I started this blog as a sharing site for those of us wishing to make schools better places. This blog is a method for parents, grandparents, educators, and child advocates to share ideas. Please feel free to share your experience and ideas in a courteous and respectful manner. I look forward to … Read More...
My husband, Stewart and I went to Germany. Since I didn’t want to be a rude foreigner expecting everyone to speak MY native language, I learned enough German phrases to order in a restaurant, navigate the train systems, and translate local weather reports. Overall, the German people were warm, inviting, and friendly whether or not we spoke their language.
We travelled by train to Hamburg and schlepped our luggage from the station to our hotel. I was dreaming of soaking in a hot bath, drinking bottled water that wasn’t carbonated. Many European restaurants serve carbonated water as the beverage of choice.
We offloaded our luggage and walked to a neighborhood supermarket. As we readied for checkout, I pulled out my credit card to pay. Stewart grimaced. Germany had already switched from the magnetic swipe system I used at home to the chip system. He had seen me struggle navigating the card reader directions written in German. I explained I wanted to save my Euros for our final cab ride to the airport. I studied the person in front of me using the chip reader, trying to memorize the steps in the process.
I spoke the usual greeting, “Guten tag” to the clerk at the checkout stand. The harried 20-something woman didn’t smile back as the check-out line began to lengthen during this busy part of the day.
As she scanned my items, I inserted my card in the chip reader. I couldn’t read the German directions telling me when to remove the card or submit my PIN. My panicked brain would not retrieve the practiced German phrases. I pulled my card from the machine and handed the clerk cash. She yanked the card from my hand and barked something in German. I don’t know what she said, but it wasn’t, “Welcome to our beautiful country. May I help you?” She pushed the card back into the machine and pounded codes into the keypad.
The kind-looking man behind me gave a sympathetic half-smile. The clerk continued, louder this time. She paused. I assumed she was awaiting my response. Flustered, I could only say, “Sprechen sie English?” (Do you speak English?)
She rolled her eyes. There are some gestures that are international. Feeling the stares of those waiting in line behind me, I kept my eyes on the transation.
Stewart’s footsteps said, I told you so, as he walked toward the exit. I considered leaving my items behind and following him, but the promise of non-fizzy water and a hot bath with epsom salt changed my mind. I muttered an apology to a kind-looking man behind me, picked up the water, salt, and German chocolates, and headed for the peace and comfort of our hotel room. The week of trying to navigate a foreign culture and language was taking a toll. There was a LOT of noise going on in my head.
During the quiet of my evening salt-bath soak, I thought about the hundreds of public school students I taught who were learning a new language and culture as immigrants. I hope I was always patient and kind. But I’m sure there are times I wasn’t was overwhelmed, tired, and impatient. Like the clerk, I expected newcomers to adhere to my rigid classroom expectations. Some of my students might have taken a risk like I did to learn something new in a short time period and frustrated their classmates who huffed their impatience under their breath or rolled their eyes. I thought of the thousands of students in the schools I coach. Some of the schools educate students with as many as 50 different dialects. Considering everyone’s needs, learning styles, abilities, and language acquisition is a daunting task!
Just like my experience of learning to use a credit card chip system in another language, students learning new skills, such as mathematics, computer coding, cooking, playing an instrument, or welding while practicing a new language is over-the-top difficult. Fortunate students have teachers who understand mastery takes extra time, extra practice for students and extra patience for teachers. Less fortunate students sometimes experience public shaming.
I wonder what might have happened if someone who spoke fluent German called out the clerk for her behavior? What if someone who knew both languages stepped up to help me navigate the card reader? What if someone quietly said a few softspoken, kind words to the stressed clerk? Would a small act of courage and kindness help?
The experience reminded me to be an encourager by speaking a gentle reminder when someone rolls her eyes or sneers at the teen who doesn’t fit in. I can practice courage when someone tells a racial or ethnic joke. I can model compassion to speak up for the those outside the mainstream culture; the LGBTQ student or friend struggling to fit in; the shy obese girl; the child with special needs; or the immigrant.
Have someone ever shamed you because you were an outsider?
How did your experience help you practice compassion?
I never lose my cell phone. Never. Since I work from a home office and travel frequently, my phone connects me to the office and clients. I need it for my livelihood. While travelling, I keep it close by and check it obsessively for time, flight updates, and messages from home or the office. I keep multiple chargers, one in my travel bag, one in my car, and several at home to keep the juice flowing. I never want to be out of touch when on the road. I never lose my phone until I lost my phone.
I was on my way to a family ski trip. As usual, I checked my phone multiple times while waiting to board. As the plane landed, I reached to turn my phone on to check messages. It wasn’t in the usual places, my pocket, purse, or my laptop case outer pocket. After deplaning, I searched every inch of my laptop bag without success. Since this trip was only for a long weekend, I wanted to spend every moment enjoying the family and the beautiful Rocky Mountains, not trying to locate or disabling a phone. I spent much of the evening contacting the airline lost and found department and the phone company. At bedtime, I shopped online for a new phone and made arrangements to pick it up the following morning at the phone store.
The following morning, the family took the car to the mountain to ski and I called a cab for a ride to pick up my phone, so I could enjoy the rest of the vacation. My cab driver, I’ll call him Luis to protect his privacy, slumped low in the cab, hiding his face behind his dark hoodie. I gave him the destination address for the 15-minute trip and started the usual small talk.
Me: “This is a beautiful city. How do you like living here?”
Luis: “I don’t feel like talking.”
Me: “That’s fine. I understand.”
I remained quiet. Before we reached the end of the block he said, “I thought this would be a good place to live, but I was wrong. It hasn’t been good to me.” He began pouring out his distress about his health. He had gastrointestinal problems. He had been to multiple doctors, had a colonoscopy, and still no answers. He was sick, miserable, and discouraged.
I told him I had GI issues as well, so much so that I had surgery to remove a portion of my colon. I explained that traditional doctors saved my life, but I had to use functional medicine specialists to find the right help with my diet to get well. Luis said that he was out of money for doctors he spent it all on the tests. He used to be a happy and fun person to be around. Now, he is sick and he is a drag to everyone around him. He said his friends and family would be better off without him.
His words concerned me greatly and I knew I had only a few minutes to talk with him before arriving at our destination. Besides the time constraints, I knew Luis could not hear much chatter, as he was in depression’s pit. Why I lost my phone became clear to me. I knew I could not hold back telling him about my son’s suicide and there was no time to gently ease into Jay’s story.
I don’t talk to strangers about something as sacred as Jay’s passing. I learned better from watching the horror on peoples faces and experiencing the uncomfortable silence that follows. When an acquaintance makes small talk about my family, I say we have four children. Most people don’t want to know details about our large blended-family brood. They don’t ask questions and move the conversation to something else. I’m relieved.
I told Luis I knew something about depression, as I had been depressed myself and that my son took his own life when he was 16. I further explained, Jay was a school shooter, holding his classmates hostage with a gun, before taking his own life. Luis sat up a little straighter in his seat and lowered his hoodie to hear. He asked questions about my son’s death. I tried to express in a few words the magnitude of grief and guilt a suicide leaves behind for the family, especially the mother.
I told him there was help for his GI issues. There is evidence that the gut creates much of the serotonin, the chemical responsible for depression or feeling good. When the gut is out of balance, some people become depressed. I learned this through my recovery to better health through functional medicine specialists.
Luis asked more questions. He said he was trying to eat right and explained in explicit detail his GI distress. He spoke without embarrassment as someone would to a physician or with another human who understood his distress and the intimate intricacies of a very personal body function. Luis was discouraged because he didn’t have any money left for seeking other types of help.
I asked him if he told the doctors about his depression. He said no. I suggested he go to the emergency room and to explain how he was feeling. They could help. That was the immediate need. He wondered how they could help with depression when the issue was his gut.
Luis: “They (the doctors) told me there was nothing wrong with me.”
Me: “You are not crazy. Depression and GI issues are related. The traditional doctors you saw might not know this. The immediate need is to deal with depression and you didn’t tell them about this.”
Louis’ tone turned angry.
Luis: “I went to bed last night and asked for a miracle. Jesus could do a miracle. He could heal me. I asked for a miracle and expected one when I woke up this morning. Jesus could do a miracle and heal me, but he won’t.”
I felt the short ride’s time ticking away.
Me: “You wanted a miracle. Here’s your miracle. I never lose my phone. Never. But I lost my phone yesterday on the way to this city. I did not want to catch a cab this morning and spend my vacation at the phone store. I wanted to enjoy the city and the mountains. Because I lost my phone I am riding in your cab. Who else in this city would understand GI issues like I do, someone who has been there?”
Luis: “No one”
Me: “Who else would ride in your cab that understands GI problems and depression?”
Luis: “No one”
Me: “So there’s your miracle. It doesn’t look like you thought it would. It’s not an immediate healing, but losing my phone and me being in this cab with you is a miracle. Now pray for the next miracle. Look for the next small miracle. Go to the ER. Tell them you are depressed. Ask them to help you. Ask God to send the next right person to you. Sometimes miracles are one small step at a time or the right person at the right time. I know you can get well. I did.”
The cab pulled into the parking lot. I touched Luis’s shoulder and the next miracle was he didn’t recoil. I gave him a card with my contact information. I told him I would have a new phone within an hour and he could call me anytime he needed me. I would listen. I said, “I will pray for you and pray for your next miracle. Please go to the ER today.”
God used my lost phone to connect me with Luis and influence him to seek treatment. But God also used Luis to speak to me. I am hesitant to speak about Jay’s passing with those outside my very small circle of friends and family. There is shame associated with mental illness and suicide. As the parent of a school shooter, I experienced this in a exaggerated way. The media frenzy, the comments from well-meaning yet ignorant people, and the verbal attacks from just plain mean people left scars.
Most parents of school shooters go into hiding. However, I was a self-supporting single parent when Jay died. I couldn’t hide physically. I had to keep my remaining family afloat financially and emotionally. I continued to work the following years as a teacher, administrator, and instructional specialists. My fear of public shame and ridicule were compounded by concern of losing my livelihood. So in a way, my silence was a hiding place. Meeting Luis was my divine cue to speak up. I’m leaving my shame behind along with my lost cell phone. The new model is better anyway.
Educators are some of the most dedicated professionals I know. They spend time and money improving their skills; devote countless hours outside their required work hours preparing lessons and the classroom environment; and attend trainings and take college classes to improve their craft. Many use money from their family budget to supply their classrooms or send snacks home with hungry children. Because of educators’ devotion to service, they often find themselves overworked, tired, and missing the time and energy to enjoy their families.
If an educator desires a long-term profession rather than a temporary job, one must find ways to sustain the energy and finances over time. Trying to do too much at once to the detriment of one’s health, personal fulfillment, finances, or family life leads to burn out. See Self-care for Teachers: A Lesson from my Peach Tree. Busy teachers find themselves helping beyond the school day to sponsor student organizations; attend professional development; coach sports, music, or fine arts activities; serve on committees; sponsor a class; help with the prom; sell tickets or work in concession stands at sporting events; and/or help students raise funds for various events. Because educators have skills and experience, communities and organizations often ask for help with teaching faith-based classes, hosting events, and organizing service projects. All of these activities are worthy of an educator’s time and effort, but it is impossible to do everything at once without burning up and burning out. In order to have an enduring career in the education profession, it’s important to consider request for time carefully and consider the following.
- Evaluate your time. Keep a log of your time for several days during a typical week and weekend. Mark each day in 15-minute increments and keep track of how you spent your time. Include planning, teaching, answering emails, grading student work, meeting with colleagues, serving on committees, communicating with parents. Include sleep, showering and dressing, answering emails, preparing meals, eating, exercise, rest, play, and family time.
- Evaluate your mission. For teachers: Is it to provide the best possible instruction? For principals and other school leaders: Is your mission to provide services to improve instruction? For all: Do you have a mission or goals for your personal life? If not, consider what you want for yourself and your family and write a personal and family mission statement.
- Compare your time log and your mission. Does your time log mirror your mission and goals? If your mission is to help teachers with instruction, yet you more time dealing with angry parents or on management task rather than improving instruction, your actions are misaligned. Which activities need reevaluation? Are there some activities in your personal life that do not add value to your life? Might you eliminate or minimize these?
- Consider improvement over time. Which activities will help you improve your professional practice? Consider how you might complete those activities over time rather than doing too much at once. For example, you might spend 15 minutes a few times a week learning a new skill or connecting with teachers on social media sites to glean new teaching techniques. Alternatively, would an uninterrupted block of time help you improve? An example is attending professional development over a long weekend rather than learning skills in short segments?
- Assign teamwork – In order to improve schools, everyone must do some extra duties, such as participating in professional learning communities or providing students with extra help or enrichment activities. How might schools or teams divide the work fairly?
- Ask for help. Look for ways for others to help you at home and at school. Is it possible for your older children to help with laundry and meals? Does your school have parent group that can help you with classroom duties? Are some of the teachers doing most of the work? Are there community groups that can send snacks home with hungry students on days when school meal programs are unavailable?
- Finally, find joy in your work. Which activities do you enjoy? When we are living our life’s purpose, there is joy in our work and life. While we all have some duties that simply have to be done, how might you minimize the time on those task to do the work you enjoy most? Are there others on your home or school team who would love doing the activities you detest? Could you do some of their tasks in return?
It can be scary to look at your schedule in a new way. But having the resources including time and energy for a balanced life is worth the effort. Next: The Art of Saying NO
Some years the single peach tree in our garden produces so much fruit that I make enough jelly for our extended family and close friends. Other years, drought, warm winters, or a late freeze prevents the tree from bearing. Early this spring, we were delighted to see hundreds of pink blossoms turn into tiny fuzzy peaches. The bumper crop was due to the right number of cool winter nights and plenty of winter and spring rains. I counted the days until the flesh would ripen and the green fruit would morph to peach and cream, fuzzy, deliciousness. I imagined the first bite of the fully ripe fruit so juicy that the nectar would dribble down my chin. I purchased half-pint jelly jars from the local dollar store, envisioning the delight of my family and friends as we presented homemade jelly as gifts.
This year, the tree produced hundreds of peaches no larger than a golf ball. The tree dropped most of its leaves and looked sickly. I researched gardening websites to figure out what we had done wrong. Did we need more fertilizer or water? The answer was that we should have pruned some of the fruit. To be exact, we should have clipped away much of the small fruit allowing each peach six to eight inches of space on the tree. The gardening experts state that the tree cannot provide enough nutrients and water to grow the fruit the proper size. I’m concerned that our tree might not survive the remainder of the hot Texas summer and fall.
My fruit tree taught me a lesson in self-care. While I’s counterintuitive to prune and discard what looks like perfectly good fruit, sometimes I need to do so. Sometimes I do so many things that I don’t do any of them well. Pruning my schedule and my to-do list helps me focus on quality rather than quantity. What do you need to prune from your life and teaching practice?
I recently took a trip to nowhere to keep my airline priority status. My friends found it amusing that I would spend my own nickel and a Saturday during the holiday season to keep the status. My previous job assignment required that I travel to multiple schools weekly. Since I spent more time developing curriculum recently, I traveled less and needed three more flying segments between cities to keep my status for another year. Therefore, I flew to a nearby city and returned the same day. Before my work required frequent travel, I didn’t realize all of the perks that came with priority membership. I really would miss those privileges.
Elite status means I don’t have to pay to check my bags, which saves money. I calculated the return on investment for purchasing a trip to nowhere and determined that I would eventually save money by purchasing a short trip. As an elite airline member, I have seats available to me that other passengers do not have. I am able to board earlier than non-elite passengers are. For road warriors looking for a hassle free experience, early boarding allows ease in storing belongings before the bins are full. This means I save time by having my bags nearby and save travel time. On full flights, late arrivals must sometimes stow luggage to the rear of their seat meaning they must wait until the plane clears and schlep to the back of the plane to collect belongings. A delay when trying to make a connecting flight, make it to a meeting, or arriving late at the hotel sometimes makes a difference. When I call on the airline for service, the airline representative greets me by name. My cell phone number is in the database and they move the order of my call higher in the queue in order to help me with rescheduling my flight in the event of a delay. They use my preference information to book an aisle seat and text the information to me.
When I moved from gold to platinum status, I was surprised to find even more perks – perhaps the most important one when it comes to customer service. They mark my checked bags with a priority tag meaning that my bags might be one of the first to arrive on the carousel, saving time to get to the hotel or meeting. Perhaps the most important platinum benefits are a pack of tickets elite members is a packet of printed slips to reward employees for excellent service. I am not sure what they receive from the airline, but it must be good – because they scramble to help elite members, offering snacks, personally delivered information on connecting flights, and checking to see if one is comfortable.
As I travelled that day, I thought about how my perspective changed when I saw the difference in customer service between being a regular flyer and being an elite member. During my career, I have visited hundreds of schools and classrooms. Some children receive an education that is the equivalent of having elite membership. Schools and school districts offer the offer superior sports programs, fine arts and performing arts programs, and superior academics. The schools offer field experiences, exposing students to a world outside of their neighborhood by visiting businesses and industries and behind the scenes tours and speaking with professionals in the field. Some classrooms have amazing guest artists, and trips to the ballet, the symphony, and museums. Some schools have outstanding science, engineering, engineering, and math (STEM) programs with modern science equipment, planetariums, outdoor classrooms, classroom gardens, and partnerships with local industry and colleges and access to STEM professionals as mentors. Privileged students have access to updated technology and adequate computer access for every student so they do not have to fight for computer time or spend time hand writing assignments that they could type in a fraction of the time. It is similar to knowing I have a place to store luggage on the plane or trying to beat other passengers to the storage bin during a late boarding. In elite-type schools, teachers use technology to teach, record grades, help with homework, provide tutorials and extra help resources for students, and communicate with parents.
My work with children in less fortunate situations is challenging. While I find it thrilling to help schools improve, I sometimes have to convince the teachers, school leaders, and district leaders that there are experiences beyond what they know. They attempt to do the best they can with what they have, but have become discouraged when their requests for teaching materials, time to collaborate, and better professional development are turned down. Some believe that their schools are good enough because they have never seen better schools. Their experiences are much like those of my friends and colleagues who think I’m wasting my time and money travelling to nowhere and back. Many educators and parents do not know what students are missing. If they did, they would insist on quality experiences for every child. They would insist that decision makers and legislators fully fund educational efforts.
In communities in which parents expect an outstanding educational experience for their children, they insist that schools have the necessary facilities, technology, equipment, and the latest professional development for staff. Educated parents do not tolerate poor teaching or leadership. Parents expect no less than the best. They use their resources to ensure the school and or the district takes action to improve the situation. They use their political power to press for improvement. When the budget doesn’t allow for what some believe are extras and I believe are essential, such as violin lessons, piano labs, and foreign language training at all grade levels, parents raise funds to provide these perks. When a classroom or school does not provide the proper environment, parents might resort to moving their child to a class with an effective teacher or switch schools to make sure their children have the best possible education.
Every student deserves an elite experience.