Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Teaching Log (I'm not going to # it anymore): Courage To Teach

I'm reading The Courage To Teach by Parker Palmer. If you go to that link, you'll find a site for their center that helps you reconnect "who you are with what you do."

That's basically what the book is about although it uses some pretty academic language to get there. (I enjoy reading such sophisticated sounding language.)

The first I really heard of The Courage To Teach was from a teaching neighbor of mine when I worked in Portland just before my cancer diagnosis. He was going through a crisis point in his life both about his teaching about some inner struggles... primarily that his father was dying at the time. He had read the book and was attending Courage To Teach workshops which apparently were an enormous support to his spirit through all of this.

As I read the book I find myself as the reader (and that he as a writer) seem continually need to justify and explain why a teacher's "inner landscape" would be relevant to their work. But there is evidence that it does make a difference.

One student I heard about said she could not describe her good teachers because they differed so greatly, one from another. But she could describe her bad teachers because they were all the same: "Their words float somewhere in front of their faces, like the balloon speech in cartoons."

He goes on to talk about connectedness and now it is not narcissistic, but necessary for teachers to be connected with who they are personally.

It occurs to me how hard it is for people to accept spiritually: in this form, in the form of meditation, even prayer etc.

There is no problem accepting some of the other unnecessary diversions from our work in the world, like humor, entertainment, fancy material goods etc. But to look inside oneself and tap into the essence that is there, or to look outwards for G-d, those things are somehow considered silly.

I'm thinking a little of my own work environment. Working in a yeshiva means that I work with a lot of people for whom living Torah lives and teaching are part of their spirituality. But to take the time and look inward in such personal ways is probably much too scary for many. I'm judging this simply on the fact that there are few with whom I think I could discuss a book like this, but also because of how they relate to children. There are some good teachers who still could be better if only they didn't hold children at arm's length. There are others who know their students well, and not in order to be the expert on their lives, but in order to reach for their spirits.

I'm also thinking about how "self-reflective" I've always been, and how often this was really just about ego -- narcissism again. There have been times in my life when I really really wanted or even needed to be the center of attention in my life to be happy. There are times when I shared too much information about my dreams, my inner landscape etc. This blog is a perfect example.

But every trait has two sides. Regardless of whether or not I tend to be self-centered, I need to center myself to be the best teacher that I can be.

I did a search for blogs which also mention Courage To Teach. I'd like to find more teaching community online.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Chag Sameach

My mom made this cool gingerbread sukkah.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I don't generally believe in firsts very much. I mean, I get which of ND's tooth came in first, but first words, first steps etc. are a little hard to read. There are enough things that look like the first that it's unclear.

However, I think just now was the first time I unintentionally fell asleep while putting ND to sleep that I know of. I had all these things I wanted to do tonight, but I just passed out for about a half an hour without even realizing it. Maybe I should just go to bed.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

YK 2007: How It Went

Like I said... really different from last year. Very similar to Rosh Hashanah. We stayed very busy watching ND.

I'm really proud at how I did with the fast too. There is a Kosher Natural Vitamins and health food kind of store in Teaneck with this wonderful woman who can talk your ear off and can sell me just about anything. She had recommended this special Israeli-made product that nursing women take before a fast. Two vials of really potent, honey-like something-or-other. Take one the morning before the fast, and one 10 minutes before the fast and it seemed to really make a difference! I'm afraid I don't know the name of it since it was all written in Hebrew (without even nekudot). I'll try in the future to find out a link and post it here because it's really great stuff. I even stood through all of neilah.

But getting into the heart of the day...

Yom Kippur just didn't feel as urgent as sometimes this year. I think it's because I feel on top of my life... OUR life. The self-searching, self-improvement etc.... I feel like I've been working on it pretty well and feel good about where I am now and also where I'm going. I feel embarrassed about mistakes of the past year, but I feel that rather than beg for forgiveness, I just needed to ask for a clean slate in order to move forward with what I'm already doing well. I hope I'm not saying something here that I will regret.

The one theme that kind of came to me fresh during the chag was a desire to see myself as more of a part of the community. I focus a lot (in both good ways and bad) on myself and what I should be doing to be my best, but not always in the context of community. I'd like to learn that I'm no more or less important than any other person in any of my communities. Things I say and do, or not say and do, can have an impact for good or for bad, just like anyone else, and that others need to learn that for themselves too. I think this is a difficult concept for most people because we are all so trapped inside ourselves and have trouble seeing ourselves at the same level of importance as others. We either raise or lower ourselves depending on that day's level of self-esteem. (It's even harder for an only child!)

Anyway, I'm not even so into the public philosophizing this year. The best part of Yom Kippur was during the al-chet prayer when you tap your heart with your fist as you list the wrongs of the past year. Anytime I did that with ND on my left hip, she grabbed my hand and "helped" me move that fist. It was hard to be serious when she had that huge smile on her face and was so proud of herself. I hope she can help me wipe away mistakes just as easily in real life and not just in the abstract.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Grateful Survivor

My mom was just published on Aish.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

YK 2007

Wow... life really is different compared to last year. No time to write at all before Yom Kippur either here or in my personal journal.

Yet I think it will still be meaningful. Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

LLLearning When It's Not Their Business

Tonight I stopped in at a friend's house and we inevitably got into a conversation about parenting. I was too forthcoming and then was offered advice that goes completely against the way I am raising ND. It goes against my instincts and my heart and is a protocol that I have no interest in following for my own sake or for ND's.

Then I went to a LLL (La Leche League) meeting where I was reminded that my instincts and choices are right for me and ND. I must learn not to talk about our choices with people.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Four Teeth Now

I guess we really are a family...

ND now has her top two and bottom two teeth. Today U went out to get the baby toothbrush and fluoride-less baby toothpaste. I felt, when I saw the toothbrushes, the same as I did the first time we came to shul with a stroller and saw it sitting among everybody else's.

Woah. This is us?

On another note, here's a picture I wanted to post before Rosh Hashanah but didn't have time to upload:

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Perfection Paradox

That image is of a pair of docs, by the way...

This was a good Rosh Hashanah... much better than I expected. The last three years have been frustrating at best, so I was really pleased. I didn't find any answers, but found some questions. One of the questions I need to confront has everything to do with the fact that it went so well this year.

I think ND was the key. Usually I get very anxious about circumstances around shul going just the way they should. I want absolute concentration. I want a leader who feels sincere. I want to be around other people who are serious about davening etc. etc.

This year, a lot of that actually may have happened. Whether or not it did, I barely noticed because ND kept me so busy. Don't get me wrong. We got to shul at a pretty early time and stayed straight through. But ND needed a lot of my attention. The only times that she didn't were when I passed her on to U. who took her out of the room to crawl around and explore the hospital in which we had the services.

(They have an auditorium there for classes where we have held services for the past couple of years. U. and I calculated that we are probably the closest family to the hospital too, which makes for an easy one-block commute to shul.)

At those times when U. had her, I really could concentrate, and the fact that it was so urgent that I concentrate at that moment, it was emotional and heavily laden with my desires for a good davening.

It helped, too, that the davening was FAST. No time to reflect on how well or not well it was going. Starting at 8, the services ended around 12 or 1 both days! And still there was time for some thoughtful reflection by the rabbi. Some people might think that speed amounts to a lack of intention, but it really isn't so for me. And, frankly, it probably meant more people were able to stay for longer in shul without talking.

Anyway, my perfection paradox is like this:

Despite how well things went, there still were times when U. wasn't there right when I wanted him to be, or when I caught myself getting annoyed at people who seemed to be dressed immodestly for shul or whatever. This is not new to me to think about this, but I can't help but reflect that the harder I work at trying to be the best I can be, the more and more tense I become about whether others are also as good as they can be. I become impatient quickly with myself, my family, fellow Jews and fellow citizens. But when I relax my expectations, I feel lazy and like I'm not reaching towards my potential.

What a tricky balance. I suppose G-d makes it complex on purpose. What mastery if I could find a way to push myself and yet be tolerant.

My best theory so far of how to do this is to acknowledge the wonder of teshuvah (repentance or returning). After all, only G-d is perfect, and in G-d's wisdom created the institution of teshuvah. Doesn't the existence of teshuvah prove that G-d expects imperfection?

I usually think of teshuvah as,

"I screwed up. I can do better than this. I'll try harder next time."

Maybe it's better to say,

"I know what the right thing is and I want to strive towards it. I will do it as much and as consistently as possible. But since I am imperfect and have made mistakes, please give me a clean slate so that I don't lose hope in myself."

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Shanah Tovah!

May you be blessed with a sweet New Year -- with love, health, safety, success and clarity of vision. When despite your best efforts things don't go as it seems they should, may you have the insight to understand it and become stronger, happier, more at ease and with greater trust in G-d.


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Monday, September 10, 2007

Teaching Log #6: Back To School Night

Just got home from Back to School Night. Won't write long...

But Back To School Night is different from Curriculum Night. It's supposed to be about procedures etc. However, someone asked tonight, "Where should the kids be in math by the end of the year?"

I tried to explain:

1. That's really a Curriculum Night question.
2. That's not really an easy-to-answer question. Our math program revisits each area: addition, subtraction, etc., but revisits again and again rather than just doing addition one month, subtraction the next etc.
3. The teachers expect to teach certain ideas, but don't expect the kids to necessarily master them then.
4. There are too many areas to address in a single answer.

I don't think I got any of those ideas across well. He asked again, "Where should they be?" and he looked annoyed.

I'm worried about it now. Worrywart Evenewra. I guess the good news is that I can address it again on curriculum night.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Family That Moans Together...

What a Shabbos.

I put ND to bed around 8 on Friday night. When U. and I came to bed around 11, her clothes and the sheets were soaking wet. Too much to be a diaper leak, so I guessed that maybe she had thrown up. I picked her up and, sure enough, she started again, soaking me. It was really frightening, especially since she was exhausted and basically slept through it. U. and I felt much better once we were able to awaken her and preferred having her cry than be unresponsive.

By morning she was fine, but I hadn't gotten enough sleep so at the last minute to decided to stay home from shul with ND. U. mentioned he wasn't feeling great, but he had to leyn (Bar Mitzvah parshah), so he took off. I davened, then ND and I took a glorious nap. U. came home early and went straight to bed, miserable the entire day with nausea. By evening he started to recover, and then I felt it coming. I was able to sleep through the worst of it. Still we woke up often either because I was uncomfortable or because ND was teething.

Today I'm groggy and my stomach is sensitive, but it looks like we're getting over it.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Teaching Log #5: First Days

So I've made it through the first two days.

I remember once long time ago a non-teacher friend of mine saying she assumed I like the first days of school.

I really don't.

They're very stressful, especially leading up to them. It's all about room setup which means making things look nice and neat and teacher-y. I've never really been that type of teacher. I've never had great handwriting or known exactly where to put things or kept things consistently neat. And I've sometimes resented being expected to.

But this year I really made an effort. The night before we came back to setup our rooms, we in the second grade received a surprising email that two teachers would be switching rooms. I was not one of them, but share a room with one. So the new teacher entering my room and I had to setup together.

It was a LOT of work. We also had lots of meetings those days, so I came around 8:30, then left to pick up ND around 3:30. Then I brought her back to school, let her nap a bit in the stroller, then when she woke up I put her on my back in an Ergo baby carrier and worked until 6 or later when my partner and I were just too tired to do anymore. I really like D, the person I'm sharing the room with, and J. is an assistant for both of us so we sort of have a three-person team spread through 2 classes. (I should mention that I also work a few hours in the morning as "support" in their room, so I really am part of their team.)

I didn't love doing the actual room setup, but I love the way it looks now, and I did enjoy getting to know D and J and I enjoyed coming home to make cool labels for things in the classroom. Any time I didn't contribute to the team because I was pumping milk or caring for ND directly was made up for with me making stuff on the computer to put up later in the room... labels for supply baskets, signs etc.

As for the first days of teaching... it's scary. Instead of facing a room of kids I know, and navigating the well-known pitfalls or saying things just right to reach that one kid, you're in a mine field. There's this fresh room of faces and from them emerges this one who always wants her hand held, this one who makes faces when you're talking, this one who slips into the library in the middle of a circle time, this one who interrupts you right in the middle of you lecturing the class on not interrupting because you are trying to give them instructions that you KNOW they want to know.

Later I'll know my way around, and will feel so proud of it, but now I never know where those things will come from.

The good news is that we did an assignment the kids enjoyed. In an outline of a person the kids drew:

In the feet: where they like to go
In the hands: what they like to do
In the head: what they think about
In the heart: who they love most in the world

This was transfered onto a template for an instant poem. Once they edit and revise their poems tomorrow, I'll take them home and type them up. then i'll put them and the original person outline on the hall bulletin board by Monday night, Open House Night.

I'm so sleepy...

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