Sunday, September 25, 2011


I wonder if you can create balance in your life by doing the same thing over and over, if everyday is busy, active, spiritually grounded, social, but has quiet time.  When stated like that I feel like that is something I try to create in Kindergarten. We have routine because children thrive knowing on where they are, where they are going, and how their needs will be met.  But what about life after Kindergarten?

I'm now in my 5th week of my 42hr+ work week and feel totally out of whack.  There is no quiet time. There is no time for investing in relationships. There is a pile of stuff to get done for school. Professional development. Lesson plans. Endlessly new district initiatives....and there are still 9 more months of school to go.  It is a marathon. But just like a marathon runner once you get a few miles into it your body moves without you consciously thinking about it.  I'm still waiting for my aerobic system to kick in.

Even the fittest marathon runners rest before the big race.  The best training schedule has a balance: long one runs, short fast-paced runs, cross-training doing any other activity and rest.  Lately I feel like I'm waiting for my opportunity to run and my opportunity to rest.  And there just isn't a big race to look forward to.

I think to have balance in one's life there has to be the opportunity for balance.  When the work day takes up too much of my time and bleeds into my home life, I feel like it is all I do.  My work is only a part of who I am. On the other hand one has to take advantage of opportunities when they come. Bring 'em on!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A picture's worth...

I love photography. It is my favorite visual art.  I think the best photographers, much like Michelangelo, has a special sense about them. Just as Michelangelo said of his sculpture David“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” Great photographers sense the art, see the image, and capture it.  

In my very amateur knowledge of photography, I would say there are two schools of approach to photography: Technology and Technicality, and Intuition and Luck.  Most photographers have probably studied both of these approaches and find themselves on a spectrum of somewhere between the two.  I would say since my point-and-shoot camera is also set on the AUTO button, I definitely subscribe to the latter. I love that photography is something I am still learning how to do, and also a medium for learning about my world.

Then there is the audience and purpose of photography: when it comes to my son, I am the audience and the purpose is largely for me. The photography is for the love and preservation of the subject in that moment. I can see photos of him a thousand times and show them off to others, but still, I am the one that has the true connection to the image. 
There are great photographers that work in the press that are unsung heroes.  I was inspired today by an NPR story on New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks. The story describes Hicks' work photographing untold stories of unknown victims in the Middle East and in Somalia. While the rest of the nation focuses on our bumbling economy here at home: our wealth of money and resources seemingly freezing, Hicks' photo tells a different story of what happens when there simply is no economy.
Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

While Michelangelo also said, “A beautiful thing never gives so much pain as does failing to hear and see it,” this type of suffering is certainly not beautiful and even painful to those of us who are not subjected to this kind of thing. But maybe because of Hicks' work, we will no longer fail to hear and see it, and the beautiful thing will be the action his work can evoke: empathy and compassion for the rest of humanity, 
rather than the self-serving politics we typically seek in our country.

The best photographers view the world with their eyes and minds wide open. Because of this, they are the eyes for the rest of us who are blinded by comfort or self-interest to the plights of others. They show us the true beauty of nature than constantly renews and remakes itself, rather than the transient superfluities created by man. In a frame they have the power to evoke emotions: sometimes those emotions are indulgent and sometimes they move us to change. 

Monday, June 20, 2011


It is finally summer, which means two things for a teacher: time to read and time to travel. They often go hand in hand.  I go for 10 months of the year feeling like I am running interval sprints during a long-distance run, leaving me with very little, if any time to read for pleasure.  The first few days of summer vacation (after inservice) I picked up some magazines that I hadn't had time to read during the mad dash to the finish line of the school year.

June's Vogue with Penelope Cruz on the cover (who is a favorite actress of mine for a few of her roles in Almodovar's films) had a thought-provoking letter from the editor entitled Point of Departure. Editor Anna Wintour elaborates on a Henry Miller phrase, "One's destination is never a place rather a new of looking at things," to go as far as saying, "travel allows us the pleasure of becoming someone else, even if only for the duration of that trip." While sitting at my kitchen table her comment struck me. Ten years ago I dreamed of traveling all the time, of working simply so I could travel.  I think based on Ms. Wintour's premise, by traveling and trying out different personas in these new places at that time in my life I was really seeking out the person that I felt most comfortable being.

 I think through my past travels I have found my happy medium between shy and outgoing, wallflower and adventurer. I can't say that there are many trips I regret. I got something out of all of them, even if they were negative experiences like bad accommodations or company. I learned how to be a better judge of people by eliminating all of the biases I hold in my own sphere and by being brave (and sometimes naive) enough to get to know new people in a foreign land. But in the end I came home.

I can't help but wonder if wanderlust isn't somehow tied to our own insecurities (or if the term "tripping" in relation to mind-altering experiences has more to do with traveling than falling down, but I digress...) When I am traipsing around the globe I can be the life of the party, beach bum, explorer, adventurer, writer, missionary, etc., and play these roles to their fullest extent a'la Penelope Cruz. I think about my little Kindergartners who take little trips around the school whenever they get the chance. EVERYONE wants to take the library books back and take the folder to the office. When I am at home, I have to be content with who I am and my present circumstances.  Sitting at my kitchen table, with suitcases empty in a closet, I feel like I have finally settled into a "moment" in my life of contentedness. I think perhaps for the first time in my adult life I feel content with where I am, what I have, and where my life is going.

A few weeks back my friend asked me what my dreams were for the future.  I can't say that right now I am yearning too deeply for anything.  I plan on finishing my masters degree, paying off debt, starting my son in school when he's ready, and yes, I'd love to travel again when the time is right, exploring the space between my ears by venturing somewhere 30,000 feet in the stratosphere, but right now I don't feel the urge as I did before.

This summer I have decided that my travels will be close to home, getting to know Wisconsin and the midwest, the land and the people that have largely made me who I am. I think, if Ms. Wintour's perceptions are right, I can be myself and explore this contented moment of my life a little more deeply.

This weekend I was lucky enough to take a day trip up to Door County and Washington Island.  There are so many beautiful places in that peninsula let alone in the entire state.
School House Beach on Washington Island has no sand, only pummeled, polished white stones.
Even on a rocky beach with no sand, these feet are happy where they stand.
Now that I am back home after a short trip,  I am opening that Vogue magazine to read the article featuring Penelope Cruz in this month's vogue entitled The Dream Life of Penelope. She is a new mom, a successful actress and living her dream-life in this moment too. I close the magazine and go to bed, beyond happy to be living the life I never dreamed of.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sink or Swim, Float or Faith

Sink or swim is a term often used in education and life. It means simply doing something, maybe without preparation or the right skills and either succeeding or failing at it.  Sometimes in our lives we are pulled out into waters we never intended to venture into and we have to sink or swim, even though it isn't a choice we want to make but feel we are being forced into.

Back when I was student teaching in an internship teaching English language-learners and my first classes for my bilingual license, we often talked about ELLs are expected to sink or swim when it came to comprehending academics.  Students with a natural gift for language and learning succeeded and still do, whereas students who didn't have the proper supports (in terms of vocabulary and modeling, etc.) struggled in school and began to account for those gaps in their academic achievementwe are so trying to close between different demographics of students.  Sink or swim means you rely on nothing but yourself, and there are simply too many times (in education and in life) where someone needs support, a lifeline to be pulled in.

Sometimes we are too preoccupied to see that we won't necessarily sink.  We are so panicked by the fact that we are swept out to sea, we do nothing but float.  Being kept afloat is still surviving, but it is no way to teach, no way to learn, and no way to live. Surprisingly some people are satisfied with simply floating with the status quo. Some people look desperately for ways to get out (and those who try are better swimmers than they ever thought).  

This analogy occurred to me while we were in a training for a new math curriculum today.  In our district, Kindergarten hasn't even had a curriculum adopted for our grade level for probably close to 10 years (my best guess).  Experienced teachers knew what Kindergartners could and should learn; all teachers based what they taught and practiced from the skill standards on the report card.  I couldn't tell you what, if anything that was based on as far as research goes.  So there was nothing to use to teach math, and even less to teach math in Spanish.  We were floating with little to hold on to. Some scrap wood, maybe.  Now we have a curriculum that is being adopted for Kindergarten AND it comes in Spanish for bilingual teachers.  It seems like it should be a no-brainer, but after not having anything really for the two years I've been teaching Kinder math, I'm pretty excited. Someone finally noticed us floating out here (teachers and students) and they are throwing us a line and pulling us in to solid research to stand on.  Despite the presenter asking us to have faith in the research and the completeness in progressive skills and behaviors taught, I noticed some teachers in the training were a little unwilling to let go of their floating scraps of wood. It's hard to let go of something that seemed so safe at one point. Adopting the new curriculum isn't going to be easy, but it will be easier for those of us (newer teachers) who were flailing instead of floating. 

There are times when one ends up in the water and has to swim back into shore, whether it be in a job or a relationship.  It's a long hard swim, but sometimes you have to have faith that it will get you where you need to be.  You may not make it if you get overtired or hit an undertow in the current, but there is risk in everything. If you did nothing you would be floating forever at the mercy of the waves (or in Spanish, A la deriva). In reflecting back on the last five years, there were many times when I had little faith in my abilities or value as a person and felt that I was floating. Those were very unhappy times.

Sometimes the only way you will have success, get to solid ground, is if you commit to something full-force, but not blindly. You have to know where the sharks are swimming, a guess of where the current is flowing, and if there's anyone who will throw you a line if you simply can't anymore. I truly believe that faith isn't blind.  I think faith can be attributed to intuitiveness or perceptiveness of our current conditions, part of it is based on past experience, and is also influenced by our hopes for the future. Part of committing fully to something, investing in it, is perceiving what factors affect what you are about to undertake. 

Sometimes you are blessed with the clarity in which you see an opportunity present itself, and it couldn't be a better time. Sweet serendipity, the clouds part, the sea calms, and you swim.


I heard this song on my way to pick up my son on the radio, and it reminded me to write. For your listening pleasure, "Faith" by George Michael. 

Before this river
Becomes an ocean
Before you throw my heart back on the floor
Oh baby I reconsider
My foolish notion
Well I need someone to hold me
But I'll wait for something more

Yes I've gotta have faith...

Friday, June 3, 2011

This school year

Today is the last Friday of the school year. There is only a day and half left of school. We are in wind-down mode, doing fun activities so the kids end their school year on a happy, stress-free note now that grades are in, report cards printed, and everyone is anxious for the free time they have earned.

In reflecting on this school year I think I have learned two things. Yesterday at lunch my friend Susan said, " In order for the kids (especially Kindergartners) to learn anything from you they have to love you, and for them to love you, you have to love them first." This is very true.  The best teachers love their jobs, and they love their jobs because they love their students. It isn't because teaching phonics is just THAT interesting, but watching students learn, sense their own accomplisment and ability is that rewarding.

I have to admit that there were days where I didn't feel like I loved my job or my students as much as I should. I feel like if I did I would have done things differently and probably more effectively.

It makes me think of two teachers who are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in this regard. Strangely enough, their rooms are right next to each other.  I find myself in the middle of their spectrum. One has been doing this a long time, has the same worksheets she uses to occupy her students while she beats through guided reading groups, the other also has the same centers she has been using to occupy students in exploratory learning so she can move around the room and work with her students individually.  The second teacher has had nearly miraculous results with her young students achieving a grade level above expectations. The first teacher is, well, frustrated, or maybe burnt out. 

This is the key of quality teaching. You have to love what you do.  The students are not pieces of plastic to be molded in a factory. They give and bend to your attitude. If you love school and you love them, they feel the same way.  It's a beautiful symbiosis that is proven to work when implemented, but impossible to measure other than in teacher attitude. No mini-lesson or workshop approach or scripted curriculum can even being to make-up for this element in great teaching.

Next year I am going to work on my attitude. I want to come to work feeling good, not worn-out. I need to take care of myself and my son first, so when I'm here I can make the most of my time and interactions with my students. This year has been a flurry of activity resulting in a blizzard of stress. Next year I hope for sunnier skies, or at least better boots.

Friday, April 15, 2011


In education we often use the word "whole" to describe something comprehensive and multi-faceted, i.e.: educating the whole child, or the whole-language approach to teaching reading.  In my undergrad courses and several staff developments, educating the whole child often speaks to not only their academic growth, but also developing social and emotional skills. It also means teaching to multiple types of intelligences (Gardner) so that students of varying strengths have the opportunity to succeed and learn alongside their peers.  Sometimes it is difficult as a teacher to measure this.  We often go on our intuition (which I think is largely undervalued at times) to address social or emotional issues with students.  It seems as though we have an assessment for every skill we require our students to know, but never an assessment to either tell us how a child is feeling and why or an assessment on how our students learn the best. When something is awry we feel it but can't always pinpoint it, and when students succeed we celebrate with them.

In a conversation with the first grade bilingual teacher we shared what we knew about some students I had last year.  There were a few that were very bright academically but not achieving their potential because of other social and emotional issues. As teachers we feel powerless to change the circumstances that our students live in for the other 17 hours they aren't in school.  In educating it is necessary to keep in mind all of the facets of our students, and that we can't always attribute successes or failure to a teacher's methods.  This could easily go in to a political rant on merit-pay, but I just don't think I will go there tonight.

In my attempts to teach the "whole child" I often find myself overwhelmed.  Do I assess the child's writing, or talk to him or her about how confident they feel and who writes in their house?  There are simply too many facets of educating a child to approach them wholly at the same time.  It becomes overwhelming and a nightmare of prioritizing.  But yet, when we are required to assess 5 year-olds it sometimes feels like we aren't educating the child but pumping them for answers. This is the inner-conflict I feel in my field as a modern educator.

Personally I think I have been seeking wholeness in my life at many times.  I have gotten to the point now where I realize what factors make me feel "whole" or like a better person, but just like in teaching there are too many things to be addressed at once.  People say "simplify," but I often already feel like I am running a skeleton-crew of priorities: my son, my family and loved-ones, my job, education, and my health. Some people might even say that my list is devoid of certain things like recreation and spiritual growth.  I might be inclined to agree with them.

When we look from the outside in we tend to envy others, thinking they have it made.  Yet from that person's perspective, it isn't enough and they may always seek more.  Being unsatisfied is human nature.  Being unsatisfied inspires innovation, brings immigrants to our country and is the underlying force for progress.  However, being unsatisfied or under-appreciative can ruin something that is already good.  I have witnessed examples of this personally: marriages destroyed by a partner who manically searches for something else while refusing to witness the wonderful things right under their own roof in their own partner.  I have witnessed this in education multiple times: curriculum being changed over and over without ever having the opportunity to be fully implemented, and even the entire educational system being disparaged because test scores aren't as high compared to other countries.  The unsatisfied spouse lays blame with their partner, the public lays blame with teachers.  There is rarely any introspection to see what the underlying missing facet is. What is it exactly that is leaving us feeling deficient?

I propose that anyone who is feeling incomplete take some time for introspection to reflect and appreciate on what is already good, rather than searching for that magic fix.  There never is a magic fix, unless we change our perspective with a new glasses prescription.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Everything I should know I learn from my Kindergartners

Today this morning was crazy.  I found out yesterday that I have a new student coming from an English-speaking classroom.  The poor peanut is going to be confused until we get everything straightened out with her.  You might wonder, "Well, don't you just put her in the English speaking classroom at your school then?"  She has had a good solid 6 years of learning since womb-exit in Spanish, and only 7 months of English learning. Luckily, she is sweet as can be and we are happy to have her.

During centers I have been running the reading center at the rainbow table. My co-teacher has been running the writing center and the other student rotate between free-choice, free-choice reading, and a math activity.  Today one of our students got a nose bleed and my co-teacher threw on the rubber gloves to take care of her.  The 5 students at her center were still "working." One student is very impulsive and likes to get things done very quickly. When he saw that Miss O was busy he just started writing random letter.  The boy next to him in group, who is a solid student and nice to everyone saw what he was doing and asked him to read his sentence aloud to him.  Miss O later recounted to me to what she had heard while squeezing the girl's nose... A boy who I will call Manuel (not his real name) had the boy randomly writing letter read what he wrote. This was his response translated from Spanish
          "Read it to me. No, it doesn't say "gym." For "gym" you need the "g" like guitar."
This is what teachers live for. Kids who learn better when the teacher doesn't have to be pulling them along, and BETTER a student who has learned it well enough and is confident enough to teach it to a peer.

Manuel taught me something today.  Sometimes the best time to help someone is when you see that they need it, but they don't ask for it.  They may resent you for it momentarily, but will thank you for it in the end through returned kinship.  His peer, "Israel" was writing random letters all over the place, and Manuel helped him by redirecting him into doing something more productive, but also showing him the purpose.   One of the major premises in teaching elementary school is, "All children have gifts. It is our job to tap them and use them to facilitate their learning."  Manuel has some definite academic skills... His friend has other qualities, like persuasion and humor, that he doesn't have. Both Manuel and Israel are valued in my class as equals.

I have recently been on the other end of that equation. In the last year or so I have received help from people who care about me and I care about them.  I don't usually solicit it because I believe that I should be independent and earn what I have.  I sometimes lack the time, skill or patience to get done what I need to get done, because just like my Kindergartners I am learning as I go.  More so I lack the humility to realize I do have many things to learn sometimes.  

As a teacher, I am used to being the one with the answers and the "fixits." But now I have met someone who knows more than me about many things. He sees when I struggle and he helps, even when I don't ask. And I made the mistake of being resentful, not because I can't do what he does, but I simply haven't yet. In watching Manuel and Israel I have been reminded of why, as human beings, we like to help.  We help for personal satisfaction in knowing that we know how, we help because we care about each other, and we want others to do well.  

I hope, that just like Manuel, he can be content with showing me on occasion and not always doing for me, so that someday I will learn and do for myself the things he already does so well. I have misconstrued his help for his desire to want to be "better" than me or unequal, rather than what is his genuine attempt to try to make life easier.  I have been praying for a easier row to hoe, and instead of God giving me a new row, I now have cute chicken farmer with a hoe in my row too. His row is already hoed (especially since all his chickens are dead), and he won't leave me out there with the soil untilled. I wanted to say I hoed that row by myself, but I would probably never get there if it weren't for him.  I am profoundly grateful and sorry. 

I hope someday I will catch up on this steep learning curve and be the helper and the teacher sometimes too. It's amazing how much Kindergartners love to be the helper or the teacher. I am learning that it isn't so much what we do right now, but that we value each other as equals (almost like the U.S. currency). I hope someday I get to have the satisfaction knowing that I can help him too and show him that I care and want him to do well. And maybe teach him how to cook without recipes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Lately I have been struggling... things are falling apart. I found out today that the 15 credits I managed to fit in between working full-time, having a baby, a marriage, and a divorce in the last five years now only count for a "good for you."  Like many beginning teachers, I am struggling financially. I never wanted to admit it thinking I could fix it. I've cut things out, neglected to buy new clothes, and shamefully relied on my family. So much for a professional. I don't know what to fix anymore. I don't know what do duct tape. I am starting to abandon hope that I will ever get out of this mess since Walker's bill has frozen my pay, and the new deductions out of my check for insurance and pension will put me at less than what I made my first year teaching. Despair. There is no other word for it.

I got my tax return. It was a bright spot. I had planned to get a new computer since mine is 7 years old and sloow. And then between gas prices, Andy breaking the bows off my glasses, and having to break a window to get into my own house after locking myself out while fixing the sump pump hose.. it's pretty much gone. Everything is breaking before I can even fix one thing. I can't find a way out of my morass of monetary issues anymore.I feel... stupid and betrayed.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


In the theme of 'ability words, I first have to say that I was feeling some irritability after I finished this blog over several hours, having to come back to it and then losing it when I hit publish at the end after not saving it. Anyways....Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vulnerable as "1. capable of being physically, 2. emotionally wounded or open to attack or damage." Vulnerability has been pervading through my psyche as of late. Over a year ago, I went through a marital-exodus. It was an exodus insignificantly along the lines of Moses (but much less Charleton Heston-y) in that I felt oppressed and I was letting this "marriage" go. There was nothing dignified left to save, just as the slaves in Egypt left little behind to travel into the desert with Moses, although they sure complained a lot. Freedom sometimes has a price in creature-comforts. Anyways, I'm sure they complained as they felt vulnerable. I too have felt vulnerable at times, but have found comfort in unity.

I have lost my sense of vulnerability when experiencing a new religion first-hand by sharing that experience with others.

I pushed aside vulnerability in exchange for trust in a relationship where I am bonded not only through similar interests and passions, but also from the same viewpoint of what it is like to be on the other side of infidelity. Entering through that door of vulnerability first has put me in a new place of trust, love, and companionship that I thought I would never know. I have met his family and known exactly how he feels when he sits with mine.

When the "news" sources called teachers "lazy, greedy, and slobs" I felt vulnerable and sought out company, and found strength. Strength not only in my fellow teachers, but multiplied exponentially by the smiles and words of municipal workers, firefighters, law enforcement, roadcrew, and private sector unions like plumbers, electricians, nurses, boilermakers, journeymen, etc.

So when you feel vulnerable at the party, find the other person standing alone in the corner with their drink, or have one and sing a karaoke solo on your own. Remember that on the first day of school, everyone is nervous (including the teacher), so smile knowing you aren't alone. When you are uncomfortable, unless you are a defendant on trial, chances are someone else in that room is just as vulnerable as you. There is comfort in unity and strength in numbers. Know that when any one person is vulnerable to attack, there are people in your corner to ice your cuts or at worst, catch you if you get knocked down.

And I write this today for the first time alone in my house, but not feeling alone at all.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Most of you know I am a word nerd. In bridging with last post Availability I would like to continue with other 'bility words. I'm open for suggestions too.

In Scott Walker's recent promotions (or defensive speeches) on behalf of his budget bill he continually speaks of giving municipalities "tools" and "flexibility" to balance their own budgets. In reality he would like to shove the problem of the debt of the state down to the municipalities and in order for his (hopefully short) history as governor he would like to be remembered as the man who decreed that no taxes should be raised anywhere in our great state under his reign, not even if the local governments would wish to do so.

The only way that teachers could receive any increase in their pay is through a referendum, and even if said referendum should pass, the teacher's raise would be limited to no more than an increase equal to that of the consumer price index (inflation). As I have said before, if this bill were to pass, that means that every teacher you know stands no hope of ever improving their standard of living. As far as district compensation goes, anything that stands would be up in the air.

Our districts and municipalities will have their hands tied, the left hand of collective bargaining tied to the right hand of no tax levies, behind their backs with duct tape, while strapped to the chair of relentless public criticism. There are four legs on that chair: cutting of services, economic deterioration in loss of capital spent in our communities, those who will STILL complain about the fact they pay taxesi, and overall degradation of quality of life.  Where is the flexibility there?

For me the Wisconsin Idea rests on our progressive ideals, education, research, community values, collaboration and ingenuity. These qualities see us through our hardships and are where the true "tools" and "flexibility" lie. Flexibility lies within the people, who will tell you what you think especially if you ask them. We work hard until we are back to where we want to be, and then we celebrate with good food and beer everyone can afford.  Wisconsin is the birthplace of bargaining rights, Fighting Bob, and the farmers who poured milk on the railroad tracks and also drove their tractors around the Bellin building in Green Bay back in the 50s or 60s, stalling traffic, in order to protest for fair milk prices. 

This bill will not allow flexibility for local governments. It is a big government move by an unchecked executive that will bludgeon the middle class and our communities and leave us with wounds that may take decades to heal. Despite the hardships I know this bill would leave us in as a collective people, I have faith that our tool of democracy will give us the flexibility to win our state back from the grips of corporate lobbyists.  I am praying that the overall people will look to their neighbor to see what ravages this bill might bring before they look to corporate sources like Fox News.

I want to know where are my tough Wisconsinites who stand strong through bitter cold Packer games, who know think for themselves with their publicly educated minds, and who know a fear-mongering Joe McCarthy when they see one (Where are those commies, anyway?). Walker is trying to futher tie us down with his threats and fear-mongering of economic calamity if we don't pass his bill. But he is the one who gave the corporations their tax breaks and put us between a rock and a hard place.  That rock climber that ended up between the rock and the hard place ended up cutting his arm off. I'm hoping we have better options. Governor Walker, where are the taxes of mass destruction?

More information and opinions on taxation:


Sometimes you just have to be THERE. Whether you want to or not. And sometimes when you can't be there, it doesn't matter if you wanted to begin with, but you want to be there all the more.

This can be said for our democracy. How many times have people "forgotten" to vote? A real democracy requires participation. Are you sure you aren't available?

Sometimes we are at our jobs but mentally unavailable. There is simply too much going on in our lives taking up all the RAM in our smushy, gray servers.  In my kindergarten classroom there is so much stimulus going on sometimes that it is hard to have a coherent thought. (English, Spanish, Spanish, English, phone ringing, being poked in the butt, baño, baño, lunch time, clean up, hurry up, HURRY UP!)

I want to salute the Democrats in the state assembly. When King Scott tried to keep everyone out, they moved their desks out to the Capitol lawn in winter, so they could still meet with constituents, at a time when their constituents need to be heard more than ever.  They are making themselves available in very adverse conditions. They are listening through all the noise.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Compartments vs. Collaboration: Be More Like Bees

I had just come from a union rally yesterday where union employees of many professions came together in opposition to Governor Scott Walker's "budget" bill that would not only cut retirement benefits for state employees, but also eliminate collective bargaining rights of target groups like teachers.  At the rally there were state and county employees, maintenance crew members, educators, steelworkers, etc. Despite all of us working in separate areas, we are able to come out of our compartments into a collective ideological place: a place where a parties know that an injury to one of our compartments is an injury to all and that we all benefit from the services those in the other sector provide.

This idea of "compartments" is borrowed from Dr. Steve Feldman who spoke on NPR's program The People's PharmacyDr. Feldman, a professor of dermatology, wrote a lecture on how this idea of compartments affects health care professionals.  Often as a dermatologist he would see patients who came from family doctors who were treated for a rash but with unsuccessful results. This gave him, as a dermatologist, the perception that those physicans in the compartment of family doctors were either uncaring, unprofessional or ill-informed on rashes. This became his perception, because doctors and human beings are creatures who function on probabilty. He never saw the success in treating rashes from those family doctors as these patients had no reason to refer to him.   Dr. Feldman gave another instance of this when he and his fellow dermatologists are criticized by plastic surgeons for doing "hack" work on some surgeries. The plastic surgeon gets the perception from his/her own probabilty that no dermatologist knows how to properly perform surguries, where they never actually see all of the dermatologists successes.

Our brains are wired from little on for probability: to retain the results attempts at day to day tasks. This occurs when a baby babbles "mamamamama" for the first time and sees her mother's face light up, the baby registers this mouth and sound formation as a success for signaling her mother. Conversely, brain research has showed that in some instances of learning disabilities, it isn't necessarily that the student is having a hard time retaining the correct or successful information, it is that their brain is making and retaining unsuccessful connections that are eliminated in typical learners, but impede the correct or more efficient connections in that students' brain. The right stuff is in there, it is just getting it well-connected through schema, and strengthening those connections, perhaps through probability with more instances of success. This is why students with learning disabilities need extra support, to have things modeled for them in multiple, successful ways. They should never be overlooked as they are often times those who can think of creative solutions for complex problems, as their thought processes take different paths.

I was listening to The People's Pharmacy on NPR as I was driving to visit one of my favorite people for a party he was hosting. He happens to be a physician and avid amateur apiculturist. I began to think about how Dr. Feldman's idea of compartments fits in other aspects of our lives. We all live and work in our own compartments of parent, teacher (or specialized teacher), health care specialist, firefighter, plumber, student, etc. that through our own probability of experiences we fail to connect outside of our compartments. As Dr. Feldman said, there isn't a physician working that doesn't ultimately care for and want the best for his or her patients. We all want to do well at our jobs.  I believe we all must care for the greater good.

This week we have faced endless criticism against teachers from those who support Walker's "budget" bill.  I am appreciative to all of the open-minded people who have come out of their compartments to listen to our concerns. I am frustrated though by those in the private sector who refuse to budge out of their boxes to see what the reality is for teachers.  We have been accused of "riding the gravy train," laziness, etc. Dr. Feldman stated in his lecture that the only thing to improve service to all patients would be that physicians need to minimally empathize with the challenges their colleagues face in their own compartments, if not see them for themselves.

Coming out of my compartment, I understand that times are tough economically. Teachers have already felt budget cuts. For the last two years in my district we have not been filling vacant positions, and we declined wages increases in lieu of strong benefits packages. As parts of our benefits packages we are taking wellness measures to lower our premiums overall. I understand that everyone is fighting for anything they can keep, and that means not wanting to pay taxes. We all benefit from free public education, and a true democracy requires it. It also requires an informed public and I find it odd the the first things Republicans want to do is eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that funds public TV and radio (unbiased, uncorporate news information) and pillage educators and the entire educational system. Where is the informed electorate? Very un-democratic if you ask me.

While my honey was looking at apiary equipment catalogs, he showed me how the bees live in separate compartments and frames, and within those frames in separate combs.  All of those bees: drones, workers and the queens have different roles and face different plights. The drones don't do much other than fertilize the queen, but they are also the first to die on the outside of the broodnest in case of a coldsnap. The worker bees provide the honey for the hive and the queen propogates the hive and can change the hive simply with her phermones. That is a much over-simplified analysis and probably slightly inaccurate of how a hive works (at least of what I know, I'm only on like page 13 of Beekeeping for Dummies), but despite having different compartments, overall every bee in the hive serves a purpose for the health and properity of the hive. 

As a macrobiome of a beehive, Wisconsin has been hit by Scott Walker with a smoke bomb, and now we are swarming. Our hive is threatened, our prosperity and our way of life is threatened. A honeybee will sting if it's food source or queen is threatened to the ends of losing its own life. The working class in Wisconsin is standing up as individuals and ready to take blows if it means protecting our prosperity and way of life of our people.

We must be empathetic. We must find our common ground or we will fall as a state. I see our common ground as strong public servants for good public services and infrastructure, quality education, and strong community values.

Family Values: For My Parents

I came home today from our All-member union meeting. Once my son Andy and I got home I started to think about what I was going to do in protest of Gov. Walker's "budget repair bill."  This bill would elminate the right to collectively bargain for working conditions and benefits for a majority of public employees including teachers.  It would also limit compensation to nothing greater than that of the consumer price index. This means that as I stand, I would never stand to earn more to improve my own standard of living and that of my child's. Tens of thousands of Wisconsin educators are feeling the same way today (well, at least the informed ones).  I looked at Andy and felt an instant of despair for us.  This bill must not pass as it stands, not for my own personal benefit, but for that of all public employees, the working class, and the future for the children in our classrooms.

I thought of Andy and that I want him to know that when it counted most his mom stood for her convictions.

I thought of my parents. My dad took me to his union meetings when I was young and didn't know why we were there, but I would listen. My dad stands for his convictions even when we wish he would just sit down for a little bit.

I thought of my first lesson in empathy when I was in fourth grade and it was a presidential election year. While my parents were talking about the election over dinner, we got on the topic of Welfare. I asked them, as I had heard one of my classmates say at school, "Why can't people on Welfare just get a job and work too?" My mom looked at me and said, "If something happened to me or your dad and we couldn't work for a living, wouldn't you want help for us too?" I was quiet after that. I understood that my parents were willing to pay slightly higher taxes out of their modest wages for this security, then there was good reason for it.  This is the value of taking care of each other and not poo-pooing another person's misfortune.

Unions are representative of what matters most: the value of family. Family values. No matter what religion, politics, sports team, etc. your family follows, the idea of a family is knowing who will be there for you when you need them.  The idea that even though we bickered at home constantly, my sister was the first to defend me to a playground bully.  In the 1990's and early 2000's the conservative movement hijacked the term of family values to mean either something vague and reminiscent of the two-parent nuclear, Norman Rockwell / Leave it to Beaver family that goes to church, or the antithesis of President Clinton's indiscretions with an intern.  President Clinton is still standing up for the poor today. Ken Starr? Newt Gingrich? Smears on the bathroom wall of relatively recent American history.  Normally I would say "my union" but I know now that this phrasing is wrong.  AS a UNION, WE bargain for our rights and working conditions as teachers, knowing first-hand what we need as educators to do our jobs to the best of our capabilities.  Our policies and contracts protect every single one of us from being bullied.  I myself have been guilty of not being active in my union at times while reaping the benefit of what my fellow educators who also served in our union did for the rest of us (be it settling the contracts or just making sure to be informed and informing other teachers when changes in the district are made). There is a reason why union members refer to other members as brothers and sisters. We stand or fall together.

I always remember my dad being active in his union. He understood this. Experience taught him that you can never turn your back on the man with your paycheck in his hand because he may push you under the train and pocket it.  When it comes to our working rights (and those of all working-class people) we need to be ever vigilant.  At least Gov. Walker has thrown that icy water on our indifferent faces this winter. We are awake now. If organized labor is a movement, Scott Walker is a bottle of Exlax now facing a shitstorm of his own making.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


This last Saturday was Abe Lincoln's birthday (and my belated grandmother's, who always joked she was soon going to be nearly as old as Abe Lincoln. She almost made it, passing away at the age of 89 back in 2004).  This post is in the spirit of unity, which for me is a running theme this week of Valentine's Day, Abe Lincoln's Birthday, my grandma's birthday, and recent political turmoil.

A hundred and fifty years ago President Lincoln faced much greater adversity than we do today.  The nation was distinctly divided and enemies made within our own shore. Today's political climate often feels this way as well: Conservative vs. Liberal, Left vs. Right. However, we often find that there is much more common ground when we open ourselves as individuals representing these parties to discourse.  With the recent "Budget Repair Bill" proposed by Wisconsin's newly elected Governor Walker, some Conservatives are realizing the value of unions, and "tax and spend" Liberals know that somewhere we will have to give up some social services, or pieces of what has created the comfortable and stable standard of living Wisconsinites have grown to know and love throughout our progressive history.

I love Wikipedia as it is the resource of the people. Since truth is what is accepted as being so, Wikipedia is the resource that the majority holds as being true, despite any Joe Schmo being able to go in and edit it.  Wikipedia defines politics as "a process by which groups of people make collective decisions." So many people turn and run at the mention of politics or political issues, but that is wrong. The people that (some of us) we elect make decisions from the collective values of the people as a whole. These are the decisions that pertain to ALL of us. We all benefit from paved roads, sewer and water services, police and fire protection, and public education.  I've heard so many people say, "I'm retired, my kids aren't in school anymore. I'm sick of paying high property taxes"  or something of the like.  In these conversations I find a huge disconnect with people from their communities. Don't they see that the physician that stitched up their hand last week after the nail gun incident was publicly educated? Don't they see that the mail carrier who brings them their blood pressure medication from Advocare is a public servant as well?  What about the guy who picks up the garbage at the end of the driveway? We all work for a living. We all benefit from strong public education that minimally enables us to fill out the application for our employment.

Currently in our state-wide budget crisis educators are the target as we not only benefit from a state retirement plan, but our salaries come out of property tax pools (as well as some other government programs).  My district has over 3,000 employees that benefit from our union-negotiated benefits and wages, but also turn around and invest that right back into our community.  Walker wants to cut taxes, but for whom? His personal history is that of a business man and Milwaukee County Executive.  I wonder what his truth is and where his values lie in connection (or disconnect) with the values of Wisconsinites as a whole (for those who need a reminder, Wisconsin has a history of strong schools and a progressive spirit). His actions speak much louder than the words tens of thousands of people shouting in the streets this week in support of public employees. I hope our legislators realize their check in power when it comes time for them to decide.

Today teachers and public servants are uniting to protest the usurpation of our rights to collectively bargain and the overall degradation of the services we provide to society as a whole. I feel stronger in unity with them, and hope the connection we make with the rest of the public is electric.

So often teachers give the perception that we are whiny and "get three months off." I had the enlightening experience of filing my taxes last night with my soon to be ex-husband.  Without any attempt to publicly defame him (he does that well enough on his own) he asked the tax preparer how much money I made in 2010. She told him flat out that he made nearly $10,000 more than I did, and I also had more tax withheld from my check.  For those of you who know little of my ex, he is an immigrant machine operator in a private company without even a diploma that had been recognized in the U.S. yet in 2010. He didn't have any more questions for her after that. This really put things into a personal perspective for me, as to how public sector employees compare with private sector in terms of wages.

My grandmother valued unity with family above all else in her life. She never had money, but worked hard.  Sometimes three jobs when her children were growing up.  She also valued unity among working class people.  Honest Abe Lincoln needed unity among the people in his presidency or the nation would crumble into chaos. As he famously said, " A house divided against itself cannot stand." This took a monumental effort to bridge a huge divide in the principles of our nation. On Valentine's Day I felt unity and connected with people I care for (which is what Valentine's Day is about - Saint Valentine uniting couples in the face of adversity).  I hope you did too. I hope you find unity today easily, and if you don't, look for it. Sometimes it takes standing on a corner picketing with hundreds of others dressed in red, working out with a friend, or getting home and hugging your loved one and knowing exactly what they are thinking without saying a thing at all.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On-time to count

Today I went home for lunch. As I was zooming back to school through busy Green Bay streets I approached an intersection where the light was red.  I merged left to be the first car in the left turn lane thinking, "I hope I am on-time to count," meaning that I hope my car hit the sensor before the light was already in the process to turn green for the other cars going straight. I promptly got the green arrow. Whew.

That phrase stuck with me in my comtemplative drive back to school (which one of the reasons I go home on occasion during lunch - the other reasons are: to escape the work place, drink soda out of a glass, or eat a reasonably healthy lunch that I didn't make time to pack).  There are so many times when we simply hope that we are on-time to count, or soon enough to make a difference. I made it back to school right on time.

For those who follow the political sphere (and some who are engulfed in it) are surely aware of the political embroiling of teachers in the state of Wisconsin. Currently anyone who benefits from a state retirement plan or who is a public-sector unionized employee may be subject to our newly elected governor's "Budget Repair Bill" in which not only will certain benefits (like health insurance and retirement) or wages be cut, but also the right to collectively bargain for unions of public employees would disappear. For teachers this means planning time, lunch (half) hour time, and responsibilities that fall outside the hours of the school day. This bill doesn't just affect teachers, but police officers, highway patrol, custodians, public radio, transportation, administrative buildings, etc., including the person cleaning the governor's office.  It is as if the solitary rug the working class stands on were trying to be legally pulled out from under us. Also, if unions for public employees are hurt in this bill, it weakens the pull and the voice of private unions as well, like those factory workers, plumbers, electricians, pipefitters, etc. Did I leave anyone out?

So often we do not look out for the rights of others until it affects us close to home, and then we care. Those who voted for Walker in the last election may have supported his idea of balancing the budget, but at what cost? This attack on unions is an attempt to usurp the voice of the working class people so that in the future we might be powerless to protest when our working-conditions are lowered to the point that no educated person will want to serve the public sector. As Elie Wiesel said, "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." However, I do not believe that in a democracy we are powerless to protest. Therefore I will be contacting my elected officials after school, hoping I am on-time to count.

Many people who work in service positions deal with this struggle with timing. Did the emergency room physician act on-time make a difference with the patient who was bleeding from trauma? Did the teacher intervene with the struggling student on-time for him to reach proficient standards before the end of the grading period? Did the pizza delivery man get there before the 30 minutes were up? As part of my professional development I am trying to learn not to procrastinate, but be proactive. Perhaps I should have campaigned more in the political season. I know I should spend more time planning, or better yet the same amount of time but in a more prioritized fashion. I struggle with this, but I am the only person who can correct my haphazard priorities. My problem is I feel that sometimes EVERYTHING is important. Prioritizing is a struggle for me. I hope that no one can ever accuse me of indifference.

One fault I find in the general American political climate is indifference. We have it good here (all of us for the most part) and thus do not see suffering like in other countries.  Our standard of living is the warm incubator of eggies of indifference. As Elie Wiesel also said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” I hope that when it comes to the well-being of others I will never be indifferent. I hope the same for my loved-ones, because indifference means a life devoid of passion and purpose.

I hope that today you are on-time to count. Whether it be improving your health through diet and exercise habits, going to bed earlier, balancing your checkbook, finishing homework, calling your representatives, protesting on the street, or telling someone you love them, it all matters, it is never too late to count.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Status Quo

Tonight's theme of status quo came on rather inanely (and grossly) in my hockey game today.  As I was skating and waiting for the faceoffs my nose started running and my ears started popping. My ears popped all the way home and after a good game of hockey, my head suddenly felt clearer. It felt as though I had a headcold for months that I had gotten so used to that I didn't even notice it anymore.  Stuffiness and dull-headedness had become my status quo, as it does for many teachers who have a cold or sinus infection from about early October to mid-May.  (Perhaps you didn't think you'd be reading about bodily fluids in a teacher's blog, but as a Kindergarten teacher it is hard not to blog about boogers sometimes.) 

Anyways, back to the theme.  I came to realize that the status quo either stays unnoticed or accepted until we find something better, sometimes by accident, by fate, or sometimes it was sought out.  All I know is that after a week of frigid temperatures, my head felt like all the grimy snowbanks were melting right out of it, like they were this beautiful February day in Wisconsin with near 40-degree temperatures.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and my 1-year anniversary of being single.  I came to a point a year ago exactly that the status quo in my marriage was simply unacceptable, unfair and unsustainable.  I have found a better life, and I know now that I will never let myself fall into a self-destructive status quo in my personal life again. Happy Anniversary, ME! Thanks everyone who helped me get on track to a better place! This past year has been one of gratitude, overcoming some hardships, and other new adventures like single-parenting,  playing hockey again and doing some other athetic events.

In the long 10 months that we teach for a school year, it is really easy to fall into a status quo.  It IS good to have routine, but it isn't so good to do the same-old, same-old, especially if it is just so-so.  Now that we have made it through the brunt of a beastly winter, I am going to make it a point to do something to break the status quo. Some of these lessons might not go really well, but I find that the kids react well to trying something different.  It can be the same content presented in different ways just to attract their little Kindergarten attention and watch their beautiful eyes light-up when they get to do something new and different.

While looking for pictures online regarding the idea of status quo I found  that there was a 70s band sharing the name.  I am kind of in a 70s heavy guitar, rocking mood today so I listened to a bunch of their songs on YouTube. Their song Is There a Better Way is maybe not instrumentally one of their best hits, but the lyrics and title fit smashingly with this post.

Is There A Better Way by Status Quo (Lancaster/Rossi)

Is there a better way? Is there a better way?
Is there a better way ahead or just another day?
There's got to be a way to make a better day
I'm gonna find away to make a better day

You're never gonna be the one to hold me down
You're never gonna be the one to hold me down
There never was a better way with you around

No matter what I do, do what you got to do
But do it now because the time is running out on you
You've got to find a way to make a better day
You've got to live and learn to fight another day

I'm never gonna be the one who put you down
I'm never gonna be the one who put you down
You never know there may be someone in the crowd
There may be someone in the crowd

Is there a better way? Is there a better way?
Is there a better way ahead or just another day?
Maybe you'll never know a better way to go
I've got a feeling you don't really want to know

I'll never let you be the one to hold me down
I'll never let you be the one to hold me down
There never was a better way with you around
There never was a better way

I'll never let you be the one to hold me down
I'll never let you be the one to hold me down
There never was a better way with you around
There never was a better way

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Morning Glory

Today was fantastic, maravilloso! It wasn't a Wednesday, and we made Valentine's Day cards with our reading buddies this morning. The kids were taking their time and doing a nice job.  We had indoor recess (as we did due to the below zero temperatures all week) and gave the kids a little extra play time to burn their excess energy off inside. I don't know if it was the Valentine's Day cards, or that the sun was shining, or that it was Thursday, but I was smiling all day. The kids were fun, funny, and sweet, but then again they usually are.

I have found that in my fifth year of teaching, something I really feel like I lack is the time to focus on our students, enjoy them and get to know their needs as the small people that they are.  From the very beginning of the year we are pushing our little 5 year-olds to reach high academic standards without really asking them what their standards for their teacher are.  I'm guessing it probably has something to do with hugs and good snacks. Today there was less focus on the structure and more on the kids.  It was an unintended but welcome break.

Following their excitement with the Packers winning the superbowl, we had a math lesson with a little clipart running-back and a field with 0 to 10 yards.  The running back would "run" forward a number of yards and then the students figured out how many yards were left to get to 10 for a first down. It was really simple to put together, but the students loved being able to manipulate the football player but not necessarily have to write down answers. I was amazed at how quickly they began to understand the concept of "10s Friends."

After school we had a meeting and we were presented with more resources as to how to develop the students' ability to form and decode words in Spanish.  Sometimes I look at these new curriculum pieces that are hundreds and hundreds of pages long in disbelief.  I am supposed to know them well, but I simply feel that I am missing out on knowing my students. There isn't enough time in the day (let alone paid time) to do it all. My students only have one shot at Kindergarten (well, in MOST cases) and I only have one shot to make them love school, feel valued, and teach them real life and learning skills. If the curriculum materials are valuable enough I will learn it through using it with the students.  Otherwise it seems as though the trend is to replace it with something else after a few years. I know I sound a bit jaded on this already, but no one loves my job more than I do. It simply takes time to learn students, their capabilities, and then later to find materials that appropriately match what the students are capable of doing.

In Kindergarten it seems like all our little morning glories are expected to blossom, and they usually do. This is the idea of "No Child Left Behind." Their parents provide them with the soil (some richer and darker than others), the teachers are the gardners that provide the trellis, and those little flowers reach for the sun on their own. There are always those stunted ones and you get to a certain point where you simply cannot put anymore fertilizer on them or your burn them out and possible damage the soil for the rest of the plot.  If we keep over-watering them with information they won't even look to the sun anymore, but feel like they are drowning where they stand. This is what "developmentally appropriate" means to me: room to grow on the trellis and the right amount of sun and rain to do so.  They simply won't photosynthesize any faster than nature lets them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

China Beach & Growing Pains

Two shows I remember from my youth...This blog is going to serve as the wall in the kitchen where I mark how much I'm growing - hence "Growing Pains." It isn't as measureable as getting taller, and there won't be other marks to compare it to, but it is out here for anyone who cares to see. "China Beach" is in reference to the theme song (see link) and the reflective purpose this blog serves.

This year is really the first time I have forced myself to reflect on my career. I have finally started to figure out my own personal situation. It is my fifth year teaching, so before there wasn't a lot of material to really reflect on. Every year my job seemed to change a little bit. Now I am in my second consecutive year as a bilingual kindergarten teacher, teaching all the content areas. Hooray for continuity! 

For the last three to four years my personal life was infringing  on my professional growth. Last February I finally made the decision to get out of my (sham of a) marriage.  The experience of the relationship was like being caught in a rip-tide. It came on so quickly and that in order to keep afloat with the circumstances I found myself in I kept swimming towards the shore, reaching for solid ground. I finally came to the realization that I had to swim straight perpendicularly out of the current altogether and get out of the pull of the past because I wasn't getting any closer to shore.  I am finally back on the beach, exhausted from swimming, but happy to feel the sun and sand in my toes again.  I found someone else crawling back on the beach after being sucked on in a similar (and possibly even worse) rip-tide.  Knowing he is a strong enough swimmer to get back on shore after that makes me feel comfortable enough to get back in the water and wade around a bit. Plus he looks great in swim trunks.

Since I am safely back on dry land, I have decided to move forward with my professional development through a professional development certificate and graduate courses.  It has been a challenge to finish things between working full time, my son (who is two and a half) and other commitments. My lack of organization and time management have been pulling me under from making progress, but after the events of the last few years I think I am tough enough to manage it and become a more organized person as a result. Sometimes it is hard to remember how to reprioritize objectively after being through an experience that was nearly all-consuming. My new professional goals are going to force me to ultimately look first at personal goals I have always had: to prioritize more effectively in order to manage my time better and actually complete projects.  That last sentence is completely uncharacteristic of me.  It is almost a little scary. I want to be that person, but I don't know her.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


As part of my professional development and lack of organization therein, I have decided that a blog is the best place to reflect on my teaching practices. Not only can I access it from anywhere for whenever a thought worth documenting might occur in my overcaffeinated brain, I hope this blog will also provide a way for me to share (as we all learned to do in Kindergarten) as a collaborative colleague. Truly, everything you ever really needed to know, you learned in Kindergarten. I must have not done very well the first time through because now I am back and still learning a lot.

Here I will be posting and consolidating reflections from the present and a within a year back. Thank you for your attention.