From one day to the next

To illustrate the variations and mutations of substitute teaching, the differences between Thursday’s kindergarteners and Friday’s fifth graders are huge. One might reasonably expect that the kindergarteners would be tamer than the students who are within weeks of entering middle school. That’s absolutely incorrect.

Thursday’s kids were generally compliant. Two of them, however, required most of my attention for the majority of the day. While their behavior couldn’t be described as criminal or worthy of juvenile hall, they were stubborn, disrespectful, and unpredictable. By the end of the day I was exhausted and almost out of patience.

By comparison, the fifth graders were more fun than I’ve had lately. They were helpful, funny, kind, and absolutely enjoyable. We had no discipline issues and I didn’t have to deliver one syllable of reprimand.

There really is no simple explanation. It’s not about demographics. In the case of the kinder class, these were kids who appeared to come from comfortable, new, and nice homes. The neighborhood for the fifth graders is much more heterogeneous, suggesting that they are potentially less privileged.

The mistake that I obviously made was that of having expectations. By no means would I have predicted that fifth grade would be so rewarding and entertaining. Once their teacher arrived, she was as serious and rigid an educator as I have lately experienced. This may have some connection to their laughter and freestyle that I witnessed.

Ultimately, it’s a lesson for life. You really don’t know what you’re going to get until you get there. I’m just grateful that I have the flexibility and understanding to have handled both situations. Shalom.

Followers and leaders

One of the warnings that we began receiving when we were very young was to maintain control, no matter what the situation. We were told and have told our offspring to control instincts, desires, actions, and virtually everything else. Pondering this reality, I have begun to wonder exactly what advantages ensue from being in control.

My best guess is that I am thinking about this business of control because of some upcoming events. Beginning tomorrow, I am working in a teaching assignment where I function not as the teacher in charge of the class’s direction and teaching but as the co-worker who assists the class teacher. This is a teacher who is quite decisive and I have mixed feelings about being the second player in this situation.

Initially, this may seem to be a perfect environment for a substitute teacher. There are no lesson plans to follow, no need to supervise kids at recess or in the cafeteria. But I am feeling that this may be my challenge because of this anomalous imperative to be in control.

My reputation is not at stake, nor is my self-esteem. What I do see, however, is that there are times when the control that we have always sought is not really as important as it has always seemed. By accepting this assignment, I have tacitly subscribed to the protocols and situation that exists. My job is to make it right.

And so, I have an opportunity to learn something about assisting rather than directing, supporting rather than directing, and deferring to the one who is the designated leader. It sounds pretty simple; the only complication is the fact that it’s uncharted territory for me. We’ll just have to suck it up and let someone else be in charge. Doing that should be more than enough. Shalom.

Growth

While I can’t put my finger on the exact reasons, I can usually determine immediately if my class is well-behaved and welcoming. Maybe it’s the way some students will say hi or wave at me when I enter. Or maybe it’s the response I get when I say, “Hello everyone!”

In some ways, I’m inclined to believe that it is the nature of my greeting that sets the tone. Another alternative is that the majority of my students are inherently kind and once they see that I’m of the same persuasion, they behave accordingly. Most likely, it’s both.

Monday was a great example. My duty began at 12:30 and when I entered the classroom, third graders were staring at their Chromebooks. The lady watching them introduced me and three or four students waved a greeting. We engaged in brief conversation and as always, I have one or two students determined to provide directions for the rest of the day’s events.

But it’s all done with small voices and large kindness. My best guess is that they have a good teacher. Some of it may have to do with my practice of saying “please” and “thank you,” as well as speaking with them intelligently and with respect.

More than anything else, it’s about expectations. No matter what grade what school, what time of day, I always anticipate cooperation. Through the years, I have also discovered that complete silence is nearly impossible to accomplish.

And so, I have broadened my areas of reasonability and have learned to accept a level of murmurs. While some of us require absolute silence, others of us can function otherwise. Somehow, it all comes back to growth. If we want our kids to grow we just can’t stifle them in their growing processes.

Somewhere, somehow, I must be doing something right. My students ask me to be their regular substitute and to return as soon as possible. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Shalom.

Smile

One of the most unfortunate consequences of the pandemic and the need to wear masks is the fact that we can’t see each other smile when we need smiles the most. Whether it’s in a grocery store, pharmacy, service station, medical facility, or any other public venue, we are seeing each other without others being able to see us smile.

We have options. Though it may look a bit silly, quickly pull down a mask, deliver a smile to someone who needs it, and return the mask to its proper position. When you are in a car where the mask isn’t compulsory, smile at drivers or walkers or bicyclists who look as if they could use a little brightness in their days.

The other alternative, one that doesn’t have the ability to transmit toxic vapors, is to smile through your actions. What does this mean? Say thank you to those who deliver good service, kindness, and courtesy. Ask those around you if they need assistance if they appear to be having difficulties of one type or another. Relinquish the right of way on the road to someone who can benefit from your kindness.

Yesterday, while leaving our cabin in the mountains to pick up dinner, we encountered a collection of deer who were peacefully grazing by the road. A young family – husband, wife, and two small children – were appreciating the deer and their ability to interact with them in close proximity. We approached slowly, making certain that the deer had crossed the road before we proceeded. The mother in the group was obviously touched by the ability to get this close to nature. She smiled broadly and I gave her a thumbs up, letting her know that I shared her enthusiasm.

It’s easy to smile without those smiles being seen. Your eyes will communicate for you, almost as much as the kindness that you deliver when you are able to do so. And realistically, smiling feels quite a bit better than the alternative. Shalom.

Making days good

This morning I was awakened to a series of happy occurrences. For one, a check that I normally get on the second Wednesday of the month arrived a day early. That coincides nicely with a planned trip to a nearby village that is a Mecca for holiday shopping.

In addition, I received another 5-star rating for my book, Two papas, a tale of impossible Holocaust survival. Admittedly, ratings increase sales of the book. More importantly, it verifies that my book has reached the people for whom it was intended and it was well-received.

A few moments ago, I discovered an item of clothing that I had purchased as a gift but have accidentally been wearing. Now I can return it to the person for whom it was intended.

Admittedly, all of these events are small in scale and residual importance. But it makes sense to me that if we are diligent about finding those small realizations, we have immense power to make our lives happy. Does all this make our pains any less intense? Maybe. Do we do anything to achieve world peace and tranquility? Maybe, one small step at a time.

My recommendation is to identify and celebrate as many happenings as are available to you. We have the ability, if not the imperative, to make as much around us as positive as possible. Celebrate the sunshine after a day of huge winds and gloom. Celebrate the gifts of family, stability, and peace of mind. If we address ourselves to finding what is good, we simply have no time for negativity and depression. Shalom.

To be a hero

Following up on the tribute to RBG, it occurred to me, both as a writer and an educator, to imagine what is required to be a hero. What I know about RBG is that she did not set out to be one but achieved that status nonetheless. Her biography tells us that she was committed to working for others, being honest to herself and the rest of the world, and doing what was right.

Let’s assume that you decide at an early age that you want to commit your life to doing good deeds for your world. In order to get there from here, you must first learn as much as you can. Sources of knowledge are family members, religious leaders, educators, and endless books of all types.

We make a mistake when we narrow research to a very small field. No matter the discipline, learn as much as you can about as many subjects as possible. My experience suggests that truly learned people have studied fields ranging from astronomy to zoology.

Defining the scope of your heroism is the next step. If you want to be a national or international icon, you will probably need to distinguish yourself in politics, scientific research, or global humanitarian achievements. If your definition of heroism is more local than global, you may want to focus your time and energy on matters within your immediate space. That may be your block, community, town, religious group, city, or state.

There are numerous ways to make yourself known for good works. Teaching is one choice. If you don’t have the credentials to teach, schools of all sorts always need volunteers. And if education isn’t in your heart, there are as many volunteer organizations as there are diseases, causes, or political inclinations.

And if you choose to be a hero to your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew, that’s a major responsibility in itself. Carefully choose the words you utter. Do everything possible not to insult those around you. The kids are listening and inclined to imitate what you say and do. When you are unpleasant, unpredictable, and unkind; these are the phrases and behaviors they receive.

Most likely, few people wake up and declare, “I am going to be a hero.” RBG certainly did not. That doesn’t mean that we can be reckless or accidental about the messages we transmit. You may never know when a man or woman will one day think of you as a hero. Shalom.

Goodbye, RBG

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The world has just lost a giant, someone who changed the world forever and who will leave a legacy for all those who take the time to consider who she was and what she did. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has just died, a victim of pancreatic cancer who fought that disease with all of her might and endurance.

This quotation is as much a character statement as any I’ve seen about RBG, my personal hero. She fought prejudice, sexism and social injustice but did it in a way that encouraged others to join her.

Fighting as a sole patriot or trailblazer is clearly less effective than being a changemaker and one who encourages others to participate. Good managers realize that they can be most successful in leading others when they participate in processes. Autocrats and dictators generally don’t succeed, either in the corporate environment or anywhere else. We have notable exceptions throughout history, including Hitler, Stalin, and at least one of our current political figures.

But if we look at those figures in history who were most admired and followed, they were those who involved as much of the constituency as possible. JFK comes to mind, as do Mahatma Gandhi, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and others. All of these leaders have been venerated throughout history and my guess is that RBG will be as well.

If you’re not a fan of religious equality or elimination of sexism in the workplace, the legacy of RBG won’t be as significant to you as it is to the rest of us. But in addition to leading a life of discipline, foresight, responsibility, and wisdom, she will be remembered as a pioneer in both of those areas.

For my part, I can’t think of too many women who have distinguished themselves as she has. We need leaders of both sexes, those who have paved the way for little girls and boys who seek excellence and integrity. RBG, you will be missed but because of your efforts, those who follow will have clearer paths as well as a brilliant role model. Shalom.

What we waste

One of the frequent conversations in our household is the imperative to finish everything that is on your plate. From my standpoint, one should eat until hunger has been satisfied and the state of satisfaction has been reached. The other approach is that you are obligated to finish everything on your plate.

Is there one correct answer to this debate? The reasoning behind everything that is on your plate is that it is a crime to waste anything, be it food on your plate or leftovers in the refrigerator. My position is that the world isn’t negatively impacted by leaving some food when I have eaten as much as I want or need.

Here is the question that I offer to you. What truly constitutes waste? Is it leaving food on a plate or cooking enough for 45 when there are only two or three who are eating? What is the consequence of cooking too much? We deplete food sources and supplies but is this really harmful? My response is that it’s only harmful when others will not have the food they need as a direct result of our gluttony.

If we extrapolate a bit, how can we reduce waste of many of the resources to which we have access. For one, it seems to be a waste of gasoline to drive to a nearby location when walking is easily accomplished. From there, it seems to be a waste of resources when we use too many plastic bags and fail to recycle them. Likewise, paper bags can also be recycled if we spent the time and a small amount of effort.

Better yet, use the heavy duty bags that are available in large chains and grocery groups, eliminating the brown and skimpy plastic bags. In other words, it’s clear that a large component of waste is pure laziness or lack of concern for protecting and preserving our world. Somehow, it all amounts to doing the right thing for our planet and the smaller parts of it in which we reside. I’ll stick with my belief that the world isn’t harmed when I don’t finish what’s on my plate unless I have purchased and prepared too much food to help those who don’t have enough. Shalom.

Reprisal

Dictionary.com’s definition of reprisal is the following: (in warfare) retaliation against an enemy for injuries received, by the infliction of equal or greater injuries. It goes on to define, the forcible seizure of property or subjects in retaliation.

The research I have uncovered most recently in preparation for my next book has furnished the word reprisal. While the US is in disputes with various countries, we are not in the midst of a declared war. As a result, we don’t see or hear this word very often.

During World War II, one of the many reasons why Jews and other captives generally did not attempt escape or brutality toward captors was the fear of reprisal. When one captive hurt or killed a soldier, killing in retaliation would take place. One of the authors I’m reading (Martin Gilbert) estimates 1200 deaths of reprisal to one escapee or injured Nazi.

All of this causes me to wonder about what we do to others out of reprisal. Cutting someone off on the road who has tailgated you or done something similar surely constitutes reprisal. Refraining from writing to someone who hasn’t written or emailed you in some time is reprisal. Putting your child on timeout simply because you had a rough day and can’t handle his behavior is reprisal.

Someone hurting you doesn’t give you license to hurt anyone else. Yes, it’s pretty obvious that it is never acceptable to do intentional damage to someone. But the point is to examine our motives in terms of our actions toward others.

One of the countless truths I’ve learned from my husband is the wisdom of giving others the benefit of the doubt. If he hasn’t heard from someone, he speculates that the other person has been busy or ill. In all of our years together, I have never seen him get angry while driving, much less committing acts of reprisal. The example is an excellent one for all of us to follow.

These days, we have few occasions to worry about reprisal in terms of acts of war or violence. But retaliation and reprisal are probably more common than we realize. Once we consider the examples and symbols of reprisal throughout history, it becomes clear that injuring someone because someone injured you is simply unacceptable. Shalom.

Changes

Maybe because it’s been too long since I’ve been in the classroom, I have substantial time to dedicate to thinking. One of the observations that I have made as recently as today is that I have spent too much of my life avoiding changes large and small. When you avoid change simply for the sake of not making changes, it may be to your disadvantage.

Just because you’ve been doing something in a particular way for a certain number of years, it’s going to be an excellent idea to change it up. Yesterday I saw an article about a woman who has been feeding pigeons on her front lawn for the past many years, much to the chagrin of her neighbors who object to the noise and refuse. Maybe she ought to think about feeding hummingbirds (provided that they exist in her area) and do the world another type of contribution.

Imagine that you’ve been doing your grocery shopping at the same store for a long time. They know you there (maybe) and you know that you can usually get the items that you need without worrying about quantity or quality. But there’s a neighborhood co-op down the street that features products from local growers. Stop in there and you may be very pleasantly surprised at what they have to offer. In addition to that, you will be benefiting the local farmers who have had a rough summer due to the restaurant and school closures.

For my part, I’ve changed a few small things and was pleased about two conclusions. One is that the world as we know it continued to function without any disruption whatsoever. The second is that I felt some satisfaction about knowing that I wasn’t inappropriately fastened to a habit that had no merit whatsoever.

Throw some change into your life and see what happens. Depending on what you modify, no-one or everyone will notice. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about it but you. Except for such issues as yielding the right of way or paying bills, most of the modifications that you are able to make will be for the greater or smaller good. Shalom.