Taking Tests

An observation: Teachers, generally speaking, don’t like to take tests.

I am, of course, painting with a broad brush, but that’s pretty much so true, in my limited experience.  It’s our job–it’s my job–to teach and mold, then to assess.  “Assessment drives instruction,” and all that.  (I do believe that, by the way.)  We give formative assessments and summative assessments, and we can tell you our opinion about the differences between a “spot check,” a quiz, and a test.  We do formal and informal evaluations and put together qualitative and quantitative data.  We give tests.  It’s part of what we do.

But, again, generally speaking, we don’t like to take them.  Ahem.  Okay, I don’t like to take them.

The odd thing is, with most tests, I do well.  Multiple choice is preferred, because like so many other students I’m able to look at the options, eliminate a couple right off the bat, and make (more) sense of one of the remaining answers.  Essay questions aren’t too bad, either, because (according to some) my BS degree didn’t just mean Bachelor of Science.

Okay, this slice isn’t about testing, it’s about taking a test. Specifically, me taking a test.

I’ve been an elementary (PK-5) STEM coach for the last three years, and I’ll serve in that capacity again this upcoming year.  After that, though, I’m almost certain to go back into a general ed classroom.  That, by the way, is a good thing for me.  Hopefully, I’ll go back into a third-grade classroom, but I’m willing to give other grades a shot.  Anyway, I was recently given the opportunity to be part of a LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) cohort here in Alabama.  I’m all about some good professional development, and I’ve heard positive things about LETRS.

I did the registration thing, and a few days later received an email letting me know dates and times for my orientation webinar.  I signed up for a session that worked for me, and there I was last Friday, sitting in front of a computer, getting ready to learn.

My presenter was good: She delivered the information with a light-handed approach, added just the right amount of humor, and didn’t read her slides word-for-word.  There was that moment, though, when I could feel hundreds of teachers from all over the state being jolted–just a tiny bit–from their webinar haze when they heard the word “pretest.”

Say what?

Then, there it was again.  “Pretest.”  Then, she said words like “post test” and “check on learning.” I think she even tossed in, “demonstrate mastery.” Whoa.

So that’s the way you want to play it, eh?

To make it even better, the two-hour block of time we were asked to set aside for the webinar actually included the aforementioned pretest.  I was supposed to do it that day.

In retrospect, the situation was pretty funny (at the time, though, all I knew was I needed to take a test).  I mentioned my B.S. (the degree) earlier, but on Friday I was thinking about the fact that I was about to be assessed on my knowledge of teaching reading after having earned my master’s degree a few years back in, you guessed it, elementary reading.  No pressure.

And, it went okay.  I showed I had room for growth as a teacher, but I didn’t embarrass myself (sometimes the hardest tests are the ones where only you know your results).  I’m looking forward to this training, but don’t doubt that I’ll still clinch up just a little bit as I wrap up each lesson and unit with the assessments.  I can do this–I know I can.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers (https://twowritingteachers.org) for hosting the Slice of Life Story Challenge. If you’re a teacher who teaches writing (and, really, there aren’t many K-12 teachers who don’t in some capacity), you should check out the challenge and give it a shot!

Nursery Stroll

Walking through a nursery
   A nursery of plants
Is to stroll through the potential
   Of the future
The future of a different space

Each plant can be lifted
   Lifted from the pot
   Soil falling through your fingers
And placed into a new place
   A place, a void, a hole that was prepared
   Just for that plant

Walk the rows
See tomorrow

She Bought Mothballs

With any luck, I saved a life yesterday, all because I got there first.

Wow, when I put it that way, it sounds so cool.

Like a lot of people, I’ve got a love/hate relationship with social media these days.  I love the fun, happy stuff, but not so much the opinion stuff (that was the nicest way I could put it).  One of my least favorite types of post, especially if I get there after a bunch of people have commented, is the snake post.

Yes, the snake post.  As in, “OMG, I found a snake near my house.”

I get it.  I have fears, too, some irrational.  Heights is mine.  I’ll go up, I’ll look around, I’ll do what I want to do, but that doesn’t mean I won’t feel queasy while I’m doing it.  Fun fact about me: Standing on a 35-feet-tall tower makes me nauseous, but once I can hang off it on a rappelling rope, still more than 30 feet off the ground, I’m fine.  Adrenaline, I guess.

Snakes, though. The fight or flight thing, the cultural thing, the what-I-learned-in-church thing, and even the “did you see the size of that thing” thing: I get it, but honestly, I sort of don’t.  Like I said, that’s not my fear.  For sake of discussion, though, I get it.

Back to me saving a life: I opened up Facebook early yesterday, and saw where a co-worker of mine posted that she had been surprised to walk out of her house to find “THE MOST GIGANTIC BLACK SNAKE!!”  Yep, two exclamation points.  It was that big!

I immediately looked at the comments, fearing the worst.  For some reason, people usually encourage the snake’s demise.  For some other reason, people often share pictures of snakes they’ve cut into pieces to show how they handle them.  Sigh.

But, there were no comments. Ha!  I was the first–she had just posted it!

Quickly I typed, “Good news: He’s harmless. 🙂 I understand not liking him, but he’s harmless. You could pick him up if you wanted to. You probably don’t, though.”  Upon a bit of further reflection, I added, “Actually, if it’s that big, it’s probably a she.”  Big black snakes here in north Alabama are usually grey rat snakes, but sometimes black racers.  Again, both harmless.

And it worked!  My friend’s reply was to hope “she” didn’t have any babies around, but she (my friend, not the snake)–and the commenters that followed–didn’t figuratively pile on the snake.  Whew!

I’m glad the snake made it, and I’m glad my friend was okay after her experience.  Most of the snakes we encounter in my area are non-venomous and harmless to people.  Mice, voles, and rats though?  They don’t much care for the snakes, and that’s fine with me.


I found two flight feathers
in the mew this morning
Primaries, both from the left wing

The book says it doesn’t work that way
There’s a genetic sequence involved
There’s an order of things


Someone didn’t read the book

Note: I’m a volunteer with RISE Raptor Project, a conservation organization which works with a variety of birds of prey. More information on the organization can be found here: http://riseraptor.org/

I Just Needed a Nap

As it turned out, I just needed a nap.  Not even a full-blown sleeping nap, really, just a dozing nap.  That was easy.

I have a lot of hobbies and interests, and most of them cycle in out of my life over different periods of time.  Some, like writing, float back in every few days or weeks, others every few months, and some don’t come back around for a long time, even years.  One of my constants, though, is woodworking.  

“Woodworking” can be a lot of different things, depending on what my wife and I need or want it to be.  Sometimes it’s building the “catio” I wrote about a few weeks ago, and sometimes it’s gluing a chair back together.  On occasion it’s building a larger piece of furniture, and other times it’s cutting stakes so the tomatoes don’t fall over.

Recently, I built a bookshelf.  It was a fairly straightforward piece of furniture, standing about four feet tall and just a bit wider than that.  Lots of straight lines.  I wanted a wall mounted shelf to go on the wall above it, but I also wanted it to be a little bit different.  Not so many straight lines.

Here’s the thing: Most wooden furniture has a lot of straight lines for a reason, and that reason is they’re easy to cut.  Most saws are made to cut straight lines.  Even the finest furniture has a lot of straight lines as well as joints that come together at 90 degrees.  For my shelf, though, I wanted some curves.  

A quick aside for the woodworkers and furniture fans in the crowd: I know that lots of furniture also has curves.  Just not my furniture.  See the above paragraph for the reason.  

So I wanted a curved front on my shelf, but wasn’t sure how to cut it.  I mean, I know several ways to do it (reading about woodworking is another hobby of mine), but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do it.  Each way has pros and cons, and I just couldn’t decide which one I wanted to go with.  It would be exaggerating a bit to say I was overcome with indecision, but it was tough.  

So, I took a nap.

Not a full afternoon nap, but not a doze-in-the-chair nap, either.  On the bed, but not under the covers.  Drapes not fully drawn.  You get the picture.

I didn’t expect it, but in retrospect I should have.  Dozing in and out of sleep, I figured out the solution to my problem.  You know, like they do in the movies.  My subconscious mind and all that stuff.  It was, I must say, pretty cool.  

No, I didn’t spring out of bed, but it wasn’t too much longer before I headed down to the woodshop.  I won’t bore you with the details, but I will tell you the plan I realized during my epiphany worked as I thought it would.  My shelf isn’t done yet, but the curves are cut and things are looking good.  

And now I’m looking for another reason to take a nap.  Er, I mean, I’m looking for another problem to solve.


To experience a walk as one who dares
to stride in another’s stead
is to begin, but only to begin, to understand

You’ve not cried the tears
your heart has not been torn asunder
but you’ve chosen to walk in turn
where another—without choosing—must tread

Walk near with a heart ardent
Walk as one who dares

This poem was written as part of a challenge to end every line with a word containing only the letters found in a single word.  For this poem, the word is “understand.”

Fierce Eyes

The final time we handled him, we needed gloves.  That was a good sign; that was a very good sign.

As coincidence would have it, I was “in town” when I got a message from Curt, a friend who runs RISE Raptor Project, a small non-profit I work with here in North Alabama.   

Someone found what they thought was a red-tailed hawk.  It was on the ground alive, but not moving.  Would we come and get it?

RISE provides conservation education as we teach about our birds in public presentations, oftentimes in schools and libraries in the area, but also at a variety of other events.  We’re not a rehab organization, but we occasionally get calls when folks find large birds in distress.  “Don’t try this at home,” definitely applies when you’re working with the talons and beaks found on a bird of prey.

Those talons and beak were at the forefront of my mind when I was contacted.  Normally, birds on the ground are approached with heavy leather gloves and something like a large towel.  I had neither, and was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals.  I did, however, have two small towels which happened to be in the car.  The bird was two miles south of where I was, and my gloves were 10 miles north, definitely out of town.  I headed south.

The good and bad news, I learned during a call as I was driving, was that the bird was apparently already in a cardboard box.  It was good the capture wouldn’t even have to take place, but that the bird was put into a cardboard box by an untrained and inexperienced person indicated it had to be in pretty bad shape.

And it was.  

This story gets better, but when I found the bird, it was in a box that wasn’t even closed.  It was on its side, and the finder had placed a table cloth over it to keep the flies out.  The hawk–indeed, it was a juvenile red-tailed hawk–had its eyes closed, its wings tucked back, and its feet tucked up.  There was some apparent respiration, though, so I closed the box, returned the table cloth, and put the box into the back of my car.

Okay, here’s the deal: When a bird, especially a bird of prey, is in need of “rescue,” it’s usually bad.  As often as not, in my experience (albeit only a few years), the bird simply isn’t going to make it.  I hate that, but it’s the truth.  Now, that doesn’t mean they won’t make it–they sometimes do–but that didn’t look to be the case at the time.  

Before I left the neighborhood where I picked him up, I wanted to make sure the bird was upright, so I reached in the box to rearrange the towels and prop him (probably a him, based on the size) up.

Though I didn’t know at the time, the bird was experiencing paralysis caused by something unknown, probably an ingested poison.  He couldn’t move, his wings and those formidable talons remained tucked, but imagine my thrill as his eye suddenly opened at my touch.  Cloud grey with streaks of black, the iris shrunk as the pupil quickly expanded to bring my face into focus from two feet away.  His body didn’t move, but I did, and it was a good few seconds before I knew I could get him settled.

After getting him into what I thought was a good position, I headed back to see what we could do for him.  Our treatment capability is limited, so we simply gave him fluids (pedialyte with a nutrient powder mixed in) a few times, and kept him in a safe place until we could transport him the next day.  As with all animals, hydration is more important than feeding, and his mutes (excrement) showed that he’d been eating well.

The first time we handled him, he was unable to move his legs or wings.  His situation didn’t require much in the way of protective equipment to handle him.  But by the next day he was starting to gain some mobility, and when I got him on his way to the Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn University he could move enough to warrant gloves–a positive sign.

The story isn’t over, but our part is finished.  With a lot of luck, that hawk will once again take its place in the skies of Alabama.

Coda: The situation doesn’t warrant testing to determine what specifically caused this bird’s poisoning.  As of now, the diagnosis is, “suspected toxin exposure.”  Most likely, in my opinion, he ate a small mammal (mouse or rat) that had ingested poisoned bait.  No one likes unwanted rodents, but if you find yourself with that problem, please consider using traps instead of poison.  Secondary exposure to rodent poison kills many birds of prey each year.

Here are some links you might find interesting: RISE Raptor project at http://riseraptor.org and the Southeastern Raptor Center at https://www.vetmed.auburn.edu/raptor/

Purple Donkeys and Love

Or, “On Eisegesis”

For the sake of illustration
Let’s say the good teacher is passing through town
Astride a purple donkey

There are no purple donkeys, I know
This is just to illustrate a point
Also, hardly anyone rides a donkey through town these days

Two men, one a fool, are walking toward each other
On the side of the road
They meet, just as the teacher passes

From his purple donkey, the teacher turns toward them
“The two of you,” he says, almost whispering
“Love one another”

One man decides then and there to love the other, but
The fool, thinking of his own purple donkey at home
Finds satisfaction growing in his mind and smiles

Knowing he has already fulfilled what he heard commanded him

Not Much of a Slice

For the past 14 years or so, as I understand it, the great folks of twowritingteachers.org have hosted a writing challenge they call “Slice of Life.”  Every March, teacher-writers (most of the participants are teachers or have been teachers) are encouraged to write and post a narrative about a “small” subject–a slice of life–every day.  For the other 11 months of the year, it’s just on Tuesdays. I’m doing my best to maintain the writing habit, not missing a day over the last three months.

It’s Tuesday morning, and the cursor is still blinking.

Last week, I learned how to write the script for, shoot the video of, and edit the footage for a “virtual hike” on a local Land Trust property.  That’s worth a slice, certainly.  But it doesn’t really seem important today.  My county has lost over 105,000 people to COVID-19 in the same three months I’ve been writing.  The world has lost nearly 400,000.  Well over six million people experienced the virus.

My wife has been putting in a wonderful garden, and I’ve done a little bit of the work (but not much).  The evenings outside would make a wonderful slice.  It’s hard to share that, though, when my country–our country–has allowed public health to be politicized.  Wearing a cloth face covering as encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDE) is apparently for liberals and wimps. Seeking to protect yourself and others is now a statement.

I’ve been building a bookshelf, and while doing so have relearned a technique for joining wood.  That relearning is sort of a funny story, in a way, and I know I could write a humorous slice about it.  But our country is reeling under righteous protest and unrighteous violence after the routinely horrific death of George Floyd, a man who suffocated under the knee of a police officer who gave an oath to protect and serve his community.

Last night, here in the state of Alabama, I experienced a unique kind of history being made as a monument to the Confederacy was removed from a park in Birmingham.  I watched on my phone as the crane moved into position and the monument was dismantled.  I’m not sure how I’d have written that slice.  I’ve lived in Alabama for 20 years now, but I don’t have the experience to understand the feelings (both for and against) people have for that statue and many others like it; I respect the sincere views they hold, regardless of my own opinion. 

I would have wanted to see what I could do with it, though, but any attempt to reflect on that event is overshadowed by yesterday’s words and events from this great nation’s capital.  The Secretary of Defense used the term “battle space” to refer to the cities of The United States of America.  “Battle Space.”  The Insurrection Act is being encouraged by some who hold high positions in our federal government. Near the White House, law enforcement officers used tear gas, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets to remove lawfully-assembled protestors from the area around St. John’s Episcopal Church.  They did so to allow the president of the United States to walk there for photos. 

In so many ways, Rome is burning.

Next week I’ll write again, and I’ll do my best to share something positive.  For this week, though, this is all I’ve got.

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