Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

Parenthood – Week 98: Other People’s Children

Do you know what is the worst? When you go to an indoor play space or playground and other people’s children come up and try to talk to you? Really?!?  Are you kidding me? I get paid to interact with children all week long. I am not talking to other people’s kids on my off time.

I’m joking . . . partially.

I’ve spent my entire professional life with other people’s children and I really enjoy this part of my job. I find kids fascinating, challenging and a lot of fun to work with. Years ago when I started as a teacher, I got my kid fix and when I got home from work, I had time away from kids. This changed when Ollie came into the picture. Now when I come home there’s a kid waiting for me who wants my attention.

I’ve heard some teachers, who don’t have kids, talk about the fact that they can’t imagine teaching kids all day long and coming home to deal with another kid.  I wondered about this too. Would I have the patience and stamina to be around kids and my kid?

When I have a stressful day at work, I do have to dig deeper when I come home and I’m with Ollie but that’s true for any job. It’s true what teachers who are parents say, it’s completely different when it’s your own kid.

Ollie never leaves my mind. His presence in my mind, in my life is more central and never ceasing. Being his father is more central to who I am than being a teacher. The children I work with at school are just my students.

The more time I’m a father, the less I carry the issues and drama of my students’ home with me from work. It’s easier to leave the care I feel for my students at work because I’ve realized from being Ollie’s dad that there’s someone else, my students' parents, who are giving that undivided care and love to that child. I don’t need to do this as a teacher, that’s not my role in my students’ lives.

It’s not that I care about my students any less, but with Ollie, there’s clearly a child in my life that I care about much more than any of the children that I teach. Because at the end of the day, these kids truly are other people’s children. They may be my “kids” but they aren’t my children.

Now for the other people’s children I see out and about. I just want to focus on my son when I’m spending time with him and I’ll be polite to other kids but I’m not going to go into my teacher mode and get to know them. However it’s different if these are kids that are friends with Ollie.

There’s a group of toddlers that Ollie gets together with and it has been really fun getting to know them and their family. As the family friend I get to play with them, be a little silly with a different level of responsibility. I still watch out for them and keep them out of trouble but I can be more relaxed than when I’m at school.

Now my life is full of children, at school, at home, and during most of our social outings. While I still need some quiet time and time with just adults, I really enjoy all the different ways that young people are in my life. It’s exhausting, confusing and kind of crazy, but it’s meaningful.

It's the job I chose, the family I'm proud of and the life I embrace.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Year 5: Week 31 – Prototype Week

For the past five years, I’ve had the same teaching schedule with a couple adjustments here and there. From what I understand it’s been over a decade since my school has had a holistic schedule change. For the past year the administrative team has been working on a new schedule and this week we had a prototype week where we tried out a draft of a new schedule.

In some ways, it was crazy. I felt like every five minutes I was checking my phone or the times I wrote on the board to see what time class was ending. There was a frantic energy around the teachers as we tried our best to negotiate unfamiliar transitions. Then there was the marathon-like feeling of teaching different classes in different orders, which challenged the rhythm teachers were accustom to.

At the same the craziness was kind of fun. Many kids came to class more fresh and ready to work, reveling in the novelty of having class at a different time of day. While there was some complaining about the schedule the kids rolled with it pretty well and the sense of discovery, seeing kids on different days and different times was refreshing.

Now what? It’s time for us to reflect on the schedule, but this is not an easy thing to do. There are different perspectives that we need to separate out as we examine the schedule. The hard thing is that some of these viewpoints are so interwoven in our day to day teaching that it’s difficult to pull them apart. Here’s what I mean:

The contract: Schedules have to address the contractual agreement between faculty and the administration. I don’t think this is the place where conversations about the schedule should start, but it’s a factor that at some point must be considered. Teaching minutes sometimes seem like limitations to education, but if these get steam-rolled, it effects planning time, which in turn negatively affects the quality of teaching.

Personal teaching preferences: We all have our own personal preferences about when we have prep time and when we like to teach certain classes. A lot of this builds up from what we are used to doing. It’s hard not to think about this because if our schedules line up with who we are naturally as teachers our kids will benefit, but this is not the nature of what it means to be a teacher. We are the teachers are kids need us to be as opposed to being the teacher we want to be.  We teach not at time we want to teach but rather times we need to teach. All of this needs to be put aside for the most important point:

What works best for the future of our students’ education: When reflecting on the schedule, we need to imagine that we are creating an idea schedule for someone else to teach. Based on research, the rhythm of the day and the curricular needs of students, we need to seek out a schedule that addresses the future of education. It is not enough to simply fix problems from the past, we need to set up a schedule that can help evolve the way the we want to teach.

In some ways it’s impossible to pull these three perspectives apart because they inevitably affect each other. Why even consider a schedule that you know for sure wouldn’t work within contract minutes? Because only by considering what seems impossible can imagination make something happen. It’s never a question of can. It’s always a question of should.

We’ll pull together our feedback, keep talking about schedule and see what happens. And even after the madness of this past week, I’m still feeling optimistic.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015

Parenthood – Week 97: The Toddler Sonic Scream

There’s a superhero named the Banshee, a character from the X-Men comic book whose superpower is a sonic scream, which can not only cause damage to adversaries but also gives him the power of flight.


Do you know who else has this superpower (minus the flight)? My son.

The other night after coming back from a family walk, we noticed that Buffy had picked up some burs. Diana carefully carried Buffy into the house to carefully remove them from Buffy’s fur.  It was also time for Ollie’s bath, so I proceeded to try to get him up the stairs.

Ollie wanted Diana to give him the bath, but she was taking care of Buffy and there was no good reason for me not to spend some time with him getting him ready for bed.  He fought me as I took his jacket and shoes off and of course I won. Ollie protested asking for Diana, and I tried to calm him down but as he entered in full meltdown mode, I’m not sure if even Diana could get him to chill out.

So I scooped him up my crying toddler, cradled him against my and hip and started up the stairs. About halfway up the stairs, Ollie let out a scream. It was one of the loudest sounds I had ever heard a human being make (and I’ve heard opera singers up close). It was long, it was high, like E above the treble clef, and right up against my left ear. I swear, my ear was ringing for a couple seconds after the scream.

Ollie didn’t fight me through the bath, but he wasn’t exactly happy about the situation, crying throughout the process. Eventually Diana finished with Buffy and I handed Ollie off to her. Like many difficult situations raising a kid, an hour later, sitting on the couch after Ollie fell asleep, it was just a memory.

One of the difficulties of raising a toddler is the fact that along with their heightened ability to express themselves comes opinions and desires that can emotionally difficult to process for parents. Ollie wanted Diana; he didn’t want me. In that moments along with his epic scream, it was hard not to take his protests personally.

Once Ollie calmed down, Diana was clear with Ollie about how he needed to be nice to me and why she couldn’t be with him. I appreciate this because even though at this stage Ollie doesn’t completely understand what she’s saying, eventually he will and it’s important that we both get in the habit of supporting each other. While it’s important to validate Ollie’s feelings, he needs to learn how his actions affect the people he cares about.

In the moment after Ollie screamed at me, I became pretty quiet and just focused on getting his bath done. I’m the older party and yes, I’m more mature (most of the time), but it was hard to take his cries from my son, a person I spend so much of my day and energy thinking about and care for. But I’m not really mad at Ollie. I know that he doesn’t mean it.

Of course whenever he comes up for a hug or tells me he loves me, he means that.  None of the tantrums he expresses towards me are all that meaningful long term. You may laugh at this rationalization but it's true.

As Diana rocked Ollie to sleep only ten minutes after being upset, I heard him giggling with Diana and talking about his day.  I went into his darkened room and he said "hug dada," and leaned in towards me for a hug.  Then he said "hug mama," leaned back to Diana.  He went back and forth between hugging me and Diana, smiling at both of us.

Sharing love is what he comes back to, it's what we all want and cherish in our hearts.  It's who we truly are on the inside, if we let ourselves be for each other.

Frustration passes but love never does.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Year 5: Week 30 – The Schedule

Wow, what a week.

It was the first week back after spring break, we had a teacher in-service day on Monday, so it was a four day week for our kids AND we were preparing for a trial week of a new schedule next week.

Coming back from spring break is always a mixture of feelings. There’s the excitement that comes from seeing the end of the year in sight. However there’s also a level of stress that comes from spring performances that once seemed way in the future that are now just around the corner. On top of that there’s grade reports and the rush of other school events that adds excitement to this whole time of year.

Throwing this new schedule trial week into the mix has really made this time of year have a “unique” energy. My own emotions about this trial week of a new schedule has included, fear, dread, excitement, frustration, annoyance, and now more than anything else optimism.

Part of this has to do with what I’m comfortable with. It’s human nature to want to stick with something that you know, even if it has problems, because at least you know the issues. There’s a rhythm to the week, I’ve gotten used and I like how my prep time is arranged. None of these reasons are really all that relevant though in the larger discussion about the schedule, because none of these things directly benefit the students.

There is no perfect schedule. It’s impossible to make something that serves every subject and grade levels needs, completely. Improvement in a schedule isn’t getting rid of all problems, but getting rid of a couple and making holistic changes that benefit the community as a whole, not necessarily and individual teacher or subject.

This is a hard thing to balance and understand especially when as teachers, we are not privy to the whole picture.  We deserve explanations from our administration about the decisions that they make, but they can’t tell us the reasons behind everything they do. This is why it’s hard to understand schedules, the reasons behind changes and the big picture. Our brain space is for our kids. The myriad of factors and limitations that drive the schedule are just too much for us to comprehend. It’s not our call or our job to balance the many different needs in the school.

Now this doesn’t mean that I’ve kept my mouth shut. As department chair it’s been on me to sort through this trial schedule week and help the administration out with solving conflicts. While this process at times has been challenging, the more I work with the administration, the more optimistic I am that the work on the schedule will benefit our school.  There is potential for harm when making big changes to a school's schedule, but with the careful and philosophically driven work put into our schedule for next week, I have no doubt that while there will be some bumps, we will learn a lot about ourselves and our school next week.

Is this new schedule week going to be a little crazy?  Yes.  Is it going to be an adventure?  You bet, but sometimes crazy adventures are the best kinds of experiences we have as educators.    

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

Parenthood - Week 96: Patience and A Wagon

Patience as a parent means different things at different points in a child's life. Infancy requires that parents are flexible with their schedule, hang in there during rough feeding times and persevere through the challenge of helping babies going to sleep. Toddlerhood takes a whole different level of patience.

When we think about patience with a toddler we think of the mess that is mealtime, the struggle to understand toddler-talk and the necessity to stay calm in the face of tantrums and meltdowns. All of these moments are very trying and for many people, these challenges characterize what means to raise a toddler. I reject this notion and sayings like "the terrible twos." While these kinds of complaints at important ways to vent, this type of rhetoric needs to be carefully couched as not to bleed into negative expectations we inadvertently communicate to our children.

Sorry for the digression, that's a blog post for another day . . . back to patience. . .

Last week when we were visiting my parents, I found myself starting to lose patience, and not at a time I expected.

My mom has this radio flyer wagon and she thought it would be fun to take Ollie and Buffy out for a ride in the wagon. We got both Ollie and Buffy settled in the wagon and my mom started pulling them down the street.

After a couple minutes, it became clear that Buffy wanted to sniff around so I lifted her out and let her walk next to the wagon. Ollie seeing that Buffy was out of the wagon, stood up and tried to climb out of wagon. My initial response was to tell Ollie to sit down, but my mom said it was fine, stopped the wagon and let him climb out.

Ollie went up to my mom and pointed to the handle of the wagon. My mom gave Ollie the handle and he happily tried to pull the wagon. After moving the wagon about a foot, Ollie dropped the handle and climbed back into the wagon and motioned to my mom. She picked the handle and started pulling the wagon. After the wagon moved another couple inches, he stood up, my mom stopped the wagon and he climbed out and went to pull the wagon. Ollie repeated this cycle of riding in the wagon and then pulling the wagon over and over.

At some point my mom had turned the wagon around so we were heading back to her house. Even though we were making progress as a snails pace, Ollie was completely into this process. After he had climbed out of the wagon for the tenth time, I was done. I was about to pick Ollie up so we could get moving. My mom stopped me and said it was ok.

We were not in any rush, we had the whole afternoon ahead of us. Ollie was content working through this process and even though it was monotonous for me, Ollie didn't seem to mind.

In teaching we often talk about meeting children where they are at developmentally, emotionally and otherwise. My mom demonstrated this idea with her patience letting Ollie experience the wagon ride on his own terms. This patience was really important for this experience to let Ollie explore and learn at his own pace.

I'm not sure why I felt a lack of patience with the wagon, maybe because I was getting tired of watching Ollie's lack of progress down the street. That wasn’t what this activity was about for Ollie my mom saw that and let him be, which was exactly what he needed at that time.  Ollie understood with the wagon that it wasn't about the journey and not the destination.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Turtle by Kingsley Tang (Grade 2)

I am a stuffed turtle at Toys R Us toy store.  It's December.  It's very crowded.  People looked at me and think about getting me.

When the sun went down and the store closed up, I played with my friend, stuffed tortoise.  We play hide and seek.  Tortoise usually won because he is smaller than me.  We had parties with other stuffed animals.  

One day, it was the day before Christmas, a lady bought me for he child, John.  I got wrapped up in a box.  Finally it was Christmas.  John opened me.  John put me on his bed and we slept together, we played together a lot.

When John got older, John had his own children.  He gave me to his children and we played together.  I was passed on for many generations and I still played with all the children in John's family.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Parenthood: Week 96 - Toddler Logic

As usual, I brought up a sippy cup full of milk and a breakfast snack for Ollie to eat while me and Diana got ready in the morning.  After Diana and I were ready, we all headed downstairs to eat more substantive family breakfast.  

Ollie nicely put his sippy cup on the kitchen table and went off to read a book.  A couple minutes later Ollie asked for some water. When Diana handed it to him, he said he wanted milk.  Sometimes Ollie gets his words confused so this error is that not that big a deal.  I handed Ollie the sippy cup full of milk Ollie had put on the table, but then he waved away saying "no!"

I quickly figured out that Ollie wanted milk, but more specifically he wanted milk in the new cup.  Another possibility is that Ollie simply forgot that the sippy cup had milk.  

I had two options. I could simply dump out the water and transfer the milk into the new cup, which would most likely deescalate the situation or I could argue with him.  Being the more mature person in this exchange, who had an in depth knowledge of child development through an education and career as a teacher, I of course decided to argue with Ollie.  

"Ollie the milk is on this cup." [shaking the sippy cup full of milk]
"No. MALK!!!" [pointing to the cup full of water]

As our exchanged continued with both of us reinforcing our points of contention, both of us became more and more agitated.  Then suddenly mid-cry, Ollie took the milk sippy cup from me, smiled and happily walked away. I stood there confused, mystified, and slightly frustrating, trying to figure out what just happened.  

Toddler logic is one of the most mind-boggling and confusing things I have ever encountered.  While there are some parts of toddler logic that are easy to figure out, other times toddlers logic is simply baffling.  

In the toddler mind there are opinions, ideas and impulses that sometimes line up with their language abilities and others times doesn't.  This disconnect leads to a lot of misunderstandings and frustrations by both parents and their children.  The most difficult part of these situations is knowing how to best deal with these feelings.  

Sometimes it is best to just let it go and give in to their irrationality and sometime it works to not give in and let them work through their own issues.  To be honest, often my response has to do with my own stubbornness and my mood when dealing with my little guy.  And in my less rational moments, I need to remind myself of Ollie's developmental stage in order to act more logically.

Toddler logic isn't a unique stage in children's craziness.  Every day I sift through teenage logic and pre-teen logic with my students.  At times I get what is going on and others times I'm baffled.  Sometimes I let it go and other times I steer right into the haze and attempt to help make sense of what often seems like a complete lack of actual logic.  

Toddler logic is something I'm not as used to and while at times it's aggravating, I love that Ollie is trying to express himself and working to understand the world around him.  Though I can't shake the feeling that Ollie was simple messing with me the whole time. . . 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Year 5: Week 29 – The Hat

In 8th grade band we were working on an arrangement of “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones. One of the things I love about my band this year is that they have a great sense of tone, which meant that they were playing this song with a very clean and warm sound.

I stopped and told them “we need to play this song with a dirty tone. This is a dark song and it needs some grit, it almost should sound a little gross and disturbing.”

“Like your mom?”

I looked down at the flute player who had said that phrase and saw a horrified look on her face. She immediately knew that she had made a huge mistake and she was petrified. She started to apologize but I motioned with my hand for her to stop.

The giggles in response to the joke quickly turned to shock and the class was quiet waiting for my response.

I had a couple options. I could take the serious approach, open up a can and explain to her the inappropriate nature of “your mom” jokes. I could be mean and provide a come back that would establish myself as the wittier person in the exchange and show that she shouldn’t mess with me. I could also make it even worse for her and calmly tell her that we would discuss this after class and let her sit with the fear of what would happen once everyone else had left the classroom.

It took me longer than I expected to figure out what to do. Maybe it was because it was the day before break or the fact that I had been in and out of meetings all week and was having difficulties focusing on teaching.

Here’s what I was thinking: the class was going really well and I didn’t want to break down the positive vibe that was in the classroom. The flute player clearly knew that she had messed up and while I was ready to engage in a verbal war, I didn’t want to go down that road and show the other students that I would participate in one-upmanship of this kind in the middle of class.

But I had to do something.

I stepped off the podium grabbed a piece of paper, folded it into a hat, wrote a silly message on the side and told her to wear it. Her only complaint was that the hat was too small. She wore it for part of the class, kids laughed at her and as we continued to have a great rehearsal, it ended up on the floor and it was forgotten.

After class I touched base with her, she apologized and we had a good talk. I’m not saying that making a paper hat for a kid to wear is the best response to an inappropriate student outburst, but sometimes you just got to do something silly and move on.

It’s hard to know what to do sometimes and what the best. Maybe the hat wasn’t the best response but along with the talk, we both came out it learning a little something about ourselves and each other.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015