Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fatherless Father's Days

Twenty-five years ago this Father's Day was the last earthly conversation I had with my father.

We had just seen him that spring as my parents came out to celebrate Scott's Confirmation into the Church on Easter Vigil.  I called to wish him a Happy Father's Day that June, and we enjoyed what I shall call the most conversant conversation we had ever had.  My father was typically a man of few words with me.  It's just how our relationship was.  We had 15 hour car rides to Illinois and back to PA that were pretty quiet, but not in an uncomfortable way. Little did I know I was being prepared for my relatively quiet husband.

So, having an extensive conversation (I could not tell you what we discussed) was pretty cool.  "I have arrived at adulthood," was my thought. This was what the next stage of life would be like.

My father, I am told, had low expectations for the length of time he and I would have together.  He was 42 when I was born, and my mother tells the story that he remarked he would never see me graduate from high school.  And yet, he did.  And he was at my college graduation.  And he walked me down the aisle at my wedding.  Despite his heart attack at age 50, he persevered and was there for these important days in my life.

He was also there for the seemingly ordinary.  The man loved Valentine's Day.  He would always bring me some sort of surprise on that day.  Despite his challenges with being on time, he was quite a chauffeur for my busy school extracurricular schedule (or, I learned the BARTA route home quite well). There were always day trips during his summer vacation times, including lots of AAA Trip Tix (the ultimate GPS precursor) for Washington, D.C. (let's be honest...the Air and Space Museum) and the Jersey shore, with an occasional Philles game in there, too. 

When I received a series of phone calls at the end of July 1993, the earth stopped turning.  I learned what an aortic aneurysm was and what it did if it blew.  I learned what it was like to go from telling him to fight like hell to telling him it was OK to let go (and rely on my acting props to sound like I meant it).  Letting go of the dreams of my future children having a grandfather, their PopPop, on this earth, as Scott's dad also passed a month before our wedding.

It was also, I did not realize, the beginning of the road for my depression.  Like a trooper, I buried the despair because I felt my strength was needed for others.  Like a volcano's lava, depression does not stay buried.  It waits until there's enough pressure to blow.  For me, it was the ASD diagnosis of my boys.

I have had two fairly severe bouts with my depression.  Both times, I was able to ask for my dad to help me.  Literally, those were my words through the insanity of tears, not being able to catch my breath, feeling like "normal" was gone from my vocabulary forever.  Both times, he helped me find peace.  Because, whether he's here or elsewhere, he is still my Daddy and he is able to give me comfort when my heart is being ripped out of my chest.

It's time for me to reframe my deficit model of thinking about the loss of my dad.  It's time for me to reflect more heavily on what I was blessed to have when he was on earth, and ways he helps me in present day. For those reading this on the first Father's Day without their dads, I offer hope.  I am still crying as I write this, but that pain is no longer an every day feeling.  You will get numb on the daily.  Then this day will come.  And you will be sad.  And you have permission to stare at a wall, cry, lock yourself in a room for a little while.  Because it sucks.  Embrace that. Allow the scar to form.

I talk with my dad almost every day.  If I had a belief deficit that his soul was nonexistent, I would not be able to overcome my grief. I thank God for my faith that I will, indeed, see him again, and that he is guarding me right now. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

American Woman

I have had the blessing of being a female citizen of the United States for 47 years.  I consider myself fortunate on so many levels.  For twenty-six of those years, I have enjoyed a career in education. Every career has its criticisms.  But, in all, I am quite happy to call myself a teacher.  Spending my day with children is awesome, even on our worst days.

In those 47 years, I also consider myself a force. I am not an easy person to "handle" because I speak what needs to be spoken, and sometimes what does not want to be heard.  I have been a leader.  Others have been the sheep. No matter what I seem to do, leadership has fallen in my lap ever since my tween days. I accept that burden, as part of me enjoys it.  And the other part?  Well, it gets pretty pissed off at women who are A-OK with others having the uncomfortable conversations.

So, my Sisterhood of Women.  You marched.  You got out there.  You showed numbers and solidarity.  I could not be prouder. Now, how will you insure that you do not become sheep yet again, allowing a few to speak up while you silently agree? How will you make damn sure that the "Women's Movement" does not get labeled the "Planned Parenthood PAC," and PP does NOT represent the views of all women? How will you allow ALL women at the table, regardless of whether you agree with them or not? How will you make this about us and not just a show against President Trump's mouth?

How will you change your workplace?  Example, my career is dominated by females---except in the administrative positions. (Check out Where Are All the Women Superintendents?)  What about your workplace?

How will you empower young women?  When was the last time you volunteered at, not only your child's school, but any school?  Do you know if local schools have groups, like my school, that work to empower girls? When was the last time you spoke to your daughters about how they should treat other women?  How to rise up instead of tear down? Does your daughter leave your house knowing that you believe she is strong and capable, not just well-dressed and polite?

Do we teach our daughters that hate speech does not cancel hate speech? That empathetic listening and action are the keys to change? Or do we teach them to be female dogs when they are jealous or don't get their own way?  Better yet, what do our actions show them?

Yes, they might have at least one male boss who is threatened by their spirit, their brains, their leadership, and their ability to call him out when he needs it. And that person will do his best to be sure she does not get the positions she deserves.  And, alas, they might have female bosses who have the same characteristics. Are we sharing the reality with them?

Do we support one another? When a new mom comes back to work for the first time, do we comfort her?  Do we say, "OH MY GOSH, I KNOW what you are going through?!" Do we give help when we know a colleague was up all night with a sick child?

I have spent today wondering what is next.  I am praying the march wasn't a "We'll Show Him" movement, because guess what: HE DOES NOT CARE. Do not do things thinking that you will change his mind.  You won't.  He does not accept criticism, and he does not validate that the march was a reaction to his ill-spoken statements.  HE DOES NOT CARE.  We have to be agents of change for ourselves.

Let's go grass roots, ladies.  Keep the momentum going. The Civil Rights Movement was not just a march.  It was a revolution. It was day in and day out struggle. It continues to this day. March in your own territory. Change the portrait of the American Woman every day of your life.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Are You Happy?

A nighttime ramble--

Sometimes, people are just ridiculously stupid.  Oftentimes this stupidity is induced by the sinister tentacles of social media, or rather, electronic media...the fast food for our brain in the 21st century.  And its long-term effect is like that of eating a Big Mac meal every night.

As I near that half-century milestone in the next few years, I have come to realize that three words are all that matter: Are you happy?

These are the words said to me by my father over the phone when I told him I was engaged 26 years ago.

Him: Are you happy?

Me: Yes, I am.

Him: Then that's all that matters.  Did your train stop in...

And the conversation strolled on.

I now realize the power of that litmus test.

I have added flavor to it over the years.  When worrying about finances at 11 PM, I embraced the phrase, "It's [insert time here]. The bank is not open.  There is nothing you can do about it now.  Quit worrying."

To my family members who have done various things to automobiles over the years, my response has been, "Were you hospitalized?  Did you hurt anyone else?  No? Then keep perspective. Calm down."

We have before us a glut of information.  We hear from media outlets that are trying to break a story before checking their sources. We read opinions of our "friends" who might not think as we do.  We "converse," and then ask ourselves whose mind we are really changing by even commenting.  People "tweet" pithy remarks, like writing graffiti on a wall. And I have one question.  Do these things make you happy? Sometimes yes, most times no.

My soul is interwoven with a sense of righteous indignation.  Trust me.  I get it.  But I also know what it feels like to have torn my soul into so many pieces that I don't have anything left with which to fight the good fight.  I must now be choosier about that fight.

Enter the change of American President.  Wow. In my lifetime, there's been Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama, and now Trump.  People, we have been through this before. No one human being will ever be perfect in that position. And I am a chick in Central Illinois on my computer at almost midnight.  Do you really think any of this "discourse" will make a difference?

My answer: No.  We are just pissing each other off.  Here's my action plan.

Pray | For those with whom I agree and disagree as well as the President-elect and his crew.  I did not do this enough during the Obama administration's 8 years.  I think it could have made those 8 years less contentious for me.

Love | One another.  Everyone.  Especially the seemingly unlovable.

Respect | Everyone.  Because none of us is really superior to the other. We may think we are, but that's not the way we were fashioned.

Discuss Issues | I am irritated by the presentation--the brand-- our President-Elect represents.  That has muddied my thoughts. I want to stick to issues instead of getting lost in persona.

Embrace | I get this day.  Maybe not even the day.  I get this minute. What am I doing with it?  Is what I am doing making me happy?

[end of ramble]

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Our recent experience with fraud

If criminals put 1/8 of their brainpower to something worthwhile, we would have a cure for cancer and an end to all wars.

The past few days have been harrowing. It started with a call to my son from our credit union's fraud investigation service. When we travel and use our debit cards, they usually call and make sure it's us making purchases in atypical places. I appreciate this service.  Since my son had just traveled back to school from IL to VA, I assumed they were calling about the charges on his newly activated debit card. [Note: The previous debit card was just deactivated as a precaution due to compromised information. This is not unusual, and is a safety measure. It also adds to the bitter irony of this tale.] So, I encourage him to call, feeling that it will be a check in.

It wasn't.

In the last week a variety of charges had been made at a Wal Mart near Indianapolis, each a little over $100, totalling almost $500.  $500 of his McDonalds-minimum-wage-job money.  $500 of his hard-earned money for books and incidentals at school.  HIS money. From the kid that, if you needed $100, he would give it to you.  The money has been recovered.  The feeling of being robbed?  That will linger for a lifetime.

Now, these criminals are quite smart.  So this blog post is more about providing fair warning to others.  Lessons from this situation:

1. It is believed that the criminal(s) skimmed his card at a gas station pump in Centerville, IN.  The local manager sent a person out to check the pump.  This person returned about 2 minutes later, saying there was no skimmer at the pump.  My husband spoke with the district manager, who took this VERY seriously.  They have complaints of fraud from 3 people that come down to that same station.

The pump was one that was fairly far from the entrance, yet still under camera surveillance.  The gas station pumps are also open 24 hours, even when the store is closed.  They are reviewing camera footage with local law enforcement.  He said that, having dealt with these things quite a bit at his level, he goes in and pre-pays for pumps that are that far away from human eye. Good advice!

2. The local WalMart management was marginally helpful.  Higher management assistance needed to happen.  They are scanning their cameras and working to determine what occurred.

Our first question was, "How can these purchases be made without his card?"  Apparently, the magnetic strip can be scanned, and a new card can be made.  Many times, they are made with a stolen pre-paid card, and criminals program the card to take money from the scanned account.  Then they sell the card for less than its value.  So a warning to those who might buy cards for less than their face value.  This might be a scam.

3. If you use a credit or debit that does not have the fraud alert that ours did, check your statements carefully.

All for now.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Unshakeable: Chapters 19 and 20

Chapter 19: Re-write the story you tell yourself about teaching

This chapter is one of the best ones in the book for what I needed to hear right now in my career.  Watson discusses what she calls "flip[ping] the script."  This corresponds well with another book I'm reading.

Watson focuses on our inner voices and what we tell ourselves about teaching.  I feel that this is true of pretty much everything in life.  She suggests positive affirmations of the things that are going right and well.  She offers many examples on p. 240-241 of negative statements we might say, new stories we can tell ourselves ("flip the script"), and new habits we can practice to make the new story come to fruition.  This feeds in to the problem-solving gene of mine.

I will say however, for those teaching with others who are struggling, we want to tiptoe carefully.  Exaggerating the positive can be as damaging as focusing on the negative.  Too much Pollyanna makes colleagues want to punch you if they are not in that space.  I think our job is to embrace our own journeys and support those who are having a rough go.  When they are ready, we can feed them little bits of sunshine.  

Chapter 20: Innovate and adapt to make teaching an adventure

The beginning of this chapter made me think of my colleague and buddy, Emily.  Her first couple years of teaching were spent at my school.  We always talk about things being an adventure, especially when we are faced with not so fun things.

I like that Watson stresses reflection.  We do so very little reflection as a practice in our profession.  We just seem to move on from one thing to the next because it's in the curriculum.  I usually go through curricular content slower than other teachers because reflection is a huge part of what I do.  If the students did not get the material, my teaching was not successful.  Why would I want to just move on if I screwed up?

On page 248, I felt like she was mentioning my resume.  Taking on different roles and responsibilities has definitely been a huge part of my career.  I agree with her point that we need to keep giving ourselves challenges.  This is definitely true.  My latest challenge has been to "flip the script" I have told myself about teaching science.  I have embraced NGSS before I was told to, and I have focused my PD this year on bringing the new science standards into my classroom.  It has definitely been a challenging yet fulfilling change.  I feel like this is what she reinforced on p. 251: "Don't just stand still and brace for impact.  Run toward the changes in education.  Be an innovator.  Be the one who looks at a difficult situation and figures out how to make the changes work to your benefit and the kids'."

I paused when she said, on p. 249, "you will never be happy as long as you insist on knowing what's going to happen in the future."  She was referring to the anxiety of the unknown and constant changes.  She also ends the chapter with an excellent point about rolling with "mandates."  We as teachers are SUCH rule followers.  If we are being told to do this, we must do THIS.  I have even worked with colleagues who have "tattled" to administrators when others were not teaching EXACTLY from a book as we were told to do.

I am not a robot.  My kids are not all the same.  I am a diagnostician.  I have to see where they are and take them from there.  Canned programs are not intuitive.  We owe it to our students to be intuitive to their needs and plan for them as individual learners.  Perhaps if others worried about their own students as much as they worry about what's going on in the classrooms of others, they, too, would have time for true differentiation.

I said in the beginning that I was not sure how I was going to like this book.  Now that I am finished I can say I VERY MUCH enjoyed reading it.  It helped me a great deal through some of the hardest months of school. I now have some practices, skills, reminders, and validations that will carry me through.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Unshakeable: Chapters 16, 17, and 18

Chapter 16: Connect with kids and gain energy instead of letting them drain you

This is, in my humble opinion, the #1 reason many of the teachers who want to or do leave the profession do so: the drain.  Again, I return to the people who claim they put as many "hours" in as teachers do in a week.  Fair enough.  The number of hours may be the same.  Are they breathing deeply trying not to scream in the face of a small being in front of them?  Until the next small being needs undivided attention?  And the next question: would they even begin to be able to handle it?  I believe and acknowledge that each job has its annoyances.  Truly.  But our "annoyances" are supposed to also be our raison d'etre.  And that is where the rub is.

I consider myself a "lifelong educator," as Watson uses the term on p. 196.  And I highlighted this very important point she makes: "After all, if you don't enjoy the kids, what's left?  The meetings? The paperwork? The testing? The kids have to be your greatest source of enjoyment as an educator."  This point resonates.

I enjoyed her discussion of Morning Meeting on p. 198.  It made me miss my advisory time at the junior high level.  I have become so embroiled with "getting in" all the content I can, that I have forgone the importance of that first part of our day.  My kiddos are jumping right into a math review sheet at that time.  Maybe I need to spend more time making that time a time for renewal and reset.

On p. 199, Watson suggests making a connection with 5 kids a day.  What a great idea.  I am sure I have heard it before, but it's amazing what one forgets after many years in this business.  I really liked this one. She offers a printable that will help in keeping track of connections.

I was really inspired by the idea of thanking students who do the right thing, as addressed on p. 202 and 203.  We have Mustang Money for reinforcing good behaviors, but, you know what?  I often forget to hand it out when it would benefit students most.  I give a "buck" to students for coming to school, because I sincerely am thankful for their presence.  After that, I need to become more conscious about focusing on those who do as they should, day in and day out.

On p. 205, I loved the idea of wrapping a child's desk for their birthday.  In fact, I enjoyed many of her suggestions for birthdays, because they did not necessarily involve huge, icing-laden cupcakes and craziness.  Having the student's picture as the background on the desktop, or whatever the student might like, is such an awesome idea.

I, like Watson, need my lunch time.  I used to try to get to extracurriculars, but I need my family time.  I need to be present to the people who lose so much of me to school.  So, at this point in my life, that is not happening.  I feel no guilt in that.

Chapter 17: Choose to love kids most when they act most unlovable

Watson makes some of the most important points of her book in this chapter.

  • Control the environment.  You cannot control the attitudes of a child.
  • Choose to raise yourself up instead of letting the kids get you down.
  • Don't take behavior as a personal attack.
    • "I have to consciously remind myself that children who are disrespectful, obnoxiously attention-seeking, or totally indifferent are not necessarily acting that way toward me." p. 214
  • There is a difference between off-task behavior and misbehavior.
    • When kids do "kid" behaviors at the wrong time, we must respond differently than when there is a conscious choice on their parts to misbehave.
  • On. p. 218, Watson states what my whole building knows to be true.
    • "The key to solving behavior problems is to figure out which unmet need the child is attempting to address, and then help him or her meet that need."
    • "Always make it your goal to respond in love."
  • She mentions the 2 x 10 method of working with problem behaviors in students.
  • Watson wraps up the chapter with my favorite mantra.  My friend Jessie and I have said this for years:
    • I can do anything for nine months.

Chapter 18: Be truly present and look for the light bulb moments

On p. 225, when Watson mentions, "When you're fully present with kids, you process interruptions and unwanted behaviors differently in your mind and attend to them rather than your own agenda," it reminded me of something that happened in my room the other day.  A colleague was telling me something.  A student came up to us.  I addressed him to see what he needed, and she sent him away, asking for him to "not interrupt and give us a minute."  I reflected that I must be giving her some idea that the students are not the main focus of my room.  I am NOT saying that students should not learn when to interrupt and when not to interrupt.  Trust that I spend a great deal of time working with them on that.  Truth was, she was not telling me some pressing information, and I really did want to attend to the child.  It reminded me that it is important for all adults to recognize the culture of our rooms and that the children are the reason we are there.

Same thing happens when my phone rings (either the vibration of my cell or my actual class phone).  I tell the students that THEY are the most important thing in the room, not the phone.  And I mean it.  Watson's points about being fully engaged with the kids are great reminders.

On p. 230, she admits to enjoying "having" to be at the copier, as it slows her down a bit and lets her have time to think.  I am like that at copiers, at store registers, and the like.  I enjoy things that make the world stop.

She ends the chapter with something that I realize I believe, but some teachers do not.  "Your work is important. Ultimately, whether someone else tells you that or not is irrelevant," p. 234.  Such truth.  I find that others who need our boss to acknowledge their importance are constantly scrambling for her acceptance, and, in the end, becoming colleagues we would rather not have.  We must believe in ourselves and our work.