Friday, February 16, 2018

Year 8 – Week 24: An American Teacher

I’ve got it all figure out.

If I hear the lockdown code on the loudspeaker before the shots, I simultaneously tell the students how to sit on the ground, in a steady and serious tone, and run to lock the door. If I hear the shots and no lockdown notice, I’m instruct a student to hit the small rectangular button on the wall that goes straight to the security desk, and then I tell my kids to go into lockdown mode as I go to lock the door.

If I’m with my 3rd graders, I’ll probably grab a handful of the music storybooks from the book shelf in our room, and read to them as we sit in the corner of the room. If I’m with some of my older MS students, I’ll tell them a story from my college days, recounting one of my misadventures as a frat boy.

I’ve thought about what I would do if there was a shooter in my workplace, because I’ve practiced, with children, this exact scenario at least once a year, every year for the past ten years. I've heard stories of people who share my profession, who are dead trying save children from tragedy, over and over. I've had to suffer the indignity of leader who fails to acknowledge the my contributions, and worse, blamed people like me for not doing enough.

I’ve had to do all of these things because I’m a teacher in America.

I feel the honor of the privilege to serve our children, and our country, by giving the best of me to my students. I feel the weight of the responsibility that I have to educate the young people to be more empathetic, more kind and more honorable citizens. And I feel the trust that parents put into my school, the administration, the staff, and in me to take care of their children, and keep them safe.

Too often, I’ve felt the horror. Each school shooting has caused my brain to imagine my school community, my colleagues, and my students figuratively, and literally ripped apart by bullets. I try not to do this, and I’m able to hold myself back for a time, but inevitably it happens. It’s horror, and while I wince, and move my mind to something else, I remember for too many of school communities in America, this isn’t imagination at play, this is reality.

I didn’t sign up for this. This wasn’t discussed in my education courses in college, and it wasn’t on my job application. However, it has become part of my job, it has become part of what it means to be a teacher: facing the reality of school shootings in America.

I’ve chosen to be an optimist,  but if 20 six and seven year olds who died at Sandy Hook couldn’t put into motion real change, than what is 17 people being killed in a high school going to do? The empathy gap is galling, the immoral greed of gun companies is disgusting, and those who claim to be “leaders,” but act in their own interests over what is best for our children is despicable. 

I’ve got to hope that my doing my part, that by helping teach my students to be knowledgeable, empathetic and active citizens in our democracy, I can help make our country safer for my two boys. I have a chance every day at school to make real change happen beyond thoughts and prayers.

I am proud to be a teacher. And I refuse to let that guy keep me from being proud to be an American teacher.  Though right now, my feelings about being an American teacher are complex, and it's hard to express all that is in my heart. 

I'm tired of the lip-service people give children and teachers, that not backed up in budgets, I'm frustrated that people make more money than teachers and are held at a lower moral and professional standard, and I'm in disbelief that people are so selfish and insecure that they aren't willing to make reasonable changes to the gun control laws for the chance that it may save children's lives. 

This is who I am, after being a husband, a parent and an Asian-American, being an American teacher is the most important part of my identity.  I refuse to let this part of myself go.

There's too much work to be done.   

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

Parenthood: 244 - Evolving Into Playdates

Playdates We have been blessed to have a group of friends that extended out of a breast-feeding support group that Diana goes to at a local hospital. This group of people have kids who are Ollie’s age. Some have moved away, many have had a second child. These parents have become close friends, and these children have grown up with Ollie. Having support for from people in an older generation is great, but having people who are going through the exactly same thing you are at the exactly same time is unique, validating, and wonderful.

At first, getting together was more for the adults than the kids. While it was cute to see the babies roll around with each other, especially in the early stages, the babies didn’t even realize that there were other babies in the room.

As the children got older, we watched the children begin to play with each other. At first it was only with close supervision. Later, we could sit on a park bench and watch the children play on playground and not have to actively help them up a ladder, or down a slide.

Then came the realization that Ollie cared about having peers around when he played. Once upon a time he didn’t want or care if other kids his age were around to play with him. It was a transition from caring about who he shared an experience with as much or more than the experience itself. While he still liked to play with me and Diana it was clear that his peers were taking a more important part in his life as playmates.

This felt sad, knowing the challenges of relationships and friendships that Ollie was entering, but it made me happy watching his awareness grow, and watching the joy that only comes from hanging out with people in your peer group.

Welcome to the world of the playdate.

Yesterday, one of Ollies friends came over from that breast-support friendship group. Her mom and dad came over too. I made waffles, we caught up, and the kids played. They played around in the back yard in the snow, while the mom and dad of Ollie’s friend sat inside with me watching them from the warmth of our den. I had two friends to chat with,, and Ollie got some quality time with a friend he has known his whole life.

Was this a playdate, or us as adults hanging out with our kids playing? Maybe it’s a little of column A and a little of column B, and maybe the semantics aren’t really important here.

I know that not all playdates are with other parents that are close friends. We’ve already had “playdates” in which we had to deal with our kids misbehaving or getting into arguments. It’s not always all good. There will also be a time when playdates are more drop off situation (which has already started to happen).

Right now in our lives, our playdates are as much Ollie as they are for us. This may change, and that’s fine. So, I’m be grateful for this special time for all of us, enjoy the moments, and watch our kids play in the presence of good friends, who feel like family.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Year 8: Week 23 – Resumes And Cover Letters

They are starting to fill up my inbox: cover letters and resumes for an opening in my department. As one of the department chairs, one of my big responsibilities this year is hiring a new music teacher to replace one is retiring.

Almost every year I’ve been at this school, I’ve been involved in hiring someone. It can be a stressful process, but it can also be engaging, thought-provoking and an important moment of reflection. It’s a commitment of extra time but it’s also a chance to have influence on the direction of the school. There is pressure to get it right, and the fear of getting it wrong. However, I’ve worked with great committees of teachers and administrators, and we've done well so far

I am not an HR person, and I’m not an expert on hiring, but I do know what works for me and my school when it comes to cover letters, resumes and interviews. So here’s a couple things about this process that work. My view may very well not work for other situations. Again, just my opinion, not an expert.

1. The cover letter
I want to hear the teacher’s voice, and passion. The cover letter is the place to make that happen. It’s pointless to me to have a cover letter that is simply a narrative version of the resume. One page is enough. Tell me a story, show me through a story the aspects of your personality and professionalism that you feel makes you a strong candidate. Don’t just state that you integrate social and emotional learning in your lessons. Share a story about how your stopped a lesson because a child got emotional over a topic and made it a teachable moment for the whole class.

Yes, summarize your experience. Yes, explain how you came about this job and why you want it. But please include a story to show us who you are as a teacher.

2. The Resume
I don’t actually mind long resumes, but I don’t need it to be fully inclusive. If you’ve been teaching for fifteen years, please don’t list the unrelated job you had in high school. Make sure headings are clear, and bullet points don’t have too much jargon. It’s okay, there’s not that many synonyms for the word “implement,” so just use it four times. One of first things I check is the “other skills,” or “special skills & activities,” at the end of the resume. Don’t be ashamed, and hesitate to list your hobbies or other passions outside of teaching.

One of the things that is important about being a teacher is embracing whatever you are geeky about, which allows kids to do the same thing. You are in roller derby, do event planning, teach yoga? Awesome. The cover letter shows who you are as teacher, and in this end section of the resume, you get to share a glimpse of the rest of your life. No shame, list what you love to do. If a school is turned off by one of your hobbies, there's a good chance it’s not a good fit.

Okay, that’s a start. I’ll talk about interviews later…

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Monday, February 5, 2018

Parenthood: 242 - The Ethan Journal: 12/5/17


I feel like I’m lying.

Today, I was asked eight different times how Ethan was doing. Each time, I mentioned how great he was doing. Almost like a platitude, I mention his cute chubby thighs, and his lovely squishiness. It’s not that these things don’t bring me great joy, they do. It’s just that this isn’t the whole picture.

There were things that worried me about Ollie, but they were things that I felt that could communicate, because they were “normal” problems like sleep, diaper rash, and swaddling. While I consciously made sure not to complain too much, when I saw it as away to connect and bond, these concerns were met with humor and support.

The whole picture with Ollie was something that I was comfortable with, and there were things that I held back.  This was not because of discomfort but rather because of my own need to hold small pieces of joy privately in my heart. The thing that I hold back about Ethan, his unilateral hearing loss, I keep to myself because I don’t want to be a bummer. I don’t have all the answers that I know people will ask, and I’m afraid of how the words will come out of my mouth, and the accompanying emotions that may come out.

When I told my closest friend at school about Ethan’s hearing loss, I didn’t cry, but I was close. When I look into the eyes of people who casually asks me about how Ethan is doing, my mind races through the truth of my experience, the completeness and complexity of emotions. Every time this happened today, I pulled back from what was real, and gave them something safe.

One time I dipped into the nervousness of raising another boy, and then I talked about the widening view our society has of masculinity and how I felt reassured of this. This probably seemed insightful and challenging, but this was something I had long sense wrestled with and figured out when Diana was pregnant with Ollie. This expression of insecurity and struggle was safe.

I don’t want Ethan to be the kid with hearing loss, and I worry that if I reveal this to people, that part of his identity will become his identity. I imagine a conversation in the future.

“Kingsley’s son wrote this really cool story I read today.”
“Which one?”
“Oh, the one who is deaf in one ear.”

I don’t want to hide this part of Ethan. I’m not ashamed of him. I am just the opposite. I am so proud of all he is, every part, not despite his right ear. Even at a month old, I know that all that I love about Ethan is result of all he is from his chubby thighs, bright eyes, misshapen ear, and sleepy smiles. He wouldn’t be the Ethan that I love if not for all of his parts.

So I respond in a way that feels like a lie.

I wish I could be more open. I want to be able to say more about my boy beyond social comfort, and figure out how to talk about the different facets of his identity.  I have to figure out how to work past this “lie.” Ethan will look to me to see how I talk about his hearing loss, and this will internalize into part of his self-image, and self-talk. It feels like a burden, but I know it’s an opportunity to learn how to love beyond, to love inclusively, and to love completely.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Year 8: Week 22 - Slight Angle To The Universe

My students live in a different world than I do. Most of them live in a different city than me (I don’t teach in the same city my school is in). None of them go to the same church I do, which know is a fact since I don’t belong to a church. With a rare exception, almost all of my students are not the exactly same flavor of Asian that I am.

My own identity, the school I teach in, and the members of my community, have created a school that is a place where worlds come together. That is not case for all teaching communities.

I once had a colleague who taught in a school where all of the students were the same race, where almost all the students went to the same church. In many ways he said that teaching in this community was easier. There was a set of values that appeared to be shared by the students, and living in the community, and sharing facets of identity with including race and religion, led to a classroom which was a shared world.

In that situation, the responsibility of the teacher is to bring in the world from the outside, and to make the world something different. My situation is different.

My classroom is a place where worlds come together, and somehow they need to meld together into a universe, a place where these worlds can somehow co-exists. At times these worlds crash together because of the tension that comes with different, and other times we “initiate students into conflict.”

Sometimes I forget that the work of a teacher is about melding these worlds into a universe. It’s easy to get a procedure going in a school, get into a groove, and just get going with a music lesson. When there are bumps in the road, I don’t think about the worlds, instead, I too often simply focus on them not following directions or behaving appropriately. I don’t consider enough their personal, distinct, and separate world outside of school, where they spend the majority of their lives.

There are all of these goals and priority I have as a teacher. There’s instruments to teach, performances to put on. There’s composition skills, creative work, and dances to teach. There’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work integrated into the curriculum. Maybe all of these priorities would be better accomplished, if I take more time learn about these students’ worlds, make them feel more seen, and more known.

The work of a teacher is often filled up with to do lists with tasks like copying, lesson planning, and writing emails. However, the more important work is actually knowing our students, and making sure they feel known. This job doesn’t stop at knowing their names, it starts there and it never ends.

The thing is, that this is one of the most rewarding parts of teaching, and the most fun. Somewhere along the line, I forgot this.