Archive for March, 2016


Sadness of Spring

March 21, 2016

Spring-like matters surround us: images of beaches and green grass (or even better, REAL beaches and green grass), Easter greetings, colored eggs, marshmallow Peeps, daffodils, and tulips. The hours stretch forward and light illuminates the sky early and late into the day. Truth? I hate it. I know that I shouldn’t use the word ‘hate,’ but I really do.

Of course, springtime where I live in Summit County has much to be desired. Instead of relishing in lilacs and lavender, we dust the snow off desperate little peonies and scrape mud from our boots. But for me, it goes deeper than disliking dirty slush.

Unlike most people, I have reverse seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that creates depression during the spring months. Call me crazy, but I’d give anything to return to the darkening days of fall. I love the tiny white twinkle lights along my deck, and I’d rather smell wood smoke than fallen pine needles. I don’t want to stop making my vats of stew. Don’t kick me out of the mountains, but I don’t even like to spring ski—send me the blizzards. There, I said it.

According to an article by Linda Wasmer Andrews in Psychology Today, one out of every ten individuals with SAD suffers from spring depression. While people skip through tulips singing stupid spring songs, those with reverse SAD do not. Instead of increased energy, excitement, and enthusiasm; people with reverse SAD recognize spring fever with a feeling of dread. Depression can worsen, and statistics show that the highest rates of suicide are during late spring and early summer. Reverse seasonal affective disorder is not something to be taken lightly.

It took me years to understand that not liking spring didn’t make me a freak. I finally learned a few coping skills to help push through my months of ick. I work and write a lot, which helps me feel productive. Yay me. Because escape can be useful, I take vacation in April, the very worst month of the year for me. I cook with lemons and limes, focusing on a lighter diet. So there’s that. Most importantly, I’ve learned to rely on a growing spiritual practice, which includes honoring Easter and the sense of sacrifice, gratitude, and renewal. Instead of glancing at the muck between my feet, I focus on the birds building their nests. If I listen closely, I can hear their whistles and chirps full of joy, creating a chorus. If I take the time to notice, I see the magic.

In a word, spring is magical. Watching a seed emerge from the dirt as a tiny, green plant and begin to grow into a spectacular flower is the stuff fairy-tales are made of, pure enchantment. That alone, is enough to appreciate, if not love, springtime. I’ll never be one to dance around a flagpole on Mayday, but learning to appreciate the magic makes me dance inside myself. For someone suffering from reverse seasonal disorder, that’s not nothing. Happy spring to the rest of you!



Winter Spirit

March 11, 2016

My word of the year is SPIRIT. As winter recedes, I’m posting a few of my favorite, random photos that capture winter spirit. The cute little ermine surprised me one day, popping up in front of our house, not afraid of a thing. An ermine with spirit!

How’s your word of the year treating you?


Tis the Season to Test

March 1, 2016

Sharpen your #2 pencils. Stop. Never mind. Fill in the bubbles correctly. Stop. Never mind. Write your essay clearly. Stop Never mind. Take the test via the computer. Stop. Never mind. The testing procedure has changed. Again.

Tis’ the season for standardized testing, although it’s easy to lose track of which one is being administered. CSAP? TCAP? CMAS? PARCC? NWEA? ACT or SAT? The amount of money spent to create and choose the best test to maintain accountability is mindboggling. In the end, does testing do any good? Do tests make our kids smarter? do they make students better writers? Do they make our teachers better or our schools more productive? Do tests accurately measure a person’s intellect? What about a student’s physical or emotional well-being: can a test measure health and happiness? Shouldn’t values and integrity go hand in hand with lesson plans, and if so, how does a test cover that? This blog is full of questions—just like a test.

In most American public schools, standardized tests are administered in the spring, giving teachers the ability to teach to the test for most of the school year. But don’t blame the teachers—they get tested, too. In 2001, the Bush administration designed No Child Left Behind, launching the obsession with test success, and although NCLB is no longer in place, testing remains an essential ingredient in public schools.

Should communities continue to support educational systems that measure success by a test score? I don’t think so. Very rarely will an exam measure creativity; or for that matter, passion, perseverance, and responsibility. Tests don’t make kids better writers. They might make them nervous writers, but not better writers. A writer learns to write well by reading widely and practicing often: not once a year on a test.

As a writing instructor at Colorado Mountain College, I will also say this: some of my most successful students are not those who scored perfect SAT scores. They are students who’ve shown drive and determination. They’re students who’ve experienced life and have found ways to make sense of their world, creating their success through effort and true grit.

It is possible for schools to assess progress without a standardized testing system. Many charter schools, private schools, and a few brave and progressive public schools use alternative measures, some of them outside the box and others radically simple. Games and collaborative activities can be used to develop critical thinking. A student who shows up every day for a clarinet lesson or basketball practice will learn something about dedication, effort, and results. Some progressive schools develop student portfolios, measuring progress and knowledge by a body of work, rather than by an exam. A test is not the only measure of success. An environment where students are encouraged to express themselves creatively can result in healthier, less anxious people.

I recently read an article about a teacher in Kentucky who’d ordered a newfangled push-pedal contraption that her kindergartners used under their desks, keeping them physically engaged while working. Really? How about letting kindergartners run around a playground for twenty minutes? During standardized test weeks, many principals and teachers remind parents to feed their students a healthy breakfast and to make sure they get plenty of sleep. Am I missing something, or isn’t it important for kids to eat healthy breakfasts and sleep well all the time? What message do we send by spending so much effort preparing for a test?

Let’s let kids write: write creatively, write for fun, write to practice, write to journey, write to express themselves; but not to be tested.