Sunday, July 11, 2010

Top Ten List for How Not to Teach a STOP Class



The STOP program is a way you gain forgiveness for a minor traffic infraction by enduring an 8 hour defensive driving course...and pay $85 to take said class.  However, in this case, the fine was less than the speeding ticket, and has the added benefit of clearing the ticket so it doesn't accrue points on my driver's license, or report to my insurance company.  So it seemed like a win.  Until the day of the class...

I'm a writer.  I have a grand total of nine writing projects underway, and a myriad of writing groups I have obligations to.  So, before I even set foot in the classroom, my mind is already ticking away.  Fine-tuning the plot for the next chapter of my novel, planning out agendas, making lists of tasks I need to accomplish for the Critique Ladies meeting on Sunday...

Enter the instructor.  Nice lady.  Pleasant, personable, voice is easy to listen to, seems enthusiastic.  This might not be sooo horrible.  My twenty-six fellow captive students settle in and prepare to have our driving education enhanced...or not?

It quickly became apparent that all was not well in STOP-land.  I was faced with two choices.  One, being to doodle, and perhaps drool the day away as some of my hellmates, or being a writer, I could come up with something to actually write about.  Guess what I chose?

The first thing I came up with was a cast of characters.  Why not?  I'm going to be stuck in a room with these wonderful captives all day.  Seems fair and reasonable.  Just like in fiction, sometimes you blend several people together into one character.  And in this case, I'll do the same.  I promise, no twenty-seven character sketches.

The Know it All:  Has extensive "experience", and insists on sharing it at every possible opportunity.  Often by talking over the instructor. 

The Storyteller:  Like the Know if All, this lady has been there, done it all, and she relishes telling each and every sordid detail.  I think she has some hearing issues, as not even the collective groans of her cellmates--oh, make that classmates seems to actually make it to her brain.

The Debator:  Another of the more vocal members of the group, he insists on debating the legality or wisdom of each and every fact or law presented in the group. 

The Snoozer:  Well represented in this group.  Broken into sub sets.  The Snorer, The Head Bobber, The Head on Tabler, The Sunglasses Insider. 

The Brown-Noser:  You know who you are.  Enough said.  Who brings the STOP class teacher an apple?  really??

The Eye Roller:  Now I kind of like this guy.  He is paying attention, and like me, his eye rollings are in response to the above listed characters in our room.

Then there is me, The Writer/Observer.

Now, on to the class itself.  Boring, boring boring to rehash the class itself.  Plus, if you too must endure the thing, I'd hate to spoil the surprises.  Think of how long the day would be if I told you everything you could anticipate now???  So instead, I came up with a Letterman-esque Top Ten List!

Top Ten List of How Not to Teach a STOP Class

10:  Don't take time to familiarize yourself with the equipment.  No one will mind that it takes you endless minutes to fumble with the laptop, the projector, or the powerpoint presentations.  It also isn't important to have actually LOOKED at the powerpoint before class.  You might as well be surprised along with the rest of us.

9:  Continue to remind us how you like the "old" book better.  Or, as a variant, how you like the book you use to teach the teenagers in your usual Drivers Education classes.

8:  Use the same references and punch lines that you use to address a room full of fifteen-year-olds.  We can all use a flashback to Driver's Education and High School.

7:  Plan the break times around when you are most lost and confused, not when there is a break in the material... or in any logical time sequence relative to the length of the class.

6:  Speaking of those break times... Don't actually use your break time to consume anything.  No one will mind if you eat your breakfast cereal while you talk.  Really.

5:  Learn your students names.  Have them write their names in nice big letters on a table tents, then call them by other students' names, or repeatedly massacre the same pronunciation you've flubbed up the last fifteen times you've tried to say it.  Keeps the class on their toes.

4:  Make no attempt to control the resident disrupters in the class.  We all love the tangential discussions, debates, and random stories.  Maybe next time you can just make it an open-mic day?

3:  Know there is a test over the material that MUST be passed in order to successfully complete the course and get credit?  Keep it a surprise.  Everyone loves pop quizzes!  It is also irrelevent that you might have perused the questions in advance and made some attempt to ensure that all the material been covered in the actual lessons.  It's all important, dammit!

2:  Oh, and it is absolutely not important to give all the lectures and videos before the test.  Everyone learns more when there is that one section on the test where you've never heard the material before.  And think how much better they will retain the useless bit of statistics once they'd stared at the question, then made a random guess, only to find it discussed at length in the unit you cover AFTER they've taken said test!  Likewise, they love hearing "I didn't know this was on the test,"  when you review the questions and answers with  them.

And (drum roll please)  The Number ONE Top Thing Not to do When Teaching a STOP Class:

1:  Have absolutely NO idea what the prisoners--I mean students--need to do after the class to ensure their fines and tickets are cleared.  Make it an information scavenger hunt.  Don't have a clue who we need to call and ask either.  It adds to the fun.  It certainly isn't YOUR job to provide such information, after all.

Hmmmm now that I've written about the STOP Class, I wonder if it now becomes a writing research expense? 

I'm still disappointed that the red lights and handsome Trooper with the handcuffs, nightstick, and firearm wasn't an elaborate set up for a stripper gag for my birthday.  Just saying...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reaching for the sky

I made a vow on December 31, 2009.  2010 was going to be MY year.

 I pinky swore on it. 

You see, even though my writing found greater success in 2009 than I imagined possible, other areas of my life were--and still are--in shambles.  The easiest and probably most comfortable course of action?  Take the safe road.  Don't rock the boat.  Maintain the status quo

Not good enough!

I'm a true Gemini in so many ways.  On one hand, I'm still the unsure, awkward kid who never felt that she "measured up." 

Adopted kid syndrome? 


Life hasn't always been easy either.  I grew up in a household filled with love, even though we didn't have a lot of money. My sister and I were both honors students.  My parents?  I remember the day I asked my mother to help me with my homework.  She pulled out her own report cards, and showed me. 

"I want to help you.  But I can't. I don't know how."

A Gemini understands how you can be both an intellectual superior to your parents, and yet a child seeking their wisdom.

My mother taught me to set my sights on a goal.  One so lofty I thought it could NEVER be achieved, and then find a way--any way--to ascend to the top.  She showed me that there were ways around nearly every road block in life, but that I needed to be willing to look for work-arounds.  Because of her I learned that the only true failure in life was to quit trying. 

That's good, because I've amassed quite a lofty list of failures.  Marriage?  Well, I have four beautiful children, and a wonderful assortment of step, half, and sorta-kids.  Some of them even seem to have mastered the art of marriage.  I applaud them!  Academia?  I spent a couple decades amassing a wide array of courses, degrees, and such.  Balanced classes with working a full-time job and raising said children.  At the end of the day, I failed to get the Medical School diploma I'd set my sights on.

The easiest thing in the world would be to let myself drown under the weight of the labels. 
Teenage parent.

But here's the deal. I'm a fighter. Nobody has handed me anything in life.  I don't expect it, and I don't want it.  Work-arounds are a life-style choice.  And life's most important work-around lesson is to face your fears. 

Writing involves an extreme amount of vulnerability.  For it to move me, I need to throw my whole being into what I'm writing.  Scars, weaknesses--all of it.  Then I need to face my fears and share it with other people.  Talk about a risk! 

There is nothing in the world like facing a fear, and accomplishing something you never dreamed you could do.  I've tried three times to climb the observation tower at Mahoney State Park.  Never managed to make it one step higher than the third landing.  I'm terrified, as in really, really afraid of heights.  So, as part of my "Claiming 2010 as MY Year" campaign, I decided it was a moral imperative to make it to the top of this tower.  My own personal Everest... 

No way would I have made it to the top alone.  It took having someone hold my hand, nudge me along, and knowing if push came to shove, that's exactly what would happen! 

Writing is the same way.  I belong to some fabulous writing groups.  I write.  I read what I've written, and shut my mouth to listen to the feedback.  Let people who's only goal is to help me reach my goal nudge me to success.  Even when my knees shake, and the last thing I want to do is walk up to the front of a room and pick up the microphone, I do it anyway. 

Has it worked? Let's see. I won a writing award this year. AND...

I'm still scared of heights.  And I'm sure my knees will still shake when I walk up to the podium, or stage to read something I've written.  But the victory is sweeter than I anything ever dreamed.  Plus, you gain some amazing friends along the way.  Love you all!

What's next?  On the writing front:  Submissions!  Conquering fears:  Oh, how about spending the night in the haunted house Travel Channel has named,"The Scariest Place in America?"  Coming Aug 3rd!