Friday, December 15, 2017

Year 8: Week 16 - Boys Being Better Boys

Two times this week, I dealt with middle school boys giving unsolicited, and unwanted musical critiques to girls. In both instances, the girls didn’t say anything in defense of themselves. They did talk to me at a later, and I did talk to the boys about the inappropriate behavior.

I needed my boys to understand that they were not to express their insecurities to these other musicians, through offering unconstructive, (and in some ways mean) comments. I called both of these boys out on the fact that behind their comments was things that they felt unsure of as musicians.

To the girls, I ensured to them that I would be on top of this issue. I validated their feelings of social awkwardness, and gave them positive reinforcement for coming to talk to me. I encouraged them to be shoot down this type of feedback, but I also told them that I understood that this is difficult to do in the moment.

I opened up about being a parent. I explained that people like to give me unsolicited advice about being a parent. Most of this time it’s not helpful, and it'sannoying. But it’s less so when I realized that these interactions were more about the individual’s insecurities and fears than the choses I was making in my own life.

I talked to the girls how they should interpret these comments. For example if someone criticizes you and say that you tone isn’t very good, it’s probably because person making the comment doesn’t like his or her tone. This concept took some working out but they figured got it. They both left our conversation with a smile.

Yes, there are girls who express their insecurities in inappropriate ways. However, there was something about these two interactions that I can’t let go. Why do these boys feels entitled to be mean to these girls? What aren’t these girls doing provide appropriate negative feedback to the boys, and are we doing the best we can as teachers to discuss, explain and teach about these gender dynamics? Gone unchecked, what does this behavior grow into?

We all have a responsibility to change the negative dynamics between men and women and to actively work against sexism. The status quo is currently unacceptable, so simply doing no active harm to women is not enough. We need to actively and deliberately work to make things better.

If a boy criticized another boy in a mean way, I would still call it out, but I wouldn’t have taken as much time to unpack and discuss the incident. Whenever there is something between a boy and a girl, we need to take more time. These interactions are in the context of a society in which women are still treated as weaker, and under-valued. The boys are reflecting an accepted way of behavior in some corner of our society.  We need to be there to tell them that it’s not okay, and impart unto them the fact that they are showing their peers, their worst, not their best.

This isn't boys being boys, it's boys being something worse.  They can be better, we just have to believe that they can, acknowledge the sexism in our society, and help our boys be better boys. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Parenthood: Week 234 - The Age Gap

It seems like everyone has their theories about the best age gap between children. Most of this is based on the age gap individuals had with their siblings and an optimistic viewpoint on their own children. The reality is that the majority of parents nowadays don’t experience kids with varying age gaps, since most parents don’t have more than two children. So most people don’t have a point of comparison.

There’s a lot that contributes to the age gap between children. Sometimes things go exactly as planned. However, for many people, the timing of having a child is not something that cannot be controlled with much accuracy. However, many people do try to control this and some have some success leaning towards a preference of a certain age gap.

Some people desire having children close together (under three years). The pros I’ve heard is that their children will share the same interests, and that it gets the whole baby/toddler thing done in a shorter amount of time. The cons are that you have two children who are young (e.g. two kids in diapers), and the lack of space between the children can sometimes create a more tenuous relationship (closer age=sharing mommy=sibling jealousy). Of course there are many other pros and cons.

Having children further apart (over three years) has a lot of benefits. Ollie is potty-trained and unlike two-year old Ollie, four year-old Ollie is often content to play with his toys by himself while we are tending to Ethan. A wider age gap means that they older kid has more ability physically and mentally to care for the younger sibling. However, when the kids get older, it will be harder to find activities they both can enjoy together. A movie that is appropriate for a eight year old, may not appropriate for a four year old. One thing that can be a pro and a con (a pro in my opinion), is that the baby/toddler part of parenthood is spread out over a longer period of time.

One misconception about having children is that the timing is in your control.  In the same way that it is advisable to not make comments about people having children because you don’t know their story, watch the comments you make about the age-gap between children. This may be a result of careful planning, or some of the most difficult journey's in a couples’ life.

There’s more optimism than not when people talk about my boys’ age-gap. So I’ll take that. It’s what we got, so like most parents, we are making the best of it, enjoying what we can, the dynamics of the differences of these two kids and riding the roller coaster of parenthood.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Year 8: Week 15 - Kicking Away The Ball Of Stress

This week was crunch time for my kids to make good progress on their songs for their performance in two weeks. They don’t understand this fact, but it’s something that I have come to understand about the students in this community and the way that I need to work.

Students at this school in general do not respond well to game-day pressure. An approach that cranks up the stress the closer we get to a performance goes against the philosophy of our school. As a learning community, we focus on the process over the product and finding as much meaning in a day of class as the performance. We like to say that if the performance was cancelled that we wouldn’t feel that the work was for nothing.

There’s a personal issue going on here two. When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (which you can read about in these posts), I realized that I needed to better manage the stress in my life. Some of my symptoms were psychosomatic that were triggered by stress. So I had to figure out a way to be on stage, teach students that regularly performed, and not be a ball of stress.

I did some therapy, learned some stress-management techniques (biofeedback therapy), and refocused how I taught. I was not going to be a teacher that placed undo stress and pressure on my students and myself to perform. I was going to focus on the act of preparation, aim for accomplishments that were made every class, that were rewarding and create an environment that would not negatively affect my health.

It wasn’t until I came to this school that I had a learning community that reflected this personal need to work in a way that reflected my personal health needs and my educational philosophy. If one of my bands plays three songs instead of four, no one is going to complain.  There is a different kind of pressure to make every class meaningful, but I don’t feel as much stress in that focus because if I fail in that, than we simply have a less meaningful class.

There are kids who respond to stress as a motivator. Maybe some of my kids need more stress motivation from me to succeed. Maybe I’m failing them in this way, but this is what works for me. Part of education is giving kids what they need to succeed, but another part of teaching is showing people another way, a better way. If a kid can learn how to succeed in an atmosphere of focus and relaxation, even though what they normally respond to better is stress, then they will learn a way, as I have to live a life that filled with more contentment, and smiles.

There’s more to do next week. Of course I’m behind in my preparation, which I always am (welcome to being a teacher). We had some meaningful times in class that I’m proud to say we don’t need a performance to justify. This is often referred to as the last push before Winter break. I prefer to think of it as a time of pay-off, when things come together and because of focused work, the rehearsals leading up to the performance are less about frustrations and stress, and more about joy and sharing, for myself and my students.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Parenthood: Week 233 - The Start of Brotherhood

The first time Ollie met Ethan in the hospital, we explained to him that babies didn’t know how to do a lot of things, and that we would help him learn to do things like walk and talk. Ollie looked at him carefully and asked, “why aren’t his eyes open?” Diana explained that he was tired and still hadn’t quite figured out how to open his eyes. Ollie thought for a second and then leaned in close to Ethan, and started opening his eyes as wide as possible and forcefully shutting them over and over, explaining “THIS IS HOW YOU OPEN YOUR EYES!”

It’s fascinating watching Ollie interact and grow to know Ethan. There are the times when he completely ignores Ethan, which isn’t all that different than parallel play he still sometimes does with friends. Most of the time when Ethan is crying Ollie doesn’t seem to notice.

Then there are moments that when Ollie takes one of his toys and explains to Ethan how it works. A couple days ago, when Ethan was crying, I looked out of our kitchen and saw Ollie talking to Ethan and putting a pacifier in Ethan’s mouth.

Like with anything, there are things that Ollie is leaning through experimentation and observation and other things that we are making sure to explicitly teach. We make sure that Ollie says hello, goodbye, and goodnight to Ethan, and we are encouraging interactions. In the same way that I don’t feel that it’s right to force Ollie to hug our friends, I don’t want to force Ollie to hug and kiss Ethan. However, signs of affection are important and they need to be learned. It’s important for Ethan to feel affection from Ollie, and for Ollie to know what it means to hug his brother. I’m not quite sure how to handle this one, but for right now, I’m trying to capitalize on small moments of affection, like when Ollie held Ethan’s hand the other day, and provide positive reinforcement.

I’ve been explaining to Ollie many of the fun things that he has to look forward to with this brother. I’m hoping that even though Ethan doesn’t give a lot back during their interactions, Ollie sees the possibilities for future fun, and some meaning in their interactions.

One of my friends who had his second son only a couple weeks before Ollie told me is that he wants his older boy to understand through helping with the baby, that a lot of people put in work and effort to raise him. I like this idea. Too often, we don’t realize how much, so many people did to get us to where we are today. I don’t think Ollie has the full capability to appreciate all that so many people have done to help him.  However, maybe through some small actions to help Ethan, and some reflections from us, he will consider that at some point that someone did the same thing for him.

There really hasn’t been any expressions of unkindness or annoyance from Ollie to Ethan. I know there will be other moments in the future, but right now they are in a pretty good place as brothers.

Just wait until Ollie teaches Ethan how to make fart sounds.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Year 8: Week 14 - Back To The Basics

It would seem logical that by December, classroom expectations would be firmly established and not need reinforcement. Teaching doesn’t work that way, and students don’t work that way. Creating a positive classroom community isn’t a building that is constructed in the first week of school that you and your students live in. It’s like a thing, um, that. Wow, I can’t come up with a metaphor, maybe because it’s Friday afternoon, or maybe because there really isn’t anything like this work.

Community is built up relationships. You need to get to know your kids, your kids need to get to know each other, and you need to let them get to know facets of your personality. All of this building happens through different lesson, and experiences. Relationships don’t develop in straight lines. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, and sometimes school years end on a sour note with some students.

Students grow up so much in the course of a school year, and understanding of seemingly basic things like, how to have a classroom conversations evolve through the school year as students grow. We teach to raise your hand when you want to be called on. However, some students aren’t as comfortable in the beginning of the year to participate, so they don’t really think about needing to work on this. As kids grow as learners their engagement and eagerness to participate may require that this basic lesson of hand raising will need to be reestablished. It seems ridiculous on the surface level, but there’s other stuff going on.

It’s easy to assume that when students are not consistent with what seems like basic classroom expectations they are being lazy, don’t care, or are being purposely disruptive. While all of those things may be true, I’ve rarely encountered this. I have found students appear to regress with classroom, it’s because they aren’t feeling included as a member of the community, and they don’t understand the power they have to contribute to the community and their individual importance to the school, to their peers and to their teachers.

Students are more powerful than they think. Teachers fear acknowledging their students’ power, but it’s there. Kids use this power all of the time, sometimes without realizing it. Not naming this, doesn’t make it go away, so talk about this power, teach about the responsibility that goes with it, because it’s not the teacher who makes the classroom community, it’s the students’ who have the power to make it happen.

So yes, in 8th grade band I had to remind them that when I stand on the podium, they should be quiet and my 3rd graders needed me to explain to them why when we stop a song, people shouldn’t tack on silly endings to the song. Sometimes it feels like a never ending battle, but it’s more like, SIGH wow, my metaphor back is empTY, it’s a process, it can feel annoying at times, but when you believe in the positive potential of students, this can be one of the most rewarding parts of teaching.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017