Friday, January 29, 2016

Year 6: Week 20 – R-E-S-P-E-C-T

When I was growing up, I remember the word “respect” being thrown around a lot at school. From elementary to high school there were signs and talks about respecting yourself, respecting other and respecting the school. If someone misbehaved, it was “disrespectful.”

I didn’t have any idea what respect actually meant when I was growing up and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I could give you a very good definition right now. Okay google what do you got?
Respect: noun: a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievement.

Verb: admire, avoid harming or interfering with.
What? I’m suppose to have respect for my teachers as a kid. That means I should feel deep admiration for them, and myself and my school. I liked my teachers, and I admired some of them, but that’s not something you choose to do, that’s something you earn from people.

Now the verb definition makes sense. I should as a student avoid harming other students, the school or myself. That’s good advice but why not be more direct and tell kids to admire each other more and not hurt each other? This is something my 3rd graders and my 8th graders can actually understand and put into action.

It feels like this idea of “respect” has been elevated in the context of schools into this a value, a philosophy on life. This is why I never really used the word respect in teaching or in conversations with students. It just seemed too ambiguous.

At my current school we don’t really talk about respect to students all that often. It’s just not a term that I hear in classrooms. Once in a while teachers will talk about expressions of disrespect, like interrupting someone giving a presentation, but we don’t have posters in the hallways and classrooms touting respect as a central idea of the our school.

There are things that my students do that other would probably find disrespectful. My middle school students aren’t great with saying please or thank you or curbing their attitude when they talk to me. Some of my third graders do not immediately snap to a submissive look of regret on their face when I am reprimanding them. My students talk back and sometimes they play jokes on me. For others this may seem like disrespect but for me it’s allowing students to have a voice and to relax into being themselves.

There’s a level of surface respect that doesn’t necessarily reflect real admiration and then there’s people who don’t seem respectful on the surface but have a genuine level of respect that is expressed in more meaningful ways.

The most important level of respect, going with the admiration definition, is the respect they have for themselves not me as their teacher. If being respectful to me helps them get there, than great, but at the end of the day if my students have little respect for me but have learned to truly respect themselves, then I’ve been a successful teacher in my book.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

Parenthood: Week 137 - Buffy & Ollie

Buffy was not happy.

She ate her dinner, she got a good walk and we let her out in the back yard to survey her territory but she was still not settled. Buffy paced around the house, whining and looking up at us. I gave her a treat to chew on and while this distracted her, after a couple minutes she returned to pacing around the house.

Ollie wasn’t home.

Grandma had taken Ollie out for the evening and Buffy was worried about Ollie. Buffy was used to being away from Ollie but usually when this was the case, me and/or Diana were also out of the house. This didn’t make sense to Buffy.

When Buffy saw through the window that Ollie and grandma were walking up the driveway she slid out the screen door as I stepped out and ran right up to Ollie. Buffy had only once before went out of front door without a leash and knew to not run out without a leash on.

Once Ollie was inside, Buffy settled down, found a spot in the rug and observed as we got Ollie ready for bed.

Earlier this week, I was sitting in my office, which is two doors down from Ollie’s room. Diana was putting Ollie to bed and they were talking and giggling as they often do as Diana rocks Ollie. I heard Buffy’s faint whine coming from Ollie's room. I got up, opened the door and Buffy ran out, wanting to go downstairs and eat her dinner.

As soon as Buffy left the room, Ollie melted down. He wanted Buffy to stay in his room with him and he didn’t understand why Buffy had left. Ollie is at the age that he needs to learn to respect Buffy’s needs. We weren’t going to force Buffy to stay in his room against his will, especially if she was hungry. Diana and I tried to explain that Buffy would be back but it didn’t help, Ollie continued to cry and wail in sadness.

I gave Buffy a couple minutes to finish her dinner and then I carried her up to Ollie’s room. Only then did Ollie quiet down as I sat down on the footrest of his rocking chair with Buffy in my lap and he reached over and petted Buffy. Ollie reached toward Buffy’s paws, which Buffy did not like, so we redirected Ollie’s hands to Buffy’s mane. He pet Buffy, said goodnight and Buffy and Ollie went to bed.

There are times when Ollie really wants to interact with Buffy. Earlier today he found a picture of a puppy and kept shoving it in Buffy’s face trying to show it to her (Buffy wasn’t very interested). And there are times when Buffy brings a tug toy to Ollie and he isn’t interested in playing with her. Sometimes Ollie chases Buffy around wanting to give her a hug and other times Buffy will carefully sit next to Ollie while he’s watching television and watch him attentively.

Then there are times when they don’t seem to care about each and barely acknowledge each other’s existence, but then there are moments when they express care for each other in emotional and dramatic ways.

There is something special between Ollie and Buffy.  It's unique, heartwarming, surprising while sometimes it causes drama, it's always touching.  Moments when they miss each other are reminders of what it means to be a family and how lucky we are to have each other.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Year 6: Week 19 - Am I Good Enough To Teach Ollie?

It’s a lot of pressure when you really think about.

I’ve had hundreds of parents trust me to take care of their kids. Without their supervision, I talk to them teach them about music and life.  I put them in stressful situations, I challenge them to think and I give them orders.

These kids are the most precious thing in their parents’ lives. Each one of my students started as a hope, a dream, and became a child. These children were rocked to sleep, cried over in times of confusion and prayed for in times of fear.

While what we do carries weight because of the trust parents put into us, there’s the responsibility we have to our students’ themselves to be more than a person who hands out worksheets and quizzes and corrects them.

I think about my own son at toddler school.  Part of me wants him to have 100% of his teachers’ attention all of the time. But I am also very aware as a teacher that this is not possible and there are times when because of the nature of teaching a group of students, sometimes individual student’s needs are not met immediately. This kind of drives me crazy to think about Ollie needing something but having to wait because a teacher needs to handle something with another kid. And I know he’s fine waiting for a minute and he has great teachers.  The educator’s part of my brain knows that it’s important that he learns how to operate in a group setting but the primal part of my brain wants him to be prioritized.

This line of thinking begs the question: If Ollie had a teacher who was teaching like I was, would I be satisfied with his classroom experience?

That question is. . . AHH. . . my head and heart can barely handle thinking about this that way. This is a whole new level of being a reflective practitioner (if you don’t know what I’m referring to check out this post).  Part of me thinks that that I'm only a good teacher and not a great teacher and Ollie deserves better than me.  This line of thought makes me feel guilty for not being a better teacher for other people's children.

Looking back at this past week, there were moments I was proud of my work and some moments when I could have given more and I didn’t. Honestly as a teacher I’m okay with that. We do the best we can and we can’t give our kids our 100% all of the time. We work within the circumstances that we are given (e.g. class size, instructional minutes). Do my students deserve more out of me?

And that's why this gig is so tough.  You can always do better.  There's always more work to be done and in order to maintain sanity, at some point you need to say "good enough," and move on.  This isn't giving up, it's doing the best that you can, finding that essential balance that gives you time to be yourself outside of teaching.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

Parenthood: Week 136 – The Worst Part of Winter

Toddlers are not easy to get out of the door.

If they aren’t throwing a tantrum about not wanting to get out of the house, they are probably taking off their shoes (which you just put on), or getting interested in a toy which you can’t logically take with you, which will probably lead to a tantrum.

When it’s autumn you need to put shoes and a jacket on your kid, grab the diaper bag (which you hope you previously double-checked for extra diapers), then get dressed yourself with shoes and a jacket.

This process is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Ollie is pretty good at putting on his jacket himself and he tries to put on his shoes, which keeps him engaged for a couple minutes.

While in the autumn, this process is challenging, in the winter, it’s . . . um. . . . sigh. Well, let me explain. I’m not talking about the, “Waah! It’s forty-five degrees outside and I have to wear a jacket”-winter. I’m not even talking about the, “Groan! It’s thirty degrees outside and snowing and now I have to wear boots”-winter. I’m talking about the “[insert explicative here] It’s four degrees outside and with the wind-chill, it’s so cold that I can feel my eyeballs freezing”-winter.

You would think that if it’s this cold, any human being with any level of reason would want to bundle up as much as possible with a jacket, hats, gloves and whatever one could possible find to provide warmth.

The problem is that toddler logic doesn’t always extend two minutes in the future. When you tell a toddler that is currently inside and warm that they will be going outside when it’s really cold, that doesn’t necessarily register as requiring that they get dressed for the cold before you go outside.

If you toddler agrees to allow you to actually get them ready for the cold, that’s only half the battle. The hat is usually pretty easy to manage and if that doesn’t work, there’s always the hood. With toddlers, we aren’t talking about gloves, but rather mittens. Last year Ollie’s mittens didn’t even have thumbs and now that they do, the process of getting said thumbs into the right part of the mitten is almost as much fun as trying to help Ollie get his legs in the right legs of his pants without the entertainment of watching him almost lose his balance and fall over.

As an adult, when I put on a jacket, hat and gloves and sit in a cold car, I know that once the car warms up and I get to a stop light I can take off my jacket. While Ollie can take off his gloves and his hat, he can’t really take off his jacket in the car seat. To help with this, if it’s under thirty degrees I will run out and warm up the car for him (my car is parked outside). This way if he refuses to wear his hat and gloves (which is more often than not), Ollie will not freeze as the car warms-up.

I don't really a positive turn around for this post.  Does the effort of getting Ollie dressed for the winter make the destination that much more special?  No, not really.  It's too cold outside.  The windchill is -15 degrees right now.  That ain't right.  If last year is any indication, there is hope.  Eventually Ollie put on his gloves and hat voluntarily.

Too bad it was 60 degrees outside and April when he hit this milestone.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Year 6: Week 18 - A Lesson On David Bowie

This week I taught my kids about David Bowie.  Here's the lecture I have my 8th graders.  If you are interested on my thoughts on "Space Oddity" check out this post.

I want you to think about these facts:

In America:
24% of teachers are men
8.4% of marriages interracial
5.6% of people are Asian-American
2% of teachers are Asian-American

And 1.6% of men on earth are 5”4’

In almost every aspect of who I am, I am not in the majority. The things that make me an individual, the things about myself that I’m most proud of, set me apart from most other people in our country. It has taken me most of my life to embrace the things that make me an individual.

What make you special, what makes you an individual will often set you apart from other people.  In this way, being yourself can be a very lonely but it's one of the most important things you do in your life.

When people think of David Bowie, they think of his music, his acting and his art but most of all people think of a person who was brave enough to be different, to be the person he wanted to be regardless of what other people said.

Even though interracial marriage was legal for decades, when David Bowie married Iman, it was still a big deal to have a public figure be involved in an interracial marriage. As a young boy seeing pictures of them together, it opened up my mind to the possibility that marriage could be between people of difference races. No one told me that I couldn’t marry someone outside of my race but this didn’t really seem like a possibility until I saw the beautiful images of David Bowie and Iman as a couple.

Bowie’s music was imaginative, ground-breaking and beautiful. He use of harmony and his chord progressions were fascinating and challenging. Bowie’s lyrics were haunting, profound, and insightful. He never settled as an artist, and worlds he created with his music are unique and unforgettable.

I look around this room and I see guys wearing clothing with bright colors, shoes with neon accents. There are girls with interesting trim on their glasses and some really cool designs on some shirts. Once upon a time, men didn’t have as many options with the color clothing they wore. Girls were limited as well in their fashion choices. When people like David Bowie were brave enough to push those barriers, dress in crazy ways that sometimes made people question whether he was a man or a woman, it set our culture down a path that allowed the rest of us to be a little weird and embrace the expression of individuality as beauty.

Being an individual can be lonely and when someone has the bravery to an individual in front of the entire world, it makes the loneliness not feel so bad. David Bowie did that for millions of people and he did that for me.

This is “Space Oddity,” his most famous song. He’s tells a great story and it’s a got a beautiful chord progression and melody.  The instruments and Bowie's voice create an amazing journey that and matter how many times I experience this song, it always makes me feel less alone in the world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Parenthood: Week 135 - Showing Love To A Toddler

Sometimes it's hard to show love to a toddler.

It’s starting to become a regular thing. Right before bed, Ollie refuses to let me read a book to him and demands that my wife read to him. Sometimes I give up and other times Diana validates his feelings but tells him that we will reads a book together. She starts reading and we take turns. Sometimes Ollie protests, but more often than not, once we get into the book, he accepts us reading to him together.

A couple nights ago when Ollie angrily protested again when I offered to read a book to him, I examined my options. I could try to read to him and hope that he accepts me reading, which probably wouldn’t work or I could just get Diana. I thought, “it’s not a big deal, Ollie isn’t showing me love, so I should just get Diana.” As I started walking away from Ollie I realized that I had another option.

Whenever Diana intervened and convinced Ollie to let both of us read to him, she was showing him the love that he wasn’t showing love to either of us. Instead of pulling away, Diana brought him closer to herself, dug deeper and got creative.

Instead of walking downstairs to get Diana, I walked over to the other room and got Ollie’s stuffed giraffe, Gigi. I asked Ollie if he wanted Gigi to read him. He became excited about this idea and a proceeded to read to him in a voice that was a cross between Eric Cartman and Lindsay Graham. Almost immediately we were both giggling and enjoying Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself.

In the face of tantrums, and meltdowns, which as toddlers get older become more verbal, parents have to dig deeper and deeper to express love that is truly unconditional.

A while back I wrote this post about the idea of unconditional love. It's a term that many people discuss as something they express but in reality is part of the human condition that few of us truly achieve.

To love unconditionally to express kindness, care and empathy to another person regardless of what feelings they express towards you and the choices that person make in their life. Our society is full if examples of parents loving conditionally. There's the mother who will not allow their son to come home for thanksgiving unless he doesn't bring his boyfriend and agrees to keep quiet about what she views as his "lifestyle" choice. There's the father of a teenage girl who gives up reaching out to his daughter after she rejects his invitations to go out to lunch for the tenth time. There's the parent who just can't take the pressure of life who decides to walk away.

If you think about the idea of love in the context of what you get from other people than you are thinking about a business transaction, not love. A child who expresses a lack of gratitude or respect to their parents at any age is no less deserving of their parents love than any other kid.

It’s really hard to give love to kids and not have this reciprocated. But you have to dig deep, and keep throwing love bombs. This kind of love is one of the most important things we give to our children.

When children receive love from their parents, no matter what those children say or do, it shows them that they are always deserving of love.  This external love become internal love and as these children becomes an adult, they love themselves throughout their lives. 

Is this way your love for your child will always be with them.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Year 6: Week 17 - Festival On The Horizon

It started as an idea. Let’s provide for our students an experience that helps them understand the greater musical community outside of our school and host a music festival. This was an idea, I first said aloud three years ago and now we are a month away from hosting our first festival.

Music festivals are a part of most students’ music education. A music festival is when schools, usually within a school district, join together once a year and play for each other. In addition, there are invited music educators who are invited to work with students.

Music festivals were part of my life growing up and part of my previous teaching job. In previous jobs, these festivals filled up weekends, took up a lot of class time to prepare for and were stressful. So I was glad when I started at this school and found that it was not as performance focused and didn’t participate in any festivals. Also, my first charge when I was hired was to start a band program, and doing a festival without and established band program didn’t make a lot of sense.

I had been floating around this idea of hosting a festival as a long term goal and then last year, my principal asked me, “why don’t we do the festival next year?” And without any good reason why not, I agreed that we would make it happen.

I stopped keeping track of how many tasks were on my to do list for this festival and how many emails I had sent out concerning this event.  There have been a bunch of meetings and some pretty wild twists and turns. While I’ve gotten a lot of work done and we are making good progress, there’s still a ton to do and it’s a lot to handle. The crazy thing is that it feels like the people in my department and my administration has more faith in my ability to pull this thing off than I do.

Before break, I was feeling annoyed because it seemed like people at my school just assumed that I would handle things.  "It Kingsley is involved things will just come together because he can make anything happen."  However on further reflection I’ve realized this isn’t about people taking advantage of me, it’s a feeling of confidence and belief in my vision and my abilities. It is because this community believes in me that I should put in the extra time, work and effort to makes things like this festival happen for my school.

It’s been a really busy week, but the work I’ve done for the festival this week feels satisfying.  I found time to enjoy my teaching with my students amongst all of the madness, which was an important reminder of the why behind all of the work.

There's a lot more to do for this festival, I'm trying some new stuff with some of classes and grades just around the corner.

Bring it on.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Monday, January 4, 2016

Parenthood: Week 134 - New Years Trip 2015-2016

This past week, we went on our yearly new year's trip to visit my family in Seattle. For the past couple years, we’ve spent the week of Christmas with Diana’s family and for the week of New Years we go and visit my side of the family. Since my family does not really celebrate Christmas, this works out pretty well.

We brought everyone on this trip, Buffy and Ollie and we had a great trip spending quality time with my parents as well as my brother, his wife and their daughter, my wonderful niece.

Spending time at my parent’s is really nice. We have our own bedroom suite. They put a crib in my dad’s office so Ollie has his own space and Buffy enjoy the different couches around the house that she turns into her own beds. She has her own dog bed over there but I have to do some herding to get her off the couch to come into our room and sleep in her dog bed.

We enjoyed some really nice moments on this trip. Diana, Ollie and I went to the Pacific Science Center. While the Dinosaur exhibit, which is more than thirty years old, may seem outdated to some, but to Ollie it was fascinating. I had a nice lunch with my dad, Diana got to go shopping with my mom and we had some quality time with my brother’s family. Also my brother and I got to geek out and play the X-Wing Miniature game, which truly is an awesome, though comically entertaining experience because of our lack of skill at the game.

One of my favorite moments was when Ollie and his cousin were taking turns performing songs. Now toddlers singing is one of the most entertaining things you will ever see. At a certain point Ollie’s cousin was playing the tambourine and Ollie was singing along. He felt it necessary to hold a music book in front on him while he was singing so he would run to the piano, grab a songbook, run back to his cousin, open the book and start singing. Never once in the numerous times he did this, did the songbook actually have the song he was singing. One time I calmly told him his book was upside down, so he stopped singing, turned the book right-side-up and continued singing.

Then there was the moment when Ollie sang “Puff, The Magic Dragon” for my mom. This was my brother’s favorite song when he was Ollie age and it is one of my son's favorites. Watching Ollie sing this song for my mom was like taking a look into the past of what it might have been like for my mom to hear my brother sing this song to her. My brother and I are her sons and my mom loves us as adults but she’ll never have us back as little kids and it felt really special that she could relive that moment of my brother as a toddler through Ollie.

I take for granted that I can hug my son and kiss him. I can pick him up and cuddle him and as much as this is for Ollie, I enjoy it as a parent. There was a moment when my dad tussled my hair when saying goodnight and I initially felt annoyed and then I immediately remember how it feels touch Ollie's head. Then instead I felt love through that gesture.

Another new year’s trip done, back to “reality.” While I’m tired from the plane ride, my heart feels refreshed from the love of my family.

Friday, January 1, 2016

30 Days Dry – Part 4: What Drinking Means To Me

When I taste that first sip of beer, I am reminded of how my mom first started going out with my dad because he liked how she enjoyed drinking beer. When I hear the rattle of ice against the side of my high ball glass full of whiskey, I'm transported back to my childhood bedroom. Listening in the dark as I lay in my bed, I would wait until I heard the sound of the ice in my dad’s whiskey glass as a signal that he was home from a late night at work. Only then would I feel relaxed and let myself slip into sleep. In the soft warmth that comes from a great drink I am reminded of the camaraderie and the joy of times with friends, sharing drinks, helping me learn to stop trying to be someone else and to love being myself.

Alcoholic beverages are as central to many cultures’ identity as fashion, cuisines, art and music. You can understand Italian culture without knowing great Italian operas, but you miss experiencing something profound about being Italian without knowing these great works of art. In the same way drinking an American lager will bring you an understanding of Midwestern working class roots in a way that few other experiences can.

Wines, beers, liquors and spirits are powerfully personal and culturally significant. My understanding of these beverages has connected me with my family and my cultural history. I have extended family members who barely speak English that only through drinking whiskey have we crossed cultural barriers and created meaningful memories.

As a second-generation immigrant, learning about American drinking culture in college and beyond has helped me make sense of a world that far too often, still feels foreign. Each new drink I tried and each new tradition I participated related to drinking brought me closer to what it meant to be American.

In each sip of an alcoholic drink I feel my culture and my family. I feel closer to the world around me, connecting with generations of artisans that contributed to the creation of what I am enjoying. I am also sharing an experience with people around the world and through time who have drank the same beverage that I am enjoying.

The process of distilling, brewing and fermenting has the potential to create unparalleled flavors with wonderful nuances and complexity. Like a great opera, knowing a great whiskey takes work, exposure and expertise to appreciate. And like with a masterpiece of an aria, after learning about a great whisky, the experience of drinking that great spirit can be an emotional and beautiful experience.

It's not all about high art. Like a hot dog on a Fourth of July cookout, even a mediocre beer with the right friends can help create unforgettable eating experiences.

On the same section in a store that you can find artfully crated spirits that reflect great human achievement built on years of study and innovation you can also find lower down on a bottom shelf, mass-produced beverages only drunk for escapism. It is in these extremes that we find the best and the worst of the human experience of drinking alcohol. In that top shelf you find the beauty of human expression through flavor and tradition and in the bottom shelf there is only a stale taste that reflects the burden of a pleasure turned into a darkness that clouds one's soul in regret.

To love alcohol is to know what it can bring to life and what it can take away. Alcohol can feel both essential and extraneous, inspiring and depressing. It is a force that has brought families together and torn families apart. Alcoholic beverages for some bring out the best in us but in others bring forth the worst parts of our humanity.

I really enjoy drinking but I've taken this break because it seems like far too often drinking was not a culturally meaningful experience. It was simply a way to escape. I have my stress and my difficulties but I have a blessed life and never did the escapism of drinking alcohol make me feel better about the challenges in my life.

My relationship with alcohol continues to evolve. If I find myself missing the meaningful experience of drinking, I will take a break, like a recently have to reevaluate. Someday, I will probably walk way from drinking for good. Will I miss it? I hope so, and for the right reasons. If I miss it for the wrong reasons than it'll be a confirmation that walking away truly is for the best.