Friday, September 25, 2015

Get your kicks...on highway 27?

Since my new job involves a LOT of driving, I've recently found myself reflecting on the strangely satisfying things that happen when you spend too much time in the car. 

1) When the tempo of the song lines up with the tempo of your turn signal. 
2) When the guy who cut you off a mile ago gets stuck in a slow lane and you casually pass him by. 
3) When two or three cars pull out of adjacent streets or parking lots at the exact same moment. (Like in a spy movie!)
4) Trying out a hidden back road or shortcut...and making it out alive!
5) Finally knowing a new route well enough that you don't need to use MapQuest anymore. 
6) Actually taking a moment (or twenty) to notice the changing autumn landscape as you drive by. 
7) A great excuse to try lots of different restaurants and coffee stands as you drive between locations. 
8) Getting to say "yeah, I've been there" when someone mentions an obscure location. 
9) When you park at your destination and the song ends at the exact same moment.
10) The opportunity/necessity to go "old school" and talk on the phone more than text. (I didn't know how much I missed this until now!)

As if this list wasn't already enough to enjoy, I'm also loving the new job itself!  Now if only I could enjoy all this without having to sit all day...but I guess we all have to make sacrifices. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The time is now...

After seeing how hard the SEA and our local employees fought for improvements all summer long, and now seeing that changes still haven't been made by the time school is starting, I feel inspired to voice my concerns as well.

I've served in a variety of positions as an educator for over 15 years: Express activity leader, substitute, classroom teacher, coach, mentor teacher for arts programs, college instructor...I feel blessed to have experienced education from many different angles and to have worked alongside some wonderful people. None of these jobs are easy. All of them require more hours than what people assume. One particular position I held was only paid for three months out of each year, and every year, I was told the pay would surely improve the following year…It was only after 8 years that I finally started getting paid for all ten months of that position. Sadly, broken promises and lack of support have become more widespread in recent years. And they seem to be perpetuated not only by the school districts themselves but also by some of the more vocal members in the community. 

I recently heard someone suggest that the school districts just fire everyone and bring in "scrubs who won't strike" to finish the job. Do you really want your children's future to be in the hands of someone you'd consider a "scrub"? Another common argument is, "if you don't like the pay or the hours, get a different job." But what happens to your kids after all the best employees take that advice and leave for their different job?

The workers in our schools today care about your kids; they work hard for your kids; and they trained hard to earn the opportunity to be hired for these jobs. Just as importantly, they were hired because they were considered the best for these jobs--the best for your students. Why are so many districts and community members now willing to sacrifice that? Are people really so offended that employees are standing up for what they deserve, standing up for what YOUR CHILDREN deserve?  

Instead of trying to stop the strike by insulting employees who already feel disrespected, we should be supporting their fight to improve the state of education. If you want to avoid a strike, AND bring about positive change, please help convince your districts to create better conditions for their employees and their students!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Teaching tips: Paradoxes of the profession

Education in America today is full of paradoxes: some are challenging and a bit disheartening; some are amusing and kind of exciting. So when someone recently asked what advice I would give to a brand new teacher, I automatically started thinking about how to use these paradoxes to our advantage! I tried to keep the list to five but teaching is incredibly multi-faceted, so I could only manage to stop at five if I added two bonus tips. I think they're worth the extra 10 seconds of reading though! 

1) Plan the long term goals before you organize the daily details, but stay flexible enough to change those plans if one or more students suddenly need something different. 
2) Prepare so you'll have answers for all the random questions you might be asked in class, but be honest enough to say when you don't know an answer. (Then go home and find the answer for the next day!)
3) Speak firmly and naturally, but not until students have given you their attention. (Firm and natural eye contact and body language will probably help you get their attention first.)
4) Be open and sincere with your students so that they see you are a real person with feelings just like they are, but be ready to put aside your personal bad day when you step into the classroom.
5) Maintain open communication with parents, but discuss difficult situations with students first whenever you can.

Bonus #1) Be ready to feel like the lone adult for most of the day, but seek out opportunities to give respect and encouragement to all of your school's employees--other teachers, specialists, secretaries, custodians, counsellors, even administrators. 
Bonus #2)  Drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated, but be prepared to hold it since teachers are not in charge of their own bathroom schedule. 

I really believe teachers should be lifelong learners who aim to teach students, not subjects. (Ok, maybe that's bonus paradox #3...and #4. Sorry...) So I always welcome questions and suggestions for my writings! 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Say something...

Five suicides in the last six months, 2 of them from the school where I teach. Another from the university where I am an adjunct. I still don't know if I can find the right words to express my personal feelings or my deep condolences after these tragedies but this article convinced me that I must at least say something. 

In addition to summarizing this tragic year, the article states that "Suicide is part of the culture our kids are growing up in" and that recent suicide prevention sessions have found that adults aren't comfortable discussing suicide. I'll admit I'm not comfortable right now...but if we don't break through our comfort zones to discuss it, then who's going to help our students through it? And let's not kid ourselves, depression and suicide plague many adults too.  Who's going to help our adult friends through it when their adolescent nightmares revisit them?

Several of these students had adults who were already trying to help before they made their final decision, so I understand that talking won't guarantee suicide prevention, but I hope that if we create a community of openness and compassion, maybe we can make a difference. In the last six months, I've encouraged many students to talk with professionals but I've also tried to help them feel loved and supported because I believe that's what they need first and foremost. I've especially tried to encourage them with three main ideas:
-First, if you are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. You are not weird or unworthy. Those feelings are not proof of the fact that something is wrong with you. 
-Second, the fact that other people have experienced similar struggles does not invalidate your pain. No one should make you feel like your depression or your fears are any less powerful in your life simply because they have overcome their own.
-And third, the road through healing is often long and winding. Especially if you are dealing with your own depression after a loved one has died, you're not likely to "snap out of it" easily or anytime soon. On one hand, you should give yourself enough grace to allow time for healing. On the other hand, you shouldn't resign yourself to remaining in this current painful state; you must try to find the positive in the world around you so that you can allow yourself to begin to heal. 

One of my students recently wrote me a letter that brought me to tears. She wrote about how her friend's death made her think about her own mortality and her own potential escape. But she also described the beauty of life and her new desire to look around and appreciate things that she once took for granted, like the way the sun shines on the trees and helps them grow, and the way the trees in turn provide for us. 

If our society is going to truly help people overcome their own suicidal thoughts or recover after they've lost a loved one, if we are going to actually change the culture that today's teens are experiencing, we must be willing to help them face the questions of death and the beauties of life. It won't be a one time conversation; it will probably be a slow and difficult process that needs a lot of love and grace and compassion. There's no easy answer to the struggles our community faces right now, but it's important that people know we are facing it together. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dancing (and Fundraising) with the Celebrities

As you've probably heard by now, I've been preparing for an exciting fundraiser for the Spokane Christian Youth Theatre: Dancing with the Celebrities!  I'll be performing tomorrow, April 25th at 7PM at the Bing Theatre with my celebrity partner, the uber-entertaining reporter Casey Lund.  Casey and I have taken on some fun challenges in our mashup of a routine: Salsa, aerobics, kick, swing, hip hop, partner stunts, and plenty of comedy!  You're welcome to check out our promo video for a sneak peek.
But in addition to practicing our skills for a solid performance, we're also hoping to help raise funds for Spokane's CYT.  The couple who raises the most money will be announced as the WINNER of the competition, so any little bit you can give will help the theatre AND help US! Even if you can't join us tomorrow night, you're still welcome to donate to us on-line: Just be sure to select our name(s) on the final checkout page! 
If you plan to attend the evening's performance, you should also consider bidding on one or more of these auction items.  The winning bidders will be invited to apply their purchase price toward their favorite couple--which should, of course, be Casey and Miranda!

Auction #1: Family Fun Basket
Approximate Total Value: $575

Auction #2: An Evening Out
Approximate Total Value: $300

Auction #3: Let’s Fly Away Basket
Approximate Total Value: $200
Auction #4: Above Par Dad’s Basket
Approximate Total Value: $500
Auction #5: Pamper Mom Basket
Approximate Total Value: $500
Auction #6: Priest Lake Getaway
Approximate Total Value: $1,250

Thanks so much for your support, and we'll see you tomorrow!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I want to start! But...mornings...

First of all, do you really want to? 
I mean actually, truly, REALLY want to?

Plenty of students SAY they want to join a morning dance team, a 7AM weights class, a zero hour band; and plenty of adults SAY they want to start exercising before work each day. But if you don't really want it, deep down, then there's no magical inspirational talk or organizational guide that will help you follow through with it. 

On the other hand, if you truly want to dance, lift, play, or run, there's no snooze button, sleep mask, or other stock excuse that will stop you! 

So let's assume you are committed to starting and I'll give you some tips to help you transition through your early morning adjustment! 

Over the last 20ish years, I've found myself in a surprisingly large variety of 6AM activities, and these are the methods that have helped me keep up with what others might call madness. 
1) Buddy up! Find a friend who has the same interest or goal and decide to tackle this change together! It'll be more fun when you're not alone, and you'll be less likely to quit if you have a friend to look forward to. Plus, you might even save on gas money if you can work out a carpool schedule. 
2) Before your first week, time your drive...then add 3 extra minutes in case of busy traffic or frosty windows! Take a test drive so you know what to expect, but don't skimp on the driving time or you'll end up starting your day with nerves and negativity. On the bright side, if you don't need those extra 3 minutes then you'll arrive a little early and get to spend time with other people who are as punctual as you are!
3) Lay out your clothes every night: You'll feel more "together" and less rushed in the morning, even if you hit snooze a few times. 
This might mean ironing, gathering your jewelry, or even investing in a good bag with compartments to help you organize your packing. Whatever it means for you, I promise you'll sleep better knowing you're ready for the day ahead. Please note: if you are doing something active like basketball or dance, you should lay out BOTH sets of clothes ahead of time or you might end up without your normal shoes (or worse yet, your pants) when you change for school or work! 
4) Prepare portable breakfasts and snacks on the weekends. Aside from scrambling to find your clothes in the dark, there's nothing more daunting than rushing out the door and knowing you won't get to eat your first meal for another 6 hours! I've written about this before, so I'll refer you there for more info about eating on the go:
5) Simplify your hair and makeup routine.  Could you wash your hair at night? Or at least shower/shave/etc at night? If you're like me, and your hair will turn into Night of the Living Dead if you wash it at night, then try dry shampoo in the mornings! I'm a fan of Batiste (It's cheap and surprisingly effective-- Some brands, like Tresseme, even have "dry" shampoo mouse for naturally curly hair! ( Do you really need to curl your eyelashes or lotion up before heading to the gym? If not, keep those supplies in your gym bag and take care of it after you exercise... Little shifts like these can really cut down your morning prep time!
6) Start your day by smiling about the things you love. Sure, you probably love sleeping too, or at least lounging in bed and checking your facebook updates. But by starting your day with dance, music, or exercise, you're enriching your life in a way that sleep (and facebook/tweeterville/etc) won't!

So don't let the early start time keep you from things that will help you enjoy life or reach your goals.  The benefits far outweigh the sacrifice of an earlier bed time. And after a while, you'll find yourself waking up on holidays thinking your day doesn't feel quite right without that early morning adventure! 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Catching up: Welcome to 2015

I recently realized that it has been almost 4 months since I posted anything to this blog and to be honest, I was pretty disappointed in that. But  while deleting outdated memos from my cell phone, I discovered about a dozen pieces that I had typed but never posted. Apparently, I never made the time to revise them to the point where I felt comfortable sharing them. So in a last ditch effort to delay the still imminent return from winter break, I decided to revise and share a few of them today. 

Although the next five posts all say they were were written today (and with an impressive 35 minutes between them), they were all written in the fall of last year (and over the less impressive span of a few months).

Sometimes words

Sometimes they just flow out of me, 
like they've been ready all along. 

Other times they wander and rush through my head for days,
Like they're trying to find each other 
In the chaos of emotions 
They beat down, befriended, or became along the way. 

I am more of a thinker than a writer. 
I'm more of a philosopher than a poet.
Half the time, I have too many words for my theories. 
Half the time, I have no words for my thoughts. 
But sometimes words happen. 
And sometimes I call it poetry. 

Starting over: The life of a teacher

It's a blessing and a curse, really. Starting a new job every single year. 

It means a blank slate, a chance to try new methods, to work with new people, to reach new goals. It also means having to rebuild your protocols, your reputation, your curriculum, your timeline, your relationships, your comfort zone.

All the excitement and anxiety of starting a brand new job--This hits me every fall as I step back into my familiar yet unpredictable classroom.  I remember the kids that reached their goals and the kids that inspired  me the year before, and I sigh a little because I wish I didn't have to change students again this year. And I remember the kids who didn't reach their goals and those who wore me down, and I wonder, "what if this year's even harder?" I wonder what goals my students will actually reach this year, if we will go deeper or farther than my classes had before, or if this will be the year we don't really succeed. I connect the targets, strategies, philosophies, and materials that could help guide us through the next year together. I prepare a far too detailed pacing schedule that will be moved around and eventually smudged out when students start showing that they need different timing, instruction, or practice. I try recalling the pep talks I've given throughout the years, so that I can create a talk that will help start their year off right.

But after 11 years of this autumnal game of anticipation and reflection, I've  realized there's one thing I'd never considered. What goals will guide ME this year? Not the me in my classroom, not in my coaching circle, not in my professional development, just ME. When a friend and department leader asked me this question yesterday, I was clueless. I've always set goals for what I should learn and attempt as I try to help my students reach their goals, but I have never really set goals for what I want to accomplish away from my students. 

Sure, I have set little goals for myself, like the semester where I told myself I would be home and done grading every day by 5 PM. (And every teacher knows that goal won't even last until second semester.) But that's not really a goal to make me personally happy anyway. 

So what do I really want for myself? I've struggled a lot with maintaining a sense of peace in 2014, so I think that needs to be my priority in 2015. But how to accomplish it? I'm still working on that part. As always, if any of my friends out there have suggestions or invitations that could help, I'd love to hear them. 

To sleep, perchance to dream

Sometimes sleep isn't just a euphemism. 

To sleep, perchance to dream?
For in that sleep of death, 
what dreams may come?
Not the death of a body, 
just a day that needs to die. 
It used to be a sweet escape, 
a peaceful place to hide. 

But when daylight nightmares invade your dreams, 
where can you escape?

I used to dream in nightmares; 
Now I dream in days. 
If only I could wake 
and cease to be afraid...


"If so and so jumped off a bridge, 
would you?"

"It's called a leap of faith. 
You just have to jump."

Standing on the ledge. 
Heart beating out my chest.
Messages mixed and nowhere to go. 
I give in, give up, take the risk.

Fear, destruction, delivery.
Falling, rushing, zooming
Toward me, to me, through me.


Delivery, distraction, denial.
Slipping, shrinking, gone. 

Some tell you not to jump. 
Some tell you to jump and believe. 
But what happens when you jump 
and you believe 
and you still end up 
back where you started? 

The lost art of communication: Mistaking movement for progress.

Have you ever been so desperate to reach your destination that you cut through neighborhoods are back alleys just so that you don't have to stop and "wait for the traffic"? Of course, I'd never make a mistake like that, but I hear that other people do it all the time…

 I've begun to realize that our society is making the same type of mistake with our communication. In this world of endless technology, it would seem that we're surrounded by communication all the time.  However, I'm afraid that our important words are rarely written on paper or spoken into the air for an audience who actually wants to think about them, but rather they're displayed on cell phone screens and computer monitors for audiences who can turn them off and on as the mood fits. And it's making us take our words for granted. 

The social media platforms where we display our words for the world convince us that we don't need to communicate personally with anyone because we can communicate widely with everyone and still feel like we've expressed ourselves--even if we haven't been heard. In the same vain, we respond to funny trivial memes with the same "like" that we give to deep and thought provoking artwork or articles. And we don't have to internalize or memorize any of those ideas because we can always just look them up again if we want to reconsider them. 

Is that what's watering down our real life communication or are we actually valuing thought less as time goes on? Since beginning to consider this issue, I've increasingly noticed that generic platitudes prevent us from investing in and sharing with each other. Whether I'm chatting with a coworker or boss, observing the conversations near me in a store, or even texting with some of my friends, it seems that we 

The time it takes to receive and send these generalities sometimes tricks us in to thinking we've spent quality time with each other.

Aside from the handful of friends who truly know us, do we ever really communicate anymore? Or have we begun texting and talking with the same time-wasting trivialities that we share online? 

Hey, good to see ya there today. 
You too. 
Having a good day so far? 
Pretty much. How about you?
I'm good. Thanks. 
That's good. 
Yeah, it was great seeing you again. 
You too! Hope you have a good week. 
I hope you do you too. 
It was good to hear from you. 
Yep, talk to you again soon!
Ok. Talk to you then. 
--And that accounts for two hours of "talking."

 Sure, sometimes there's just not time for anything else, or we're not sure what else to say to a person we only sort of know. But if we're going to spend so much of our time reading and writing things to one another electronically, shouldn't we commit to really saying something? 

Let's not mistake words for communication.