Monday, September 29, 2014

Parenthood: Week 70 - Read to me?

It was my turn last Saturday to get up early with Ollie.  He’s a morning person and will get up around 6am every day. On the weekends we usually switch off who gets up early with him and who sleeps in.  Last Saturday morning it was my turn.

He played by himself for a little bit as I got myself through my morning routine. When I sat down on the floor he immediately grabbed a book and pushed it towards me. I excitedly read his book of choice to him. Then he chose another book for me to read, followed by more books. At a certain point, a toy distracted him and I started to doze off only to be awoken by the feeling of a board book being shoved into my throat.

Wearily I wiped the sleep off from my eyes, found a little bit of energy and began reading to him once again because of a promise I had made to myself and to Ollie.

When I think of the most meaningful milestones Ollie’s first words don’t come to mind or the first time he crawled. What comes to mind was the first time he giggled at Diana and the first time he brought a book to me to read.

The first time I read a book to Ollie he was six days old. It was kind of cute but at that point he could barely see, so it felt a little pointless. I wanted to start him our right but honestly reading to a newborn is kind of drag, so instead I just spent time talking to him, cuddling with him and changing his diapers.

As time went on and he became more responsive we read to him more and more. A lot of the time he would try to eat the book or crawl away before we got past the first page of the book. We kept at it and made a ritual of family story time every night.

Ollie slowly started to show preferences for certain books, giggling at certain pages and pointing to specific pictures repeatedly. And then that magic moment happened: Ollie crawled over to a pile of books he had pulled off his shelf, specifically chose one book and pushed it into my lap.

I read this book and he laughed without prompting at jokes in the book at the right time. When I finished the book and put it down with the other books, he crawled over, picked up the book and insisted I read it again. This happened about five times before we finally called it a night.

Ollie displayed incredible cognitive growth that evening. He recognized a specific book and related the contents of the book to its cover. Ollie followed along with the story, predicting when the jokes occurred and responded to the pictures and my voice. Also, Ollie communicated to me preference, his opinion, telling me not only what he wanted but what he enjoyed.

I was so proud of him. In that moment we saw the spark of a love of reading and I made a promise to him that night that I would do whatever I could to help develop in him a love for reading. If that means going to bookstores and libraries on a weekly basis or reading books to him whenever he asks, I would make it happen for Ollie.

I will even read that book where that narrator insists on saying goodnight to everything.  I get saying goodnight to a kitten but a bowl of mush?  Shouldn't you have brought that to the kitchen instead of leaving it out all night?  And honestly who says goodnight to "nobody"?  That's just creepy and weird.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Year 5: Week 4 – Letting Go

When I first started teaching I would try to make my own worksheets and I wasn’t comfortable with other people coming in and teaching my class. I felt that a great teacher had to do everything him or herself and that it was important that my students go their knowledge and success came from only me.

Now I’m all about using other people’s materials and bringing in as many people as possible to work with my students. The priority is my students’ learning and not who helps facilitate this growth.

Teachers often enter the field with a little “teacher-hero” fantasy. We want to be that teacher who single-handedly inspires a student to grow and learn. Part of this fantasy is that we do this all ourselves while fighting administrators, parents and other teachers.

The reality is that one of the things that truly great teachers do is utilize resources. There is not enough time in the day for teachers to gather all the materials, create worksheets and utilizing innovative instructional activities all by themselves. Smart teachers understand this and utilize available resources that take advantage of other people’s great work and skill.

Teachers who carefully utilize textbooks and other resources are freed from the time it takes to create those materials and can spend more time focusing on their students as learners and human beings.

Students don’t care who came up with a worksheet or band arrangement. The only people who really care about this is the teachers who make them. If you are making these materials looking for recognition from your school community, then you need to seriously look at your reasons for being a teacher. Something is off-balance in your teaching philosophy if recognition is your motivation for your work.

I used to get really uncomfortable with the idea of bringing someone in to help teach my class. I was afraid that my kids would realize that this other person was better than me and then not respect me as a teacher.

What I realized years later is that there is someone out there who dramatically outshines me in almost every facet of my teaching. There are better band directors, general music teachers, arrangers, and curriculum writers out there. It’s silly for me to present to my kids that I’m the best at all of this stuff when I’m not.

When I started bringing in more teachers to work with my students I didn’t see any difference in the level of authority that I had over my students and their level of respect they expressed towards me. Instead they expressed gratitude to me for setting up visits from other teachers.

Use textbooks and other people's arrangement.  Borrow colleague's materials and bring in other people to help your students learn.  If a video can teach a concept better than you, then use it and sit back and relax.  The greatest teachers know when its best to let go.

Don't forget, this song is not about you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Parenthood: Week 69 - Rejection

Sometimes Ollie pushes me away.

Most of the time when I approach Ollie he is happy to see me. He will giggle and scream in joy when I come home from work and other times he crawls over to me to me with a toy in his hand that he is excited to share with me.

There are the nights when I rock Ollie to bed after he is upset and he cuddles into my arms, smiles up to me and gently falls asleep and there are the mornings when he pulls himself up in his crib, smiling to greet me.

Then there are the times when Ollie doesn’t want me around.

There are the moments when he’s upset and I pick him up and instead of being comforted by me he reaches out to Diana. There are the times when Diana is holding Ollie and I come in form a group hug and he pushes me away. And there are the times when I try to hold him and he crawls away.

Ollie is a young toddler with only a small bit of understanding of how his actions affect my feelings. He doesn’t know that when he shows a preference for Diana that it makes me feel rejected, especially after a long day at work when I haven’t had very much time with him. There is no intent or thought in these actions, there’s only instinct.

Diana does her best to comfort me. Sometimes when he’s showing preference for her, she will leave the room, which sometimes helps him, calm down and focus on me as a source of comfort. She tells me that at some point the tables will turn and he will show a clear preference for me. While I appreciate Diana’s sentiment, I actually don’t find comfort in the idea that Diana will feel this sense of rejection as well. In some ways this may make me sadder than experiencing this rejection myself.

We aren’t supposed to look to our babies for emotional and physical comfort. Babies are not there to serve our needs. If you are looking for unconditional love and a warm-body to cuddle with in the evenings, get a dog, not a baby. While I understand this point intellectually, it’s not that simple in reality.

When I hold Ollie, hug him and kiss him, I get emotional satisfaction out of it and most of the time, not all of the time, Ollie does too. The times when he pushes me away aren’t difficult because of an emotional deficit that is created. Instead Ollie’s rejection makes me feel unimportant, useless and disregarded. Yes, I know that Ollie doesn’t mean to make me feel this way, but those feelings are there and I have to brush them off.

Parenthood is about saying, “I love you,” to a child who cannott or doesn’t say it back. It’s doing for your children without receiving gratitude and it’s knowing that no matter how many time your child may push you away, she is glad that you are part of her life.

Every time Ollie pushes me away it makes me sad, but that doesn’t stop me from coming back the next opportunity I have to give him a hug. Yes, he may want Diana when I pick him up next time, but he might want me. I’ll take my chances because the feeling of Ollie settling into my arms and seeing his smiling face close to mine is far greater and more meaningful than any feeling of rejection.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Year 5: Week 3 - Parent To Parent

Carolyn has always been a quiet girl.

In the first year I taught her when she was in sixth grade, she barely spoke a word to me that entire school year. Carolyn was always compliant, and never complained. She was the best flute player and one of the best musicians in the band, but she never let that go to her head.

When I taught Carolyn again last year as a eighth grader, she had loosened up a little. I would catch her giggling with other girls and goofing around a little but in class she was still all business. At times through the year, I would make jabs at her together to react and she would give me a sarcastic expression or roll her eyes at me. Towards the end of the year, she got even more confident with herself in class and would playfully make a joke at my expense, which we all enjoyed. I always knew that Carolyn took her work seriously and it was nice to see her have a little bit more fun in class.

In the process of high school registration, Carolyn was having difficulties getting all the classes she wanted into her schedule. As the music department chair, I had the ability to help her out with her situation. I reached out to Carolyn's father to explain what was going on from our side and to see if there were any insights he could provide.

Carolyn's dad explained that she has never been a kid who demanded much, so when she really wanted to take certain classes, he wanted to do everything he could to help Carolyn. I told him that I agreed with his observations from what I had observed in the classroom.

I almost stopped there, but then I went a step further.

I told Carolyn's dad that my son, was just getting to the age that he actually asks for things that he likes. I explained how earlier that week he put a specific book in my hand to read to him and when I out down the book after finishing it, he would pick it up and try to put it in my hands again. This was the first time that he actually asked for something from me and that excitement alone made me feel excited to comply to his request.  This led to me reading this book to him five times in a row.

I immediately felt silly using this story to relate to Carolyn's dad. I started saying how it's different with a baby, but he interrupted me and told me that it was exactly the same feeling. When your child asks for something that will enrich their lives whether it is a teenager asking for a class or a baby asking for a book, you want to make it happen.

We talked some more about Carolyn and the issues with her schedule! I promised to see what I could do to help Carolyn out and he ended the conversation graciously.

One of the most important things to do when you talk to parents is to validate and understand their feelings. In the past this has been difficult because sometimes as much as I try, I don't really understand what they were going through without having a kid myself.

Just because I'm a dad, doesn't mean that I instantly understand everything my parents are talking about, but it helps. I understand my students' parents a lot more now than before Ollie was in my life.
I don't think I'm going to constantly pull out stories about my own son in every conversation with a parent, but I will at times.

It's a new feeling talking being able to talk "parent to parent" and not just talk "teacher to parent."  It reminds me how much I have to learn from my students' parents and that my students are more than just my kids, they are someone's children.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Frat Boy: Saga Dining Hall - Part 5

We reconvened in the common room of PMA. It was here that we took the time to the let the “chefs” explain their dishes and we revealed the point totals that of course, proved once and forever the superiority of the senior class.

It wasn’t until a day or two later that we went back to Saga. The events of the weekend encouraged us to go out to eat and I think some of us wanted to avoid going back to the scene of the crime.

I remember walking over to Saga with Mary feeling worried and regretful. Yes, we had fun but it felt like we had taken advantage of this place that meant so much to us and had put unnecessary stress on the staff.

We walked in, saw a pretty good sized crowd already at our table, swiped in, smiled to the lady greeting us and got settled down for lunch.

At the table there was a lot of nervous talk about how much trouble we had gotten into and whether or not we needed to make a formal apology. As we discussed and speculated, Mary stood up. We immediately fell silent as Mary walked over and we watched nervously as she discussed what happened a couple days earlier with the lady who swiped us in.

None of us could hear the conversation but we could tell that both Mary and the lady were smiling. At some point she laughed and Mary joined her. Mary came back to our table, quietly sat down and explained that the staff had found our Saga Iron Chef hilarious. The manager (who we didn’t care about) was angry and annoyed at us but the staff who we knew and cared about loved seeing us have so much fun.

A huge wave a relief permeated across the table as we continued our lunch.

When you are in college in a group of people it’s easy to feel like you own a place, and we felt like we owned the Plex. It was our tables, our cafeteria, and it was part of our home. We didn’t think about the consequences of leaving a mess at our table, we didn’t consider when we loudly and openly complained about the food that people who made the food were in earshot and we didn’t always think about the workers who served us as people

Chances are if we asked the staff or the management to help us with our silly event they would have be happy to support us or even participate.

I’m glad that we had fun, but even more than that, I’m glad that this event reminded us that Saga wasn’t just about us and that our actions effected other people. This place that we loved so much, was special not only because of the people who ate there but also because the people who worked there. When I think about things that I miss from college, Saga is one of the first things that come to mind. There’s times at work, when I’m sitting at a table with some of my kids or other teachers that it approaches that same vibe, but its not the same.

 NUMB brought us together, PMA and SAI allowed us to become a family, but it was Saga that gave us that shared experience that connection to each other every day. The food wasn’t great at Saga, but at those tables, I had some of the most meaningful eating experiences of my life.

I love food, but more than my love of food, I value the experience of sharing a meal with people. I’ll never sit at that table with those people eating that food ever again.  And that's what made Saga so special.

Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge a meal by its food.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Parenthood: Week 68 - Boredom

Parenting can be really boring.

Yes, there are many dramatic moments in parenting. The crisis of a blown out diaper on the road with only a limited amount of baby wipes handy and the endless nights when sleep is allusive for everyone in the house. There are also moments of indescribable joy like when your baby brings over her favorite book to you to read and giggles at the funny voices you make as you read aloud.

There are the annoying times when he throws the food that you put a lot of effort into cooking for him onto the floor. Then there are the aggravating moments when your patience is running out and your toddler just won’t stop crying.

Along with all of this, there are moments in parenting that can be really boring.

When Ollie was a newborn he didn’t laugh at any of my jokes, react to the books I read to him or smiled. There wasn’t a lot of different ways that he could show me that he understood me but he was so cute and anyways he slept most of the time. Because of this the awkward moments when we were just bored staring at each other were at a minimum.

As Ollie developed his first year, he would smile at my silly voices, begin playing with toys and move around the room. This has developed into the toddler Ollie is now. He has opinions of what he wants to play with. When he wants to read a book he will put a book in my hand and he will try to interact with me by grabbing at my leg or crawling all over me.

Yes, Ollie is adorable but sometimes things can get boring when I play with him. He’s not a great conversationalist and his books, while they continue to fascinate him lack the emotional depth and character development for repeated readings.

It’s sometimes really difficult to not get bored as he attempts to put the triangle shape through the square whole of his shape sorter for the fifth time in a row.

There’s the adage that you get what you put into a situation. That’s most definitely the case with playing with toddlers. You are the one who needs to bring energy and creativity during your playtime to the table. The toddler sometimes demands your attention, but often Ollie doesn’t. The problem here is that in these moments Ollie will often get into something he shouldn’t if I don’t actively help him become engaged in something he should be playing with.

It’s okay to be bored with your kid sometimes. It happens to everyone. Our kids our cute, constantly changing and endlessly fascinating but like other people in our lives, they can be boring sometimes.

My recommendation: Pace out your time with your kid. Go out and do stuff. I’m not talking about crazy outings to museums. The bookstore, library or grocery store are great places to go with your kid. Even though you’ve read that book over and over, add some voices, it’ll be less boring for you that way if you just put in a little bit more energy.  Stay engaged.  Times always moves faster if you are actively engaged in an activity.  It takes extra effort, but it's worth it.

Lastly, you don’t always have to be doing things with your kid. It’s ok to just sit there checking your Facebook feed while your kids is sitting playing with some blocks. If checking your phone helps your get through your boredom as your toddler independently plays, it’s all good. Do what you have to do. Just make sure that when your child wants to reengage with you, the phone disappears.  Sometimes these moments when you are more passive with your child gives you the energy to jump back in with more enthusiasm.

One day Ollie will engage in thoughtful conversations with me, until then I'll continue to reread his favorite books and help him with his shape sorter.  Because here's the thing, as boring as these this things can be for me, when I look into Ollie's eyes and see his fascination and excitement in the mundane, it doesn't seem so boring anymore.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Year 5: Week 2 – The Office

Most teachers’ offices are there classrooms, but music teachers sometimes are in a different situation. Teachers who share classroom spaces often get an office space. It’s difficult to do work in a room when there’s a class going on.

My first office I ever had as a teacher was a small closet of an office. It was probably 6x8 feet. Crammed in there were two desks, a computer workstation we shared and a bookshelf. It was nice to have some space but at the same time it opened up right to the band room which almost always had class going on in there, so it was never really an escape.

My office-mate was incredibly nice but it was crammed and not the most conducive space to getting work done.

As an assistant, I didn’t have an office. Instead I had a single drawer in a desk. There were a bunch of computers in the room that I assisted in so computer access wasn’t a big deal. There wasn’t really a need for me to have an office since as an assistant, I never called parents and rarely had a lot of desk work to do.

When I came to this school five years ago, there were five teachers including myself sharing three office spaces. Four teachers shared two different offices with a small conference room in-between these spaces. The fifth teacher utilized our MIDI lab as his office.

Five of us were in different spaces and while it worked out pretty well, it didn’t feel like were a department. The art teachers all shared one space, the drama teachers did too and also the science department had one shared office space.

How did the music offices end up getting split up? When the school did it’s most recent construction almost a decade a go, they went with teacher preference. While this made sense at the time it didn’t speak to the larger and more important concern: how do we want our department to work together and how can the space reflect this?

The way you set-up a classroom communicates expectations and values to our students and the way an office is set-up has the exact same effect. We wanted to be more collaborative, get more face time with each other. The administration understood our concerns and goals and got on board to help make this happen.

The plan we came up with knocked down walls turning the two offices and the one small conference room between into one large office with an even smaller room next to it.

With most building projects, our office construction was delayed. We didn’t have access to this space until late into the first week of classes. At the end of week two we still don’t have furniture that fits in the space and because of these there are crates of supplies and files that have yet to be unpacked. Yes, we are not in an idea office situation but we are all together in one space and that has been awesome.

There are some things for us to work out, like how to arrange furniture and share filing cabinets. And even though we can all work with some noise around us, sometimes we all need a little quiet to focus.

The good stuff about being in one space has made a big difference in the feeling of our department. We have a lot more informal conversations that have helped get a lot of things done. We have a better awareness of what each other are doing and we are also having more fun. The progressive chess game that started this week has been a fun distraction, there’s more video games being played and there’s a lot more laughter.

To bring joy into the classroom, it's important that teachers experience joy outside of the classroom.  Teaching can be a very stressful job and teachers need a space, a teacher's lounge, a shared office space to remind ourselves that as difficult as it is to be a teacher, we are not alone in our struggles.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Frat Boy: Saga Dining Hall - Part 4

My brother was into Iron Chef way before it ever became a show in America. He collected videotapes that came over from Japan and really enjoyed the over-the-top pro-wrestling style presentation with the interesting and dynamic cooking.

When we’d get together we would watch these tapes together and it was a lot of fun so I figured why not do this at Saga?

Dillo Day, otherwise known at Mayfest is a spring celebration when people on campus collectively decided to chill out. The university sets-up a stage, get some mid-level music acts to put on some music and there’s series of events for students. The NUMB-Mu-Alpha-Iota group didn’t really get into the formal organized events too much, but we did get with the program and get our party on.

My senior year we decided to put on a competition between the different classes, freshmen, sophomore, juniors and seniors. A group of seniors including myself and some girls from SAI set up a series of events and points that could be earned towards a grand total. This was of course rigged so that the seniors would win and the underclassmen knew this but they didn’t seem to mind.

One event was a game of softball, there was a trivia game and there was the main event: SAGA IRON CHEF!

People worked in teams of two, one girl and one guy. They were able to use two ingredients they brought in from outside the cafeteria. The teams had to use whatever ingredient we chose, along with whatever food there was at Saga to put together a three-course meal.

We walked into Saga that day in mass,almost forty of us. Mary, a senior from SAI and I scurried around trying to figure out what the secret ingredient was as people nervously stood around.

It was getting weird that people were just milling around, so we told everyone to get food like they normally would and settle down. Once everyone got seated, Mary and I made an announcement.

We welcomed everyone to Saga Iron Chef, went over the rules and announced the secret ingredients: Baby Corn and Bananas.

Immediately there was chaos. The four teams ran around the cafeteria at full speed shoving piles of food on their trays frantically trying to put something together. Unable to simply sit and watch, people in our group walked around and tried to figure out what people were doing.

Before I knew it, no one was sitting at the table and everyone was up and about, cheering people on and getting a little bit too into this event.

Mary and I stood in the middle of the maelstrom when we started hearing whispers that the cafeteria staff was unhappy with us.

Here’s the thing. There were different managers in the Plex all of the time but the staff who worked there was pretty consistent and we loved them. They were caring, thoughtful and really nice. Many of them learned our names and were a big part of the reason we liked coming to the Plex to eat.

These people were becoming distressed. I remember looking over at Mary and not knowing what to do. As I hesitated, she took the lead and went over and talked to one of the staff people that she knew.

Feeling that the end was near, we got everyone to sit down and chill out and we commenced judging.

There was the good: chocolate Courtney had brought in, melted in the microwave poured over a banana. The confusing: slices of baby corn placed on a pizza. And the simply confusing: a plastic cup filled with some kind of pop with bits of floating corn.

About halfway through the tasting, Mary came over to me and told me that we had to leave. The manager was upset about how much food we were wasting and the mess that we had made in the cafeteria.

We huddled quickly and told our group that we had to leave but that we needed to clean this place up and not leave this mess for the staff that served us every day.

In the same whirlwind that people were engaged in during the competition, people swept through the room, cleaned up our mess, cleared our table and got out of that place fast.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Parenthood: Week 67 - Daycare Letter

"'Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.’"
Dear Ollie’s new teachers,

I regret that I cannot attend Ollie’s orientation, but today is my second day at the school that I teach at and there’s a lot of beginning of the year craziness that require my attention.

I wanted to tell you a little bit about Ollie and our family as you get to know him and welcome him into your community.

Diana and I love being parents. We both love kids instinctively and are interested in kids intellectually. While we take the care of our son seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously as parents. We believe that life is meant to be enjoyed and if that means that Ollie gets some germs from trying to eat dirt or some preservatives from sharing a tasty snack, that’s okay with us. Instead of basing our parenting decisions on a single philosophy, we base our decisions on research, what is pragmatic and what is best for Ollie and our entire family.

Diana and I trust each other completely with Ollie. There is no task related to the care of Ollie that we do not have faith that the other person can handle. While we know Ollie in different ways, we both truly know Ollie as our son and a person.

Ollie is one of my favorite people on this planet. He’s optimistic and goofy. While he’s easy-going, he is also very determined. Ollie is observant and sometimes cautious but he’s also brave and curious. Ollie sees life as an adventure and new people as another kind soul that he can connect with simply by smiling at them. He’s one of the kindest people I have ever met in my entire life.

Ollie’s belief in the goodness of people and his fascination with the ordinary inspires me every day.

The decision to have Ollie come to day care was one of the most difficult for our family. However our time touring this school, meeting Amy have convinced us that day care can be an rewarding experience for Ollie and our whole family.

There’s a lot of reasons why we feel your daycare is a good fit, but one of the main reasons is the feel, the vibe of the school. From Amy’s warmth to the office staff, who on our recent visit produced a flurry of giggles out of Ollie, it’s clear that you embraces life with optimism and joy.

Please take care of our special little guy. We are putting our most precious and cherished part of our lives in your care. Ollie’s the best of who we are. Even on the most difficult moments of being a parent, I am thankful that Ollie is in my life.

We know that this transition may bring challenges so please let us know what we can do to help. Our family looks forwards to Ollie’s adventures at your daycare and to becoming part of your community.



Friday, September 5, 2014

Year 5: Week 1 - Blue Hat, Green Hat

This is the introduction I gave for our first department meeting of the year.

I’ve really enjoyed reading books to Ollie over the summer break. He’s starting to recognize books and he will bring a book over for me to read to him, which is adorable. One of his favorite books is “Blue Hat, Green Hat,” by Sandra Boynton. It has a theme in it that I feel really resonates with our experiences at this school. Let me read this book to you.

Think about the turkey. He’s wearing clothing the wrong way throughout the book, but he’s not really disturbed about this fact. In the end of the book he’s the one who happily plunges into the pool while everyone looks on with envy.

In every class we teach, there’s a few turkeys. Sometimes it’s a student who picks up a tambourine and plays it in an unconventional way. Other times it’s a students who figures out a way to use a music app on an iPad in a way that we don't expect.  Sometimes these students are being distracting and are purposely being contrary, but most of the time these students are being creative in ways that we don’t predict.  Take time when these moments arise to consider what this student is doing. Maybe he or her creative way of looking at an instrument will teach the whole class something important and meaningful.

As teachers, we are turkeys every day. We teach in one of the most progressive schools in the state. Our approach to students, curriculum, instruction and assessment makes us look like a turkey to the vast majority of the teachers in America. As people are moving towards more standardized testing and common core standards, we are focusing on helping students learn through group projects and progressive teaching activities.

Even within our department I’ve been a part of conversations that make us look like turkeys within our school. We’ve talked about getting rid of the chairs in the lower school music room, utilizing technology in the middle school band program in new ways and creating different and innovative ways to help our students experience music.

Ultimately being a turkey, trying new things, and going against assumptions is where creativity and the most meaningful learning occurs. We value this in our students but sometimes the fact that this looks like a turkey putting a shoe on his head makes it not clear that something truly creative is happening.

So next time a students does something in an unconventional way, pause before correcting them and think about how they are exploring and maybe even have a conversations with them so that they can explain their thinking.

Be brave, be a turkey. Don’t get bogged down by what has been done in the past or the way other people do things.  Focus more on "why not?" than "can not."  In these moments, be proud and don’t say “oops.”

Later in the year, I want you to share a story of when you observed one of your students being a turkey and a story of you being a turkey yourself.  I'm looking forward to a great year with all of you.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Frat Boy: Saga Dining Hall - Part 3

The Plex was set up with rows of long tables. Two rectangular tables would be combined on their short end to create one long table. You could comfortably sit sixteen people around these two table but we would inevitably fit more. By the busy point of lunch we would take over two rows of tables.

Most people didn’t eat breakfast in the cafeterias. If you did, it was a pretty quiet affair. People sat by themselves, and read a paper or caught up on some homework. Lunch and dinner was a completely different affair. People would start rolling in around 11 and by 12:30, we would have filled up our usual tables.

Sometimes the conversations were pretty chill, other times they were explosive. People would argue politics while others would rolled their eyes. Some people stormed off in anger while others would come to the table crying. I was asked out to a formal at the Plex, I gossiped with the best of them and I developed some of my closest friendship at our tables.

Like with any good meal and any family we had our traditions. Mikey would ask if anyone wanted to go get coffee, which was code to a group of us that we wanted to gossip about someone at the table. About once a week, we would choose someone to prank. Sometime it was taking away everything but the person’s tray so it would be a pain for them to clean up. Other times we would put all our dishes on one person’s tray to again, make it a pain for them to clean up. Then there were more creative pranks like the time Pete put a napkin in Chris’ sandwich. Chris was beyond angry when he bit in that sandwich and found it there. He stormed out of the Plex leaving his jacket and book bag behind.

We would sing “Happy Birthday” annoyingly loud when that day arrived for someone at the table, or didn’t. And one time we hijacked another groups singing of “Happy Birthday” by screaming a name of someone at our own table at the “happy birthday to ____” part of the song. The other group of people who were singing immediately stopped after we interjected and the entire dining hall fell silent. We all felt pretty bad about that one.

Maria would complain constantly about the lack of vegetarian choices and Henry would always eat platefuls of the main dish, no matter how disgusting it tasted. Jessica would create plates based on different color palettes as a challenge to break out of the monotony of yellow and light brown food that monopolize our food choices.

Mary would try to do the crossword puzzle every day, refusing to listen to anyone’s suggestions or ask for help and only figure out one or two clue. Max would lecture us on the superiority of his major, while Alex would argue with him, unbeknownst to Max, actually mocking him. Then there was Tracey who would always drink at least five glasses of diet coke.

I can’t forget to the mention practice of “Saga-thon.” People can be in and out of Saga pretty quickly, like 20 minutes. If you take your time, you should be there maximum 45. Instead of going back to do homework, or get on with the rest of our lives, people would often “Saga-thone.” This means that you get to Saga, eat with people who go their before you, and stay through another group of people coming and leaving, sometimes for hours. People at their worst could be at Saga for 2 maybe 3 hours.

The funny thing about being a “Saga-thon” was that it was a term people used to describe themselves. No one ever gave anyone a hard time for sticking around the cafeteria long after they should have logically left. This was because we all understood that sometimes we all need some time to get away from the grind by chilling with friends through the inevitable parade of people who would come and go throughout the afternoon.

All of this silliness, drama and fun, may have been loud at times, but we didn’t mind. We probably were pretty obnoxious to the other people eating there, but we didn’t seem to notice.

One time though we did go too far. It wasn’t when we combined tables into one “magnum table.” That only got us a stern talking too about fire code. It was Saga Iron Chen when we crossed a line.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Parenthood: Week 66 - Michael Brown & Ollie Tang

The tragic death of Michael Brown has reminded the nation that there are many people in this country who racist, insecure, hateful and in denial about the racial issues in our society. The people who donated money to support the police officer who shot Michael Brown, the pundits who attack the “liberal media,” and make themselves out to be victims and the Americans who refuse to see this tragedy for it is, is a depressing but important reminder that we have so much work to do as a country.

What’ shocking is how in many ways we aren’t calling these people out for being speaking in offensive ways and for being quite simply, wrong.

What does this all mean for Ollie? He’s half-Asian, and for many people Asians are the “preferred minority.” Often when people are talking about issues related to minorities they are talking about African-Americans and Hispanics. When we talk about illegal immigrants most people think about Mexicans crossing the border and when people mention minorities in education, they are mostly focusing on African-Americans.

Does this mean he’ll be fine and never have to face racism? No, of course not, but if Ollie somehow lived his life never dealing with racism directed towards him and Asian-Americans, racism would still effect him deeply.

I’ve probably only dealt with a handful of instances when someone made racially offensive comment to me.  And I’ve probably only came across a couple people in my life who were truly racist towards Asians. But every time, something happens like the death of Michael Brown, it resonates with me minorities of all races.

When people make racist remarks and actions, it makes other minorities second guess the value of their identity, their worth in society. If a white police officer can shoot and kill a unarmed black teen and is defended as a victim, what does this mean for the way that people can treat me, the way that people will treat my son? If the majority can get away with mistreating one minority, than it shakes the confidence in all minorities that we are protected and valued in our society.

If you really let this tragedy sink-in, it should rock the foundation of all our senses of freedom and justice regardless of race.

I have no idea how I’m going to explain racism to Ollie.  I want so much for him the believe in the good in the souls of people, but unfortunately there are people who just don’t let that good shine through. For them, Ollie simply because of the fact he’s half-Asian, a fact that he should be proud of, will be judged differently.

When I think about people doing mean things to me, it’s annoying. When I think of people doing mean things to my wife Diana, I get angry and when I think of people being mean to Ollie, it’s reaches a level of fury.

I get why Martin Luther King Jr. talked about his kids in his famous "I Have A Dream Speech."  It physically hurts to think of Ollie dealing with racism.  For King and many in his movement, I imagine that they felt the same way.

If you don't understand my feelings, because you don't have kids or because you're not a minority, then you have got to trust us that this is an issue and do what you can. Yes, there are those who have less honorable motives when they make speeches against racism, but those people are few.

Diana explained to me a couple nights ago that being exposed to racism has its benefits.  It teaches us about our fears, our insecurities and helps us understand our own feelings.  Diana's right, it's not all bad.  Many of our greatest heroes and many of the most inspiring moments in our history were made in response to racism.  We understand our capacity for compassion, strength and love better because of those who faced racism and fought against it.

These thoughts bring me comfort but most of me still wishes I can protect Ollie from all the darkness in the world.  I know that I can't and one day we will have to help him understand that not all people are nice.  Until then, we will surround him with love and goodness so that when he meets someone who is racist, he will feel sympathy and compassion instead of anger and hate.