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Terrible technology

Very often, I reflect on the simpler, less confusing days before we relied heavily on various forms of technology. It seems to me that while we appreciate the advantages of our miscellaneous devices, we sacrifice a naive type of simplicity.

Never was this clearer than when I left my cell phone in a doctor’s office on a Friday afternoon. To begin, I had no way to call and verify that they had it. Looking for a landline is probably a greater challenge than any of us realize. Once my daughter determined that the phone was there, I had to drive approximately two hours to retrieve it or not have a phone for the rest of the weekend.  Unfamiliar as I was with the area, I had my trusty GPS to get me there. Unfortunately, said GPS was programmed to avoid toll roads, the most expedient method of getting back to the office. And of course, I had no phone to call husband who could tell me how to defeat it.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply report that without benefit of a direct route, I made it to the doctor’s office, exactly two hours and considerable stress later. Had I not done so, my return flight would have been minus a phone, creating the need for it to be mailed to me.

Years ago, I would have saved a few hour round trip drive, a GPS struggle and the anxiety of determining how I would survive without my technology. At the same time, I would have been unable to reach loved ones, send text messages, check weather forecasts and waste countless minutes on social media.

There is no simple conclusion. The technology is inevitable, as is my inability to juggle all devices without leaving one, drowning another and failing to understand one or two others.

Yes, we rely too heavily on our technical toys. But returning to those days when we didn’t have them is simply not a reasonable alternative. The best idea is to know where everything is at every moment. No problem. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

 

 

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Moments

A student made me cry yesterday. He didn’t insult, harass, kick, slap or otherwise hurt me but he managed to touch me in a place that I didn’t know I had or with which I had somehow lost contact.

From our earliest contact, he found ways to seek my approval or attention. If we were doing an art project, he would bring each step of his drawing to me for my review. When students had to line up for lunch or the end of the day, he stood quietly, making certain that I saw his perfect stature.

But as six or eight students created notes or drawings to bring me as tokens of their thanks, he approached with a tiny eraser and handed it to me. My best guess is that he felt his drawing/creativity skills were insufficient. He said, “This is for you – it smells good.” And I took the eraser and sniffed it, appreciating and cherishing its aroma, in spite of the fact that I lost my sense of smell many years ago.

At the end of our time together, he found his way to my desk and said, “Thank you so much for being here. You are a wonderful teacher and I am so glad that you came today.” We’re not allowed to hug students (per the personnel handbook) but he was hugged anyway. And looking him in the eyes, I replied, “Thank you for being the most wonderful student I could ever imagine. You are a terrific young man and I know that you will be great at whatever you do.”

He continued to smile at me and wistfully said goodbye. Taking him aside, I whispered, “I’m not supposed to have favorite students but know that you are.” His smile fully confirmed his reaction,.

My tears ensued when I left him and the building and entered my car.

As educators, the gifts we receive are hard fought and seldom acquired. This second grader was my indescribable blessing – someone who could sense that I valued his kindness, determination and sweet soul. If ever I have reason to wonder why I am in the classroom, all I will need to do is remember him. Shalom.

 

 

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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Finding brightness

Driving through northeast New Mexico, I try to notice as much of my beautiful, natural surroundings as possible. In among the huge pines and periodic deciduous trees with golden and red leaves, I see the remains of vast, tragic forest fires.

While I am saddened by the thousands of acres of destruction, I find myself urgently seeking any sign of new life. Perhaps as a reward for my perseverance, growth is easily found because it’s everywhere around me. Among the charred stumps are brave little trees and shrubs pushing up their tiny heads to find life-giving sunshine. Squirrels appear, if only rarely. And the sky is sapphire blue, punctuated by soaring birds.

And so it seems that life defined by loss or sorrow can always be brightened. As lives are lost, we can celebrate new arrivals to our world. When we see natural disasters, we also often see acts of kindness, generosity and selfless acts.

Because my glass is always half-full, I find it obligatory to identify reasons for hope and joy in all situations. For those who find this tedious you must find some form of solace in doom and desperation. But for those who realize the type of healing that I do in the deepest of wounds, join me in the celebration of good always triumphing over evil. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you in any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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What’s in a name?

Trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep prior to an early rise to catch a plane, the mind wanders. In this case, I resumed the fruitless search for a name.

Last month I had a student encounter with powerful consequences. This was an affectionate and quite sharp young man who identified me as an ally and a fan. His actions and emotions prompted me to write a blog about him but in deference to privacy, I used a fictitious name for him in that blog.

Whether it’s a function of my age or the reality of meeting hundreds of students per month, I could not definitively recall his name. Is he Raleigh or Randolph or Regis? Or is it Owen or Orville or Oscar? Because he was so special, it frustrated me greatly that I wasn’t certain.

But at 11:00 or 12:00, I’m not sure what, I realized that his name was immeasurably less important than his charming presence. My realization was that who he was had been defined by his behavior, not his name. As a lover of nature and brilliant scenery, the names of geological formations, trees, flowers or birds are vastly less significant than their individual or collective contributions to our panoramas.

And this seems to be the case with most of our world. The brand of a dress or suit or pair of shoes is irrelevant compared to comfort, cut and appearance. While we develop preferences for automotive appearance and performance, it is ultimately these attributes we seek in our vehicles rather than a particular brand.

My hope is that I will again find myself in the kindergarten classroom populated by my little friend. If I don’t find him this school year, it may be the next one or the one after that. But that reunion will be the recovery of a happy intersection of two compatible souls. While I eagerly anticipate finding his face, it will be to deliver a hug rather than fill in the blank for his name. Shalom.

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A few more thoughts

Earlier I spoke of how I would modify curriculum if I were able to or asked to do so. Following that post, I’ve thought of several other curriculum items that I would add.

For some reason, sharing is a concept that we attempt to convey but with great difficulty. Not surprisingly, children who come from large families have a better understanding of sharing, probably because they have no choice but to do so. In other cases, the idea of setting aside part of what is yours for another is much more difficult to achieve.

As always, home life determines much of what we witness in the classroom. In those cases where we have only children or single parent families, the benefits of keeping some and giving some is nebulous or misunderstood. In other cases, where scarcity prevails, children keep what they have for fear of never having more.

Along the same lines, gratitude is clear and obvious for some children but not nearly as much for others. Occasionally, I get the super polite and respectful child who thanks me for handing him or her a piece of paper. More often, when I present a piece of candy at the end of the day, I often remind my students that a “thank you” will result in a “you’re welcome.”

Finally, if I were able to design a curriculum for elementary students, I would create a module regarding time. Very often, a student will remind me that it’s ten minutes to recess or two hours until lunch. But much more often, I have students who are oblivious to time or its importance. Before you would like to remind me that children will need to pay attention to time for the majority of their lives, I suggest that having respect for time – theirs or others – is an idea worth teaching.

Leaving the classroom, cleaning up after a craft project, finishing a math quiz or waiting until a story has been completed are all areas where students and teachers frequently have differences in priority. Like most habits, an awareness of time requires practice, explanation and patience. Many adults issue statements such as, “I’m always late.” From my standpoint, that comment is the same as, “I have no regard for your time.” As with many other lessons, this is one that can be taught gently, firmly and with love. Shalom.

 

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may contact me at csbutts19@yahoo.com if your request is of a professional nature.

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Curriculum

One of the disadvantages of being part of faculty instead of administration in the school system is that I have no ability to impact curriculum in any way. While I have no specific training in curriculum development and implementation, I have seventeen years in the classroom and double that in mothering. Along the way, I have often thought of worthwhile additions to make to the subjects that are taught.

The first subject that I would introduce is that of surprises. Everyone appreciates surprises and I would teach both the value in surprises and their implementation. My guess is that this would be a subject that my students would quickly embrace. They always show excitement when I surprise them and I would capitalize on that enthusiasm by showing them the endless methods by which they can surprise others. The positive consequence is delivering happiness as it is received.

My second inclusion would be courtesy and respect. These concepts are parts of most school rules and priorities but I haven’t seen any specific actions designed to acknowledge and appreciate either of them. Having been almost knocked over in the playground and slapped by a student, I am certain that our youthful population could benefit from some old school etiquette. Yes, I realize that this is a subject matter best introduced at home but when we have no ability to influence home learning, the classroom is the next best venue.

The final component that I would like to teach is that of finding fun and gratification in the world without benefit of electronics or toys. Many schools are extremely proficient at taking students to certain events outside the school such as 4H or fire departments, both of which are excellent ideas. My inclusion would be to take kids to assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Our seniors have so much to teach and children have so much to learn from the generation that preceded that of our parents. This would be the ultimate win-win – seniors benefitting from the presence of young lives and students realizing how much of their present is derived from the past.

As a substitute teacher who often sees new students each day, I will remain resolute in educating outside reading, writing and arithmetic when I can. Creating, respecting and appreciating are always in my briefcase, next to the pencils and candy. All of them are critical to producing the next great generation. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you in any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com and I hope that you will use this address only for business purposes.

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Giving

One of the most gratifying components of singing within a choral ensemble is that of giving pleasure to those who are hearing the music. Never did I realize that as much as I did this past week, in spite of the fact that this was the thirtieth year that I was part of this choir.

When I reflect on the entire dynamic of rehearsing, performing and watching the reactions of those who absorb our sounds, it’s another of those very happy win-win situations. In spite of the hard work and concentration associated with rehearsals, the upside is the frequent ability to hear the type of choral enjoyment that we are creating. The actual final product is not only the result of that practice but a form of finale to the hard work.

It occurs to me that this is a model for life. We spend a great deal of time and energy on creating something – a family, a work community, an artistic product – visual, auditory or tactile – so that we may deliver that commodity to those for whom we have the greatest love and respect.

This past week I heard a great deal of appreciation and compliments on the music to which I was a contributor. Having long reflected on the fact that we are not the same as the art we create, it had nothing to do with me except that I was a contributor to the inspirational music. And so it goes with the rest of our lives. If we are very fortunate, we have opportunities to make large or small additions to the common good, whether by intention or by fortunate consequence.

You can easily see that I am powerfully grateful for the occasion to improve the world in which I reside, if only for an hour or two or three. When one day I am making a summary of those additions in terms of my family, my communities and the classroom, I sincerely hope that I can conclude that I played a part in making the world a more beautiful or happy place to live. Shalom.

 

 

If I may assist you with your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. Please contact me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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A function of time

One of the duties that I enjoy during teaching hours is monitoring behavior on the playground. My intervention depends largely on the ages of students. While the kindergarteners are docile and content to play on swings or slides, the more mature fourth and fifth graders are likely to engage in chases, bullying and acrobatics.

A colleague and I were having a discussion on child behavior and we reflected on the abandon and recklessness of some behavior. One of my personal favorites is the absolute lack of concern about ubiquitous untied shoelaces. Kids will take off at top speed in spite of knowing that their shoes are untied.

We went on to reflect about how this scene would look with forty-somethings instead of K through 5. This is what I imagine the conversions would entail at that age.

Looks like we could have some fun on this equipment. I wonder if it’s safe. Think that I’ll pass for today – I just had a manicure and don’t want to mess it up. My hair just wouldn’t withstand that type of strain. Can’t imagine that there’s no place to just sit and relax. What time do they serve hors doeuvres and wine?

It becomes more amusing to imagine seniors observing playground equipment and contemplating participation.

Boy, do I remember the playground equipment we had as kids. It didn’t look anything like this. There were never any colors – it was always steel gray. My knees and feet ache just thinking about getting on any of this. Do we have to do it? You would think that they would provide something that was ADA approved. I think I’ll just find someplace quiet and comfortable to sit. But look at Agnes. She looks as if she thinks she’s still a child. How in the world can she be so reckless? Watch out, Agnes – you could pull a muscle or worse!!!!!

My visits to many skilled nursing facilities and vacation resorts have never displayed any playground equipment or sandboxes except those dedicated to vacationing children. Most likely, we’ll probably not witness any of the conversations I’ve created. But it’s still amusing to fast forward for these kids, with the implied message that they should enjoy themselves while they have the energy and physical stamina to do so. Shalom.

 

If I may assist with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com and I hope that you will use the address only for business purposes.

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Lessons

One of my primary objectives as an educator is to learn something while I am in the process of promoting learning. The best part of that is the fact that my students are usually unknowing of the wisdom that they are purveying.

First example: Watching kids on the playground, I see a child rolling around in the dirt. He’s wearing an expensive outfit that has Nike insignias on it. His message is, “I’m having fun, regardless of what I’m wearing” or its logo.

The next lesson was from a larger child, probably a fifth grader. It was still recess but he was disinterested in running around or swinging from metal devices. He was lying on his stomach, totally unaware of his peers, engrossed in a math lesson. To me, he’s hope for the future of our intellectual communities.

Another playground participant was thoroughly involved in a series of gymnastic moves on the equipment. What was unusual about her was her (unfortunate) obesity. She was either too young, too self-confident or too oblivious to the peer pressures of many fifth graders to care that her potbelly was hanging for all to see. Maybe it’s an advantage to act without caring who’s looking.

And finally, there was my young man from a class that I taught several weeks ago. As we all left the classroom at that time, he had hugged me and stated without reservation, “I am so glad that I had the chance to meet you.”

Today he ran up to me in the cafeteria as I was preparing to leave the school. He called out to me and asked if I remembered his name. Of course I did, a fact that pleased him very much. As we parted, I told him that he was a remarkable young man and that he must never let anyone tell him differently. Then I assured him that I would never forget him, to which he replied with total conviction, “I am the son of an Army captain!” That pretty much says it all. God bless these United States of America. Shalom.

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New beginnings

This first day of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, is the first time in thirty years that I am not joining thirty-plus inspired voices to welcome the new year with music. While I am not with them in person, I continue to be present in spirit as I miss the entire experience.

A last-minute request for me to teach today was timely, if not wholly appropriate to the day. My best guess is that 99% of my fifth graders have never heard of Rosh Hashanah and I have no plans to change that. However, because this will be the first time in all those years that I “work,” the process of teaching seems consistent with that of prayer.

Ultimately, the acts of teaching and praying are exactly the same. In each case, we atone for our sins by dedicating ourselves to the tasks before us. We ask forgiveness to those whom we have sinned, forgiving those who have sinned against us. In the classroom, none of these young spirits are guilty of sins, either from or against me. But if I teach them dedication, commitment and compassion, I hope that they will be inspired to minimize the sins in their futures.

To all those who celebrate this day and the successive Days of Awe, I wish you happiness, health and peace. Beginning this life in a different venue, I remain nostalgic and grateful for all of the new years that I have been able to complete.

With God’s help and guidance, I hope to complete many more, to enjoy the growth of my magnificent grandchildren and to assist hundreds of young people in their journeys toward maturity. L’Shanah Tovah and Shalom.