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February 26, 2012: My Little Sister

My little sister Eleanor called this morning. She lives in Portland, Oregon. I often tell people that she’s the city mouse and I’m the country mouse.

I have the best sister in the whole world. She’s what I’m not – sociable, easy to get along with, generous, giving. It’s amazing to watch her in action – people readily take to her. I’m more reserved. I’m also not (as she is) an adept phone conversationalist. I just can’t get my thoughts together quick enough. It’s easier for me to write down what I’m thinking. Maybe El will later read this and then know that this is what I would have said, had I gotten it together fast enough.

Little sister

Eleanor teaches elementary school, in a poor school district. I could tell in December, when I visited her class, that her students all love her. I did tell her this, repeatedly, and she said that the day I visited, the day before Christmas break, was an easy day. Maybe so, but I suspect that the student’s desire to please her would be evident on even the most difficult of days.

Eleanor reminds me of Mrs. Westcott, my fourth grade teacher. She was an amazing woman who managed to bring out the best in me. I was a problem child in grades 3 and 5, but not in grade 4. For a year, the tantrums and bad behavior ceased. Mrs. Westcott was thought by the other students to be mean, but was probably a strict disciplinarian. Like El, she obviously loved teaching.

Burnout is a part and parcel of the elementary school profession. This is why El is considering going back to teaching ESL. When she told me this, I found myself wondering if she might not be cloned. An Eleanor in all school districts would be a very good thing. This would also mean that we’d talk more often, maybe several times a day. Heck, I could get me an Eleanor and she could live the upper cabin.

El is an inspiration to me as a teacher. I was not, in the past a good teacher. However, I’m doing way better this semester. I now empathize when students tell me why they weren’t in class or did not turn in papers – car accidents, illness, relationship issues being problematic. I’m not talking about a minor fender bender, a stubbed toe, or a surface disagreement with a spouse. No, I’m talking about car wrecks, fluctuating blood pressure, and spousal abuse. This is what I have learned – the majority of my students (many of whom are older) don’t live in an ideal world, that is one in which they can focus exclusively on their studies. Life impinges. Shit happens. Most are struggling to make ends meet.

So rather than close gates (which is what I used to do) I’m attempting to open them. Eleanor is in this respect a good mentor because she indirectly reminds me that this is the right thing to do.

Next: 81. 2/27/12: Rocky