Friday, August 27, 2010

Unpleasant Lessons: Learning to be Sick

I spent five weeks seriously ill this summer before having my gallbladder out on August 6th. In my attempt to contribute to the library's preparation for fall (as well as our pending WMS rollout), and given my disgust with daytime tv, I only missed one full week of work, despite the doc telling me to stay home for two. My attitude was, "I can move. It's not like I do a lot of heavy lifting at work. And it's not as though there's not a ton to do." Turns out, you should listen to your doctor. (No, really. He's the one with the knife, after all.)

I am very lucky. While I was seriously down and out, my colleagues and friends went grocery shopping for me, offered to walk my rambunctious basset hound, and checked in on me regularly via phone, email, and visits with chicken soup. With continued complications, whereas I expected frustration and annoyance, all I've received is support and the expectation that I go home when I need to so I can rest and heal.

This experience has been incredibly frustrating - being sick was not on my calendar. I don't really have time for it, and I have a ton of other things to do. However, when I run myself down, it takes me longer to do those things. Lesson learned, mostly. Second, this has really made me appreciate my coworkers, and the comfort that a supportive work environment can give. I do not like to miss work - it makes me cranky, frustrated, and fearful that I will be seen as "not a team player" or as lazy. I figure this is a result both of a hardcore blue collar home life ("Are you bleeding from the eyeballs? No? Then you're well enough to go to school/work") and of experiences I've had at other jobs where when someone took a long vacation, if the place ran decently well while they were gone, they came back to a pink slip. I'm lucky to not work in that sort of environment any more, but it still echoes in my head.

I firmly believe in the need for renewal/sick time for my staff, colleagues, bosses. Life takes a toll. people get sick. People need a refresher. Life can be a sledgehammer sometimes, and it's not always within our control. I would never hold being sick against someone - not only is it out of their control, it's a miserable place to be in any case, and I would want them to concentrate on themselves and getting back to healthy. But I have a hard time applying that same acceptance to my own circumstances. With the help of friends and colleagues (nag, nag nag, guys - but I love you!), I'm working on it and trying to find a better balance.

My race to get back to regular life has created some problems with my recuperation, and now I'm re-frustrated that I've not healed as well as hoped, and will have some more downtime. As of today, I am working hard to: go home when I need to, instead of waiting until the collapse/dizzy point; not be afraid to ask my boss & colleagues for some slack if my health demands it; accept that sometimes I can't just gut through it and be fine; accept that sometimes downtime is necessary time. It helps immensely that I work with compassionate and kind people (who have been ordering me to do this since Day 1).

I am working on learning to be sick gracefully, as opposed to hobbling around like Quasimodo trying to get things done before falling apart. If the people I work with are not going to hold being sick against me or be resentful about it, then I should not be holding it against myself. Right?

And so before I continue cracking at my department's annual report, I am going to take a nap, because I feel terrible and it will still be there when I wake up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gmail + GVoice = GMe? Online Handles as Legal Names

With Google's recent announcement that they are integrating gmail with GoogleVoice and that you can call (for free!) from gmail, I had three thoughts:

1. Uh oh, Skype. Youze in trouble.

2. I wonder when we'll start requiring folks to have their online handles as part of their legal names.

3. I wonder if Mom would get upset if I legally changed my name to Colleen Susan Warmaiden Harris.

Now, it's not terribly difficult to change your legal name - in some states, it's as little as a form, a short audience with a judge, and a small fee. There's the trouble of changing your license and all of your other legal documents, of course, but it's not more of a hassle than women who change their names when they marry have to go through. I'm sure people have done it already, and their legal names are now Jondamuur Dread, or some such thing. But I do wonder if this is going to become so ingrained as a part of our identity that it becomes folded in as part of our official identification.

Disturbing Trends at the K-12 Level and the Trickle Up Effect

The strapped economy has every sector tightening belts, but the more I hear reports of what is being done at the K-12 level of education across the country, the more I am concerned. Concerned not only about the immediate impact for those children in K-12, but also about what repercussions we'll see in higher education as a result of those K-12 changes.

Georgia's State Board of Education has dropped mandatory class size limits at least for this year, per the Augusta Chronicle. Class sizes of up to 40 are expected. (Note that various studies, including this one by Finn & Achilles in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, finds that smaller class sizes are, unsurprisingly, related to higher academic achievement.

In Tennessee, many schools do not have the infrastructure to properly handle increases in enrollment. According to one Chattanooga Times Free Press article:

"Lunch starts even earlier at East Hamilton School — about 9:45 a.m. The school added about 350 new students this year and administrators have been forced to shuttle kids through the lunch line every 20 minutes. Because the dining hall was not built to accommodate East Hamilton’s student body of nearly 2,000, teachers and students must adhere to a very strict schedule."

Back in the school district I grew up in, teachers acquiesced to pay cuts and freeze of contracted raises to save jobs earlier in the spring. That's a huge concession, as the Brentwood Public School District teacher's union is the largest on Long Island. In any case, it didn't save them from significant layoffs. Teachers who were told back in the spring they would keep their jobs have been laid off these last weeks of summer, after declining jobs in other districts. In addition to that, our class sizes were approaching 40 students per class at the high school when I graduated in 1997 - at this point the high school is highly dependent on portable classrooms, and class sizes will be soaring over that scary 40-student mark.

California and New York have both been in the news for their massive teacher layoffs, and other states aren't faring much better.

We know that fewer teachers and larger class sizes create problems for student performance. Larger class sizes have been demonstrated to contribute to teacher burnout.

Fewer teachers with larger classes, unable to spend as much time per child dealing with differences in ability and learning style, spell disaster for an educational system that has already been highly criticized for years. And the issue of when these students make it into higher education now has a bigger "if" factor than ever before, as more higher ed institutions are now having their funding tied to student outcomes. The likely result? Already disadvantaged students will become even more so, and the colleges and universities that previously allowed them to do remedial coursework after admission will be less willing to bridge the education gap that is increasing between K-12 and college level work.

At what point will policymakers, local and state Boards of Education, and other stakeholders realize that our system can only sustain so many educational cuts before the decrease in quality of education becomes irreversible? And at what point will we in higher ed run be so immersed in remediation that we fall short of the ability to offer students the opportunity for a true higher education?

I don't have any easy answers, but the educational landscape of the U.S. is getting pretty scary.