Travel · Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Traveling

Is there such a thing as airline travel model to which many people transform when they get near or in an airport? Having flown in four planes during this past week, I am beginning to believe that there is. With very little thought, I can cite numerous examples. Here is one of my favorites.

You enter an unusually small boarding area, seeking a seat to wait for boarding. At one glance, you can see five, six, seven seats that have jackets or backpacks or plastic airport bags. No-one ever offers to move said items to accommodate you.

Yes, I realize that some of the items belong to travelers who have temporarily left the area. But upon further scrutiny, I was able to verify that most of these people were traveling alone.

Travelers inevitably have opportunities to be congenial. Instead, in a full plane, the center seat becomes occupied by a young woman who gestures at the seat and mutters, “I’m sitting there.” Perfect – you’re welcome and I’m glad to oblige. For the balance of the flight, she inhabited my space and nearly ran over me to get through the jet-way on the way to baggage claim.

My son’s favorite is the baggage claim behavior. Numerous people will line the entire distance of the baggage claim conveyor. Unless you want to jostle, bump or otherwise inconvenience these parkers, it’s impossible to grab your bag when you see it.

And finally, it’s the space usurpers. On flights where bags fly free (thank you, Southwest!), I can never understand why people need to drag mammoth rolling devices aboard the flight. Are you afraid that you’ll never see your bag again? Or does it take too long to find your space along the conveyor?

On any and every flight, I get knocked and bumped by one of these large bags or backpacks. Do your rights empower you to violate mine? While I’m not the perfect traveler, I don’t object to wailing babies, late departures or people talking loudly and I don’t want to appear to be the curmudgeon. But because I don’t undergo a metamorphosis at 36,000 feet, I always wonder why others do. Shalom.

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Living now

Planning for the indefinite future is always a great idea. Whether it is from a financial, residential or career standpoint, thinking about the life that awaits us is wise planning and preferable to encountering unanticipated obstructions.

But every now and when, it’s a terrific idea to live entirely in the present. The best method for doing so is to view the world from the perspective of a two-year old (whom I love with unqualified passion).

He encounters life as one adventure after another. No event has any greater significance than another. The best example is a first haircut. As we ooh and aah and take a hundred photos, he sees it as pesky hair off his neck and a sucker. Playing with a train can be the next event, presenting an advantage because it allows for participation. Haircuts are entirely passive while we can actively throw railroad cars off the track.

Eating is also much less complicated and arguably more enjoyable as a two-year old. We go through hours of diligence and preparation to create the perfect meal. His response is a better and probably more gratifying one. The appearance, temperature, aroma and texture of food are all unimportant. What does matter is how quickly hunger can be deleted with anything at all in order to approach the next challenge.

Maybe we can learn from this type of immediacy and gratification. It becomes a preferable idea to enjoy what we’re doing right now. Enjoyment must be available to us when we need and want it.

If we assign ourselves to filling current moments, we are not compromising our future in any way. Spontaneous actions are often the best memories and the ones that are exquisite in their timeliness. Shalom.

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Accountability

Recently, I’ve had reason to ponder the numerous components of accountability. It seems that we begin shirking accountability (and responsibility) at an early age and refine it greatly as we get older.

Here’s how it begins. You notice a child vigorously dumping sand on the classroom floor and politely ask him to stop. The responses include the following:

Jacob was doing it too.

There’s already sand on the floor.

We had too much in the sandbox.

Nowhere is there an apology or admission of wrongdoing. On occasion, the child will stop his or her sand-dumping and move to some other task. More often, a second or third reminder is required.

Fast forward to sixth grade where a student is hiding her cell phone under a book while texting someone somewhere. As I remind her that cell phones are not allowed in school, the non-responsible comments ensue.

Monica was doing it too.

I needed to say something to my mom.

Class is almost over.

You never said anything about cell phones.

Because I can either capture the demon cell phone or make certain that she puts it in her purse or backpack, I choose the second option. It’s not necessarily the best response but I forgot to return a phone in another class and didn’t want to repeat. It also implies trust that she will take the right path.

Now we are adults, forever attempting to hold others responsible for our various crimes and transgressions. This includes the man who beats his wife to death because she was late with having his dinner on the table. It also reflects shaken babies who are victims of parents incapable of tolerating their crying. And how much road rage do we witness where infuriated drivers run others off the road or shoot them out of unbridled anger?

My guess is that if we each took responsibility for our thoughts and actions without assigning blame, the world would be a much safer and happier place. My job as an educator includes teaching accountability, both immediate and potential. Keep dumping sand on the floor and there won’t be any left when you want to build castles. Shalom.

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Strength

If friendship is your weakest point, then you are the strongest person in the world. Abraham Lincoln

One of the best characteristics of true friendship is that it is uniquely reciprocal. While I would deprioritize everything in order to assist a friend who needed me, I am certain that my friend would automatically do the same.

With reflection, I am certain that the friendships that I enjoy are great sources of strength. Friends are cheerleaders, celebrators, sources of comfort and those who share our various passions. They know why we feel the way we do about virtually any subject without our need to explain or justify anything.

As I consider the most compelling reasons why certain friendships endure, we often call those people friends who have been constant during times of crisis. The crisis can be large or small, with permanent or temporary effects. But we always know that we can call upon certain people when the world is most difficult.

This degree of loyalty is hard to find, it seems. We watch numerous politicians coming and going, often for reasons that we will never understand. To make this perplexing, these are often people who have displayed loyalties and friendship.

Somehow, friendships that come from working relationships are usually transient. After that employment ends, so do many of the alliances or camaraderie that developed from that environment.

Maybe this type of friendship is more valuable as we grow older. Distance often makes spending time with friends more difficult to achieve and the obstacles we face appear to be more substantial. Through it all, I become increasingly grateful for the strength of friends who I hope are equally enriched by my unqualified dedication to them. Shalom.

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Individuals

It always intrigues me to find that class dynamics are essentially the same, regardless of grade level or school. We have kids who typically fall into one of four categories.

The first is the big footprint. This is usually a boy but occasionally I have a girl who is dominant and assertive. Big Footprint tells me how to manage the class, when we do what and who the transgressors usually are.

Secondly, we have the bouncers. These are the kids who can’t stay in their seats, on task or in compliance. They demand attention (positive or negative – it doesn’t matter), make noise and usually drag others along with them.

Next, we have the timids. These are most often girls and they seek eye contact, confirmation that they are doing well and recognition that they are attentive students.  Timids never, ever cause disturbance or conflict, with each other or with me.

Finally, we have the helpers. These are kids of either gender who thrive on providing assistance, requested or not. They bargain to take attendance to the office, report on those who break the rules and make certain that I know their names.

While I always treat my students with respect and individual attention, I never assume that they belong to one category or another. They have the option to change their allegiances and behavior as they get to know me better.

Every now and then is a child who fits none of these broad classifications. Such was the case with one young man who brightened and embellished my day. Early in our day, he expressed frustration with reading and I enabled him to do something less challenging and more fun.

From that moment, he never wandered more than ten feet from me. He hugged me at least fifteen times, each time communicating his feelings.

While it may be entertaining or useful to observe group dynamics, the value ends there. Ultimately, all of my teaching highlights involve exercising my heart and not my brain. Shalom.

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The practical approach

As an educator, I can only dream of having a strategy in place for asking students where they need additional help or practice. In the case of older students, they often observe, “I hate math,” or “I’m pretty good in social studies” or “Writing is what makes me happiest.” When they are younger, we have only assessments to assist with educational supports.

Depending on how much we trust the accuracy of these tests, we can work toward supplementing those areas where students are deficient. In my case, for example, I can only wonder what might have happened to my algebra proficiency if I had a teacher who focused more on achievement than throwing books at disobedient kids.

My exposure to kids is much more limited as a guest teacher but I am no less committed to finding every opportunity to educate. One of my tools is a game that I’ve developed. This game involves asking kids a variety of general knowledge questions. If they provide the right answers, they receive candy.

Their answers are so illuminating. If we thought that our kids were fond of sports and followed local teams, this doesn’t seem to be the case. When I asked second graders to name a local football or baseball player, they all looked perplexed. Likewise, I wonder where they are receiving information about common subjects. No-one knew how many weeks or months in a year, days in a week or eggs in a dozen.

As you might expect, they all know how to access and function in YouTube and a plethora of video games. They have weekly experiences in art, music, physical education and technology. But I continue to wonder what we’re doing in terms of world knowledge. None of my kids were familiar with birth certificates, pediatricians, mammals that don’t fly or the 14ers of the magnificent state of Colorado in which we live.

And so, I think of myself as filling in the blanks that might remain empty. When we have the time, I will continue to educate on what we do in a bank, ingredients needed to bake a cake and generally how to become competent in the world. Shalom.

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Growing

Do we ever reach an age where we should stop growing? Obviously, I’m not referring to physical growth. No matter what age I reach, I firmly believe that there are areas for learning that remain.

Let’s think of an example. My son took it upon himself to learn American Sign Language and has gotten quite adept at it. As soon as I saw the reasons to learn this language, I embarked on a path to learn it. Admittedly, I’m not sure of many of the letters although I took an online course. But I do remember some of the more important words and use them occasionally in the classroom.

Traveling represents growth to me. It’s difficult to imagine that I’ll ever become tired of seeing unfamiliar places. To date, I have visited 47 of our 50 states and seriously intend to see the remaining three. I’ve been to three continents and aspire to visiting the rest.

But visiting isn’t the growth component. With my years of studying history, I find it imperative to familiarize myself with the history and culture of places visited. Somehow, being a passive and uninvolved spectator is not an option for me.

Probably the best source of personal growth is reading. Most weeks I am able to complete one or two books, primarily due to a commitment to do so. The young people whom I aspire to influence are always aware of my reading and often make obvious attempts to emulate my reading habits.

Intellectual curiosity is the prerequisite to growth and I hope with all my heart that I never lose the desire to be better and learn more. The best example of change is my ongoing effort toward self-improvement, in the classroom, at home or simply interacting in the world. Just in case it needs to be said, this desire is based not on an unhappiness with who I am but solely on the desire to grow. Shalom.

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Answers

And at the end of an extremely frustrating assignment with many difficult kids, the answers became much clearer. They always equated to recognition and rewards.

In the first case, congratulating problem kids on progress inevitably created additional progress. Whether it’s kindergarten or overactive sixth graders, assuring kids of improvement created increased cooperation. Could it be that adults receiving positive reinforcement also act in ways to generate more of it?

While I have neither the means nor desire to bestow copious (extravagant) gifts on my students, I make it a point to do what I can. Jealousy is toxic and undesirable. But I’m always amazed at the value of small tokens in terms of student reactions and appreciation.

For example, I gave one of my sweetest and most helpful girls a small animal that I bought at Rocky Mountain National Park. Every morning, she proudly displayed it, returning it to a safe hiding place.

But more gratifying than this was the young lady who was flagged as a problem and troublemaker. In addition to acknowledging each of her accomplishments, I discovered that she loved Hershey kisses.

Happily, I found one in my bag and discreetly passed it to her. She smiled all over her face and gave me a hug. Of course, I’ll be replenishing my kisses for our next encounter.

My most treasured gift to them is free time. It makes me a hero, communicates that I understand their need for fun and makes them smile.

While I have no advanced education degrees, I have substantial years of living on this planet. Through this, I have learned that listening, respecting, encouraging and rewarding work is a celebration for all parties involved. Shalom.

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Expectations

How much of our disappointment in life is the result of unrealized expectations? The best example is a student walking into math class asking, “What are we doing today?”

As you might expect, my response is, “Math. This is a math class.” But it causes me to wonder about a wide variety of expectations.

When students walk into my classroom, what exactly are their expectations? If they anticipate walking into a class to find a Mary Poppins character who will bubble and chirp all over them, I am set up for conflict. Likewise, if they expect a dispassionate, disconnected and disinterested observer, they will likewise be under served.

This reflection causes me to wonder if my life and those lives closest to me could be enhanced by pondering expectations? Maybe it depends on the type.

For example, if students expect me to be severe and harsh, how does that impact my presentation? Most likely, not at all. But if they expect me to be cheerful and pleasant, how does my matter-of-fact attitude, added to cheerful and pleasant, impact outcomes?

Ultimately, we all do what our inside scripts direct us to do. Many of us have had serious clarification about right and wrong, respect for the property and boundaries of others and a general understanding of good sense.

Maybe that’s the key. Our expectations must be established on logic and the golden rule. Aberrations and exceptions are antithetical to what we expect but remain worthy of revision. Shalom.

 

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Something has changed

Something has transpired that has negatively impacted many of our educational systems and networks. Back in the fifties, sixties and seventies when I was in school, the discipline issues that I face daily never occurred. What did we do or eat or experience since then that has completely corrupted many of the schools, the students and the education process as a whole?

Having visited hundreds of classrooms between my life then and now, I realize that change is not universal or pervasive. Across America, we certainly must enjoy discipline, courtesy and compliance in some locations. But they are now the exception rather than the rule, I am afraid.

Last week I was accused of being a racist, that I hated Mexicans. I was also called the “B” word by a student who refused to leave unacceptable websites. When I asked someone else to turn off her computer, I was told, “No!” On an ongoing basis, I receive dirty looks, name-calling and being completely ignored.

This is not behavior reserved specifically for me. Other teachers report the same nastiness and disrespect. Has this always prevailed in depressed neighborhoods or it is it a new phenomenon? My surprise is increased by the fact that the ethnic groups with whom I work are often those who emphasize and require parental respect and honor.

Because I always search for solutions, I find myself accusing me of a failure to remain patient or accommodating. While introspection is good, self-recrimination is not unless it results in improvements.

Asking problem students to assist with tasks is one solution that occasionally works. Taking them aside to request cooperation also works from time to time. But sadly, some students enjoy the attention, some dislike guest teachers and in some cases, I’ll never know why disruption occurs.

It’s always the sweet, helpful, affectionate and usually quiet kids who cause me to return for another day. They are apologetic, sincere and grateful for my presence, causing me to realize that these are the ones whom I teach. Those who oppose me may or may not learn to enjoy my attention. Shalom.