Archive for the ‘education’ Category

One time, not so long ago, I was fired…

Thursday, April 4th, 2024

Oysterville Schoolhouse 2008

I’ve spent the last hour or so reading all the “school news” in the Chinook Observer — way more than I really care about and even more that I don’t fully understand.  For one thing, back in the dark ages (from 1961 to 2001) I don’t think either of the School Districts I worked for — Hayward Unified in California and Ocean Beach here — had a Human Resources Department or even a Human Resources Person.   I’m not entirely sure what that is — someone who deals with homo sapiens rather than with bots?  In any case, the word “fired” wasn’t really used in the paper,  but I’m thinking that an enforced resignation comes close to the same thing. and since it sounded as if both sides were in agreement, I was left wondering what all the consternation was about.

I couldn’t help but think back a few years when — during the time that we were slowly recovering from the pandemic —  I was “fired.”  Yep.  Right there in black and white on an email because I had been too outspoken.  Never mind that I refused follow an “order” that I felt would put people in jeopardy — the circumstances really aren’t germane.  What is to the point, I was a volunteer, and as I replied to the email from person-in-charge, ‘it’s hard to fire a volunteer.’  Plus I was here at Ground Zero and knew what we were up against; I have no idea where the firing squad was. It’s difficult to know with emails.

Anyway, the articles in the paper saddened me.  You would think that “educators” of all people, could sit down together and rationally decide how to solve a problem.  And, if the problem has been going on for some time, as the articles indicate, why hasn’t it been dealt with before?  Another case of Oh let’s not air our dirty laundry in public?  Or fear of a messy lawsuit?  Or a desire by school leadership to save face in our small community?

Oysterville Schoolhouse circa 1880

But, it seems that even our schools have gone corporate. (Says the web:  When it comes to business, going corporate means to create a body of systems: policies, models, frameworks, procedures. Going corporate means being organized, knowing how things work, and intentionally choosing to operate in a way that gets results. )  Here in the Ocean Beach School District, of all places, we are small enough that we should be able to deal with one another as human beings, not as appropriate paragraphs in a procedural manual.

I hope this situation will be a wake-up call to us all.  We need to hold our administrators, educators (and our students!) to high standards and. as community members. we need to stay well informed about what is going on in our schools.  Our responsibilities don’t end with passing bond issues.  Besides paying taxes, we need to pay attention.  Most of us aren’t in danger of being fired or having to face a Human Resources guru.  We are actually volunteers and we can’t be fired.  So let’s get more involved and speak out when it seems important.

Wasn’t it apostrophes? Now I’m not so sure.

Friday, March 22nd, 2024


There used to be a running joke among elementary school teachers that Americans just could NOT get how to use apostrophes.  I thought (silly me! that it was the one basic bit of usage that was the least understood by the most adults.  I’ve written several blogs explaining apostrophes, the most recent being Apostrophes Are Simple Really written back in 2011.  Here’s the link:  Check it out.

Now, though, I’m not so sure that apostrophes are the most mis-understood of the basics in English usage.  I think it goes right back to the identification of a syllable — second only to the A-B-Cs as far as understanding how to read and write.  “Who cares?” you may say.  And you may be right.  But, I for one think that if you can’t identify a syllable, you probably are in need of reading and writing assistance.

I found a great explanation online which I’ll  include in this blog, but first I want to thank my friend Vicki for posting a game involving the first syllable of the player’s name.  I was amazed at how many of the responders couldn’t identify their very own first syllable!  Maybe they don’t care, but to me it’s another of those big announcements regarding the failure of our education system.  The first grade teacher in me came bursting forth!

Clapping Out Syllables

Here is a simple lesson for you to practice in the privacy of your own home — maybe using the first names of family members:

  • “All words have syllables. A word might have one, two, or even more syllables.”
  • Reading has two syllables: read (clap)—ing (clap).” To demonstrate, clap as you say each syllable.
  • Blue has one syllable: blue (clap).”
  • Pumpkin has two syllables: pump (clap)—kin (clap).”
  • “Now you try. Clap your hands for each syllable in the word pig.”

This is from the Spelling section of the All About Learning Press website.  Check it out!

Fifty-three Years Ago Today!

Saturday, April 22nd, 2023

The very first Earth Day was celebrated fifty-three years ago today — April 22, 1970.  It was a Wednesday and I was team-teaching in a K-6 double-classroom at Park Elementary School in Hayward, California.  As I recall, we spent almost all day outside.

We picked up litter around the neighborhood.  We planted trees on the perimeter of the playground.  We talked about composting and recycling and what we could do at home and within the community to help celebrate and conserve our planet.  We began talking about “environmental education.”

Senator Gaylord Nelson

It had all begun the previous September when U. S. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin envisioned an idea for a national event based on the success of the Viet Nam teach-ins.  He announced the Earth Day concept at a conference in Seattle and invited the entire nation to get involved.

Since 1970, Earth Day celebrations have continued to grow.   In 1990, Earth Day went global, with 200 million people in over 140 nations participating, according to the Earth Day Network (EDN), a nonprofit organization that coordinates Earth Day activities. In 2000, Earth Day focused on clean energy and involved hundreds of millions of people in 184 countries and 5,000 environmental groups, according to EDN.

Today, the Earth Day Network collaborates with more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries. According to EDN, more than 1 billion people are involved in Earth Day activities, making it “the largest secular civic event in the world.”

It all sounds like a fantastic success — until  you drive along the highways and byways and on our fabulous Weather Beach and see the day-to-day detritus build up.  Obviously, our next challenge is to make every day an Earth Day focus!



Flags Flying in Oysterville!

Wednesday, August 24th, 2022

Flags Flying in Oysterville

Check it out!  A couple of doors north and across the street from our place is the wonderful house that Lina and Dave Cordray own.  It’s the “modern” house many people ask about — the one built by Jim and Leigh Wilson-Codega back in the nineties.  The one with the wrap-around deck that looks so inviting.

Today the house is all decked out (ahem) with bigger-than-life-sized flags — at least ten of them  — some recognizable, but many not.  At least not to me.  And they are probably not “bigger-than-life-sized” either.  It’s just that you seldom see full -sized flags at eye level — not in Oysterville that is!

Carol (who is Lina’s mom) told me that many of the flags represent the colleges and universities where Cordray family members have earned degrees.  How fun!  And, of course, I immediately wondered if my own alma mater had a flag. I looked it up and there it was,  vaguely familiar.  I doubt that I’ve seen it (except as a sweatshirt) since I graduated sixty-five years ago.  And I certainly never thought of anything so clever as putting it on display anywhere.  What a great idea, Lina and Dave.  Thanks for all the fluttering color right in Greater Downtown Oysterville!

I probably didn’t read carefully enough…

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

Ocean Park Elementary School

…but I don’t think I saw the words “kids” or “learning” or even “students” or “education” when I read that front page article in today’s Observer, Citizen group endorses $90M+ school bond.  The entire report seemed to be about public dollars and interest rates and efficiency and what-will-happen-to-the-dear-old-Ocean-Park-School-building.  Oh, yes.  And the clincher words: “tsunami” and “safety.”  But only in terms of parental concern.

Ocean Park School, 1936

So I guess the Facility Advisory Committee bought into the idea that the tsunami would definitely arrive here during school hours.  And that having their kids in a centralized location would cause parents less angst when it arrived.  Hmmm.

I think back to the years  that I taught in Hayward, California within a few miles of the Hayward Earthquake Fault, an offshoot of the better-known San Andreas Fault.  We had earthquake drills once a month, as I recall, but in the sixteen years I taught there, I do not remember a single earthquake making an appointment and arriving during school hours.  There were earthquakes, of course — just when least expected and totally unplanned for.  Sorta what a “disaster” is all about.

And… just how short are our memories, anyway?  Ocean Park School was closed from September 1972 until September 1981 and the District’s youngest children, K-3, all went to Hilltop School in Ilwaco.  It wasn’t for the tsunami back then, but it was for cost savings.

By 1976, however, O.P. parents realized that their Kindergarten kids were going and coming on the school bus for more minutes a day than their half-day Kindergarten class was in session.  For the next several years,  Margaret Staudenraus taught two Kindergarten classes a day at Ocean Park School — the only “T&K (teacher-and-kids) Act” in the entire school building which, by then, had become a Community Center.  FINALLY!  Someone had thought about the kids.  Or at least some of them.

I wonder what it will take this time?  And don’t get me started on all the research that says small, neighborhood schools are the best learning environment for students, especially for young students.  When it comes to elementary education, folks, bigger is not better and $$$$ savings do not equal excellent learning environments. Truly.



What do you know about Vespers services?

Sunday, January 16th, 2022

Oysterville Church by Bob Duke

Suffering from an attack of Sunday Morning Curiosity, I spent a few minutes today trying to research where Vespers services are regularly held.  First I looked locally and found Oysterville Church listed which we all know is not true.  At least not right now.  For one thing, it’s not summer and that’s the only time Vespers has ever been offered in the once-upon-a-time Baptist Church across the street.  Besides which, for the past two summers, Covid concerns have caused the closure of Vespers in Oysterville.

The only other place I saw listed was at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Their website said:
On Sunday nights we gather for our student-led Vespers service, which draws thousands of young people from across the Twin Cities.
It’s a service that lets you reflect, pray, sing out, and praise God for what He’s done and who He is. And it’s here for anyone who is looking for Sunday night worship.
Each night takes on an atmosphere that’s unique to the worship on stage and the worshipers that have gathered.

Oysterville Church Vestibule

As I searched, I found many other churches listed — every church on the Peninsula, for instance, but none referred specifically to a Vespers service.  I did, however, find this description of Vespers on the Encyclopedia Britannica website:

Vespers, evening prayer of thanksgiving and praise in Roman Catholic and certain other Christian liturgies. Vespers and lauds (morning prayer) are the oldest and most important of the traditional liturgy of the hours. Many scholars believe vespers is based on Judaic forms of prayer and point to a daily evening celebration observed among Jews in the 1st century BCE.

By the 3rd century CE the writings of Tertullian show clear evidence of an evening prayer. During the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries, cathedral choirs and monastic orders developed the vespers service, as it was known for centuries thereafter. Following the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), the Roman Catholic service was translated into the vernacular and simplified, but it continues to revolve around the Magnificat canticle, various psalms and antiphons, and readings that vary according to liturgical season.

The Lutheran and Anglican churches both include an evening prayer service in their liturgies. In the Anglican church, evening prayer traditionally is called evensong and can be found in the 1549Book of Common Prayer.  Both Protestant churches revised their rite for evening prayer during the 1970s, and both rites are patterned closely after the traditional Roman Catholic evening prayer. In the Anglican church the revised prayers offer alternative choices for greater individual choice among congregations.

Inside The Oysterville Church 

An early name for vespers is lucernarium, literally “lamp-lighting time” in Latin referring to the candles lit for this service when it was held in the early evening.

It’s tempting to close out this blog with “Here endeth the first lesson.”  Which might indicate that there will be a second.  Which I doubt.

Farmer Nyel and his 30,000 porcupine quills

Wednesday, January 12th, 2022

Nyel and his Pocupine Quill Project

Well, I don’t think there are 30,000 of them. And neither does Nyel.  Not even close. (Never mind that that’s the number “they” say an average adult-sized porcupine has.)   But, yesterday when I walked into the kitchen and saw him patiently picking quills out of an old black bath towel, it looked like a whole lot to me.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  (You never can tell with Farmer Nyel.)

The answer, of course, was, “Picking quills out of this old black bath towel.”  It took several rephrasings to learn that “years ago” Nyel had spotted a dead (fresh road-kill) porcupine on the side of the road.  And, being Nyel, he couldn’t see letting all those great quills go to waste.  (About the time I met him in the early 1980s, he was taking a graduate level course from Bill Holm at the UW on Native American arts and crafts — part of Nyel’s work toward his MA in Museum Studies.  It was a hands-on class and they’d been doing beadwork, tanning hides and… well you get the idea.)

Quills and Black Towel

So, he grabbed whatever was in the truck — which happened to be an old black towel — threw it over the critter and then removed it, full of quills.  As any dog unfortunate enough to meet a porcupine head-on can tell you, those quills come right off and stick into whatever touches them.  Ever-so-carefully, Nyel bundled up that towel and put it in a covered plastic tub.  And forgot about it.

Porcupine Quills

Somehow, all these years later, he thought the tub had kindling in it and yesterday… he needed kindling.  Instead, what he got was a new project — removing said quills from said towel, cleaning them off, drying them and, today, sorting through and getting rid of any broken ones.  “Then what?” I asked.  Silly me.  Farmer Nyel has not yet decided.  He’s a one-step-at-a-time kind of guy.  So stay tuned.  (You never can tell with Farmer Nyel.)


Not Quite Up To Third Grade Competence

Saturday, June 26th, 2021

I can’t speak to now, but when I was in school and for the 39 years I taught young children, problem solving in math was introduced in third grade.  Like most other school-related learning situations, some kids loved “story problems.”  Some did not.  (I notice that they are calling them “word” problems today. Why?  More grown-up sounding?  Definitely not as intriguing.  But I digress…)

As we got to the chapters on story problems each year, more than one teacher said, “You’ll use these skills for the rest of your life.  After all, that’s what life is — a series of problem-solving events.”  I’m sure I said something similar to my third graders and now, the older I get, the more I agree with that sentiment.

In recent years, however, I’ve had far more opportunities to observe chickens than kids.  And, I have to say, almost all of our girls are good problem solvers. In fact, according to Chicken  Chickens are complex, inquisitive animals who form social bonds, understand their place in the “pecking order,” and have advanced problem-solving skills.

The article goes on to say: Decades of research have transformed the meaning of “bird brain,” revealing chickens’ “finely honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead,” according to Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University.  And scientists have learned that, like some other animals including pigs, chickens are smarter than four-year-old children when it comes to skills involving math, self control, and logic. These birds can reason through deduction, a skill picked up by human children around the age of seven.

At birth, chicks already have a basic understanding of numbers and can differentiate between different quantities. Five-day-old chicks have even demonstrated a knack for arithmetic in tracking sets of objects of different quantities hidden behind screens. These birds perform similarly to primates in terms of memory, recalling the path of a hidden ball for more than two minutes.

The article goes on to say that chickens form deep bonds and can remember the faces of more than 100 other birds!  Among our very tiny flock — just three old biddies right now — there is no question about their recognizing one another, of course!  We are also well aware of some of their “24 different vocalizations” and of their understanding and acceptance of their roles in the pecking order.

However,  of all the chicken information cited, I was most interested that chickens are capable of deceit – for example, when males falsely announce the arrival of food to grab the attention of females and keep other males away. Females can quickly pick up on this deception, however, and ignore males who don’t tell the truth.    

I almost think that the same is true (only, perhaps in different circumstances) of third grade girls and boys and their various interactions.  Not that it’s only males who may not be telling the truth.  But I do think that little girls pick up the nuances more quickly than do the boys…  Or perhaps I’m confusing those third graders with the girls in the coop.


I never did like Home Ec…

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

Florence Sewing Machine – Patented 1850

Back in the 1950s,  Home Economics was still part of the required curriculum for eighth grade girls and Shop was the equivalent requirement for boys.  For some reason, the year I had “Home Ec,” as we called it, the cooking component wasn’t taught — just sewing.  I think that was fine by me.  I wasn’t really interested in any of the “domestic sciences.”  (I understand the term is now “Family & Consumer Sciences” in most school districts where home ec is still taught — usually only as a high school elective, now.)

I have to reluctantly admit that the skills I learned at age twelve stood me in good stead — especially during college and my early married years.  Money was scarce and if I wanted a new skirt or dress, I could usually justify spending a bit for fabric and thread.  My Aunt Mona gave me her portable Singer sewing machine which I still have, though I use it infrequently these days. We also have, upstairs, a very old treadle sewing machine — a Florence patented in 1850.

Judging by the letters she wrote to Medora in the early 1900s talking about borrowing Tina Wachsmuth’s machine, I don’t think that the Florence machine belonged to my grandmother.  Perhaps it was my great-grandmother Julia’s and came into this house later on.  Or maybe it wasn’t working properly.  I’ve never had the gumption to try it.

An Antique Sampler

But I do have a drawer of “sewing stuff” at the bottom of the wardrobe closet in my bedroom — boxes of buttons, papers of pins and needles, odd bits of rick-rack and a tape measure or two.  There are remnants from various sewing projects, a collection of old patterns and even a darning egg I think.  (I don’t think I’ve darned a sock since 1960!) I get into that drawer less and less frequently nowadays.  But every time I do, I remember that eighth grade sewing class and the patient advice of the teacher.  What was her name?  Mrs. Curry?

One of my cousins has a sampler so carefully stitched by one of our great-great-greats  (Mary Ann McKee ?) in the 1800s. These samplers were stitched more to demonstrate knowledge than to preserve skill. The stitching of samplers was believed to be a sign of virtue, achievement and industry, and girls were taught the art from a young age.  That style of needlework reached its height of popularity between the 1830s and 1870s.   I wonder if home-sewn clothing will ever completely disappear and if examples will be found framed on the walls of the seamstress’s descendants.  Or, perhaps, in museums.




You can’t tell a book by its… title.

Monday, January 18th, 2021

“Two Loaves” starring Shirley MacLaine was based on this book.

Spinster.  Now, there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore.  In fact, it’s a term that’s been out of fashion for my entire lifetime.  Even so, it’s the title of a book I first read in 1960 — just a year after it was published by Simon and Schuster.  It was recommended reading for one of the post-baccalaureate education classes I took in order to get my teaching credential.  It seemed, at the time, to be the most incongruous suggestion I’d ever heard from a college professor.

That’s what I thought then and what I continue to think, even now.  It’s the story (fictional) of a teacher among the Maori of New Zealand.  It’s long out of print — Timberland Library got it for me through inter-library loan from Western Oregon University in Oregon.  My memory of the book is about how, some days, the spinster fortified herself for school with a half a tumbler of brandy.

And I’ve remembered how she captured the hub-bub and enthusiasm of the infant room where she was the only teacher of 70 four-and five-year-olds.  And, for all these years, I’ve remembered her firm belief that children come to school chock-a-block full of experiences and wonder and joy and anger.  We have only to help them unlock it all and put it into context — that’s the sum total of our job as teachers;  The rest will come.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1908-1984

Well, that’s what I remember of the book.  That, plus it’s one of the most important books about teaching I’ve ever run across.  At first, I wondered why it was so strongly recommended to us fledglings… I was probably stuck on the brandy and a bit horrified by it.  Now as I re-read Spinster, I realize that it was Ms. Ashton-Warner who turned my interest toward our youngest learners and that her unconventional thoughts and methods were the underpinnings of my teaching for all those years — though not the brandy part, I hasten to add.

Seen through the broader context of today’s racism and divisiveness, it resonates even more deeply today.   It’s a must read, especially for  teachers — past, present, future.  I urge my readers to track it down and be prepared to see the world differently while you’re reading it — and maybe for the rest of your life.  Don’t confuse it with her second book, Teacher, which is also good.  But not as.