Sunday, April 24, 2011


Today is Easter Sunday, for those who celebrate.  So I thought I'd share a special memory of my son from his early years.

When he was nearly four, he had his first Easter with us.  As the holiday approached, his school began to plan for an Easter egg hunt.  Eggs, sidewalk chalk, and many other treats were planned.  Being a new "mom", I was happy to contribute what I could.  Both my son and his little sister (who was two) were excited for Good Friday to arrive.

I was disappointed.  The egg hunt was going to be held at a time when I was working and wouldn't be able to watch.  That morning I dropped them off at childcare and gave each one a kiss, telling them to have a fun time.

When I arrived to pick them up that afternoon, my son's teacher shared this story with me:

"We had gone out to the playground for the egg hunt," she explained.  "Your son had collected a lot of eggs in his basket.  He found so many!  Once we finished, it was time for us to line up and go inside."  My son had found a place in line next to his "best friend" at preschool, a little boy I'll call Tom.  As the boys waited in line, Tom suddenly realized that all the eggs he had collected had fallen out of his basket.

"Tom was very upset," the teacher explained.  I could only imagine how upset Tom must have been.  Anyone who lost all their eggs on a hunt would be, including myself!  I knew my son was very fond of Tom and hoped I was going to hear a kind story of my son's empathic nature, of him sharing a hug or comforting his friend.  To my surprise, his teacher continued, "Your son saw Tom's dilemma and proceeded to fill Tom's basket with his own eggs."  In the end, both boys had a basket with some eggs, and both were happy.

I stared at my son in wonder and awe.  Working with preschoolers has taught me that this kind of empathy isn't very common at this age unless children are in environments that encourage this behavior and the child's temperament is such that it's possible for him or her to think about how the other child feels.  My son had lived with us for six months; prior to that he had experienced neglect frequently.  Yet instead of hoarding eggs as one might expect, he gave what he had to his friend without hesitation or irritation.  Sharing what he had came naturally to him.

Much as God so willingly shared His Son with us.

The teachers had been so in awe of that sweet moment they had taken pictures of the boys sharing the eggs.  Despite the fact I had missed it in real time, I had a memorable souvenir of his egg hunt.

So that's my story for today.  Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, I hope you find it as inspirational as I do.  Children are amazingly wonderful and often do unexpected, loving acts for others.  If you have an inspirational story to share about a child, please leave a comment below!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Integrity and Mistakes

So following my last post, The Pissy List (ooh, said the word without the signs, sorry), Kandice posted an interesting pet peeve about parents who don't own up to their own mistakes and apologize for them.  That got me thinking about how often this happens.

When I was a little girl, my parents made a lot of mistakes, like most parents.  I would include myself in that category.  As a teacher, I make mistakes daily, and I always made a point to tell my students so.  And if they didn't know what I messed up on that day, I would say, ask me and I'll tell you.

The reality is that when you're working with people--or living with them or talking with them and especially raising them--you're going to make mistakes.  Some of those mistakes are immediate "oh no's".  The other day my son didn't come home from school on time, so I stormed up there in a tizzy to pick him up.  He came to the office, looking puzzled, and as I stepped out of the office he asked what was wrong.  And I, in my insistence of being correct, demanded, "Did I tell you that you could stay late today?"

He said, "Yeah!"  I must have looked as puzzled as he felt because he said, "I told you the honor roll party was today...Dad signed the form, remember?"

Uh, yeah, now I did.  Yep, I had pulled my kid out of the party he was participating in after school to celebrate three semesters on the honor roll.  Way to go, Mom.

Other mistakes we make are long lasting and we may even think we're doing the right thing for a long time, only to find we were mistakenly doing the wrong thing.  I think certain parenting strategies fall under this category.  When I was a child, my father was fairly punitive.  I was a shy child, but certain behaviors I had frustrated him, and he used strategies that we now know to be harmful to children: shaming, belittling, spanking, and yelling were common in his repertoire.

When I became an adult and grew a voice to stand up for myself (it took a long time, too!), I was able to talk with my parents about things in my childhood that concerned me.  My mother had also grown, like most of us, continuing to learn about people and dynamics between people.  She was able to hear and understand the pain I felt about certain parts of my childhood, and to apologize for those things.  Her apology and willingness to listen to me talk about how I felt as a child helped not only heal our relationship but bring us even closer than before.

As much as my mother was able and willing to listen, my father has never been able to admit his mistakes as a parent.  Instead, he deflects, often with humor, and while he lightens the mood, there is a part of me that resents him.  Part of me still carries around the anger and humiliation and sadness of a little girl who was emotionally bullied by the man who should have protected her.

I make mistakes with my son all the time, but the other day was an in-your-face doozie.  When he told me why he was at school, I literally slapped my forehead and said...well, I won't repeat what I said, but it wasn't good.  I apologized and offered for him to go back in and I would wait.  He said no and angrily climbed into the car.  At nearly fourteen, he doesn't forgive my discretions as easily as he used to.  When we got home, I told him again, "I'm really sorry.  You deserved that party and I had other things on my mind.  I really screwed up and I'll try not to do it again."

I'd like to say we ended with a big hug and then went and watched Star Wars or something, but the reality was much less pleasant.  He muttered, "kay", then left me sitting in the car to ponder my mistake. I felt bad about it.  And I should have--I blew it.  But then I did the only thing I could do--own the mistake, and make an attempt to rectify the situation.

Children often learn by imitating the important people in their lives.  My son makes a lot of mistakes too, and sometimes he apologizes but sometimes he doesn't.  My hope is that by giving a genuine apology, he will eventually learn that apologies are a step toward correcting the problem.

People with integrity apologize.  When they make a mistake, they apologize to their friends, their colleagues, their spouses.  And their children.

And when children are treated with integrity, they grow up to practice it--with their friends, their colleagues, their spouses, and their own children.  And that's what I want for my kids.

What do you want for yours?

The Pi*#y List

Earlier today I was reading a friend's list of all the things she doesn't like.  Yep, she actually keeps a list and adds to it when she finds something new.  Interesting, I thought.  A few years ago, during a bout of frustration, I had told a colleague I was going to write a book called "Ten Stupid Things Parents Do to Mess Up Their Children's Lives" (and of course, here I give credit to Dr. Laura Schlesinger for the similarity in title to her book "Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives".)

I don't know that I could narrow that list to ten.  But I thought I'd start one today, because my mood is a little cranky, plus I figure maybe somebody might see themselves and say, "Ooh...not good...might need to change that!"  God knows I do that every day.

So here it is--a list of things that annoy me about parents when they are with their children:

1.  Parents who feel the need to demean their child in front of others.  Guess what?  It's not your KID who comes off looking stupid.
2.  Parents who spank, swat, slap, or otherwise hit their children, especially in Walmart, because it's so insanely stereotypical, especially when it's preceded with the exclamation, "Don't hit!".
3.  Parents who take their kids out all day and expect them to behave without following a schedule and with nothing to do.  Personally, I get insanely irritated when people throw random stops at places in my day, and I'm 41 years old.
4.  Any parent who takes their kid out during one of the following:  naptime, mealtime, bedtime.  Really.  Watch your clocks, people.
5.  Parents who indulge their child to get the kid to shut up.  Congratulations in teaching junior that screeching equals good stuff.
6.  Parents who praise their children for EVERYTHING.  Does junior really need to think he's a genius for walking, putting on his shoes, sitting in a chair, refraining from screaming, or eating his lunch?  Don't get me wrong, everybody likes a little praise from time to time, but if this is the majority of your conversation with your child, you might want to think of some other things to talk about.
7.  Parents who let their kids run rampant in restaurants, malls, stores, Disneyworld, hotels, or pretty much any public area.  Children should be supervised appropriately at ALL times until you can trust them to behave appropriately without you there.  And if they don't I'll be happy to tell you.
8.  Parents who do armchair parenting.  Yelling, praising, or giving advice as you sit on your butt while you watch reruns of "Friends" is NOT parenting.
9.  Parents who blame the dog/cat/guinea pig for scratching junior after he just spent the last ten minutes torturing said animal.  Listen up, people--teach your kids the appropriate way to interact with animals.  I have one dog and I'd no sooner get rid of her than I would one of my kids.  In my opinion, if you're not that dedicated to your pet you probably shouldn't have one.
10.  Parents who believe any random parenting advice written by any old nut.  Look, no matter how much some person on blogger says your kid should watch Baby Einstein, your kid is still going to be as intelligent as s/he was before.  No matter how early you try to teach your child the alphabet or numbers, s/he is still going to need good social skills in kindergarten.
11.  Parents who think I qualify as the "any old nut" referred to in number ten.

Got your own pet peeves?  Add them below in the comments section.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Gender Bender

Yesterday I wrote a post about bullying between my own children.  One of my friends, Amanda, asked me when I would address the "J. Crew controversial ad".  Another friend chimed in about her opinion as I quickly scanned my brain for info about J.Crew and what in the world could be so controversial about getting dressed.  So naturally, I did what any person would do--I googled it.

Oh yeah, I thought, NOW I remember.  The horrific, terrifying photo of a mother with her five-year old son, painting his toenails pink.  The horror!  The trauma!  The wickedness!  No wonder I forgot.

In all fairness to J. Crew, they went out on a limb to publish a photo of a mother painting her kindergarten-aged son's toenails pink.  Lots of us do it, but most of us don't immortalize the occasion through photographs.  In fact, some of us might be willing to do just that, as long as junior doesn't leave the house.  I remember when I was around six or seven and my younger brother would clip all my barrettes in his hair.  This was during the letter people days, and my brother was a busy kid.  My biggest memory is of him jumping up and down on the couch as he sang heartily, "Mr. M...with the Munching Mouth!"  Barrettes flying in his hair as he joyously chanted the "m" phrase, he was the seventies version of gender exploration.

When my own son was four, he dressed himself for school one day, and when he appeared I stopped dead in my tracks.  He had on his construction worker-style boots, olive colored shorts, a tee shirt, and a polar fleece vest in bright yellow.  I don't recall if he actually was wearing the construction hat or if I imagined it, but I do remember thinking somebody had lost a member of the Village People and needed him back, pronto.

I'm an early childhood educator who thinks nothing of boys who try on heels or slip into dresses; who has no concern over girls who hammer tricycles or flex their muscles.  Yet here stood my son, not only visually screaming "I can't coordinate my clothing by either color or season" but also making quite a statement through his choices.  And the mother in me, the fear of what people would think of me if I let him go to preschool this way, won out.  I made him change into something more traditional.  He wasn't pleased with me, but he recovered quickly and was happy by the time he got to school.

I think the biggest lesson of that little story, though, is that I remember it.  I recall it with a lot of hilarity, for sure, but also with a bit of shame.  In essence, I denied my four-year old the opportunity to express himself that day.  Did I learn my lesson?  Three years later when we were visiting my mother and he asked for a manicure, I consented readily.  Although he chose a clear polish, we all nodded and encouraged him and told him how great it was that he was getting a manicure.  He loved it and showed it off every chance he got.  "I got a manicure," he would tell people proudly, showing his hands to anyone who would look.  The color of the polish didn't matter.  It had felt good to him, it had felt true to him,and he was proud of it.

Within a couple years, he no longer wanted manicures.  Social standards had set in, and the joys that might have stayed true were gone.  He wanted to be like everyone else.

My son follows his peers quite a bit and has for most of his life.  One of the regrets I know I'll always live with is holding that back in him as a preschooler, at a time when it was most safe for him to leave the house in polar fleece, shorts, and construction worker boots.  I often wonder if the message he got from me early on is "you need to be like everyone else" instead of "who you are is good enough."  Because when we talk about gender expression in young children, that's the issue we're talking about, isn't it?  Does it embarrass us when a boy wants to play with dolls or a girl won't leave the block area?  Do we question children's sexuality if they're drawn to clothing that's out of the ordinary?  Or do we wonder if it's a sign of things to come if a girl cuts her hair to the scalp or a boy grows his out?

Who we are sexually is not equal to our gender, nor is our gender equal to our interests.  One can't predict the other.  Many beautiful women are lesbians as many handsome men are gay.  Similarly, one of my best friends is a marathon runner who has participated in some of the most difficult marathons in this country.  She's a strong, amazing woman who excels in business and  I know a man who is a trained singer with an amazing voice.  He excels on the piano, and is married with two children.

People are more complex than their gender or how they express their gender. In other words, you can't tell a thing about a person by his or her nail polish...other than a color s/he likes.  Personally, I'm into wines.  On my fingernails, not in my glass, thank you.  I've known some children who are into rainbow nails.  My daughter is into split nails.  She's found she can paint one hand well but not the other, so it's rather normal to see her with one painted set of nails and the other unpainted.

Maybe she's got a split personality.  Or maybe?  Maybe she just knows what she does well.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Girl, A Boy, and Bullying

I have hesitated about writing this because my kids are older than eight, which is when early childhood typically ends, but I think there's a big lesson in this story, so at the risk of one of them one day googling it and knowing that I told the world about what they did, I'm going to trudge ahead.

My son is almost fourteen and in eighth grade.  He's developing his own style, his own opinions, and has even got a girlfriend.  That's a whole other story, but let me warn you--regardless of how goofy you think your son might be, there IS a girl out there who will date him, so the answer, "Sure you can have a girlfriend if you can find one," is NOT acceptable.  Lesson learned.  Anyway, this is the first year my kids have ridden the bus.  Like, in their lives.  And my son, being in that moody, mean adolescent spirit, decided the bus stop, as well as the ride to and from school, was the perfect time to pick on his twelve-year old sister.

He had taunted her in front of her friends several times with the old, "You're fat and ugly" routine, which of course not only did she believe but was humiliated he would do such a thing in front of her friends.  And who wouldn't be?  I'm fat and hardly Miss America, but I'd want to backhand anybody who said it out loud, in front of my friends, on a public street, then laughed about it.

When their father and I found out about the teasing, as parents inevitably do most times, I pulled my son aside.  "Look," I told him flatly, "I understand it isn't cool to have your sister riding the bus and talking to you.  But if you call her any more names or bully her, you'll be riding MY bus to school, and I charge two bucks for gas each way."

He looked stricken.  "But then I won't have any money, Mom!" he despaired.  Have I mentioned he's not quite out of concrete operations yet? (inside teacher joke--if you didn't get it, don't worry about it.  It's hardly relevant to the story.)

Doing my best to look serious without rolling my eyes, I returned, "That's kind of the point, son."

Fast forward two weeks, and we're all gathered near my daughter's bed discussing school or some such thing.  Suddenly she smiles slyly and the words--oh, words, with any other child I would never have expected but somehow in retrospect I should have expected from her--slipped from her tongue like the slither of a snake.  Calling her brother by name, she continued:  "You have man-boobs and they shake when you run.  You should wear something to hold those things in place."

Man-bra, anyone?

She was giggling madly as her brother stormed away from her and I sat, mouth hanging open in disbelief  as I processed what she said, then fought my own inner demons as the hysterical laughter lay in my neck.  One glance at my son was enough to quell any giggles.  He certainly wasn't giggling, and wasn't only mad anymore, but incredibly hurt.  Tears welled in his eyes as they met mine, and I said all I could think of, "Honey, that's not true, and it was a mean thing for her to say."  He closed his door, crying and convinced he had boy breasts.

My daughter, the pubescent demon who regularly collapses on her own bed in wails of "why me, world?", was still snickering at her own cleverness.  "That," I said firmly, "was absolutely one of the meanest things I have ever heard you say."

She continued to snicker for a moment before turning to me and saying, "He deserved it.  He's a bully to me and embarrasses me in front of my friends on purpose."

And he does.

As a mom, I don't want either of my kids to pick on the other, but I know some of it is inevitable.  I did insist she sit and think about how her comment affected her brother, and she did later apologize on her own.

The battle of the bus stop seems to have settled down for now, and we have had no more man-boob comments that I know of.  The reason I told this story is it's a great example into the dynamics of bullying.  Clever little arrows that cause a great deal of hurt get cast and even bystanders find themselves drawn in, sometimes with laughter or their own smart-alecky comments.  Do I think what she said was funny?  Yeah.  But not when it comes to how it hurt my son--or how it would hurt another child.

Bullying takes on a life of its own very easily, and we as parents and teachers are called upon to stop it.  To stand up for kids who can't; to deflect the painful comments; to teach children more empathic ways to handle situations.  Even situations that hurt them.

I can't guarantee that another zinger won't find its way out of my daughter's mouth because she's loaded with them.  I also can't guarantee that my son, in all his angst, won't pick on someone because it feels good to be top dog.  But I can guarantee that I, as their mother, will address the situations as logically and empathically as possible.

And pray for their souls and my own strength to handle adolescence.  A lot.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Shout Out to You

I want to give a shout out to Kandice.

If you ever read the comments on this blog, you'll note lots of intelligent ones--some longer than others--but all are well-thought out and even add more information to what I've written.  Sometimes the information is from a differing point of view.  Those are my favorites, because rarely is life so black and white that we can point to one view as being absolutely correct.

Anyway, I haven't been linking this blog to facebook lately.  I have been struggling with a chronic illness and haven't had the energy.  It's been all I can do to post occasionally, and I hope those posts make sense, because it's quite likely that some of them don't!  But I still have readers every day, and I'm incredibly thankful for that.

Most of the comments made on this blog are from former students of mine, as well as a few parents of former (very young) students of mine.  It truly humbles me that these people actually read this mess, let alone comment on it.  I went to school for my bachelors, then to another for a master's, before switching to a third for a different master's, and I never had a teacher that I thought I'd keep in touch with.  So I feel super special that these people have chosen to keep me in their circle; in their lives with their partners and babies and vacations and jobs.  It's pretty awesome.

Anyway, when I logged on tonight, unsure of what I would write about, I pulled up my comments and noted immediately that my former student Kandice had commented.  She had actually commented twice on two different posts recently.  Kandice recently became a mom, then went back to work, so you know she has all the time in the world to sit around reading my blog and making comments.  But she does, and I wanted to say thanks.

One of the things that always was so meaningful to me as an instructor was the opportunity to see students through their program.  I watched as they came in, some timid and others convinced they knew everything there was to know.  I helped participate in challenging their views or asking questions for them to ponder.  Don't get me wrong--they did the work.  They were smart and capable and able to construct their own belief systems about teaching and learning.

At one point during her education, Kandice came to me asking about my thought of her pursuing a dual major.  She had developed an interest in a study she hadn't known she had before.  We talked quite a bit about what she wanted to do and whether she should pursue a dual major.  Honestly, (and this is terrible), I don't remember what she decided.  But I remember that she trusted me enough to come to me and talk about it.  Having those experiences with students meant the world to me.  I felt trusted and respected, and got a tiny glimpse into their worlds.

Don't get me wrong--sometimes I screwed up royally and had to eat crow and apologize for the way I handled a situation.  But I like to think that overall, I maintained the same standards I expected from my students--honesty, fairness, integrity, and confidentiality.

Kandice, Dax is one lucky kid.  I could list countless young women who have beautiful children, and those children are incredibly fortunate to have the mothers they have.  Mothers who understand children, who care about their children's development in all areas and will provide them with whatever is needed to ensure their success.  So yeah, I guess it's a shout out to all of you.  I'm proud to know you, and I'm humbled by all that you do--and teach others--every day.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Outside Time

When I first started working with children in a childcare setting, I was eighteen years old and worked with toddlers.  I learned a lot from that experience.  First, toddlers climb on anything like monkeys.  Second, never turn your back on a group of toddlers, or even one lone toddler.  They move faster than monkeys.  Finally, as much as I like watching monkeys, I'm really not a toddler person.  They don't carry on good conversation and need a lot of redirection.  And did I mention they move faster than monkeys?

Our saving grace was outside play.  Even at the ripe old age of eighteen, I figured out that toddlers LOVE their outside play.  Peekaboo, chalk, sliding, and swinging are a joy to little ones.  As I moved through my career, the love of outside time has been universal, regardless of age.  My six- and seven- year old first graders loved climbing and running as much as my toddlers loved their wagons and swings.  It wasn't until I began teaching at a lab school that I realized the power of the outdoors.

An outdoor curriculum can be a strong motivator for most children, regardless of age.  Outdoor curriculums rely on the teacher's ability to teach typical lessons in an atypical environment.  To do so, teachers have to think outside of the box and consider ways children will explore and learn from the outdoors.

Most progressive programs now attempt to plan and implement a "natural" or "green" playground.  These playgrounds utilize natural environments to encourage children to explore and build knowledge and appreciation of nature.  These programs may focus on a variety of different natural elements for children to use, including gardens, dirt pits for digging, sand pits for building and digging, large tree logs for climbing, tree stumps for hopping, compost piles for creating rich soil to help the variety of gardens grow.  Some have elements of water as well for children to explore the movement and properties of water outside.

Key to the success of any outdoor curriculum is the ability to manipulate certain aspects of the playground.  This means that a variety of surfaces, including mulch, grass, sand, and concrete may be part of the playground.  This enables teachers to plan a variety of activities outside.

If you're thinking of spending some fun time with either your class or your child outside, here's some ideas for different surfaces (all tried and true winners):

Concrete--sidewalk chalk, sidewalk paint, any type of manipulative your child/ren enjoy, art projects (I like to use trays to contain items), photographic paper (leaves sun reflections), painting with water on the sidewalk

Mulch--climbing, running, sliding, swinging, creating three dimensional sculptures, collecting and sorting pieces of mulch by size or shape, counting pieces of mulch, using magnifiers to dig and look for insects residing in the mulch, measuring mulch in measuring cups, using mulch to measure items nearby (a pencil may be three pieces long, a person may be thirty pieces, etc.)

Sand--building, experimenting with properties of sand and water, painting with sand, sifting sand, experimenting with funnels, writing letters in the sand with fingers or other objects

Grass--active group games (duck duck goose, mother may I), reading books together, building with PVC pipes or cardboard, painting large projects, sketching items on the playground, lying flat and watching the clouds, building a tent from extra fabric stabilized to a fence (or using a product such as Cranium's superfort), using magnifying glasses to search for ladybugs (or any other bug that fascinates your child)

If you're an outdoor lover, nothing beats having a children's garden or a family garden.  You may choose to plant flowers or vegetables, or a mixture of both.  For schools, I recommend multiple gardens, including an herb garden, a butterfly garden (do some research about the types of plants that attract butterflies in your area), a flower garden, and a vegetable garden.  Regardless of whether you have a tiny flower garden or multiple gardens in your space, children can help to pull weeds, water plants, and pick vegetables and herbs.  Utilizing vegetables and herbs you have grown with children helps them make the connection of food being grown to ending up on their table.

Spring is a great time to spend outside and teach children lessons about nature.  Take the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and get your kids outside--for learning or for fun!

I'm supposed to eat that? What kids would say if they knew better

Hey lunch lady, I'm really not crazy about the choices I have today.  They're a tad better than yesterday (I can see that the chicken patties today aren't swimming in grease like the hamburgers were) but geez, it would be nice to have a choice that didn't take a month off my life or add an extra three pounds to my hips.  Choices for today's menu seem to be a breaded chicken patty sandwich or some sort of weird casserole with hashbrowns and brown stuff--maybe meat? beef?-- mixed in.  I'm gonna have to choose the chicken patty sandwich, but you already knew that, didn't you, since the last five kids have passed up that weird hash brownie thing.  Okay, on to the sides.  This is my favorite part because of the offer versus serve policy.  Oh, I know that I have to make it until three today on the food I eat and it's only ten right now (just my luck that my group has first lunch shift @@) but at least I don't have to have any crap on my plate that both of us know I won't eat.  Hmmm, let's choices...aha!  French fries!  I thought I saw those yesterday too.  Actually, who am I kidding?  They're one of the great standbys here.  Okay, what else is there...some kind of wilty cooked carrot coins.  Did those come from a can or were they frozen, do you know?  Can?  Industrial sized for sure...never eaten that at my house before.  And hmmm...oh, every kid's favorite fruit, pineapple.  Ugh.  I'll take the fries and pass on the other two.

On to the drinks...oh yes!  The classics that I remember my parents talking about!  The cartons of milk.  What should I choose...there's so many!  There's the red (whole--my mom doesn't give us that either), the blue (that one is skim and tastes like milk-flavored water), and then there's the great compromise!  The one percent CHOCOLATE milk!!!  Yes!  Gimme one of those.  I love it.  It's even better than the grape juice I drank this morning with my sausage and egg biscuit.

Okay, punch in my number.  Does the government know about this part?  Do they track what I'm eating?  Oh, I get it.  They just track that I am eating a lunch on their dime.  Gotcha.  Well, I guess if you want to call it a lunch.

Sit down with my friends.  Let's review--chicken patty sandwich, fries, and chocolate milk.  Oh yeah, there's that salad bar up there.  I could get some real carrots from there if I have time.  Oh stop it, Sasha, you know the lunch lady will make us all shut up if you're squishing the ketchup like that.  Time, time...shoot...down to five minutes and I just sat down.  How fast can I force this stuff down?  Well, the chocolate milk should help.  Geez, can't this kid stop asking me questions?  I'm trying to eat here...still got a third of a sandwich and haven't touched the fries and I have, two...minutes before I have to dump my plate.  I realize it's not the healthiest meal but it's gonna be at least five hours before I eat again so I'd like to get something in me...

Chocolate milk.  Sweetness for the soul.  My mom was talking about the amount of unnecessary sugar in  our foods and how too much sugar and processed foods contributes to diabetes.  I am so not going to be a diabetic like my uncle.  Anyway, everyone knows a kid deserves a treat like chocolate milk after working so hard in the morning.  And I don't want to not eat anything, like that girl Trish over there...she's skinny as a post.  Not crazy about the thickness in my belly even if my mom tells me it's baby fat.  She doesn't know what I eat here anyway...she thinks I'm choosing salad.  Ha.  She's talked with me about good choices and I know she thinks I make them.  I try but it's hard.

I asked her once if I could pack my own lunch and her face fell and she just looked sad, just for a minute, before shaking her head and explaining to me that she doesn't have the extra money right now to pay for breakfast and lunch for me and my little sister.  Maybe once she got her raise, she said.  That was before the economy tanked, as my social studies teacher says.  At home we eat a lot of beans and rice, some fresh fruit and salads when the stuff is on sale.  My mom says they're good for you and water's the best drink of all.  I feel a little guilty drinking my chocolate milk, but it's not like I have extra money to go to the local fast food place after school with my friends--

Ugh.  Lunch way over--dump the fries and the rest of my milk and head on back to class.  I'm always tired in the afternoon and my classes later in the day are too hard.  I hate having math late.  I can't even concentrate.  Too tired.

I can't wait to get home and eat some of the oatmeal my mom leaves for us.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Education and Funding

I often think my best blog ideas come from my friends and former students.  Tonight I was reading about the concerns of a former student, now a teacher, regarding her state's cut of educational funding.  The state had managed to avoid slashing salaries, although it froze raises and cut money from retirement funding. "I wish," she said, "that more parents understood the effect this cut is going to have on their children."

Amen to that.  Let's face it, economics and government aren't exactly the highlights of most parents' priorities.  Unfortunately, our lawmakers count on the common person's ignorance when planning and passing laws regarding all sorts of things.  Right now, our economy is so incredibly stressed that most Americans have the perspective of "just make it stop!"  I know on more than one occasion, as I've pondered how exactly I'll make my COBRA payment or where I can get the job I need, I've been tempted to just forget about my responsibilities as a citizen and worry about my own backyard, instead of the entire block.

And often that's what we're encouraged to do--pay attention to our own issues and not to others--and that kind of individualistic thinking, in my opinion, is part of the reason we're in the situation we're in right now.  When the majority of our citizens are more worried about their own checkbooks than where the money we pool together is going, then funding gets cut from important programs.  Yep, education.

As a teacher who has had experience in the public school system, let me give you some examples of what funding cuts mean for your child.  First, you can expect larger class sizes and less one to one instruction.  Because the classes are larger, teachers will be more likely to teach to the middle of the group; kids who are in need of a little more attention or are gifted will receive less specialized education. When teachers are ill, schools will begin to split classes in order to save money by avoiding having to pay substitute teachers.

Extracurricular programs get cut; the arts will experience a similar loss.  Expect to see unemployment rise in the areas of art, music, support staff, and sports/physical education.  My personal opinion is that a lot of parents don't understand the value of the arts and physical education in schools.  Not only do the arts teach children aesthetics, the value of a strong art education teaches children they have the power to create and to stretch; to imagine and to bring their imaginings to life.  It teaches an understanding and appreciation of fine artists who have come before and what and why their art was great.  Exposure to the arts, beginning at a young age, helps to create an appreciation that will last for a lifetime.  Musical experiences not only encourage language skills, pitch, and a variety of different skills involved in music creation.  And physical education not only serves to teach gross motor skills, it also encourages children to relieve stress, build confidence, and build healthy bodies.

It would be nice to open up the paper and read an article that your average parent can understand instead of a ton of legaleze and educational jargon meaning nothing.  At least that's what I tell myself, because I refuse to believe that any parent would want their child to be in a crowded classroom with fewer teachers, less technology, fewer library books, fewer materials in general to work with, in exchange for the rich guys getting richer.

Well, we all have hope in something.