Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Let me tell you about my kids.
When he was little, my elder child wanted to paint his nails because he liked it. He thought it was pretty and fun and he wanted to do it. So we let him.
He stopped because of teasing. Other preschool and kindergarten boys told him it was girly and gay and definitely wrong. Someone had already clearly taught them about gender, and they used it as a weapon against my child. His teachers and parents could not make the world safe enough, so he hid who he was.
He didn't like sports. He didn't like shoot-em-up video games. He loved logic puzzles and beautiful graphics and thoughtful stories. He still does.
We didn't tell him he had to love these things. He just chose them on his own.
Our younger son was AFAB* so we put him in dresses and he chose leopard print everything to wear, and wouldn't let me touch his hair. He grew up loving art and science with a burning passion. He picked and chose from every side of the gender spectrum based on his own aesthetic response to the universe. He is uniquely himself in all ways.
I didn't know he was a boy or "make" him be one.
He told us, when he was ready, who he was inside.
Nobody is indoctrinating the children by showing them rainbow flags or even by letting them know that it is okay, it is always okay, to be who you are. It is not indoctrination to say we will love you as you are no matter what.
Children know, from a very young age, what they like and dislike and how they feel inside. Mentioning the words "gay" and "trans" do not force or even persuade *anybody* to be someone they weren't already in the first place.
We aren't indoctrinating the children.
We're just trying, desperately, to make the world safe for them to exist as they are.
*Assigned Female at Birth. Which brings me to the thought I have every time I hear "God made your child a girl, God doesn't make mistakes." If you believe this, ask yourself why you are so devoutly sure of a gender assignment made at birth by a person? Not God. A person. Isn't it possible that the person who assigned the gender got it wrong because they were basing it only on what they could see? Maybe the mistake is in our own understanding of how utterly complex people are in their creation.
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
It's your friendly neighborhood teacher again. Can we talk? I know you've seen all those bills that have been popping up in every state -- some have even passed -- requiring that teachers post their daily lesson plans for all 180 days of school in August. That way, the proponents argue, parents can opt their children out of lessons they don't like! Easy, right?
Except...this week I learned that one of my students at one* school is really struggling with perfectionism. She's angry and having outbursts, so next week, we're planning some read-alouds that we hope will help. I'm reading "When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry" and we'll read "Ish" later on, and I'm going to scout around for some good anchoring activities to go with them. It's called Bibliotherapy and it's one of my favorite tools in the toolbox for helping little people deal with big emotions.
At another school, the classroom teacher informed me that many students, including most of my gifted ones, are not good with re-telling, so I'm going to unearth my Reader's Theater folders and we're going to have the kids start practicing re-telling through theater. It'll take some time for me to update what I have, and be sure it's differentiated for the various reading levels in the room, but, you know, that's my job.
At my third school, I've been working on a long-term project, but my co-teacher and I are modifying it for some kids who are still not solid on their informational text skills. How do we know? Because we have work from a few days ago that tell us where the kids need some re-teaching. So we'll do that. That's how good teaching works.
Now, tell me please, how could any of us possibly have known in August, before we even met the kids, that they would need three very different kinds of lessons during the last week of February?
No amount of legislative wrangling or educational laws can make that possible, either.
Good teaching is all about knowing the kids, knowing where they are and what they need to keep learning. Teachers only figure that out by working with students every day, and adjusting and revising as we go. Lessons can be stellar, or they can flop and we need to try again. Some kids get it on the first try, others not till the 12th. Or 50th. And there's just no way to know all of that in August.
New books are published all the time, and so are new lesson plans, new technology, new apps, new games and just new ideas. Good teachers are always on the lookout for better ways to teach, and there's just no way to know, in August, what might be available in December that is exactly the thing to reach the kids.
In a world that is increasingly uncertain, it's understandable that parents want to feel some kind of control, especially when their children are involved. I'm a parent. I get it. The sheer amount of "I wasn't expecting this" is overwhelming, especially now. For the past two years we haven't been able to let parents into our classrooms, or help with our copying, hanging kids' artwork, collating, stapling, and gathering supplies. Parents haven't been able to be part of school the same way they have in the past, and we don't know when they will again. Believe me, we miss having you there, too. We feel just as disconnected.
But these bizarre bills, demanding to know every detail of every day of the next school year aren't going to fix that disconnect, even if that were something that was possible. What will fix it, and make all of us feel better, is just...talking. Talk with me. I'm your kid's teacher. I love your kid more than you realize and want them to grow into a thinker and learner and, above all, into a kind person.
My guess is you want those things, too, and if I were to ask you what activity you planned to do with them 4 months from now to ensure that would happen, you'd look at me like I was crazy. How could anyone possibly know that?
And you'd be right.
Your Child's Teacher
*Yes. I teach at 3 different schools. With 13 different classrooms. That's another issue entirely.
Monday, October 25, 2021
Hi. I'm your child's teacher. You know, the one your kid loves and talks to you about every day? The one you actually requested the principal assign your child? Yes, hello! We met at conferences, and I had your older son three years ago. Can we talk for a moment?
I saw your post about this awful new SEL that schools are "forcing down your child's throat!" and "using to indoctrinate innocent students!" I read the memes that your group shared that are frightening everyone around you into thinking that I'm trying to convert your child into something dreadful. I thought, maybe, we could chat about that. SEL is being made out to be one of those scary, deep state acronyms, but really it just stands for "Social-Emotional Learning."
The most important thing I want to share with you is that SEL isn't new like they're saying. It's been around since we both were in school*, only then we just called it the "School Principles" (because they were very punny that way) or the "Highland Cares" curriculum and we made posters and signs about Kindness, Respect, Determination, Fairness and Caring. Our teachers read us books about Ramona and Beezus and we talked about how Ramona faced consequences for her decisions, and didn't we have to do that, too? Later on we had debates about the Effects of Pollution versus Meeting the Needs of the Human Population, and about whether it was fair for King George to impose taxes unilaterally. We cried at our desks when our boyfriends broke up with us, and we knew which teacher to go to when we really, really just needed to talk. Ninety percent of middle school was learning how to navigate the social structures and get a grip on my emotions. Thank God for the teachers who understood how hard that was, and helped me through it because Lord knows that they weren't trained for it. Social Emotional learning was the bedrock of our education, even though they didn't call it that.
So why do we call it that now? Probably because of this guy named Maslow, who came up with a list of Needs, in order, that people have to have in order to survive**. At the bottom are Physical Needs like food, clothing and shelter, which is why schools have free breakfasts and lunches now, and why the secretaries have a stash of extra clothes for kids. Because the child who is hungry or filthy isn't going to be learning anything today. Next is the Need for Safety and Security, so teachers are trained now on how to help kids feel safe as possible in an uncertain world. Some children come to us from seriously unsafe places, and there are days it's all hands on deck trying to help those kids know that here, in this classroom they are safe.
You'd think, that if we have those basics down, we'd be all set to learn, right? Maslow says no, we're not. Next is the Need to feel Loved and like we Belong. Love and acceptance. Those are powerful ideas, and this is where SEL truly lives. That survey we give about the "values we're indoctrinating" into your child? That is us trying our hardest to see how well we are doing right here at this level. Want to know what those values are? Here you go:
Sense of Belonging
That's it. That's what we're trying to help your children attain. Hope for their future. Determination to overcome challenges. The ability to feel their big emotions and cope with them every day. The feeling they are loved, valued, and respected and above all that they belong to a caring community.
Why do this thing that you say "doesn't belong in schools" and "only belongs in the home?" We do this vital, important work because without it we can never get kids to that next level of actually being able to successfully learn. Just as a hungry child can't learn, neither can a child who is convinced the world hates him and feels he has nothing of value to contribute. We cannot teach a child who is balled up in a corner, head and knees drawn into her shirt. And we have these children in our classrooms every single day.
This is what SEL is. And that is why we embrace it. We are social beings, and learning how to manage our emotions is a huge part of being human. We do not just teach math, or science, or reading. We teach CHILDREN.
If you're still worried, come talk to me. I'll make the time. If we sit down and talk to one another, we might both come away with a better understanding. If there's still something wrong, I want to help fix it.
Just like I would with your child.
Your child's teacher
*approximately 100 years ago in "the 1900s" as my students call it.
**If you'd like to learn more about Maslow and his ideas, and why so many people think he was correct, this site is pretty decent, but there are roughly 10 million others, too.
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
The Bloggess posted about it being September and how Septembers are always hard for her, and she doesn't remember it until she goes back to previous years and sees that, yes, Septembers are harder. There is less light, and it's time to get out the light box. And maybe it's other things, too, I don't know.
For me, the hardest month has always been February and not just because it's weird to spell. There's not a ton of light in February, either, and we're still at least month away from going onto daylight savings time* and everything is gray. The trees, the snow on the ground, the sky, everything. You suffer through 3 weeks of cold, neverending slush and wake up to realize it's February 6th. Every day is Tuesday and there's a staff meeting you forgot. That's February for you, and I hate it every year.
But this September isn't breaking any records for me, either.
Last year at this time we were starting a new and scary school year in hybrid, and learning how to use online teaching and zoom and masking and staying 6 feet apart and it was all pretty terrible and challenging. My department lost a staff position to budget cuts and needing the person to staff the online school, but everyone was taking hits for the team so we buckled down and did it. We were a TEAM, by gum, and we would pull together and do the job because it was important.
This year, the district hired over 140 new teachers and did not replace the one gifted teacher we lost.
We have more kids to serve than we did a couple years ago, and they could not, somehow, find it in the budget to replace one gifted teacher.
We have been cut, and cut and cut.
I have 100 kids on my list to serve. and 14 teachers to support. And my load is lighter than most. From higher ups I hear how I ought to be doing more, and I'm sent articles on how gifted education isn't having any impact.**
We are back at school full time, and we are all wearing masks now. We are trying to be as "normal" as possible, with some parents full on attacking teachers, attacking science, and accusing us of brainwashing their children for daring to read a book with a Black main character.
It is disheartening.
The kids are troopers. They are good about masking and they just want to be kids. They give me hugs and light up when they see me. They are the best thing, and they keep me going.
But this September has been hard, and while I feel the job I do is important, I don't have the time to serve the kids the way they deserve. The work I do does not feel meaningful, in the same way that spreading out a charity donation of $100 to 50 charities isn't really meaningful. The effort of cashing the checks negates the value of the $2. But I'm still out the hundred bucks, and all anybody got was annoyed. I want to have hope that things will get better, but it seems like right now the light at the end of the tunnel has been redistributed to another department.
The best news I've gotten is that the State wants to give teachers booster shots starting in October. And my hometown has gone rogue and declared masks mandatory for public indoor spaces. So there's that. But I'm still down.
And I'm not looking forward to February.
*which we should always be on, imo. To hell with reality and matching sundials. It's not like using time zones doesn't muck about with time anyway, and I'm okay with kids going to school in the dark. 90% of the kids in my neighborhood have parents waiting with them at the bus stop anyways if they're in grade school. And yes, I realize we've got a lot of privilege to do that, but having it be a little lighter in the morning for a month or two isn't going to fix the problem. Give me my light in the afternoons. I cannot abide having the sun go down at 4pm.
**how much impact does any education have when you reduce it 90 minutes a week at best? The answer here isn't "let's just get rid of it, it clearly doesn't work" it's "maybe we ought to try doing it right for a change, and then see what happens?"
Friday, January 15, 2021
It started with a cough. Day 0.
Coughs are unusual for me. But still, it couldn't be Covid. Nobody I work with was sick, no one I'd come into contact with over the last two weeks was ill (and they still aren't.) So how could I possibly have Covid?* The next day I got a fever. Those are really unusual for me. Nightfall arrived with the blinding headache, body ache and chills. I didn't sleep much. Everything hurt.
We scheduled a rapid covid test for the morning of Day 2, and J drove, as I was unfit to take myself. It was supposed to be a rapid one, but "Oh, the website says we have them, but that's only some locations in the city. Not this one." Sigh. Home again to continue the alternating regimen of ibuprofen and acetaminophen that were doing nothing to reduce the fever and a succession of hot baths that were helping with the joint pain. I felt like I'd been hit by a truck.
On day 3 the fever was gone but so was any energy to do...anything. Use the bathroom, lie down for an hour. Put on clothes, lie down for an hour. Sit up to eat some food, lie down for an hour. Was this what they meant by fatigue? It seemed an inadequate word. I could still smell everything, though, and we wondered if it was really covid or just some bad, bad cold.
On day 4 I woke to a text that declared "POSITIVE" in big red letters. I was now a statistic. Still, my energy had started to return, and I was able to sit through a zoom work meeting and remain coherent so hey! Maybe it's not all that bad. I'm one of the lucky ones. And I am, really, even though Day 5 saw the return of the fatigue and mental fuzziness.
Well. Now we had gone into clearly unfair territory. I was getting better! I'd fought this off! We were past the worst of it and ... why doesn't my coffee smell as strong? Why is J saying "hey dinner smells really good" when it doesn't smell like anything? (This is especially unfair when I was making a new recipe of folded, filled tortillas and they were just sort of bland, salty and greasy instead of the fabulous treat they were supposed to be. J said they were delicious.) My sense of smell is largely gone.
I have lousy hearing. My eyesight isn't great and I'm likely getting glasses this year. But my sense of smell? That's the one sense I have that works better than J's. And while the interwebs informs me that a "majority" of people have their sense of smell return in 3 weeks, for some it is up to 6 months and there's just no way to know! I am not good with uncertainty.
We're on Day 6 now, and I'm still about the same, but with increasing congestion. We bought a pulse oximeter to keep an eye on my O2 levels. (They're fine.) True story: my hands are often so cold that it won't work on me, and I have to jump around and rub my hands together to get it to register me as alive.
I have four more days until I'm allowed back at work. Four days to stop being exhausted, congested and achy. And I'm lucky. I know that I am. This is a mild case. And I have a really, really good job that allows for sick leave and even demands that I stay home for 10 days. So I didn't write this to just be whiny about being sick (though I admit, I get pretty whiny) but because someone mentioned that talking about it makes it more real for people who just don't see it yet. I'm not sure how that is, but there are a lot of folks who still don't think it's real or not a big deal. Or that it's all some kind of joke or a hoax. And no, this hasn't been a huge deal for me, and hopefully still won't turn into one. But imagine this happened to a someone who works at a job with no sick time? They'd likely still be dragging themselves into work, sick, feverish, aching or not. And they do. And more people get sick. Some of them, maybe even me, will face lifelong complications from it. Nobody knows. And frankly that's only a tiny bit about what it terrifying about this disease.
It's not a hoax. The vaccine can't get here fast enough.
Wash your hands and wear your mask.
*I have no idea. The choices boil down to one of the unmasked Amish people at the gas station where I used the restroom, or someone asymptomatic at work.
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Came across this today in one of my FB groups. It was a response to some asking what people with EDS use to treat pain. People mentioned all types of NSAIDS, gabapentin, opioid - derivatives and such, but this one made me do that laugh/cry thing.
"Healthy diet, light workout (sitting or laying down), no caffeine and (wait for it....) Medical Cannabis."
At first I was about to want to smack this woman for starting up with the whole "Oh, manage your pain naturally with yoga and granola!" mantra. (yes, people say this kind of thing.) Then she just brings it all home with the pot. Now, I'm not dissing cannabis as a legit way to manage pain and honestly if a side effect wasn't extreme munchies I'd be trying it myself. But lady, those first 3 things aren't what's doing it for you. You could have a diet of ding dongs and coffee and the pot would still be helping with your pain. (Not to really disrespect a good diet and exercise, either -- I try to do both but I still hurt all the freaking time.)
Speaking of that, it's nearly October now, which is about 2 months after my last update regarding the whole flare-up thing.
About a month ago, my hands started to hurt again. Like, I can't turn doorknobs, it's hard to turn the ignition key in the car level kind of hurt. I need to get a different style of braces to help with it, but I hate, I mean really, really hate trying to explain to people why I'm wearing a brace so I don't want to wear them.
This morning, the 29th, I woke after a decent night's sleep with every joint hurting. I'd stay home from work but the truth is that keeping busy is better, even if I pay for it later. The only good part is that there are no digestive issues this time, and no nearly blacking out when I stand up. But I seriously have no idea what is bringing this on.
Stress? Aging? Bertold Rays?*
I wish I knew. Eventually I'll get myself on the doctor visit merry go round again. Like Charlie Brown and the football, maybe it'll work this time.
*Star Trek:TNG reference for the non-nerdy
†just a joke, mom. I don't take anything stronger than ibuprofen
Monday, September 28, 2020
A teacher friend of mine posted a story today about a teacher in Texas who is ready to throw in the towel. She's plagued with buggy, untested software, no training, no A/C (in TEXAS?!) no time to plan and no support. Excuse my language, but no shit. Of course she's ready to chuck it. I'd be looking for the nearest exit after the first triple-degree heat day with no air and everyone in masks.*
It doesn't have to be this hard.
This is a failure of administration, and from those who fund, (or don't really) schools. It is an utter failure to plan. My heart goes out to this teacher. While I know my district isn't perfect, I'm immensely grateful that they put together teams of teachers to build an online curriculum over the summer.** They offered lots of PD. Our superintendent vowed that if the A/C went belly up, we'd teach online till it was fixed (and by and large the A/C has been okay. It was bad a couple days here and there in a few classrooms.)
Don't get me wrong. This is hard. We see our students 10 days a month, and some of us see them far less. I see mine 1 time a week, for less than an hour and the rest of the time I do my best to help my overloaded teachers have the support they need to support the gifted kids on their own. We still have demands from all quarters that insist we deliver everything to everyone as though it were a normal year. But like the teacher in the story, a lot of us are planning for tomorrow instead of the next two weeks. When half the class may or may not have done the at-home assignments the previous day, even planning for tomorrow is a crap shoot.
We are, all of us, treading like mad to keep our heads above the water while simultaneously flying by the seat of our pants.†
So maybe, the thing we need to do before we drown or crash, is to let go of is the weight of our own expectations.
The state is considering canceling state testing. That would be a huge start. This is not a standard situation, and standardized testing would do much more harm than usual.
They are also considering canceling OTES. (The teacher-evaluation system, for the happily uninitiated.) At the very least, they should be instructing administrators to take into account the overwhelming amount of work the teachers are doing, for far less payout. I have no idea if that's happening. I can only hope.
But mostly, every single player involved in this drama needs to change their expectations. The students. The parents. The teachers. The administrators. The taxpayers. The State. Every single person needs to wrap their head around the idea that what we get out of this year will not, in any way, match a "normal" year. It can't.
And that sucks. It especially sucks for the Seniors and kids who need extracurriculars like they need air, and for so many others in so many ways. But asking our teachers to work themselves to the bone, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week will not bring normalcy back for everyone else.
Let go of the weight of your expectations.
Every year, I get at least one kid whose parent comes in and says "Her dad and I are getting a divorce. She found out last night." My goals for that child instantly change. Great leaps do not happen during a year of personal trauma. (Maybe you've got a "but this one great exception!" story of the kid who won the Nobel Prize the year her parents divorced. Fine. Go you. But expecting every child to be that super-resilient 1 out of a million is not a reasonable plan, and we shouldn't bank on it.)
This is the year of great personal trauma.
If we can get through it upright and breathing with a little progress thrown in, we're doing fine††.
To all involved I say, let go of "should be" and "normal" and extend some grace. Extend it to everyone around you and if you're a teacher, especially to yourself.
Let go of the weight of our expectations before they crush us all.
*those inclined to complain that we're all being too soft and weak for not being able to tolerate life in masks with no a/c can go pound sand and write on their own blogs. When CEO's of powerful companies have to work productively in 95 degree heat, I will start listening to claims of weakness. Till then, zip it.
**not to brag or nothing, but it's really good. Like, I'm seriously proud of these people. Sometimes I can see my colleagues' imprint and hear their voice in a lesson and it feels pretty cool to know I work with people this excellent.
†yes, I'm mixing my metaphors. Sue me.
††Serious side note: I do know that for some kids, our neediest kids, we need to do more at every level to keep them from losing ground permanently. I know this. Which is why it is so very, very important to maybe lessen our expectations for everyone else just a little more.