South Carolina

Bird Squares & Gradebooks by Uschi Jeffcoat

It was teaching in the classroom that taught me the importance of observation.

It's there that I learned how much the posture and mannerisms of a child can tell you about their confidence, their false sense of confidence, and how hard it can be to simply be a kid these days...especially in middle school. Since then, I've learned to spot some of these insecurities in adults now a bit too. It's masked in different ways, but some of those things from back then are still there in our older versions of ourselves.

And that's why I love watching these little birds so much. I find, they can mimic human behavior in such funny ways.

This summer I have been plowing through a series of little bird squares, because I've been thinking through some things that actually relate to the classroom. And as I painted, it seemed a certain refrain, albeit taken a little out of context, from a song by the Clash was my prayer...

Well, come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?

Because you see, at the end of last school year, I received a few phone calls and emails asking me if I would please consider returning to the classroom due to a vacancy that had arisen. Pause.  My self imposed mini-retirement, my stay-at-home college mom life, being wife to LLC freelance design life has been delightful! I have had quiet and glorious amounts of time to assess my values and priorities. I've made swimming a habit, my house is in the kind of order only a German Hausfrau can achieve, I've been painting some interior spaces, visiting family and friends, painting and just this week began a little watercolor instruction class for adult art students.

Why in the bloody hell would I even consider returning to public education? - Where you can't just go to the bathroom whenever you might want. (It's a whole thing, to discreetly make sure a teacher can watch the kids,  so no one pokes someone's eye out with a pencil, while you tend to your business....) - Where the job pays so well, especially in South Carolina. (sarcasm) -  Where sometimes creatively and diplomatically you must prove to parents and administration, that you have taught the material upside down, sideways and back again, because some how, you the teacher are 100% responsible for the child's learning. (#studentresponsibilty please)- And where teaching trends, educational politics and philosophies can change faster than the wind, just when you mastered the latest thing...

I'm sure you can see where this wordy blog post is going, by now...

In my interview the phrase, "Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher" was mentioned. And I thought huh, wonder if that's true?

Because I have been doing German grammar exercises for fun during the past few months. Weird I know, but true... And when I was a child, my sisters and I always played school and guess who was always the teacher? And I happen to love teaching middle school. They are my favorite kind of kid. And if I am going to voice an opinion about the state of education, what am I doing to help it? Because angry words are often so very many - but action is limited. Oh, and not to mention, I do love an old-fashioned gradebook. And I can spend 4 hours over coffee discussing German teaching strategies with Lucia Huang, master jedi of all German teachers.

I also knew that when I went back to work, I wanted whatever I did to match the academic calendar Charles's work follows. We had our children very early, so we knew then, that many of the adventures we wanted to take would need to wait until our children were older.  And well, that time is here and a priority.

Because of the things society tends to value, it may seem a little backward to some going from the title of executive director to that of teacher again despite a few other opportunities. But I've given much thought to what matters to me as a person most and where my strengths lie. So the decision to go back "into the trenches of public school", if you will, feels right for this season.

So all that to say, I have spent the past few weeks preparing to return to the classroom!!! But I have also been pursuing accountability so that I will continue to paint consistently and meaningfully.

And if you happen to still be reading...I do want to point out that I do not view teaching as a calling. It is a job and quite frankly hard work. Please stop telling teachers they have such a high calling and using that type of language. It makes the fact that they work so hard, for very little pay, seem well, kosher.

Instead, perhaps let them know how much you appreciate what they are doing. Support and advocate for them!  Work to raise the pay for teachers in South Carolina and you will see professionals and educated individuals who have solid knowledge of the content enter the field and stop leaving. ( I would not be considering this line of work in this state, if I did not currently have the luxury and privilege of financial stability my husband provides our family.)  Please work to improve the physical and structural state of the schools within this region of the state. I am horrified that the images of my high school's pre-demo state, show it in a better shape than many regional schools. And I know you all know that the work in these trenches is great. I'm not trying to point fingers or anything like that...Let's simply make it better, by elevating the profession of educator to what it should be. End of soap box.

So all this to say, I am honored to be pulling out my teacher hat again, to return to work within a district and a program with others that value a globally minded education for all. 

My father always said, "Malala will be free as a bird." -Malala Yousafzai



Escape to Hickory Knob by Uschi Jeffcoat

Towards the end of May, I packed my watercolors, camera, a wonderful book and traveled to Hickory Knob State Park in South Carolina.

The South Carolina State Park system has an artist in residency program. This year I had the privilege of participating and it was delightful. It came at the perfect time of the year.

A time before summer schedules and projects begin. And a time when rest and respite is most welcome.

Our family world still revolves very much around an academic calendar. And the end of a semester is when we tend to catch our breaths. Our oldest had completed his first year of college and the youngest was completing his junior year. How did they get so old? So fast?

I was in the midst of some decision making. And well, Charles. He was simply t-i-r-e-d.

So this get-a-way to unplug, observe, learn, create and be inspired was soul filling.

We walked the trails during the mornings. And I took SO many pictures! Some of you may know I took an introductory class in botanical illustration in January. Paired with this book, I was reading at the time, I was on a nature and plant observation high! 

Many of our walks were not so quiet as they were laced with "informative mini lectures" based on the most recent chapter I finished.

During our stay we had a few memorable bird experiences. The pileated woodpeckers were active. One actually hit the window of our cabin, only stunning him for a moment. Long enough for me to capture a few images, though.

But perhaps most striking was the morning we came upon the hawk, which I chose to paint for the park.

We were so close to him and he didn't seem to mind at all. It was as if he was posing in this most majestic and photogenic manner. And the air was so still, quiet and serene.

A privileged moment.

Hickory Knob State Park, thank you for the oppurtunity.