Monday, June 26, 2017

Parenthood: Week 210 – Thomas The Magic School Bus

Ollie carries it with him around the house and he lovingly cuddles with it when he goes to sleep.  He brings it into the car and we have to convince him not to bring it everywhere. It’s not a blanket or stuffed animal, it’s a Thomas The Train, pullback racer. It’s a plastic version of Thomas The Train, which is bigger than the toy that can fit on the tracks and it has wheels that wind back when you pull him backwards and upon releasing he moves forward.

I picked up this toy on a whim when Ollie was just about a year old and while it’s been around the house he has never shown great interest in this toy.  Something happened a couple weeks ago. I’m not sure what, but every since then, it’s been all about this toy train.

We have a couple theories about what may have led to his love of this toy. I think it may have had to do with his decision to stop sucking his thumb, but Diana’s theory is probably closer to the truth.

The story of how Ollie came to love and snuggle with a Thomas The Train toy after never seeing the television show is revealing about Ollie and our parenting style.

Diana and I were getting pretty tired of Moana. Ollie had been watching this film whenever we gave him his half hour of television time a day and was listening to the soundtrack all of the time. To get him onto something else, Diana watched the Pixar film Up with Ollie. The part of the up that stuck with Ollie the most was not the talking dogs, but the clouds. At a certain point in the film they describe the clouds as being "cumulous nimbus" and this stuck with Ollie.

What followed can only be described as a “study in clouds.” Ollie would sit down and draw clouds, over and over. We were getting backpacks full of pictures of clouds he drew at school. One day, I literally pulled out a dozen sheets of paper on which Ollie had drawn clouds.

To nurture Ollie’s interest in clouds, I showed him every youtube.com clip I could find that talked about clouds and the different types. Then I remembered a Magic School Bus book that talked about the water cycle that I had when I was a kid. I also remember the television show, which I never watched, but I new existed. Not having the book, and wanting to nurture his interest, I bought the water cycle episode of The Magic School Bus and showed it to him. Ollie loved the episode and when I explained that the show was based on a book series, Ollie got really excited.

The next day I took Ollie to the library and we checked out almost every single Magic School Bus book we could find. For the following week, Ollie was obsessed with the Magic School Bus books and the television show.

At some point, Ollie decided that this Thomas The Train toy was a good substitute for the Magic School Bus, so he stared to carry it around pretending it was the Magic School Bus. This pretending game would sometimes last for a solid ten minutes of Ollie running around the house, holding this toy and pretending that it was the Magic School Bus exploring space or the water cycle.

Now, Ollie carries that Magic School Bus toy around everywhere.  Now you know why.  We could get Ollie an actual school bus toy or explain to him the story of Thomas The Train, but right now he seems content playing with this toy as if it was the Magic School Bus.

It's somewhat baffling, wonderfully charming and awesomely four-year old.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: The Letter

Next school year I am taking on a new role as one of my school's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator Co-Chairs.  The following is a version of the letter of interest I wrote to apply for this position.    

To Whom This May Concern

I am writing this letter to express my interest in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Coordinator Co-Chair position.

We are in a critical moment for our school. Our competition, much of which has lower tuition, or no tuition at all, is getting better. When we consider how we define our school’s place in the educational community, we need to think beyond test scores and technology initiatives. What sets up apart and what will keep us in front of the curve is our mission of creating citizenship through our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

When I first came to this school, the DEI work was an add on for me, like a ornament on the Christmas tree. Over the past seven years, mentoring and professional development opportunities have changed my educational paradigm. DEI work is now the tree — the basis for my curricular, instructional, and assessment choices. I am motivated by my success, my relationships in this community, and the school’s mission to contribute to the growth of other faculty members through the DEI Coordinator Co-Chair position.

My DEI work is found in my classroom, like with the 5th grade unit on the underrepresentation of women in music. It’s in my work as a department chair mentoring a teacher who when first arriving at Parker did not consider the race of the composer in choosing music, and who now actively considers racial representation in his curriculum. And it’s in projects like the Presidents’ Day Morning Ex, based on Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama, which included teachers and students from all of the divisions to celebrate DEI.

I have worked to create meaningful relationships with teachers throughout the school. I have the wonderful opportunity to work with five different grades over three divisions and regularly collaborate on projects with over a dozen teachers.

I have made opportunities out of unanswerable questions and I know how to make an individual’s vision into reality. I am excited to continue to learn about the fears that cause us to hesitate, the optimism that motivates us, and the passion that lies in every teacher at this school to make our school a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.

I am excited about the opportunity of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator Co-Chair position. It is an opportunity to serve our school that I have examined with careful consideration of my other responsibilities at this school and the important and sensitive nature of DEI work.

Sincerely,

Kingsley

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

Parenthood: Week 209 - Father’s Day '17

I woke up not to the plastic edge of a Thomas the Tank Engine toy being pressed into the side of my face, or the feeling of a four-year-old pushing me off of my pillow. Instead I woke up to the peaceful sound of Diana breathing next to me. For the past week, Ollie has gotten up early. REALLY early. Now early for us is pre-5 AM. So, it’s not unreasonable for us to want to sleep in until, oh, I don’t know, 6:30!! At least Buffy, our dog isn’t an early risers. . .

I listened carefully for signs of an awake Ollie, but all I heard was the light clacking of Buffy’s nails on the hardwood as she stretched, walked in a small circle, and settled back down in her bed.

Excited at the prospect of beating Ollie up in the morning, I got myself dressed, had a great walk with my puppy and proceeded to go for a nice long run. I hit a personal best on distance (6.2 miles!), and felt pretty good after the workout.

When I woke up Ollie after cooling down it was 7:40.

Not a bad way to start father’s day.

Later in the morning, we met up with my brother, my sister-in-law and his two daughters, one of which I had never met before. We met up to go strawberry picking, which in Ollie’s mind is strawberry eating. We arrived there first and when my brother’s family came, I was overjoyed to say hello to my first niece and excited to meet my second one for the first time.

I remember the moment when I met my first niece. I didn’t really feel like I knew how to hold her. I was nervous but excited. She was simply amazing. I was overwhelmed with joy and pride, proud of my brother and my sister-in-law.

I reached my mom and she carefully handed me this wonderful little one. The feeling of holding such a little baby and how to support her head and the body quickly came back to me after hours of practice when Ollie was a baby. As soon as I got her situated in my arms, she immediately started crying. This didn’t prevent me from crying tears of joy meeting this special one for the very first time. I knew in that moment as a dad what she would mean to my brother and my sister-in-law, and how she would change all of the lives she touched. Fatherhood has made unclehood mean so much more.

In the afternoon, my brother came over with his daughters and Ollie played with the older daughter while we took turns holding the younger one. Ollie fed the baby a bottle a little bit and Buffy got some quality time sniffing the baby and cuddling with the baby.

At one point in the evening my dad took the baby, his new granddaughter to another part of the house. We could hear the baby crying from the other side of the house, but he worked with her and didn’t ask for help. Eventually the baby stopped crying and I walked over and saw him calmly singing to her as she lay sleeping. No one would have faulted him for tagging in my brother or my mom, but my dad kept with her and helped her get relaxed. In that moment I realized where I got my determination as a father. I’m proud of myself for being the kind of man that cares for babies with such patience and love. And I’m proud of my dad for being that kind of man and teaching me to be that kind of dad.

My brother left our house with his daughters and left a bag of stuff for his older daughter behind. He texted to me that he would come by later after the girls had gone to bed to pick it up. I mentioned this to my mom and without hesitation, she told me that she was going to drive over and drop the bag off at their house. She texted my brother and immediately left.

Earlier that day I was talking to my mom about how stressful it was when I would come home from work. There was so much to do to take care of Ollie, the house and Buffy. It seems like a mad rush to get things done, sometimes almost all the way up until Ollie’s bedtime and beyond. However, on these days, I go to bed feeling satisfied and proud that I took care of my family. She agreed that when you push to take care of the people in your life, you find meaning.

My mom quickly figured out that it would be less for her to drive over than for my brother. He had work in the morning, two kids at home and lots to do. So my mom did this thing for my brother reminded me that parenthood doesn’t end when your children reach adulthood. You might think that this thought would seem burdensome and intimidating, but in the context of seeing how my parents care for me and my brother and the love they share with their grandkids, being a parent of an adult sounds like a great chapter in the adventure of fatherhood.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The 1000th Mile

[click here for previous posts on running]

Two 5K’s in two weekends.

One I thought I was doing for myself, and while my time wasn’t bad, it wasn’t a personal best. The second one the next weekend, I did for my aunt-in-law, and during that one I hit the personal best time.

During that 5K, I ran my 1000th mile.

It took 4 years, 9 months, 23 days. to hit this running milestone. In that time, I changed jobs, moved into a house, my son was born. There was one foot injury, ankle issues to work through, three foot doctors, two rounds of physical therapy with great therapists. It’s taken three pairs of shoes, one trusty treadmill, and a trusty iPad (that has thankfully not fallen off the treadmill). While many miles were on that treadmill, hundreds were ran all over Evanston and the campus of Northwestern University, a dozen miles in Bellevue, many more recently in Skokie and five 5K’s in Chicago.

I had an almost four month break from running as I dealt with a long lasting cold that led into pneumonia. After recovering, I looked the 5K’s dates and saw that I had two months. I decided to not sign up and see how training went first. I was happy with how I progressed. This wasn’t the first time I had started running after taking a break. Unlike previous times, I think I set my expectations well and was patient with myself as I got going. The first 5K was the one I had done in years past. It was the Bunny Rock 5K. It’s a nice event because it is family orientated, and pretty chill, but it is a chipped race, so you can get an official time. The second 5K was different.

One of my wife’s paternal aunts had been suffering from brain cancer and recently passed away. To show support for her, one of this aunt’s daughters organized a team to participate in the Chicago BT5K. My two brother-in-laws, who also run (they’ve both done a marathon) and most of her dad’s side of the family came to participate.

The Bunny Rock 5K went ok. The weather was hotter then I had ever raced in, I rushed into the starting area and ended up too far back when the race started. It was a race that didn’t feel great when it happened, and starting in the back of pack and spending so much energy and focus on passing people led to my third best 5K time.

I spent the next week debating what I was going to do at the BT5K race. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to really race. I didn’t want to go full out and not beat my best time, but I really wanted to hit a personal best. It really felt like a cliché that I was living. Take a chance and go for it, and you could be happy, but you also could fail. While I know I could find meaning in not getting a great time, I had my doubts that I could be satisfied in failure. I felt really bad about not doing great during the Bunny Rock 5K and as much as I change that into a positive in my head, I couldn’t.

I don’t know what made me decide to go for it, but when I got there, and saw all of Diana’s family there and Diana’s wonderful aunt I knew it was the right decision. I got lined up early, started near the front and I went for it. I pushed myself, I attempted to keep up with my brother-in-laws (which I accomplished for about 5 seconds), and I beat my best time by 8 seconds.

When I hit the finish line, my brother-in-laws were there waiting. We decided to walk backwards through the course to find the rest of the family, many of whom were walking the course. What followed was a wonderful hour and talking, catching up and being together as a family. The idea of running a race to raise money for something really didn’t make sense to me before the BT5K. Why not just donate money directly and not spend all the time and energy organizing an event?

What I know now is that when someone you love is dying cancer, there’s very little you can actually do. The feeling of powerlessness is really hard to accept. Yes, you could just write a check, but organizing, racing, walking, doing something that brings people together can help raise funds to cure cancer. More importantly, as you run with people you love, for someone that you love, you feel connected to others.  You are reminded that simply being there for the person that you love is the most powerful thing you can do.

I got more miles in these legs.  I'm working up to a 10K and I am aiming to get my best times in my life in the future.  The more I run, the more I take with me.  What's amazing is that these things aren't weights, but rather they are wings that propel me.  They are miles the I've ran, the pride of my parents and my wife, the hope I have for the future, and now the memory of my Aunt.    

Monday, June 12, 2017

Parenthood: Week 208 – Number 2

When you have one kid, people really like to ask you about having another kid. . . .people like asking you about having a first kid when you are married. People just asking you about incredible personal life choices related to children. In general, I try to be polite and leave it open with something like, “maybe some time in the future,” however other times I’m a little bit more sarcastic, “so when are YOU having another kid?”

I would highly recommend that you don’t ask people about their plans related to having children, ever, unless it’s someone you are really close with that you know is thinking about it. Having children is a complicated issue that brings up very deep and someone difficult feelings about one’s one childhood and identity. While many people are blessed with having children without a lot of difficulty for many others, the journey to having children can be long and arduous. It’s best to play it safe than to ask a question about having kids that could trigger some very difficult emotions.

The decision to have a child is not simply a decision. It’s not like ordering a burger. It’s a journey, it’s a goal and in more ways than you can imagine, it’s something that you do not have complete power in making happen.

I also get that the many, many times I was asked about having another kids came from a good place (Diana was probably asked even more times about this than I was). More people than not love their siblings and more parents than not are glad that they have more than one child. One of the things I started doing was sibling answering their questions about me having a second kid with why they have more than one child. People talked about enjoying the baby process again with less stress. Seeing the interactions of the siblings with each other. More than anything else, people talked about a feeling of completeness.

Every single person who encouraged me to have another kid had siblings themselves. Part of our concept of what makes a complete family comes from what we grew up with. I can’t imagine being in a family with more than two kids, but Diana my wife can imagine three kids. This is probably due to the fact that she has two brothers.

There’s a degree of having multiple kids that comes from societal pressure. I hate the assertion that kids who are only children are somehow weird or messed up. In my anecdotal experience as a teacher for ten years having taught close to one thousand students, I have found that only children are not any weirder or less well-adjusted than children who have siblings.

We have friends who have one kid and are super happy with one and don’t have any others and they have been some of the coolest people to talk about having kids. They are totally happy in the choices they made, the size of their family and they are good. For some reason their security and happiness made me more resolute in our decision to have a second child.

In talking to them, there was no pressure, no expectation, just a very genuine, “we are happy with our choices, I understand your doubts about having another kid but we will be cheering you on if you go for it.” Like every other part of parenting, insecurity is around every corner, and there are no guarantees. A lack of judgment and a genuine expression of support can go a long way in overcoming these insecurities.

Lots of planning to do, lots to think about, but right now, when I think of the little one, more than the work that needs to be done, I feel proud of my wife and excited to meet this special little one.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Year 7: Week 37 – A Year Shaped By One Day

This is the year where I stopped waiting, and I stopped hesitating.

Units that I had been waiting for years to do, I pushed my doubts aside and just did. There was a dance to “Hoe-Down” by Aaron Copeland, which I taught and got up on stage and led my 3rd graders through on stage. Also there was the dulcimer project in which, those same 3rd graders made dulcimers from a kit in art and shop class. I’ve never taken a dulcimer lesson in my life and it took three tries before I figured out how to teach these kids how to hold a pick, but I figured it out and we had a great time.

Those 3rd grade ideas were things that I need a slight push to do, but I felt I could handle. There was a lot of learning that I had to do to get both of these things going, but I had been planning to do both of these things from the summer before.

Then there were these other projects. These were nuggets of ideas. These were ideas that I felt more comfortable waiting to take on because they needed development, and I knew there was only so much new stuff I could handle in a year.

One single event changed all of my thinking that pushed these ideas into reality, which transformed my school year it to one that should have been relatively simple to manage into one of the my most challenges years of teaching. It was a time when feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of outcomes became a norm.

After Tuesday, November 9th, the day after that guy was elected President, I committed to getting to work.

That night began months of planning, coordinating and music arranging. I pulled members from our entire school community to put together a Presidents’ Day assembly reading of Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama. I created a unit examining the underrepresentation of women in music leading up to a visit from some amazing women musicians for my 5th graders. There was the performance of My Shot thatI coordinated and conducted that featured more than two hundred middle school and high school students. I also collaborated with the choir teacher and the 6th grade history teacher to create a brand new 6th grade presentation that integrated our curriculums.

All of these projects, all of this work was a direct response to the election. These projects were about embracing diversity, creating equity and being inclusive. It was about citizenship, community, identity, and making our country more just, honest and fair.

The election was a harsh reminder that we have so much work to do as educators. It was a reminder that we can’t be complacent and that we can’t wait. We need to educate our students to be citizens right now. While this extra work was hard and less sleep was had, I never questioned the worth of what I was doing. In thinking about my students and what they needed, I also thought about my own son, Ollie.

I refuse to leave this world in a worse place than it is right now for my son. It has become clear to me that I can actually do something as a teacher to make sure that I don’t let my son down.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Parenthood: Week 207 – Krushing It

Dear Ollie,

Right now you are in your bedroom sleeping peacefully. You had your 4th birthday party this morning at the Skokie Exploratorium. At first you were a little overwhelmed but you ended up having a great time. In the afternoon you played with your friend Betty, while your me and your mom were at a funeral for Aunt Krysia.

I’m writing this letter to you because there are things you need to know about your family that you can’t understand right now, and there are thoughts in my head that I fear will be lost in time that are important for you to know. These thoughts and feelings will be here waiting for you when you are ready and need to understand what Aunt Krysia means to your life.

There have been so many times I’ve felt like an outsider in my life. While I hope that these times are you are few, I know that you will face these times and they will be difficult. However, these feelings are sometimes and with kindness can be overcome and lead to something amazing.

When I first met your grandfather’s extended family it was very intimidating. There were more names than I could remember, and while everyone was very nice, the room was very loud. After all of the initial introductions, it was hard to know who to talk to, what conversations I could join. Before the apprehension to set in, Aunt Krysia came up to me, invited me to sit down with her and we talked.

Aunt Krysia asked about my family, my work, and my heritage. She responded to me like a person fascinated by a wonderful book, wanting to know more and being excited about everything she learned. Here she was spending her time at this family event talking to someone who was at that time, just a boyfriend of one of her nieces.

She never had to say that accepted me for who I was and approved of me being part of the family, she showed me that every time she saw me.

While that moment was amazing what followed the next fourteen years of our relationship was incredible. Aunt Krysia always made a point to talk to me during family events, never forgetting details from our previous conversations, asking about my parents, my life and joyfully sharing her wisdom and life experiences with me. At my wedding, she was the one, language barriers be damned, who talked to my Taiwanese grandparents and my other relatives.

Aunt Krysia understood that family is not a closed group of people connected by blood. She saw family as something that grew through love, that only had meaning through actively making others feel included and valued.  For Aunt Krysia what was different about me, my heritage, and my religion was what would make her family and her life better. It felt like she loved me despite our differences and because of them all at the same time.

Aunt Krysia was one of the first people that you met when you came into this world. She was so happy to hold you. As one of the biggest supporters of me and your mother’s relationship, her joy in holding you was proof that by being kinder than she needed to be, and sharing love with us was what made us a family. It seemed so fitting that the same person who welcomed me into her family, would welcome be one of the first people to welcome you into the world.

I am proud to call Aunt Krysia my aunt.

Never hesitate to ask about your Aunt Krysia.  The stories that you hear will only make you feel more proud of your family and your own heritage.  In these stories and in your heart she will always be with you as she is with all of us who were blessed to share our lives with her.

In that feeling of love and belonging that only comes from being with family you will feel Aunt Krysia.

Goodnight Ollie,

Love,
Dad

6/4/17

Friday, June 2, 2017

Year 7: Week 36 – To Be Human

Students do not see teachers as human beings. Often they don’t see anyone who is significantly older than them as having the same range of emotions and challenges that they do. This is why when students see their teachers in the outside world (outside of school), they usually freak out a little, “WHAT? What are you doing in the…GROCERY STORE?!!” Yes, teachers eat food too and need to go to the grocery store too, and the reason why such a mundane task can be mind-blowing is that most students don’t see teachers as being anything but a teacher.

There are times I let them into part of who I am. Almost all of my students know about my dog, Buffy, and many of them have seen pictures and videos of my son as a baby. These glimpses into other facets of who I am, helps make me more relatable, more interesting and more human. For the most part this is a good thing, but it’s not always a slam-dunk.

Sometimes students have fixated on Buffy and keep bringing her up in class at inappropriate times. I’ve had other classes that simply could not transition from watching a funny Buffy video to doing work in class, so I’ve had to cut out sharing these things. I’m always a little sad when classes can’t handle these things, but it’s part of being a teacher your kids need you to be.

While distance between teachers and students is necessary, efforts to cross gap in appropriate ways is important to help the student see some depth in who their teachers are and build empathy for them as human beings.

The fact that students do not see us fully as human being is essential to remember when students do things or say things that feel hurtful. I’ve had my share of students say things about me to me and behind my back that weren’t nice.  Also, I am constantly seeing students do things like tear apart a bulletin board display that I worked hard to create. It’s hard to not take these offenses personally.

As teachers we spend our energy to empathize with our students and take care of them. When students, the other party in this relationship don’t show empathy to teachers or don’t seem to care about how their actions might make a teacher feel, it can really sting. However as teachers we must remember that none of these things, no matter how personal they might feel in the moment, is about you as a human being, it’s about you as a teacher. And if, (which they shouldn’t) students saw and knew you as a full human being, they probably wouldn’t do things as often that are received as being hurtful.

Knowing this doesn’t meant that we don’t call kids out and push them to speak with more care and empathy, and knowing this doesn’t mean things that kids do, don’t hurt, even after a decade of doing this gig.  Sometimes we show that pain to our kids, but more often than not we need to mute it and let them see it in a way that we can control.  This is hard a lot of time and takes a great deal of energy all of the time.  It's what we do for our students, but it is what makes it essential that we have the rest of our lives outside of teaching to be known and cared for as a human being.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017

Parenthood: Week 206 – Four Years Old

When you become an adult the passage of time is different than when you are a kid. Each year when you are a child, you are in a new grade each year, you constantly grow out of clothing. There clearly defined milestones like graduation that mark the time as life goes on.

When you become an adult, your job unlike school for most of us doesn’t have a clear marking of time. As a teacher, I have the structure of the school year but most people do not have. And like most people, my job doesn’t have an end point like high school graduation for a high school student. As an adult clothing wears out but slower than when you grow out of clothing as a child.  This marker of time moving forward becomes less significant.

Life as adult becomes a wash of days, months and years, and there are moments like weddings and funerals that mark life moving forward. However, time is felt differently because the personal growth is not as easy to notice and in the morass that is often adulthood, we focus less on time and more on life.

When you have a child, all of this change. It’s not your clothing, and these aren’t your milestones, they are your child’s, but you feel them as partially your own. It’s often said that the first birthday party is as much as a celebration is for the parents who have gotten through what is often one of years of one’s adult life, as it is for the child. Time moves more clearly from tummy time, to crawling, to walking and finally to running. Clothing that once was adorably oversized becomes comically undersized in what seems like, no time at all.

Everyone tells you to take the time to enjoy the moments with your baby, your toddler, and your pre-school age child because they say it will go “so quickly.” It’s hard to believe that when you are struggling to put your child to bed and can’t wait for the time when your child is potty trained and you don’t have to change diapers anymore. In the moment when the struggles are the worst, the age of your child, the developmental stage that she is in, seems like it will last forever. But it doesn’t. And as soon as you master whatever parenting struggles you feel at a certain developmental stage, your child grows out of it.

The thing is, they are right. It doesn’t feel like Ollie was born four years ago. It feels closer to a month ago. It’s not that I don’t remember all of the amazing moments of the past four years. I do, but it just went so fast. I made sure to stop myself, and take the time to do nothing but watch him breath as a baby, and play as a toddler. However it still feels like it got away from me. I love Ollie as a four year old, but I cherish the memories of how he was as a baby and if I could experiences of holding him as a baby, even in the worst of a crying fit, I would pay handsomely for that experience.

Ollie turned four last week. I don’t feel like I’m completely ready for this. I felt more comfortable with him being three even right when he turned three than I do with him being four. But I’ll get there.

Parenthood is accepting change, knowing that the best is finite but also yet to come. It’s knowing that experiences may never be able to be revisited but also having faith that while these memories may be forgotten, these moments will have impacts that will last forever.

Ollie, you are still my special little guy. I am so proud of you and I hope that I earn your pride with the choices I make. I love you more than ever. Never forget that you matter and that you are powerful. You can change the world for the better. I know that for a fact because you have changed my world and brought happiness and meaning to my life and for this, I will always be grateful. Happy Birthday.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Year 7: Week 35 – Holding All The Different Feelings

In the documentary, Hamilton’s America, Christopher Jackson talks about struggling with how we think about George Washington. He explains how we have to be able to admire him for his great work for the country, and at the same time, acknowledge the fact that he owned slaves.

This past week, there has been moments with my students with my students when I am holding different feeling and thoughts about my students at the same time. During a 3rd grade class, a student joked that I had an Afro hairstyle. I was annoyed at this interruption and that fact the students were inappropriately laughing at his comment and at me. However, as I began explaining the history of the Afro and the meaning of hairstyles in different cultures, I began to feel pride. The way the student listened and were receptive to my lesson, showed that they more than interested in why the Afro joke was not appropriate. At a certain moment there interest turned into a genuine interest and fascination with what hair means to culture and people’s identity.

My 6th graders have been making great progress. However, they are struggling to maintaining attention to the lesson after we are done playing. It was actually really effective when I told them that I had two conflicting thoughts in my head. I was proud of them musically and at the same time I was frustrated that we weren’t able to properly frame the music in silence.

Both of these examples are when you holding two thoughts in your head have a tension between something that is good and something that is bad. What happened with my 8th graders today was a different kind of collection of thoughts.

What my 8th graders shared with me today was amazing. They were speaking to me about a shared experience they had together as a full grade (almost 70 students crammed in a band room, that comfortably holds half that many students).

After I expressed my feelings about the topic, I gave the floor to them. What followed was everything I love about teaching middle school. The students’ comments were honest and real. Some had unintentionally comical comments while other share mature thoughts far beyond their years. Students made sure that I called on people who had been patiently waiting to be called on, while others helped each other stay quiet and pay attention.

One of the most powerful comments was when a student talked about how the experience led to other students making undesired comments. This girl was opening up in front of her whole class, which possibly could lead to the kinds of comments she was talking about.  However, there was something else more powerful at play here. I could see in her eyes a desire to make herself understood to me. I could see that she was taking a moment to be brave because it was more important that I knew how she felt than anything else in the world at that very moment.

The quiet in the room, the space that the students gave her was a powerful validation of her feelings and experience, more powerful than any words I could have spoken. It’s one thing to say that you validate a person’s feelings it’s a whole different thing to actually validate their feelings by creating the space and the feeling of safety so that a person can express themselves.

This discussion made me feel so proud. I felt inspired by these kids, and more than anything else, I felt admiration for them.  Feeling all of that at the same time for a group of kids is something I'll never forget.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Parenthood: Week 205 – Why?

Momma always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.
- Forrest Gump
I’ve looked forward to being the kind of parent like Forrest’s mother who always had a way of making the world make sense to his children. For the most part, I do a pretty good job. I know a fair amount or random trivial, but I don’t know everything and I’m not afraid to admit that to Ollie. There have been multiple times when we’ve looked up names of dinosaurs together or obscure Star Wars characters that show up in his picture books.

The other day, we were in bed reading a book and we had a short black out. Ollie asked me what happened, and I explained that the electricity went out. Ollie asked me what electricity was and I started to explain but realized that I had no idea what I was talking about. I thought of talking about AC/DC the rock band but I kept on point and told him that we would look it up later.

The next day, I spent ten minutes online trying to figure out how to explain electricity to Ollie. It still wasn’t clicking and then it hit me: The Magic School Bus. Ollie has been really into these books and television show lately and they had a book on electricity.

We went to the library and checked out our eleventh Magic School Bus book. I sat down and read it to him in the library, at home, and read it on my own once. Yup, I still don’t get it, but Ollie seemed satisfied by the explanation in the book. Mission accomplished.

I love that Ollie asks "why."  Yes, it can annoying on rare occasions but I worked to embrace this because it is a way that Ollie is trying to explore and understand the world around him. I want Ollie to cherish and be proud of his curiosity and get positive feeling from asking why as opposed feelings of shame.

I can’t be like Forrest’s mom. The world is too big. There’s too much that he will and does experience that I do not and often cannot understand.  It is exactly this reason that I feel so glad that he continues to ask questions.

I love learning and I have my interests that push me to explore parts of the world of my choice. Ollie brings me to places and pushes me to explore parts of the world that interest him that sometimes I have no desire to look into on my own.  I love being a parents means having a person in my life who doesn’t always share my interests but through his wonder inspires me to look beyond my own curiosity.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Year 7: Week 34 – Two Moments From Concert Week

This past week we had our big MS and HS concert. We had a lot of logistics to figure out, groups to rehearse throughout the week, and also an assembly to present on Wednesday as a preview for the concert on Thursday evening. Now that the week is past and most of the dust is settled here are the moments that stick out in my head from the past week.

Jessica’s Change
We were at the end of the period and the 8th grade band and choir were on stage. We had been working on a “Change Is Gonna Come,” as a band and choir joint performance. Musically the 8th graders were doing fine, but there behavior did not reflect the gravity and meaning of this song. I put my hands up and glanced over to the choir. I saw a girl standing at the top corner of a choir risers doing a silly dance. I put my hands down and yelled across the stage to her.
Jessica. Stop it! All of you, get it together. I had about a minute to speak with Representative John Lewis last week after he spoke to all of you. I told him that we were working on this song. He told that this was one of those songs that they would listen to after a hard day of marching or felt their lives were threatened during the Civil Rights movement. Listening to this song gave them hope and inspired them to continue this work the next day. You need to not be like every other 8th grader and look further beyond 6 inches in front of your face and reflect the meaning of this song in how your perform.
The grade immediately took on a more serious tone and did a great last run through of the song. The next day, I found Jessica in art class. She was sitting down helping a friend hot glue gun some decorations on a pillow they were making in class. I asked the other girl to give us space and I talked to Jessica. I explained to her that I knew she wasn’t the only person who was misbehaving and that one the reasons I called her out was because I didn’t know the name of the girl she was standing next to who was also goofing off. I told her how I remembered her as a 3rd grade student and how proud I was of her work in the musical and the young woman that she had become. She thanked me for my words and we left it there. Yes, Jessica is in choir and I don’t teach her, but i taught her when she was in 3rd and 5th grade and like all of my students, even though they are done with me as a teacher, I'm not done with them as their teacher.

The Prep
My favorite moment when conducting a group of students is right before we start. While the song is going, it’s very engaging and challenging, but it’s very intense. After a song is done, there’s the rush of feeling and adrenaline slowly ebbing. Right before I start the song is the most fun. Yes, I have a metronome click going in my head, but there’s something else going on. There is the kinetic musical energy, the anticipation and the feeling of something special, that something amazing is about to happen.

Right before starting the finale of the concert looking out over the band, I could see in their eyes and their posture and I could feel their energy, ready to break loose. We all had worked so hard and now it was the time to have fun. I glanced over at the choir director and she gave me a thumbs up. As I gave my prep beat, I heard an unearthly silence, I felt a weight in my arms and smiled in pure joy. Like the weightlessness before hitting the water coming off a diving board, there’s a feeling of freedom before the sound come over me as the band started.

I felt this way because I knew we were going to sound great. This finale was a result of the work of our students and teamwork of my music department.  The positivity of our process ensured that we would be successful. Pride in the preparation and the process is pride in the performance. There was more pride that I can describe all throughout that night, the past week and in the past months.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Parenthood: Week 204 - Kid’s Stuff

One of the reasons that Diana and I enjoy being parents so much is because we enjoy kid stuff. Diana is an avid reader and many of her favorite books are categorized as teen fiction. My desk is covered in actions figures and toys. I always take time to check out the toy aisle in Target. I used to be an avid comic book reader and I love many facets of geek culture. I’d be playing video games far more often if I had more free time. Also, Diana and I love watching great children films.

We both get to do kid stuff with our students every day and it’s a blast. Art and activities created for children have incredible potential for expression. Great art created for children requires the artist to use simple tools in effective and creative ways to create interest and drama. For example, a great children’s book can only utilize a limited vocabulary, so the words that are chosen need to be very carefully chosen and artfully arranged.

I remember the day that we got Ollie home from the hospital, I sat down to read to read him one of my favorite children's books. I realized quickly that he had little ability to see the book in front of him or have any idea what was going on at that young age, so after a couple pages of reading out loud to him and Ollie nodding off, I continued and finished reading the book for myself.

I’ve love watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood with Ollie, going to children’s museums with him and playing with Ollie’s toys with him. And I’ve loved watching Diana get so much joy out of watching Diana experience all of this great art that is created for children with Ollie. We’ve been to a couple children’s concerts and children’s theater in the past couple months and Diana is eager to help Ollie enjoy the production.  In their enjoyment they share these experiences.

We both get our fill of stuff created for children, and I do get tired of listening to a song that Ollie is obsessed with or reading a book that Ollie wants me to reread for the fifth time in a row. What has helped is that this has been a two-way street. Ollie has gotten into some things that are not children’s songs, like Elton John’s music and much of the original broadway cast recording of Hamilton.

There’s so much more that we are looking forward to sharing with Ollie that are as much for him as it is for us. There’s Anne of Green Gables (movies and the books),  Harry Potter seires(again, movies and books), beautiful Anime, comic books, Legos, great animated television shows like Batman: The Animated Series, and parts of museums that he is only beginning to understand.

Last night I read This Little House by Virginia Lee Burton to Ollie. It was beautiful reading experience on par with the feeling of satisfaction I get from reading works by my favorite author John Steinbeck. It’s about reliving my childhood, it’s about my lifelong interest but it’s also about something more.

The best of us often comes out when we do for children. The same can be said for when we create for children. It is in the great art that we capture the optimism, and hope that not only nurtures the soul of children but also sustains the spirits for adults. In this art, we find the world that is worth fighting for, and the simple understanding that have the can create the bridges that we so desperately need to better understand each other.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Year 7: Week 33 – All The Feels

Frustration
It wasn’t all my fault but it was all my responsibility. I organized a music assembly. It went long which caused inconveniences for other teachers. As the assembly was unfolding, I noticed that time was passing faster than I had predicted. I had made the call to make some last minute changes to accommodate a scheduling issue. This issue wasn’t directly my fault but I chose how to address this issue. I also underestimated the length of each groups’ performance.

I didn’t do the best I could with planning this assembly, but I did the best job I could with the time that I had to plan this event. I wrote an apology email to the teachers later that day. Not fun to write, but important to get out there. This helped me move on and hopefully it helped the other teachers move forward as well.

So Much More Than Pride
Today, our extracurricular choirs performed a before school concert. During one of the songs, a student had a solo. I looked around and noticed his mother, a teacher at my school crying watching her son sing. It was a beautiful moment to see a parent feel such a deep sense of pride, and joy watching her son sing.

She wasn’t the only parent in the audience with tears in their eyes and after seeing her cry I was one of those parents crying as well.

Excitement
Next week is our big spring concert. Our middle school and upper school bands and choirs are performing. Everything is coming together nicely as we meticulously plan and discuss details related to the concert. The four of us planning this concert don’t agree on everything about this concert, but we are open to talking about ideas and compromising. Every discussion is reinforced with reminders to each other on how we believe in each other’s intentions and are committed to doing what is best for our students. It’s not about being right, but rather doing what is right for our students.

My excitement for next week’s concert is based on our students’ great work, but also on the wonderful collaborative process in preparing for this concert. Yes, it’s important that the concert goes well; however the quality of the process that has gotten us to the concert will determine how we feel about the concert. I am confident that once all the dust has settled, we will be left with pride in our students and each other.

Inspiration
Rep. John Lewis visited our school earlier this week. The Civil Rights icon and American hero surpassed my expectations. I had the opportunity to speak to him briefly and shake his hand. I was awe from the moment he walked on the stage and I still haven’t full processed the fact that I met one of the most important Americans in the history of our country.

Whatever is beyond inspiration is what I felt in his presence.    

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Parenthood: Week 203 - Time-in, Shower Tea Parties and Storytime with Anger

I moved my chair close to Ollie and held the burrito in front of his face and watched him lunge deeply into the filling and take a bite. Ollie muttered “you take a bite,” with a mouth full of beans, rice and meat and I went ahead and took a bite myself. Sharing a burrito, taking turns with each bite was something me and Diana used to do in college. It was cute then, and it’s just as cute doing it with Ollie.

I’m all about nurturing independence in my son, but handing my son a burrito to try to eat by himself is simply a slower version of throwing the burrito on the floor. It’s cute to watch him dive into and immerse himself in the food. What makes this experience so heartwarming is that he makes sure that I get my turn in. As much as I feel like I’m sharing the burrito with him, he feels he is sharing this burrito with me. In this way we both get joy out of giving to each other.

After dinner, Ollie was in a great mood.He asked me to make him a cave out of the couch cushions. I propped up the cushions and gave him a flashlight. Ollie crawled in the cave and after a couple minutes knocked the walls down. He asked me to build it again, which I di and then he would knock them down, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose.

“Ollie, we are going to need to clean up and take a shower in a couple minutes,” I warned Ollie. After a some time, I gave a final warning and told Ollie that it was time to clean up. Within a couple seconds, Ollie’s good mood became a tantrum. Ollie’s breathing quickened, and tears seemed to spray out of his eyes. His face got twisted in frustration. Ollie wasn’t making any more than a soft whimpering sound until, I started talking and every time I began a sentence, he would scream.

The scream was piercing, loud, high and harsh. I sat down on the ground and concentrated on making my voice as quiet and as calm as possible. I asked Ollie why he was upset and what he was feeling, but each of my words got covered up by his staccato screams, which only seemed to get louder. I reached out to him, but he snapped his arm away from my grip. I encouraged him to tell me how he felt and explained that it was ok if he was sad that he had to clean up, but he just kept screaming.

I grabbed him and forced him to sit in my lap. I wrapped my arms around him and positioned his arms so that he was hugging himself. This is when the screams that were once interjections became a constant tone. I gave him enough space in my arms to move but not enough for him to get free. I focused on my breathing, moving my breath in and out deliberately, exaggerating my chest movement so Ollie could feel my breath. I coached Ollie softly to breathe deeply.

I felt my arms becoming wet with tears, but I also felt Ollie’s breathing slow down. Eventually his screaming was replaced with the sound of his focused inhalations and exhalations lined up with my own. “Ollie, are you calm?” I asked, “Yes, I am calm now,” he replied.

I opened up my arms, and Ollie stood up and looked at me. His face soaked with tears but now he was relaxed. “Can you help me clean up the cave?” I asked and without resistance, Ollie picked up a cushion and started helping me put the couch back together.

I’ve never done a timeout with Ollie, but I do these “time-ins.” Ollie doesn’t always know hot to calm himself down and how to deal with his emotions. There is merit in giving a child space to calm down and think about their behavior, but I’ve never felt the right time to go make Ollie sit in chair. Instead, I hold him close to me, counter his energy with calmness and teach him techniques to calm himself down.

Shower time was fun. Ollie brought his tea set into the shower. So there was a couple minutes where we both sat on the floor of the tub with shampoo in our hair as we pretending to drink the tea Ollie had just poured.

Diana was out of the house, so I was on my own. To distract Ollie from this fact, I told him that I would read him three books. He chose Ida Always, a beautiful book about the death of a polar bear at a zoo and how her friend deals with this loss. My Heart Is A Zoo, a cute book with animals made up of heart shapes and Dr. Seuss classic, The Lorax.

Instead of reading books on the rocking chair, we now read in bed. Ollie climbs in first, I ask him to scoot over, he often doesn’t scoot far enough over so I lay on top of him and he eventually moves giggling under my weight. We get “cozy,” which means we get under his comforter. He insisted that his anger stuffed toy from Inside Out read with us, so he reached to the foot of the bed where he placed his other stuffed toys and carefully positioned him between us.

As I started reading he pulled my right arm up. At first I wasn’t sure what he wanted, but then I realized he just wanted me to put my arm around him. As I read about the polar bears, I felt his cold feet tuck between my legs. Like me, Ollie doesn’t like to wear socks to bed and while feeling ice cold feet on my legs is uncomfortable, it’s cute feeling him trying to get warm against my body.

After the third book, I gave Ollie one more kiss and a hug and reminded him that I was proud of him, that he was my special little guy and that I loved him. I went downstairs to do some dishes.

About half an hour later, I went upstairs to get something out of our bedroom and I found Ollie on our bed, lying on my side, cuddled up against my pillow. I’m not sure if Ollie comes into my bed because he likes my Tempur-pedic pillow or because he finds my smell comforting. Either way, I find it meaningful that he finds comfort sharing the same spot that brings me a feeling of safety and security as I sleep.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Year 7: Week 32 - Dulcimers!

Why dulcimers? Well, I like teaching an instrument I have never studied or performed on, that I only have limited experience actually playing (I’m being sarcastic). More than that, there was really no reason why not. [click here for pictures]

One of the great things about my school is the spirit of collaboration and interest interdisciplinary work. People love working together at my school and the fact that we have close to ample preparation time, allows us to build relationships and put projects together. Also, many teachers on their own like to do interdisciplinary work. I’m currently doing a project involving children’s books in music and one of the art teachers loves doing projects where students make musical instruments. It never lined up that any of the instruments he had the students make, were taught in music class. It’s an idea that we both loved, but we never put in the effort. Combining the art teacher's love of integrating music into art and the great spirit of collaboration, we settled on piloting a dulcimer project with our 3rd graders this school year.


A dulcimer is a three string guitar-like instrument. The fret board is diatonic so it’s easy to pick out melodies and is placed on the lap. In many ways it’s a simple version of a guitar. This is an American folk instrument that lined up with our study of American pioneer culture. I don’t remember when I first heard a teacher play a dulcimer but I knew the instrument was from Backyard music  They sell these dulcimer kits which are fairly simple to put together. The sound is impressive for the price and the materials. It’s a real instrument; it’s not a toy and after getting one and learning to play it, I got excited about doing this with my students.

I needed help though. When I brought this instrument to the art teacher, he got excited about this project and agreed to help the kids put it together during shop class. Another art teacher agreed to help them decorate their instruments. We got administrative support and we went for it.

I bought every single “how to play dulcimer” book that I could find. Practiced over the summer and still didn’t quite feel like I know what I was doing by the time the dulcimers were made and in stacks in a storage closet next to my music room.

So storage is an issue. Where do you put 57 dulcimers? I tried a couple things but ended up using these metal storage shelves. They are pretty light and not too tall, so I just put extra shelves on one shelving unit and got the instruments on it. I had to label the ends so that the kids could find them easily. Finding picks took some doing as well, I ended up with large triangular thin Fender picks.

I got figured out a book to use, and got storage set up and now it was time to teach kids how to play the dulcimer. I went over some basics, handed out picks and realized, I had no idea how to teach kids how to hold picks. One of the other music teachers showed me how to teach kids to make a shark fin with the pick to teach proper pick grip. That was really helpful and worked well after I failed to instruct the first class how to hold that little piece of plastic.

That was only the first of many trial and error teaching things that happened with teaching the dulcimer. I figured out how to tune 57 dulcimers before school (I stopped using a tuner and just put on a cello drone), came up with creative metaphors to teach technique and now we’ve been rolling for a couple weeks. The kids can accompany themselves with some simple chords and they can pick up “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

I love that some of my students who haven’t shown a lot of interest in other activities we’ve done in music class have loved working with their dulcimers. I also thinks it’s great that I have students who are usually leaders in every other activity music class, are challenged by the dulcimer. This dulcimer project is about collaboration with teachers, giving kids ownership and pride in art and music (there’s something so special about playing an instrument that you made). It’s about making connections to their social studies curriculum and learning musical concepts. This project is about keeping me on my toes and stretching my practice as a teacher by bracing the challenge of teaching something I’ve never taught before.

More than all of this, this project is about diversity. It’s about teaching music in another way to encourage student engagement. It’s about embracing a diversity in learning styles and ensuring all students through different avenues have a way to experience and grow through the study of music.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Parenthood: Week 202 – Why Modern Parents Rock

Instead of responding directly to common arguments about why modern parents are messing up the current generation of children, I’m going to talk about why modern parents these days are amazing. Similar to some of the criticism of “parents these days,” my observations are based on personal anecdotal encounters and not on quantitative studies based on representative population or qualitative research, carefully done over long periods of time.  These generalizations of course do not apply to all modern parents.

We see the future.
Parents these days understand that the choices they make now will affect their children’s future. There are more parenting books, blogs and online discussion groups about parenting then ever before.  This come from an understanding that parenting is important and that parents are eager to get things right. Yes, it is crazy to plan which college your toddler is going to, however making choices to help your child reach that stage of their lives is providing an important longitudinal perspective. The focus on the future is sometimes detrimental, but it can lead parents to slow down and focus on the moment. Many parents realize that it is the quality of the moment that leads to a brighter future. A kid is a lot more likely to reach a brighter future if parents envision it for their children.

We care about feelings.
The generation, many of which who grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood now watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with their children. Both shows teach people how to handle feelings through acceptance, and validation. Gone for many parents is the notion that you can talk about your feelings too much and the idea that there are “bad” and “good” feelings. In its place are parents who encourage their children to talk about their feelings, express themselves, and feel comfortable with the spectrum of emotions. While I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that one of Ollie’s favorite toys is a stuffed Anger toy from Inside Out, I’m glad that he has the words to talk about how he feels that he learned from this film.

We see gender differently.
Yes, it’s annoying that toy aisles in stores are so clearly separated by gender and boys clothing is dominated by graphics with sports iconography and cars. However, it’s encouraging that so many parents are annoyed about these issues. From female leads in action films like Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and more inclusive toy lines like Legos with new sets geared towards girls, it has become clear that parents have different expectations for gender identity than previous generations.

Gender stereotypes are still pervasive in all parts of our culture, and affect our children from the day that they are born, but what is different is that parents these days are aware of this fact. They are actively doing things like making sure that they have children’s books that have female main characters or encouraging their children to name their stuffed animals non-gender specific names. Modern parents' awareness of these issues is changing the conversation around genders in ways that no generation of parents have ever done before.

We accept the plurality.
More then any other generation, parents these days welcome the possibility that their children may be homosexual, transgender, may marry someone outside of their race, may not have children, may end up choosing their own religion, break out of gender norms or be a student with special needs. We have evolved from not even considering these possibilities to dreading these outcomes to preparing our children to celebrate these facets of identity in who they may become and the people in their lives. One of the most important ways that we make progress is how we raise the next generation. With parents these days, we are heading into a huge jump ahead in the next generation, for justice, diversity and inclusion.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Year 7: Week 31 - Week In Review

Let’s attempt to summarize what happened this week.

Monday, we had a faculty meeting that focused on developments in modern parenting and how this has changed the dynamics of the parent-teacher relationship. It was an interesting presentation that was difficult for me to not take personally as a parent. Of course there are things that parents should think about and nuances to the relationship between parents and teachers that should be examined. I also know that this isn’t really about me, but at the same time, I feel a need to defend parents as a group, even those who over-parent and get in the way of their children’s’ growth.

Even though it felt like I was alone in my feelings of discomfort in the meeting, in the following days other teachers who were parents came up to me and said they had appreciated the question that I asked during the meeting that clearly expressed my concerns and discomfort with the conversation.

Tuesday, we had our evening instrumental concert. This concert featured our string groups and our high school band. The concert went well, but was challenging in length. We had everything from a 1st and 2nd grade violin ensemble to a concert band that had forty students in it. Also, the concert was long. As our music program grows, one of the challenges in creating performance opportunities. It’s time for some out of the box thinking because a concert that long on a school night isn’t right, especially with 1st graders involved. We need to do something different next year.

This leads into another piece that has been going on in my head. It is not even May but it is time to do critical work on the schedule for the next school year. I have five major performances ahead of me and I need to find a way to get my head into next school year. If I let this time pass, then we end up being locked into the same calendar, which needs to be examined. This piece of the puzzle is tricky, but people in my department are helping with this planning and making sure that we don’t let this critical planning window pass is by.

Next week, there is our big 5th grade performance, the major end of the year concert is in two and half weeks, we have a bunch of work to do on the 6th grade music presentation (which we are reimagining from last year). I made good progress on a project I’m doing with a donor, and my 3rd graders want to do a presentation for their SK buddies. I need to get that going. And there’s department chair evaluation work left to do.

Let’s see, did I leave anything out? Yup, there’s that other thing I can’t write about openly yet, the band room needs organizing, ugh and my email inbox.

I feel tired. However, I’m feeling pretty good about this week. All of this madness, all of these things that flood my mind disappear when I’m in the classroom with my kids. We had some fun moments this week. 6th grade band was a really hard class to teach, but we made some really good musical progress. My 8th graders were fantastic today. And I left my class of the day proud of the sounds my 3rd graders were playing on the recorder.

It never stops. But neither does the fun.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

Parenthood: Week 201 - Tangerine

Slowly, Ollie pulls back the peels as I hold the tangerine. He carefully puts each piece of the peel in my other hand that I hold open for him. At times, I get a piece of peel started for Ollie but now that he is older he can mostly peel the fruit by himself. As good as he is getting at peeling a tangerine, he still needs my help to break into the peel to get it started.

Once the peel is off, Ollie hands me the fruit and I split it in half. I give half of the tangerine to him and he begins taking the sections apart.  Sitting side by side on the single step that goes down from our living room into our den, we eat the tangerine. After eating a couple pieces, Ollie takes one piece and pushes it up to my lips. I loudly chomp at his fingers and eat the section, and Ollie giggles in response. I thank Ollie for his generosity and offer Ollie a section of my half of the tangerine and he chomps at it with glee.  When we are done, Ollie takes the peels, and puts them in the kitchen garbage.

The first time I sat down on that step to share a tangerine with Ollie, he was just about a year old. He was able to comfortably sit up without support. His little fingers had a pincer grip but he couldn't grip for very long. While he could eat solid foods, he needed help managing pieces of food and getting it into his mouth.

I pulled apart the peel like petals of a flower. Ollie would grab one piece, sometimes miss and sometimes pull it the wrong direction, but he would manage to tear it off. I would take apart the tangerine for Ollie, and carefully bite a section in half and put it in Ollie's hand. Sometimes, he would get the piece into his mouth, often he would miss, but he would try, eager to get the fruit into his mouth. At times, I would place a piece at his lips and he would smile at me as he took a bite. Then he would reach for another piece and try to feed me. Often he would miss, but he enjoyed switch roles.

Sharing a tangerine has been one of these rituals that me and Ollie has enjoyed throughout the years. It has evolved and changed with Ollie's development, though the core meaning of this experience hasn't changed. It's about sharing time together, and giving to each other.

I started peeling tangerines with Ollie on a whim and it has continued over time. We don't do it every day. It had almost been a month since we did this last week. I offered him an tangerine and he immediately sat down at the step and wanted to share this moment with me.

There will be a time when Ollie doesn't need my help to eat a tangerine.  He might forget the many times we sat on that step and ate together, but I will not.  When I think about who Ollie is, I think about him trying to figure out how to peel a piece of fruit and not giving up, I think about Ollie enjoying the simple pleasure of fruit and I think about him trying to feed me, eager to share and see the joy that comes from this expression of care.

That's my boy.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Year 7: Week 30 – Longer Chunks of Time

A couple months ago, I started noticing something with my 3rd graders. Almost every single activity I did, I ended before the students were done with the activity. Many of the music teaching method books and a lot of the teacher education out there recommends that you put three or four different activities or songs in one lesson. In general, I’ve followed this for the past couple years.

There is a feeling of accomplishment from the students and the teacher when you get through a lesson that has multiple activities. I would commend my students for keeping it together so that we could keep the flow of the lesson going. However, I started noticing that so much of the focus of the class was on transitions. It seemed like more and more, students were just getting into a project as I started talking to them about transitioning them to the next activity.

A lot of educational writing and research is recommending giving students longer periods of times on one activity in shorter range of time as opposed to splitting up the same amount of time over many classes. For example, instead of doing 20 minutes once a week in music class on recorder over four weeks (assuming music class meets twice a week for 40 minutes), you do two classes in one week where you do nothing but recorder.

There’s a lot to think about here. Certain skills need to be working on for short periods of time over longer unit of time to develop. For example, singing technique needs to be developed in short chunks of time over a time. You can’t sing for 40 minutes straight in one class and get as much benefit as doing 10 minutes of singing over four classes with younger students. However, there are other things like writing compositions, or turning a storybook into a musical, which my 3rd graders are currently doing, which kids can work on for an extended period of time effectively.

I’ve giving my 3rd graders entire classes to work on their storybook musical project, and they have worked the entire class length productively and effectively with no sign of needing something else to do to vary the class and keep their interest. I’ve planned on stopping the class to do a different activity, and asked the students what they wanted to do, and they all wanted to keep working. So I let them.

It’s important that students learn how to transition between activities and work on a variety of skills in music class, but I also think that we need to let students take deep dives into projects. I did this for my 5th graders recorder project earlier this year as well, when they chose a solo and worked on it individually preparing for a mini-concert. It’s kind of scary and unnerving to give away that control and let students have an entire class to do one thing. It’s uncomfortable, but like this storybook musical project, my 5th graders got into their recorder solos and worked for the entirety of those classes.

Focusing more on larger units is tricky to balance with consistent skill building, but I think it’s worth struggling with and trying to figure out. Longer periods of time give kids the opportunity to go deeper while stretching other students who aren’t used to longer chunks of time to think differently.

As a teacher the biggest change is that when students have a longer period of time to work, my teaching is more focused on their interests and their learning and less focused on teaching them how to transition. Here’s the interesting thing: When students have one activity they are doing in class, they are only doing two transitions, one to set-up and one to put things away. These transitions without the same amount of preparation and directions have been phenomenally better then the transitions that happen when they are multiple activities in a class. I’m not sure why, but I think they transition better, because they are more settled with the feeling of having gotten a solid amount of work done. They aren’t fighting the transition as much, wanting to do more work.

Longer chunks of time may not be the right for your students, but it might be worth trying. It hasn’t always been a success, but when it is, the students really benefit.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

Parenthood: Week 200 – The Right Amount Of Time

You can spend too much time with your kid.

Yes, it’s true that often I spend the entire day with my family, but if I really think about it, there’s always part of that day when we may be in the same house, but we are separate from each other doing our own thing.

You can also spend too much time away from your child.

Days when I have to work late and have little to no time with Ollie are really rough. I feel out of whack and unsettled knowing that I’m not going to have much time with him. In college one of the signs that I knew that there was something special with Diana was that my day never seemed to really start until I saw Diana during lunch at the cafeteria. In the same way day doesn’t really feel lived without time with my boy.

It’s a tricky balancing act. There’s this idea that we should always want to spend time with our children but the reality that’s not the case. It’s the cliché about absence making the heart grow fonder. An appropriate time away from your child allows you to bring more enthusiasm, interest, attention and energy to your child. Quality is better then quantity when it comes to sharing time, to a point. Two minutes of interacting with your kids with all of your care and attention, doesn’t immediately outweigh a couple hours with your kid, some of which you were zoning out on your phone.

This is a really hard balance to strike. Unfortunately many parents don’t have the privilege to be able to manage this balance. If you are working two jobs to make things happen financially, or have challenging child-care situations, you are more likely going to find this balance something that is untenable, yet you somehow have to make work.

The other problem is that sometimes when I carve the time out to spend with Ollie, he’s not really interesting in interacting with me. This goes both ways. For example, this morning Ollie climbed into bed with me at 5:15am and wanted to play with me. I was not in the mood to play with him at this time. This additional factor sometimes leads to frustration, but as the adult, the older person in the relationship, I feel it’s up to me to make the adjustment to make it work.

Sometimes we need to be pushed to spend more time with our children and sometimes we need to be pushed to take a break from our kids.  It's hard to know where we are and we need help from others to figure this out.  I'm grateful that Diana has suggested that I spend certain afternoons with Ollie and also has offered to give me breaks from him.  And I'm grateful that my little boy, always makes up for the times when he doesn't seem to want to play with me with the cutest smile as he pushed a book into my lap or when he runs up to me calls "daddy!"    

Friday, April 14, 2017

Year 7: Week 29 – The Insecurity of It All

I’ve never had any other job than being a teacher except for some musician gigs. While I do believe that other jobs are full of insecurities, there are unique things about being in a teacher in America that I’ve recently reflected on that reveals the insecurity at the core of many educators.

This thought about teacher insecurity came to me after I did this Presidents’ Day presentation. It was a great success and one of the most beloved things that I’ve ever done at this school. The weird thing is that even after many emails and people from all corners of the school giving me complements, I still felt under-appreciated for the work that I had done. It was a preposterous thought from a logical point of view, but I just couldn’t get over this feeling of not being recognized.

It's not a big surprise why I felt this way.

It's so pervasive that teachers spend their own money on school supplies that there is a special consideration in our taxes for teachers to ride off money they spend on their students in addition to normal work deductions. Can you imagine someone working in a law firm having to spend personal money on office supplies and gifts for clients?

We’ve gotten to the point in our society that a recent school shooting at San Bernardino, didn’t take over the national conversation. Yes, there are a lot of things happening in our society, but this lack of public attention about the safety of our children and the people who dedicate themselves to teaching them is disheartening.

Teaching unions get blamed for many issues in education. While not all teacher unions are created equal and some are less helpful then others, it is unions who fight for class sizes, budgets for classrooms, and other important resources for students. During teacher contract negotiations, in addition to advocating for pay, unions have to advocate for reasonable class sizes.  Isn't this something that administrators should be fighting for as a basic need for students?

Teachers are more often than not underpaid. They work to address societies failings and often receive the blame for not doing enough to address issues other people created. Achievement gap? Schools didn’t create this. Systemic racism, racially inequitable drug laws, forced migration and exploitive business practices led to this issue. Yet, teachers are on the front lines taking responsibility and trying to do something about this problem.

Teaching is not a prestigious job. In a society where job prestige is more tied to how much money you make more then how much good you do in the world, teachers don't climb to the top. Also, jobs that are traditionally held by women aren’t as well respected.

It trivializes our work when the secretary of education has no experience in public education, it hurts that people argue that we are overpaid (yup, people have told me this to my face), and it’s really hard to not feel discouraged about being a teacher after a difficult day at work, when you have to go home and spend an additional hour and a half doing work at home beyond the nine hours you spent at school. For some teachers, in addition to this work at home, they have a to go too a second job to just to keep them afloat.

When you consider all of these things, it’s kind of crazy that anyone chooses to be a teacher at all. Somehow we are here and we are doing it every day, bravely, and courageously. It is up to teachers to buoy each other up and our allies to spread the word of what it means to be a teacher in America.

I chose this job.  I'm proud to be a teacher.  However, part of this gig is doing what we do in the context of all of this negativity. That's something we work through and we deal with for the sake of the children in America.  If you want to help us out.  The first step is understanding the insecurity of it all.

The next step is listening to us.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Parenthood: Week 199 – Who's in control of the music in the car?

The majority of the time, I’d say like 70% of the time when I’m in the car, Ollie is in control of what we are listening to the car. Sometimes he doesn’t care and we listen to whatever I’m in the mood for, but the reality is that in these situations, I’m still choosing music focused on what’s good for Ollie.

Whenever we watch television together, we watch what Ollie wants to watch or we watch something that is appropriate for him. I have never put on a movie or a show that I wanted to watch and had Ollie watch along with me.

The same goes for books, I don’t read aloud books to him that I’m reading for pleasure. I read Ollie children’s books and most of the activities that we experience together are focused on Ollie’s development stage.

There’s a couple things going on here. First off, the main thing I current enjoy watching on television is professional wrestling, which is not appropriate for Ollie. Much of what I enjoy listening to in the car are podcasts like the Savage Lovecast which is, again, not appropriate for Ollie. He would be bored to tears if I read the books I’m interested to him, and frankly, there’s not a lot of stuff that I enjoy doing that isn’t child centered anyways.

The other piece of this is how much parents are willing to modify their lives for their children. Some people decide that going to church every Sunday is something is they are going to do and they will make their kids go along with them. There are others who feel this commitment to not modifying their lives for their kids to a lesser degree (some to a greater degree) about watching sports on television.  Some parents see involving their children in their own interests and routines as enriching their children's lives, but some parents really are just dragging their kids along.

When I hear people talk about things like kids having control over what is being listened to in the car, I often hear an implication that parents are being too permissive. This is part of a larger trend of criticism around younger parents spoiling their kids and letting them get away with things. While I agree that there are parents nowadays spoiling their kids, I don’t believe that there are a higher percentage of these parents at any other point in history who are overly permissive. Just because you trained your kid to call you “sir” doesn’t mean that you aren’t spoiling them.

Letting Ollie choose what we listen to in the car isn’t about being permissive. It’s about nurturing his interests and helping him develop his voice. As annoying as it is to listen to the same song on repeat, I get it. I do the same thing when I’m into a song. My parents dealt with this when I was growing up and I’m sure it was annoying for them. But their tolerance of my obsession, led to my love of music and the depth in which I analyze music and experiences in my life.

The same goes for television and books. I usually indulge him in wanting to watch the same thing over and over and read the same book over and over. While this may seem like obsessive behavior, it’s actually a sign of positive brain development. When he is experiencing a piece of art over and over, he is working on prediction skills, strengthening his imagination and analyzing different aspects of what he is perceiving.

Allowing your child to delve deep into their interests and explore the art in their lives isn’t being overly permissive, it’s called loving them.

There is a balancing act. Ollie dose need to learn how to take turns when it comes to listening to songs in the car. It’s also important that we push Ollie out of his comfort zone and expose him to new art.

I’m okay putting aside my own music, televisions shows and other interests for my son. Because right now, my primary interest, the thing I am into the most, isn’t a song, a television show, or a book. It’s my son. It’s been that way since the day he was born, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Friday, April 7, 2017

My Friendships With Women or "Why I have no issues eating along with other women."

In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either. 
From Karen Pence is the vice president’s ‘prayer warrior,’ gut check and shield by Ashley Parker
This sentence from Ashley Parker’s article about Karen Pence has stayed in my mind for the past couple weeks. While people made jokes about this view on cross-gender social interactions, I was once more reminded about how I am a minority.

In additional being Asian-American, shorter than average height, a guy who’s not into sports, a teacher, a male teacher, agnostic, a man who enjoys cooking, and a guy who is a proud feminist, most of my close friends throughout my life have been women.

When Harry Met Sally brought up the question about whether men and women could be friends, but since then, this questioned has left our cultural consciousness.



In the almost thirty years we have made great progress as a culture normalizing and accepting minorities (e.g. Gay culture, people who are transgender, comic book geeks, stay-at-home dads). However this quote, is a reminder that we still have a lot to learn about and accept about platonic friendship between men and women.

I’ve been reading different articles, blogs and websites about this idea that men and women can’t be or shouldn’t be socializing alone as friends. It mostly refers to married people. The common undercurrent is that people cannot control themselves around people of the opposite sex and that people are unable to look past sexuality when interacting alone with someone of the opposite sex.

These assertions express to men that they don’t have to work to look beyond sexuality when interacting with women. It reinforces the misperception that when women are friendly, they must be flirting and it further stratifies our society. As Dan Savage pointed out in this recent podcast, separated men and women cuts women out of important business meetings and reinforces the boys club mentality, where business gets done in a male-only country club setting over a golf course.

The other issue that is raised is perceptions. People don’t want others to perceive that they are cheating on their spouse. I don’t care about that When you have to regularly to deal with your racial identity like when a waiter assumes the Caucasian guy sitting next to you is your wife’s husband, you stop caring what someone else might think if you go out to lunch with a woman who is not your wife.

Not all guys are going to have as many women friends as I do. That’s fine. If this is based on lack of mutual interests or other social factors, no big deal. However to decide that you are never going to socialize alone with women is like saying that you never hang out with Asian people alone because you are worried that they will have too thick of an accent and you can’t understand them.

I am not going to claim on being an expert on how to meet women, but I’m proud of my ability to maintain a healthy relationship with my wife, which has lasted fifteen years. I credit a lot of this success to the friends I’ve had in my life who were women. You are a lot more likely to have a successful relationship with your wife, if you have had successful friendships with other women.

I don’t expect people to immediately move past gender roles and social norms. However, I hope that sentence made some people think about the friends they have and the friends they don’t because they were told that boys and girls can’t be friends.

I feel so grateful to all of the women who broke past gender norms to be my friend. In high school, I got bullied for these friendships and I’m sure my friends got some weird comments too. In college these were women who didn’t hesitate to pull me into the conversation when I was the only guy at the table and always welcomed me into their dorm rooms when I knocked. In adulthood, these are women who along with their kids don’t hesitate to meet up for a playdate with Ollie and me when Diana is busy.

A big part of this is my wife, Diana who has embraced this part of who I am and has never gotten in the way of these relationships. This is further proof that more than anything else Diana is my best friend.

Yes, it sucks to be reminded that you are a minority, but in the past couple weeks, I have been reminded of all of the great friendships I’ve had with women in my life. I’m going to hold on to all the warm feelings that these memories bring me and text one of my friends, a women and see if she wants to hang out.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Parenthood: Week 198 – Spring Break . . . kind of

Diana, Ollie and I all have different spring breaks this year. So when people asked about my upcoming spring break and I told them that Ollie didn’t have the same spring break as me, I generally got two responses: “That’s great, you can take Ollie out of school and spend time with him,” and “That’s fantastic, Ollie can go to school and you can get some time for yourself.”

The latter response came from people who currently have younger kids or are older parents who don’t have too bad a case of parental amnesia. Many parents, including myself, forget a lot of the really tough parts of parenting. I’ve forgotten a lot of the struggles of when Ollie was a baby and without past blog posts, these feelings and moments would have been lost. Some parents of older kids I’ve met still have a keen awareness of the challenges of parenting, and some do not. It’s not a good person or bad person thing, it’s just one of those things that effects people differently.

The idea that parents want to, or should enjoy spending every minute of their day with their kids goes against theories of child development and evolutionary biology. Psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry, argues in The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, that humans were evolved to be raised by multiple adult caretakers in cross-generational family communities. In the context of emotional development, he outlines how kids who are surrounded by aunts and uncles with cousins develop effectively develop empathy. Part of this thesis is that parents have and should have time away from their child, which allows them self-care as well as time to provide for the family.

I love my boy, but I need time away from him.  I got stuff today like my taxes, getting a haircut and getting my car’s air conditioning fixed. We are blessed with a fantastic school for Ollie that provides many things for him, that I can’t.

There’s parental guilt from all directions. The important thing to remember is that those who would make you feel guilty, who do not actually know you are speaking out of ignorance or insecurity. People who are surprised that I’m still taking Ollie to school for a good chunk of this week don’t know how hard it is to get stuff done with a toddler in the house or are projecting their own regrets about their own parenting.

If you’re cool spending all day with your kid, and it makes you and your child truly happy to spend that much time together, great.  However, I'm not one of those people and I refuse to feel bad about that fact.

Parents don't deserve breaks from their kids, they require them.  Everybody needs time away from the ones we love.