Category Archives: education

The Other Side of Hope

As the new year begins to reveal the playbook for the coming months, I’m pondering my lesson plans. The possibility of another stint of virtual instruction looms as the actual storm clouds cloak us with snow.

We are never more than a few hours away from tomorrow. With holidays come a time of reflection and redemption. But more importantly we develop hopes that the future will be brighter. Brighter than…what?

To anticipate something greater than something else is to have at least an experience or exposure to something less great, right?

Whether you’ve thought about it or not, hope is an acknowledgment that we’ve already come through something unpleasant. Life is the acknowledgment that death has not occurred yet. Good is the proof that evil has not prevailed.

Therefore, we can suppose that on the other side of demise, there is hope. Hope is what keeps us going. In the presence of despair, hope looms in the darkness. Hope is the cousin of faith. But with faith comes denominational choice. With faith comes organized religion or the opinion to shun spirituality. You have a choice.

These are constructs that can be debated, embraced, or debunked. So in the spirit of either, let’s consider, for a moment, that hope is a drug. In the eyes of a pessimist or someone who lives amongst habitual chaos, hope is an intangible that is just beyond their reach. Hope is both a noun and a verb, where as faith is just a noun. Hope is cheap and accessible to anyone. Faith requires effort, and it’s expensive and exclusive. Hope is pedaled by politicians and producers. It’s offered to excite and motivate, manipulate and mutilate pessimism and hopelessness.

So in the next few (days) of the new year, my resolution shall be to mix and match. For every two negative situations, I will mix in one serving of hope. It will spice it up! It will taste great. It will reduce the acidity (sort of like mixing sugar in with the spaghetti sauce). I will match the energy I’m presented with with a force equal to (or completely opposite of) whatever I am faced. I will challenge adversity with possibility. I will look evil square in the eye; and offer it a hit of hope.

Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

I do not celebrate Halloween

The day before, after or in between

Not mischief night, nor Day of the Dead

No candy nor skulls, nor pumpkin heads

Hallows Eve is not for me

No costumes, no decor, no lights that glow orangeee

But it’s not just October 31st that I don’t like

I also feign Columbus Day which is also a lie

I don’t do Thanksgiving with indigenous feathers

Nor pilgrims’ pale faces that exploited the others

Not Hanukkah or Christmas nor Kwanza neither

If I can’t teach one in class, I won’t teach either

Not Valentine’s nor President’s Day nor Easter

I’ll happily accept the days off but won’t get off my keister.

Now Mother’s Day, that one is important

But we don’t do much for Father’s, so mothers get nuthin’

Besides, they’re always on Sunday when there is no school

To put forth the effort, I’d have to be a fool.

Flag Day, nope! Veteran’s Day? Maybe

But the Pledge doesn’t happen, so maybe…

Not!

I’d do 4th of July, that’s always fun

But we’re never in school that day, so forgetaboutit, hun.

Labor Day is the last day of summer.

No celebration there.

Forgot about Memorial Day? I’d remember if you’d care.

That’s the thing though…

It’s a ring, so…

Around a Rosie

Pocket full of…

Posie

The ashes feel down

The year goes round,

not a holiday enjoyed

Not for little girls or boys

Who want to eat candy in class

On the Friday that’s the last…

In October

Oil and Water (TikTok Challenge)

In light of the recent bomb threats in one of the biggest small towns in New Jersey, the new superintendent left messages for the parents of each student enrolled in the district. Every building in the school district will reopen after an emergency closure resulted from a threat that went viral on social media. This was not the first threat the district has endured. But this time, the adversity has directed the energy where it may be best felt—a conversation between parents and students.

As I listened to the plea for help, I prepared my mind as both an educator of ten year olds and a parent of a seventeen year old. I considered my students who confide in me how messy the bathroom has become (as a result of TikTok inspired vandalism). Their little hearts conflicted as they exchange their thrill of the chaos for their need to be exonerated. They don’t want to get in trouble for something that another student did.

I considered my son who is on the cusp of getting his driver’s license and applying for jobs and preparing for graduation. I also think about how smart he is, his potential, and his likeliness to stay out of trouble. It’s his affiliations that bring me pause.

The superintendent’s message was a call to action for parents to have a meaningful conversation with their children. There’s a need not only to prevent future occurrences, but to discuss the implications of this kind of behavior.

We must be cautious to label these acts frivolous or thoughtless! There could be nothing more contrary. A LOT of effort went into concocting these challenges. The social media mileage that it’s been getting is not accidental. Somewhere there is a proud troll. The impact ripples throughout communities across the nation. How long have we been telling our youngsters to think globally? We had no idea how that might manifest.

When I picked my son up today, I greeted him with the love that comes from missing him for a few days. I asked him his thoughts of the “day off from school” as a result of the recent threat. He was appreciative that it wasn’t a “remote instruction” day. Beyond that, it all seemed to be outside of his purview.

I replayed the superintendent’s message for my son. I cautiously approached the need to have this conversation in a way that he could “buy” into the the resolve. I watched my son’s expression fade from disinterest into something that resembled “are we done here?”

I began by reminding him of the various occasions that he thought he had things under control only to realize that situations can be cumbersome or overwhelming. I then affirmed how smart he was and how much trust I have in his decisions.

THEN…

I reminded him of my role to guide him rather than restrict him or hover over him. What happened next surprised even me. My son picked up a fruit and began to toss it into the air rhythmically. Up and down, over and over. Seemingly not paying attention, it wasn’t until I hit upon a nerve that he missed his mark and dropped the fruit.

He couldn’t focus on his toss and grasp the points at the same time. He offered little as a rebuttal as the conversation morphed more so into a lecture. Sure enough, each time I hit upon a valid point, he dropped the fruit.

Despite the easy analogy that could be made between regretful decisions and this pummeled fruit, I narrowed the talk to three points.

1) Students have some knowledge of what is happening here and may not have fully considered the consequences. Nonetheless, it does not require hard evidence to charge another student with vandalism. It merely requires a witness or mitigating circumstances to transform an investigation into formal charges.

2) Someone will speak up to either put an end to the destructive behavior or they will direct that negative energy from themselves (to ensure that they are not blamed).

3) If even half the parents had this “meaningful” talk with their child, the kids would likely steer clear of the kids that they KNOW are engaging in this activity.

I call this “oil and water.” Both are powerful, but neither wants anything to do with the other. Students who desire to be on the path to success want nothing to do with behavior that will create obstacles. For other students, misdirection will continue until they experience a consequence for themselves or until they witness someone else get caught.

I’ve asked my son to consider “oil and water” as he witnesses these TikTok challenges unfurl. From this point on, he can no longer claim that he doesn’t know any better. And as his parent, I can no longer say that I didn’t at least start the conversation.

Defining Wealth

Wealth is not exclusive to an accumulation of resources. It can be a state of mind. To be rich in health or opportunity; to have strong relationships; or to have rich dreams.

How can wealth be a goal and an asset? We can aspire to have materials or piece of mind, but ultimately what we attain is a manifestation of our efforts. It’s our ownership that inspires appreciation.

No one can give us peace. Nor can peace be earned. This state of mind is ethereal. It is the result of accepting circumstances that are beyond our control. Those who claim to have found some semblance of peace may be wealthier than others.

Much like strength, our physical and emotional health both attribute to our overall wealth. Health is heavily reliant on exercising our bodies and minds. We endure obstacles and overcome challenges. We celebrate those accomplishments. We achieve a wealthier lifestyle through our achievements. It’s not the announcements, however, of our growth. It’s the actual improvement of and/or our resilience to our circumstances that signifies our wealth.

When asked what they’d do if they gained a million dollars, a group of ten year olds revealed some interesting desires. Several students confirmed that they’d spend it on fancy cars, bigger homes, or luxurious accessories. Another group of students collaborated and conveyed that they’d give some of their new-found wealth away to charity or save it for college. But one proclaimed he’d go to his fathers job and complicate things for him so that his father would no longer work there.

This last revelation spoke volumes and warranted a deeper understanding. This student confided that this new wealth would change circumstances. With wealth, he could control the world around him. He wanted his father home. He wanted his father’s troubles at work to disappear. He wanted to contribute to his father’s happiness. Our children exude charity and noble traits. Their paths towards adulthood offer them the tools needed to attain their goals. Will this one day evolve into a healthier or wealthier life?

Wealth is ambiguous. Desire’s subjectivity is fluid and changeable. Regardless of how we attain it, how we transmit it to our loved ones in life (and in death) speaks to its inherent value. We decide what wealth is. We decide how to build it. We decide how to apply it. One might conclude that wealth is not a thing at all, but a state of mind.

Guilty confessions vol. x

We must read between the lines. Indignant fools will not confess. Wise men will let us figure it out. Most of us wont ask the right questions. Some will not admit their doubt.

But if we could have more conversations, and talk it through, the life quality enhanced could belong to you. Rhymes and puns are clever. Analogies are fun and games. Unasked questions are answered never…kicking ass and taking names.

We can learn from other’s mistakes, but often we choose our own. The lessons don’t count unless we improve. The safest place is our home.

Alright! Enough of the wit. It’s down to brass tacks. Let’s discuss something real. Let’s avoid the character attacks.

The nineteen was dropped from COVID because the year is now 2021. The variant is called Delta to avoid another messy one. No more talk of the region of origin because it would confirm the problem we have with racism…

capitalism…

age-ism…

The fact that the world already exploits Southeast Asia; the reality that those in the west who created the vaccine don’t have access to it, can’t afford it, can’t get away from it–so we call it Delta, symbolic of the shape.

What happened to contact tracing? It was all the rage in 2020. But now? We just show color coded maps that coincide hotspots with political affiliations. But masks aren’t political! Diseases need cures, not vaccinations. But there’s no money in the cure.

There’s money in low wage-earners who need to get back to work; to serve the people who work for higher wages (who are able to work from home). If there was any chance that the cast system could be broken, a pandemic is as good a time as any.

Minimum wages increase as the poor hear the cries of the wealthy, “Get back to work!” An individual recognition of how organized labor maximizes income, the masses show the rich that they can either EAT them or join them. The wealthy, too, reorganize.

To be still affords us the opportunity to see things for how they are. After nearly 18 months of near-stillness, why are we surprised that things would change? Lessons were learned–just not the lessons that we planned.

The manipulation takes a more aggressive tone. The oppressed push back. For the first time the entitled feel victimize and scream bloody murder as they eat their own cake.

Education IS political for the simple fact that some get it for free, some pay for it, some don’t get it at all–and those are the ones that we elect to lead us. For anything that has value will be fought for. For anything that others need, there will be war. For anything that we can’t have more, there will be battles in store.

So today’s guilty confession is simple and secure. The liars will not stop lying. The wealthy won’t stop clinching their pearls. The poor wont stop fighting for more. The perverts wont stop groping girls. The mask-less won’t stop breathing. The cops wont stop beating. The disenfranchised won’t stop marching. The virus wont stop mutating. The END.

Unsolicited Advice

There are few things more uncomfortable than advice that you didn’t ask for. It has no value until you’ve experienced something so uncomfortable that you wished you had actually considered that unsolicited advice.

So instead of listing a bunch of “do’s & don’ts” let’s instead list a few things to consider. It’s less intrusive and more…considerate.

Value other people’s time. This should be a “no-brainer” and yet…. This lends itself to the next piece of unsolicited advice:

The Golden Rule, yes… BUT even though you may not be moved by how others treat you, you must recognize that treating others with respect spans farther than “self”. Consider Karma. The universe is paying close attention. The good that we exercise today will find its way back into our lives later and expand into the lives of people that we may never meet. Proceed accordingly.

Consider timeliness. Prepare in advance to arrive on time. Running late this time is merely setting a precedent for next time. Like anything else, if it works out this time, you’ll make it a habit. Successes are habit-forming and contagious. When you’re successful being late, others will mimic that behavior.

The next morsel of unsolicited advice is…BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Because we can only predict (and not foresee) the future, cautiously maintain current relationships. Be willing to develop new relationships, and recognize that people are in your life for either a reason or a season. We can’t control these seasons, but we can draw from our wardrobe in case of a chilly day.

Dress appropriately and ADDress your adversaries with full consideration. When we underestimate others, we make fools of ourselves. There are plenty of proverbs we could apply, but your own experiences should drive you and not inhibit you. Confidence is attractive, but arrogance can be a repellant. No one can take your education from you, so learn as much as you can. Intelligence looks good on you.

Humility looks good too, but wear it like an accessory rather than a suit. When you look good, you feel good. Consider how you look when you step outside of your comfort zones. Consider how you look at the end of the day. A successful experience is as informative as a defeat. Both develop growth.

Grow! “Either get busy living or get busy dying” This Shawshank Redemption quote suggests that we can extract advice from books, films, or even your favorite childhood cartoon. Bugs Bunny taught us to be clever, but Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam exposed us the dangers of guns in the wrong hands.

“Know when to hold ‘Em, know when to fold ‘Em; know when to walk away…know when to run!” Kenny Rogers sang it best. The world is our classroom. Any good teacher would glean real-world experiences to use in a lesson. You can do the same. There are clues in every song, every commercial, and nuisances abound.

So take this unsolicited advice or discard it entirely. After all, you’ve read nothing new. But now you have something to consider.

Redundant Tendencies

Please indulge a little pre-recess pondering. Educators don’t just flip a switch the last days of the semester. There’s a “de-climax” after the grades are submitted. The end-of-the-year celebrations and conversations dissolve into reflections of successes and short-comings.

“Story Time” became the most favored activity in the last hours of the school year. Some teachers played popular movies for those students who came to the school building. But due to streaming limitations, those students at home couldn’t participate.

One teacher took liberties that were not afforded to everyone. He drew from his semi-relevant bag of tricks. He discussed connections between the curriculum and the real world. And when the students realized that their teacher had been holding back on story-time all year, they began to question why.

“Why did you make us take notes on the text if the text wasn’t entirely true?” “What is the truth?” “How do we know that you’re telling us the truth now?”

Who could have predicted that students would engage on the last day of school? Had their teacher been deliberately withholding the “meat” of the lessons? Why had he waited so long to dispense with the “juice” of these tales?

To answer these questions, the circumstances must be disclosed. A year-long pandemic exasperated by a need to facilitate instruction doesn’t just happen! In addition to “multi-planning” to students with various learning abilities, proximity obstacles, and health restrictions. No amount of planning was going to make traditional lessons meaningful. These are the moments that spawn innovation.

This teacher used the text to model form. Preview, prepare, annotate, assess, repeat. His evaluations didn’t reflect the rubric. He was not commended for lesson planning. He was recognized for not giving up. He mustered passion and proceeded accordingly.

In the final hours, this teacher revealed the truth to his students. He told them (now that the grades were submitted) that they had ever only needed to show up. He revealed to them that he could not measure their understanding of the content. He alerted them to the dangers of being promoted without mastering participation. He warned them that this will never happen again.

They took a journey down winding paths that addressed colonial systems (without discussing critical race theory). They once explored the text, but now discussed why it was written in such a way. They compared traditional systems to their fantasy movies and comic books. They even grazed on Wonder Woman’s true identity, the differences between Marvel and DC comics, and that Superman was nothing more than an alien. One student asked if Batman was nothing more than a representation of American upper-class wealth and entitlement.

Proud of how the conversation progressed, now facilitated by the students, he paused. He no longer wanted to tether the discussion to simplistic observations—like how Marvel was colorful and and DC was more dark. Instead he watched the clock and mourned for the time lost to Western Civics and the rationale for writing a third draft.

His students had far more to offer than he’d even imagined. Were these his students or was he their student? It’s been said that mastery can be assessed by how well the students conveyed what they’ve learned. When they can teach it, they’ve mastered it!

On this day, the LAST day of the academic year, the students became the teachers. No one felt like they were victorious having survived a pandemic. Instead they felt like they progressed into the next level of Fort Nite, where they would have to assemble their team, gather their resources, and creep boldly into a world that they don’t understand.

Dahl-er

Word-plays don’t make us smarter. They make us sound wittier (at the risk of sounding corny). If I had a dollar for every witty comment I’ve conceived, I’d have lots of dollars.

Sadly, wit costs more than it earns. Witty people are risk-takers! Employers don’t seek out wit. Open-mindedness and willingness to receive ideas, direction, and company objectives—these are employee-possessed ideals. Wit is a characteristic that materializes after employees are comfortable and stable in their careers. Wit is a spawn of experience, intelligence, and confidence. “Nubbies” either don’t have it yet or they keep their wit under wraps.

Witty people find clever ways to express themselves. Let’s explore. There’s the “one-liner,” aka “the zinger.” This type of witticism is intended to awaken or criticize the un-witty. The intended target either gets it immediately or deciphers the insult incrementally. By the time that the full weight of the zing is felt, there’s a sense of bewilderment. It’s often too late to respond (or the response is too late to have relevance).

There’s another way for a witty person to express themselves. The “way-homer” is so clever that the target doesn’t even realize the impact until they’ve headed home. Like a time-bomb, it detonates suddenly and without warning. The target hadn’t even considered that there’s was even anything to dissect. They had no reason to ponder the meaning of the criticism because it was packaged and delivered seemingly without malice. It’s weird how our subconscious mind is at work while the rest of our mind is processing normal daily functions.

There’s the “afterthought.” Similar to the “way-homer,” the impact is not felt immediately. But thinking about it for hours afterward can be relentless. In this case, the injury is not in the insult itself, but in the delivery and the intent. This one can unleash insecurities about why it was crafted, the relationship with the person who sculpted it, or even how embarrassing it is to be targeted. It is personal.

Quite the conundrum! We can explore how words could be used as weapons, but let’s instead consider the power of words. Since the beginning of time, the energy encapsulated by articulation could enlighten. To be able to describe something with detail speaks to how evolved we’ve become. The French have numerous words that mean love. Also, the Inuit have developed various ways to represent snow. Our experiences drive the way we communicate. Like artists, our palate is as colorful as our landscape. The world around us provides the stimulation through experience, to describe, and to convey precisely how we feel.

And yet some believe that “less is more”—that “silence is as powerful;” for “the evidence of things not seen” (nor heard) produces something spiritual. Alas, it is the spirit of our words that emit emotions, translate intent, and convey definition to our thoughts. You can feel “a certain way” or you can express your feelings.

As children learn to speak, their minds are ripe for literacy. To hear, to repeat, to read, to write…all of these are manifestations of a developing mind. With practice, developing minds craft new ways to understand the world and master the use of communication; wit grows.

And true wit can manipulate words, deconstruct them, and build upon them. To be witty is to be innovate. There’s a responsibility that comes with this talent. Some call it charisma. Others channel this charm in other creative ways. The world around us is looming with examples.

Word-plays are what makes donuts on Sunday holy. Word-plays make the teachers of creatures preachers; the need to lamas the llamas ; or the opportunity to dance the salsa while eating salsa.

The punchlines and the rhetorical questions riddle us and ignite our imagination. Philosophical and practical, our inquiries become problematic and pragmatic. It doesn’t even matter because our responses matter less, couldn’t matter more, and are empty of matter meaning that they are matter-less.

If you understood this, you are either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. I suppose its not the latter. I’d be some sort of jerk to even imply. But what kind of jerk would I be? Hopefully, no jerk at all. But time will tell.

Dream With Me

Last night, I had a dream that was magical and fantastic. I was surrounded by my teacher friends who’d lost their jobs because the schools were no longer needed—not because society had learned all that it needed, but because the virus prevented us from returning.

We were forced to revisit our failures and improve upon those ideas that were abandoned too soon. We were asked to share spaces with doctors and lawyers. But those spaces were small and shrewd. Unlike the other professionals, we were excited for the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Around us, we saw prototypes that were near-completion. Automobiles, electronics, furniture—all with the most interesting architecture—stretched the imagination. What could the designers have been creating? How would these products meet society’s needs? Why weren’t they completed? The educators were brought in to answer these questions. The doctors and lawyers were there to facilitate the applications of these projects.

The world as we knew it had ended. The politicians served no purpose because the government was ineffective. There weren’t tax monies to budget for because the income-earning electorate no longer had jobs. Democracy had crumbled in lieu of individual’s needs to recreate. Trust had been lost, but panic was abandoned. Individuals resurfaced from the ashes as sloths, eyes wide open but slow to recover.

Surreal approaches to rebuild had all but failed. Everything was new. New ideas, new relationships, and new approaches to build a world that should not resemble anything like the past world.

As educators, we toured the facilities hoping to identify the missing components. For it was supposed that we taught the last generation. We had the best connection with the youth. We held their hands through multiple curriculum evolutions. We taught them to think and to imagine, and we were the last ones to speak to their imaginations before they were quarantined with their families (who had previously abandoned their development). Those children never returned. Those children became an incarnation of their own dreams—incomplete drawings on scrap paper, science projects, and book reports, essays, and class notes, love letters, and prom invitations; class trips postponed and spring breaks un-refunded, graduations cancelled and college applications never sent. We were there when all this happened. We felt it. Their pain hurt us too to our core.

We would carry a torch. We would rediscover those souls through the evidence they’d left behind. As we searched through the rubble, our passions re-ignited every time we uncovered a gem. Alas, they never left. They are watching and waiting patiently to be energized as if they’d been playing a game of “freeze-tag” and knew that we were coming for them.

Hands extended, we will find them. We will find them.

Fixers, Closers, Watchers

I’m starting to believe that we are expected to be the fixers, the closers, and the watchers. We fix what was broken. We close the deals that someone made without our input, and we watch those deals manifest until the next problem occurs. We are called educators to mask the lie.

My opinion is based my observations and the world as I see it. When the circumstances change, I’ll adjust my opinion.

To be a cynic while I continue to hold the title for which I’m paid allows me to wade through the hypocrisy with integrity. I’m intelligent enough to know when things aren’t they way they’re supposed to be, but I’m wise enough to know that there are opportunities to change the trajectory. It’s important that I exercise my faith often enough to keep hope alive.

Every trial offers me the wisdom to make a better decision next time. The problem is: “how many more times will I encounter the same problem before I realize that there isn’t a viable solution?” What I can’t do is repeat procedures hoping for a different outcome. What I don’t have is the energy to reinvent myself every time a new problem occurs. All I’m able to do is apply yesterday’s lessons to today’s challenge and hope that tomorrow is smoother.

Without the intelligence, I’d have no content to teach. I’d have no discernment. I’d have no skill set to adjust my instruction.

But tomorrow is rarely smoother. I’d love to not sweat the small stuff, but there’s enough big “stuff” to make that distinction. I long for a day with “small” stuff.

There aren’t enough copays to tell my therapist how I feel—or what I do to get through the day. My colleagues will listen as long as I listen to their woes too. This can be a daunting task not too different from spicing a wound with salt AND pepper. My family hugs me in disbelief and prays that I can make it just a little bit longer. I’d tell my pastor, but he already knows because he teaches me weekly to seek the source.

The source knows. And weather you believe in an external God or connect with a god within, to recognize that there are an infinite number of things outside of our control is merely the beginning of a path to self-healing. There’s a faith that develops when we can no longer rely on intelligence and wisdom. It’s that disbelief that propels us into a world of unpredictable outcomes. And although some are inspired by this, others stumble blindly and recognizing that their fate will be determined by someone else.

Will my fate be determined by my students, my supervisor, or a society that has demanded that we fix, close, and watch?