Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Teachable moments

Today was one of the worst days of my teaching career. It was one of those days where everything is going well - kids are cooperating, things are getting done, an old friend stops by - and then, bam, in 2.2 seconds it all shifts. Over the intercom: "There will be an emergency faculty meeting at 2:05 today in the library."

Actually, I have no idea if that's what she said. I didn't even hear it. My students did and told me. And I said, "Oh." Then, "Ooohhh," because I knew in a second what that announcement meant and so did some of the kids.

I had been expecting that announcement for a couple months, but, as often happens, I grew complacent when it didn't come when I expected it. Let me tell you that it doesn't hurt any less just because you expect it.

Today, we lost a student - one who had been sick for a long time, very sick, and we knew where her road was leading. The rational and spiritual part of me knows that she is at peace after much suffering and that this may be a blessing, but the mom and teacher parts of me...yea, not so much.

She was not one of my students, but some of those close to her were. She was too young and that fact alone breaks any heart. Seeing my students as they try to cope with the death of a classmate is enough to rip apart the most unfeeling heart. For most of them, they have experienced death, but usually the passing of someone much older. This is foreign territory. They struggle. They don't know how to make sense of the senseless.

Of course, I, being the older, wiser one here, know that there is no way to make sense of the senseless. For me, this means reliving how I felt after a friend of mine was killed by a drunk driver at 18 years old. That was senseless and 15 years later I know I will never make sense of that. My students, however, will try.

What many people don't understand about teachers is that all of your students become your kids on some level. Of course, you may be closer to some than others, but you feel protective of all of them. You want to shield them from the bitter truth that awful things happen to nice people and for no reason. Unfortunately, just like with my own kids, you can't. All you can do is give them ways to make something positive come out of something so senseless.

So tomorrow I will go to school and I will offer my condolences and let them be quiet or angry or talkative or whatever they need to be. Then when they ask me what they can do, because they will, I will tell them the following four simple things.

1. Say what you mean when you mean it. You may never have another chance.
2. Always say goodbye and I love you to your friends and family. You may never have another chance.
3. Enjoy the little moments. Stop waiting for the big ones. The big ones are great, but you will miss the little moments more.
4. Live your life. We only get one.

None of this means dwelling on the what-could-happen, but it does mean making the most of what you have when you have it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch my children sleep and thank God for having them here with me.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why it's okay to expect your child to follow the directions.

I am not a perfect teacher. I have, on a couple occasions in 11 years, given out an assignment and then realized how I could have made it better. It happens. We all mistakes. But I can pretty much guarantee you that most of the time, especially on assignments I've given out many times before, if I'm asking for specific details, then there's a reason.

This morning I read a column by a mom who found this request for specific details, and the consequent taking away of points for not providing those details, to be ridiculous. She thought that the teacher requiring students to write in the author on every part of the reading log to be unnecessary and even implied that it was taking away from her child's love of reading.

I don't teach a grade where I would ask for a reading log, but I will say that I don't think asking young students to read 20 minutes a night is a bad idea. In fact, I think that the more students read, at any age, the more their reading and critical thinking and writing skills will develop. They're all connected. I'm also willing to bet that unless that teacher is in his/her first year of teaching there is a reason for asking the students to supply the information requested.

Good teachers rarely do anything in the classroom without a reason. One of my goals over the last few years has been to make those reasons more explicit to the students and the parents, if they ask. I teach high school, so most parents don't ask. I think that we all want to know the reason why we're asked to do something. It's natural and I'm not insulted if a student asks me why I assigned something or why I make them do something in a certain way. Answering those questions only helps their critical thinking skills. Answering those questions only helps them be more invested in the assignment.

As a mom, I know that I sometimes wonder why my son's teacher does something. However, since I have no preschool teaching experience and she has years of it, I feel comfortable deferring to her judgment. If it really bothers me, which would be very rare, then I ask.

Communication is crucial in the parent-teacher-student relationship. Without it, small conflicts can become huge and take away from the student's faith in the teacher. To that columnist, I would ask have you spoken to the teacher? Ask why he/she feels that information is important. Don't question it in a public forum without giving the teacher opportunity to respond.

After thinking about it, I guess what bothered me most about this column was this mother questioning the teacher's assignments in a very public manner. Teachers and parents should be working together, not questioning them in the newspaper.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Driving in the right direction

Two weeks ago, on a day trip to Maine, my husband and I passed an obviously fatal accident - cars flipped and burned. Later that day we discovered that a car had entered the turnpike going the wrong way and, despite several people doing everything they could to prevent this, the driver collided with two cars, killing one of the drivers. How more people were not killed I just don't know.

During the last two weeks, I have heard of several other wrong-way accidents and other horrific crashes. The wrong-way drivers were never the ones killed or seriously injured in these accidents. The randomness of all of this. Get up early to head home from vacation and beat the traffic, but end up dead. Drive to the grocery store and end up hurt. All through no fault of your own. The randomness of life terrifies me.

Lately I find myself gripped by fear as I leave my house. What if some lunatic can't read a street sign correctly? What if some selfish driver is too entranced by his Twitter feed and crashes into my kids?

It's not like I've never had these random tragedies hit close to home. A high school friend of mine was a victim of one of these random tragedies through no fault of her own. Her death made me realize that these random tragedies could happen to people I knew, and while that was terrifying, it didn't grip me like these stories have.

As so many things have, the ability to accept that there are horrible things that lie far out of my control has drastically changed since I had kids. This falls under the do-what-you-want-to-me category. The just-let-my-kids-be-okay category. I will have the tubes put in my ears instead. I will be the one who has a hard time at school. I will have the stomach flu. Just leave my kids alone. I can handle the randomness of what might happen to me. Just leave my kids out of it. They should not have to think about these things. Ever.

I think the beauty of childhood is not realizing that bad things happen to good people. Maybe the beauty of adulthood is realizing that they do and we must treasure each and every moment. I will try to remember that, focus on that and not dwell on what if.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Some mommy analysis

When my husband and I started talking about having our second child, I remember thinking (naively) how much more work could that possibly be. My oldest had reached the magical age of 18 months and seemed, relatively, independent. He could play by himself for a bit, ask for what he wanted in perfect toddler English, and feed himself. I felt free and liberated. I could handle one more kid. It would just be double the work, right?

I'll pause while all the other moms of two kids have a moment to laugh.

The thing is that one more child does not mean doubling your workload. It means quadrupling it. I'm wasn't sure how it happened - it was just one more child's laundry, songs, feeding, hugging, bedtimes, playdates, etc. Yet, I know that I did way more work than I did with my first. I was confused. I needed an answer so I started doing some mommy analysis. Finally, I had an epiphany.

I hadn't figured in that having two children also means managing two personalities, and it's that job that creates so much of the work. When I had just my son, I never said "Ethan, that's Lilah's and you can share it with her, but you can't just rip it out of her hand." "Lilah, please stop screaming. Your brother did not hit you. He is not even in the room." I certainly didn't say those things, and another 100 like them, each at least 10 times a day.

The job got exponentially harder not because I had another child's laundry, bedtime or daytime routines to add in. It's because teaching two children how to be kind, considerate and loving siblings may be the most difficult job I have. I imagine that working with a four-year-old and one-year-old on this is somewhat like trying to get Democrats and Republicans to reach a compromise on taxes.

However, it's also the most rewarding and amazing job I could ask for. Nothing makes me feel better than when my son brings his sister her teddy just because or my daughter offers her brother his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I got this, I think. I could have another one, right? I mean, how much more work could it possibly be?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Passing too young

Several weeks ago, a high school classmate of mine posted a simple request as her Facebook status. A little girl, 8 years old, in Oregon wanted to get 23,000 likes for her page. Could we please help her out? Such a simple request from a little girl, one I couldn't deny. I hit the magical like button and hoped I'd offered some sort of brightness to this girl.
Faith was no ordinary girl. Faith had osteo-sarcoma, bone cancer. As I perused her page, "Faith's Friends," I learned of her courageous battle, how it all began and how long until it would end. Throughout the next several weeks, I read her mom's increasingly painful updates. At first she spoke of playing with Barbies and watching Phineas and Ferb with mentions of pain medicine and difficulties. These updates included news of Faith's birthday party, moved up from October, and Faith's need to put pajamas on Barbie and Ken at night and daytime clothes in the morning. They also noted Faith's increased pain, discomfort, growing tumors and, recently, more time spent asleep as being awake became too painful. Throughout this journey, I felt most struck by the strength and determination of both Faith and her mother. Faith needed and achieved a pretty typical life until the very end and her mother still managed to provide updates to all those who came to care about Faith and to maintain her faith in God.
On Monday evening, Faith earned her "angel wings" as her mother wrote. Although not unexpected news, a part of me still couldn't believe she had passed so quickly. I had hoped, probably naively, that Faith might remain here on Earth for a longer time, give her family more time with her, but that was not to be.
News of a child's passing is always difficult to hear, even when you don't know the child personally. Once you become a mom the news is unbearable. I cannot fathom how a mother watches her young child die. This is my worst nightmare. I am awed by Faith's mother's strength, her ability even to discuss her daughter's passing. I am pretty sure that if it were me I would crawl into a ball and be unable to function. How does a mother move on from that?
Being a mom has made me infinitely aware of the finite moments we all have on this planet. Not only is our time here finite, but the small moments of our days are as well. We only get so many days of bringing our children to preschool or being able to call our moms on the phone. Everything can change in a split second and, often times, we have no warning. Go watch your children sleep. Call your mom. Tell the people who matter that you love them. Go put some pajamas on Barbie. From somewhere, Faith will be smiling.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Year Anniversary of 9/11 - Part 1

In 10 years, I have never written about my personal experiences of 9/11. Odd? Sure, especially for someone who finds it decidely necessary to explore her life through writing. I'm haunted by why I've never been able to put that day into words, why I never get beyond that first sentence, one that I repeatedly write and erase.

Ten years later, I am a completely different person. In 2001, I was mere months out of college, working at my first journalism job (one that I hated), 21 years old, living at home because I couldn't commit to an apartment near where I worked and with very few responsibilities. I wasn't in a relationship. Hell, I didn't even have a car payment yet. Today, I have a teaching position I love that brings me great joy and allows me to make a difference (I hope). I have a husband of nearly four years, two children (nearly 3 and nearly 3 months), a mortgage, a car payment, bills, and too many responsibilities to count. My life is completely different, as are my reflections on 9/11.

That morning I had packed a bag and headed out to work. I had volunteered to head to a local candidate's headquarters that evening to cover the primary election results, so I'd be staying at the Hyde Park apartment of my cousin and her boyfriend that night rather than head back to my hometown in western Massachusetts. I expected it to be a late night. No biggie.

Tuesday is deadline day in the weekly newspaper business, so at 9 a.m. I was at my desk writing up a story about two little kids - one who lost a journal at a national park and the other one who found that journal. The story wasn't going well. I just couldn't get it to flow and I felt relieved when my phone rang. I needed a distraction...

On that beautifully sunny morning, I asked a stringer for our paper (I can't, for the life of me, remember her name) how she was and this I remember exactly. "Not good. They just flew planes into the Towers." I got a fellow reporter to turn on the TV and sure enough, there it was. As shocked as we were, we didn't stare at the TV, absorbing every bit of news - not yet. We didn't know where the planes had come from. We had a paper to get out. So we kept working, with the TV on in the background.

The damn story still wouldn't flow. Nothing I wrote sounded good. I couldn't focus. Something was bugging me. I took a break and looked up at the TV. I remember looking at the screen and thinking something was off. I said to nobody in particular. "Where is it?" Even while I was asking, I didn't believe it was gone. I just assumed the news stations were showing a different angle..it wouldn't just fall. Several minutes later I had heard that the South Tower had come down, but I hadn't absorbed that news.

For days, this would remain the same. I would hear snippets of news, details of victims' lives, questions asked by children and not fully absorb any of it. When you're learning to be a journalist in college, professors tell you to keep your distance. Don't let the story get to you. Just tell the story. Don't become involved. The irony would be that over the following days and weeks I would absorb so many details, but not be able to discuss them. I reported what people said, who they were, what they did. I just couldn't personally process any of it. Ten years later, I am just now starting to share my actual thoughts from those days. Ten years later, I am just now starting to understand how profoundly those hours changed every aspect of my life.