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Give

Give me a break. Cut me some slack. Give it up. Give it a rest. Our language is filled with the word “give” and if we didn’t hear it enough in our everyday conversations, we are inundated with those who want us to give to something.

If that isn’t obvious from the comfort of our homes, spend an afternoon in downtown Las Vegas. We watched a man wearing only a G-string campaigning for nakedness and accepting money from those who were sympathetic to his need for nudity. Another man had a cardboard sign that read, “I need a beer.” And on the journey from one location to another, I was stopped by a cosmetics guru who needed a few minutes of my time to convert me into a fashion model, one facial molecule at a time.

Every now and then I wonder how it would feel to have enough money to donate to each cause to which I am exposed. My alma mater solicits funds every week, whether it be to support our famous basketball team or to enable a worthy young person to attend the university. The Red Cross, an extremely important and worthwhile organization, sends me mail each week that solicits a donation.

What’s the point of all of this, you may be asking.  My observation is simply that we may find ourselves feeling guilty for not donating to each and every cause that approaches us. Because I have pockets that have bottoms to them, I simply cannot donate to everyone and refuse to feel bad about it. While I continue to appreciate those who have the resources to make huge contributions for the hungry, homeless and undereducated, I choose to select my recipients without feeling regretful that I can’t support them all.

My guess is that some of those who approach us simply don’t have the ingenuity or initiative to earn a legitimate living. While I suppose that wearing a G-string in a public space constitutes expending energy, I simply can’t see the justification in funding nudity. I guess that I just continue to support cancer research, the Salvation Army and leukemia, in addition to other causes that seem worthwhile. As for the rest, maybe your actions need to be directed elsewhere. Shalom.

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Sacred space

Driving through Arizona on a less-traveled, two-lane highway affords a luscious assortment of sights. In addition to the mountains, the bountiful cacti are a delight. Saguaros are everywhere, as are prickly pears. And the Joshua trees redefine our notions of trees.

Unfortunately, this vast, pristine beauty is contaminated by the trash of thoughtless travelers. Stopping to snap some photos, we observed a large space that was covered with debris, ranging from plastic and glass bottles to discarded rags and paper of every variety.

My first thought is about the homes in which these inconsiderate slobs dwell. Maybe some are quite tidy. They wait until they are in a public space to unload unwanted items.  Or maybe they live in trash heaps and feel justified in recreating their domestic worlds. In either case, I resent defacing our environment with unsightly junk.

At no time, in no space, have I ever tossed trash out of my car (or home) window. When I see signs posted regarding penalties for littering, I always wonder if any are ever issued.

If you ever make the unfortunate decision to litter while in my space, it is likely that you will hear a protest from me. Yes, I realize that doing so could result in a compromise to my physical safety. But this vast and indescribably wonderful country does not deserve to be defaced.

We are all responsible for the world we occupy, including keeping it free of junk. For as long as I have the ability to assist others in preserving and treasuring our land, I will passionately do so. Shalom.

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A song to sing

Although I’ve been teaching for nearly seventeen years (with a few breaks), until recently, I believed that I had identified many of the best methods of engaging students. Thanks to a request from a fifth grader, I increased my strategies, with happy results.

An important consideration is that I was in music class. The music teacher is out on leave and I assumed the responsibility for her classes. In each one, I invited students to participate in an impromptu talent show.

What an amazing display of talent! At least half of each class wanted to perform for his or her classmates. While a few displayed some stage fright and reticence, most had the presence and initiative to get up and dance, sing, cheerlead and do gymnastics.

But it wasn’t always the chatty, gregarious kids who did the performing. One young man who was a special needs student bravely stood up and demonstrated the sword maneuvers of which he was most proud. Another timid young student sang a fight song in a tiny, barely audible voice. Happily, the entire class stopped talking and listened attentively to her, offering sincere applause when she finished.

Some of us clearly have the need to display our talents and proficiencies. But to say that this is the sole motivation is only half truth. There is a powerful amount of adrenalin made available, whether you are a solo, group or ensemble.

And there is one more component, that of self-satisfaction. I tell students daily that everyone is good at something, inside the classroom or outside of it. One young man made the effort to confide in me that he was an artist, not a musician. He went on to say that his energies would best be directed elsewhere and I assured him that it was a great decision. To liberate the pride available through singing or anything else is to teach confidence, accomplishment and excellence.

Two days of my work are never the same. One day it’s curriculum, one chore after another. The next, I am watching little people stretching their artistic legs and identifying their places within the creativity community. Shalom.

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Then and now

If you’re old enough to remember any of the old adages that we don’t hear as often anymore, you’ve heard, “Youth is wasted on the young.” While I don’t waste my time lamenting my lost youthfulness, I find wisdom in comparing realities between my twenties and years later.

One concept that I’ve examined is that of invincibility and invulnerability. If you’re at all like me, you looked at a place, skill or vocation that was attractive and told yourself, “I could do that.” It might have been playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language or inventing something extremely important, thereby changing the world. The actual task doesn’t matter as much as the conviction that we could accomplish it.

Because of the years between my twenties and now, I have become acutely aware of the limitations that are absent in youth. While I still seek to play my new keyboard and continue to aspire to fluency in Italian, I discard the ideas of climbing 14ers, gymnastics and a host of other activities that are simply out of my area of reasonability.

This may initially look sad or depressing. But it’s not because I have replaced those ambitions with the realization that I have a number of fields in which I can participate with greater agility than I had at 25. Each time I think about having spent my career in the classroom instead of in sales, I am reminded of my son’s suggestion that I might not have been as happy in the classroom just out of college as I am years later. His suggestion is that it took me the experience of working in corporate America to be viable as an educator.

And so it goes with other areas in which I am now an active participant. Would I have been a better cook than I am now? Would I have endeavored to write books in my twenties instead of now? My conclusion is that it’s pointless to lament the physical stamina or unwillingness to be defeated that I no longer possess. My present is characterized by diligence, patience and vision that are commensurate with age and experience. The tradeoff is a fair one. Why climb Mount Everest anyway? 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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Best and worst

Someone recently told me that they had heard of a substitute teacher who had an awful class. Reportedly, this was the worst class in this teacher’s long career. This same group of students just left my classroom and I thanked each one for being awesome.

It’s difficult to believe that there are “bad kids.” Some of them present formidable discipline issues. The kindergartener who hit me (and other teachers) had serious problems with the school setting and at home. But calling him bad, to me, is a contradiction. If our responsibility it to educate and inform, we transform unacceptable behavior into that which is customary and appropriate.

And so, why was this such a horrible experience? Maybe this educator has exhausted her patience. Maybe the kids were having a difficult day due to weather, extracurricular activities or on the playground. Their classroom teacher is a dedicated, empathetic professional. Ultimately, I guess I’ll never know.

What I do know is that children have an innate talent to determine the character of their educators, permanent or temporary. While I won’t suggest that my character is superior in any way, I do believe that our methodologies must all be unique.

Yes, I’ve had difficult classes in all grades. As recently as last week, I had a stubborn, hostile student who wouldn’t listen to any of my suggestions. But he later reminded me that I was the teacher he missed most and the one he hugged several times as the class began. A colleague suggested to me that this was a student who was behaving out of routine rather than individual stimuli. By the end of the day, he was compliant, affectionate and happy.

It doesn’t work for me to take full responsibility for negative behavior. Too many causes may contribute to attitude and actions. But I am responsible for being careful about my reactions. If my class believed that I found them to be the worst, they would somehow manage to live down to my expectations. 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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Heavenly hugs

Johnny silently hugged me as he came through the door of the classroom. Throughout the day, I looked his way and most of the time he delivered a happy, loving smile. The school day continued that way until it was time for the final goodbyes.

This was a second grade class consisting of children who knew me well as this was the fourth or fifth time I had spent the day with them this school year. Partially because of the population, partially because of their age and maybe because it was almost the end of the week, they were extremely chatty, except for Johnny.

He was distressed at the noise level, covering his ears and shaking his head. But due to his support for me and his discomfort, he constructed a notebook paper sign that had “STOP Talking” in the largest letters he could create. And he began waving it in the classroom at the noise-making students.

It’s difficult to say whether or not the sign had any effect. Several other students wanted to assist me in my silencing efforts, writing “Be Quite [sic]” and marching around the room. But Johnny was relentless, waving his paper and smiling his regrets at the disrespect we were witnessing.

It was time to leave. Once again, Johnny silently approached me and delivered his hug. It was my opportunity to remind him how much I treasured him because he was so very special. In return, he smiled again and proceeded out the door.

Many teachers never have moments like these or they fail to recognize the gifts that they represent. But I am so very fortunate to be hugged. If he grows up to remember that at least one educator cherished him, I am luckier still. 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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Colors and shapes

What does w-o-r-k spell? When I answered, “work,” the smile on my first grader’s face disclosed appreciation and understanding. At that moment, I had a renewed awareness of why I do what I do.

Most likely, my student will not remember that I taught him the words work, turkey, pumpkin and feast. But it won’t be difficult to recollect a teacher’s kindness, patience or explanations. These are children young enough to ask for a tissue or water or a trip to the restroom. As a result, I make certain to nod permission, look them in the eyes and smile an affirmation.

If my dedication to being careful with intellectual growth isn’t obvious, it is more so when my kids do crafts. Everything created is terrific, creative, excellent or absolutely fabulous. While I contribute construction paper, shiny bows, puffy stickers and felt sheets, they add everything else.

Most days result in gifts to the guest teacher. I’ve saved every one of them and they vary greatly in size and sophistication. But every one was received with sincere gratitude. All creations are good and valuable and beautiful. It won’t take too many years for them to be judged, criticized and corrected. For now, it makes sense to commend all things original.

My job is to make it possible for creativity to materialize. Math, spelling and phonetics don’t allow for much in the way of ingenuity; because of the days filled with routine, I work diligently to allow minds to work toward activities that are less structured. Happily, I’ve never seen a student decline an opportunity to make something original.

The same student approached me at the end of the day for the spelling of “love.” When I provided the necessary letters, the smile was wider than before. Maybe he realized that the love he received was more than the spelling lesson. 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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Caring

Consider for a moment how many times per day or week you issue the comment, “I don’t care.” If you are like most folks, you liberally suggest to individuals and the world that you have no interest in a subject, cause or event. Something recently motivated me to think about the messages implicit to “I don’t care.”

One obvious reality is that I would never make such a statement in the classroom. My kids tell me the name of their dad’s favorite football team, where their cousins were born and the birthday parties that they attended last month. A day ago, the subject of birthdays came up and I was advised of the birthdays of twenty-plus second graders.

Take it out of the classroom setting and the same rule applies. You’re on the phone with a long-distance relative who begins a description of the activities within the family, the neighborhood and the town in which they live. The first reaction is that you really don’t care about the Rotary pancake breakfast or the quilting program. But it’s just good sense and propriety not to suggest that the information is irrelevant – something implicit to not caring.

If that doesn’t hit home, think about what you’re saying when you indicate that you don’t care about the horrible fires in California. Or maybe you state that you don’t care about mass shootings in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh or El Paso. Is our society dominated by a population that simply doesn’t have interest in tragedies happening in their towns or somewhere else?

Because I value my kindergartener, I want to hear about her birthday. And because I treasure my cousin and sister-in-law, I am interested in the events large and small that surround them. Many of us have become cavalier about those statements or events that we deem to be unworthy of our consideration. The more important fact is that when we protest with, “I don’t care,” we are essentially indicating that we don’t cherish that person or have interest in his/her concerns.

For my part, I’m going to do whatever is necessary to delete the expression from my language. My goal is never to diminish another by my disinterest or lack of empathy. While I don’t care for everyone at all times, I do want those whom I impact to know that they are important. Shalom.

 

If I may assist 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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Clothes

If I could access the numbers, I would love to know what the American population spends on designer clothing per year. My best guess is that it’s in the high millions or billions. Having never been a part of that elite sector, my reflection on it is without bias but with substantial input.

The best way to understand the significance or relevance of clothing is to watch a playground full of kids. Until you examine the representatives of fourth grade or younger, you can’t really understand the purpose of clothing. These are the children who  universally consider their clothing to be restrictions, inconveniences or simply facts of life.

When I observe the clothes that my students wear to school, I automatically realize that many of their households may be financial disadvantaged. As a result, it’s common to see clothes that are worn thin or look as if they had belonged to older brothers and sisters. In other cases, clothes are often last-minute decisions that pair stripes with patterns and colors nowhere in the same range.

We have much to learn from these young people. If you are part of the public that spends egregious amounts of money on clothing, keep in mind that cheaper (less expensive?) clothing performs the same functions. They keep you cool or warm, they prevent you from exposing body parts unworthy of exposure and keep spilled food from landing on your chest.

Beyond that, I’m beginning to believe in the idea of the more functional, the better. While I was the one who owned forty-plus pairs of shoes that were largely determined by fashion, my priorities are now comfort and durability. Whether or not that’s a result of age, I can’t decide. But I see kids most of the weekdays of my life and they have much to teach about fashion.

Give us zippers that zip, shirts that look okay untucked and shoes without laces. On any given day, I estimate that 80% of my shoe-laced kids operate with untied shoes. We also need jackets that are neither too heavy nor too light, tops that can be worn several times per week and pants that will stay at the waist without benefit of belt.

Jewelry is seldom seen; when it is present, it’s a cherished memento. The scarf is only for keeping warm and gloves may or may not match. This all makes perfect sense. Our young people demonstrate some very good rules of usefulness and efficiency. If they often look messy or haphazard, that’s okay too. 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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Rights

While I’ve never pondered what percent of the great questions of the universe I can answer, occasionally I stop to consider one or two of these questions. Some can be clarified through scientific or historical research. But many cannot.

This is my most recent dilemma. Where do I begin and you end? Or where do you end and I begin? Here’s how that looks. We’re in a crowded airport terminal and I am seated next to a gum chewer/popper. As someone who detests the sound of gum being cracked or popped, do I have the right to ask you to desist? Most would say no. If there’s a problem, I own it. Accordingly, my best option is to get up and find another seat. Does that process/situation change when we are seated next to each other on our flight? The majority would say that my neighbor has as much right to orchestrate her gum chewing as I have to end it. Do I ever have the right to say something?

Change it slightly and there’s a child kicking your seat. In my view, that’s a condition that I shouldn’t have to endure, especially because I believe that action to be more of a dysfunction than a prerogative. As a parent and educator, that behavior is always worthy of being corrected.

Here’s where it gets messy. You are sitting next to someone you know at a concert or play. This person is sprawled all over his or her seat and part of yours. Do you take one for the team and suffer through it or jokingly indicate that your space has been encroached?

It’s only when we bring this type of issue into a broader context that it takes on greater significance. Do we have the right to exercise free speech anywhere, at any time? Can you justify yelling at someone down a hotel hall at 3:00 am, without concern for those who may very likely be sleeping?

In this wonderful land of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I wonder if we sometimes stretch the boundaries of what we should be able to say or do, regardless of how it affects others. Does your right to speak about whatever you choose at whatever volume in any venue take precedence over my right not to hear it? The easy answer is yes, unless I am unable to leave your vicinity.

You’re welcome to extrapolate as you choose. We have people whose dogs bark at all hours. We also have those who have the Constitutional right to shoot guns where and when they choose, no matter who is around. How do I posit the right to make certain that I don’t get shot? Shalom.

 

 

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