Friday, February 28, 2014

Year 4: Week 24 – The Kids at School Vs. The Kid at Home

My wife was reading about a teacher who was discussing the struggles of being a teacher and a parent. When this teacher first became a parent, she tried really hard to give her students as much attention and energy as she had before she became a parent. After struggling with this for years, she eventually came to the realization that she needed to prioritize her own children over her “kids” at school.

Teaching and parenting is a unique combination. Do I “parent” my students? No, but doing parental things is part of being a teacher, especially in America. It includes everything from helping students brush their teeth, which I've done in the past, to comforting a girl who just got dumped by their boyfriend. 

Before Ollie, I went home and I was done taking care of kids. True, I took care of my wife and Buffy, but they they didn’t require that intensity of attention as Ollie does.

I wasn’t sure how all of this would balance out when Ollie entered my life. I was lucky to have paternity leave that went straight into summer break when he was born so I had some time off before I had to work this balance.

We have this idea in our society that we should be able to do just as good a job at work when we are parents as we did before we were parents. In some ways this is a ridiculous idea that sets unreasonable expectations.  What is impossible is for a person to do the job the same way before and after having a baby.

I leave work earlier that I have in the past and I reuse more lesson plans than I have in previous years. Is my teaching suffering because of this? I would say no because the other factor that balances out is the way my work ethic has changed. I am more focused and work harder with the time I have at work now because I know if I goof around too much at work, it means there’s less time at home with Ollie.

You can’t do it all and that’s really hard to accept, but this reality isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I have this fear that one day after working late I will come home and Ollie will ask me why I was spending time with my kids at school and not with him at home.  In the mind of a young child, my job appears to be me being with other children and not my son. I don’t really know what to do with this or how to explain it but I do know that I don’t every want Ollie to think that my kids at school are more important than him.

I guess I could tell myself that teaching is just my job. That my care for my kids ends when I leave the school, that my emotional investment is at a minimum and I reserve that energy for my family. The reality is that one of the main reasons that I’m a teacher is because it’s more than a job. The greatest benefit I get from my relationship with my students isn’t the paycheck, it's the fact that teaching nurtures my soul. 

Sometimes I wonder how different parenting is when you don’t spend your workday with children. Are these people more excited to spend with their kids because kids don’t surround them all day? I don’t know, I think it’s different for each person and what I’ve found for myself is that the more time I spend with my kids at school and the more energy I spend on them, the more I want to give to Ollie, not out of guilt but because it feels right.

When you show love and care to others, your capacity to share these thing with others grow. It’s the superpower of our hearts. Love begets love. It’s exhausting and sometimes the spirit falters but there’s a look in the eyes and a memory of laughter that sustains us and re-energizes us as we care for the people in our lives.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

Parenthood: Week 39 – Like A Sleeping Baby

Having a baby fall asleep in your arms feels like nothing else in life.  Holding a body completely and then feeling all of the muscles in that body relax brings a sense of peace like no other.

One of the things I like the most about being a dad is putting Ollie to bed. I’ve written previously in this post about how hard it can be to put Ollie to sleep. Even with nights like the one I described, I still really enjoy the process of helping Ollie fall asleep.

Watching Ollie fall asleep is really cute. Sometimes it starts with him screaming because he’s cranky and sometimes he’s giggling because he just wants to play. At a certain point I manage to calm down his body and his flailing arms. Then his eyes get heavy. Sometimes he fights it and I try my best not to make eye contact, because that only encourages him to keep them open. Other times, he just gives in and his eyelids gently close.

Then there’s that release of tension in his body. Ollie is getting to the age that he can help us or fight us when we hold him.  That moment when he completely relaxes in my arms makes me feels like he trusts me.  At that moment Ollie is letting go of his fears and worries and is letting me take care of him.

Yes, it can be discouraging when the process of helping a baby fall asleep involves more screams than lullabies, but that’s one reasons its so awesome when things work and the baby goes to sleep.

As Ollie gets older and spends more time scooting around the house, it seems like my time with Ollie is less about cuddling and more about playing with him, and keeping him from getting himself into trouble. I miss those moments when Ollie was first born and would just cuddle up to me almost any time of the day.

I know my time rocking Ollie to bed is limited. We’ve already started putting him in his crib before he is fully asleep. Sometimes I still rock him all the way down because it gives me time to just be at peace with him, and not worry about anything else in life.  Yes, I know that we need to transition him into being more independent with falling asleep, but I figure I got a little bit longer cuddle with him to sleep.  

I used to watch Ollie sleep when he was first born because I wanted to check if he was okay.  Now I watch him sleep because, it's simply one of the most beautiful things in the world. 

It never fails to make me smile when I see my Ollie at peace. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Year 4: Week 23 – Working During Break

For the past week, I’ve been on mid-winter break. We have a week off in February which may seem excessive, but it really helps get through the drudgery that is winter. Like most teachers I did some work over break, not excessive amounts but I did do a significant amount of work. Teachers aren’t the only people who do work when they are on “break,” but I find that teachers often do more work during these times than people expect.

One of the arguments against teachers getting paid more is that they don’t work the entire year. While it is true that many teachers work a schedule based on the agricultural schedule, and have time off for winter break, spring break, summer break and in my case mid-winter break, there’s other things to keep in mind.

Like most teachers, I don’t have vacation days. This seems like a very logical and reasonable set-up since I have these other breaks, however this can be difficult when trying to coordinate trips with other people who aren’t teachers. The other reality is that many teachers don't treat these breaks like vacations.

Why do teachers work during these breaks?

Some teachers continue to work because they enjoy the work. There are some teachers who would continue to make curriculum and research subjects for the fun of it in there free time even if they weren’t teachers. Some teachers don’t turn off.

Other teachers work over break to keep their heads above water. With limited prep time, many teachers barely have time in their day to grade papers, address students’ social and emotional needs and plan for the next day. For the teachers who have inadequate prep time and work 12-hour days, these breaks provide essential time to catch up and keep pace with the work that needs to be done.

Then there’s teachers like me who are a combination of those two situations. Yes, I continue to work on curriculum and think about teaching just for the fun of it. However I do know how to turn off, though it’s difficult. Rarely is there a span of time when some part of my brain isn’t thinking about teaching.

I also need time to catch up on things. It’s been a crazy year. With being away for paternity leave, having Ollie as part of my life and becoming a department chair, I find that I have just enough time to get done what needs to be done. I guess I’ve always felt that way about teaching. What I need to do manages to just fit in the time that I got. While this is great, having time to work during break gives me a buffer and much needed time to think about what’s next.

I've also been attending to a lot of issues as department chair over break.  A lot of the business of running a school doesn't stop during breaks and many administrators as well as teachers in leaderships positions have to keep working even when the kids aren't at school.  

There are teachers who truly do "break" during break and there are teachers who work part-time jobs during break too. There’s all kinds. While there are many who choose to do work during break, there’s many who have to. For many teachers if they didn’t work the whole year around they wouldn’t be able to be effective as a teacher for the days they officially worked.

We’re not looking for sympathy here, but please watch your assumptions. You don’t know what kind of teaching situation your teacher friends are in. Yes, we have break when you don’t but that doesn't mean we are on vacation.  And yes, we will stop whining on Facebook when our breaks are almost over . . . I can imagine how that can get annoying . . . sorry about that.    

Monday, February 17, 2014

Parenthood: Week 38 – The Guy On The Golf Course

My dad is a member of a country club and now that he’s retired he plays golf almost every single day. A couple months ago he noticed a younger member being around the club much more than usual and my dad asked him why. “Oh, it’s because my wife just had a baby, so I have paternity leave from work, so I get more time out here on the course.”

We all have choices when it come to being a parent but it seems like that men have more choices than woman. The vast majority of single parents are in fact woman, not men. Maybe it’s biology or maybe it’s society but men have a lot easier time walking away from fatherhood. Yes, abandoning your family as a dad is pretty shameful but the idea of a woman walking out on her children is much worse.

Women spend their time on maternity leave recovering from a major medical event. It’s different for every woman the amount of time that they need to recover physically and mentally. The only thing a man really has to recover from is a couple sleepless nights.

I feel incredibly blessed to have had a paternity leave. It angers and frustrates me that other men take advantage of this time to slack off. We say as a society that men are important in their children’s’ lives so there has been a movement for more paternity leave, but if guys keep abusing it like the idiot talking to my dad, then it’ll all be for naught.

Woman often end up being the default child-care specialist in the house. The woman is the one who knows what sized diapers the baby is wearing, what the nap schedule is and which clothes fit. Some of this is woman not letting men play a bigger role and some of this is guys not stepping up.  Many woman, instead of making a stand about it by letting the kid suffer, just makes things happen letting the man off the hook.

Diana’s around the house more and the fact that Ollie is breast-fed means that she has in some ways better knowledge of how to take care of Ollie. Sometimes this is hard because I don’t want to be the secondary parent but I feel that Diana makes an effort so that I don’t feel that way. It’s in the little things like letting me pick out his outfit or asking my opinion on the color of a baby carrier.

There’s so much inequality built into parenting. We aren’t only dealing with biological reasons but the reality of our society. How can we ask a culture which isn’t making a concerted effort for woman to play active roles in their children’s lives to truly value men as active parents? Three months maternity leave is ridiculous and there is more economic disincentive to have children more than ever.

All of these issues damage men as well and the place them further back into gender roles of the past that are detrimental to our own potential as fathers and leave us with less choice.

We all deserve choice when it comes to being a parent. Part of me needs to be okay with the fact that a guy wasted his paternity leave playing golf in the same way that a mom needs to be okay with another mom having a live-in nanny.

Another part of me doesn’t think that being involved should be a choice. No one forces people to be parents. The choice is having a kid, anything beyond that isn’t a choice you get to make. Taking care of your kid, actually helping during your paternity leave, these aren't choices; these are consequences of the choice you made to have a kid in the first place. You can’t dodge them and if you do, the consequences should be dire.

Man up. Take care of your wife and your kid. If you don’t want to deal with that responsibility, be enough of a man to have that difficult conversation and make choices to make sure that you don’t have a child. If we don’t think about our choices and take responsibility for our actions we are hurting the choices and opportunities that future generations of men will have.

To that guy who spent his time on the golf course instead of at home after your baby was born:  There’s no way to describe what you missed out on. Someday your child is going to do something incredibly selfish and you will get frustrated and you will have no idea why he is acting that way. I just hope by that point you will realize why, but you probably won't as you escape to the golf course and continue to search for some meaning in struggling to get a ball into a hole, only to lift it out and try again.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Year 4: Week 22 - The Leader

Me: The way I’ve been able to speak up in these difficult conversations is that I’ve learned to not care about what other people think . . .

Principal: No, you’ve learned how to be leader.
The first sign that I wanted to be leader was probably the fact that my favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle was Leonardo. I liked the idea of having some control, and to own the glory of a battle. Also, two Katana blades seemed much more cool than two pieces of wood tied together or a big stick.

Diana would tell you that I like being a leader and that I’ve worked hard to put myself in places of leadership. I would rather tell you that I’m a born introvert and that leadership is something that I have done out of obligation and service to other people.

Diana’s right and part of what I would say it right. If I hadn't been so small for my age, better at sports or if I didn’t have a speech impediment growing up, I probably would have a more outgoing personality. Even now that I’m more comfortable in my own skin and my own voice, I still probably lean more towards being an introvert.

Part of the narrative in my head of leadership as being something we do out of service to others goes along with my desire to be a leader because I believe that leadership really is more about what you do for others than your own power.

Teachers are many things and one of the roles we take on is being a leader.  Sometimes  literally as we walk a class down a hallway but most of the time when we manage students time and create a social and emotional atmosphere that engenders feelings of safety and comfort.

I would have a hard time telling you my leadership style or the kind of leader I am. I’m not comfortable with the idea that I’m a leader in my community of faculty, but by title I am and through things people have said to me it’s clear that others look to me to be a leader.

I came to this point because after being here for four years, I saw things and made connections that I felt had to be shared. When I spoke up, when I put aside my fears and reservations, something about what I said made sense and people felt that I spoke to what they felt needed to be said.

I’m comfortable with the idea that I lead my students every day, but the idea of being a leader to adults is difficult for me. I don’t want it to be about my ego, but I'd be lying, if I told you that I didn’t enjoy the title and reverence that comes with being in a position of leadership. I like this, it makes me feel important.  However, I fear reveling in this because there are consequences to the choices I make and the things that I say.

I want to help other people.  I want to be that person that people come to for a sympathetic ear.  I want to help others understand this school and their important role in what happens in our children's lives.  In this way I want to be a leader.  Yes, I want the attention, I'm a human being, I'm not above our innate need for recognition, but I want those other things more.

Is it egotistical to say that I want to be a leader?  It sounds that way to me, but I need to become okay with that because that's the path that I've chosen.  I still have a lot to learn when it come to being a leader.  Maybe it's this insecurity, this unsureness of my role as a leader that will help guide me to lead the people I hope to serve with humility and reverence. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

Parenthood: Week 37 - Parental Amnesia

It’s amazing how many things that have occurred with Ollie in the past 8 months have already drifted far back into my memory. The biggest challenge of being a parent is that there are many intense, trying and difficult moments.  One of the things that makes it all possible is parental amnesia.

I spent every day for a whole month trying to teach Ollie how to use a bottle (which I discussed in this post). All of that times really do seem like a blur, along with the plane rides, the challenges of the first couple days of Ollie’s lives and every other bump in the road that Diana and I have overcome.

When you talk to parents of older students many of them don’t seem to remember the sleepless nights, the crying and the sheer panic and chaos that comes with being a parent.

This whole “rose-colored” lens approach does make me hopeful. It’s nice to think that years from now I will not dwell on the challenges of being a father and remember the good moments. The problem with this is that sometimes people who have this kind of parental amnesia are not as sympathetic or understanding of the challenges of having a baby.

Parental amnesia is different for each person. The other extreme I’ve encountered is people who seem to express more of the annoyances of being a parent than the joys. Obviously, this could simply be tied up with the personality type (some people simply love complaining regardless of the subject).

What I find interesting is that the people who complain about their kids don’t talk about the big traumas, but more they focus on the little annoyances.  It’s almost like there is some deep insecurity or unresolved parental issue that doesn’t allow the parental amnesia to do its job.

Parental amnesia is reliant on parents feeling positive about the way they handled a situation. All parents go through difficult situations with their kids. However, if you feel like that you and your partner were not working together and being supportive of each other during a situation, then hours after its past, instead of forgetting about it, that situation will stay with you because it drew out a bigger problem in your relationship. Yes, the traumatic situation with your baby is done, she’s okay, but the fact that you and your partner couldn’t work together through the hard times is left unresolved.

How you feel about your kid is directly related to how you feel about your partner. Yes, they are two different people and two different relationships but they are inextricably connected and interrelated. If you do right by your partner whenever he or she looks at your baby, it will be a reminder of everything that is great in your relationship. If you don’t, no matter how hard you try to not project your anger and bitterness of about parental roles that you don’t agree with, it will seep into your interactions with your child and the way you view her.

Yes, you can build a positive and meaningful relationship with your child even if your partner is delinquent or absent. Single parents prove this all of the time, but it’s hard. In these situations there is a bitterness that only with great energy and care can be shielded from the children.

Take care of your relationship with your partner. This doesn’t mean going on date nights or doing chores around the house. While these things help, they don’t nurture great relationships. Talk about and think how your react and treat each other in tense situations. When the storm comes are you still caring? Do you still listen to each other? Are you validating your partner’s feelings? Are you searching for someone to blame or are you trying to solve a problem?

If you work together parental amnesia will do its job, because the pride you feel in how you and your partner handled a situation will change that moment from being traumatic to one more example of the love and respect you have for each other.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Year 4: Week 21 - The Top Third

In every classroom there’s a range of learners. The rule of thumb is to expect that you will have about three grades worth of abilities in a one-grade classroom. Some students in fourth grade will read at a fifth grade level, some at a fourth grade level and others at a third grade level. Believe it or not, many teachers deal with an even wider spread than this.

So we differentiate. That means that the teacher assigns some kids less math problems while others get more. Some students read harder books and do enrichment activities while others work at a slower pace. This description drastically over-simplifies the process of differentiated learning, but that’s the basic idea.

You may be wondering why you don’t simply put all of the most advanced students in one class and the struggling kids in another one. What you are thinking about is called tracking. There are a lot of schools that track students this way and there are many benefits. The reason that tracking is a divisive educational issues is because there are also many negative unintended consequences like social stratification and that fact the many “lower” track students get sub-par teachers and slip father behind.

I’m not going to get into this tracking debate during this post but there’s plenty written about this. A google search will provide many articles supporting both sides of this issue.

So back to the non-tracked classroom . . .

The instincts of teachers is to aim towards the bottom 2/3 of the ability levels of their classrooms. This represents the majority of the students, which is the most logical way to operate but there’s also the human factor. No one likes explaining something and seeing people be confused. A sea of sad furrowed brows induces feelings of sympathy and sadness. While it’s important that kids are confused, we like kids and we don’t like seeing them suffer is this way. So we do what we can to minimize these looks of confusion.

What about that top third of the class? When aim below their abilities, you don’t have the disturbing confused faces. Instead you get the more subtle and less obvious look of boredom, disinterest and resignation. You may know that this feeling is there and you can see it in their eyes if you look hard enough, but usually you are more focused on the confused kid, so most of the time you don’t notice.

Yes, we are doing a disservice to students who learn slower than others by teaching far beyond their abilities, but we are also doing a disservice to students who are advanced and not being challenged.

What do we do about this?

Once in a while we need to focus on that top third and give them a challenging and engaging activity and accept that there will be students in the class who will be confused and not get that much out of the lesson. I’m not advocating that we do this all of the time, but once in a while, we need to aim high.

I decided to do a composition activity with my fifth graders that aimed towards that top third of ability level and interest. The advanced kids loved the assignment. The middle level were engaged and did okay. Like I expected there were students in that bottom third who were confused and had difficulty engaging in the activity. To my surprise, there were students in that bottom third who stepped up and worked with a high level of engagement and did great work.

If you always aim safely at where you perceive students are at, you never know where they can go. Sometimes that bottom third will rise, maybe not all the way up to the top third, but rise nonetheless in ways that we don't expect, with a brow less furrowed and a mind more engaged.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

Parenthood: Week 36 - Working At Home

I got to admit, the first time someone told me that they worked from home and sent their child to daycare, I didn’t get it. Isn’t the point of working remotely staying home so you don't have to pay for childcare? It’s a baby, it’s not like, they need constant attention. They sleep ALL the time, so what’s the deal with this “childcare” thing? You might as well go into the office if you can’t work from home and take care of your kid.

When Diana was pregnant and we mentioned that she would be able to work remotely and that even though I have a great situation with my prep time at school, I still needed to do work at home sometimes, there were two responses. There was my initial response equated working from home with saving money on childcare and the smarter answer from people who had worked from home themselves: childcare is essential for working at home to be productive.

We have someone who comes in and watches Ollie during the week when Diana is working remotely at home. There are great benefits to this situation. The commute from the kitchen to Diana’s office is quite reasonable and she is able to check in on Ollie during breaks. There are also challenges which I’ve been learning about first hand over the past couple weekend.

Doing grades requires a lot of time outside of school. Usually I lock myself in my office and type away, but that was before Ollie. The first weekend I got started with grades about a month ago we decided that we would switch off watching Ollie so we could get work done. This resulted in neither of us getting as much done as we needed. So we got a babysitter to come in and watch Ollie when we worked the next weekend.

It was great. We both got large chunks of time to work and got a lot done.  The only way that I could focus and be productive was by completely ignoring Ollie. This wasn’t easy. I could hear him laughing, scooting around and crying. I wanted so badly to not be working at home. It felt like I was  betraying Ollie by being at home and not with Ollie. Especially when he was crying . . .

We are really lucky that Diana is able to work remotely. She’s around the house more and she gets more time with Ollie, but it’s not a perfect situation.

Any notion that you can really get work done at home without someone’s help watching your child is crazy. Yes, there are naps and there’s always working during the night after he or she goes to sleep. But that’s not going to give you a solid eight hours a day that will probably not even give you a solid four hours.

If you truly want to take advantage of working remotely and do right by your work and right by your kid, get some help.  Your work, your kids and especially you derserve it.