Grab a book

One of the mantras that I employ in the classroom is, “Read a book.” Although most of the teachers I replace do good jobs of leaving sufficient activities for my students, very often they finish early and are looking for their next tasks. Every class in every school includes some time on a laptop and here are always extra lessons or games that are allowable. But almost never do I suggest that they go back to the laptop to access one.

The reason is that kids spend altogether too much time with their eyes glued to a screen of one type or another. It can be a cell, a laptop or tablet, or a television. And for as long as I have the ability to direct students, I will remove their attention from the mind-numbing visions they can access.

If you spend one afternoon or evening watching television, you can see how damaging its messages can be. It appears that many or most of the advertising we see is geared toward negative outcomes. We have the freeze-dried attorneys (those who work on personal injury cases, DUIs, etc. and advertise every day, all day), medicines of every type, needs for healthcare, diseases, pain remedies, dentures, and plumbing failures. Ads for Disney World and pleasurable events are in the minority. And we never see encouragement to visit a local library.

As I tell my students, books are the best things that you can use to feed your brain. The libraries in our school district are open (at least for now) and I always market the library trips as the opportunities to find exciting new adventures and history. My hope is that this enthusiasm is contagious and that my kids will learn to love books as I do. When we stop reading, we stop learning. When we stop learning, we stop growing. We can all use a measure of growth, especially when it concerns our brains. Grab a book and discover the magic of words. Shalom.

Tale of a gun

It was late night, probably nine or ten p.m. No-one was in the house except me. My best guess is that I was eleven or twelve. My mom spent a great deal of time in the hospital from the time I was nine until she died five years later but I had no fear of being alone in the house.

Suddenly I heard noises in the basement. What was I to do? Should I ignore them? Should I leave the house? From this time looking back, I can’t remember what season of the year it was but we lived in Chicago so there could have been eight feet of snow on the ground.

Eventually, I decided to go downstairs and investigate. Here’s the amusing part. My dad had a gun. I don’t know what kind it was but I knew where he stashed it.

So I decided that the best way (?) to protect myself was to go down to the basement and get the gun. I suspect that he had bullets for this gun but I had no idea where they were. And if I did, I’m sure that I would not have known how to put the bullets into it. I did know what the handle, trigger, and barrel were but that was about it.

Here I am, downstairs with an unloaded gun in my hand. I proceeded to walk around the basement, not wanting anyone to be there and believing somehow that if someone had been there, the gun would have scared him or her away.

As you might expect, no-one appeared and finally, the furnace started up again and made the same noise that had caused me to go downstairs in the first place. I carefully replaced the gun and retreated upstairs. Believe it or not, I did not tell my parents or my brothers about my scary non-materializing gun battle. And until recently, it didn’t occur to me how absurd the whole event really was.

What would I do with an empty gun at 4’10” and no muscles whatsoever? Is there a moral? Yes. If you are a parent, make sure that your guns are safely locked up and inaccessible.  Or if you want a responsible child to have access because he or she will know what to do, provide some firearms training. In my case, it was no harm, no foul. But it really is fun to remember. Shalom.

Too much

Is there such a thing as too much teaching? Many may want to respond with, “There ‘s no such thing as too much of something that’s inherently good.” Too much wealth? Too much kindness? Maybe not in some cases but definitely in others.

The thought of too much teaching occurred to me on the playground several days ago. Two or three boys were using the slide inappropriately, i.e., they were going down backwards or climbing down the stairs instead of sliding down.

Then I saw another example. Fur children were quickly circling a flagpole with their hands on the pole for stability. Inevitably one or two of them got dizzy and one continually fell to the ground.

My initial reactions were to make corrections, to tell them to play in the playground in the way it’s designed. Then I stopped. Were they doing something wrong or was it simply their method for having fun?

Most learning is accomplished through trial and error. Ideally, if you do something wrong enough times and keep working at it, eventually you get it right. But in the case of the slide, am I making it possible for one or more children to get hurt? There’s a very thin line between avoiding danger and adhering to “doing what’s right.”

In the context of a school, it’s easy for me to choose a correct answer on a Chromebook or from a list. But it’s a better teaching (and learning) to to ask enough questions for the student to select his or her own answer. If it’s correct, great. If not, student can keep thinking about it until the right answer is chosen.

Spoon-feeding is good for infants but not for kindergarteners. Kids won’t have teachers or parents around for their whole lives to assist with decision-making and the skill needs to be developed as soon as possible. The same is true for onboarding a new employee. Let him or her make some mistakes without jumping in to prevent or correct. Learning will be more effective when it’s hard fought. And victories are sweeter when they are earned, not distributed. Shalom.

No matter where you go

If you should rear a duck in the heart of the Sahara, no doubt it would swim if you brought it to the Nile.  Mark Twain

As always, when I am seeking literary inspiration, I don’t need to go any further than my collection of Mark Twain’s works to find that illumination. This brief quote is a good one, one that means something to me. From this desk, you could interpret the quote as, “No matter where you go, there you are.” Or you might want to see it as a commentary on flexibility. “It doesn’t matter where you go, you need to do the best you can.”

Those two statements aren’t in conflict but rather I see them as connected. Many of us believe that by moving us to a different location, we are improved, enhanced, or actualized. Rather than that, I suggest that we have got to do the best with what we’ve got, regardless of where we find ourselves.

This is a concept that I mention quite often, either on this medium or in the classroom. If we look for others to complete us or provide us with some magic elixir that will somehow improve or expand us, we are making a mistake. It is up to each of us to do everything we can to be everything we want and need to be.

What’s the alternative? We get to age 60, 70, 80, or older and begin to question our earlier decisions. Why didn’t I go to nursing school? Why didn’t I become a full-time educator? What made me make the romantic decisions that I did? Although I may have spent as much time as most folks on asking these types of questions of myself, now I am certain that they were and are a waste of time. The most concise reasoning is this: You are not where you were when you made whatever decision you are questioning. Having the luxury of hindsight doesn’t change that. So make the best of what you are where you are. If you’re a duck, you’re going to swim like a duck, regardless of the body of water. I’m thinking that’s a good thing. Shalom.

Living for today

A habit that I particularly dislike is that of wanting to be somewhere other than where we are. You don’t need to work very hard to find examples to support this. It begins on Monday and I can’t remember any job or regular situation where it wasn’t one or more people whining about the fact that it was the first day of a traditionally five-day work week.

And of course, the opposite phenomenon occurs on Friday. Thank God it’s Friday! I’m so glad that it’s Friday! Two days off – I can hardly wait. It doesn’t matter much where you are. If you’re involved in conversations with anyone on a critical day (Monday, Friday, day before a long weekend, etc.) you are inevitably going to hear about how glad that person is that today is the last day of torture before much better days.

What a waste that is! When you spend your week waiting for it to be Friday, what happens to the rest of the days? Does that mean that it’s inappropriate or unnecessary to enjoy all of the hours before a traditional end of work week? I think not.

Any time that you lose sight of the present in order to get to the future, you are wasting opportunities. It makes no sense to whine about the fact that you have five work days before you get to time for yourself. What if you have the option to change a life, make differences in your environment, or right a wrong on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday? If you’re too busy living for tomorrow or three days from now, you totally lose today.

Yes, I am the person who observed that I was about to have a three-week vacation from teaching. On that basis, I should be unhappy that Monday is the end of that respite. But I am not. Monday I will have greeted some third graders, maximized the goodness of that day, and do the same for all four days that follow. Albert Einstein said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today.” It sounds like good advice to me. Shalom.

Old and older

One of the downsides of getting older is seeing all the posts from comrades, colleagues, and cohorts. Many of them are uncomfortable with the idea of either getting older or getting old. My feelings about this are extremely specific. We don’t need to attach labels of senior citizens, elderly, old people, or old age in order to establish and maintain our places in society.

Getting older is not a disease or condition for which we need to present excuses. In fact, I consider it a victory over all of those factors that may have otherwise made it impossible for us to reach whatever age we’ve reached. Admittedly, my brain is not as agile as it used to be. And very often, I forget why I have picked up my cell phone to reference something. But I don’t think that those realities entitle me to be sent to a retirement home as a person who is no longer competent to function.

Unfortunately, I do not have the ability to impact the many who go on and on about the disadvantages of getting older. I’m sure that I have previously spoken of the difference between getting old and getting older. But the point that I don’t think I have made in the past is that we are only as old as we communicate that we are.

If I haven’t already disclosed this, I always give the same answer to my students who ask my age. I tell them that I am 115 and wait for the responses which are always something in the vicinity of amazement. Immediately, I smile and let them know that I am kidding but remind them that it’s bad manners to ask a lady how old she is.  Yesterday, my doctor indicated that she agreed with my family that suggests I need to reduce my teaching workload. But she congratulated me on the stamina and focus that I still have which enables me to go on teaching. Stop aging yourself. Believe that you have all of the skills and talents you had when you were young. The difference is that now you also have the acquired wisdom to put those skills to use. Shalom.


Think for a moment about the word “opportunity” and you may well agree with me that it has come to have a passive definition rather than active one. In other words, for many people, opportunity knocks, opportunities happen, and opportunities are discovered.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done motivational speaking outside the classroom but I feel very strongly about making the opportunity an active concept rather than a passive. In my world, we make opportunities, rather than waiting for them. We create opportunities rather than having one knock at your door.

This is no different from any other goal that we have in our lives. If we seek to be better educators, parents, computer programmers, or widget-makers, we are required to focus on honing our skills. We don’t get better at anything without study and practice, and opportunities are another one of those areas that require work.

Those of us who have been on the job market understand that we must look for opportunities rather than having them find us. There is always the law of serendipity where we approach a company that just happens to be looking for people fitting our profile but that is very much the exception rather than the rule.

And so I recommend that instead of looking for or waiting for opportunities of any type – job, relationship, wealth, etc. – we make them happen. Being active about a job search is always better than putting a resume on a search engine and waiting for someone to contact you. In my own sphere, I am not going to become a better educator by waiting for the perfect opportunity in the perfect classroom in the perfect school. It simply won’t happen. Every day is an opportunity if we make it one. Pursue excellence and you will find it. Pursue happiness and you will experience it. Make opportunities possible and they will take place in your life. Shalom. ﬧ ﬣﬥ

The Three-Legged Milking Stool

Eleven years ago, I acquired the lofty title of author for publishing my first book, The Three Legged Milking Stool. It was a major undertaking, not only to write the copy but also to find a publisher and finish the exhausting process of releasing the book. This was not a solitary event as I had the support of many, including my daughter who created the cover, an editor, and a cheering section led by my husband.

Because that event took place a number of years prior to my initiating this blog, it occurred to me that I have never spoken of the book in this forum. And while you have become familiar with my Holocaust trilogy (the third book of that trilogy is being written as we speak), you are only now being introduced to that work.

The book is a memoir/guidebook to life. I created it for the purposes of sharing some of the lessons that I learned on my journey through often difficult conditions. Three legs of a milking stool pertain to my family, professional growth, and writing. Missing any one of those legs would have caused the stool to fall.

One of the most wonderful comments about the book came from a family member whom I was fortunate enough to acquire through marriage and who has come to be a sister to me. She said that reading my book was the same experience as having a conversation with me over dinner or a cup of tea. An author cannot hope for more than that in a memoir and I am grateful that I succeeded at creating a work that allowed her to understand me a bit better. That should suffice as an introduction. If you want to read my first attempt at book publishing, it is available on Amazon as a paperback or ebook. You can be certain that as soon as the third book of my trilogy is available, news of that will appear here as well. Thank you. Shalom. ﬧ ﬣﬥ


Whenever I think about a magic wand or wishing my favorite wish or imagining having whatever I truly value, I always think about wanting more knowledge than I already have. Those who know me will not be surprised at this wish – I am always reading and absorbing as much as I can. And fundamentally, the reason I write books is to secure the data necessary to write a complete and trustworthy piece of literature.

How much knowledge is enough? From my standpoint, there is no such thing. For as long as I have the ability to read and learn, I will continue to do so. I am always amused by my students who are surprised at my ability to answer most of their questions. Some of that may be because they do not consider me a true teacher. Some may simply be that they are impressed by any accumulation of knowledge.

But it just occurred to me to question the true definition of wisdom. For one, wisdom is derived from paying attention to the world around us and the lessons that we learn along the way. More importantly, wisdom is not an accumulation of facts or other information. It is simply having the skills necessary to get the answers to any questions that we may have.

This is a tremendously powerful observation. With the thousands of hours that I have spent in libraries and online, I have become competent at finding any information that I can possibly want. If I need to know something about the state of Hungary in the early 1940s, it’s simply a matter of looking that up online. And if I want to view all of the world’s oceans, all I need to do is consult my globe. Although that treasured object is an antique, the oceans haven’t changed size very much during the last hundred years, making the globe a reliable source of data. As a result of this observation, I have one more lesson for myself and the students that I teach. A wise person doesn’t have the answers to all of the questions – he or she is wise by knowing how to find those answers. Shalom. ﬧ ﬣﬥ

Every minute matters

One of the movies we watched for this holiday season included a suspenseful one that rang many bells with me. The protagonist of this movie wrote his first book and achieved instant record-breaking fame. That’s not the part that resonated with me – I have no fantasies about any of my books ever becoming best sellers.

The aspect that did have meaning to me was this protagonist’s last moments with his father-in-law. This dying relative made no profound statements or pronouncements but simply asked the author never to leave his daughter, a promise that was easily made.

This is the part that made me think. In April of 1964, one of my closest relatives took me for a walk at the hospital in which my mom was a patient. He explained to me, carefully and gently, that my mom had a terminal illness and had only a few days to live. The immediate changes to my life are probably obvious, especially because I was a teenager in high school.

Fortunately for me, Mom lived until December 31st of that year, at which time she died in my care. But what’s remarkable and didn’t occur to me until I saw this movie was that she never spoke of her imminent death. She knew that her last days had come, as did all of us who were around her for those last nine months. Any observations, recollections, or regrets that she had in those months were kept to herself.

There is a huge lesson, for me and all those who may read this. Each of her remaining moments were precious and not to be tainted with words of death. Part of this certainly had to do with the fact that I was so young and probably not equipped for deep philosophical analysis. But she wasn’t that person.

She never asked for sympathy, sadness, or special consideration for the fact that she was in bone-jarring pain. And so, many years later, I reflect on her unwillingness to dwell on death and mortality. Instead, she was determined to maximize her experience of life, for herself and those of us who loved her. Few of us are able to visualize the ends of our lives as she did. But we all have the opportunity to learn from her selfless approach – any breath may be our last and we must commit to loving those around us and enjoying all of those moments.  Shalom. ﬧ ﬣﬥ