Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nightmare In Atlanta: January 28th, 2014

Dear Literary Loves,
Greetings from snowy metropolitan Atlanta!  And no this is not going to be an update about where my manuscript is in the submission process or a book review.  We have serious chaos in the city of Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs.  How serious?  Well, schools to the north of Atlanta did NOT release students early today.  They tried to get in a full day of school even though it started snowing here in Duluth, GA by noon.  And it kept snowing.  Most of the roads in the city and the surrounding suburbs were not pretreated with brine.  Presently, most Interstates have become parking lots as the temperature has dropped and ice has formed on the roads.  Students are stranded on buses, students are stranded at schools, and many parents trying to pick up their kids are stranded on untreated roads.   I'in in Duluth, Georgia and we have three inches and it's still snowing.  How Did This Happen?  Let Me Count The Ways:

1)  Local Meteorologists Missed The Forecast:  I watched two different local versions of the weather for north Georgia last night around six in the evening.  Both forecasters said this approaching storm would only be a severe hazard for cities and counties SOUTH of Atlanta.  If the north Atlanta suburts did get any precipitation, we were informed it "might" be a dusting of snow.  So schools went on time  today and did not release early. 

2)  Schools Did Not Release Early:  As I said in the above paragraph the schools in the northern suburbs of Atlanta did not release students early.  And this was including after the snow started accumulating around one in the afternoon  and it was still snowing heavily.  This is a recipe for disaster.  The roads were getting bad and schools should have released at noon today.  Also, the school systems needed to do a better job of communicating with parents. 

3)  Department Of Transportation Did NOT Prepare The Roads:  Now people I am originally from North Carolina and we don't get snowfall like Minnesota, but the folks there are bright enough to know that you better pretreat the roads before, during, and after a storm.  ARE WE CLEAR?  You can't wait until after the snow/sleet has been falling and all of metropolitan Atlanta is trying to get home from work, school, appointments, etc.  Now, we've got so much traffic chaos that the road crews CANNOT get the roads treated due to all the traffic stranded on the highways and even in the emergency lanes. 

Yes, the governor of Georgia just issued a state of emergency, but really, if folks had the foresight to take the path of being prepared ahead of time, much of this chaos could have been avoided.  If you get people prepared days in advance of a hurricane with weather reports, evacuations, and emergency supplies, then there darn well should be some priority planning for when the rare blue moon decides to shine on Atlanta in the form of a major winter storm!  Comprende?!!

And that's my take on the situation.  If you need me I'll be out shoveling the driveway and sidewalk by my house, feeding the birds and deer, and wondering why a city like metropolitan Atlanta can't get its act together before and during a major winter storm.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review: Why Do Only White People Get Abducted By Aliens?! Lessons From The Bronx by Ilana Garon

Dear Lit Loves,
I seriously hope 2014 turns out to be my year as I am now working on completion of my fourth manuscript.  This latest one is related to being one of the youngest folks to be diagnosed with Meniere's disease and how it has impacted my life as I have coped with it now for almost twenty four years.  In the meantime, I read the memoir entitled Why Do Only White People Get Abducted By Aliens?!  Lessons From The Bronx by Ilana Garon.  Given my history of teaching inner city school at the middle school level, this book brought back the memories let me tell you.  This testament to teaching is written by a young woman who spent her first years being an instructor at a high school located in the Bronx.   I truly felt empathy for her as she really was a first year teacher thrown to the wolves without any experienced teaching professional as a teaching mentor.  I've been there and done that as well.  Ms. Garon writes her memoir in the form of vignettes or chapters that describe the various types of students she encountered during her first years of teaching.  She also includes emails she was sending to friends and family about what it is like teaching in such a challenging and difficult environment.  The emails usually appear at the end of a given chapter and may be more information about the students written about in that chapter or may be more reflections on her experiences with other students and staff at the school.

The first point to note is that when you go to teach in an inner city school you are not going to encounter a restrictive and highly disciplined school environment unless you are able to create it yourself by having the students connect with you as an instructor or if you have a highly effective administration.   I was shocked at the outright vulgar and hostile student behavior described by Ms. Garon.  I had similar encounters during my teaching tenure; however, no kid was ever allowed to just get up from a seat and leave class to do whatever he/she wanted.  Interestingly, Ms. Garon also had students who were purposely skipping classes or students walking into her English classes just because they found her teaching more interesting than what was happening in the classroom where they were assigned.    A lot of the chaos within the school described occurs because there are well over 4,000 students attending several different schools located in the same building.  I've never seen a teaching environment/school environment like this.  You have smaller schools for advanced students within a larger high school environment of students that have little interest in their education.  I found it completely outlandish that the school's administration was not allowed to suspend students from school due to it being against the law to interfere with a student's educational interests.  If you proved an irritation or distraction where I taught, you would be sent to an "alternative" school which was situated in a completely different location.  The alternative schools were for those students who could not and sometimes would not make any measurable effort to learn and oftentimes prevented others from their right to a thriving, engaged learning environment. 

Another difference I noted between Ms. Garon's inner city teaching experience and mine was that I had experience under my belt teaching at a variety of middle schools through internships, case studies, and student teaching.  By the time I was recruited to teach in an inner city middle school I was not fresh out of college; I had some life experience under my belt and was twenty eight years of age.  Additionally, I did not come from a privileged socioeconomic background.  I didn't attend private schools and I most certainly did not attend prestigious, private colleges.  I was proud of the fact that I had gone to tough public schools that were still working to integrate students not only of different racial backgrounds, but also varying socioeconomic backgrounds.  It wasn't easy.  I quickly learned what it meant to be hated just because I was a white, middle class female.  Honestly, when I was in high school we were still experiencing racial riots.  I think my background helped me get my inner city school students, many who had moved from the New York, New Jersey, and Maryland areas, to buy into the concept that I had a basic understanding of where my students came from and what obstacles in life they were facing and would encounter.  Essentially I got my inner city school students to "buy in" to actively participating in the rewards that would come from getting the most from school that they could.  It also helped put pressure on problematic students to get with the program or be expelled from the classroom and school..

Occasionally, as a former inner city school teacher I would cringe during some encounters Ms. Garon had with students.  I could hear myself thinking, don't buy into it!  Or, he's up to no good!  Or, don't put that on a test!   I never became involved with my inner city school students ouside of school.  There's just way too much risk that something could be misconstrued.  There's no way even today that my students would have my personal cell number, my personal email address, or text message me.  I did make myself available after school to assist students with what we were studying or projects that were assigned.  I'm not on Facebook because I think it's juvenile.  Plus, I don't want the world all up inside my personal business.  I viciously protect my personal privacy and I don't regret taking this stance as an instructor because I saw one too many teachers fall prey to adverse ramifications of getting too close to students personally. 

There is one universal theme here about teaching in an inner city school:  You can't save them all.  If you don't understand and accept this concept, you will burn out quickly.  You do what you can for those who are willing and that's all you can do.  It's not about being a teaching superhero:  it's about making a difference in the lives of the vast majority of students that you are able to help.  Some students are going to fall through the cracks through no fault of a teacher.  There's a lot of factors that play into a student's rising and falling; you have to see yourself as a guiding force that participates in a student's life for a short amount of time and you do the best you can to help them rise above their circumstances and learn how to advocate for themselves and their opportunity to become better people through learning and getting an education.

This was a great book.  It brought back a lot of memories.  More books like this should be published to give society a better look inside what's really happening in the world of education today.

Till next time,
Grace (Amy) 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: Knocking On Heaven's Door: A Path To A Better Way Of Death by Katy Butler

Dear Lit Loves,
Wow!  Here we are on January 1st, 2014!  Naturally, I spent my holidays reading away in my office,  at the library, at a cafe table in Barnes & Noble, and underneath my Christmas tree when it was not being occupied by my two cats, Romeo and Chewie.  I like books that tackle tough issues.  I've never been shy when it comes to drama.  This is evidenced by my stylist recently asking me while snipping away at my pixie cut what I saw in terms of movies over the holidays and what movies I was planning to see.  "Well, I'm jumping up and down to see August:  Osage County starring Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep!" I say emphatically about to jump out of the salon chair.  My stylist asks me what the movie is about and I tell her "Family DRAMA!  I Can't Wait!" I squeal as I try to decide whether I want red highlights.  Naturally, there's always a sourpuss in the building because the woman who is under the dryer in the suite having her color done says, "Well, it definitely ain't no comedy, that's for sure!"  I was downright horrified.  "What's wrong with drama?!" I ask.  "Can't take the heat? the quarrels?  the knock-down, drag out verbal altercations?" I ask.  I mean, really, who was she to get all up in my business anyway!  I love drama!  Drama sells honey, where the heck have you been living?  (Miss Comedy Central never uttered another word).  My stylist and I are interested in seeing drama involving families cause Lord knows, we've done a few rounds in the ring with our families.  In the meantime, I tell my stylist about this book I'm reading now entitled Knocking On Heaven's Door by Katy Butler.  "Girl, it's a heavy read and I can only do about three chapters at a time, but damn, this is stuff we all gotta deal with one way or another!" I say in my most dead serious manner.

So, are we overtreating the elderly in our society today?  When we discuss with our parents the concept of going ahead with that pacemaker insertion surgery or whether to try that fifth cocktail of chemotherapy, are we thinking about how that may impact their quality of life the day after not to mention several years down the line?  Do our parents have a living will?  Do they want to be resuscitated if they are in severe cognitive and bodily decline?  Most families tend to avoid these discussions.  And caregiving tends to fall to the daughter(s) in the family.  Do you know where your or your parents' primary care doctor stands on "DNR" ( do not resuscitate) policies?  For that matter, where do YOU stand on do not resuscitate policies?  And did you know that if you desire hospice or palliative care for yourself or a family member, you better have not only thought about what qualifies as compassionate care, but also have filled out documents known as advanced directives.  Ms. Butler was given a crash course in caring for parents in a Fast Medicine/Do Everything Under The Sun To Save The Patient world when her father had a stroke in 2001.  Her father was not the same man.  He had trouble with his speech and gait; he had already lost a hand during a war.  Her mother became his chief caregiver day and night.  When her father was advised by doctors to have hernia surgery he also went for cardiac tests to determine if he could handle the surgery.  He was told he needed a pacemaker and he got one, but no one told him or anyone else in the family that the pacemaker might outlast the term of living remaining for her dad.  Meanwhile, her mother is helping the dad eat, bathe, brush his teeth, get dressed, and answering the same questions he asks her multiple times a day.  The father even told Katy one day that he felt he was living too long.  Katy Butler is the sibling that flies back and forth from the west coast to the east coast to try and help her mother who is slowly collapsing from the stress of caregiving.  Her brothers remain largely absent in this process.  It's left up to the children to help their mother find outside sources of care that can give their mother a break from the highly demanding responsibility of caring for their debilitated father.  And did you know that if your father has a second or third catastrophic stroke, you and your living parent might have to prove to a doctor or hospital bioethics administrator that it's time to allow your father to die peacefully; you might have to prove that your father's quality of life is being hindered by the actual pacemaker inserted to keep him living in order to get him hospice or palliative care.  It's mind boggling when you stop and really think about what it means to die peacefully.

 Our medical personnel and institutions in this country are adamant about trying every conceivable procedure, test, medicine, and Hail Mary last resort in order to save someone when what might be the best for the patient is to allow him/her the privilege of dying in a peaceful, compassionate manner.  Sometimes that means hospice and palliative care.  Oftentimes though, people die in Intensive Care Units that cost $300,00 a week to maintain life-sustaining technologies when absolutely nothing in the Intensive Care Unit and no drug or operation is ever truly going to allow that person to live in a meaningful way ever again or rise from a patient bed and be the dignified, personable individual you once knew.

This is a timely read.  Death is inevitable.  It's time to think about how you wish to spend your remaining time on earth if God forbid something catastrophic happens, and more importantly, it's time to ask our parents how they wish to spend their final days in the here and now before they step from this world into the next.  Have you thought about it?  Because I can personally tell you that life threatening illness and catastrophe can and does happen in the blink of an eye.  Best be ready.

Till my next read or update,
Grace (Amy)