Sunday, July 26, 2020


Every year for the last several years, starting in 2012, I have picked a word and participated in Ali Edwards' One Little Word workshop throughout the year.  This year's word that I have chewed on for 7 months is
For July, I have been sitting with my word almost daily. A question that keeps surfacing: About what am I clear at this point in 2020? I thought I would take some time for a brain dump on my sorely neglected blog.  

It is clear to me:
  • that life is precious
  • that talking about lives affected in terms of percentages is callous
  • that the society I live in (United States) believes it is invincible
  • that hypocrisy is rampant
  • that we are all affected by COVID-19
  • that public opinion changes on a dime
  • that people can amass great amounts of power and have very little sense
  • that schools and their teachers are vital to a well-running economy
  • that children's sports are viewed as more important than protecting children's health
  • that a large portion of US society gets an F in science
  • that critical thinking and discussions are skills that must be instilled in our youth and retaught to our adults
  • that I look through the world with the lens of a white female
  • that I can always make it a priority to understand a different perspective
  • that shutting my mouth and listening is not synonymous to agreeing, and it is helpful for the common good
  • that sometimes people with good intentions make bad decisions 
  • that wide brushes need to be put away
  • that I can't be surprised at how we treat people of all backgrounds when we abort unborn babies and neglect the aging
  • that considering a person's intersectionality helps in understanding his/her view
  • that I need to perpetually think and surround myself with minds that bring up differing perspectives
  • that my definition of summer has non-negotiables
  • that altering the rhythms and seasons of life can have a ripple effect in my emotional health
  • that social media can build up as well as tear down
  • that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have
  • that we need to lean in to delayed gratification
  • that I dislike feeling physically vulnerable because of the non-action of those in charge of my well-being
  • that autism can be lonely when you are a teenager
  • that hiring practices rely heavily on social communication skills that are created through a lens that excludes many
  • that I need to open a school that has alternative "business" hours for kids whose circadian rhythm matches mine
  • that powerful women can intimidate the weak
  • that depression sucks the life out of its victims
  • that the new "normal" stinks, but God has a reason for new pathways
  • that my job as a human is to learn the lessons that this time in history is teaching

That's a whole lot of clarity!


Friday, August 3, 2018

An Open Letter to LeBron James

Dear LeBron,

I hope you don't mind me calling you that.  Right now, I feel like you are part of a huge tribe of people who get what you get, and Mr. James sounds too formal to me.

I teach/taught students like you.  Students who, for whatever reason, missed an enormous amount of school at influential grade levels.  Kids who have dreams, but a society who has no investment in them.  Kids whose parents did not attend/finish college, being raised by parents whose income can barely get food on the table, much less consider saving for or finding the available funds for a college education.

LeBron, I have to be transparent.  I judged you. When you went to the NBA without college, I was ticked.  I felt you saw the dollar signs, but were not thinking what would happen if, one day, you physically could not play and had no form of income through basketball.  You were giving my students an example I did not need, I told myself.  I was afraid you were setting a precedent for African American males that devalued education over stardom, while I was trying to develop their minds and praying that they made it through high school.

My distorted view of you started to crumble this spring when I was researching the use of edTPA at various colleges across the United States.  I took a look at the University of Akron, and did  a double take.  There it was: The LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education.  At first, I thought, "This dude funds the entire College of Education at the University of Akron?!"  Then I went to your Foundation site.  Holy cow.  So here and now: I apologize for my judgment.

You have just opened your IPromise school.  So what?  Lots of people open schools, right? Well, sort of.  Yours is a public school, connected to a university, specifically to help disadvantaged kids who are one or two years deficient in reading in third and fourth grades.  The students I have been giving my emotional life to for the last 10 years of teaching are the kids your foundation recognized needed a boost.

The school looks beautiful, and is on my list to visit. The students will be proud to be a part of this.  You are using your money to do something amazing, and I hope that this endeavor changes the outlook of the students you are targeting.  So often, the schools that house students with this description are not upheld as a district's "pride and joy." I see this as a step toward a paradigm shift for school boards and superintendents across the United States, as well as university lab schools.  We will all be watching to see what happens in Akron.  I, personally, cannot wait to watch the students work toward living their promises.

From this teacher to you, THANK YOU!

JoLynn Plato

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.