Monday, September 30, 2013

Parenthood: Week 18 – Logic Vs. Emotions

We live our life balancing what we feel with what we know is logical. Often we react to a situation with an illogical feeling that doesn’t really make sense in a situation.

I’ve lived my life working to be in touch with my feelings and validating the feelings of the people in my life. If we are true to ourselves, we balance our ideas about the way that we should reasonably feel versus what we actually feel.

This is a very tricky thing to do because if you don’t validate your feelings, as crazy as they may seem then you get in a cycle of negative self-talk that only makes you feel like your reactions to the world, the basis for who you are is not important. At the same time we can’t let illogical feelings  petrify us and keep us from what we want to do in our lives.

I’ve gotten pretty good at striking this balance but today I really struggled as Ollie got his second round of immunization shots.

Ollie is truly blessed to live in a time in and in a country that expresses care of the youngest members of our society through immunizations. There are children all over the world that die of diseases and illnesses that Ollie will never have to face. Ollie will never know the horrors of rotavirus or the debilitating effects of polio. There is no reason for any parent to not embrace these immunizations with open arms and give thanks to the scientists behind these immunizations who have literally saved millions of children’s’ lives with their work.

Now here comes the illogical part: Witnessing your baby getting shots is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a parent.

During the first round of shots I was holding Ollie and I couldn’t bear to look. As the needle approached his thigh I looked away instinctually and to my surprise, Ollie barely made a sound.

Today was different.

By the time we got to the shots, Ollie was cranky and overtired. He was not a happy baby. When Ollie cries, it’s  horrible to hear but it’s worse since his tears ducts, which once upon a time did not produce tears, now produce large drops that make my heart ache.

He took the oral immunization well even though he was crying and now it was time for the shots. I was standing on the side of the table holding his torso. One nurse was standing beside me and the other nurse was standing on the opposite side of the table. Without fanfare, they both stuck a syringe in the thigh close to them, and this time, I couldn’t avoid seeing it.

The moment when the needles entered Ollie and he screamed in pain brought tears to my eyes and now hours later still makes me shudder.  Right after it happened, I told myself how grateful I should feel and somehow as I was trying to hold back tears, I managed to thank the nurses for their work.

President Obama said in an interview that the most difficult moment in his life was watching his daughter Sasha get a spinal tap when she had meningitis. Harder than anything he had ever done in life including the challenges of being President was this moment. A spinal tap is a far more gruesome thing to watch than getting a shot, but just like the immunizations, it’s something that we are lucky to have in our lives but is horrible to witness.

Logically we shouldn’t be so horrified about these things but we are, because when your child is in pain, even when if it’s for a good reasons, it gets to you. It touches something so deep insides of you, it’s almost beyond your control.  I don't think that this conflict in feelings versus logic when it comes to situations with Ollie will pass anytime soon.  It's probably going to get worse before it gets better. 

Yes, it's tough but that doesn't mean it's bad.  And don't forget the most wonderful things in life are based on feelings that logic cant come close to explaining.  Never has this been more true than the way that I feel about Ollie.     

Friday, September 27, 2013

Year 4: Week 4 – Puddles

One of the common phrases that come up when I talk to teachers at my school is “they have to step in their own puddles to learn.” It’s the idea that in order for students to learn they need to make mistakes. Most of the time we find out about these mistakes after the students have made them, like when a students flunks a math test. Other times we can view students in the process of making a mistake and as teachers we have to make the decision whether or not to let them make that mistake.

Earlier this week, I saw some of my students walking towards a “puddle,” and instead of steering them away, I let them get their feet wet.

I asked one of my fifth grade classes to come forward and sit on the carpet so that we could sing a song together. The boys collected towards the left side of the room and the girls sat together on the right side of the room. I didn’t really mind the split in the genders and it some ways it made the activity a little easier to organize.

We had learned two different parts to a song and I wanted them to try to sing them at the same time. The first time we did it the girls sang well but some of the boys were singing in a silly manner. I told them to make sure they were singing in their best voice and we tried again.

This time some of the boys sang obnoxiously loud. We stopped quickly and I noticed that the boys were giggling. I decided to be more explicit, because clearly my previous directions didn’t work.

The boys seemed to comprehend what I was asking for in their singing and they nodded in understanding. As I faced the girls to complement them, I noticed two boys moving around the group  whispering while other boys nodded in agreement.

At this point, I knew that something was up, but I decided to move forward and start them singing again. This time most of the boys sang as softly as possible. After I stopped them again, it was clear some of them found this hilarious. We were just about at the end of class, so I excused all of the girls and made the boys stay behind.

Then I let them have it. I reminded them of the saying I have up on the wall that it’s not the mistakes that define a person's character but rather how they fix them. Yes, they made a mistake by singing too loud, but the way they reacted to it is what was the major issue. Then I pulled out my rarely used “I’m embarrassed as a man”-card.

I told them how some people have lower expectations for boys than they do for girls and the fact was that they reinforced the idea that boys are less mature. Not only as teacher was I concerned, but as a man, I was offended by what their actions say about the way people perceive what it means to be a man. Right after I excused them, the classroom teacher proceeded to have fifteen-minute discussion about what happened.

If I had stopped them before they sang that last time then they would have never seen the consequences of their actions. It’s our job as teachers to let students make mistakes in a safe way. If we always catch them before they fall, they will never learn how to get up. This may mean that in the short term that class seems to be less productive, but in the long run the lessons they learn from stepping in their own puddles will resonate with them.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Parenthood: Week 17 – Being A Go-To-Work Dad

If it were financially feasible I would be a stay-at-home dad.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but I love Ollie more.

Before Ollie I would think about work when I was home more than I would think about home when I was at work. Now since coming back to work after Ollie was born, I think about home, far more at work than I think about work when I’m at home.

It’s been a great beginning of the school year, and while I’ve been getting a lot of good work done it’s hard being away from Ollie. I know he’s well taken care of when I’m away and I know that it’s important that I’m at work for financial reasons and my own growth as a person. However, I still yearn to be home with him.

Sometimes Diana will send me photos of Ollie when I’m at work. I love these photos but they also make me miss him even more. I just don’t fully feel at piece unless Ollie is near and as much as I try to focus while I’m at work, this is a feeling that I can’t shake.

As much as it is tough at work, the thrill of coming home and seeing Ollie, Diana and Buffy is amazing. It was always great to come home to Diana and Buffy but adding Ollie to the mix makes it even better. I usually give everyone a hug and a kiss, hurriedly change out of work clothes and have a conversation with Ollie about how his day went (actually this mostly involves me making funny sounds and having Ollie laugh at me).

It’s been an uplifting, powerful and positive thrill to come home to this every single day that I’ve been at work. That feeling hasn’t diminished at all.

You would think that having my attention be more focused on home while I’m at work would make me do a worse job as opposed to a better one.However  I’ve had done some of my best teaching this fall because Ollie has given me an important perspective on my students and my life.

Having Ollie has reminded me of some of the most important lesson I’ve learned about being a teacher: I’m not that important, Most of the time a crisis isn’t actually that big a deal and the quality of life you have outside of teaching directly effects the quality of your teaching.

Being away from Ollie hasn’t really gotten that much easier, but I don’t really want it to. Missing Ollie reminds me of the greatest motivating factor in my life and the most important part of who I am.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Year 4: Week 3 – “I Don’t Know”

My job as a teacher isn’t to have all the answers.

As a younger teacher I felt a need to be able to have answers for all of my students’ questions and be able to know how to deal with every situation. Yes, it is important that a teacher is an expert in a field to engender respect from his or her own students but even experts don’t know everything.

One of the things that kids across age levels can do is sense when a teachers is being dishonest and not genuine. Pretending to answer questions that you don’t know is one of the quickest ways that students feel this lack of genuine interaction.

So if you don’t know the awesome to a students’ question, don’t lie, don’t make something up, simply say “I don’t know.” If there’s time to look it up on the spot, great, if there’s not than look it up later and bring your answer to the next class period.

Over the course of the week teaching my students, I probably say, “I don’t know,” maybe once a week and up to five times a week. Sometimes students are a little shocked that I don’t now everything about music, but at the same time, I think it helps students realize that they don’t need to pretend to know everything, because clearly their teacher doesn’t and that’s okay.

The other part of admitting “I don’t know,” has to do with behavior issues. There are times when students say or do things that I don’t know how to address. Does this mean that I don’t address it when it happens? No, of course not, I point out what I saw immediately and tell them that its an issue.

A couple things happen when I tell a student who has misbehaved that I don’t know how to handle the situation. This help creates a dialogue and gives the students chance to explain themselves further and/or come up with their own consequence to their actions.

Other times saying to a student “I don’t know how to handle this right now, so I need to think it over,” is the worst punishment for a child. Then they spend the whole day and night thinking about what possible consequences they will have to face. In my experience, students’ imagination is far worse than reality. This creates a healthy amount of dread but also self-reflections. 

Be genuine, and be real in front of your students.  Model the thoughtfulness and honestly you want your kids to display.  You don't have to have a solution to a person's problem to make them feel better and you don't need to have all the answers to be a great teacher.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Parenthood: Week 16 – The Struggle To Sleep

He just ate, so I know that’s not the issue. Maybe I should check his diaper again, I mean it’s been five minutes since I last checked , well let’s try that. Well it’s dry. Pacifier? Well he’s crying so hard he won’t take it but let’s try to hold it in. That’s not working. Maybe I can walk around the room, change positions, shake him gently, sing to him, sway, maybe he’s hungry, no wait, he just ate, could it be the diaper? I just checked it, Ollie c’mon. I know you can do this. Go to sleep. . .
After a half hour of trying to get Ollie to go to sleep I realized that when I was speaking in my mind “I know you can do this,” I was speaking as much to Ollie to will him to go to sleep as much as I was speaking to myself to not give up.

It’s common for Ollie to fuss against his swaddle and cry when I rock him to sleep. Usually there’s about 5 to 10 minutes of fussing, then he’s eyes close as he gently sucks his pacifier and then he lets go off the pacifier and I put him down. Sometimes this process takes 10 minutes, other times a half and hour.  That night it almost took an hour.

 When Ollie is on the cusp of getting tired, he can go to bed with a relatively little fuss. However, when Ollie becomes over tired and really needs sleep, that's when it’s the biggest struggle and that’s what happened on that particular night.

If you only heard the sounds coming out of Ollie’s room you would of thought that I was torturing him. He was not happy. As I struggled to get him to calm down, thoughts rushed through my head trying to figure out what I could do to get him to relax.

There's a sense of urgency not because anything horrible is going to happen, but seeing your baby cry in discomfort is something that no parent wants to deal with any longer than is necessary.

The hardest thing about putting Ollie to sleep is sometimes the only thing that he needs is time. At those moments there isn’t anything else you can do but work through the tears and stay with him until they pass. So I stopped trying to change strategies and we just rocked in the nursing chair.

We rocked and we rocked.

I sat telling Ollie and myself that we could do this.  Eventually he began to relax and I calmed down as well.  Then I fell into a half sleep as he relaxed into a deep slumber.

I know that there are rougher nights ahead for us and there are a lot of parents with kids Ollie's age who have had to deal with much worse than taking an hour to put a kid to bed.  Knowing all of this doesn't make it any easier to deal with this him tears as I attempt to put him to sleep.  I'm not looking forward to more of these nights, but the fact that we got through this one night together gives me faith that there is nothing we can't handle as a family. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Year 4: Week 2 – Embracing Being A Disciplinarian

One of the things I missed the most about teaching over summer break was disciplining my students. Now this may seem odd. Isn’t dealing with kids who are being disrespectful, impulsive and a pain the worst part of being a teacher?

Not for me.

Let me be clear. I don’t enjoy disciplining students because I like seeing my kids feel sad about things they have done or angry at me for calling them out. I hate seeing my students being anything but happy, but often it’s in the conversations when I discipline my students that I have the most meaningful conversations and build the most memorable relationships.

When I first started teaching I hated having to discipline students mostly because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. The first school that I taught at had a pretty clear referral and detention system. If a student did something wrong there would be a punishment that was handed down. There really weren’t a lot of conversations that were had around these consequences. The times when there were conversation only created a distances between my students and me.

It wasn’t until my first year at this school that I observed a variety of approaches to these disciplinary conversations that made sense to me. All of these conversations were actual conversations, not a teacher berating a student without the student being able to state his or her case.

I watched an 8th grade teacher express annoyance at two students for wasting his time with their misbehavior because their actions were so ridiculous for their age. There was the 6th grade teacher who asked questions to a student in  such a way that it led him to articulate everything she did wrong, making her regret his actions. Then there was the 3rd grade teacher who sat there as his student cried in shame as they unpacked the situation letting him feel bad as a natural consequence to his actions.

In all of these circumstances, there was a high level of respect that was afforded to these students. They weren’t being talked to as students but as people. The underlying theme in all of these conversations was: “I’m disappointed, because you can do better and I’m never going to stop believing in you.”

The misbehavior of students is an inevitable part of teaching. It is something you have to address. I used to get annoyed that disincline issues  “got in the way” of me doing my job until I realized that disciplinary conversations are one of the most important parts of my job.

Mixing in all of the approaches I’ve observed at this school, one piece that I always add is that I try to make my students understand my actions in response to their behavior as I try to understand why they did what they did. For me that’s the most important part of the conversation.

This means that when a student tells me that they did something because I was being boring as a teacher or that they don’t care about my class, I can’t take it personally and I have to take these statements as an expression of true feelings and not disrespect. This is really hard, but if that student sees that you are taking their feeling seriously they will work harder to understand why you as the teacher had to take action.

At the end of it all, you know each other a little better and it’s that feeling of a new understanding that I missed over the summer and keeps me coming back to teaching.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Parenthood: Week 15 – Saying (or texting) What We Feel

The greatest text ever:

“You’re great parents.”
This is the most powerful text that I have ever received and one of the most touching things my mother has ever told me.

When people talk about dreading the idea that they are going to become like their parents when they have kids themselves, I can't empathize. I’ve always hoped that when I become a father, I could be as great parents as my mom and dad were for me.

There are things that bug me about my parents. Our relationship isn’t perfect, but they have always loved being parents and their unconditional love and support for me throughout my entire life outweighs the minor misunderstandings.

Being a parent has been a role that I’ve looked forward to my entire life. When I was growing up I could see that there were things that were difficult about being a parent but my parents never steered away from the challenge. They embraced their role as parents and never made me feel like I was a burden. And I never felt that they were sacrificing something else to be my parents. For them it was a choice, and from the joy I see in my parents’ lives, it was the greatest choice they ever made in their lives.  My parents showed me a love of parenting but I worried I couldn’t live up to the example my parents set.

Insecurities are a funny thing. We we are at rest they can take over you entire being but when you are moving, they seem to dissolve. As I tried to balance my work life, take care of Diana, try to sell our condo and find a house, I didn’t have time to be insecure.

This approach continued after Ollie was born. There were moments when I thought about what my mom would say about what I was doing but these thoughts would quickly diminish as a diapers needed to be changed.

Sometimes at night when Ollie is sleeping, I wonder about how a good father I’m being. Diana assures me that I’m doing a great job  It seems like there is so much at stake and it’s hard to know if you’re doing things right.

My mom visited us for the past week and helped out with Ollie and watched Diana and I take care of him. She saw the decisions that we’ve made about the way we take care of Ollie and she never once questioned something we did.  I’m sure there were moments that she thought we were crazy but she just went with what we thought was best.

There was one moments when I was giving Ollie a bottle and my mom was watching and suddenly I felt gripped with insecurity. What is my mom thinking? Am I doing something horribly wrong? Instead she sat there and told me that I was doing a good job.

That would have been enough. My mom’s actions for the past week showed us that she believed that we were great parents. Yes, actions speak louder than words, but words are important especially coming from parents to their children.

Our inner monologue is filled by the words of our parents. It’s not enough for a child to feel loved, they need to be told that they are loved so that these words can echo in his or her consciousness throughout their lives. Now that my mother has told me that I’m a great parent, I think I can begin to reassure myself that I am a great dad.

In this text my mom has taught me one of the most important things about being a parent. Loving actions are important but you have to speak you feelings to your children.  Tonight, I’m going to make sure that I tell Ollie that I am proud of him and that I love him, so that one day the voice inside of him comforts him with warmth and compassion.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

Year 4: Week 1 – A Sound That Only A Music Teacher Could Love

After hearing almost seventy 6th graders try to play the saxophone for the first time, I was ready for the day to be over.

Wednesday, I taught the entire sixth grade split up into four class periods (three of which were in a row without any break). We broke down each section into small groups that rotated between the flute, clarinet and saxophone. Next week we are having the students try the trumpet and trombone. This experience is exhausting. It involves a fair amount of 6th grade saliva, helping kids through insecurities and students producing musical “sounds” that only a music teacher can appreciate.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

At most schools when students choose between choir and band, not every student tries all of the band instruments. Usually there is some kind of assembly where musicians come in and demonstrate the instruments. Then students write down whether they are interested in band and list two or three instruments they want to try. These students then get about a five-minute experience on each instrument before choosing which one they want or play. Many great band programs start this way and this works for a lot of schools.

This process is pretty expedient and directs energy specifically at kids who show interest. In some ways it’s a more focused experience but this process didn't feel right to me when I first came to this school four years ago to start the band program.

How many kids don’t know they like playing an instrument unless they actually try to play one? How many people are we missing when we don’t make experiences happen for all of the students?  This “recruitment” process is set up to be just a means to and end.  Why can’t we make it more significant of an experience?

This is what we do. We get our hands on a bunch of instruments and we get some musicians to come in and help. We split each class up into two group so it looks like this.  Each group has nine people and there are a teacher and a musician in each group.

Group 1
Group 2
1st  half of class
2nd half of class

Each half of class is about 20 minutes long (with transitions that adds up to our 50 minute class period). The saxophone and clarinet sessions are only ten minutes long. There are enough similarities between these instruments that this made sense and it’s important that students have more time on the flute because of the slower learning curve and unique technique of that instrument.

The next week is the same except its with trumpets and trombones. We ask students who are interested in percussion to come in individually.  Also during this week we have another music class in which students have a choral experience.  

After the fourth year of working this process I still feel its worth the extra work and the exhaustion at the end of the day. Some students will walk into this experience telling me that they want to do choir. I tell them that I’m glad that they’ve made this decisions but I want them to try the instruments for the fun of it. Because of this, our choir students pay more respect to our band students because they know first hand how hard these instruments can be.

Other students who never thought they would want to play are surprised. When I see the look on someone’s face when they react with amazement at how good it feels to play an instrument, I don’t even notice the discordant honks of saxophones around me.

For most of my students this is the only opportunity they will ever have in their entire lives to play these instruments. Shouldn’t this be more than a five-minute experience?

In the rush to get the band off the ground, teachers often speed through the recruiting. My process is really slow. We don’t have our first band class with instruments until the fifth week of school. Why don’t we do this in the spring before this school year? Because about a quarter of the sixth grade is new and we don’t want there to be another experience they have missed out on.

Think about the your recruitment process and how students choose to be in band or choir.  It should be a meaningful musical experience for all students regardless of their musical inclination.  Imagine that you've worked through your process having students choose between band or choir.  If your music program was cut right after students completed this experience, would you feel that this process was a waste of time?

Find a way so that this answer is no.  Remember we are not building bands and choirs, we're building a musical community.  It's worth the extra time and listening to the squeaks, honks and squeals that only a music teacher could love. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Buffy & Ollie: Weeks 13 & 14

Week 13
Week 13
Week 14
Week 14

Monday, September 2, 2013

Parenthood: Week 14 - What Every Man (and woman) Should Know About Breastfeeding

A mother produces milk, a baby nurses from his or her mother for a couple months and then the baby moves onto solid food when the baby is about a year old. Seems pretty straightforward right?


I like to think of myself as a pretty knowledgeable man. However, I knew little to nothing about breastfeeding when my wife got pregnant. Our societies’ puritanical squeamishness of the female body extends beyond sexuality to basic biological functions like breastfeeding. For a culture that is fascinated with images of women’s breasts, our lack of awareness about the biological function of the breast is astonishing.

So here’s a primer. Here are some things about breastfeeding I’ve learned in the past year that every man (and every woman) should know.

1. It’s a natural activity that doesn’t always come naturally (or quickly): Some women have no problem with breastfeeding. Other women end up formula feeding, because breastfeeding is so difficult. For many mothers, it takes weeks or even months before the baby consistently "latches" on to the breast.

The process of learning how to breastfeed can be emotional, frustrating, and exhausting. A mom may have no problem getting her first child to breastfeed and then struggle with a second child. A mother who is successfully feeding her six month old might have gone through sessions with a lactation consultant, hours of failed attempts, or breakdowns. You never know.

2. It’s not always a choice: The choice to breastfeed or not isn’t always a choice. Breastfeeding requires a mother to have access to her child. In order to pump breast milk, a women needs a room and enough break time to pump. (By the way, pumping really isn’t “break time” for women, so don’t imply this to a woman even if you see her texting on her iPhone while she is hooked up to a breast pump. Pumping takes a lot of time and dedication, and it's a chore. It is not fun.)

Even though this is mandated by law, it's still not actually an option to many women, especially those in lower income brackets. And let’s not go with the “well, if the job doesn’t provide those things, then she should quit that job and get a different one” argument, because that’s just offensive and ignorant.

For women who pump at work, they need to do it every 2–3 hours without fail. Most give up their lunch breaks, prep time, or other free time to do this, every single day. They can't skip a day, a week, or even a feeding. Some women (quite legitimately) choose not to do this. Breastfeeding as a working mother is a huge commitment.

3. There are more reasons than it seems: Beyond economic situations, there are many different reasons a woman may or may not breastfeed. Here are just a couple reasons: supply issues (not producing enough milk), cultural traditions, sexuality, psychological issues (postpartum depression), physical limitations of the mother or the child, multiples, social norms, and gender roles. Also, some women simply don’t want to breastfeed. If that’s the choice a woman makes, that decision makes sense, because...

4. Breastfeeding is not the most important thing you do for your child: There are approaches to child-rearing that argue that breastfeeding is the most important thing you can do for you child emotionally and physically. While there are many benefits of breastfeeding backed up by scientific research, children reared on a combination of breast milk and formula, or on formula alone do not become the dregs of society.  One of the smartest and most successful people I know never had a drank a drop of breast milk as a baby.  In my own life experiences, I have found no correlation between the success and happiness of people and whether or not their parents breast-fed them.

5. There’s a war out there: One of the first questions expectant moms are asked about are their plans to breastfeed or not. Between girlfriends, doctors, mothers, grandmothers and complete strangers, expectant moms are inundated with unsolicited advice and arguments around breastfeeding. There are people who in an almost militant way try to convince women to breastfeed their child. This contributes to depression and shame in woman who can’t or choose not to breastfeed and superiority complexes in a some woman who do. The conversation out there can sometimes be divisive, making the challenge of child-rearing only more difficult.

Men, now that you have an idea of what’s out there, what are we suppose to do as prospective fathers? Well, first off, support whatever choice your partner makes about breastfeeding. Help her unpack her reasons and make sure she has thought it through.  Whatever her choice is, help her out. If she chooses to breastfeed then do extra diaper duty and research nipple ointments. If she is using a breast pump, help her out by cleaning the parts of the pump, and if she chooses formula than make sure you are doing your share of the bottle feeding and cleaning.

This is not an easy issue for mothers to deal with and there’s a lot more than five points of information about this topic. Be informed, listen to your partner, and be present during these discussion. I guarantee there is someone in your partner's life who doesn’t agree with her choices surrounding breastfeeding and doesn’t support her.  So she needs you to have her back and to constantly reassure her that she is making a great choice for your child.

Choosing to trust your wife and support her in her decisions around breastfeeding and other difficult decisions related to being a mother is one of the most important things that you can do for your child, your wife and yourself.