Closing thoughts, 2011: “Markers”

               The end of this month marks the third year that I have been posting to this blog. This forum has given me a unique and unparalleled opportunity to exercise one of the skills I treasure most, which is writing. When I am not writing here, I’m writing somewhere else (other blogs, my journal, poetry sites, etc.). But this blog has given a special kind of focus, as I approach each post from the perspective of an educator seeking to share something worthwhile with an audience of teachers and, hopefully, students.

              The end of this year marks the end of what was a rough year for me personally, as many loved ones suffered losses to death. I lost my father-in-law and an uncle. A close friend from college lost his mother, and my best friend since childhood lost his father-in-law. It was an awful year of loss, especially since all four deaths came rather suddenly. None had experienced hospital stays longer than a couple of weeks in the last year, although all four were in various stages of compromised health dealing with conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

              Needless to say, the losses have provided me much to contemplate lately; the meaning of our lives, the marks we leave behind. The funerals have given me an unfortunate reason to reconnect with many people I love, but hadn’t seen in years. Very few looked anything like their Facebook photos. This past year had me dressed in black too often, had me hurting in more ways than one on too many days.

              As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I have been also been dealing with a painful pinched nerve and hope to have that resolved in the New Year. That’s one reason I am looking forward to ushering in 2011. It also marks my eighth year at Haverhill High School, and traditionally we’d give each other a gift of bronze or pottery (it feels like we’re married).

              One thing 2011 doesn’t mark is the start of a new decade. Technically speaking the first decade of the 2000’s ended in 2009, so we’re already moving along in the second decade of this once imaginary future. You have to understand, for those of us who are older than a minute, the year 2000 was the fantastic far off future in our childhoods ….  filled with personal jet packs, flying cars, sentient robot servants and cities on the moon. Needless to say, I am a little disappointed to find myself in the second year of the second decade of the 2000s without any of these predicted goodies.

              2011 does mark the beginning of the first wave of Baby Boomers who turn 65, much to their own dismay and surprise. March 18, 2011, marks the first time the spacecraft Messenger will begin orbiting Mercury for our closest look ever at the hot little planet. The second most populated country, India, will complete it’s 15th census in 2011, giving us a better picture of who the people of this rising nation are. July 10, 2011 will mark Neptune’s first complete orbit around the sun, since it was first discovered in 1846 … that’s 165 years to make one trip around the sun. Sometime in 2011 will be the last flight of the space shuttle, marking the end of an era that began in 1981 with the launch of Columbia. One group believes that the end of the world will happen on October 21, 2011. (In my opinion they should have chosen a cool date that’s also a palindrome like 11/02/2011).

             Of course it’s only 2011 for those of us who use the Gregorian reform calendar. According to the Hebrew calendar it’ll be the year 5771-5772. The Islamic calendar marks the upcoming year as 1432-1433. According to the Byzantine calendar, the world was created on August 31, 5508 BC so this upcoming year is 7,520.

             Regardless of what calendar you use, 2011 will mark the 519th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in Hispaniola, the 404th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 146th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and the 66th anniversary of the end of World War II.

             No matter how we measure it, time is that elusive fourth dimension … simple to experience, but difficult to explain. In my own life, there have been moments that have acted as markers. Some have a special date attached to them like a wedding anniversary or the birth of my children. The majority of my most important experiences, however, are like the memories of a first kiss or a really great meal: vague impressions and flashes that create a story I can retell. Some time next year, the earth will carry me around my starting point for a 44th trip around our marvelous little star. I’m sure I’ll find something to write about, as life continues leaving its mark.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope 2011 is a great year.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

Starting our professional development library

               One of the many projects that we’ve been meaning to start for a long time is the creation of a professional development library section for the LMC. In the distant past, there was a faculty lounge and library that was housed where Mr. Allan’s Jobs For Bay State Program is today. By the time I arrived in 2003, there was no longer a collection of books or other reading materials aimed specifically at the faculty and staff in that room, and since then, we have maintained that we need one.

               Of course, it has not been laziness that has delayed the development of this collection. The LMC has undergone many changes in my eight years. The doubling of computers for student use, and the expansion of technology use throughout the school, for example, have both impacted how much time I could dedicate to different projects.

               Another obstacle in preparing the professional development library has been finding adequate funding. While the budget line for book orders has remained fixed for many years now, the demand for new titles has increased. (Yes, students want NEW books!) Every year, there are also many “classic” books we have to replace due to theft, loss or aging, so we did not want to use money for professional development titles that quite frankly, might not get that much use.

               Over time, however, we have been able to collect, (mostly through donations from the Haverhill Public Library used book sales and from teachers), what is a modest, but decent beginning for our faculty library. Here’s a sample of some of the titles we’ve already added to this new collection:

               I’m not sure yet exactly how many books this new section will have, but I will keep everyone posted as it continues to grow. Besides the books, we still also subscribe to three professional journals: The History Teacher, The Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, and the Journal of Research on Technology in Education. We keep back issues of these periodicals, unlike with other magazines which we recycle.

               Finally, we would like to encourage teachers, staff and students to look through their own bookshelves to see what titles they might wish to contribute to this new section. Personally, I understand how attached some of us reader types can become to our books, but we ask that you consider the great benefit that your books will have for the larger teaching community at Haverhill High School.  Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you have a great week.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

Why our mission matters

               If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I am sorry that I haven’t written in nearly a month. You know how things get as the school year moves along … more work, less time … less sunshine, less energy. Of course we’re all still taking care of family and social obligations as well, thus some times it gets difficult to find something meaningful to write about for this blog.

               Those of you who know me a little better than just as the library guy, also know that I am dealing with a painful medical problem right now; a pinched nerve due to natural degenerative changes in my spine. I share this here and now, for two reasons. First, I’d like to thank EVERYONE … students, staff, faculty … everyone for their patience and understanding during my physical difficulty. It is humbling and wonderful to listen to people recount their personal stories of overcoming pain as I am going through, and to feel in their sharing and advice that they are truly rooting for me. So, thank you again for commiserating with me during these trying times and for offering me all kinds of help, advice and, of course, your understanding.

               Secondly, I mention my medical “adventure” here because it has been quite a learning experience for me, and it has been an experience that epitomizes the importance of living up to the HHS mission statement which reads, “The Mission of Haverhill High School is to produce self-directed learners who read, write, and speak effectively in Standard English and who apply analytical and technological skills to interpret information and problem solve.”  

               What started for me in July of this past summer as a mild discomfort in my right upper thigh and lower back, has turned into an all consuming personal project to understand what is wrong with me and how to fix it. Unlike a cold or a sprain or a cut (familiar physical pests of the past) this new injury demanded that I be not just a good self-directed learner, but an excellent one, as I would discover.

               Throughout the summer and into September, I convinced myself by talking to others who had experienced back pain, that there was nothing unusual about what I was going through. I further solidified my own (incorrect) conclusion by reading articles that only described what I wanted to read – articles about sprained muscles or intermittent flare ups in the sciatic nerve. I learned what the sciatic nerves are and also learned more about how common back injuries are. (An incredible 80% of us will feel back pain at one point or another!)

               Finally, around the middle of October, I admitted that I wasn’t getting any better and reluctantly went to see my doctor. I say reluctantly, because despite my respect for doctors and medicine, I am very much a typical American male … hard-headed to a fault and convinced that I can DIY just about anything.

               This visit (and the others that followed) began a whole other level of learning, as I was examined in a matter of minutes, questioned as to the pain’s origin and intensity, and sent off with my first round of prescription medication. I learned that I was given a muscle relaxer, which I was to take 3 times a day. But I still didn’t know what was wrong with me or how these pills would help. And after such a cursory medical examination with a doctor who barely knew me, I suspected that he wasn’t sure yet either. This is where the second part of our mission statement came into play. I was going to have to “apply analytical and technological skills to interpret information and problem solve”. This was very important to me, since we were talking about my physical health, after all.

               With my prescription in hand, and the internet fired up, I was able to find reliable and accurate information about what I was about to put into my body. I turned to sites such as the Mayo Clinic, the National Institute of Health and WebMD to find out what the side effects and long term dangers of using the medications was. It’s not that I didn’t trust my doctor (ok maybe a little), it’s that I knew that my doctor did not know me, and hadn’t spent enough time with me to learn about my injury. 

               So I learned in succession about cyclobenzaprine, tramadol, nabumetone and methylprednisolone as each was prescribed to me after little more than an office visit and a talk. None of the medications appealed to me as I read about how they worked, what they were supposed to do and what side effects I might expect. Plus … no one had told me yet, exactly what was wrong with me.

               Thus, I struggled along, using OTC medications very sparingly, since analgesics such as aspirin can act as a blood thinner, and ibuprofen and acetometaphine tend to upset my stomach. Long story, short, is that I went back to my doctor, then had an X-Ray which showed I had some natural changes. Then came an MRI which showed some curious things around my L5 and S1. Finally came a visit to a neurologist, which ended in a epidural steroid injection, which hurt like crazy and didn’t help my pain. All during this time, I turned to the internet and to friends and family members who are medical professionals, to learn more about each procedure and to better understand all the terminology that was being used around me. 

               What could you see on an X-ray? How are MRIs useful to spot diseases or other dangers? What was an S1 and why was it making my life so miserable? How would the spinal injection alleviate the pain I was feeling shooting down my leg? Certainly my doctor did answer the questions I posed to him, but I had so many that he wouldn’t have time to answer them all. In the end, what has left me feeling most optimistic and empowered is that I can use my communication skills effectively to ask the right questions. I also feel confident that with all the data & information available to me, that I can apply my strong reasoning and technology skills to solve the problems that I am facing.

               Life-long learners do not have to be told to use what they can to help themselves. If we can deliver the Mission of HHS to produce self-directed learners, our students will not feel powerless in the face of the difficult obstacles they will certainly face in their lives. During this, the holiday season, isn’t that the greatest gift we give?

Thank you for stopping by and have a great weekend. 

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.