Category Archives: Family

0-2: Respectful, Responsible, Safe

In which Ms. Ebner considers dogged self-worth in others . . .


I’m near the front of the room with five kids yammering for my attention.  Two ask if they can go to the bathroom before the bell rings.  One asks if he can go to the office to call his ride home from school.  One or two more are explaining something about missing the day before, or asking me if they need to do a test, or something.  I can’t really hear.   It’s 32 middle school students all talking at once. I just want to get class started, take role within the legally-mandated time frame of fifteen minutes, and have everyone present so I don’t need to repeat instructions.  And in all of this clamor—oh, yeah, kids are not in their seats yet, are not giving any indication that they are here to be here and learn, but playing or chatting or zipping through their touchscreens—there’s Albert*, saying in his oversized voice and equally oversized enthusiasm, “Hi, Ms. Ebner.  Here is my behavior contract.  You need to sign this, put it in the folder and give me five reward tickets (to use for purchases).  See I went over the minimum points for my goal for the week!”


I bet you did.


There was a time when I was newish to this school, and still wonder if I am cut out for the culture.  I first returned because the office manager treated me well, as a valued substitute teacher.  Later, when I got to know more students, I continue to serve there because so many of them seem to like me alright.  I am a now a person with a personality and won’t put up with too much crap, but enough to make me one of the “not mean subs.”  Hence, the line up of requests and stories and the full orchestra warming up before class even starts.  There will be more distractions throughout the day.  “Can I get a drink of water?” Can I go to the bathroom?” “Can I go ask my math teacher a question?” “Can I make you life in this room more like a family, rather than an 8 hour incarceration?”


Albert is the second person I took to be motive to return to this school day in and day out.  When I first met him he came right up to me, started asking me questions, wondering about me, and being, yeah, a bit annoying.  He would try to relate to me.  When I mentioned my insulin pump one day, he held onto that knowledge—not as a person with diabetes himself—and asked me about it, curious, concerned for several days after.  The kid exemplifies a willingness to make the first move to relating instead of cowering in insecurity and bitterness at the world.  Albert reaches out.


One grouchy old teacher there described him to me once as “a puppy dog” but I would say— when he greets me as I come into school or come near the classroom—his persona is more like riding the edge of an avalanche.  He is always there, booming and moving fast, and he always has something sparkling yet bracing to say.


His classmates don’t like him.  Probably most of his teachers don’t either, which explains the “behavior plan” he has been on since the beginning of the year.  He is loud, says outbursty stuff at odd times, has way too much energy, and radiates indefatigable optimism for the essence of life at least eight hours a day.


He is what I wish all people had within themselves, or kept intact.  He has something unstoppable inside which makes me want to protect him from society’s insistence on dumbing-it-down so we can all be bored out of our skulls.


But the thing is, Albert doesn’t seem to need my or anyone’s protection.  He appears to have woken one day at a very early age—with his scruffy, consistently unmaintained red hair—looked about him and decided, People behave like jerks.  I will try to be better than that.


The behavior plans challenge his personal ethics and motivations as do the countless barely-hidden remarks smacking of borderline bullying.  He turns a blind eye to this unnecessary noise, and focusses on me.  The cymbals clang.


“Hi Ms. Ebner.  How are you?  I’ve decided to be a force for good today again!  What do you think of that?  Here’s my behavior contract.”

* Name changed to protect the identity of this wonderful student.




What you don’t understand –

because I didn’t tell you –

is that I call “blowing into donkeys’ nostrils”

horse kisses.

The conversation between our feet

as I felt the smallest movement from your calf

brought home the I know, I understand,

you are good for me too.

When I noticed the quiet –

I need you to understand –  my loathe

of your absent presence pained me

when I saw your body missing from its place.

Understand, too, I’m not so sentimental to keep

the symbols of your fingers’ care

put at attention like players appealing

against my instinct to toss them.

What I don’t understand, often,

is what I should do in relation to you

knowing that what I want has the possibility

of not being the whole truth.

I understood too, that later I would

take the blankets – now washed and drying-

into the hug of my arms

and smell you, breathing deeply, reliving.

Astronauts and Allegories

In which Carrie’s young filosopher friend considers the ambitions of children and difficulties they face because of the American debt crisis ….

Guest Post: Roisin

Ask a kindergartener  what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll hear cliche answers such as doctor, veterinarian, astronaut. Grade schoolers and middle schoolers answers are more diverse. Still a common element is significantly found in all young children’s answers when asked what they imagine themselves to be in the future; all of them have their hopes set high. No one tells the child with her eyes fixed upon the moon how unlikely it is to make it into the space program. No one tells the child, plastic stethoscope in hand, that his family would never be able to afford medical school. How dare we squash innocent ambition? Reality will eventually sink in, I suppose, somewhere between the first high school report card and that meeting about tuition with your college counselor. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Hard work in life doesn’t automatically equate to monetary funds. Sometimes, it seems like we live in an unfair society. That years of hoping and dreaming and long hours and idealizing are trampled upon and reduced to more “practical” careers. And suddenly, that little astronaut who could is left to merely gaze in envy at the moon.

Yes, I’ve realized that I’m probably not the first kid who claimed to be future president. I know many before me have vowed to change the world. As I prepare to enter college, with all it’s built up glory and anticipation, I’ve encountered an unanticipated obstacle. Money.

Naive, I know.

Forgive me for believing that good grades and pure drive were enough to get a student an education in this country. Forgive me for even posing to ask the question of why the cost of self improvement escalates into the thousands of dollars. Then. Forgive me for being so selfish.

Life is hard. It’s been said before. Our dreams slowly change from being a doctor, to becoming a mother or a secretary or a carpenter. It’s not about the occupation. It’s about being happy. Who am I to say that one dream is bigger or better than another? The enlightened one in Plato’s allegory discovered that his previous games and awards were nothing compared to what awaited him on the outside, in the light. In the light I see that title or money really doesn’t mean you’ll be happy. What matters is having a dream. Strive to reach it, no matter what. No matter if that dream is to become an astronaut or secretary. Those who say that your dream is “impractical” are still living in a cave, and they’ll view things differently. Their awards consist of nothing but shadows and titles and money and none of that truly matters.

I think that inside, we all still carry that flame of a goal. A goal perhaps deemed unreachable by a insensitive teacher or friend. It’s true, in the end we cannot all be the President. But some one has to be, right?


About the Author:
Roisin is a senior in high school and spends her time playing basketball, writing, attempting to understand her AP Statistics homework and contemplating what exactly Kant was talking about…. (when she figures it out, she says she’ll get back to us).  Roisin loves being outdoors and hopes to attend university in Montana.

Blast from My Childhood Past…

In which Carrie is subjected to old family videos (VHS) and hears this song by America which she claims is part of her very soul…


For the Love of Earth

In which we experiment with thought in the genre of science fiction…

“The essence of art, no less than of science, is synecdoche.  A carefully chosen part serves for the whole.”
-Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

Imagine a world, a best possible world in all possible worlds, which is quite unlike Leibniz’s (or Voltaire’s “Dr. Pangloss”).  It looks and behaves similarly to what it is like now except that humans are slightly different.  They are all biophiles at their core.  This loving ethic for biological inter-relatedness has evolved over thousands of years, and is now as instinctual as the aversion to falling and the desire to reproduce.

In this globalized society, each of its members, from very early on, is obligated to care for and protect a particular species: plant, animal, bacteria, or whatever needs extra attention and study.  No one person begrudges this obligation because it is an encoded outcome of being human.  In other words, it’s just the way we live.

Because this is just the way we are, and because we also have excellent organizational capacity, each member begins with a species to protect and goes through a series of graduations or rites-of-passage so that they might be involved in the protection of more particular species over time.  Maybe a father has his species for a given time, and once it is well-situated, he can give it to his son while facilitating an apprenticeship.

This father might then take on a more challenging species while he aids the continued study and protection of the one bequeathed to his apprentice who has begun with a less threatened species as an elementary lesson in care and protection.  We are thinking of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development:  a child is seen to need some learning just a bit past his development level to strive toward.  So does, we’ll suppose, the adult.  By the time a person reaches, say, sixty, they might have had five or six species they were “in charge of” and have helped thrive in harmony with other organisms.

Now, obviously, there are at least two ways to care for a species: in a lab such as a zoo, or in its natural habitat.  Obviously, in this best possible world, we disparage the former, except in extreme circumstances of species decline, and do everything we can to ensure the latter, knowing a species must live in its best possible world also.

This is why we have organizational bodies called “governments.”  They run the logistics of necessaries like providing transportation to other comparable habitats where a species lives.  They facilitate the best possible education of our novices and experts so they may know as much as they can in order to help each particular organism being protected.  These governmental people are made up of the privileged and powerful class.

This  elite class of people is determined by results.  A leader of this sort has protected seriously endangered species in Nobel prize worthy ways, utilizing both ingenuity and superior knowledge, and has been rewarded with a high office, thus more responsibility.  These people fully expect to be surpassed in rank, and do what they must to make sure this happens.  They understand that they will need to be replaced, eventually.  That is just the way we live.

And, naturally, saving a species or six in a lifetime, involves greater things.  One important feature we have already mentioned: the habitats where a species lives.  The people assigned to this habitat will eventually be teaming up with others assigned other species which coexist with theirs.  Understanding the ecosystem also involves non-living elements, like the elements.  People working together on a particular habitat begin to see the necessity of really working hard together.  They assist where they can and are unable to take full, individualized  credit for their results.  They depend both on their species, other peoples’ species, and the help of other protectors to get the job done.

Meanwhile, back at home, the child and the father enjoy their time away from this work.  They, and their neighbors, have plenty to eat, are in good health, use free time to create and develop other interests, and they aren’t even worried about the rest of humanity.  They know each is doing his or her small part to socially protect the biospherical whole that keeps us alive.

By Carrie Anne Ebner

“Give It the Old College Try”

In which Carrie remembers her grandfather’s witicisms while publishing her first graded homework assignment of the term for the sake of staking out the place and earning an ESOL endorsement…

“Most of us will live heroic lives on a small scale…be kind to each other, honor those who came before you and respect those who will come after you.”
-John Green, commenting on the release of The Fault in Our Stars during the tour-de nerdfighting, January 2012, Bagdad Theatre, Portland, Oregon

It took the recent deaths of two people I loved to finally spur me into action.  I have been thinking of returning to school for some time and it is not without some symbolism that I attend my third Oregon University, OSU, which happened to also be my late grandfather’s home team.   He gave me a small gift of money with the requirement that I use it for “a meaningful, long-lasting purpose to remember him by.”  Or so says my grandmother, who along with him, was also a teacher.

Times are different for teachers now than they were back then.  It has been over three years since I finished my M.A.T. program at Southern Oregon University with endorsements to teach middle school multiple subjects and high school language arts.  Language everything has been a long-term hobby for I-don’t-know-how-long, and I’ve received the generous gifts of people in my life who inspire the continuation of its study in my life.  One person was my professor Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn (W-OZ) who died this August unexpectedly.  She encouraged my personal writing goals and to teach students with kindness, creativity, and fun.

I remember these two people who inspired a joy of life, a lot of therapeutic humor, and the desire to make the world a better place.  The small place I live now is east of the Cascades, in central Oregon.  I substitute teach here, and often have the pleasure of seeing my old teachers at the high school I attended.  I consider John Green’s quote with excitement when I think of the new generation of scholars and world-makers whom I will encounter in the coming months.  I believe I will approach them, humbly and happily, as both learner and teacher.  I imagine that I will empathize with the struggles they overcome at their level of study and commiserate with them while I grinningly express my own educational woes (deadlines, computer glitches) and wonders (inspiration, curiosity).

There is so much I wish to do for our children and our world, and knowing I don’t have to do it all by myself is a relief.  I believe I can be heroic and that my heroic acts are not mine individually…I’m made up of small and large parts of the diverse communities I call mine,  who, over the years, and even just this moment, shape my decisions and actions.  I am a fan of the vlogbrothers, of which John Green represents half, and their edutaining videos bolstered by the catch phrase “decrease worldsuck, increase awesome” to indicate a movement I am already part of through my love of language and communication.

“It’s a mad mission but I got the ambition. It’s a mad mission, sign me up.”

Patty Griffin, “Mad Mission”

The Smiling Ghost of Dr. Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn

In which Carrie learns of her favorite professor’s death and smiles because this is one of many ways Zinn wants to be remembered…

Dear Zinn,

This is the hardest thing I have ever written for you…much harder than my one page “Philosophy of Education” and the other small books you assigned.  I’ve got a bubble in my eye and a big balloon of hurt in my windpipe, and I do believe your death-without-asking-if-I’d-be-ready-for-it is going to be one of the hardest in my life time.

You’ve given me the gift of knowing you pretty well.  You’ve encouraged me to write and read and love and play.  I learned quickly by your example what kind of educator I am.  You showed me how to stand strong for the qualitative, the gray, the underdog, the dreamer, the artist, me.  You reminded me to not be so hard on myself.

I love you.

Your friend and grateful student,

Carrie Anne

Class of 2009