There is just something about being home. And there is just something about being home when you're sick.
Okay. So the being sick part stinks. Really, really stinks.
But the rest of it? Awesome! Staying in your comfiest jammies until after lunch. Lazing in bed with a laptop, PhotoShop, and Netflix. Purring cat snuggled up against your side. No responsibilities...except to your own health.
Sigh. A girl could get used to days like that.
Except, of course, for the unfortunate fact that I used up my last sick day. That's right. I must be healthy for the rest of the school year. I cannot stay home for any form of illness. If I contract leprosy, it's just too bad. I'm off to work.
This has been, by far, the unhealthiest (is that even a word?) year of my life! I have never, ever depleted all of my allotted sick days! Even my first year of teaching, notorious for causing havoc with one's immune system, wasn't this bad.
I blame my classroom. No windows. No ventilation. A heating/cooling system that's been in place for two years without having its filters cleaned. Germy students. Oh yeah, a veritable cesspool of bacteria and viruses and microbes. Ick!
And back to that festering atmosphere I shall return on Tuesday.
As a teacher, I get evaluated twice a year. One evaluation is a fairly informal observation, one that I don't sweat too much as it changes little from year to year. The other observation, however, is a formal classroom observation. An administrator shows up at your door, unannounced, and sits in on your class, writing down and evaluating everything you do.
Yesterday was my turn, but through an accidental bit of Nancy-Drewing, I knew that the principal was coming. I was prepared; I wasn't worried; and I was happy to know ahead of time because that gave me forty minutes to prepare.
But then the clock began to tick. Each minute that passed made my chest tighten and my stomach churn. When I returned to my classroom before my observation period, I saw the principal at the end of the hall, yellow legal pad in hand.
And then I was on. And I was fine. Nary a nervous stammer or awkward gesture. The kids were wonderful--Wonderful--and all seemed to go well.
But now I'm back to waiting. Now I have to see if the principal's evaluation is the same as my self-evaluation. And now that tightness and anxiety returns.
And that's not the only reason that the weight of pressure in creeping onto me.
This is another in a series of images that has made it onto Flickr's "Explore" pages. It's a great platform for getting your work noticed and for getting people to add you to their contact lists so they can see your work on a regular basis. It's exciting...and horrible.
As much as I try to just take personal pleasure in creating my images, there is that voice in the back of my head reminding me that people are going to see this, that they'll be expecting a certain level of artistry...that they'll be let down by mediocrity.
Or am I just projecting my own insecurities onto them? Am I the one who cannot bear mediocrity from myself? In some facets of my life, I'm satisfied with my own mediocrity.
In art? I am not. And that carries a great deal of weight.
Six. I'm up to six images that have been "featured" on Flickr's Explore pages; four of those six images just occurred in the last week. I was just given my second "Today's Best" award on the Zazzle site where I sell some of my images as canvas prints.
I am on a roll!
So...where do I go from here?
Granted, I love posting to Flickr. I love getting feedback, and just as much as that, I love seeing what other artists and photographers are creating. There's so much inspiration to be had by sharing work with other people who are just as passionate as you are.
And creating a Zazzle site feels like a good start, especially since I already sold one print.
But I want to do more. I have become so passionate about my latest creative pursuits. I feel like art and photography and writing are as integral to my life as breathing. I need to create.
I want to do more than just create, though. I feel like I've taken a first step...but I don't know in what direction. I know I won't be rich or famous from this, but I feel like there is something more on the horizon...I just don't know in which direction to look...
I put this together several weeks ago. Ugh. Awful! I gave up before I'd done much more than get started!
It can be so frustrating to turn what's in my mind's eye into a reality. I know what I want to do, and sometimes I achieve it, but there are times when I get the image you see above.
A couple weeks ago I went to a local cemetery in the hopes of capturing the "Super Moon". Missed the moon entirely, but I didn't want a wasted trip so I snapped various other shots. One shot was of a distant house, a little red one in the midst of brown and white houses.
I thought to myself that I could do something with that shot. So I started work. And I worked. And I deleted what I'd started. I started again. And again. It generally doesn't take me long to put an image together. I follow my gut and I'm off and running.
But I just couldn't get this one right.
Finally, it started to come together. I found a good horizon shot. The colors blended and merged. I remembered some other "tools of the trade" I had in my toolbox and put them to use. I blended and layered and tweaked.
And then I sighed with contentment. An image I was happy with. I don't think I've ever taken so long on a single image before. Phew!!
I am a teacher in Pennsylvania, as is my husband. We're lucky enough to teach in the same school district, his alma mater. We have always imagined that we would spend our lives living and working in his hometown, retiring after 35 years of service to the district that provided him with thirteen years of education, including a marvelous education in music, his first love and his chosen career.
And then the first shoe dropped. The economy bombed. A new governor was elected, one who saw the overspending of the previous governor and vowed to correct it.
Except in presenting his budget, the governor (a former teacher) made his stance on education perfectly clear: it doesn't matter.
With his proposal, school districts across the state are scrambling to make up for the monumental shortfall in funding. Sweeping program cuts. Furloughs of employees. One local district is furloughing over 100 people.
And yet prisons are getting an increase in funding. A relative of a colleague works as a teacher at one of the local prisons. They had so much leftover money in their budget that each prisoner taking his class got a laptop to use during that class. I have students who don't even have home computers. Where's the justice in that?
Our district hasn't released their plans for how they will deal with the budget shortfall. And that is scary. Especially when a neighboring district just cut kindergarten and all elementary arts programs.
My husband teaches elementary instrumental music; if he taught in that district, he'd be without a job for next year.
But that doesn't mean he's safe in our district. That doesn't mean any of us are safe. We're all waiting for the other shoe to drop, to see who will be gone, what programs will end, and how our students will suffer the loss of a well-rounded education.
It's not the school board's or administration's fault. When they get the state's budget, they'll do what they have to.
And what they have to do may have a horrible impact.
I did something I never thought I would do. I wrote my congressmen. I'm not a political person, and I can't stand political debate. It's generally too messy an issue for my liking. But yesterday, I wrote to my local representative and my local senator. Essentially, I sent the same letter, tailoring the end to what I know about them personally. Here's what I sent:
Dear Mr. Knowles,
Tom Corbett has sent a clear message to Pennsylvania: Education doesn’t matter because you’re all going to become criminals anyway.
Sounds shocking and erroneous, doesn’t it? That’s how it sounds to me, too, except that Corbett has basically stated just that with his attack on education and his obvious sympathy for the state’s correctional system.
Case in point: Education funding will decrease by 9.5% (to the tune of $550 million dollars) while correctional institutions will see an 11% increase and the probation/parole system will see a 6.3% increase.
What are Pennsylvanians supposed to take from this other than the fact that being well taken care of in prison is more important than an education?
These are hard economic times. It is, indeed, necessary to trim the state’s budget and to curtail spending.
But at what cost?
The United States has been on a steady decline in educational rankings in comparison to other countries. Instead of cutting funding, wouldn’t it be wiser to figure out why, to research what is working in other countries and incorporate it into our own educational systems? Wouldn’t it be wiser to replace twenty-year-old textbooks with online (and cheaper) texts that offer accurate information? Wouldn’t it be wiser to reduce class sizes to offer individualized education instead of packing classrooms with displaced students and creating an environment that isn’t only lacking educationally but is potentially dangerous?
And why contribute to a weak economy by creating more jobless? That’s what is going to happen when teachers get furloughed.
If anything, Mr. Knowles, think of your own grandson. Don’t you want him to have the best life possible? Don’t you want him to grow up to be a well-rounded and educated young man? We all want that for our children and for our grandchildren.
Well, I thought that was what we all wanted…until I saw the governor’s attack on one of the fundamental opportunities we can offer our children: a strong education.
The power is out of my hands, at least for the next four years. But it is not out of yours.
Please choose on the side of education.
Will it make a difference? Probably not based on the inane response I got; a form letter that basically passed the buck with shrug of noncommittal. But at least I tried, right?
I have to try. My husband's job, my friends' jobs, and who knows, even my job is at stake...
Also at stake? Education. These kids deserve better than to have a well-rounded education taken away from them. My son, who will be going to school in two years, deserves to have every opportunity in the world...and I am so afraid that part of that opportunity is going to be taken away.
There are so many times that it just doesn't feel like there's room for all of them within me. Like when I devote myself to one, I'm sacrificing the other. If I clean that room right now, I'm denying a little boy a chance to play with me. If I help my husband with his graduate work, I'm giving up my time to work on photography.
I realize that there are priorities. And I'll always put my son and husband first. My house second. Me? A distant third...fourth...seventeenth.
But there are times when that's so hard. I feel like I give away so many pieces of myself that there's nothing left of or for me.
So then I focus on myself. Just to put some of the pieces back together. To keep part of myself whole so that the rest of myself will be supported.
And then I feel like...well...like a jerk. Like I'm being selfish and unreasonable. I can't seem to find the balance between who I have to be, who I need to be, who I'm expected to be, and who I want to be...