heard the story of Abraham Lincoln walking a long distance to return a few coins to someone. That's probably true and is only one reason Lincoln became known as "Honest Abe."
Honest writers and teachers must be sure the historical information they give is as accurate as possible, even if it is intended to teach a moral lesson. I certainly understand why stories like the one I mentioned about Washington are no longer taught in schools, but it's too bad honesty is no longer considered as important as it used to be in our society.
Far too many people in modern America think it's okay to fudge the truth "just a little" if it's in the interests of the speaker to do so. Parents may ask their kids to tell a caller they're not at home when they are, or give the kids answers for their homework. But a little falsehood opens the door for more and those same kids will later feel no guilt about lying to their parents about where they're going.
And the same thing applies to doing things that are illegal. Many people think nothing of breaking speed laws if they feel safe doing so, and I've heard respectable folks brag about managing to get money they weren't entitled to.
Integrity isn't just about speaking the truth, it's about being the truth. A person with integrity is honest even when he or she can't be caught and does what is right even when nobody else is watching.
Maybe we should use President's Day to teach kids about Honest Abe as well as teaching them honesty by our own examples every day.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hot, Hot, Hot!

I probably shouldn't admit such an embarrassing thing in public, but I'm scared of my stove. Well, it's not the whole stove that frightens me, it's the self-cleaning oven.
I do use it once in a while, but every time I realize the job must be done it takes me several days to get enough courage to actually do it because the oven gets so hot I wonder if it might set the house on fire.
If I turn it on at night what if it starts a fire while I'm asleep? Or if I do it when I leave home for a few hours what if I return and find the house has burned down?
Yes, I know it is designed to be safe. Yes, I'm careful to follow the instructions exactly. Yes, millions of other people use self cleaning ovens and I've never heard of even one that started a house fire. And, yes, I've used mine safely many times.
But, hey! I'm a writer. I have an active imagination and part of creativity is asking "What if....?"
Maybe tonight I'll send the Worry Monster off to bed early and take the dare so tomorrow I'll wake up to a clean oven. Meanwhile I'll try sending him off after some new plot ideas so I can cook up some delicious stories..

Saturday, February 12, 2011

P-mail, etc

Whenever I walk my dog she stops many times to read "p-mail." Dogs can tell a lot from the urine and feces left by other dogs. The odors let them know who the dog was, if it was male or female, juvenile or adult, in heat, altered or spayed. They can also tell if the other dog was healthy or well-fed and what it has eaten lately. They mark their territory and communicate with each other by leaving those odors.
But I'm so glad I'm not a dog! Imagine if humans had to sniff things like that or put their noses in the private parts of each other's bodies whenever we met. Yuck!
On the other hand, dogs think it's odd that humans sit close together while eating. Dogs consider eating a private function. In some households with more than one dog the pets will take turns eating from the same dish or each one has its own bowl and they don't ever interfere with the other's food. They may carry cheweys and other things that can't be swallowed in one gulp away from each other. Only close family or pack members will eat next to each other at the same time. To them, eating privately is a matter of manners.
Aren't you glad not to be a dog? I certainly am.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stolen Day

February is the shortest month of the year, but it hasn't always been.
The ancient Romans had twelve months on their calendar and they alternated between having 31 days and 30 days. Although the ancient names were not identical to ours, many were similar.
Those we now call January, March, May, July, September, and November all had 31 days and both February and August were among the others, which had 30 days.
July had been named after the emperor, Julius Caesar.
When Augustus became emperor he wanted a summer month named after himself, but didn't want his month to be shorter than the one named after his predecessor.
He had to be careful which month he claimed as his own and which one the extra day was taken from, because he believed if a month named after a powerful god were changed that god might become angry and punish him. For that reason one day was taken from February and added to the month we still call August, after Caesar Augustus.
Much later astronomers discovered there are not exactly 365 days in a year so, in order to keep the calendar in line with the seasons and phases of the moon, an additional day is taken from February except in leap years.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Feeling Small

I don't normally review books for grown-ups unless they're about parenting, but I recently read one I think might help lots of people, so I'll share it with you here.
Many parents sometimes feel inadequate. Stay-at-home moms may wonder if they should be out earning money while working women wonder if they'd be better parents if they could stay home with their children. And most parents wonder if they are failures when their kids have behavior problems.
Lord I Feel So Small by Jon Drury addresses the feelings of inadequacy most people have, at least at times. I know Jon personally but his amazing honesty in the book about his own struggles let me know him much better.
The book is a Christian one, so people likely to be offended by religious content probably won't like it. People who never have doubts about their own worth won't have any need to read it. But Lord I Feel So Small will probably be helpful to most others, both because it shows they're not alone and because gives practical advice about how to overcome those negative feelings.
Jon sent me a free copy of the book to review but I try always to be completely honest in my book reviews even if I do know the author and I recommend this book highly.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


What does it mean to be a good parent?
All children are different, all families are different, and all parents are different. Most people who have kids want to do a good job of raising them, but what does that mean? We can't control the future, so how will we know if we succeeded or not?
It helps to think about our own memories. Whether our own parents were good ones or not, we all have memories of our childhoods. What do we want our kids to remember about theirs?
Yes, we want our kids to be responsible adults and a lot of that depends on the things we teach them, but probably their most important memories will be of time we spent with them and ways we showed them our love.
Some of my fondest memories are of playing on the floor with my father after dinner, my parents reading us bedtime stories, and all of us singing together.
What are your fondest memories?