The Next Deplorable Trend in Fashion: Teen 101 Series

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 6.16.46 AMSagging. Butt cracks. Guys with skinny jeans that look like they got robbed from a second grader. Hundred-dollar ripped jeans. Sneakers that are venerated not played in. Chains on pants. Bright red hair. Micro micro micro minis. Shirts missing sleeves–maybe it was a half-price sale for one.

These are the fashions I deal with daily in school.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

“Miss–your sweater’s ripped.” I look down and feign surprise. Indeed it is. Truth is, I knew that. I laid out my clothes for the next day, not realizing that the seam had ripped out my entire left arm, leaving a gaping flapping sleeve. I was cold. I had two choices. Run with it, or wake my husband at dumb o’clock in the morning rummaging for another warm thing to wear.

I went with “run with it.” I figured that if I can be butt-cracked daily by sagging teens eight feet taller than me, I can wear even more bad fashion. Much better than creating a grumpy guy.

But then, I got an idea.

“I know, isn’t it cool?” I said. Puzzled looks…

“It’s the next great fashion. It’ll be bigger than leg warmers and teal.  You all ripped your pants and drew on them with Sharpie already–that’s old. This is new. The next thing. By the end of the week, I predict you’ll be ripping your sweaters, too. By Friday, they’ll be making these in China for the runway in New York.

I nodded and walked away, a group of freshmen looking at each other quizzically, one or two staring at a sleeve wondering if it should get ripped.

Only the two seniors stood in the back laughing .




Jurassic Frogs

dino frogWe found a frog in the garden. A big, green Calavaras-county style bullfrog hiding under the straw.

“Mom, he reminds me of a palaeobatrachus. That’s a dinosaur that was an amphibian. A dinosaur frog. Frogs are amphibians, you know. They live in the water and on land.” He continued, “Mom! I discovered a lot about frogs. They’re slimy because of the water, and they have feet like a duck. That’s how they swim.”

I googled this fact. Not the part about the duck–about the paleo-frog I couldn’t spell. He was, in fact right, down to the last detail I couldn’t understand.

This is serious. I think he might get locked in a gym locker earlier than I previously expected–do they have gym lockers in kindergarten?

He tells me lots of facts–math facts, obscure facts from the dawn of man, geo-facts, and he carries a little piece of shale in his pocket with a leaf fossil. Or a crinkle in the rock. We want to think it’s a leaf fossil. He’s been digging intently to find more for three days.

“Be careful, you’re going to dig to China, and I didn’t get your passport yet.” I said.

“MOM! You CAN’T dig to CHINA! You would only dig to molten rock and lava. That’s what’s at the center of the Earth.” Point well taken.

“How do you know this?” Inquiring minds want to know.

“Because I am a Man of Science.” Indeed.

He loves his class and his friends. He has just one critique. “School is boring, I just want to play.” Fair enough.

“Let’s do your math first. We have to draw the circles near this problem.”

“I don’t need the circles. That’s for babies. I know how to add the numbers.”

“Let’s check.”  I put a handful of plastic dinosaurs onto the table. “How many dinos?”

“17.” Correct.

“If I take eight,” I do not touch them, “How many will there be?”

“Nine,” he says.  Nine is correct. He’s doing better than Wall Street.

What if school were all about dinosaurs. What if we added dinos, subtracted dinos, talked about how dinos interacted with people and how we have dino shows today? We could graph the extinction pattern, project meteors throughout space, and classify geo-material I can’t spell. I’d learn too, though. Bet he’d never be bored. What if we could do that for every kid? I think about that a lot lately.

Yes, my kid’s a giant nerd–he reminds me of my friend’s kid when he was the same age, but his thing was robots, and he didn’t get locked into a gym locker. He’s in high school now. But if Declan isn’t as lucky, I feel confident that when he gets let out, that in twenty years he’ll fire the people who put him in.

And that is what life is all about.


Fighting Bad Guys Saves The World

Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 7.26.47 AMI’m sitting here trying to clean off my desk so I won’t be tempted to bring this computer on my yoga retreat. But The Boy Who Doesn’t Sleep got up early. That’s what he does. He zeroes in on my productive energy using it as a beacon to show up by my side.  I wouldn’t mind this so much if he disturbed me when I was disturbing myself–like when I am browsing nonsense failing to get any work done, but today, I organized and cleaned out my inbox, wrote two articles, banged out a chunk of a project and thought about finishing up what I’m doing for quarter three, because midterm exams at school are almost over.

That is an expansive chunk of productivity for my mind.

“Mommy, come on.  Sit on the couch with me.” Here’s where the good parent fights the bad parent for supremacy. I want to cuddle, but I need to finish this pile.  And technically, I’ve gotten up early to do so–he’s invading my space.

“Can I work while we sit together?” Chances are good that I don’t want to watch any of his cartoons, but perhaps I can appear interested in them. Kill two birds with one monitor.

“You can bring your little computer. You have to sit with me.” Sounds like a compromise the UN could learn from.

Now…to choose a show…Invariably, there will be nothing he wants to watch when I am trying to work. He rejected the usual lineup.

“What’s that word?” he said as I paged through the listings. He must now read every word.  This slows down progress anytime we pass road signs, walk down an aisle in a grocery store, and it’s killing my ability to censor TV.  He can now read the letters which unite to form the greatest evil, “Sponge Bob,” and he finds all the other shows I either personally despise or do not think are developmentally appropriate for a kindergartener. I used to skip by them. Now…”Not so fast!”

Today, he found Power Rangers.

“We don’t need to watch these–how about Max and Ruby?” Max and Ruby are two bunnies who solve little problems without parental supervision. That’s exciting.

“No, Mommy, I like Power Rangers.”  Well, since I don’t put them on, that’s a mystery. “What about Power Rangers do you like?” I inquired.

“Well, they fight to save the world. Just like Po fights to save China.”  Kung Fu Panda does indeed fight to save China, but also results in a hefty dose of me getting punched in the gut or kicked in the knee. I am not so amused by that.

But alas, it’s time…

Time to have this discussion–Declan has just started to attend karate class. His sister is his primary instructor now–teaching martial arts has been our business for years, and is, in fact, the way I met my husband. We have handed down the instruction to the next generation of teachers while my husband works on adult fitness and kickboxing and I work on teaching and not being the suckiest mom in the world.

I believe in the lessons of martial arts, from the self-confidence and physical fitness, to the actual history and development of the arts themselves. I love the great philosophers, and Zen masters. And I can rationalize fighting to save the world. The job of every great martial artist in history was to kill–that’s what warriors do. They weren’t always the best men. When I apply the strategies of Sun Tsu or Musashi to my life I realize that they developed these thoughts to avoid being wiped off the planet. Sun Tsu was perhaps the greatest strategic general and Musashi the best swordsman that ever lived. Generals and swordsmen fight and kill.

I’m using them for peace and strategy–that’s my problem. Their job was to avoid being killed. End of story.  Musashi never would have said, “Now, here’s how you deal with corporate raiders on Wall Street.” It is we who bastardize the history to make those connections. In truth, I sort of like the Zen connections. They inspire me.

Being a Gandhi-loving pacifist and a martial artist must seem like a paradox. This is deep philosophy. And it now time to discuss the intersection of peace with crusading for justice with Declan because he is done with little kid TV and trying to sneak in the superheroes and action ‘toons at every opportunity.

Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 7.28.28 AMSo, right now, at this moment, I’m busy relearning my Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, and how Po saves China from bad guys.  I am being told that it’s okay to fight to save the world from bad guys, and I’m trying to get a handle on what a bad guy is in the mind of a kindergartener.  I’ve learned that you can always tell a bad guy because they’re like monsters, sometimes they eat your brains and they are ugly. I’ll remember this if I’m walking down the street. I’ve met bad guys before, and they always took me off guard because I didn’t know these critical facts.

Maybe now that I’m taking the time to watch these shows and listen to my resident expert on bad guys, I’ll have an easier time keeping peace and order in my life–staying away from evil and all. I’d much rather think that this is what I’m doing right now rather than caving in to my hatred of the TV so I can get some work done.

[images: and hipsterdad’]

Thank the Lord for Congress: Teachers are Looking Pretty Good Right Now

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I would just like to pause to take a moment to be thankful for Congress.  I had been a little down about the public perception of education. I even got chastised by a good friend after sending a link to an education article in which I had some involvement.

“You do know I really could care less about education…here, it’s too politicized.”

I snapped back almost instantly, “Well, you have a very good one so you must have cared at one point.” I inserted a smiley face to cover up the defensive nature of my rebuttal.

Why was I so overly sensitive?

For the last couple years I haven’t been able to open a newspaper or watch the news without seeing some story about the evils of education–about labor disputes, low test scores–how even the little countries most American’s can’t spell on late-night TV show quizzes are beating us in everything from math to basket weaving. When I search for SOME good in the press, many of the reports seem ominous. “Evil teacher did this,” “Union members take kid’s candy at Halloween,” “Satan Declared Number Two Threat Down from #1 Thanks to Teachers.” “Teacher asks for additional box of paper in the middle of worst economy in a century.”

When I started teaching, I really wanted to save the world. I still do. But never in a million years would I guess that we’d get a rap worse than Wall Street or lawyers. LAWYERS!

“Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” I’ve heard that a million times. I’ve read many articles about how teachers do not graduate at the top of their university classes, and there’s just too much darned vacation. I’ve written about this before–that it is my goal to get the teaching profession back to the highest levels of respect, where it should be.

It’s bad enough that everyone wants to turn schools into little barbed wire military camps, presumably to make sure the teachers don’t escape to bask in the glory of summer vacation, but it would be nice for the media to give us better treatment. A little bit of psychological income goes a long way. After all, they were once students, too. But now that the press has Congress to worry about, they’re starting to treat education much better. I truly appreciate that.

I think the news has shown lately that teachers do much more than teach. I’ll never complain about salary (even though I did get a two page memo showing how some of my paycheck jumped the fiscal cliff yesterday), and I’m grateful for my benefits.

I am also a small business owner, have worked in Corporate America, and have slung some serious hash (of the edible not illegal variety) in order to pay for my education. Everyone in America is struggling at this time, and every time I go to the doctors and show my insurance card, I am grateful. That’s not the reason I teach, though. I teach in order to make the world a better place. I hope I succeed.

I think schools need some reality shows.  Why is America wasting its time enriching the cast of Jersey Shore, when they could be watching teachers instead–we have all of the intrigue and less of the alcohol–we’re morally sound.

The cameras could show a teacher waking up at 4 to correct papers, working all day, designing classes and running clubs after school, setting aside weekends to plan for the next week, and going to professional development all summer to keep up on all the industry changes, and end with a shot of that teacher searching in vain for a million pencils because for some reason Santa didn’t bring any to any of her students who lose one per day, and the five hundred (s)he scrounged for during the September sales are gone. I’d watch that show.

I’d also watch a school where someone really cool, educationally inspirational, and camera friendly like “Principal El,” goes into a struggling school with Ty Bennington and a bunch of people sponsored by Home Depot, and gives it an extreme makeover, uniting joy, best practices, leadership, and good interior design with educational policy.

Recreating the sphere of education is truly a job for an idealist.  It takes a lot of vision, and is certainly a large, but important, mission. Finding a circle of like-minded innovators is critical in maintaining the energy to complete the mission, because the outside world doesn’t always reinforce that vision. I have connected with other educators and educational leaders  in the Twittersphere that think like me. It’s enabled me to learn daily and take back suggestions to use in my class. Additionally, I remain grateful for my alumni who find me in social media and take a moment to tell me how I have positively impacted their world. The press might not always love me, but my students tell me the truth–good, bad, or indifferent. And I listen.

Today, however, I’m feeling invigorated and ready to change the world once again. Because someone else is taking over my role in the “most hated” category, surpassing even Wall Street. I know that when education became Public Enemy Number One (a product of fear in the economy, alongside honest reflection that it would be great to put American education back on top at all levels), a whole bunch of lawyers breathed a sigh of relief and stopped attending Self-Esteem Anonymous groups.  Teachers can soon do the same, because the United States Congress has usurped our role as number one of the Ten Most Hated Professions in America, and it feels pretty good.

I hope Congress stays number one, even if it raises my taxes more. Even if it means I’ll have to fly to Beijing to pay our debt back to China personally–that’s okay–I’ve been studying my Rosetta Stone for some time now, just in case China calls in our debt and I have to politely greet my new boss in Mandarin.

I am grateful to Congress and the media both. I hope to pay you back by my continued strive for excellence and desire to change the world. I would send you a card, but I have some papers to grade, so for now, let my gratitude suffice.