Friday, April 29, 2016

Year 6: Week 32 - The Dedication-Part 1

For the longest time, it was simply just a task on to do list.

An alumnus of my school passed away and his friends made a collection of his money in his honor to give a piano to my school. His family also contributed to this fund. I shopped around for a piano that fit our needs and found a great instrument. I worked with the store, our alumni relations’ office, and made the purchase happen. We got the piano and it’s been great to have this new instrument in the classroom.

Off the to do list, done.

In the past couple months, emails periodically would pop up about scheduling a dedication. Finally I got an invite a couple weeks ago.  We were going to move the piano into the library have some refreshments. I offered to say something on behalf of the music department and how this new piano would benefit the students and the person organizing the invent was excited that I would come speak.

The day of the dedication was a pretty normal day at school. My plate was pretty full so I didn’t think that much about the dedication and my speech. I stayed at school and worked through the afternoon into the evening. Between tasks, I jotted down some notes about the piano and it’s musical benefit to the students. I read through my speech, practiced it once out loud, stuffed it in my pocket and went back to work.

When I walked into the library, I immediately felt a feeling of warmth. People were greeting each other with hugs, smiling with a feeling of joy that only comes from being surrounded by people that make you feel like you are at home.

One of the alumni came up to me, gave me a hug, and thanked me for being there. She walked me over to the father of the honored alumni. He reached his hand out to me and looked into my eyes with a gratitude that felt humbling.

The father told me about his son. He told stories about how much his son loved music. The amazing things his son did. Regrets he had about his son and how special this school was to his son and his family. At the edges of his warm words there was sorrow and I couldn’t help but think about the incomprehensible pain of loosing my own son as he spoke.

The dedication started with an introduction and welcome. Then the father spoke and three of his friends also spoke and performed some of the music the honored alumnus had composed. I wasn’t sure where I was in the order of the event, but I expected to be somewhere in the middle. I was surprised when I was called up to close the dedication.

As I walked up to the center of the gathering, I felt the piece of paper I had written my speech on in my pocket. Instead of pulling it out of my pocket, I left it in there and took my hand out carefully buttoned my suit jacket as I stood in front of the crowd.

I wasn’t sure what to say, but I knew that my planned speech was insufficient. I figured I could start with talking about the piano itself as I had planned and hopefully I would figure out what else I needed to say afterwards.

I stepped away from the piano when I was done talking about it, and for a moment it was silent. I looked across the crowd, saw this group of alumni and over on my right was the father I had spoken to earlier looking at me and in that moment I knew what I needed to say.

I closed my eyes, and I pictured my son smiling, held tight onto the warmth his smile brought to my heart and then I opened my eyes and spoke.

I talked about how our students are never alone because thousands of alumni care for them and their education. The names of alumni on our walls are reminders to our students that they are surround with care that comes from people they have never met.

I spoke about how this piano will create music that will surround students and in each note that they hear, they will know the spirit of this alumni who may have left us in one way, but through this musical gift will always be present in our community and our students’ lives. I closed my speech sharing how excited I was to share the spirit of this alumnus with my students and how grateful I was on behalf of all of our students for their generosity and this powerful reminder of what it means to be a community.

After I was done, the father graciously thanked me for my words and I thanked him again for this great gift. As I shook his hand and looked into his eyes, I felt a wave of emotion slowly building. I said goodbye to a couple more people and headed to my car.

I started my car and texted Diana that I was on my way home. She replied that Ollie missed me. Then it hit me and I couldn’t ignore the depth of what I had just experienced as a father and a human being.

All I wanted to do in that moment was hug my son.

As my car flew down the expressway in the night, tears started welling up in my eyes. . .

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Monday, April 25, 2016

Parenthood: Week 149 - Breaking The Thumb Sucking Habit

We decided to help Ollie stop sucking his thumb.

I’m not going into why we are doing this. It’s clear in my online research on this topic that just like every single decision parents make, there are people who judge other parents harshly over this issue. So I’m not going to explain myself. But I do want to pull together different things that I’ve read and what has worked for Ollie to help other parents who desire to help their toddler stop sucking his or her thumb.

We are all about thumb-sucking. This habit was critical in Ollie learning how to self-soother and put himself back to sleep. We did the pacifier thing, but the thumb is much more convenient. Some people told us that we shouldn’t have Ollie suck his thumb because it’s a hard habit to break. However, we felt that Ollie’s ability to self-soothe outweighed potential future challenges, that might not be that bad.

Ollie is two and a half. There’s a big different between a toddler breaking a thumb sucking habit and a 6 year-old. My research was focused on toddlers.

First off, like anything we teach Ollie, it’s not about teaching Ollie to do something but empowering Ollie to be more independent. It’s not about teaching Ollie how to put on clothing, but helping him learn how to dress himself. With thumb sucking, it’s not about me as the parent stopping this habit, but rather helping Ollie learn how to stop the habit himself.

This philosophy instructs the entire approach including, not pulling the thumb out of his mouth, not using guilt, and not using any kind of gadgets or quick fixes (e.g. paint-on thumb deterrents). Never a power trip, we believed that this process needs to be something that Ollie could, understand and articulate.

Step 1: Awareness
Ollie didn’t realize how often and why he sucked him thumb. For a couple days, we asked him periodically if he was sucking his thumb without any negative judgment. We asked him if people around him sucked their thumbs: me, his teachers, Elmo, characters in books. We also had conversations about why Ollie liked sucking his thumb.

Step 2: The Thumb On/Off Switch
There’s things Ollie loves to do that are strong motivators for actions, like watching television and using the iPad. Whenever he did these things, he had to not suck his thumb. If he did, then the technology would go off.  Only after a couple pauses, Ollie stopped sucking his thumb during screen time and now we have extended reading books to times when he doesn’t suck his thumb (Ollie loves being read to).

Step 3: The Right Place And Time
Every time we go somewhere, we establish whether it’s a good place to suck his thumb or not. Asking Ollie to observe if other people in the space suck his thumb. Right now his room is a good place to suck him thumb and everywhere else is a place where he doesn’t do it.

Ollie still sucks his thumb when he cuddles and goes down to sleep for a nap or for bedtime. When he gets upset or tired, the thumb goes in his mouth, however I would say that about 80% of his thumb sucking has stopped in the span of two weeks.

One of the harder places it has been to get him to stop is in his car seat. We are currently doing the Band-Aid around thumb thing and rewarding him with M&M Minis if he has a dry thumb at the end of a car ride. Yes, we are bribing our son. We rewarded Ollie for potty training but now he only rarely asks us for candy after going, so we’re not too worried.

We initially hesitated with working with Ollie on thumb sucking because he only recently got a handle on the potty training thing. But I’m glad we made the push, because it’s been good for Ollie. As parents we are constantly teaching our kids skills to become more independent. At times, it would be nice to take a break from this, but as children get older, they need us to continually help them learn to grow.

Today it's teaching Ollie about thumb sucking and putting his toys away, before I know it it'll be teaching Ollie how to drive a car and how to be a caring and compassionate partner.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Year 6: Week 31 – A Lesson On Prince

Today I taught my kids about Prince. Here’s the lesson that I gave two of my classes.

8th Grade: 

Yesterday Prince passed away and the world is mourning this loss. Like David Bowie, who we discussed when he passed away, Prince was a brave individual.

We’re working on “American Skin (41 Shots)” by Bruce Springsteen and learning about the death of Amadou Diallo. Sadly this type of injustice has continued in our country. One such incident last April was the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Yes, Freddie Gray had a record, but when he was arrested for carrying an illegal knife (which ended up not being illegal), the police had no cause to take him into custody.

Being in police custody is supposed to be safe. You are surrounded by police officers.  Gray suffered injuries to his spinal cord when he was in police custody and later died. This sparked angry protest in Baltimore. In response to this, Prince, played at a concert and through music brought the city back together, brought attention to this issue and honored the spirit of Freddie Gray with this beautiful song that was both critical and optimistic.

Think about Prince’s message; notice the wonderful music and intricate arrangement. This is the artist that we are saying goodbye to today.

3rd Grade & 5th Grade:

Remember this song that I taught you? “Starfish and Coffee”? Let’s sing it.

That’s a Prince song. I start the year with that song, because it’s fun, joyous and reminds me of what I love about Prince and what I love about music.

Prince expanded the way that people saw the world. When we think of guitarist, most of us think of Caucasian musicians, even though some of the most important guitar players like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters were African American. Prince expanded what we think of when we think of guitarist. At the same time, Prince redefined what it meant to be an African American musician playing different styles of music and dressing in fantastic and wonderful ways.

Some people thought he was weird, but that Prince have the courage to be himself. I feel very lucky that we are at a school where being different in honored and encouraged. It’s not that way in many different schools. Being yourself can feel very lonely. But when you see an artist like Prince being an individual, it makes you feel less alone. That’s why he means so much to so many people.

His music is unique, fun, and glorious.

This is a performance of “Purple Rain” from a Superbowl halftime show. We talk about color swith emotions, like if you are “blue” you are sad.  Prince uses the color purple to express emotions, but it's not just one feeling.  Purple is sad, but also, hopeful and happy. This is how I feel about Prince. I’m sad, but we get to listen to his great music and that’s something special that I feel fortunate to share with all of you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016

Parenthood: Week 148 - Potty, Bagels And Toddler Co-sleeping.

Ollie’s been doing really with potty training. This whole process actually ended up being a lot more fun than I thought that it would be. There was some frustration and some apprehension, but it really has worked out. It’s great to see the confidence in Ollie and see him grow in his independence. There’s still a lot of work to do but it’s been going well.

Ollie recently learned how to pee standing up, which makes going to the bathroom when we are out of the house a lot easier, however like most toddlers, Ollie has difficulty differentiating going #1 or #2. Combine this confusion with peeing standing up and you’ve got a mess on your hands . . . or more realistically on the floor.


A couple days ago, I was packing my lunch in the kitchen and Ollie was looking at a book in the living room, out of my line of sight. I started hearing Ollie running and saying “here Buffy!” I heard the really the sound of Buffy's paws followed by the stomping of toddler feet.

 “Buffy, I have your toy, come play!!!”

Suddenly, I saw a blur of fur and felt Buffy hiding between my legs and saw Ollie walk in the kitchen smiling. “I want to play with Buffy,” Ollie requested. I replied, “Buffy loves you, but I don’t think she feels like playing right now.”

Ollie paused, look sad for a second and then looked up smiling and asked, “Can I have a bagel?”


“Okay, well if you aren’t going to bed in your crib, I am!”

I climbed into his crib in an effort to motivate Ollie to want to go into the crib himself. In the past, Ollie wants me to get out of his crib, but this time, he looked over at me and started singing: “Puff the magic dragon . . . ”

Ollie tried to give me a lullaby and as Diana put Ollie in the crib with me, we settled down for the night. After some conversations and tossing of blanket, Ollie requested, “daddy, move over!” I was already on against the side of the crib feeling the slats pressing into my back as Ollie’s hand pushed against my face.

“Ollie, stop pushing daddy, there’s no more space. Daddy is going to leave.”

“No, Daddy stay and Ollie sleep on top of daddy.”

After a couple more minutes of giggling and silliness, I left Ollie in his crib with the feeling of his little hand impression on my face and warmth in my heart.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Year 6: Week 30 – Love Train

Sometimes you don’t realize a dream until it comes true.

Last year, we did a project in which we combined my third grade classes with one of the middle school choirs. It was a great experience for my students to sing with older choir. There were some great conversations about things they learned from working with each other. My third graders’ singing was initially more energetic and the middle school students sang with more accuracy and clarity. It was a fun project and we wanted to repeat it this year.

It’s tricky finding a song that works for both third grade and sixth grade musically and thematically, while supporting each grade’s curriculum. The choir teacher took the lead on finding a song and a couple weeks ago, he found this arrangement of “Put a Little Love In Your Heart,” mashed up with “Love Train.”

“Love Train” is one of my favorite songs of all time. I was introduced to this O’Jays classic by my brother. He took our dads enjoyment of Motown music (which I write about in this early blog post) and extended it into a fascination with 1970s rhythm and blues and soul music.

My brother was so into the O’Jays at a certain point that I couldn’t help but be into “Love Train.” The song is genuinely joyful, optimistic and the members of the O’Jays have incredible voices. There’s soul, there’s a little church in there and there’s joy coming out of word they sing.

I was getting excited, so to introduce this song with this clip of the O’Jays on Soul Train.

I prefaced this with telling them about why Soul Train was important. Nowadays with you can see your favorite artist perform anytime. Things were different in the 1970s. There were shows like American Bandstand that showed musicians but they were mostly Caucasian. Soul Train featured African-American musicians. I told them how this made African-Americans feel proud seeing their culture and music on televisions and how it enriched the lives of people who were Caucasian by exposing them to beautiful music, fashions and dancing.

After that introduction, I played the video. One of my students, an African-American girl, immediately lit up. She started bouncing in excitement in her seat and then popped out of her chair and started dancing. She exclaimed that she loved this song and how her dad liked this song. She simply could not contain herself. Her excitement spread through the class and by the time the video was done most of them were dancing and eager to start learning the song.

I’ve never seen as clear an example of the power of addressing diversity in a classroom.  Sharing this incredible song with these students felt like a dream come true.  Seeing that girl’s excitement confirmed to me how important is it to continue the mission of Soul Train and help students see themselves, each other and the plurality of our own culture reflected in the classroom.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Monday, April 11, 2016

Parenthood: Week 147 – The Woman In The Coat

I totally judged her.

I mean seriously. I’m at this place space with my son, actually “playing” with him and her two kids are running around the area, wreaking havoc. Now, to be fair, her boys aren’t that poorly behaved, but they are throwing toys down slides and trying a little bit too hard to play with me. Yes, I’m a teacher, I love children, but I’m here to play with my son, not someone else’s children.

Its early on a Friday morning so there aren’t that many kids in the play space, maybe half a dozen, just the way I like it. Different play spaces handle parents zoning out differently. Some places have areas set-up so parents can be in a “parent zone” away from their children. Diana went to one recently that had a bar, that parents could lean against so they could watch their kids and be on their phones at the same time. This play space had a couch set-up in the corner next to the infant section and that’s where she was sitting.

The woman in the coat had a dark brown winter coat. It was one of those long winter woman’s coats that’s literally a walking sleeping bag. (Diana has one and it’s awesome. If they made them for men, I would totally have one). The hood of this coat and wooly fur trim. She sat in the corner of the couch with her coat zipped up, her knees pulled up against her chest and her hood on. The hood had a wooly lining so you couldn’t see her face at all.

At times you could see her hands holding her phone and at other times she sat arms crossed, not moving.

One time she stood up when her boys were causing a ruckus and she threatened to make them leave, but besides that interaction, she ignored her boys.

Like most parents, I judge other parents. Why? Because parenting is such a ridiculously hard gig that rarely has clear right and wrong answers. You can literally find a book to disagree with almost every choice you make about raising your child from what you feed you kid to how you talk to them. This chaos makes parents insecure and this insecurity make parents judge other parents. It’s human nature, and it’s not worth fighting. We judge, we remind ourselves to be polite even if we know they are doing an awful job.

As I stood there feeling superior about to take a picture of her and mock her on facebook, I hesitated for a second and saw her boys playing on the other side of the room from her, looking over to her but keeping their distance.

Maybe she was an awful and lazy mom, but maybe she suffered from depression. Maybe she was at this play space on a Sunday morning to get away from an abusive partner or maybe she was here because the apartment was wrecked and it wasn’t a great place for her boys to play in. Maybe she didn’t have an apartment and they spent the night in her car. Maybe she was really doing the best she could in her situation and I couldn’t do any better if I was in her shoes.

I slipped my cell phone back in my pocket, looked over to Ollie and reengaged my son.

Parenthood is tough, and passing judgment on other parents is a helpful coping mechanism, but sometimes we need to take a step back. You never know what people are going through, so sometimes, it’s best to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I feel like I deserve this consideration, and extending this to the woman in the coat was the least that I could do.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Sixth 100 Miles and the Seventh . . .

“Runnin' runnin', and runnin' runnin'”

Last time I wrote about running, it was when I hit 500 miles.

It took about 10 months to run that hundred miles, which was a big improvement. And in the 13 months since I hit 500 miles, I’ve run 260 miles. In the last year and change, I’ve run two 5K’s. In-between those 5K’s I did eight weeks of physical therapy.

The first time I did a 5K in 2013, I ran it in 29:29. I was just happy to finish. That was a great time for me.  When I did my second 5K, last spring, I got my time down to 26:40, which blew me away. It was a tough race to run, colder than I was used it with wind coming off of the lake, but I got it done. This last 5K that I ran a couple weeks ago, I really wanted to improve my time. My last practice run before the race was 26:36. It wasn’t a lot quicker than my that 5K time I was trying to beat, but I figured with adrenaline, I’d run a faster time on the race day.

I ran 26:55.

I was really disappointed. The thing that people tell you running is that when you start running, your running times just get faster and faster. This is true. It’s pretty incredible going from having your fastest comfortable mile time go from 15 minutes to 10 minutes in a matter weeks. Every time I’ve taken a break from running for physical therapy or other issues, getting myself back into running shape has been an enjoyable process because improvement is noticeable. But towards the end of my training for this past 5K, I felt like I plateaued, which was frustrating.

This last 5K I was watching my time more closely than the other two 5K’s I did, and this made this experience more frustrating than fun. I simply wasn’t hitting the times I wanted to mile after mile. It took a couple hours after the race and talking to my parents to not feel so down on myself.

I took a break from running in the fall and did some physical therapy to work on my feet and ankles, which needed work to fully recovered from that 5K last Spring. I didn’t run consistently from August until February. I only ran forty miles over that five-month span compared to the forty miles I ran this past March. Getting my body back in shape after working through physical therapy and getting back to a good time, even if it wasn’t as good as I wanted, took a lot of work.

My dad talked to me about the reality of being in my mid-30s where things don’t come as easy with physical development and how we need to look beyond our running times to find success.

My parents and Diana are all really proud of me and sometimes you need to let other people’s pride overcome your own disappointments in life. No, my time wasn’t as good as I wanted, but I am proud of my training.

I’m not sure what’s next. Maybe I’ll do a 10K. It’s not beyond my ability and doing something new might help me focus more on completion, than the time. We’ll see. I’m not done with running, not sure where I’m going, but regardless of my time, I know I’m making progress.

On to mile 800.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Monday, April 4, 2016

Parenthood: Week 146 – Chatterbox

Witnessing a human being learn how to talk is an amazing experience. From the first phonemes to his first sentence, Ollie’s development as a speaker has been really fun and exciting.

Ollie is only a couple months short of his third birthday, so we are solidly in the “kid’s say the darndest things” zone (ugh, I hate how that phrase brings up the memory of Bill Cosby).

There are so many cute things he does with his voice. Like his dad, Ollie sometimes makes up words (or sounds) to songs that he is singing. Ollie had a phase where he would narrate everything he would do as he was doing it. It’s really cute how most of the time when I tell him to say something to his mommy, he will repeat it word for word, or try to.

Letting Ollie make mistakes and not correcting him all of the time is one of those things that teaching has really helped me deal with. I believe that first graders should be allowed to display work they are doing that has misspellings and I think that middle school band students should learn how to play mistakes with grace and not play in the fear that they will be yelled at if they miss a note.

Yes, there is a right and wrong way to do things and now that Ollie is speaking so much more, errors in the expression of his thoughts are much more clear than before. He will often skip numbers when counting, especially when he gets to teens, when he counts objects sometimes he counts an object twice and when he talks he makes all kinds of grammatical mistakes.

If his brain fully understood all of the concepts that he was speaking with and about than it would be time to be correcting him, but for right now the most important thing is that he is being curious and exploring language. Yes, I do help him when he is struggling and sometimes I do correct him, especially when his mistake is dramatically changing the meaning of what he is saying, otherwise I let it go.

I’m loving toddler-hood and the speaking is one of the main reasons. There’s so much fun in talking, making silly voices, and playing around with language. It’s a great feeling helping him learn new words and when we make a connection through conversations, I can see the excitement in his eyes.

I’ll never understand the “children should be seen, not heard” thing. I never get tired of hearing Ollie talk. Now I do get tired of his whining and the unintelligible sounds that goes along with tantrums, but all the other speaking he does, it’s just all kinds of “awwww.”

Friday, April 1, 2016

Year 6: Week 29 – Politics & Pop Rocks

Let’s see what happened this week.

There was that 3rd grade class that ended with me addressing students imitating one of Donald Trumps racist remark from a video cartoon mocking trump. That was incredibly aggravating and annoying. It’s rare that I’m not sure how to address students in a situation but that was one of them. I hesitated, and when another student asked why other teachers didn’t want them talking about politics, I stumbled even more. We’ve entered the uncharted territory where a presidential candidate's speech, like an episode of South Park is not inappropriate for grade school students to watch.

Trump’s lies and his racist, sexist, misogynistic and xenophobic remarks continues spread throughout our culture. And seriously, to quote Helen Lovejoy “won’t somebody please think of the children?” Now I don’t find Trump funny ay all, but you do, in a South Park or a "professional wrestling smack talk" kind of way, do you really want the children of America repeating things the horrible things that he says? Really?

If the teachers of American aren’t against Trump yet, they will be as his words continue to seep into our culture and into our classrooms.

Enough of that.

The elementary school science room was set-up this week to share science fair projects. I was standing at the back of the room while a student was setting up his science fair experiment at the front of the room.

Another teacher was standing next to me. She had just changed the water in our trout tank (one of the science projects they are doing is raising trout). The science teacher in the class directed the students’ attention to me and the other teacher standing next to me and starting explaining why she changes the water and how fish breathe.  While the students were looking at us, the student preparing his science fair presentation is having some difficulties.

He was trying to set-up a demonstration using Pop Rocks, a balloon and some Pepsi to demonstrate a chemical reaction. First he had issues with getting the Pop Rocks in the balloon, and then he sills Pepsi all over the table.  He looked left and then right, and after concluding that no one were watching him, he proceeded to dump a package of Pop Rocks in his mouth.

This entire time, me and the other teacher with the entire class of students looking at us are dying trying to keep from laughing watching the student create a mess of candy and soda pop oblivious to the fact that we are watching him.  At one point I simply turned around and faced the back of the room unable to keep from cracking up.

Then the science teacher turns around and saw the mess, Pepsi on the table, Pop Rocks sticking to the lips and cheeks of the student and sternly reminded the student should not be eating the candy as another student came up and tried to help cleanup the mess.