Those who can, do

There is at least one truth that I have recognized after nearly twenty years (on and off) of substitute teaching. The students that I teach are generally direct and clear reflections of their full-time teachers, good or bad.

It’s quite rare that there are exceptions to this statement. Every now and then, I’ll encounter a child who is a terror but has an entirely remarkable teacher. This is usually a child who has an absent parent or parents, abuse, homelessness, or a similar situation. While I seldom see this type of student, he or she will demand and receive special love and attention from me.

In most other cases, when I see undisciplined students, the full-time teacher is either apathetic or inept and I see it in the attitudes of their class. Yesterday was a perfect example.

Most days I have one class per day or half day. Because of teacher meetings yesterday, I had a total of six classes and going from one to the next was the experience of going from a cyclone to a warm spring day. In the first case, the teacher’s classroom was messy and disorganized. Her notes to me were scant and not very helpful. Accordingly, many students in the class were rude, disrespectful, and unpleasant.

From there, I went to a class led by a gentleman who is kind, focused, and thorough. And the class was polite, fun, respectful, and eager to engage in conversation.

Somewhere and somehow, this must be an accurate representation of life outside the classroom. Of course, there are some messy teachers who are kind and dedicated. There are also some who are well-organized tyrants.

Many work environments, most likely, fall into the same types of patterns as my classrooms. Good managers generally have dedicated and happy employees while the despots are often going to have the employees who are sour and unappreciated.  It’s a good possibility that parenting has similar patterns. And so it goes, when I am fortunate enough to meet the parents of a special child, they are usually just as special. Shalom.

Just think

Watching the finals of the tennis US Open, I was dazzled by the agility and talent of the winner. Immediately, I began to think about the fact that I couldn’t compete in a tennis or any other competition at this point in my life. While that seems self-defeating and potentially depressing, I began to think about all the things that I can do.

Here’s what came from that brief exercise. I thought it might be fun to make a list of the things that I can’t do and the things that I can. The can’t list is associated with age and/or talent. But I must emphasize that this is not a negative project – it’s my usual lesson in gratitude. So here goes.

 

I can’t run a marathon.                                         I can walk a 5K.

I can’t draw anything – one of                            I can write short stories and books.

my closest relatives advises

            that my stick figures stink.

My spaghetti and meatballs are                        My cheesecake is pretty good.

            only average.

I can’t do algebra.                                                  I can still carry on an intelligent

                                                                                      conversation in French.

I can’t play my guitar any longer.                      I can still sing with my local

                                                                                      Civic Chorus.

I can’t bowl any more.                                          My golf game is average but I love it

                                                                                       more than any other activity I can

                                                                                       do.

I can’t conduct an orchestra                               I can teach a class full of rowdy 2nd

                                                                                       graders.

 

Clearly, most of this is pretty silly. While I can’t hold my own children in my arms and rock them to sleep, my two spectacular grandchildren are small enough for me to hold them in my lap.

And so, I present this as an exercise in being grateful for miscellaneous gifts while encouraging my readers not to dwell on those activities for which you don’t have the strength, skills, talent, or experience to excel. Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter, does it? Shalom.

Privacy

The fact that our privacy has all  but completely vanished continues to trouble and disturb me. As soon as my husband returned from an urgent care visit, he began to see pop-ups and social media posts about urgent care. As soon as I bought a pair of shoes online, every site I visit, including social media, displays copious varieties of shoes.

How does this happen? Why does it happen? Do the hackers or mega marketers believe that because I bought a pair of shoes, I am on the verge of buying another and another and another? Because we frequently see sites or software that are supposed to prohibit this type of marketing, I would like to believe that there are ways to prevent being inundated with marketing messages. But I’m thinking that in order to subscribe to one of these applications, I am required to supply more information than I feel comfortable in providing.

By no means do I want to suggest that I am proficient with technology and that I have a good grasp of those options that are available to me. That’s simply not the case. I am capable of email, research, shopping, creating documents for myself and clients, and publishing books. Beyond that, I consider myself to be of average competence. As a result, there may be technology that I could embrace to keep me from being swamped with junk.

Forgive me if I appear to be a cynic or skeptic. Right now, I’m simply annoyed that I have to bother with prohibiting unwanted companies from approaching me by email, social media, text, or snail mail. Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with identity theft and I hope never to do so. But if we are passive about the methods by which companies attack us with their marketing, I’m afraid that it will only get worse. There must be an available response that is better than passivity. Shalom.

Hard work

Exactly what is it that causes a day of hard work to result in immediate and deep sleep? Tuesday was an excellent example. My morning consisted of teaching a collection of very active kindergarteners while the afternoon included about thirteen third graders. By the time I hit the pillow, I was asleep.

My thought is that working to the point of exhaustion eliminates the possibility of thinking about anything other than falling asleep. On days when I don’t teach and I am not quite as tired, I find myself mulling over my books past and present, my next teaching assignment, and my upcoming travel. So that’s one level of promoting beneficial rest.

But I think that the more important truth is that it simply feels good to complete a day of hard work and dedication. If you encounter a teacher who says that he or she is not tired after teaching all day, it’s a good bet that they are either not engaged or they put their kids in front of laptops for the whole day.

And so, to the many millions of people who give their all to their work, whatever that may be, I salute you. We see evidence of this everywhere we look. There are the health care workers who work many twelve- and fourteen-hour days in a row. We see police officers and fire fighters who put their lives on the line to serve and protect us. And there are many millions of others who approach their occupations with dedication, enthusiasm, and pride who are never acknowledged.

As I have previously stated, I am privileged to have the opportunities to see students ranging in age from five to fourteen on a daily basis. It is my serious responsibility to educate, support, and encourage them in whatever ways possible. When I sleep well at night, it’s because I am faithful to this responsibility. And if you experience the same form of commitment to serving others, I salute you. Shalom.

What would you be doing?

One of the very provocative statements included in a book of writing prompts that my son gave to me was the following: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this? The prompt was only that and no specific connotation or context was provided. In other words, the question is not necessarily related to profession, hobby, personal time, or any other activity that we do.

While I have very few things that I would be doing if I weren’t doing what I am, it’s something I would submit to be a good lesson in bucket lists or what will I do when I grow up? If we are adults who are not doing what we want to do, why is that the case? If I weren’t teaching and writing, I am not very certain that I would be enjoying my life as much as I do.

The question that follows this one is why aren’t you doing something other than what you are? If it’s a question of finance, that makes sense. If you are so busy working that you haven’t had a chance to do as much traveling as you would like, that also seems reasonable.

But if you are at all like me, you don’t want to live most of your life being unhappy or frustrated that you didn’t do what you wanted to do rather than what you are doing. It’s always gratifying to hear stories about people who wanted to be nurses, doctors, teachers, fire fighters, or lawyers from the time that they had first had reason to think about future professions. That means that these are people who lived out their destinies as they chose.


If you’re unhappy at what you’re doing, maybe it’s time to think about alternatives. Having spent the first half of my career in sales, it was only the second half of my working life that I became an educator, a profession that I cherish. The possibility exists that I needed those years in sales in order to be effective in the classroom. I just might not have been ready. We only get one shot at life, making it imperative that we use that trip doing what makes us happy and fulfilled. Listen to your heart and if it’s telling you to do something new that will bring you greater joy, it’s probably time to make that change. Shalom.

What comes next

Having just finished and published my most recent book, The girl, the gift, the Warsaw Ghetto – Resistance through hope and courage, I now find myself in the curious position of needing to begin all over again. When I began to write about the Holocaust, I committed to a trilogy that is now two-thirds complete and waiting for the third component.

Both of this book’s predecessors required hundreds of hours each, spent in research, writing, and editing. But now that I’ve taken two days to celebrate and recover, it’s time to write the third. As I do that, I’m amazed that the experience is entirely different from the last one and the one before. Maybe it’s because the subject matter is different; maybe it’s simply starting with a blank page.

A number of people have suggested that I take a break and relax before I jump into a third book. It’s a well-intentioned idea except for the fact that the entire process of creating a book is so fulfilling that it never quite seems like work. The best way to explain that is by example.

If you were an artist creating a landscape or portrait and it wasn’t commissioned, would that constitute work? The same question can be asked about a sculpture, musical composition, or interior design. In other words, I believe that this is what I need to do, regardless of how much time and effort are involved.

It’s clear that I am also an educator, explaining why I don’t stop teaching although I have passed the traditional age for retirement. By no means is it the money. I suspect that substitute teachers are paid less than most professionals, particularly in the education world. By all means it is the kids who invigorate, enlighten, and enhance me. And so it goes with writing – filling the pages with words, ideas, history, and optimist is the finest occupation I can imagine.

While I don’t know when book three will be complete, I have every intention of making it happen. The process will be exhausting and exhilarating but that’s what I do. Shalom.

Milestones

Today is a milestone in my life, for two reasons. One is that it is the 82nd anniversary of the German invasion of Poland. The second is my method of observing and commemorating the events following that date, the publication of the second book in my Holocaust trilogy. This book is entitled, The girl, the gift, the Warsaw Ghetto – Resistance through hope and courage.

You can probably imagine (correctly) that this book is the product of intense research and creation, one that is consistent with my dedication to making certain that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten. Toward that end, I will take a short break, then begin work on the third book in this trilogy. If the book is not immediately visible on Amazon, it will be within the next few days.

One of the things that I have learned through publishing this third book of my career is the fact that it is a false assumption to believe that everyone I know and love will both buy the book and read it. This is not to suggest that I don’t trust people or that I suspect their intentions in any way. But there are several realities to consider.

The first is that the subject of the Holocaust is not one that everyone wants to investigate or research. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t read or enjoy science fiction.  Many people I know enjoy thrillers or crime drama. So if it’s simply the taste fairy that prevents people from reading my book, that’s fine.

It’s also the fact that many of those around me simply don’t have the time to read. Whether it is due to occupation or life style circumstances, reading time is not a given. And I understand that as well.

But the most important lesson I’ve learned through publishing books is simply not to ask. In those cases where people have read and enjoyed my book, they will be quick to tell me. If there are some who have read and not appreciated the work, they are unlikely to tell me so. The critical part is that I won’t ask because I don’t want anyone to feel pressured to buy and read what I write.

The popularity of my books is vastly second to the message that I seek to communicate. And I never want to put anyone on the spot to explain why they haven’t read one of them. I do hope that you are a fan. Whether or not you are, you are still my friends and treasured family members. Shalom.

Telling the truth

During my most recent teaching assignment, I experienced my first procedure that was entitled “Shelter in Place.” As someone who began going to school in the 50s and 60s, we were doing air raids and fire drills at that time, and I have experienced my share of fire drills in the nearly 20 years that I have been teaching.

But this procedure was probably the direct result of shootings and other violent occurrences in the schools and elsewhere. The entire process took less than ten minutes. We had to lock the doors, make all of the windows dark, and have the students quietly sit on the floor until it was over. I’m sure that they weren’t told why this was all taking place but it was obvious that the one piece that was not provided was letting them know that everything was okay and they had nothing to fear.

The little boy who was to my left was clearly frightened and confused about the exercise. As soon as it began, he put his head on my knee and wrapped his arms around my leg. Because I had never seen this child before (a third grader), I have no idea if he was consistently emotional or fearful. But I got the clear message that the process of shutting down the room and guaranteeing absolute silence required a greater explanation.

Yes, I understand that we don’t want to frighten our children and let them know that this was a result of protecting us in the case of a violent act in the school. At the same time, I feel that we should have explained why we were doing this – that it was in fact practice and that there was nothing that would take place that was scary, dangerous, or worthy of concern.

Kids are generally smarter than we think. Why not say something like, “This is just a short event that is similar to a fire drill except that we don’t go outside. Sometimes, it may be necessary for all of us to stay in the classroom for some reason, and we need to be prepared to stay here and take care of each other.”

I’m not in charge of the school administration so it’s really not my responsibility to orchestrate the “Shelters in Place.” But we do need to make it less threatening and we do need to keep our kids comfortable by disclosing purposes in ways that they understand. Shalom.

Your best feature

On Monday I had the opportunity to assist an art teacher with two classes that constituted an afternoon substitute assignment. Both of the classes were enjoyable but couldn’t have been more different. The first was kindergarten and the second was fifth grade.

The assignment was fundamentally the same for both classes. They were to draw pictures of those items or concepts for which they were most grateful. For kindergarteners, it was my family, my favorite toy, my favorite food, my school, etc. The fifth graders had more to do, including people who helped them the most and my personal favorite, my best feature.

There were no specifics provided about the favorite feature to be provided. We didn’t know if she intended physical or personality feature, academic strength or personal story. I’m certain that she left it vague for the sake of promoting maximum creativity.

No matter what the intent, the fifth graders were all provoked by this requirement. Many asked me what it meant and I suggested that it was either a physical feature (eyes, ears, hands, biceps, etc.) or a characteristic that they possessed. Examples were strength, concentration, compassion, gratitude, and several others.

My hat goes off to the art teacher for including such a provocative requirement.  We can’t indulge in the optimism required for students to come up with profoundly conceptual answers but a number of them asked me for my favorite feature. In response, I guess that I could have gone with the theoretical or emotional. I could have said my best feature was my writing, teaching, or ability to think.

Instead of that, I told them that my best feature was my ears, not because of their physical attributes but because they enabled me to listen. Listening to students is important, listening to the others in my world is critical, and as Judge Judy often instructs, we have one mouth and two ears so we do twice as much listening as we do talking.

It’s just a good exercise to consider our best features. Many of us spend so much time focusing on our faults that we forget what we do well. Imagine what will happen if we change direction. Shalom.

Been there, done that

We have learned from the time that we were very young that we should remain aware of our surroundings, not only to prevent danger, but also to find solutions to whatever problems may arise. Watch where you’re going. Eyes forward. Pay attention. These are the types of instructions that most of us have heard forever.

In spite of those lessons, I am now believing that being that observant is nowhere close to important. Here’s why. Throughout our daily lives, someone or another is going to tell us something that we saw some time ago. If you are like me, you are occasionally going to want to say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” But it’s simply unnecessary.

People around you, family members, co-workers, friends, or associates are going to point out those things that you know or knew in the past. But it takes some serious mental changes to say “Thank you” for the observations that you are given, rather than saying, “I knew that” or “I saw it already” or “Duh.” And here’s why it’s a good idea.

Most of the comments or suggestions are for positive purposes – to enlighten, entertain, or engage you. They are not insults or statements of the obvious. And it really doesn’t matter if the material you are receiving is new or old. It’s all about intention.

Ultimately, no-one cares what you know or don’t know. The next time that someone reads a street or road sign, points out something that you have seen many times, or repeats instructions for the third or fourth time, suck it up. That person has no desire to insult your intelligence – it’s just easier to receive the information that is for your benefit rather than spend the time to determine whether you know it or not. Say thank you and leave it there. Shalom.