Sunday, August 23, 2009

Substitute Teaching in Rural Northern California

I meant to do a write-up on this last week, when I thought I would have the leisure -- because I almost never get called during the first week of school. But, I got called for a three-day job on the second day of school, and then again for Friday. That's substitute teaching -- you never know what's going to happen, and your day's plans can change by a simple phone call.

From what I hear, subbing in a rural area is quite different from doing it in a city -- even a small city. There, you pretty much work for a single school district, which keeps you working every day. It's almost like having a full-time job. All the large districts are now automated, so you can pick an assignment online, or you get a recorded message by phone.

I work mostly in Tehama County, but I'm also on the list in Glenn County, going as far south as Orland. I don't work every day -- and that's not from choice. If I don't get a call, then I don't work, and there's no way I know of to make there be a job when there isn't one. I have run into subs who claim they work every day, but I have no idea how they manage it. As a new sub, I hardly got work at all, in spite of running around to all the schools and dropping off a card. It takes time before you establish the relationships that get you onto the "short list".

One of the districts I work for has just started an automated system. In some ways, it seems great to be able to just pick a job out of a list -- although none have appeared, so far. On the other hand, if my most regular districts did that, I'd miss the personal touch. There are some teachers who call me first, then when I assure them I'm available, they tell the sub clerk about the arrangement. Can't do that kind of thing when it's all taken care of by computer. Most of my jobs come from "regulars" i.e. teachers that ask for me.

Another thing that's different from urban subbing is that you have to work for several districts -- unless you don't mind a lot of days off or have a special relationship with a particular district. It's a bit complicated at tax time, because I get W-2s from each individual district -- and they vary from year to year. I don't get *a* paycheck. Each district sends me a check separately. If anybody had reason to attach my wages, they'd have a helluva time chasing them down.
Each of these districts does their accounting differently, too. In a rural area, a district can be quite small, containing only one little elementary school, in contrast to a city where a school district can have dozens of schools. Red Bluff is the largest that I sub for, and it has three elementary schools and a middle school.

I didn't start out to be a sub -- almost nobody does. Almost all substitute teachers are either just out of school and hoping to get into a permanent position, or they are retired teachers who are just earning a bit extra. For one thing, the pay is extremely low compared to having a full time job. I make between $85 and $115 per day, and there are only 180 days a year I can work -- and I don't work all of them. You do the math. Most people who don't get a permanent job move on to something they can make a living at. It wasn't so bad for me, really -- once I got past the disappointment. Before becoming a sub, I was a stay-at-home mom, so we were used to getting by one income. And I love the job.

One of the great things about being a sub is the variety. I normally work in K-5, but in special education I've worked with every level from preschool to post-high school. I've worked in resource (which is mostly tutoring for kids in regular classrooms), and in community day school (which is for kids with behavior problems.) I normally avoid the larger middle schools, but in the one I do work in I've taught every subject, including fly fishing and calf roping. (Only in Red Bluff would you get an elective class in calf roping!) A job can be for half a day; the longest I've ever worked in one place has been three months.

And I love the kids -- the eager kindergartners wanting to share their achievements, the autistic kid making a breakthrough, the middle-schooler just developing an interest in politics or science fiction or whatever.

You have the bad days. One probably isn't supposed to say this, but there are some classes that are just impossible. When I get one of those, I don't sub for that teacher for the rest of the year. That's the reason I don't do middle school any more; I'm not so desperate for a day of work that I have to put up with spitballs, rudeness, and refusal to stay on task. After seven years of substitute teaching, I'm fairly skilled at getting kids to do what I need them to do, but I'm not a miracle-worker. Part of it is my own temperament -- I can deal with an autistic kid in full meltdown better than a snotty group of 7th graders who decide it's fun to give the sub a hard time. But mileage varies from teacher to teacher. I've known teachers who are at a total loss with little kids, and some are downright scared of special ed. (Oooh, yuck, diapers!) Some teachers just love teenagers.

Anyway, another school year has started. I'm not scheduled for tomorrow, but that could change the next time the phone rings. With substitute teaching, you never know . . .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Of Course Exercise Won't Make You Thin

The Time article "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin" is getting a lot of discussion out there. Apparently, like those who drink diet soda, Americans who hit the gym just make up the lost calories by eating more. It's big news, I guess, that vigorous exercise makes you hungry. That's why ranchers used to serve huge dinners at lunch time to their hands -- after a morning of hard physical labor, they were ravenous.

O.K., I'm going to come out with a dictum: Do not think about weight loss, do what is healthy for your body. Don't exercise to lose weight; exercise because it makes you healthier and especially resistant to the maladies of middle age. Don't eat right to lose weight, eat right because your body needs you to. Now, if you do this, you may very well take off some weight, in a slow, sustainable way. It probably won't make you acceptable in anyone's weight table, or get you into size 5 jeans -- but if you put your focus on that you'll only make yourself crazy, which doesn't improve your chances.

Like most overweight people, I have a history. I was small as a little kid, and around the age of 8 I started getting chubby, probably due to emotional overeating and Mom's lack of cooking skill that led us to eat out quite a bit. But when the courts sent us to live with Dad, my step-mother put me on a diet, and as it happens, I was just hitting puberty. So, the summer I turned twelve, I lost ten pounds and grew three inches. The fat, rejected, teased 6th grader turned into a cute 7th grader who got whistled at when she walked to school. It was a catepillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis, made even better by the fact that starting school in a new town meant that no one knew I'd ever been fat.

At fifteen I was full-grown, and perfect: five foot four-and-a-half, 125 pounds -- and an emotional basket case. All the folks who just say fat people just need to summon up enough will power to stay away from the donuts really don't have a clue. You don't get anywhere by lecturing someone who is depressed; you have to take care of the depression before they can get their act together, on anything.

The weight began creeping up: "Oh my gosh, 130 pounds!" So, I dieted -- 1000 calories a day, lunching on an apple and a can of diet Pepsi. I did that several times through high school and college, literally shedding tears over it. Fat meant nobody would like me. Fat meant I was a horrible person. Fat meant I didn't have the right to exist on the planet. It was a huge emotional trip.

Frankly, that why MeMe Roth makes me mad: She's really just an adult version of the playground bully, who makes it her business to tell the overweight that they are disgusting and shouldn't exist. (She was complaining about plus size panty liners, for heaven's sake!) Her health message -- and some of her points are valid--gets lost in her finger-pointing.

But I digress. The weight crept up, and I dieted. Then it crept up again. Somewhere in there I pretty much decided I had to live on starvation-level calories for the rest of my life, or I was doomed to fatness -- faced with that choice, I gave up. I was around 140 pounds when I graduated from college, and afterwards, I quickly plumped up like a Ball Park Frank.

Healthy eating takes cooking skill, and money, and I had neither. It also takes a certain amount of emotional stability, and those post-college years were really the low point of my life. Somewhere, as I matured, I began shifting my focus towards health, rather than recovering my adolescent beauty -- which by that point would become impossible, thin or not. I'd go on an occasional "health kick", then it would slip away. At this point, I resented the amount of mental attention it required; I'd get bored and want to go on to something else. The problem with fitness gurus is that health is their profession, or at least, their main hobby. Normal people have other interests they'd like to pursue.

A few years ago, I started working on making sustainable changes -- things I could live with. For six months, I didn't lose any weight, but I felt better. Then, I was diagnosed with diabetes. This gave me a motivation -- I'd really just as soon keep my eyesight, and my toes. With further dietary changes, strict watch over my blood sugar, and water pills for high blood pressure, I took off thirty pounds. Slowly, over a period of a couple of years -- and to date, I've kept them off.

But the weight loss stopped. I don't know if it's accurate to call it a plateau, because I've been stuck in it for close to two years. I eat around 1800 calories a day, and every time I try to go lower than that, I just get crazy hungry and am in bigger danger of eating the wrong foods. I'm still working on where I can sustainably cut.

Anyway, the focus these days is health -- whole grains, veggies, good fats, exercise. Health is something I can feel good about, and it distances me from the emotional traps involved in losing weight.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's My Birthday and I'll Blog if I Want To

I turned 49 today -- an age that doesn't get much in the way of special attention. And August is invariably the bottom of the year for us financially -- I haven't had a paycheck since early July, and there are back-to-school expenses for the kids. Not a good time for going out to dinner in a nice restaurant. So, I celebrated by going to see "Julie and Julia". I don't mind at all going to see a movie alone -- I never really got why some people think that going to the movies is a social occasion. In fact, I like just being out on my own, doing my thing. The last movie I saw was "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", and my kids, who are old enough to know better, talked so much that I found another place to sit, feeling rather that it was a mistake to bring them along.

"Julie and Julia" is definitly a chick flick, and judging by the audience, an old chick flick. In fact, most probably remember Julia Child being on public television. But unlike most films of that type, I laughed most of the way through it. Meryl Streep was as terrific as all the reviews say she was. I was reminded very much of my Grandma, who liked Julia Child because, in spite of the fancy cuisine she taught, she was very much a *real* person. Grandpa could never stand her voice -- but he had a thing about voices. I never got to watch "All in the Family" as a kid 'cause the second Edith hit the high note in the opening song, Grandpa would change the channel.

But Grandma loved Julia, and she loved cooking. "You cook by feel", she'd say. And I found she's right -- at least the way I cook. I don't have much use for making my way through a fancy recipe which requires a lot of special and expensive ingredients that I don't normally have around my kitchen. I make things, like soup, where I can just use what I have. No canned tomatoes? Fine, I'll just throw in some V-8 juice. Beans, onions, celery, carrots and some herbs will make a soup of some kind -- and if I have fresh parsley, so much the better.
So, for me, Julia Child is more fun to watch in action than to actually try to emulate. She was a character -- and in Streep's performance, at least, I got the picture of a woman who really loved life.

Also, from what I understand, she didn't think much of the current fears about fat and carbs -- and she lived to be 92. I wouldn't dare add all that yummy butter to anything nowadays -- I use olive oil on my breakfast toast, and that sparingly. (Locally processed olive oil -- good stuff!)

The reviewers were rather negative about the parts of the movie that dealt with blogger Julie Powell -- and I think that's a bit unfair. A well-loved personality like Julia Child played by an actress like Meryl Streep is an unfair comparison to just about anybody. Julie Powell took on a tough project, and wrote a good blog about it. If I was trying to cook fancy and unfamiliar cuisine in what Grandma would call a "t.v. dinner kitchen", I'd probably be reduced to a meltdown or two myself.

Anyway, I had fun watching a lot of talk about fine dining, without actually having a birthday dinner.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Meme Roth Just Hates Fat, or Even Slighly Plump, People

I've been seeing quite a bit of this woman around lately, particularly on Fox News. And, as my husband said "The woman's a bigot. It's like putting the head of the KKK on t.v."

The Guardian interview (click on the blog post title) reveals a woman with *huge* hang-ups who needs to get her own house in order. She's not concerned with health -- nobody who refuses to eat until she does her four-mile run, no matter how late in the day that might be,is really concerned with health. She has a terror of being fat and is mostly concerned with looks and vanity. There is already a great deal of shame and stigma associated with being overweight; Roth is a victim of it as much as a perpetrator. She appears to be personally offended by fat people being in public, as in her condemnation of American Idol winner Jordin Sparks -- who is not even fat and just fails to meet Meme's rail-thin ideal. She was on Fox News yesterday griping about Obama's nominee for Surgeon-General, Regina Benjamin, who isn't thin enough to suit her. The impression one gets is that Meme would prefer that all fat people just slink away and hide from the public eye, preferably unemployed so they can't afford to eat.

Fortunately, most professionals who deal with obesity know that education and positive encouragement work a whole lot better than shame and stigma.

Just recently I ran across a magazine in a doctor's office that told a story of a woman who lost 100 pounds -- o.k., terrific for her. But I noted that, not only does she diet, she works out two or three hours every day. And I couldn't help thinking just how large a chunk that is out of a person's leisure time. Most people have little enough time between work, taking care of their families, and just the necessary things we have to do in life, without filling in most of our free time with exercise -- particularly if you don't really enjoy exercise. It's kind of a hopeless message to tell the overweight that diet and exercise have to become an obsession or we are just worthless hunks of flab. We are human beings -- who need time to think, to do something creative, maybe to have a relaxed conversation or watch a movie. I'd rather die of a heart attack than live that kind of a life, where I'm so frightened of putting on an ounce that I can't enjoy anything.

I can't help but wonder how long it's been since MeMe Roth watched a movie or read a book, or spent time on a hobby -- or would she consider such mind-engaging activities a waste of time?

As far as healthy habits go, it's far better to make small, sustainable choices than to make it an obsession. That's what I did -- and I lost 30 pounds and got such good control of my blood sugar that I could go off medication. I exercise a more moderate half-hour to an hour a day -- yoga, tai chi, walking. I don't do exercise that I hate; I found types of exercise that I enjoy, and that I will stick with because I enjoy it. I'm not yet thin enough for MeMe to let me out in public, and maybe never will be, but I eat a healthy diet with little meat or junk food, lots of veggies and whole grains -- and I have time to do other things in my life that I like a whole lot better than the treadmill.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Twitter vs. Blogging

A few days ago, I jumped aboard the latest Internet bandwagon and got a Twitter page. I really had low expectations of the experience -- after all, what can you write in 140 characters that's worth reading?
But I'm finding some advantages -- the biggest being that because I have to keep it short, I can make more comments on a wider variety of topics. On my blogs, I usually feel like I have to write a relatively well-thought out essay -- which means, in practice, that many ideas, or even draft posts, never are actually posted. The blog just sits there, as the most recent post gets older and older. Most visitors who arrive usually do so from a search or link, not because they are regular followers of the blog. Sometimes, I don't have time or thought to spare for writing. It's easier to find five minutes several times a day, than an hour once a day, or even once a week.

This gives me the space to comment on a wider variety of topics -- Baha'i stuff, Asperger's Syndrome, yoga, teaching, whatever I'm reading, or whatever topic in the news takes my fancy. When you don't have to write well, it's easier to to write broadly. It always bothered me, back when I was entangled in forum debates, that people tended to put me in a kind of box, based upon whatever impression my posts on Baha'i issues gave them. If I was angry, they saw me as an irredeemably angry person. If I was inspired, they saw me as spiritual. If I was concerned they saw me as compassionate. No doubt, if I stumbled, they dismissed me as a fool. The truth is that I'm all of those things -- sometimes. Human beings are complicated, and always in flux. Twitter captures that, I think, whereas other forms of online communication remain frozen in time.

There are disadvantages, though. Because Twitter is short and fast, it also tends to be more trivial. Do people really want to know the small details of my day? Probably not -- but I put them down anyway. Twitter begs to be constantly updated. When I read it, I tend to gravitate towards links, which lead me into a more in-depth discussion of a topic, but more personal tweets will sometimes make me smile.

I tried to get my Twitter updates put here on Karen's Thoughts, but Blogger put it on Unenrolled Baha'i -- my guess is because it has a more up-to-date layout.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Looking for Asperger's Resources in Tehama County

I haven't talked about this much online, only privately to friends, but my 19-year-old son, Trevor, has Asperger's Syndrome. It's really been a long journey with him -- he was diagnosed late, but he was always "different". When he was little, I thought I was the mother of a budding genius. He knew his alphabet and numbers by the age of two -- in fact, he had an extraordinary fascination with them. He would ignore pretty pictures of bunnies and duckies to point at the page number, or the beginning letter. He used to read license plates. When he was two, he began reading words -- the first being "Sears" and "Raley's". When he got money for his 4th birthday, he chose a toy clock, and within a few months could tell time -- he'd already learned digital time from the microwave clock. He knew the times tables when he was six.

When I took my little genius to pre-school, the teacher suggested he had speech delays, and really pushed for him to be tested. Trevor got speech help from preschool clear until sixth grade, and it was this speech teacher that first suggested that he had some characteristics that were similar to high-functioning Asperger's kids.

Trevor remembers his school years with intense bitterness. Kids played tricks on him because he was naive, or just teased him for being different. Once he said to his speech teacher, while they watched the kids on the playground, "They're playing. I'd like to play, too, but I don't know how." By middle school he routinely spent his recesses just pacing the perimeter of the playground, alone. The few rare friends he had would inevitably dump him after a while -- in one instance, at a parent's insistence.

My thought, for most of those years, was that Trevor just had the social awkwardness you often see in nerdy kids, and that as he matured, things would get better. Then, one day, he became frustrated with something or another, and started screaming and hitting himself in the head, and I could no longer deceive myself: Normal eleven-year-olds don't do that. In fact, with the hindsight gained in my experience as a substitute teacher in Special Ed classes, I can see that this is fairly typical autistic behavior.

So I went searching for information on autism-spectrum disorders -- and in my amateur fashion it seemed like Trevor was hyperlexic. And, actually, I wasn't wrong -- hyperlexia is characerized by the kind of intense interest in letters he had as a young child. It was just one of the cluster of characteristics that make up his disorder.

In his Freshman year of high school, Trevor had a severe bout of depression that required professional intervention. It was around that time, I found that Sacramento State did low-cost testing, and I finally got the official diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. At this point, having the label was important so that he could get help when he stated attending community college.

That's where he's at now. College has been better than high school, with it's social pressures -- but it is not problem-free. In spite of his high intelligence, Trevor's grades are pretty average. He has trouble with organization and needs support from me to take care of the paperwork involved in attending college. When confronted with a new situation, he just freezes like a deer in the headlights.

Trevor desperately needs job experience. It's too much to ask to just have him go around town filling out job applications. We've tried nagging him to do that and gotten nowhere. He's afraid of new situations, and nagging just makes him feel bad about himself, which paralyzes him even more.

Another factor is that his odd mannerisms mark him as "different" and most potential employers would just roll their eyes and dismiss him. And his difference is noticeable: One driver's training instructor chewed me out for even thinking about allowing him to drive, comparing him to her retarded daughter. It has been really hard for me to see my early-reading math whiz grow up into a teenager that people mistake as retarded. They say that people with Asperger's Syndrome have about a 50/50 chance at being able to live a normal life -- but the older he gets, the worse the odds seem to be.

He also has big emotional hang-ups about being rejected because of his "difference" -- and job-hunting is 99% rejection. To just push him out into the world is a sure way to send him into depression. Besides that, Trevor tends to make mistakes that mark him as lacking "common sense" and bosses are unlikely to put up with that. So what he really needs is a program that takes account of his disability. He's quite capable of working, but he needs very clear and specific instructions about what he's supposed to do, and what he should not do. He's not a kid that will simply see what needs to be done and jump in there -- a bad thing in the job market where being a "self-starter" is so highly valued.

However, the local job programs for people with disabilities don't deal with Asperger's -- for them, Trevor is not severly impaired enough. We wasted all last summer trying to get him into one -- and after much testing, discussion, expense and paperwork, we were just told what we were told when I first called: "We don't do Asperger's". I think they figured that they could somehow recategorize him into another disorder on the autism spectrum, but no such luck.

So, we're just stuck. I really want to find some alternative to just keeping him in school as long as we can before just giving up to allow him live his life back in his room -- to write his stories, surf on the 'Net, and play video games.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Working Just for the Health Insurance

There's been some talk lately about the slowing economy, and the big drop in the stock market, forcing retirees back into the job market. But there's a problem that the media seems to have overlooked, and surprisingly, I couldn't find much about it on the web at all, and that's folks who could retire, but don't, because they'd lose their health insurance and wouldn't be able to afford to carry it on their own. Everything I could find was on working people who can't get health insurance at all -- which I suppose puts us in a luckier category. But, the older I get, the more people I run into who can't retire. The days are gone when someone could retire and look forward to 20 years of comfortable leisure afterwards, like my parents' generation did.

My Jim is 57 years old and has worked for the Probation Department for 30 years. The total cost of his insurance is $1000 per month -- largely paid by his employer. He's nine years older than I am, so even at 65, when he could get Medicare, he couldn't quit work because then I wouldn't have health coverage. So, my husband can't retire until he's 74 -- and we'd better pray that his health allows him to do that, because there's no way I could ever replace him as primary breadwinner at this stage of my life. Substitute teachers don't get health insurance; we're considered to be independent contractors.

*sigh* Life is fragile, you know? A perfectly decent, hardworking, responsible family can just go straight down the tubes when disaster strikes -- and health-related disasters are one of the biggest factors sending people into bankruptcy.

My online friends in other countries are continually astonished at the American disdain for taxes, I know -- but it would take a revolution to change it. No way are we getting a "one-payer" system -- maybe small adustments here and there, covering certain classes of people, but not the full-scale socialized medicine. The voters in this country will never stand for it. To tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure that should happen, myself, although there are some good arguments for it.

I guess, in spite of liberalizing tendencies as I've grown older I still do have that conservative streak -- I can't help but feel that my health care shouldn't be somebody else's problem. If I can't afford to go to the doctor, then I don't go to the doctor -- just like I don't get things like dental implants that my dentist thinks I should have but insurance doesn't cover; I just live without a couple of molars. Just like I can get accupuncture for my TMJ (which insurance partially covers), but not the dental treatment from a specialist (which insurance doesn't cover at all).

Maybe it's generational -- my grandma and Jim's mother would both say, in such situations, that "There ought to be something there" or "They ought to have this" -- meaning a government program to take care of whatever problem was under discussion. But I never had that sense of outraged entitlement. If I had my act together enough to have developed a career, we wouldn't have this problem -- and that's an easy stone to throw for anyone who cared to. So, I can worry -- but I don't really feel like I have the right to bitch.

It's strange -- I wouldn't be resentful if there were public programs for other people; I just don't feel like I should be asking for one for myself. An American thing? The way I was raised? I don't know.