Fear, fatigue, and failure

Despite a kick butt east breeze blowing at 20+ knots, pushing the water back into our back bays, I  managed to rake out a few clams today. The near full moon helped. I like raking clams almost as much as I like eating them.

Last week's clamming was a disaster. Two of my rake's tines loosened up, and my crankiness was exacerbated by a neap tide. I don't mind coming home with less than a pailful's worth of dinner, but last week I felt defeated. I was racing against the sunset (Jersey law uses sunset to define the end of a clammer's day), and, for the first time in years, I questioned grace.

When I got home, I dropped two clams, shattering them. I returned the remaining few to the bay. Seemed puny of me to eat them while questioning the universe.

So I "fixed" my rake...


...sort of, but enough to make it feel right in my hands again. The sand and mud yielded, gracefully, and I accepted the few clams we will eat in an hour or so.

We will eat the very last of last year's kale and Brussels sprouts, both bolting towards the April sun.

This year's peas have already broken through the ground just a foot or two away from the kale.

Our schools are in a crisis now, but not because of spoiled children or bad parents or awful teachers. We are failing because we are trying to meet standards that are inherently impossible. No state will meet 100% compliance with the NCLB by 2013, because 100% compliance is simply impossible.

Impossible. Look it up....

I worked in pediatrics for years. Not every child is blessed with a brain that works well enough to jump though algebra's hoops. Many children cannot speak at all. Most of you will never see these children.

Trying to do the impossible leads to fatigue, and fatigue leads to fear.

Fear kills education.

I was interviewed by Dina Strasser at The Line last summer. She's wonderful--she had no agenda, she really just wanted to talk--and we discussed what it means to be a professional.

Here's where I think teachers fall short. If we really believed that the testing demanded by NCLB harms the education of children, and a lot of us do, then we should not participate.

Docs are an ornery lot. I used to be one. If any President issued a proclamation we believed harmed our charges, we'd have simply ignored it. That's part of being a professional, knowing more about what you do than governors, presidents, and emperors. The other part is acting on what you know.

We (teachers) got the first part down. We won't be true professionals until we get the second part.


My failure last week, one borne of fatigue, will help me become a better teacher. My students are tired--I've pushed them hard, and I have no problems with that. I do have problems with judging them while they're tired.

State testing for biology is coming up. They will be judged, I will be judged. Fear is the expected, and the wrong, response.

Historically my lambs have done well. I hope that they do well again. If I fret, though, I stop teaching what matters.

I'm not paid enough to teach bull crap. So I won't.

I found a robin's egg in my garden today. It's not just humans that screw up.

There are no trees overhead, and the egg was intact--I think it was laid where it lay.There's a story attached to the egg, but the robin cannot tell me.

Was she scared? Stupid? Just plain indifferent? Does it matter?

I considered taking the egg to school, but if it hatches, then what? So it sits in my garden, a reminder that pretty much everything with mitochondria bumbles its way through this universe as we do. None of us chose this, few of us would willingly give it away.

I think, in the end, celebrating failure is fine, as long as it's an exuberant failure. Too often we confuse fear and fatigue with failure, and that's not the same thing.

Not even close.

Photos are mine, all taken today.
A Wizard of Oz kind of wind is blowing today. These things affect me. As they should.

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