Where Have All the Teachers Gone? Part 2

 

Everything is High Stakes at School

Teaching, Learning, Testing, and Time:

The Frustrations

I was recently in an elementary school where charts demonstrating test scores by grade level and teachers’ names were posted in a main hallway.  I had stopped to examine the results of fall mid-term assessments when a fourth grade student stopped to point out to me that his teacher was the best one. “Her class had the best scores,” he said.
When I asked if he had had anything to do with those scores, he looked at me blankly.
I pressed.  “You are in that class. It’s your class too. Did you learn the things your teacher had to share with you?  Did you do well on the tests?”
After a cursory nod, he pointed again to emphasize that his teacher had done the best.

As the student walked away, a teacher I know stopped beside me.   She is experienced and dedicated to her students and her profession and had that year been assigned to a grade level she had never before taught. Her test scores were the lowest of those posted. Shaking her head ruefully, she said, “It’s just embarrassing.”

Publicly posting the scores by class is a kind of public evaluation of the teacher. In the case of the teacher mentioned above it felt like a public shaming. Test scores were never meant to be tied to formal teacher evaluation, but from the beginning, that has been a threat.

A teacher from a neighboring division recently told me that her elementary school, a school accredited with warning, tests for student progress every two weeks. She went on to explain that she prepares students for the assessment and then provides any needed remediation and then begins preparing students for the next test. She plaintively asked, “When am I supposed to teach?”

In her article “How Much Time Do School Districts Spend on Standardized Testing? This Much,” Valerie Strauss reports that a study of two school divisions revealed that in one of the divisions, nineteen full days of class were being spent on test preparation and testing. In the other division, a month and a half. In the high stakes grades (in other words students’ graduation depends on their passing the tests), between 60 and 110 hours may be spent on test preparation activities (The Washington Post, July 25, 2013). In a more recent article, The Washington Post reports that the preceding data is likely an underestimation of the time on tests. From my personal experience, a teacher may lose as many as 11 days of class time in testing and test related activities.

Worse yet, many parents question the value of all this assessment. Recently an instructor of mine who is also a professor at ODU made the off hand observation that it seems to him that students are not learning much in high school any more. Before I could come to the defense of public education, my classmates from Chesapeake, Norfolk, Newport News, and Virginia Beach, agreed enthusiastically, and unanimously blamed the state standardized testing program.

When it seems that emphasis is placed more on test scores than on students, more on protocol than critical thinking and creativity, it should come as no surprise to anyone that teachers who leave the profession within the first five years no longer site salary as the reason for their dissatisfaction. Now it is stressful work environment. According to a Washington Post article, 51% of teachers report feeling under great stress several days a week. So what is so stressful about a teacher’s day? Consider this.

Each teacher is responsible for taking accurate student attendance (a legal document) and ensuring the safety and security of students. Teachers stand at their doorways monitoring the hallways and are familiar with the protocols for emergency situations in the building. Teachers address student discipline matters, contact parents, return communications from parents, and meet with school counselors and parents. They grade papers big and small during and after school hours. They maintain an electronic grade book that can be viewed by students and parents During the course of every day, teachers are developing unit plans, lesson plans, learning targets, and managing the resources needed for students’ learning. After school or during their planning/lunch time they may attend mandatory trainings for upcoming testing cycles or new procedures. They attend and contribute to IEP meetings and faculty meetings. They do the business of their departments in meetings after school. They manage their own professional growth, selecting and attending classes and trainings to meet the demands of recertification and to earn the required designation of highly qualified teacher. After school, they are club sponsors, often unpaid. They coach, work with students to create yearbooks and school newspapers. They are class advisors, and after-school tutors. They are chaperones and attend after-school events. This list does not include actually teaching and the ongoing observation and evaluation by the administration.

And students have changed.

Discipline matters are fueled by increasingly complicated back stories. Students are stressed and anxiety is epidemic. Families too are stressed. Smart phones and social media with all their challenges have come to school. (See “Fight With the Weapons You’ve Got” on this blog.) The teacher is always first to be held accountable or the first line defense.

Coming Next:  Money Matters Too

 

copyright Susan Motley January 2018

Where Have All the Teachers Gone?

Each afternoon while I snacked prior to starting my homework, our black and white television broadcast public service announcements about our national teacher shortage: school enrollment had skyrocketed creating a critical need for qualified teachers.

I liked school, and educating young people appealed to me. In my experience, students and parents respected educators and valued learning. My teachers were the most intelligent and powerful women I knew. I answered the call, and many of my friends did too.

Today, fifty years after my graduation from high school, our nation is once again facing a critical teacher shortage, yet fewer college graduates are responding to the need. Twenty years ago, over 40% of students entering post-secondary schools expressed an interest in the possibility of a teaching career. Now only 5% indicate this interest. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of individuals obtaining teaching licenses fell by 50%.

Turnover for teachers is about 4% higher than for other professions. Forty (40%) to fifty percent (50%) of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years. This includes the 9.5% that leave before the end of their first year (The Atlantic, 18 October 2013).

The US Department of Education reports that as a result, “Public schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia report teacher shortages in math for the 2017-18 school year. Forty-six states report shortages in special education, 43 in science and 41 in foreign languages.” (The Washington Post, 28 August 2017)

The Department of Education also notes shortages in all other subject areas including reading, English language arts, career and technical education, and computer science.

What’s Going On?

One obvious explanation is that increasingly women, who have dominated the teaching profession, are seeking employment opportunities in other fields. Teachers themselves are encouraging this.

Education Week reports that by a margin of 5 to 1, teachers do not recommend careers in education to their students. In fact, Nancie Attwell, winner of the first Global Teacher Prize told CNN that she would not recommend a teaching career. She said, “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.”

Ms. Atwell is referring to the impact of high stakes standardized testing on teaching, learning, teacher well being, and the school environment.

Coming next: Everything Is High Stakes at School

 

copyright Susan Motley January 2018

Birthday with Snow and Ice

On February 19, 1979, residents of the Washington DC Metro Area, woke to nearly two feet of snow, the result of a history-making blizzard that had not been predicted by the weather service. Many people believe that this weather event marked the beginning of the National Weather Service’s work to advance accuracy in weather forecasting.

This blizzard was also history-making for the Motley family. The storm paralyzed everything except Emily’s arrival into the world. An arrival which was pretty accurately predicted by the way.

This is our story.

**********

Bob turned away from the bedroom window and said, “Do not have the baby today.”

Sick and tired of being told that one day would be a good day for the arrival of our first child while another not so much, I joined my husband at the window to see what had prompted yet another one of these futile suggestions.

This conversation took place the morning of the unpredicted history-making President’s Day Blizzard of February 19, 1979. Over night and into the early hours of that Monday morning, twenty inches of snow, sometimes falling at the extraordinary rate of five inches per hour, had paralyzed the DC Metro area. My due date was Friday, February 23rd. I took in the jaw-dropping sight and promised, “I will do my best not to have the baby today.”

From our quarters aboard the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Bob called DeWitt Army Medical Center at Fort Belvoir to alert them to our situation and to find out what plan was in place should we need the hospital. After he had been assured that snow-going vehicles were on standby, there seemed nothing left to do but shovel snow.

Our neighbors Gail and Tim were already out, and Bob joined them in our shared driveway. They worked together shoveling a single car path to the point where it appeared the driveway joined the road. They swept away the snow that had transformed our cars into soft mounds. I sat inside thinking that none of their efforts mattered because our cars could never plow through the snow-covered roadway.

But that night a snow plow came down our street. After all, if the Marine Corps Base was going to open on Tuesday, the men and women who lived in base housing needed to be able to get to work. And the next morning, we found that our neighbor Gail had heard the plow and had gone out in the middle of the night to clear the rest of the driveway just in case we had to go.

My weekly checkup was scheduled for that afternoon. With the cleared car path in our driveway, our neighborhood plowed, and I 95 reported to be passable, our only major concern other than my falling was a still slippery Route 1. Bob said, “Bring your bag. If we can get to Fort Belvoir for your appointment, we are not coming back. We’ll get a hotel room if we have to and wait for the baby to come or the roads to clear, whichever comes first.”

My doctor was of the same mind. Having feared that I was not going to be able to keep the appointment, he dashed into the hallway to meet us. “Mrs. Motley, I have been worried about you all weekend. We have beds available in the hospital. You are staying.”

Late that night, my water broke. As I moved down to the labor and delivery suite, I was assured that my husband and my doctor had been called, but more than once the doctor on duty asked if those calls had been made. More than once I heard wonderings about why neither of them had arrived since both of them had been called before 1 AM.

My doctor burst into the delivery room shortly after Emily’s birth at 7:15. Bob’s face appeared at the delivery room door a few minutes later. The enthusiastic congratulatory atmosphere didn’t last long after the staff asked in unison, “Where have you been?”

That’s when we all learned that a surprise ice storm was now pummeling the region. Both men had fallen as they had hurried to their cars. Both recounted treacherous driving conditions as night turned into DC rush hour. Bob explained that he had stayed on I 95 by driving with one set of wheels on the grass off the shoulder of the road while vehicles all around him were sliding off both sides.

The tone in the room changed palpably. While the staff knew they needed to finish with us properly, they also knew that if they did not get out of the hospital soon, they would be staying. They also knew the next shift of medical personnel was not likely to arrive.

We remained at DeWitt Army Medical Center for three days, and I didn’t see a new face until the day we left. There was no laundry delivery, and we ran out of hospital gowns and sheets and towels. Staff nerves frayed, and an exhausted nurse yelled at me when she found a spot of baby poop on the bassinet sheet. Emily wore a pink paper gown for her hospital picture because we had run out of everything else. Supplies were running low. We had to use the disposable diapers from the hospital gift pack because there were no more in the store room. They were relieved that I was a nursing mother.

When we checked out of the hospital, the sun was shining and the snow was melting.

Two weeks later the weather surprised us again. Daffodils were blooming in our yard.

Unidentified Flying Objects

 

When my freshman-year roommate and I signed up for a hayride sponsored by the Methodist Student Union, school had been in session only a few weeks. It was something to do on a Saturday night at our small liberal arts college.

The event included a ride out into the country to a farmhouse where there would be food and marshmallow roasting around a campfire. We knew that someone would bring out a guitar and we would sing around the fire.

By the time we were climbing into the large hay-filled bed of the truck, it was already dark and colder than most of us had dressed for. The organizers assured us that we didn’t have too far to go. Once we were moving, the truck quickly turned off the main highway on to a two-lane paved country road.

Some students were standing, but most of us were seated sheltering from the air when the truck abruptly stopped, and one of the leaders, a young man, began gesturing at us to settle down. He yelled at us, “Stop talking. Get quiet!”

He banged on the roof of the truck’s cab and yelled for the driver to kill the engine.

By then word had spread through the group that this young man had spotted something in the sky, and it took less than a heartbeat for the rest of us to spring to our feet because we could see it too.

A large object flashing a revolving row of red and white lights flew soundlessly through the dome of the night sky in a way that nothing I knew of then or know of now could possibly move.

This comparison, inadequate as it is, may help you comprehend the rapidity of the up down sideways hovering movements we observed: Imagine sitting at a completely bare table with a single checker under your index finger. Now quickly slide the disc straight in front of you but as far away from you as you can. Just as quickly, slide it diagonally down to your far left. Now slide the disc across the table in front of you from your left to your far right. From the right, slide the disc back to the apex of the equilateral triangle you have just traced.

We were struck dumb by the arial acrobatics of the object. Then from the distant left and from the distant right of the vast sky, two more objects joined the one we had been watching. They hovered close together, lights flashing, and then sped away. We watched until they had vanished into the darkness of space.

We all were quiet as we drove on to the farm house, and once there, the evening’s conversation was dominated by futile efforts to find the perfectly reasonable explanation.

On Saturday, December 16, 2017, the Pentagon acknowledged the existence of a UFO investigation program that ran for five years from 2007 to 2012 under the direction of the Department of Defense. The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ran out of money, and in spite of compelling video footage shot by a navy pilot and released by the Pentagon as an example of the data that had been collected, the secret program is no longer active. At least as far as we know.

For those of us who have experienced a sighting, the existence of such a program, even in past tense, is a relief.

Because no matter what you may think of this story, we know what we saw that night, and I have been looking up ever since.

Our First Thanksgiving

This is a true Thanksgiving story, and it is one shared with military people stationed all over the world gathering together to eat the familiar foods and to create community in the absence of family.

On the day before Thanksgiving 1984, I found my across-the-street neighbor Betty Dulinawka at her mailbox distraught with disappointment because something she had hoped to receive from her aviator husband had not arrived in the day’s mail delivery.

Making matters worse, she and her two children, baby Michael and ten year old Cory, would be spending Thanksgiving without Mike who was deployed with the US Navy. Betty was alone juggling work and the needs of her active children, and she had made no preparations for Thanksgiving.

For reasons I no longer remember, the members of the Motley Crew composed of me, Major Motley (USMC), five-year-old Emily and three-year-old Lisy, had determined not to drive to Tennessee or New Jersey that year. Rather we were staying home with plans for a modest and lonely Thanksgiving meal.

“Please come over and eat with us,” I implored.

Betty’s quick reply: “What can I bring?”

Bob, Mike, Betty, Susan taken from the 2006 cookbook.

With Mike still deployed at Christmas, we again celebrated together. When we finally all came together for a holiday to show Mike what he had been missing, we had a tradition. For thirty-three years with only a few exceptions, our families have joined to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.

With so many years of practice, we know our duties, so Betty and I talk only to check that we will both be in town, to verify that we remember correctly whose turn it is to host, and to get a head count.

Whoever is hosting roasts the turkey. I will make the cranberry sauce, the dressing, the rolls. Betty will make the sweet potatoes, the broccoli casserole, the pecan pie.The

My recipe for turkey dressing Southern style

festivities commence at 2 PM, and we make the gravy together.

All of these years have produced some memorable holiday moments.

There was the year when Michael waxed humanitarian and gave up his seat on a flight home from school thinking he would ride the train home and later enjoy a free ticket to anywhere in the US. We tracked his progress to Richmond where it appeared he was in for a long delay. We ate without him.

The kids from the 2006 cookbook: Cory, Lisy, Michael, Emily

Emily tells the story of planning to spend Thanksgiving in Richmond with her future husband Sean at his father’s home. When she shared her plans with Lt. Colonel Motley, he said, “I’m going to help you make the right decision. You are coming home for Thanksgiving.”

Lisy has a childhood recollection of being carried outside grasped by her oversized coveralls to have the crumbs shaken out of her lap. And she remembers the sound of Grandpop’s voice when she called home on the last Thanksgiving he was with us.

I will always be indebted to Mike for giving me at least two more years of Santa with my children. You see, one year, a zealous neighbor, who had decided that perpetuating the Santa myth was the same as lying, shared the truth about Santa with my children. Emily and Lisy were still pretty young. I was sad and angry, and I felt robbed. My weak claim that Santa comes to all who believe had not gathered much traction.

This was also the year that Mike had gifted himself with a video camera for Christmas. After putting Cory and Michael to bed, he placed the camera on a tripod and aimed the lens at the fireplace and the Christmas tree in order to capture Santa’s arrival. Sadly, something caused the camera to slip so that the only resulting video of Santa was below his knees. We could clearly see Saint Nick landing in front of the camera, placing presents under the tree, reaching for a cookie and the milk, and then jumping up and out of camera range. The children watched the video in utter amazement. As far as I know, no one made the connection to Mike’s red golf pants and his black flight boots. That bought us another year or two of Santa.

For Christmas 2006, Betty was inspired to create a holiday cookbook for our kids. We copied the recipes for our meal, and with a Polaroid camera we captured the very few photos we have taken of our years together.

It’s rare now that all of the original eight are present. This year we will miss Lisy and last year it was Michael and LIsy. And we are grateful when the absence of one of us is buffered by the presence of new faces around the table. What a treat it was when my sister and her family were able to join us one year.

Emily and Cory supervise Michael on the slide.

In one of my scrapbooks there’s a picture of a baby boy on an indoor slide with two little girls attending him. It is labeled Thanksgiving 1984. This is the only record in existence of the Motley and Dulinawka First Thanksgiving, the beginning of our thirty-three year tradition and the birth of our new family.

By the way, to Mike’s credit, I do have to interject here that the longed for item, whatever it was, did arrive in the next mail delivery.

Copyright Susan Motley November 2017

Gun Control and Governance: Right Now We Have Neither

In the late 80s my husband was stationed at FMFLANT; and as a result, we shared hosting for a Norwegian family who came to our area on a NATO military officer exchange. My husband visited their home prior to their coming to the US, and the officer’s wife asked, “What kind of gun should I get for our stay in your country?” Too much American TV? Perhaps. Nevertheless, she was serious.

I have shared that story more times than I can count. This was our first inkling of the developing crisis of guns and violence in the United States.

Seriously, who needs this?

Am I the only one who believes that with the exception of members of the military and law enforcement, no one should have access to semi-automatic and automatic weapons? I don’t think so.

I also believe that our government will never do anything about gun control in spite of their knowing that most Americans favor more stringent gun control laws. If the Sandy Hook shootings did not move our elected representatives, nothing will, and today our government is paralyzed in hopeless partisan gridlock. Governance is simply not happening.

To make matters worse, horrific events such as the killing in Las Vegas, always create a spike in gun sales because citizens fear the enactment of legislation that might interfere with their ability to purchase them.

All we can do is what we can do: Call, write, or email our Congress persons; Use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to let others know how we feel. Our opinions do matter to others. If you believe we need to do something, and we need to do it now, speak to your neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

In the meantime, I pray the prayer I saw on a red, white, and blue T Shirt just this morning: “Lord have mercy on US.”

copyright  Susan Motley 2017

Rosh Hashanah in the Hospital

The call came from Brooklyn on a Friday night. Our daughter Elisabeth, alarmed and confused, could not figure out how to set her clock so that she could rise in time to catch the train for work. She told us she had been struggling with similar issues for a few days, and, no, she could not go to the doctor because the Pilates studio owner had just mandated that there be no more late cancellations by instructors. She suspected the flu. “It has been going around,” she said.

We were worried, and my husband called his brother to see if he could help Elisabeth see a doctor Saturday afternoon. Within the hour, Elisabeth called back uncharacteristically enraged that we had meddled in her affairs.

Still worried, we planned to go to work on Monday, clear our desks, make necessary arrangements, then drive to New York. But on Sunday morning, her panicked boyfriend called. He agreed to take her to an emergency room, and we started driving. My husband’s brother met them at Lennox Hill Hospital where he remained until we arrived.

Our sterile hospital room was unexpectedly warmed on one Rosh Hashanah.

The days passed and Lisy’s condition deteriorated. We measured time in an endless stream of labs, the exchange of IV bags, revolving roommates, specialists, gaggles of young inquisitive doctors asking “Who is the President? What day of the week is it? If you had $4.00 and spent 75 cents on a Coke, how much money would you have left?

My husband took the day shift, and I spent the nights.

One morning my husband exploded into the room asking: “Is Dr. Devi Jewish?”

“I think she’s Indian. Why?”

“Because Rosh Hashanah begins tonight, and Jewish doctors will not be
here for two days.”

That evening, according to my routine, I settled into one of two chairs at the foot of Lisy’s bed.

On all the previous evenings, except for passing visitors and hospital staff, there had been little activity, but on this first night of Rosh Hashanah, a new patient, a Rabbi was seated in the room across the hall. He was wearing a hospital gown, but also his hat over his skull cap, the tasseled undergarment that Jewish men wear, and he was wrapped in a prayer shawl. He was a portly man with a gray beard and a gentle demeanor. His followers had been streaming in all evening, each bearing a huge container of holiday food. The Rabbi expressed gratitude, tasted each dish directly from its container, and nodded his approval. This seemed important.

I have to confess I was enjoying the diversion from our lonely plight, and I began to wonder about the attire. The hats and hair nets, the long black coats, the shapeless clothing and sensible shoes the women wore compared to the jaunty hats, curls, tailored coats, pants, and boots the young men wore. The Rabbi’s room was overflowing with New Years well wishers, and women gathered in the hall to talk. Through fragments of conversations, I determined that an important young woman of great interest to everyone would be visiting. She was French, and immediately I began to wonder if somehow she would find a way to improve on the unfortunate fashion strictures these Jewish women endured.

She arrived bearing food, but a bit more black stocking and still-sensible shoes showed below her skirt. Her clothing was fitted where it could be, and she wore a more stylish head covering than the others. Murmurs of greeting welcomed her as she disappeared into the Rabbi’s room. I did not see her leave, and by ten o’clock, everyone had gone.

Lisy was sleeping, and our room was darkened. I had reclaimed my chair. The Rabbi sat across the hall from me and to my wonderment, he was once again eating, this time from a large plastic container. I wanted to believe that at last alone he could enjoy his favorite dish. Perhaps the one his wife had prepared.

He was backlit by his room’s ceiling light and illuminated in a shaft of light from the hallway. I didn’t want to stare, but I did. And I was caught. He looked up; our eyes met. He smiled silently speaking a gentle expression of sympathy, the acknowledgement of our shared unfortunate circumstances. “It is Rosh Hashanah, and here we are spending it in a hospital.”

I smiled back. Message received. “Shanah tova. Shalom.”

Our sterile hospital room was unexpectedly warmed on one Rosh Hashanah.

Can We Talk?

When I needed an image to support a Facebook post about conversation, I typed that very word into the search text box of a popular website that provides free images requiring no attribution.

Of the 261 images grouped under that theme, the first was of two plastic Minions posed as if they were talking. This was followed by three photos of conversation hearts, five photos of girls talking on their cell phones, two photos of texting, one photo of a group of meerkats, another of two parrots, one photo of a full beer mug, and two posters featuring the word feedback. In fact, of the many images featured under the category and presented in order of popularity, few were of actual people engaged in actual conversation.

While I had anticipated the Valentine candy, I had not expected that conversation would be defined primarily through images of cell phone use or through images of employees interacting in work-related clusters.

The Tenth Edition of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines conversation as “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions or ideas,” and the verb converse is defined as “to exchange thoughts and opinions in speech.” According to these definitions, the cell phone photos could be suitable, but the text photos are not and neither are the Minions, the meerkats, or the parrots.

All of this has me wondering: Is the art of face-to-face conversation in danger of vanishing? When we are together, are we really together or are we using our cell phones to engage with someone else who is somewhere else? What are we missing in meetings and classes where we text and email and shop with our phones in our laps? Can we articulate a response to a question without the advantage of the revision or research that text or email allows? For that matter, can we ask the question?

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle has the same concerns, and in her TED Talk “Connected but Alone?” she speaks of an eighteen-year-old boy who uses text for everything but assured her that someday he would like to learn how to have a conversation.

Not so many years ago before cell phones, texting and email were ubiquitous, we made dates to meet after work or school, at a home or a pub. We solved problems, strengthened relationships, laughed together, cried together, and planned together. We told jokes and stories that were more than 140 characters long. Rather than sharing a trite post, we spoke from our hearts about our genuine concerns. We were real people interacting in real time.

One of my most favorite SNL characters is Linda Richman, Mike Myers’s fictional host of the sketch “Coffee Talk.” Her cohost was usually a friend who shared her adoration of Barbara Streisand. When she inevitably became verklempt, she waved her well-manicured nails and instructed her audience to “Talk amongst [themselves]” while she recovered her composure. She even provided the discussion topic. For our purposes, the topic might be something like: How is a cell phone like a prison cell? Discuss.

Seriously. Discuss. Amongst yourselves. Face to face.

 

Copyright Susan A. Motley 2017

This Experience Is Uneclipsable

 

My sister had already taken the day off for the total solar eclipse when I first heard about it during our nine day journey through Northern California and Oregon in May. I had noticed the eclipse tchotchkes in airport gift shops, and in Yachats, Oregon, citizens were already bracing for the influx of eclipse tourists. But in Norfolk, Virginia, with a mere eighty-six percent of the sun destined to be chomped away by the moon, this eclipse business wasn’t yet a big deal.

Inspired by my sister’s excitement, I began to think about the possibility of traveling to see this “once in a lifetime” total eclipse especially when I saw that my hometown of Maryville, Tennessee, was in the path of totality. I was incredulous. Other than being the home of the Sam Houston School House and being the birthplace of Lamar Alexander, Maryville, in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, doesn’t enjoy much notoriety.

My husband Bob thought an 86% eclipse was completely sufficient, but he unenthusiastically agreed to go along. I didn’t mention to Bob that as much as I wanted to see totality, I most wanted to see it with my two older granddaughters. Just in case this trip actually came together, I ordered eclipse viewing glasses that fortuitously came packaged in a group of five, and checked in with my sister-in-law in Louisville, Tennessee, to make sure we would have a place to stay if needed.

As I expected when I broached the idea of taking the grandchildren, my husband, a retired Marine Corps officer, ever an advocate for preparation for the most degraded conditions possible, delivered a two hour litany of absolutely everything that could go wrong finally declaring he had thought all along that it was a bad idea for just the two of us to go. In his opinion, subjecting the little girls to the likely discomforts of this trip, elevated the threat level status to irrational. His main concern: traffic. He balked at my suggestion that that our daughter Emily, the girls, and I could make it a girl trip. Bob leads only from the front, never from the rear. He was going.

With Emily’s mother-in-law generously agreeing to stay with Baby Andrew, the eclipse chase was officially on.

Once in a Lifetime Experience #1

We hit the road early Sunday morning taking Highway 64 to Interstate 81 for the drive to Abingdon, Virginia where we planned to spend the night. The drive that normally takes six hours took eight—better than we had hoped for. And we arrived with enough time for the girls to swim in the hotel pool. We ate a fantastic supper at El Bigotes Mexican Grill, went to the grocery store for a few more food supplies, and bedded down for the night. We were on the road early Monday and cruised into Knoxville with so little traffic we wondered where everybody was.

The bridge from the library to the Green Belt

We still had not decided where we would watch the eclipse. We had the offer of the back deck of a lake house with a perfect view, but everything I had read, suggested that it is best to watch with a large group of people. So in spite of the sweltering heat, we settled on the Blount County Library’s Viewing Party which extended beyond the library grounds to the Maryville Green Belt, a fitness and pleasure area with a paved path that meanders along a lazy stream through miles of town. We staked out our plot under a shade tree and the waiting began. Largely thanks to four year old Dori, we met people from Oklahoma, New Jersey, New York, and local people too. We heard languages we could not identify.

 

We checked periodically as the moon moved into the

Shadows dance on a lawn chair outside Nashville, TN

alignment that would result in totality. We marveled at the changing light. At the increasing volume of cicadas’ song as darkness fell, the colors of the corona. At Venus or was it Regulus? On the Green Belt we gasped, screamed, laughed out loud and cheered. Tears welled up in eyes. And then the gleam appeared on the edge of the big black ball and suddenly light returned, the cicadas quietened, the street lamps extinguished. Filtered through the leaves of trees, little crescent shaped shadows scampered on the ground.

With last looks to the sky and spirits elevated to a celestial sublime, we packed up with a new objective: To drive as far north as possible. We hoped that would be Hickory, North Carolina, where we would spend the night and be home by noon on Tuesday to reunite Andrew with his mother and sisters and relieve Parkie of her child care duties.

Once in a Lifetime Experience #2

And everything was looking great until traffic came to a stop on I 40 East at exit 64. We had seen a sign indicating an accident at exit 66. Four long hours later we snaked past the accident that had involved a tractor trailer at the worst section of highway possible: lanes were already closed for construction and traffic both entered and exited the highway at this juncture. It was a once in a lifetime traffic nightmare. Thanks to Bob’s Marine Corps mentality, we had topped off the gas tank, we had food in the car, and we had all been to the bathroom. His only comment: “This is what I was afraid of.”

Thanks to the iExit App, which you should download on your phone immediately if you don’t already have it, we were able to locate a hotel in Morganton, North Carolina, and make reservations from the car. We pulled into our hotel at 11:30, far from our hoped for destination of Hickory and exhausted from the four-hour stop and go. We were checked into the last two available rooms. Still far from home, we didn’t make it to Norfolk until almost 5 PM on Tuesday.

Not quite total.

And I would do it again even knowing what the trip home was like. Totality is that amazing, and even Bob agrees.

After countless car classroom lessons on the twirling and whirling of our planet and its moon around the sun, eight year old Harper can explain it pretty well. Dori can tell you what she saw and that it is called a solar eclipse.

I picture a day at school in the future when Dori will look up from a science lesson and exclaim, “So that’s what we were seeing the day the moon ate the sun!”

copyright Susan A. Motley 2017

With Family History, Spelling Counts

My aunt, Bonnie Heiskell Peters, is the family genealogist. In fact, she has published three books celebrating the history and people of Union County, Tennessee. When I first became interested in exploring family history, she warned me that misspellings could be roadblocks to research.

Here’s one story:

Ura Otis Turner’s photo is taken from “Our Union County Families” by Winnie Palmer McDonald and Bonnie Heiskell Peters.

When he was only twenty-two years old, my grandfather, Ura Otis Turner, was killed in a coal mine in Kentucky. It was 1916. My mother was eighteen months old. My grandmother, Elsie Louzinia Seymour, would eventually remarry Dempsey Valpo Heiskell, also a widower. With that marriage, my mother and her sister Dot became the youngest children in the Heiskell family—at least for a while. Neither of them had memory of the handsome young man who was their biological father.

Time made Ura Turner easy to forget, but I remember a years-ago afternoon on my grandmother’s front porch with a visitor, a man, who shook his head lamenting to my grandmother, “I got him that job.”

“Where was this coal mine?” I wondered. What had happened? Who were his parents? His siblings? I have always had the idea that this coal mining job was temporary—just an opportunity to earn enough money to get the young couple on their feet. How long had he worked there? What had he done before that? Did others from Union County go to the Kentucky mines?

Seeking answers, down the Ancestry rabbit hole I went. When I climbed out five hours later, I had a a bit more information and a deeper understanding of one of the primary challenges of ancestry research: spelling.

With Ancestry, I found “Eura” Turner’s death certificate. He was killed in the Clear Fork mine in Bell County, Kentucky. The cause of death is listed as “skull fracture from falling slate.” He must have looked awful when they opened his casket, and they most assuredly did, because in the family telling, he was “crushed.” His father George R. Turner and his mother Typhenia were listed on the death certificate. My grandmother is not listed as a survivor.

A few years later, my mother’s name is misspelled on the census that was taken when she was four years old, and her stepfather Dempsey was listed as “Depapsy.” On various documents, Seymour is spelled: Seemore, Seamore, Seymore…you get the idea.

This makes me wonder if there’s a relationship between my father’s insistence that my middle name be spelled Anne and my mother’s fretting, “Nobody is going to remember to include that e.”

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