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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Teaching Log: I Hate Recess

Woah. Hard day!

I've got a great class this year. Sweet, sincere, hard-working kids. Few major behavior issues and we generally are doing good work in class.

Then recess comes and with it:

-Kids calling each other names
-Kids crying because other kids won't do what they want to do
-Kids quitting the games
-Kids sulking because they aren't getting their way
-Kids cheating
-Kids changing the rules of the game to their advantage
-and more

Today I yelled at a child. He had come to be about a problem with another child. I was speaking to that second child, trying to solve the problem when the first one came to me a second time complaining about someone else who was doing something else. At that point, after a number of other things, I ended recess.

We had a classroom talk, but it's not the first. I didn't allow a lot of sharing this time. Didn't take a lot of suggestions. I said, "It's time you think about what recess should be like for everyone. Then stop worrying about getting your way and start thinking about how you can make this a nice place for everyone."

Then I left the room to my assistant so she could teach writing and I could cool off. That's when the wheels started turning. I hope I remember to let you know how this goes.


-Asked the gym teacher if she can come to our room next week to talk about sportsmanship.
-Left a note for the psychologist to ask if she can come talk about kindness.
-Asked my Hebrew teacher counterpart if we could chat after school.
-And after consulting with her, my wonderful friend and colleague, I came home and wrote up a "scenario" for the kids to read and discuss.
-Planned how we'd discuss it. The scenario has 5 discussion questions. Each table in our room has 5 kids. So I'm going to have the table groups discuss it before we go to whole group, and teach some more leadership and respect skills by having a system by which one child at the table can start the discussion for each question, which each other child having the choice of saying "I agree" "I disagree" and "pass". If you agree or disagree, you can add your own idea.

We've done a lot about respect in our room so far on our own, but it's time to bring in the big guns and I think having guest speakers come will help them reflect further on the situation and help them mature a bit.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007


ND took her first single step around her 10-month b'day, but for Thanksgiving, tired and wound up as she was, she took it a step further...

This was filmed in my regular still camera (which does not have a sound card) at ND's uncle and aunt's house in Dallas, TX. Sorry the camera is so shaky. It was all very spontaneous!

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Thursday, November 15, 2007


Before ND was born, I expressed to a friend a general worry I was having based on all the scary things that other parents told me about.

This friend said something that made a lot of sense to me. She said, "When it's your child, you never mind doing anything you have to for them. What's hard is everything else you have to do."

I've been feeling that a lot lately, the constant sense of duty towards both work and ND. To be honest, I could do sometime (don't know how or when) with a break from both, just for a little while.

But Tuesday night was especially trying. I was trying to do a LOT of stuff and ND just wouldn't stop fussing. I ended up having to go to bed with her early and was grouchy because of it. I woke up at 2:30 AM, feeling her and groggily thinking that she felt as hot as U's laptop gets if you use it for too long without enough ventilation.

Introducing the first ND fever.

It has been scary although a pretty safe experience. I called the doctor in the middle of the night for guidance, and when we visited him the next day, he said her throat was red like... I can't remember what he said, something disturbing, like beef. It's just a virus she needs to work through, but it's painful to me to see her like that, and frustrating when I can't help her or myself.

When I stay home from work because I'm ill I feel really bad about it. But there is a certain sense or urgency for me about staying with her and instead of feeling guilty for not being at work, I think about how the administration has the responsibility to make sure that my class is covered. It helps me to know that both teachers next door were gone that day too. Harder on the school, but easier for me to accept that sometimes people just can't make it in to work.

Yesterday I spent much of the day working on school stuff anyway. ND had a good 3-hour nap that enabled that to happen. Last night I barely slept while caring for her, so today I need to give myself a little more rest time. But looming ahead is Sunday, parent-teacher conferences, and the truth is, I'm not ready.

Tomorrow I'll go in after school and work with my assistant a little on preparing, and the truth is, I feel I know more of my students better this year than in year's past. So I think it will be fine. I just don't want to find out on Sunday that I'm wrong.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Teaching Log: Clearness Committee

Before I write what's intended for this entry I have to say that something else is really bothering me right now and I feel I can't write it here, but it's bothering me nonetheless and I can't seem to get a word written without at least stating that. It's the sort of thing that makes all my good work at teaching feel like a burden instead of a joy and I'm filling up with resentment.

Not a good way to work.

But let me try to put that aside for the moment and write about something that happened almost a week ago that was very inspiring.

Tuesday, Election Day, was also Professional Development Day. My grade has been piloting a program called "Kaleidescope" which is all about building community, self-esteem, reflection etc. etc. It was during our last session that the title Courage To Teach by Parker Palmer was mentioned and I was inspired to finally read it. (I finished it yesterday at last.)

I'm not going to talk a lot about the workshop itself right now. Truthfully I'm not sure how much it has directly taught me to teach the concepts at hand, but in taking the time to honor the things I know to be true in my heart, it has reminded me to teach the way I know I should.

There is so much rushing and panicking and material to cover. Doing things slow and with meaning will accomplish more, but there's no point in trying to tell anyone that. Yes, I'm cynical this morning. I feel along in a crazy, frantic culture here.

But here's what happened during the class. We looked at ways for teachers to problem-solve. First we took a written case study, read through it and one person (I volunteered) had to speak in the voice of the teacher in the case study and IMMEDIATELY after reading it had to respond. Then we took the time to dissect the case study in groups and figure out what the teacher in the study should do. Of course the immediate reaction was less refined than the suggestions of what to do after we discussed it.

But then we used a different technique, one described in Courage To Teach that was developed originally by the Quaker community. The Committee, as described in the book, actually meets for 2-3 hours! We did a modified version, but it was eye-opening. I'll describe to you the way we did it rather than the way it traditionally is/was done.

Again, I was the one to volunteer for this... Before volunteering, we were asked to think of a real dilemma in work or life that we were having. I thought about a child in my class who has a behavior I've been trying to change but who needs a lot of sensitivity. More importantly, I thought of my frustration with how difficult it is to change the behavior and how other children have been trying to "help" me by "informing" me of when he is not following my directions. They milk it, putting him on the outs even further and making me feel guilty for allowing the situation to reach that point.

I sat in front of the circle of teachers. (There were 7 besides me, I think.) I was asked to choose just two people to help me with this exercise. The two people I would choose would have to ask open, nonjudgmental questions to me and say and do nothing else. It was not a hard choice although I was worried that others would be offended at my choices. The first was a teacher with whom I work rather closely and share in common some similar anxieties about teaching. I should point out she's also from Seattle... evidence that her being from a different culture than here has made her someone I can trust more. The second person was my Hebrew counterpart. She knows my students, but more importantly, I've come to realize that we have similar deep hearts even though our teaching techniques are quite different. As for the cultural difference again... she is Israeli (as was the moderator) and all of the other teachers present were local.

I stated my problem and my two chosen questioners began struggling with what kinds of questions were and were not okay. One of the non-chosen interrupted with a totally judgmental question that still pulls at me, but with the moderator and rules there I had the protection to ignore it. At first we went over the specifics of the problem repeatedly. The point I had to make again and again was that I was not talking now about strategies to modify his behavior. For that I had help from the school psychologist and was actively working on it. What bothered me more was the tattling. At last the Israeli (who was the more comfortable and active of the two questioners) asked a question I can't remember verbatim... like, "What is at stake for you if you can't fix him?" (I had used the word "fix" earlier myself.) At that point I teared up and new I'd reached a crucial discovery.

Unfortunately the group lost its focus for a moment then as the moderator pointed out that one difficult thing about the Clearness Committee is that you can't say, "I understand" or reach out to the person physically. But that was fine with me I wanted to keep talking and had to let everyone there know it as they all started talking about the things they'd been wanting to say. Finally, I was able to respond to that question and we finished up.

What came out of the committee ultimately was a plan of action, but more importantly, a heartfelt understanding of the importance of getting there. When we had read the case study, I felt head-centered and a little panicky for the teacher character in the story. (She did something pretty bad under some difficult circumstances.) But under these circumstances I felt driven and somewhat powerful.

The next day in class we had a brief discussion about when it is and is not appropriate to "tell" a teacher something and labeled the differences between telling and tattling. We talked about how it feels to be tattled and the children seemed to understand and be relieved. Only once has someone "reported" on the child in question since then and now I feel I have tools to work with should it happen again.

But what I took from the rest of the experience (and from completing Courage To Teach is a mixed feeling, yet again, of loneliness and desire to find community with whom I can truly be myself. I need people who see my for who I am, who act in this world from the heart and without ulterior motives. I need people who don't think it is a luxury to take walks, meditate, truly see the world inside and outside themselves. I need people who refuse not be victimized by consumerism, speed and the circumstances that make our lives less than they could be.

I feel this in so many areas of my life... in my teaching community, my spiritual community and in parenting communities. In each of those there are one or two people I can go to, but not nearly often enough. The people with whom I most closely identify in this world seem to be very far away... in Portland for one, and suddenly I'm realizing in Israel too.

I'm not sure what to do with all of this yet. The experience of last week was just one reminder among many of the aloneness I truly do feel.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007


I just saw Sicko. It made me cry.

There are so many things I want to devote time to fixing, protesting about, educating others or whatever:

health care problems
bad parenting
momsrising issues
living from the heart and not rushing everywhere
preventing cancer by actually researching the toxic products that are sold everyday


And I also want to just be a good mom and teacher etc.

(and not getting paid enough for either!!!!!!!)

I need to go to bed and am feeling a little sad about the world and wanted to write a long entry about something else, but now I'm going to write a quick note to send to all the democratic presidential candidates.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

11 Things

About our 11 month old:

1. She is now into stacking things. This morning as I was preparing breakfast, she discovered a drawer beneath our oven (which was off or I promise you ND would not have been in there with me) and began taking my boxes of tea out of the neighboring cabinet and stacking them in the drawer. She was VERY proud of herself.

2. She has not been trying so hard to walk lately. Around 10 months she was spending a lot of time "surfer-style" standing. Sort of holding out both hands and balancing as long as she could.

3. She does not like to be separated from her mama. Even when mama just goes to the other room for a minute, and even when Dad is there. See below in number seven for Mama reactions.

4. She loves cheerios and most recently was introduced to kiwi. She likes feeding herself with one hand, and feeding the floor with the other.

5. She laughs like a dolphin.

6. She rarely (knock on wood) screams in the car anymore.

7. She loves music. She often plays drums (or paint cans or benches or whatever) while "singing" as loud as she can. After a good nap she especially does this in our music class.

8. Lately she makes a little face like she's sniffing. She does it socially. Not sure quite what it means yet.

9. She loves to point at things, especially my mouth. I usually gobble up her finger when she does that.

10. When she is sleeping really soundly she just sprawls out in all directions like you dropped her from the sky and she just landed there.

11. As her daycare teacher said today, "She's a really happy kid. When she's crying, it's always for a reason."

About being a mom for 11 months:

1. I used to wake up every day and feel absolutely terrified that something could happen. I'm feeling less of that fear. Motherhood is almost seeming more like a routine now.

2. However, I'm still a self-righteous mom who believes in:

3. No TV

4 Avoiding battery-operated toys

5. Believing in children as angelic and mysterious souls (sort of a Rudolf Steiner approach although I'm selective in what I take from him)

6. And nursing with my daughter a LOT w/ no intention of weaning before she initiates it herself

7. It is enormously flattering to be the most important person in ND's life. Yes it's hard sometimes, like when I want to get just about anything done or want to take a Shabbos nap or whatever. And it worries me in certain circumstances. Parent-teacher conferences are coming up and I'll be away from her for much of the day. This would be fine if she was in her regular routine of daycare, but I think she'll have a hard time being home with U. without me there too. Maybe she'll grow from it. In general I don't hold to the idea that I need to TEACH her to do without me. That's silly, in my mind. She'll grow out of it. I can't make her do that prematurely.

8. And for the record, she's perfectly happy to be at daycare. I don't get as emotional now when I leave her. And amazingly enough, she's not interested in my "one last kiss". If I pick her up from one of her teachers, she tries to get back to the teacher.

9. I sometimes imagine what it will be like when she's old enough to really want me to play a lesser role in her life. And it sometimes makes me sad. But mostly I'm living in the present with her instead.

10. For awhile I was learning to really multitask with ND so that I could get more things done. Now I'm learning to do just the opposite. I find I get rundown and feel split in all directions if I try to get work done (or do things I want to do just for myself) and can't because she needs me. Now I work harder at accomplishing more when I am actually at work or after she goes to bed.

11. I am a mother first, above all else, and it feels okay.

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