Through Toddler Eyes: All the World’s a Game

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toddler-eyes

Things can get heavy when you’re the adult. There are always bills to pay, things to clean, errands to run, and there are never, ever enough minutes in the day. Today I overheard one of my students say, “I wish I was in preschool again: snacks, games, and nap time!” I kind of had to agree!

So I took a minute to consider why toddlers are having more fun than the rest of us. It’s simple. Whereas we see the world as full of tasks and obstacles that must be accomplished or overcome, they see the world as one giant game.  

Here are a few of the rules I was able to ascertain while carefully observing my 3-year-old.

Open space of any kind
Whether it be a strip of grass, a nature trail, the aisle of a grocery store, or a semi-empty parking lot, open ground means run. Run full speed. This game is simply a test of endurance: how fast can you run and how much ground can you cover before an adult catches you.

A neatly stacked pile of…anything
The game is simple: tip it over! In fact, when you see Mom and Dad creating the stack, this should signal you to stay close and wait until the stacking is completed. Some stacks require several pushes or even kicks. Others are a breeze. For bonus points, yell something like “Tiimmmbber” to ensure Mom sees you.

Water of any sort
A dripping faucet, a puddle, a cup of water, a hose… the sight of water should signal one instinct: play in it. Splash it, drink it, tip it, doesn’t matter, but try and get water on as many different things as you can. Bonus points for getting the dog or the couch wet.

Writing utensils
Once found use quietly and immediately. Let the world be your canvas and discover how many surfaces you can decorate: walls, cabinets, end tables, the couch, your parents will thank you later for your contribution to their decor. Bonus points if you can get your hands on a Sharpie.

Mail
Whether it’s already opened or not, mail can be the source of great delight. Mail can be ripped, thrown into the air, jumped on, crinkled, and folded. Bonus points if you can find crevices in which to stuff it. Ideas include (but are not limited to): under the couch, in a closet, in the bathroom or kitchen drawers, or under the refrigerator. Bonus points if you can combine with game with water in some way (think toilet).

Hot surfaces
While you can’t really be sure what they are or what they do, you do know one thing: if you go near one, Mom and Dad will flip out and this can provide you with great entertainment. See how many times to can illicit a response while mom cooks dinner.

Grocery carts
These. Things. Are. amazing. They can be climbed on – jungle-gym style- they can be ridden in, you can hang on the outside, climb underneath, hang on to the side. If you can dream it, you can do it! Bonus points if you execute any of these maneuvers while the cart is in motion.

Toy bins
Now this one seems obvious because toys are meant to be played with, but the real fun mostly lies in dumping the toy bins out. Sometimes, kicking the displaced toys around the roomroom can be a nice change of pace, but dumping as many toy bins as you can get your hands on is very therapeutic. Dumping is noisy, so challenge yourself and see how many bins you can dump before an adult stops you.

Getting out of bed
There are a lot of ways to get out of bed: sliding off the side, sliding off the end, jumping off, rolling off, dangling your legs until you just can’t balance anymore and ultimately fall off. Once you’ve exited the bed in some way, see how far down the hall you can get before Mom or Dad sees you. They’ll join in too and come after you, making for a really fun game of chase. (Bonus points: be sure to giggle loudly when Mom returns you to be for the 500th time so she knows you’re enjoying the game)

Big brother/sister’s stuff
This is like the holy grail of entertainment. Have you seen the kinds of things big kids have? Books with rip-able pages, knickknacks and toys with movable parts! There are containers to open, dump out and investigate, papers from school, and all sorts of trinkets. This, however, is a game of risk and skill. You must do it on the sly and get into as many things as quickly as possible because getting caught may mean certain death!

Random flailing
Sometimes you are forced to turn lemons into lemonade. When there is just nothing else to do, you can always resort to random flailing. This may mean sliding out of seats at restaurants or church. It may mean just flailing your arms wildly in the air. This game may also include (but it not limited to): jumping up and down, rolling around on the ground, wander around the room crashing into things, collapsing in the center of the room, and laying on your back while kicking your legs wildly into the air.

 

And, finally, always keep in mind that the key to good sportsmanship is a positive attitude as as you complete these games, be sure to fill the room with your cries of accomplishment. Pump your fist in the air, smile big, and let the whole world know what kind of toddler champion you truly are!

 

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Remember the Boys

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The students in my freshman English class have been working on a poster the last two days in class. They could choose to work with a partner or by themselves. Things were going along fine. This year’s freshman are unusually polite and hardworking and I’ve really enjoyed the first four weeks of the school year.

Then, at the end of the hour on Friday, one young man approaches me. Let’s call him Cam. He’s flustered, talking fast, trying to explain to me that something happened with his partner and what I can make sense of is the phrase “not fair” as he rushes to vent about his partner over the chaos of the hour. So we step out into the hall, and there, he calms down a bit and tells me that he is not happy with his partner, but he’s worried that it’s too late in the process to change. As he tells me, his cheeks grow red and tears well in his eyes. Cam tells me that he processes slowly, that’s just a thing about him, and the partner he’s working with is faster and more confident. Cam is upset because he’s trying to contribute, but his partner is just kind of bulldozing past him. He didn’t agree with all of the answers, but his partner is treating him like he’s dumb and even made a comment that if he waited for Cam to catch up, he’d be waiting all day. His voice is shakey, he’s shifting his weight, his eyes dart around. “Look,” he says, “I’m not dumb, but things take me longer and I hate the way he’s treating me.”

I’ve had many of these moments with kids over the years. I’m going to generalize here and point out that this is only anecdotal, but generally when I’m in the hall with a student on the verge of tears, it’s a female. Males tend to bottle things up, or explode (in my classroom experience only). Seems like either I know something’s up, but can’t get them to tell me, or all of a sudden there’s a screaming match or some pushing. When I’m in the hall, one-on-one, with a female student, I try to put my hand on her shoulder reassuringly. Sometimes I offer a hug (not often, I’m not really a hugger).

As I stood in the hall with Cam I considered how this was different with a male. He’s 15, not 7, and hugging doesn’t seem appropriate. I feel obligated to clean the mess up quickly so he can compose himself and not risk embarrassment (for him) if someone walks by – something I never think about when comforting a female student.

I thank him for being honest with me and sharing his struggles. I encourage him to continue to do so so that I can help him be successful this year. I tell him it’s no problem to part ways with his partner and we come up with a modified assignment. We discuss the seating chart, does he need to move? Is this a symptom of a larger issue between the two boys or a one-time thing? The bell rings, students spill into the hall. He says thanks, he says he’s ok, and I tell him to try and let it go for now and enjoy his weekend.

 Then I drive home and think of my own boys. I wonder if teachers will treat them with compassion, or will they tell them not to be a wuss (either implicitly or explicitly)? Will the teacher, either consciously or unconsciously, devalue their concerns because they are male? I wonder how I would feel if one of them came home and recounted this story. Would I be happy with how the teacher ) handled it? And I think about how things are different for males and females in high school when it comes to emotion. And how stifled males must feel at times.

It may be 2016 and we may like to tell ourselves that we’ve become a modern society, but gender expectations run deep. I wonder if there are more boys who have these feelings, but keep them in because they feel like they can’t express such frustration or feeling of hurt in public. I imagine there are. Secondary teachers spend a lot of time attending to crying students and 95% of them, in my experience, are girls. As a result, we might assume the boys are handling things better. Are maybe less dramatic? Maybe less emotional? And in the meantime, bullying may go unchecked. Feelings of struggle, inadequacy, and fear may never be addressed.

I think of my seven-year-old who, currently, is very emotional. He’s very tuned in to the subtleties of interactions and conversations and I worry his feelings will be hurt, but he won’t feel free to talk about it.

When I look around my classroom the boys do seem to have an easy nature about them. They talk about sports, video games, and girls. They make gross jokes and they rib their friends. Maybe it’s because I’m a female, but the girls are much more likely to plop themselves near my desk and unload all their stressors for the day (or week). As a teacher, this makes me love the reprieve the boys offer: just jokes and silliness with them, but as a parent, this makes me wonder if we just aren’t seeing the whole picture. I hope I am able to create an environment at home where my boys feel comfortable at least talking to me about their stresses.

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on Cam. He came back from the weekend break still a little subdued. He was not his same self Monday morning, but he assured me he was fine.

I’ll keep an eye on him.

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Facebook and Our Emotionally-Charged Nation

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I named this blog “My Tangled String” because that image is representative of what’s going on inside my head. I use this space to unravel those thoughts. Lately, however, I haven’t been able to successfully find a lose end on which I can begin tugging. It’s cliche to say it’s this political climate. Sure I’m disturbed by it, but I feel like it’s more than that. It’s related, sure, but different. There have been changes in the way we communicate with and relate to each other, as people, and I’m not sure we can blame all of that one two individuals running for president.

Nowadays we are exposed to so much information – and so much bad information. There is a pervasive mantra that the mainstream media can’t be trusted, and yet, where do we find news? In this time in the the world we have access to more news and opinions than ever before, and yet, how do we weed through it? My fear is that, as a whole, we aren’t doing a very good job. We’re sharing things on social media without fact-checking and then, what’s worse, is we believe these faux news stories. This is the age of the headline. Write a catchy headline, and people will share it. We aren’t reading; we are trusting the headlines. We aren’t looking at the source or the dates; we just click “share”.

And I don’t mean to say we are all dummies. I feels like we’ve become a society that acts on our emotions, and this makes sense because we are inundated by headlines, videos, and posts that are designed purely to pull, no yank, at our heartstrings. Crime rates are down, way down, nation-wide. That’s a fact, and yet, the rhetoric of today has many Americans feeling afraid. In fact, I just heard a man being interviewed on NPR say, “you go to a movie theater; you’re likely to get shot. You visit a big city; you’re likely to get shot.” It’s no wonder a person might feel this way. Scroll your Facebook feed and it’s inundated with videos and news of horrible accidents, murders, robberies, and assaults. Now, statistically, these violent crimes are down; however, our exposure to tragedy, is way, way up.

Think back to when you were in high school (I’m assuming many of you are pre-Facebook age, ha!). Pre-facebook we knew what was on the local and nightly news. Notable crimes made newspapers and magazines, but not at the rate with which we are exposed to news stories today. The fodder of local news is now national news. A singular person’s bad experience at Target becomes the rallying call of shoppers everywhere. All of these things accumulate in our guts, this is why we feel emotionally-charged all of the time. Just in preparation for this post, I kept tabs on some of the stories that rolled through my news feed in the last day or two and by far the most disturbing, alarmist headline I read was, “With tears overflowing, this mother tries to re-attach her child’s decapitated head”. These are things I never click on, but I did, for the sake of this post. It led me to a short article written by an ambulance driver about an accident he was called to that had been caused by a drunk driver. In the accident, the two children in the backseat did not survive. The story was not graphic at all and the point of the piece was really to point out that there are innocent victims when you choose to drink and drive. The headline was obviously clickbait and, even though I agreed with the anti-drunk driving message, I wasn’t sure the whole thing was an effective strategy. Nonetheless, we scroll, day by day, through our feeds exposing our minds and our psyches to these devastating and disturbing messages. 

And then we get distracted. We remain subtly emotionally charged and then something comes up, and it causes an explosion. Colin Kaepernick takes a knee. Starbucks releases a new logo on their cup. A gorilla is killed to save a child’s life. And suddenly, we funnel our fear, anger, and frustration towards these symbols because it is easier to fight about the National Anthem or a gorilla than it is to ask the really tough questions. It’s easier to be angry at a Black Lives Matter crowd when they become destructive than it is to ask the real questions about race and equality in our country and why the group is so angry and frustrated. It’s easier to argue about what the National Anthem really means than it is to evaluate whether or not our country really does offer equal opportunity for all. Facebook threads have become a battleground, yet the opponents are our friends and family. Almost daily someone on my Facebook feed announces that he or she will be unfriending or unfollowing those with opposite and obnoxious opinions. Daily I read arguments that turn nasty in just two or three exchanges. And the thing is, if you’re connected on Facebook then you are friends, family, or acquaintances in some way.  If we are unable to be respectful of our own friends and family, then what hope does this nation have?7969003a49be87b104b5afcfbc5b4afb

And just as we had worked ourselves into a frenzy, along came this election cycle. We, as a nation, are questioning the business-as-usual democratic process, which is great, but we seem to have lost the ability to do so with any sort of intellectual capacity. I do believe Donald Trump has stirred up a lot of anger and fear, but he’s not the cause of it. He has simply coaxed to the surface that dark reality that our country still has a lot of work to do. In the few short months he has had access to microphones and the media, he has capitalized on these feelings we’re harboring of fear and anger and he’s made it okay for us to act on them.

Now I don’t have any answers and I also have a lot more to say. This is only a start. However, I don’t know how to say the rest. I don’t know what can be done and I don’t know who (if anyone) can do it. I do know that things will absolutely get worse if we cannot come together as a nation and own up to our flaws. We have a serious racism problem. We might have legalized gay marriage, but we have a long ways to go towards gender and sexual equality. We absolutely must address poverty. We must fund education. These are issues that we must come together on for the future of this country.

Maybe an elected official is not the answer. Maybe that answer is each one of us in our everyday lives, every day. Here are some simple places to start:

  • Fact check the articles you share on Facebook. Think that’s time consuming? Then post less.
  • READ. And I’m not just saying this because I’m an English teacher. READ the articles you post. READ the articles your friends post. Go out into the web and find some interesting news sites and then READ. A great place to start is Flipboard.com. You can set up your interests and you’ll get daily articles to peruse. Maybe if we all start reading more, journalists will stop using such ridiculous headlines!
  • Remember your manners. Sure your comment feels like a body-less entity, but it is attached to you and it is directed towards another human being. Engage in intellectual debate, rather than name-calling and insulting.
  • Ask questions. Recently I had drinks with a high school friend. She’s made a career in the military and I’m a shameless pacifist. However, I had the most enjoyable evening asking her thoughts about foreign policy and gun control. She has knowledge and experience in these areas. I can and should listen to her experience. She and I don’t have to agree, but we can absolutely share our experiences with each other.
  • Stop focusing on yourself. What if the point of Facebook was to connect and converse rather than a place to project your highlight reel? What if you spent less time declaring your own opinions and more time asking other people about theirs?

On the one hand, I feel at a loss for words and on the other hand, here I am 1300 words later. I have to go to work again tomorrow and look nearly 120 15-year-olds in the eyes and prepare them for their futures. All I can do, so that I can sleep at night, is try to encourage deep thinking, critical questioning, and compassionate behavior. Because maybe, just maybe, those things will help turn our country around.

Recording a Podcast!

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of heading to Southfield, Michigan to participate in the podcast Urban State of Mind. The hosts, Kharena and Akia, were so much fun to work with too! Even though I speak infront of humans all day long, I have to tell you, I was SO nervous about the whole thing. We scheduled it way in advance and I barely let myself think about it until the week of because of the insane butterflies.

img_2061They invited me on to talk about my post “Why Teaching Really is Difficult.” Kharena and Akia were pros, though, and had questions and topics ready to go, so all I had to do was talk about what I talk about best: education.

You can listen to the podcast at the link below. I encourage you to follow their page as well, so that you can get updates when they post new things. If you are in the world of education at all, as either an educator or a parent, I think you’ll really like what they have to say!img_2060

 
Listen to the podcast, “Close Your Door and Do What’s Best for Kids” here.

You can also follow them on facebook at Urban State of Mind.

The Things We Carry

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“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight.”

I used to teach an excerpt of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which recounts the author’s experiences in Vietnam. The excerpt we read was somewhat lack-luster – a nod to a contemporary American classic without actually delving into the parts with the gore of death or the profanity of serving. I read the book in its entirety in college, but not until later in my life, as a teacher and mother, did I re-read this excerpt and feel something different.

As outlined in the section, the men carried items necessary for survival: canteens, weapons, dry socks, and letters from home. And, as mentioned above, they carried intangibles such as fear, interrupted love stories, and regret. I read this passage as an adult and as a parent, and I understand, for the first time, how heavy and exhausting it is to carry intangibles. Quite often these are the things that truly weigh us down.

As a teacher my day is busy with attendance, managing lessons and behaviors, making copies and preparing for what’s next. As a mother my day is busy with meal planning, shoe-tying, boo boo-kissing, and discipline. These, however, are only the tangibles. And while they keep me busy from sun up to sun down, these are not the weights that keep me awake at night.

Those are the intangibles. Those things are heavy. And unlike a social invite that you can turn down or a dish you can simply refuse to wash, the intangibles can’t be set down as easily. Sometimes they can be moved over, sent to the back of the line, but they always resurface.

No matter the narrative I occupy myself with during my waking hours, the intangibles are always ready for a conversation just as my head hits the pillow. These include worries, fears, insecurities, and regrets. These ideas bounce back and forth across my brain in an ask-and-answer style as my logical self tries to reassure my emotional self that I am doing an ok job of parenting. My logical self tries to reassure my emotional self that my oldest son, who sometimes struggles emotionally, will turn out ok. And my brain tries to assure my heart that my children will grow to be happy, loving adults. My intelligence tries to reassure my emotions that there is good in the world, and my orderly self tries to temper my anger with injustice and uncertainty.

I abandon the tangibles early on in the evening and tell myself it’s because I have the ability to compartmentalize, to maintain control. And yet, hours after the tangibles have been laid to rest I am awake and questioning a co-worker’s comment, my own sense of self-worth, and my role in this world.

I turn off the television and announce that “enough is enough” when the coverage of this election cycle seems intolerable, but the stillness only makes room for my worries about the future of this world. I worry about what type of world my grandchildren will inherit. I worry that they will not breathe fresh air or know the quietness of peace.

And so I look back at that over-used passage from O’Brien’s work and understand, as an adult, how crucial this understanding is. The toll this service took on those men was greater than injury and exhaustion. It was psychological; it was traumatic. And I understand that the things we carry are both external and internal. We size up each other’s external baggage and assume we know what one another are carrying, but in reality we can never know.

And we lie to ourselves about our own things. We manage the tangibles, so that we can hide from the intangibles for another moment or so. However, in order to survive, we must find a way to set some of those intangibles down. Some of them we must honor, then bury and walk away. We need not forget them, but we must give them a final resting place. Because, after all, we can often only affect the tangibles and carrying it all is just too damn exhausting.

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Hey Parents, Step Up

Parents

Years ago when my first child was around four, I was having a “where will he go to preschool?” conversation with some coworkers. This was back when I only had one child and had nothing better to do than to over-analyze my every parenting dilemma (and then consult the internet to evaluate my decision). I was bemoaning the fact that the elementary school he would be attending only went on one field trip a year and snobbishly suggesting I might drive him to a different district if it fit my fancy. One of my coworkers (with adult children) said, “Look, the school isn’t everything. YOU are the parent. If you want your kid to have certain experiences, then YOU need to provide them.” She pitched to me this novel idea that school was only supplemental to my parenting. She suggested that, wait for it, IT WAS MY JOB!

What’s ironic about this is that I am a teacher. I have found myself infuriated by memes such as these on social media

PicMonkey Collage

And I often comment, “I thought that’s what parents are for!” (I’d also like to point out that whoever made the meme in orange can add “use of commas” to the list of things he/she never learned in high school… but I digress). Once I saw a version of this that included “how to do laundry.” And yet, I sat in the lounge with my peers and  found myself, as a parent, expecting from the school, the very things I loathe as a teacher!

Never mind the fact that many social studies classes probably do explain taxes and the voting process and many schools do offer personal finance classes, but teenagers don’t want to take them, the reality is, little-by-little, we are expecting schools to raise our children.

I’m a teacher and even I am guilty of it when I have my parent hat on.

Here’s another fun one that’s floating around:

principal

Sure people forget things. We all make mistakes – this is how we learn.  All day long I have kids asking to call home because they forgot their lunch money, or their lunch, or their iPad, or their homework. Once a kid was furious because I wouldn’t let him call his mom so she could bring him Subway for lunch. You see, he didn’t want to eat cafeteria food that day. But I digress.

I see memes like this and I think, on the one hand, this is America and if you want to raise a lazy, spoiled brat, you have the right to do that. But on the other hand, my teaching experience tells me that this sense of entitlement is getting worse and could use a fair amount of tightening up.

Over the 12 years I’ve been teaching I am constantly being asked to implement more and more strategies and interventions that fall firmly in the “parents’ job” category. My grade book is entirely online and parents as well as students have access to it 24 hours a day, and yet, I am now asked to call or email parents of students who are missing assignments. Certainly this is part of my job, but a weekly call? When the parent can go right on the website and check on their own?

Additionally I am now able to upload nearly every assignment thanks to websites like Google classroom or Schoology and, even though I send out emails, I have yet to have a parent login to see what we are doing and rarely do students take advantage of such resources before tests or during absences.

On the flip side, my son will be entering 2nd grade in the fall and when the school has an event (big or small) I am bombarded with automated phone reminders the week of. In addition, the event is listed on the school website, it comes home in his weekly paperwork from the teacher, and sometimes I even get an email. Can adults not even remember a date without 25 reminders?

I hate arguments that suggest we need to get back to the “good old days,” but I certainly think our kids today could use a tad more personal responsibility. Increasingly parents are calling me to excuse missing homework, argue about lost textbooks, or accuse me of not making deadlines clear enough on projects we’ve worked on for a week or more.

It’s as if the more connected we become, the less connected we actually are.

So now, Mom and Dad, I’m looking at you.

You gotta step up, man.

I know weeknights are hard and crazy and made even more so when parents are parenting alone or working crazy hours, but we all have to start holding these kids accountable, and it doesn’t have to be all rules and discipline. It can start with conversation.

You can ask your kids how school was. You can create routines (car rides, dinners, evening walks) where you get one-on-one time with your child so that the conversation flows a bit more naturally. You can take advantage of online grade books and school websites.

And you can let them fail. Oh my gosh it’s hard. Like the meme above says, you can let them miss their show and tell day because they forgot to carry it in from the car. You can let them buy hot lunch because they forgot their own. I know it’s hard to do, especially if you have the time and the means to make things right. But sometimes, as parents, we have to let them fail. We must let our children learn the difficult lesson that actions have consequences when they are young because, if we don’t, life will teach it to them when they are older and the consequences may be much worse.

I often wonder how I’ll handle the high school years. I am frustrated when parents come to me at the end of the trimester, after ignoring my calls and emails, and now want to help their child pass. Or the week of the big game, they suddenly need their daughter to be eligible. It’s easy for me to say, as the teacher, let them suffer the consequences of their actions, but I know  as a parent that is SO hard to do. I hope I am strong enough to let my children fail. I challenge you to let your own children fail from time to time.

And when they do, talk about it, cry about it, yell about it, write an action plan – do whatever you have to do to help them take action so that it doesn’t happen again.

Finally, evaluate your own expectations of your child’s education. Be honest with yourself. Are the things that you label as lacking from your child’s teacher or education things that you can offer as a parent?

I continue to be infuriated over the lack of recess children in elementary schools get these days, however, in the meantime, I try to make sure that I plan for or allow a solid hour or more of good physical activity when we get home. Sure this doesn’t work out somedays, but as often as I can, I’m forcing that kid outside. Because, after all, I am the parent and complaining about the failings of schools or the shortcomings of teachers is not going to raise my children. Sharing a meme on social media is not going to change policy, but conversation and action might.

So step up, parents. Run for school board, or even write to your school board. Tell them you want more recess or more math or more art, or whatever it is that is academic that will benefit your child. Volunteer to come into the classroom, engage with your child after school and find out what’s going on in his or her world.

Because sending your child to school is hugely important, but it is only a supplement to the parenting YOU are required to do.

And if you find yourself offended by this or still angry that your high school experience didn’t teach you how to do laundry, then I suggest you get up right now, find your kids, and start with a lesson about sorting.

fold-clothes-drop-off-wash-and-fold-laundry-KSQRVe-clipart

Hey Parents, Step Up

Parents

Years ago when my first child was around four, I was having a “where will he go to preschool?” conversation with some coworkers. This was back when I only had one child and had nothing better to do than to over-analyze my every parenting dilemma (and then consult the internet to evaluate my decision). I was bemoaning the fact that the elementary school he would be attending only went on one field trip a year and snobbishly suggesting I might drive him to a different district if it fit my fancy. One of my coworkers (with adult children) said, “Look, the school isn’t everything. YOU are the parent. If you want your kid to have certain experiences, then YOU need to provide them.” She pitched to me this novel idea that school was only supplemental to my parenting. She suggested that, wait for it, IT WAS MY JOB!

What’s ironic about this is that I am a teacher. I have found myself infuriated by memes such as these on social media

PicMonkey Collage

And I often comment, “I thought that’s what parents are for!” (I’d also like to point out that whoever made the meme in orange can add “use of commas” to the list of things he/she never learned in high school… but I digress). Once I saw a version of this that included “how to do laundry.” And yet, I sat in the lounge with my peers and  found myself, as a parent, expecting from the school, the very things I loathe as a teacher!

Never mind the fact that many social studies classes probably do explain taxes and the voting process and many schools do offer personal finance classes, but teenagers don’t want to take them, the reality is, little-by-little, we are expecting schools to raise our children.

I’m a teacher and even I am guilty of it when I have my parent hat on.

Here’s another fun one that’s floating around:

principal

Sure people forget things. We all make mistakes – this is how we learn.  All day long I have kids asking to call home because they forgot their lunch money, or their lunch, or their iPad, or their homework. Once a kid was furious because I wouldn’t let him call his mom so she could bring him Subway for lunch. You see, he didn’t want to eat cafeteria food that day. But I digress.

I see memes like this and I think, on the one hand, this is America and if you want to raise a lazy, spoiled brat, you have the right to do that. But on the other hand, my teaching experience tells me that this sense of entitlement is getting worse and could use a fair amount of tightening up.

Over the 12 years I’ve been teaching I am constantly being asked to implement more and more strategies and interventions that fall firmly in the “parents’ job” category. My grade book is entirely online and parents as well as students have access to it 24 hours a day, and yet, I am now asked to call or email parents of students who are missing assignments. Certainly this is part of my job, but a weekly call? When the parent can go right on the website and check on their own?

Additionally I am now able to upload nearly every assignment thanks to websites like Google classroom or Schoology and, even though I send out emails, I have yet to have a parent login to see what we are doing and rarely do students take advantage of such resources before tests or during absences.

On the flip side, my son will be entering 2nd grade in the fall and when the school has an event (big or small) I am bombarded with automated phone reminders the week of. In addition, the event is listed on the school website, it comes home in his weekly paperwork from the teacher, and sometimes I even get an email. Can adults not even remember a date without 25 reminders?

I hate arguments that suggest we need to get back to the “good old days,” but I certainly think our kids today could use a tad more personal responsibility. Increasingly parents are calling me to excuse missing homework, argue about lost textbooks, or accuse me of not making deadlines clear enough on projects we’ve worked on for a week or more.

It’s as if the more connected we become, the less connected we actually are.

So now, Mom and Dad, I’m looking at you.

You gotta step up, man.

I know weeknights are hard and crazy and made even more so when parents are parenting alone or working crazy hours, but we all have to start holding these kids accountable, and it doesn’t have to be all rules and discipline. It can start with conversation.

You can ask your kids how school was. You can create routines (car rides, dinners, evening walks) where you get one-on-one time with your child so that the conversation flows a bit more naturally. You can take advantage of online grade books and school websites.

And you can let them fail. Oh my gosh it’s hard. Like the meme above says, you can let them miss their show and tell day because they forgot to carry it in from the car. You can let them buy hot lunch because they forgot their own. I know it’s hard to do, especially if you have the time and the means to make things right. But sometimes, as parents, we have to let them fail. We must let our children learn the difficult lesson that actions have consequences when they are young because, if we don’t, life will teach it to them when they are older and the consequences may be much worse.

I often wonder how I’ll handle the high school years. I am frustrated when parents come to me at the end of the trimester, after ignoring my calls and emails, and now want to help their child pass. Or the week of the big game, they suddenly need their daughter to be eligible. It’s easy for me to say, as the teacher, let them suffer the consequences of their actions, but I know  as a parent that is SO hard to do. I hope I am strong enough to let my children fail. I challenge you to let your own children fail from time to time.

And when they do, talk about it, cry about it, yell about it, write an action plan – do whatever you have to do to help them take action so that it doesn’t happen again.

Finally, evaluate your own expectations of your child’s education. Be honest with yourself. Are the things that you label as lacking from your child’s teacher or education things that you can offer as a parent?

I continue to be infuriated over the lack of recess children in elementary schools get these days, however, in the meantime, I try to make sure that I plan for or allow a solid hour or more of good physical activity when we get home. Sure this doesn’t work out somedays, but as often as I can, I’m forcing that kid outside. Because, after all, I am the parent and complaining about the failings of schools or the shortcomings of teachers is not going to raise my children. Sharing a meme on social media is not going to change policy, but conversation and action might.

So step up, parents. Run for school board, or even write to your school board. Tell them you want more recess or more math or more art, or whatever it is that is academic that will benefit your child. Volunteer to come into the classroom, engage with your child after school and find out what’s going on in his or her world.

Because sending your child to school is hugely important, but it is only a supplement to the parenting YOU are required to do.

 

 

And if you find yourself offended by this or still angry that your high school experience didn’t teach you how to do laundry, then I suggest you get up right now, find your kids, and start with a lesson about sorting.

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Listening to the Voices of the Greatest Generation

greatest Gen

I have one grandparent living; she’s 95, and this short, feisty woman helped shape who I am today. When I was young I spent a week or two with her every summer at her cottage in Kentucky on Lake Cumberland. Because of her I was able to see Europe and Alaska. More importantly, because of my time with her I learned independence, the importance of thank you cards, how to play Skip-Bo, how to waterski, and a very deep appreciation of the voices of my elders.

Last Sunday my husband and I had the rare type of visit with her that didn’t involve our wild children, so we were all able to just sit and enjoy each other’s company. Her memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, but she tells us what’s going on around her place and we fill each other in on all the goings-on of the cousins, aunts, and uncles. This visit we looked at photo albums and laughed about old times.

548385_4717451375918_1232131798_nEvery time we are there, however, I am forced to come face-to-face with some somewhat cliche realities. These stick with me, they follow me home, and linger in my thoughts as I lie in bad later that evening.

She lives in a very nice retirement community and other folks who live there include a man who was once the financial director at Ford. There is a woman who was good friends with President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty. One woman purchased two apartments and knocked out walls to create one massive suite. There’s a woman who was the first female deacon of her church. My grandma plays bridge with retired surgeons, lawyers, and businessmen. And my grandma is no slouch herself. My grandpa served a career in the Air Force and, as a result, my grandparents traveled the world. Whether it was for my grandpa’s work or just for leisure they’ve been everywhere from the countries of Europe, to the Middle East, to every state in this union. They even once shared cocktails with the King of Jordan!

And yet one realization that approaches me every time I walk the halls of her apartment building is that, now, everyone is the same. Every person we pass in the hall, whether using a walker or cane, whether bearing age spots, glasses, or fatigue, was once youthful.11698784_10207643193499570_4086026963035326285_o.jpg These are husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers who were once like me: struggling to figure out who they were in this world and how to raise their children. My grandma’s generation struggled through the depression, toiled through and lost loved ones to many wars. They elected presidents, withstood scandals. These men and women also went to interviews, struggled to climb the social ladder, and to provide better lives for their families. They hosted Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, birthdays, and bbqs

And yet, now, everyone is the same.

I don’t intend this to be a “you can’t take it with you” kind of post. I don’t find this realization al that depressing, I just find it to be so true. When I feel old because college is over a decade behind me and my oldest child is entering second grade, I look at my grandma and think, I’ve only lived one-third of the time she’s been alive on this earth. I find it comforting that I may have so much time ahead of me.

When I attend ice creams socials or dinners with my grandma I get to chat with the other residents They tell stories of the great accomplishments of their youth, and they don’t tell them with sadness. They recount these stories with pride and laughter. It’s not that jobs, and kids, and money, and houses, and cars, and clothes don’t matter, it’s just that, in the end, we’re all the same.

In the end those things are just memories and they are the stories you will share with your children and grandchildren. The only thing I find depressing are those who have no one to share their stories with. Because, after all, you can’t take it with you, but you do hold on to those moments when life brought you to tears and to not be able to spend your golden years relishing in these times and remembering them with loved ones would be heartbreaking.

And so, yes, I feel I must offer you the over-used reminders here: life’s short and, say it with me, you can’t take it with you.

I’d also add that now is the time to make the absolute most of your life and to be involved in your world and aware of its ever-changing ways because someday, hopefully, your stories will be ones of both joy and sorrow, but mostly of importance.

So these visits do help me keep life in perspective. I listen to retired farmers tell me about the year that the drought was so bad they were sure they’d lose the farm, but they didn’t and they chuckle about it now. And I think about that issue in my life that feels, right now, like the absolute most important thing ever and I remind myself that, someday, this time in my life with just be a story I will tell. I’m reminded that bad times to do end and good times are always just on the horizon.

I think of the thin man with white hair, sitting across the table eating butter pecan ice cream and recounting his time at Ford. He’s talking about the cars he got to drive for free. He and another man are laughing about technology that was the “latest and greatest” at the time and how archaic it seems now. And while I’m sure he remembers the struggles, the late nights, the never-ending bills, he now laughs those things off because he’s survived them.

I go home after these visits feeling as if I’ve had a secret peak into the past. Listening to these voices is not just a history lesson, but a lesson of life. A lesson in the reality that we all struggle and, like it or not, we all age. Our children will grow up and, if we are lucky, we may get to enjoy grandchildren. These stories solidify in my mind the differences between my generation in the past and I take from each visit a tidbit of wisdom from a bygone era.

And so the onion farmer and the Ford executive sit at the table and eat butter pecan because no matter our pasts, we are all humans who love and laugh and hurt and cry, and we are all the same.

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Life’s short, eat crepes

Why Teaching Really IS Difficult

Teaching Title

This year I will begin my 12th year as a high school English teacher. In some ways, I can’t believe it’s been 12 years, but in other ways it feels like it’s been 100. I teach in Michigan, a state, like many others, that has introduced sweeping and often detrimental education reform. These policies make teaching more difficult. They tie test scores to evaluations, they require more and more standardized tests for our students, they change these tests almost yearly, they cut funding, and they take away educators’ voices by limiting our rights to bargain. These policies have affected my retirement, my salary, my healthcare, my classroom budget, my class sizes, my evaluations, the curriculum I teach, and the hours I work.

And yet, thousands of us do it and most of us love it. I think it is an incredibly hard profession and there are aspects of the job that are difficult to explain to those in the private sector. You see a lot victimizing of teachers. A lot of “poor us” kind of posts and blogs. I tend to stay away from these because I think everyone works hard. I think everyone is overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated – it’s the American way, right?

So I was trying to figure out why teaching feels especially hard. Sometimes I listen to friends who work in the private sector talk about their job and I have to bite my tongue so I don’t say, “yeah, but at least at your job….”, however I’m never sure if I’m just feeling like a martyr.

What I’ve finally decided is that teaching is not unique in its many downsides. I think what is unique about teaching is that in the list of “negatives about your job” each job as some on the list and I think teaching might have ALL of them. Teaching is unique in that it is an incredibly stressful job when everything goes right and then you add on all the crap (for lack of a better word) from the state and it’s just too much. Here are a few examples:

  • Low Pay and Rising Healthcare Costs: contrary to what you might hear on Fox News, the average teacher salary is not $75,000. Sure some pay scales go that high, but those would be teachers with 20-30 years experience and a Masters degree. So when you are calculating averages, the few at the high will help offset the many at the low, but if you look at the actual money most teachers are making, it’s about half of that. Additionally, the stress and strain of the profession means that few teachers are staying long enough to reach the end of the pay scale. Finally, $75,000 is not an outrageous salary for one with a Master’s degree in many private sector jobs, but as a teacher, you will maybe earn that just before retirement. And VERY quickly, let me just address that teachers only get paid for 9 months of work. Most of us choose to spread our pay out over 12 months because, really, what kind of job am I going to get for 3 months? (One that wouldn’t even cover my childcare costs.) So let’s not play the “but you get summers off” card. It’s true, I do, and that comes with some great advantages – salary is not one of them however. There’s also the very real fact that most teachers do extra training, write curriculum, and prepare for new classes during this time…. but I digress…
  • Lack of Respect: At one time teachers were highly respected, but the current state of our country has placed them in more of a scapegoat role than that of hero. Interestingly, when surveyed, people tend to rate teachers poorly and provide many frustrations about the profession as a whole, all while praising their local teachers. This dichotomy seems to exist: teachers are lazy, overpaid union fat cats, but my kids’ teachers are wonderful, caring human beings. And this general disgust with the profession has permeated about every aspect of my being, whether I’ve picked it up from news stories, blogs, social media posts, parents or students. Even though I rarely have outright rude parents to contend with, it is emotionally exhausting to see teachers beat up in the media all the time. Additionally, the way in which students treat me has changed over the last 10 years. If you don’t respect teachers at home (even if you are speaking in generalizations) then your kids won’t respect them in the classroom. Period. Another difference in teacher versus the private sector is that I’m a teacher all the time: when I’m buying beer at the checkout, if I get pulled over for a speeding ticket, if I’m out with some girlfriends, when I run to Kohls in my sweats – all are opportunities for a community members to question your hobbies and value.
  • Changing Job Description: It’s frustrating in any job to have things thrust upon you that you were not prepared for, that you don’t have time for, or that you have no interest in completing. This happens yearly in the teaching profession and sometimes throughout the year as well. Public schools serve under the whim of the state, so every change in graduation requirement, mandated test, college necessity, and political season means changes in curriculum, certification, evaluations, and record-keeping. And these things are big changes. Changing a curriculum, for example, is a weeks-long process (usually done during the summer, actually).
  • Attacks on Unions: Now even if you are not a union supporter, it is not too much of a stretch to understand how this is a stressor. At a very basic level, unions protect working conditions and workers’ rights. As the state chips away at a union’s rights, it, in effect, chips away at the teacher’s voice. Limiting bargaining rights takes the teacher’s voice out of important discussions: evaluations, discipline, calendar, placement, class size. Things that parents care about are all things addressed at the bargaining table. I can tell you from participating in many, administrators run a district like a business: numbers matter. Teachers are the ones who care about the individual students and their needs because we are the ones who see their faces everyday. So to work with minors and to be cut out of the discussions about what is best for them is painful.
  • Stress and Strain: One thing that I didn’t really understand when I first began teaching was how just plain exhausting the job is. Take a well-behaved class, on a normal day with no interruptions – and it is exhausting. I bet I hear my name spoken 100 times a day. You have to be “on” at all times. At the high school level I get 5 minutes in-between classes to breathe and prepare for the next one (or pee) and a 20 minute lunch. At the elementary level there is not much time to breathe at all. Maybe during the two 15 minute recesses the kids get a day or the 45 minutes they go to specials (but excluding the time you have to walk them down). From bell-to-bell you go, go, go: answering questions, finding papers, taking attendance, monitoring behavior, remembering who has a bathroom pass, delivering some content, making your class engaging with an activity that requires all of this attention and work to multiply. I like this about the job because I’m easily bored, but many days when the bell rings at 2:30 and the last student leaves my class, I slump into my chair, let out a huge exhale, and feel as if I was just shot out the end of a tornado. Then I usually have to get up and go make copies…
  • Demands on your time: Not many jobs (tho I know some do) require you to work when you aren’t at work. Whether it’s grading papers in bed, working on curriculum on the couch, attending a band concert, a football game, or chaperoning a dance, there are a million outside-of-school things to do as well. There are clubs to sponsor, field trips to chaperone, new curriculum to learn, books to read, papers to grade, treats to buy or make, and events to attend. Some of these are a blast, others get old real fast. There is barely a minute in the day to work on the teaching and planning part of the job. Mostly, you teach all day. Few professions expect you to be prepared to do your job everyday, but give you little to no time to actually prepare for the job during the day.
  • The Job Itself: Above I’ve listed the external components that make the job hard. Almost anyone you talk to, in any profession will say, “I like my job when I can just do it. It’s all the other crap that gets in the way.” So what I’ve listed above is “all the other crap.” If everything was perfect and teachers were well-respected and fairly-paid, it would still be a crazy job, don’t get me wrong. I think that’s why teachers tend to feel like such martyrs. The job is rough and then on top of that, everything else listed above is going on. Of course I’ve left out inept administration, rude parents, misbehaved children, or lack of supplies. I’ve left out fire alarms, sports tournaments, concerts, assemblies, two hour delays, and all the other mid-day disruptions that keep you from getting things done (and make the kids crazy!). I’ve left out staff meetings, professional development, conferences, grade-level meetings, and interventions. I haven’t even touched on the many acronyms we work with: IEPs, 504s, SATs, RTI, ADD, AI, OHIs, SAT/ACT, MME, NWEA… alphabet soup! Then there are the times you have to call CPS. The times kids come to you to cry, the bullying, the poverty, truancy issues, illness and injury, the high achievers, the low achievers, the kids who just want to hang out in the middle, the kids who are hungry, the kids who use drugs, the parents who use drugs, the kids just trying to get out of the welfare cycle, and the kids who don’t know where they are going to sleep at night. All of these things are just the job. 

These are the things I signed up for because I know that days also include laughter, silliness, lightbulb moments, bursts of maturity, friendship, and sweetness. I know that these high school years are fleeting and I’m honored to play a role in so many teenagers’ lives. There are the kids you keep in touch with; the weddings and baby showers you get invited to; the former students who ask you proofread a resume or supply a reference for them. You get to see former students travel the world, become doctors, professors, parents and more. You’ll smile and think that in the millions of experiences that made that child into an adult, you got to play a role.

That’s why I stay. That’s why most of us stay. We stay because, while we feel as if we are literally carrying the weight of an angry world on our shoulders, we love the kids. And it doesn’t matter what level someone teaches, everyone loves his or her kids.

And it’s emotional to love so many kids. It’s heartbreaking to see them fail or to see them struggle. The job itself, when all things go well, is just plain hard. So when you add to that the plethora of other weights: pay, scrutiny, lack of power, it begins to feel unbearable. We are seeing this as teacher burnout is at an all-time high. Young professionals are fleeing the profession and good, quality teachers are being lost.

So we don’t complain because we’re lazy. No we don’t want longer summer vacations or more snow days. I’d be happy to start with more respect. I knew going into teaching that I wasn’t going to get rich, but I never thought I’d feel so publicly beaten up and so completely worn out just trying to hold my head up high each day.

So as you prepare to send your kids back to school, think about ways you can show respect to the teachers in your life. After all, you are trusting them with your precious child each and every day. It doesn’t have to be a gift, maybe just a heartfelt thank you.

Meteor Showers and Mothering

meteor showers and mothering

I’m not a terribly mushy mom. Sure I love my kids, but I’m not really the type to post mushy Facebook posts about the sweetness of their cheeks or the joys of motherhood. Those moments exist, of course, but sometimes they feel few and far between. Sure I peek at them while they are asleep and think about how amazing they are. Sure I swell with pride when they learn new things, but publically showing vulnerability just really ain’t my style.

That said, I’m about to do my best to share an evening I had with my kids that was pretty cool. I know these times are fleeting and precious, but really guys, kids are such a pain. Even when you’re trying to do something magical they’re hungry or thirsty, or have to pee, or talk non-stop, or cry, or whine, or fall asleep. However, there are moments in parenting – fleeting moments- when things align and magic happens.

Last night was a night like that. We are at the very beginnings of building a new house and the land we purchased is a meadow. It’s beautiful, but the weeds are so high and thick that we haven’t really been able to enjoy the property. Today the excavators mowed it though, so it was wide open. We decided to pack up the kids, blankets, and pillows and go out around 11:00 to watch the Perseid meteor shower.

And the night was magic. It really was. I’m not just being a mush here. It was pitch dark, the clouds had cleared, and we set up our blanket right in the middle of the field. We all laid flat on our backs and watched. I’ve never seen such cool shooting starts. They were big ones that left thick, blueish tails as they streaked across the sky. And we saw a ton of them! Just enough to keep the kids interested. The temperature was perfect and the bugs didn’t bug us.

But that wasn’t the magic part.

The part that was magic was the conversation that ensued. My 7-year-old has always been exhaustingly inquisitive and this night was no different. Over the course of the hour he asked and we talked about the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets. We explained ozone and atmosphere (as best we could!) and the Earth’s rotation. We pointed out satellites and airplanes and Dylan just couldn’t get enough. He asked and asked question after question, interrupted every so often with a shriek of delight when one of us spotted a shooting star. As I ran out of space knowledge to share with him (which happened pretty quickly), I pointed out the Big Dipper and Orion. When things got real desperate, I told some Greek myths about the constellations (that I could remember!). Even Nolan, who’s 3, was interested in these stories. Next thing I know we are covering Greek mythological creatures and stories of the Gods of Olympus.

I feel like maybe 60% of my space knowledge is actually accurate, so bestowing “knowledge” on my kids wasn’t even the best part. It was quiet; it was dark. There were no cell phones, no Minecraft, no work emails, no text messages. For an hour there were no bills to pay, no weird smell coming from the garbage disposal, or spousal spatting. It was just us. It was an hour of solid family time. No one had to pee. No one said “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored” or “Are we there yet?” For once my three-year-old didn’t run away. He laid on the blanket with us and actually acted like a human in the family.

It was the best solid hour I’ve had in a long time. And it wasn’t like I was rocking parenting. I plan lots of events and activities that I think will be magical, but they unfold into a mess of whining and chaos. This one just happened to work out.

I guess that’s the thing about parenting. about 95% of it is hard and messy and I spend a lot of time wondering if I suck, but then 5% of the time is mind-blowingly amazing. Amazing enough to keep you going until the next magical hour. That moment when the planets align, when everyone gets along, and you, as the parent, get to look around at your family and think, “yeah, this is awesome.”