Monday, April 14, 2014

Tremendous Power

"As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or dehumanized." {Haim Ginott}

Today I cleaned out my art room. I had plans to dump a whole bunch of things, but as I sifted through materials, I realized I needed only to let go of the dried markers and a few other miscellaneous items that had been around too long.  Mostly, I took the time to examine much of what I had saved over time. (I was even happy to find a couple of items I thought I had tossed.)

Amongst the items I examined were a half dozen laminated quotes I had hung in my classroom when I was a teacher. I was struck by the acumen of Haim Ginott's words. It is so on-target and I have such awareness of this even now when I visit classrooms. I shuddered a little to think of the tremendous power teachers hold.

I went about my cleaning, organizing deliberately torn paper for collages, sorting through broken pieces of pottery, lining up odd-sized and rough-cut boards that may one day become the backdrop for an art piece. Then I came across a journal of my son's I had saved. He was about six when he started it. It included several stories about how he had spent his days. Some fiction, others nonfiction, invented spellings. He had a journal entry or two. And I recalled, in detail, the time he was in first grade and  his new reading teacher had called me. He had just moved to a higher reading level; he was motivated and doing well. The call caught me completely off-guard. The teacher was actually offended that my son had "scared the class," as she put it. How so? She explained that he felt like he needed to throw up during a spelling test and asked to go to the nurse. The teacher felt he should finish his spelling test first. He scared the class when he asked the teacher if he was going to die. It sounded like he actually had a panic attack about the possibility of vomiting in the classroom.  She admitted to feeling annoyed by his reaction. The struggle went on long enough that his old reading teacher next door came in and took over. I don't remember if he got to see the nurse. The teacher was shocked when I told her he had vomited the night before. She told me it would have been helpful for her to know, but I hadn't given it a second thought, he had been having fun rolling down a hill in our backyard, and went to school feeling fine. I also vividly remember  telling the teacher that my son and I read every night since he had been born, and he loved to write and kept his own journals. I told her that day I was afraid his motivation would not last in that climate. I have revisited this conversation in my head countless times in the nine years since it took place. It had been so jarring. But I had not visited the journals very often at all. I had begun to think I had made them up, especially since my son has no interest in writing now.

I then came across another journal, a 'manual' my son had written. It was a verbatim script teachers read when administering a standardized test as he remembered it. It was two, full, college-ruled pages with correct spellings. It was almost identical to what they actually say; I have administered these tests many times. I was blown away by the attention to detail and by the fact that he had retained it all and managed to write it so succinctly. It was his manual for playing school, he had labeled the cover. He was probably no older than eight or nine when he wrote it and in second or third grade. By fourth grade he stopped playing school and stopped writing for fun.

I reflected on words of this smart, creative child, the academic world was his oyster  when he wrote in those journals. And then I reflected on the self-made manual he used to emulate his teachers. It was very telling of what his education would become, a world of tests. School has been a antipathetic road for him. Most of the time he has been unhappy  there, though each day he puts his best foot forward and tries his hardest. He is taking two advanced placement and three honors classes right now, his own doing, goals he has sets for himself. He struggles to keep up with the work load and to learn in the lecture and notes format that is so counterintuitive to him, and always has been. He has largely had his individuality and creativity cast aside in favor of conformity and standardization. A line from his own manual grabs me: "We will now move on but together. The first one is hard so listen close and do what I say."

This RSA animation on a Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson about changing the paradigms of education shows and explains what happens to children in our public education system better than I ever could. I mostly become paralyzed when I try to convey what I have witnessed, still witness. SO WORTH A WATCH:

Here is Sir Ken Robinson's full TED Talk:

It is painful to reflect back on what has happened in the name of education for my son. All I can do is trust that his he is smart, guided, protected and will turn out all right in spite of it all. All I can do is work with the children who  I receive for tutoring "as a last resort" and do my best to make sure they are humanized in this very mechanized educational system they are subject to. Just today, as I was writing this, I received an email from the director of tutoring asking me to work with a child who is experiencing mental illness. These are conversations I have with friends all the times. Attuned educators, parents and even a few lawmakers are speaking out about the state of education in America today We all have to keep speaking up about what we know to be right in our hearts and hope that the voice of reason will reach the right ears with the momentum that is needed to make a change. Just like attuned educators, Melanie Sirof, Diane Ravitch are trying to do right now, with their presentation, "In Defense of Teaching: An Educator's Letter to the State About the State of Education," worth another watch, I couldn't paste the video here, but here is the link: 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Homage, Soul's Whole Truth


The Soul's Whole Truth
Here, with no audience but trees,
let your heart speak freely.
Where the elders once gathered
to pass an eagle feather
round their sacred circle,
hand to hand,
find your life's bold path
and let it call you forward.

Take the feather when it comes to you,
and dare to be transformed.
As wings spread wide,
rise above the tree tops,
open sky inviting you into

the soul's whole truth.

           {Danna Faulds}

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Leaving a Trail

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
{Ralph Waldo Emerson}

Quite a while ago now I wrote a post about not wanting to go back to work--at least not in the context that work seemed to drum up any time I thought about it too long--which really wasn't very long to be truthful. I had, after all, experienced one of the most fulfilling jobs I could ever have imagined during my career hiatus, the role of a work at home mom. My son has really begun to branch out on his own now, (he just got his license last week) and I can see that it was every minute a worthwhile job to be at home, a job I was very fortunate to have. He is making some good decisions and involved in some healthy activities with some terrific friends.
But, I love my new job. I have returned to my role as a teacher, now tutoring students one on one. It pays pretty well, though it will never be more than part time--which is actually beautiful to me! I still like being home. I am happy not to rush out the door in the morning, I like being able to run all the errands and do all the chores without feeling overwhelmed. I like being able to walk everyday--that feels like a job in and of itself. I don't get paid to walk of course, but the pay off I get for trekking daily through the forest makes me rich, believe me. And the tutoring job, well that's just icing on my life cake.
Everyday I report to the local elementary school that my son attended to help a young boy, who is ten. Though I am hired as a tutor for him, and other students, I am not really tutoring in the sense one would think. By the time the students in our school system get a tutor, they have been through the academic and emotional wringer. When I come in, it is no easy problem that can be fixed. Often when I am called, the director of tutoring tells me tutoring is being tried as a last resort. Sometimes he tells me it is to "keep the student in school." I cannot, in the hour I am allotted with the students, change their habits drastically, bring them up to grade level in the subjects they are behind in (I am teaching my current student three subjects in less than an hour, as we always spend a good 5 minutes locating a spot to work in.) However, what I can do for this student (and the others) is give him something he rarely gets in his school day, sustained individual attention. I can listen while he talks to me for much of the hour, and, if I am lucky enough, we both come away learning a thing or two.

Every single day my job is unpredictable, every single day brings with it immense challenges, some days we literally bounce off the walls (for real, we found that the art room was free on Fridays and the teacher keeps 2 large balls with handles in there!) And this is where I know I do my very best work, the work I was meant to do. Because, the road to learning is not straightforward, it is windy and bumpy and, well,  bouncy. The path is often strewn with obstacles, that, if we take the actual time to examine them, piece by marked up, messy piece, we find truth and meaning, beyond our expectations. You see when I wrote the post about not wanting to work I did not imagine getting paid to bounce around in a room full of art on a Friday was an option. (Don't worry, we study best this way. Last Friday we got metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary rocks down.) Ah, but being an observer of dreams I should have known that this job existed and was waiting for me all along. I could not love it more. The challenge is simply to make sure each day I blaze the trail! In a way, work is like a walk.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Homage, Weal

(n.) : a sound, healthy, or prosperous state


"I sometimes teach classes on writing, during which I tell my students every single thing I know about the craft and habit. This takes approximately 45 minutes. I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.
Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this."

{Anne Lamott}

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy 80th Birthday Gloria Steinem, Drinking the Elixir

Today Gloria Steinem turns eighty. But truth be told she looks like she is fifty. I know, I met her a few weeks ago. I was with my sister at out alma mater, MCLA, and Gloria was speaking. The setting was laid back, maybe a few hundred people, and Colleen and I were first in line to take our seats. (We even got in a little early to 'test' the stage before anyone had arrived.)

Listening to Gloria was every bit the exhilarating experience one would expect as a baby boomer, born in the very age that Gloria had taken a strong hold of the women's liberation movement. She propelled women's rights forward in only the way someone as smart, (a Smith College grad, right here in our backyard) passionate, and honest as Gloria could. She admits to realizing her beginning in the feminist movement was when she was speaking out about abortion, it all clicked then, she says. She had one in her early twenties. She would later coin the phrase, "reproductive freedom" meant to describe a women's right to have a child, or not. She says her abortion meant she was directing her own life and taking responsibility for it.

Ms. Steinem had lots of terrific things to say about women and motherhood the night I heard her speak. My favorite was she acknowledged women who stay home to raise their children as a third of our nation's workforce. She also said there should be tax laws to support stay at home parents, assigning their work an economic value that they could then make tax deductible when filing taxes. I got a chance to thank her personally for this, and she said to me, "Of course, I mean c'mon."

It was an exciting night. On our way back from talking with Gloria we, again, stopped by the podium we had visited earlier and my sister spontaneously grabbed the last of Gloria's tea.

That night, after being with an icon who lead women up out of the trenches of oppression with sheer determination and keen insight, right in the very age we were born, (we would have been about five and six when Gloria began her mission) we felt invigorated! And guess what? We each took a sip of tea, an elixir we felt, something that would confirm that she, Gloria Steinem, feminist leader of the twentieth, and twenty-first century, was a part of us! Of course, I mean what else could we do, c'mon.

elix·ir (n.)                                              

: a magical liquid that can cure illness or extend life           
:  a substance held capable of changing base metals into gold


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Homage, Figment


(n.) : something produced by the imagination : something that does not really exist


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Grateful (Walk with Rich)

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”  
{Marcel Proust}

A year ago my brother was going through the chemotherapy and radiation at this time. Today he is cancer free. He is coping with the changes in his life with the same grace he exhibited throughout the entire uphill climb, one step at a time, with discipline and with perseverance. It isn't easy.
Last year I walked over a hundred walks and said prayers on each of those walks that he would heal and find strength.  I couldn't ask for a kinder, more loving brother, or friend.  I am grateful we could walk this walk together.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Homage, Enjoy

en : surround with

joy (n.) :  a source of delight

“We're so busy watching out for what's just ahead of us that we don't take time to enjoy where we are.”   {Bill Watterson}

Friday, February 28, 2014

Homage, Spirit


(v.) :  an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms

As soon as I enter the trail that takes me through the forest each day, I can feel the spirit in nature. It takes on different qualities as I amble along. The invasive common buckthorn trees, growing amongst the senescent apple trees in the aging orchard, give me a slightly uneasy feeling as I pass through. I have no reason not to like the buckthorns, though thorny, they have pretty bundles of deep blue berries that color this otherwise white season. Yet, I am aware that they are slowly dominating the area.

This goes on for close to a mile, and then I come upon bittersweet berries, brilliant, in the canopy above, the vines themselves are chunky, and wrap around trees; they give off a different quality of spirit. It is said that bittersweet is commonly found in areas that are suffering from disturbance, and sure enough, these vines have emerged in land where once abandoned metal buckets, twisted wire fencing, and even an old iron head board, and box springs landed. There is even a kitchen sink.

Further up, the forest of evergreens begins, elegant, they hold the snow in their airy branches. Dispersed among them are ancient trees, each in varying stages of their life cycle, some with enormous girth, yet few branches, and others branchy but full of holes that provide entryways for fauna. There is a spirit of community and wise energy here; I like to pause and take it in.



About three miles up, I come to a group of venerable white pines, one whose split trunk has become a shrine, here I leave wishes, and prayers of thanks, and treasures buried under the dense needles that have collected trunk's fork.

Whether I am in the terrain of ferns or the locus of icy mountain streams, replete with mossy rocks, I am always aware of the spirit of the forest. Machelle Small Wright in her book, Behaving as if the God in All Life Matters, talks about the spirit in nature as devas. The origin of the word 'deva' comes from Sanskrit language, meaning "to shine," or, "become bright." If this is how the devas reveal themselves, it is easy to see them as I move through the forest.

I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.                {e.e. cummings}

Friday, February 21, 2014

Homage, Recognize

(v.) : to perceive clearly

re :  again
cognize  :  become aware of
Re-cognize : to become aware of again, but in a new way; to see things differently, to create thoughts anew based on your current awareness. To be with your thinking in the present moment. To know who you truly are.

 "Only a few find the way, some don't recognize it when they do - some... don't ever want to."
  {The Chesire Cat}