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Off Task

By Pamela Beeman

Notes From San Francisco

I know it's not possible to get jet lag, let alone whiplash, traveling from San Francisco to Chico, but I am definitely entitled to a little homely culture shock. I only had a one-day stay at the NASP convention, and on Thursday morning went from a very urban coffee and jogging (Castro to Haight-Ashbury to Golden Gate Park), to 3+ hours of pedal-to-themetal driving up Interstate 5, ending back at my small-town middle school during lunch period. Within moments I was awash in all the mini-crises that being away from the job for a day and a half can engender. I had 89 e-mail messages and somehow, as I worked through them, they multiplied. By 5:00, I had 104. Help! (Note: stop CC'ing self.)

It's easy to think "Not Worth It" when there's that much chaos to come home to, but I'm not going there. If we can't take the time to stay current in our field, we're making a big mistake. And the conference sure was great, although was anybody else a little overwhelmed? OK, a lot? There is my usual topographagnosia, rendering me unable to find the same elevator I recently got out of, which was exacerbated by the towers which didn't seem to connect, and room names like Ballroom, Grand Ballroom, and Imperial Ballroom. Don't these hotel architects figure that most of the people in the building are going to be unfamiliar with the surroundings? Editor John Desrochers suggested a phone app that would serve as a sort of hotel GPS that functioned inside any given hotel. Of course, there may already be such an app; otherwise, it's just a matter of time.

When I added to that the sheer number of presentations, papers, symposia, and other offerings, I really was overwhelmed. I've seen phone books smaller than that conference schedule. Between finding a germane session and then locating the room, I felt like I should have been studying ahead for a week or else I was going to miss some good stuff.

There sure were a lot of us in the opening general session. Always amazing to see so many school psychologists in one place; I feel like such a unique minority most of the time. And Linda Darling-Hammond's address was outstanding. My favorite part was the German study that followed kindergarteners who played versus kindergarteners who studied … and how much better the "players" were doing in all areas by fourth grade. Yessss! Sobering, how much work we have to do, though.

Hope everyone got out to play in my favorite city. The weather could have been better on Thursday for sure, but it was not bad enough to keep one from ambulating to some famous or scenic or historic or delicious spots.

Already looking forward to 2012!

Playground

"My child saw the school psychologist? Why didn't anybody inform me?"

That's the last thing any of us want to hear. So I'm really cautious about meeting with any student without some kind of permission. But today I came up with a great solution.

A cute first grader that I tested a while ago wants to know when she gets to come see me again. She's asked me several times, but I currently have no permission to pull her out of class (plus I've been crazy busy). But today, after a long interval of really depressing weather (gray, fog, freezing: recipe for S.A.D.), the sun came out and made us proud to be Californians again. So when Donna asked when she could see me, I said, "I'll meet you on the playground at lunch recess."

She came to pick me up from my office when she was done eating and said her friends were waiting for us. Wow, this is a full-on play date! On the way to the playground I greeted a couple dozen kids and scored a bunch of hugs; I hadn't realized that I know so many by name this year. And gee, we played Princesses and Witches, Keep Out of the Boiling Hot Lava (there's a game with inexplicable but enduring popularity), Mermaids ("Look out for the net!" "OK! I don't want to end up in a can of tuna!"), snow angels (right, no snow: the angel is imprinted in the bark shavings under the slide; then we spent a while picking the shavings out of Donna's hair and clothing), and I pushed the swings and slung a tetherball. Okay … I just watched a couple kids play tetherball, but that's more than I've done in several decades.

The closest I came to doing anything constructive was when another first grade friend, Ernie, told me that Donna was mean to him. Remembering all the social skills curricula I have absorbed over the years, I said, "Donna, Ernie says you were mean to him. Ernie is my friend, so don't be mean to him, okay? Shake." They shook.

Other than that, nobody came up to me to tattle, which is what usually happens when I make a foray onto the playground, and the sunshine was fabulous. Could this possibly be considered a working lunch?

Pamela Beeman has been a school psychologist for 30 years and lives in Chico, CA.