Monday, October 16, 2017

Parenthood: Week 226 - The Best Thing To Say To Expectant Parents (or at least to me)

As the due date comes closer, people have stopped asking me about whether I’m ready (maybe it’s because they all read my blog post regarding this question). This has been replaced with “are you excited?” This is better on some level, but it brings up the same issue. My feelings about this second child are not singular, and while there is a lot of excitement, there’s also a lot of stress, and anxiety that I don’t want to think about in every day interactions.

Twice this week, in times when I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, two friends told me the same thing, and it made everything feel better. It was one simple phrase: “we’re thinking of you and Diana.” These words were accompanied by a knowing look of sympathy, support, and understanding. Soft eyes, that acknowledge all that we were going through, with a soft smile of optimism and support. These words felt like a hug. Like the embrace of good friend, in those two moments, I felt like I could let go.

There was something liberating about this phrase. In these words, there was no expectation for me to be anything. I didn’t have to worry about saying the socially acceptable thing. I could open up about my feeling in response, or not say anything. It was an invitation that I could accept, or walk away from.

There was something selfless about this phrase. This comment is selfish. It’s not an unloading of a person’s experience with pregnancy (which happens way too often). It’s a person trying to get information to vicariously live through your own experiences. Most of all, it’s not a phrase that asserts support in a way that that is reciprocal. When someone says that they are going to give you stuff for your kids, it’s nice, but then you have to thing about returning stuff, and maybe doing the same when they have a kid. This phrase is essentially a gift, that is given with no desire or expectation for anything at all in return.

There is something powerful about this phrase. When you say that you are thinking about another person, you are saying that you are worrying about them, that you are hoping for them, and that in that you will never be alone, because someone else is thinking of you. The knowledge that someone is thinking about you is comforting. It lets you know that you matter, that you mean something and that you are always with the people who love you.

It’s not easy to know what to say.  So just you care, by letting expected parents know that they are on your mind, and maybe offering to buy them a Strawberry Acai refresher from Starbucks (grande, easy ice).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Year 8: Week 7 - The Bridge

We all live in a state of profound isolation. 
No other human being can ever know what it ’s like to be you on the inside. And no amount of reaching out to others can ever make them feel exactly what you feel.
All media of communication are a by-product of our sad inability to communicate directly mind to mind. Sad, of course, because nearly all problems in human history stem from that inability. 
Each medium (the term comes from the Latin word meaning middle) serves as a bridge between minds.

- Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Our world is full of different mediums of self-expression, because every medium, including prose, poetry, visual arts, films, science, dance, spoken language, and music all are flawed. None of these mediums of communication completely and perfectly transfers ideas, feelings, and notions. Each one of these mediums are an attempt to address the “inability to communicate directly mind to mind,” the central source, as Scott McCloud writes, of nearly all of our problems.

Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “Where words fails, music speaks.” Because there are things that music can communicate from person to person, that words cannot. However, music is imperfect, and as a medium, it fails as well. Each different way of human expression succeeds where others fail and only by being fluent and literate in the plurality of different mediums can we begin to overcome that inability to communicate mind to mind. It is in this diversity of expression that we find the power make the communities we belong to more just, more equitable, and more inclusive.

At the center of a where music educations should be is the value of citizenship, and the primary tool of citizenship is voice. This isn’t a singular tool that is exercised and expressed through a single medium, like a speech in front of a crowd. At its most effective, and most powerful, voice is encapsulating of all of the mediums of human expression. To rely only on the written word is to struggle against this medium’s imperfections. To embrace the diversity of the different mediums of self-expression is to rise above these imperfections. This makes an individuals’ voice more authentically expressed, and more readily understood.

As important as the ability to authentically express an individual voice, as the prayer of Saint Frances meditates, it just as important “to be understood as to understand.” Only through foundational knowledge in the many facets of human expression can people complete the work of citizenship by pairing the ability to express one’s voice with the skill to understand others in whatever ways they express their thoughts and feelings.

So why am have I started out talking about voice and citizenship? Because this is where I start a as music teacher. Music education in an integral of the human condition. It is interwoven in almost every single culture in human history, and continues be one of the most important and most powerful forms of human expression. Some of the most powerful voices in human history found their voice through music, and some of the most influential members of our American society continue to change the world through music.

Music class  is about more than creating music, it’s about developing music as part of an authentic voice, a means of expression, a way to understand the world, and a way to change the world as a citizen. Music is an essential part of the bridge that connects us together

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Parenthood: Week 225 – Guns

Ollie doesn’t know what a gun is.

This struck me when we were looking through a Transformers book. In this book, there was a picture of Megatron transforming into a gun, as he originally did in his first incarnations as a toy and on the original cartoon show.

I asked him what he thought it was, and he told me that it look like a water hose, and I left it at that.

There’s a lot that Ollie knows about. He knows most of the words of “Joseph’s Coat,” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he can name far more dinosaurs than I can, he’s well read (in the world of children’s books), and he has learned a variety of different jumps and landings recently in gymnastics class.

There’s a lot of stuff that Ollie doesn’t know about. There are things like professional sports, which Ollie isn’t exposed to because me and wife aren’t interested in watching sports. Besides education applications on the iPad, Ollie has had little to no exposure to video games, again because that’s not really part of our lives. The television and movies that he watches are designed for his age.

Guns, hunting, firearms are not a part of our families’ culture. My parents never owned any kind of firearm. I played video games where people I controlled shot others, but at some point, it just felt weird, and I lost interest in those games. I’ve only fired a firearm once. It was a low caliber rifle at one of Diana’s uncle’s house. I felt an immediate power, a rush of adrenaline, and a feeling of strength. However something about this didn’t feel right. It was too much power, for too little effort, and there was just too much of a chance, even in that very safe, controlled environment for something to go wrong.

I loved watching action movies as a kid with my dad. As much as I loved the James Bond films, something about the way Jackie Chan disarmed people he fought and chose to fight hand to hand, seemed cooler than just shooting someone. I loved comics growing up and my favorite superhero, Batman, hated guns.

This is my lived experience that I bring with me when I’ve dealt with the issue of guns with my son. At some point, I will need to educate him about guns in American culture and the history of firearms in world history. Even with the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, the moment doesn’t seem right. I’m not ready to talk to him about guns, and he doesn’t need to know about them right now.

I’ve seen kids younger than Ollie running around playground, making gun shape hand signs and shooting at each other. Thankfully whenever Ollie encounters this, he just doesn’t get it and doesn’t care to play that game.  A couple months ago, I saw kid who must have been younger than Ollie looking over his mother’s shoulder as she was paying a parking meter. As I walked by, he pointed the gun gesture he made with his hand and play shot at me with sound effects, and the mom did nothing. I see older kids running around with Nerf guns, shooting at each other, and I get it as someone who had Nerf guns as a kid (who turned out just fine), and I feel sad.

Ollie’s been really into bad guys and good guy as he processes the concept of good and bad. All he gets is that bad guys aren’t very nice and aren’t good at sharing. Yes, he has Transformers, but I’ve only let him delve into the Rescue Bot toys and cartoon, which has no bad guys, no guns, and is all about teamwork and community building.

With the coming of our second child and Ollie asks about reproduction, I tell him the right anatomical terms. He’s knows the word "vagina," "penis," and other terms.  However when we listen to Hamilton and he hears a gunshot and he thinks it’s a firework, I don’t correct him. I just don’t need him to know about guns right now. Kid’s should not have any illusions about the human body, but about guns, I'm okay with that.

I don’t talk to Ollie about guns because the history and issue surrounding guns are complicated and too difficult for his mind to understand right now. It’s the same reason Ollie has no idea who the 45th President is (though, he is well aware of Pres. Obama).  If I were to tell Ollie anything about guns now, it would be to simply say that they are dangerous, only policemen should have them, and to never touch one. 

Am I sheltering Ollie? Yes. That’s okay. It’s our job as parents to unveil the world to our children, carefully, and deliberately. In this work, we have to keep things away from them. And yes, at a certain point, you can’t keep certain things away from your children.  But I’m not there yet with my son.

While my intellect is looking forward to the challenge of explaining the complexity of guns in our society to my son, my heart is sad thinking about the horrors that I will knowingly have to expose to my son in this conversation.

Maybe when my son is of age to have these conversations about guns, there will be a happy ending. The tragedies will be a thing of the past. More than ever, I hope for this to be true. There’s precious little that I enjoy in my life, that I consider as being fundamentally American, that I would not sacrifice for a happy ending to our never-ending national story about gun violence. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Year 8: Week 6 - A Different Kind Of Year

I’ve known that this school year was going to be different for a while now.

Every year has its unique factors, and when I think about the last eight years I’ve been at this school, there’s never been a school year where there hasn’t been something that happened in my life personally or something about the school year (e.g. new principal) that has made the school year unique.

My life outside of school can’t really be separated from my work in school in many ways. Yes, in some ways, I compartmentalize, but when life events come up, you need to deal with them and they affect the school year.

I have up ahead of me my paternity leave. This means that I will be away from my students for a period of time. It means the limited time that I have with them during school year will be even shorter. The experiences that frame our work between us will be fewer and in some ways, I may not feel as connected to my students this year as I have in years past.

I know this to be true because this happened the year I took my leave when my first son Ollie was born.

My kids were fine that year. I had a great long-term sub and my students had great performances and advanced their musical skills in meaningful ways. However, that year felt different. I don’t know if my kids felt it, but I did. I felt connected to them, but not fully and because I was only on the journey of the school year with them for part of the year, we didn’t bond like I did with other classes. We made progress and grew to know each other, but we didn’t quite make it to that place where I usually get at the end of the school year.

I wasn’t 100% there with, and for my kids that year.

This is okay. It’s not something to be ashamed of, or to mourn. It’s just the reality of the situation. This isn’t an easy thing to accept, and I didn’t quite expect it with my first leave but now I’m coming to accept this with my upcoming leave. I’m not looking forward to this feeling of being disconnected with the students, but I know it’s okay. I also know that I will be a better teacher in the long run, if I take the time to care for my family, and in turn care for myself.

My kids at home are more important than my “kids” at school. That’s the way it should be. However, sometimes this prioritization doesn’t feel great.

It’s going to be a unique year. It always is and my kids at school will be fine without me. I’ll miss that time I’m not with them, and be grateful, as I always am, for the time I do have them.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Monday, October 2, 2017

Parenthood: Week 224 – Ready For Number 2?

"Are you ready for number two?"

I don’t really know how to answer this. And yes, I realize that this is mainly due to the fact that I can’t let informal pleasantries be just that, and not analyze the messaging, unintended bias and socialization of how we talk about parents. It’s like the question, “how are you?” Most people who ask this question, don’t actually want to know, and that’s not because people are inherently bad. It’s just that a question, which is meant to be inconsequential greeting doubles as a meaningful expression of care, and it’s not always clear which is which.

It’s a similar thing when people ask if I’m ready for the second baby. Close friends ask because they are eager to lend a sympathetic ear, offer supplies, and provide answers to questions. These people realize that this is not a question with a fast answer as it brings up thoughts, worries and concerns, which I am working very hard not to focus on at certain times of the day, like I'm at work.

This is why it’s difficult to deal with the question about how I feel about number two. Most people probably just want to hear that I’m excited and that everything is going to be great. Then in response, in a social hazing ritual people like to tell me (at the same time), how whatever age gap your kids are going to have is perfect, and that two kids is really hard to handle. This is people being nice, and interested, but they unintentionally bring out a lot of the stress and concerns about having two kids, more than the joy.

I am an optimist by choice, and by practice. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot of stress surrounding preparing for this baby, and it doesn’t mean that I’m looking forward to every facet of being a father to an infant. Look, I know it’s going to be amazing, and that we’ll get through the late nights and the lack of sleep. In the end, I know, even more than with my first kid, that we can handle this. All of this knowledge, doesn’t make the upcoming challenges, easier, it just means that it’s coming, it’s going to be rough, and yes, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but this knowledge doesn’t make the tunnel disappear.

 So . . . Woo-hoo.

One of the lessons of parenthood is that the journey is not always where you find the most meaning, and just because life feels like a destination at times, doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. If you always dig for meaning through every step, you are going to be disappointed. I’m through looking for something of greater meaning in the next couple weeks. I just need to get stuff done, so I’m ready for my new little one.

So am I ready for number two? Logistically, no. I have sub-plans to write, and many meetings at work. The new nursery is not set up, there are no newborn diapers in the house, and we haven’t packed a hospital bag. There’s probably other stuff we need to do that I’m not even thinking about right now. I’m worried that I’ll won't get all the stuff, I feel I need to get done before the baby comes. The reality is that I probably won’t, and I'll have to live with that reality.

Mentally and spiritually? Well, here’s the thing. I don’t feel I was every ready for Ollie before he came. In some ways, I still don’t feel like I’m ready. Being “ready,” isn’t a great way to think about parenthood. You can’t fully be ready. It’s not like a bag that you pack for a vacation. Becoming a parent is a fundamental change in your perspective, your priorities, and your life. This "becoming" is a transformative process that you either accept and flourish, or fight against and fail. Yes, there is a level of readiness with pragmatic things, but when it comes down to you, the person that you are, and the parent that you will become, it’s not a question of being ready, it’s a choice.

The question is: have you accepted your choice to become a parent, to be for another, to love beyond comprehension, to give for the rest of your life unconditionally, and take on the greatest responsibility of humankind?

Yes. I’m embraced my choice to do this with Ollie, and I choose with to do this again for another living soul, with great thought, humility, gratitude, and love.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Year 8: Week 5 – Feeling The Love

I love teaching, but I don't always feel the love. There are tasks around teaching that I don’t enjoy (nothing really is that bad) and there is stress, mostly self-induced, based on the desire to be a reflective practitioner and teach with best practice.

There was something about this week, where I just noticed moments where I felt the love of teaching. Here’s what I’m talking about:

This is 7th Grade
After school I was meeting with a teacher and we heard a knock on the door. It was a student that the teacher had taught last year. She came by to say hello to the other teacher. The teacher I was meeting with took a leave last year and this students wanted to welcome her back. The student said, “I’m so happy to see you, you look wonderful. I wanted to say welcome back to my favorite teacher.” The continued with words of appreciation and warmth. There was nothing sarcastic about her tone. She was being open, honest and genuine about her joy and appreciation for this other teacher. Sometimes in what seems like a sea of attitude and hormones, it's easy to forget that this expression of kindness is very much what being a 7th grader is all about.

It was just a middle school band song, and it was very much a middle school band song. I chose it because it was catchy and interesting but it was not a song that I would ever listen for pleasure on my own time. It’s a song that most band teachers, or people who enjoy band music would listen to more than once or twice. When I started playing the song, I gave the students directions on how to follow along with the music. Then I noticed her smiling. Then she started bouncing up and down, and finally she couldn’t hold it in anymore, “I like this SO MUCH!” It was adorable. After class she asked me for a link to the recording so she could listen to it on her phone.

The Interview
I was delighted when I got the email from her. I hadn’t talked to her since I last taught her in 5th grade and now she was a high school senior. She wanted to interview me for an article in the school paper. We scheduled a time and we met up after school. As we talked, I couldn’t get over how much she had grown up. She was confident, thoughtful and a great interviewer. We talked about how her life was going and it was really wonderful to hear about the great things she was doing in her life.

The Story
All I asked my 3rd graders to do was come up with sounds on instruments that sounded like animals. One student took it a step further and came up with an entire story. It started with a baby fox who got lost and eventually found his parents. He told this story musically line on a xylophone and then added harmony. It was creative, fascinating, and a joy to experience.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

Parenthood: Week 223 – Self-Care Through Childcare

Yesterday morning, on a lazy Sunday, I wanted to just stay in bed with my son. Ollie had crawled into bed with me. After cuddling for a little bit, I asked Ollie if he wanted me to read him a book. Ollie replied by rolling out of bed and bringing over a couple books. After we were done, Ollie said that he wanted to eat breakfast.

I felt so tired in that moment. Why couldn’t we just cuddle in bed for a little bit longer? I rolled out of bed and Ollie wrapping his hand around my pointer finger, led me downstairs to the kitchen.

I stood in the kitchen, in a daze, and then I started making Ollie breakfast. Energy came to me as I worked, I started moving faster, and I felt better emotionally and physically. By the time I had Ollie’s breakfast ready, I was ready to fast the day, even before preparing my own breakfast.

There are times that I do not look forward to taking care of Ollie. In the past, when I’ve found that Ollie has wet his bed, I immediately feel frustration, but as soon as I get his sheets in the wash and his bed set up with new sheets I feel pretty good about myself (which is actually pretty easy, we just layer his sheets, potty pad/sheet/potty pad/sheet, so it’s just an issue off tearing off a layer).

I’ve been trying to focus more on self-care in my life. For those of us who are minorities, we experience levels of trauma from micro-aggressions to explicit racism every single day. With the 45th continuing giving voice to the worst amongst in offensive and horrible ways, the trauma feels like its non-stop. Self-care in this atmosphere is has to be a continuous, deliberate, and active act. Sometime self-care is isolation and doing things for oneself, but many times I’m finding that the act of parenting and the role of parenthood is an essential part of my self-care.

When I take care of Ollie, I am doing something that in my soul I know is absolutely, 100% right. There is no doubt in my mind that by caring for him, I am making the world a better place. Every hug, every kiss, every affirmation, and every smile that we share, bring meaning to my life. It’s in this meaning, that my soul feels full.

The care I do for Ollie isn’t always pleasurable, but I never regret taking care of him. When it’s done, no matter how annoying, or aggravating that care might be when it’s happening, I feel proud knowing that I am a good person, a good father and a good man for taking care of my son. Like running 5K every other day, reading books, and watching professional wrestling, caring for Ollie is an essential way that I take care of myself.

Can we give too much to our kids? Yes. We do need to set limits, and if we try to do everything for our kids, we will fail and we may resent our role as a parent. But I’m not there right now. Not by a long shot.

I get far more back than I give to my boy, and even when I’m exhausted, I never fail to find something to give to my special little guy.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Year 8: Week 4 – Prep Time

There are many things about teaching that make it rise to an art form. The ability to adjust a lesson mid-stream to address the needs of a class, how a master teacher can lead students through Socratic-like discussions, and the way great teachers perfectly manage students’ time when working on projects are truly amazing levels of skill and craft.

One part of teaching, that isn’t discussed as much, but is a critical is the art of managing prep time effectively.

Prep time, the time that teachers spend at school not teaching is difficult to manage. There is never enough prep time for teachers. This isn’t a superlative; it’s just a fact. I’m not going to break down why in this post, but talk to any teacher and they will explain why.

In this limited amount of prep time teachers have to: make photo copies, answer emails, call parents, write lesson plans, work through materials, make worksheets, correct papers, enter grades, meet with other teachers, clean the classroom, prepare visual aids, set-up technology, meet with students, meet with administrators, and serve on committees. Some teachers even have to do recess duty, and lunch duty during their prep time. Others have write grants and manage fundraisers during their prep time to fund their own classrooms.

Also, during prep time teachers need to do things that help them function as human being including eating lunch, going to the bathroom, and taking mental breaks.

My positive feelings about a week of teaching are very much reliant on how well I manage my prep time. If I do a good job of using this time, I take care of my own personal needs (e.g. eating), I make progress on projects, and I feel adequately prepared for class. This success directly leads into better teaching, which more than anything else brings me satisfaction as an educator.

This week I did pretty good with my prep time. I knocked off a bunch of stuff on my to do list, got caught up with my lesson planning and actually ate meals around the time that I should, for the most part. There was one day that I didn’t eat breakfast until 10:30. . .

How did I do this? Hmm. . . not sure. I’m still trying to figure this out, but here’s a couple things I figured out that I think will help in the future.
1. Eat and go to the bathroom, when you can and when you need to: Eating and bathroom time is scheduled for teachers. I can’t leave my kids in the middle of class to use the bathroom for the most part. Sometimes I get caught up in things and delay going to the bathroom or eating. Doing this makes me less productive, and puts me in situations when I don’t have time to take care of my body.

2.  Don’t do large chunks of email every day: Checking your email can take a long time. While I do this every day, I’ve found that if I only do like ten minutes of this one-day and then forty-five minutes the next day, email is more managable. Often, harder to write emails are easier to write after thinking about for a day.

3. Alternate between finite and long-term activities: Some tasks like lesson planning are never done, but others like photocopying can truly be done. Moving between these types of tasks gives your brain a break and especially with photocopying gets you up and about.

4.  Make time to laugh with colleagues:  I don't believe that complaining in the teachers lounge about students, other teachers, or administrators is productive.  However, I do feel that finding time every day in your prep periods to hang out with optimistic teachers that make you feel good about what you do and who you are is essential to your mental well-being as a teacher.
The most important thing we do as teachers is take care of ourselves.  If you have the most masterful lesson plans, and a perfect but you are mentally fried, hungry, and need to go to your bathroom, you're not going to have a good teaching period.  However, if you body feels good, and your level of optimism is full, you can make it through a lesson that isn't well planned out with success and a smile.  

What teachers manage to do in this small amount of prep time is almost as incredible as what teachers do in front of kids.  Figuring out how to manage this time is difficult, but try to make sure to take care of yourself first.  The best lessons are taught by example, and if our students know we take time for ourselves, then they are more likely to take care of themselves like we tell them to as they leave our classrooms.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Parenthood: Week 222 – Ollie’s Interests 9/18/17

What’s going on the world of Ollie?

Ollie’s goto vegetable is bell peppers, raw bell peppers. This is the only vegetable that he will consistently eat, except for romaine lettuce, without any dressing. He’ll do a burger (preferably without the bun) and he’s gotten into hotdogs. Ollie likes them with ketchup and that’s fine by me. I like my Chicago dog with ketchup and I think the anti-ketchup on hot dog sentiment in Chicago is silly. If people were as forceful about their opinions about hot dog condiments as they were about social justice . . .

Ollie is also a fan of breakfast sausage (he prefer the patty form) and frozen chocolate waffles.  He enjoys “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with out the peanut butter.” Like most kids, he does like his pizza, chocolate, and ice cream.

Dinosaurs have consistently held his interest throughout the summer and into this fall. He has little dinosaur toys that he plays with. Sometimes he acts out parts of Land Before Time (which was REALLY into a couple weeks ago). Other times he arranges them on the floor and tries to remember their names. This has bled into his book interests. How Do Dinosaurs Go To School? By Jane Yolen & Mark Teague is part of a series of books that teaches kids how to behave in certain situations., Ollie is mostly interested in the types of dinosaurs, most of which I’ve never heard of), that are featured in this book.

Transformers Rescue Bots continue to fascinate Ollie. He will play these figures, setting them up, arranging them, and playing out plots for long stretches of time, sometimes almost forty-five minutes. He takes one to sleep every night and we wake up to the sound of him transforming these toys from car to robot mode in the morning.

School is going well. He’s got back into the grove of things without a lot of drama. He’s in the same classroom with the same teacher and many of he same classmates which helps. We are really happy with the work he is doing in school.  The things he learns from school delight me.  Like when recently he shared “I’m A Little Teapot,” complete with hand motions, which he learned at school.

Ollie is getting really good at giving bonus kisses, and his hugging skills continue to develop at an adorable pace.  He'll cuddle and give kisses to his little brother in utero, hugging and kissing Diana's abdomen.  Ollie's current name suggestion for his unborn brother is Sharptooth-Lava-Monster.  

On weekend mornings, he crawls into bed with me and wants to start the morning cuddling with me and reading a book. This annoyed me over the summer, but now that I’m back at work, this little ritual that now only happens on the weekends.  Something, I once disliked has become the highlight of my week.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Year 8: Week 3 - Feeling The Vibe

My new and strangely effective classroom management strategy is to talk about “vibe.” By “vibe,” I mean the feeling in the room, the overall mood. I’m not quite sure why I started doing this, but it seemed felt like a good idea and it’s been working.

I was teaching a bunch of my 3rd graders and we were having a discussion and a couple students were making distracting jokes. I paused, got all of the students’ attention and explained that I was feeling uncomfortable. I asked if anyone else was feeling slightly off and many of them nodded.

I gave them directions on how we could better focus, we moved on with the lesson and at the end, I asked them if people felt better and the class responded that they did.

Often, our feelings during a lesson mirror our students’ feelings. If we feel excited and satisfied with how a lesson is going, most likely the students will too, and if you feel stressed or uncomfortable, there is probably some portion of the class that feels this as well. This gets tricky because sometimes a students’ expression of discomfort is them goofing off in class. However, I do believe that most of the time, kids are with us emotionally for better or for worse.

It isn’t easy to be open with your kids and tell them how you feel in a moment, especially if the feeling isn’t positive. However, taking the chance to open up provides some important things for the students. Kids need to learn that their words have emotional consequences. Sometimes the best way for that to happen is for teachers to explain how the words make them feel.

If there are a couple kids who are off-topic and it’s annoying other students, by stating that you as the teacher are also annoyed, you are validating other students’ feelings. Validating is a way of helping other students feel like they are seen and known. This has the potential to empower them. Also, helping kids be aware of their own emotions is another way for them to calm themselves and focus.

I don’t think I did this as a younger teacher because I didn’t want to reveal to my students that they had influence over my lesson and my emotions. If this is done too often than it becomes all about the teachers’ feelings which isn’t a good thing. It’s our reality and I think too often students don’t realize that they have power to make a room feel uncomfortable, and with the proper guidance, they can learn an even more important lesson: they can make a room feel safe and welcoming.

When things have been grooving in a class and students feel good. I’ve asked my students if they feel good and they do. It’s wonderful to share in this feeling of togetherness.

The theme this past week for me, is “chase the vibe.” Let’s work together to get to that good feeling when we are all on the same page making great music. In music, the best experiences feel great and the same goes true for the classroom.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

Parenthood: Week 221 – The Bridge

I didn’t think that he had a chance.

It was a basic monkey bridge made up of a single length of rope tied between two trees. On either side of the rope a couple feet higher were two other ropes used to for hand holds. These ropes were tied every couple feet to the bottom rope.

Ollie eagerly got in line to cross this bridge. I was bracing myself for him being disappointed after a couple steps or being scared and not wanting to do it. Kids much older than Ollie were having trouble crossing the bridge. There was one kid, about Ollie’s size who didn’t even make it up the ladder to the bridge.

Ollie climbed right up the ladder and the people helping out asked him his name. He didn’t say it very loudly, so they misheard him and called him a different name. This was a first bad sign in my thinking, but after I cleared that up, Ollie was ready to go.

He grabbed a lady’s hand on the other side of me to steady himself and with some coaxing he grabbed my own hand. We helped him the first couple steps until they pulled down the side ropes low enough for him to hold.

Ollie methodically and carefully crossed the ladder. His tongue flicked out the side of his mouth, (a cute habit he does when he’s concentrating). I kept standing next to him, carefully spotting Ollie waiting for him to slip or ask to get off the bridge, but he just kept on, eyes forward.

When he got to the end, he jumped off into my arms. I  hugged him and told him that I was proud of him.

In that moment, I doubted him. This wasn’t because I don’t believe in him, it’s because, it’s hard to not see him as my special little guy. As old as he gets and as much has he matures, I keep having these flashes of him as a baby in my head and at times it’s just hard to accept all that he really can do.

It’s a contradiction in my heart. I want him to be more independent and self-confident, but at the same time, I miss times when he was more dependent on me. I know I can’t have it both ways but part of me really wishes I could.

In the fifteen years I’ve been with my wife Diana, our dependency on each other has varied some but not dramatically. However, in the four years Ollie’s been in my life, there has been a drastic change in how much less depending he is on me. He used to need me for literally everything besides breathing to stay alive, and now, he’s crossing bridges that would make me nervous, without me.  Few relationships in our lives is like parenthood that change so dramatically is such a small period of time.

I hope Ollie keeps crossing bridges. I’ll keep reaching out just in case he needs me, and if he doesn't I may be a little sad, but more than that, I'll be proud.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Year 8: Week 2 – Snapshots of 6th & 3rd

6th Grade Band

We tried a new way of helping our 6th graders choose band or choir. In the past we have  had every kid try every band instrument. That’s a little crazy and takes a lot of time, but the idea was that even for kids who knew they were going to choose choir, this was, for most, a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to play these instruments. The issue was that this took a lot of time and I wasn’t sure that this was the most effective way to motivate students to join band.

This year we decided that we would have the students have a listening experience and focus on which instrument they liked best based on the timbre of the instrument. This would be followed with trying some of the band instruments, not all based on their timbre preference. There has been research that has shown that this is more effective for recruiting and the logic is sound. At the end of the day, if they don’t like how an instrument sounds, then they aren’t going to stick with it. This is combined with trying the instrument to address how the instrument works physically. It’s a new process for us, it gets us started earlier in the year and hopefully it will lead to students being more motivated to work on their instrument and growth for our band program.

3rd Grade
During a short transition in 3rd grade music, one student jokingly called another student “transgender.” I was surprised that this happened, but I didn’t feel unprepared. I talked to the whole class about identity and how we don’t make fun of how people identify. Things like race, religion, ethnicity, and gender identity are not things to joke about. It took some doing to help the class understand that this was not a moment to laugh and there were some giggles because they were uncomfortable, but they received the message pretty well.

I confirmed that this was not a comment made out of malice or a comment that was made with the full understanding of the meaning of the comment.  I was glad that I could make this into a teachable moment.

I was only able to address this topic openly and frankly because of a couple factors. I knew that I had the academic freedom to throw out the rest of my lesson plan to have this discussion and no administrator would second guess my choice. I was also sure that the homeroom teacher would back me up 100% and address the students with the same level of candor as me. This is what it all comes down to. When teaching about diversity, equity, and inclusion, I’m powerless without the support of my educational community.

This isn't just my work, it's all of our work as a school.  We commit to this work. Yes, I'm a music teacher, but today, teaching about gender identity was more important than any musical concept we covered.    

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Monday, September 4, 2017

Parenthood: Week 220 - Seesaw

It’s never a good feeling knowing that your kid is missing you.

I try to be rational about these emotions. The fact that my son misses me, means that we have a strong bond and that I am something to him that is worth missing, something that is important to him. We miss the people in our lives that we love the most. This logic helps but only to a point.

I started school last week, and Ollie starts school this week. This means that Ollie was home and hadn’t started his school routine. The rituals from the summer, like Ollie crawling over to my side of the bed and then both of us moving to his bed to cuddle and read a book together have had to stop. I know Ollie missed this when I was gone, since I leave for work usually before he wakes up.

It wasn’t difficult to flip into work mode this past week. Ollie was on my mind, more than normal and while it wasn’t hard to focus on work, there were times when I really just wanted to be at home with my boy.

There is another piece that has made the beginning of this year feel different. Number two is on the way in late October, which means that in a short period of time, I will be taking my paternity leave just as the year is getting started.

This is where things get complicated.

The time that I had off from teaching when Ollie was born made the entire school year feel different. The kids did fine and during that year, great things happened, but it didn’t feel like one of my best years of teaching. The more I talk to parents who are teachers, the more I realize that this is a common thing. When you chose to go on leave, it means that you have a school year that just doesn’t feel as good as other years. It’s okay, and it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

When you are work, you are feeling guilty that you can’t be at home more and then when you are home, you feel guilty you aren’t at work. I have found a balance in the past, when I’ve been able to put work aside completely in my mind and focus only on my family. However, I’ve never been able to get in the state of my mind when my family doesn’t distract me, even in a small way from work.

Part of being a working parent is learning to live with this seesaw of work/life balance, enjoy the rare times when things are balanced and learn to accept that more often than not, things are out of whack.

That’s the way things are right now, out of whack. But that’s okay. The times I had with Ollie this past weekend were nice. It doesn’t make up for time away but it’s a reminder that what I am missing is something real, and something important. Something worth missing, and something that makes the struggle worth it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Year 8: Week 1 – 8th Grade Band Class 1

We started school today, which means that we had 8th grade band on the first day of school.  I wanted to spend time making music and I also wanted my students to think reflectively to start the process of doing some goal-setting. However, I knew the kids didn’t have instruments, and I didn’t want to give my band students a writing assignment on the first day of class.

First solution was drum circle. I moved our hand drums (tubanos and djembes) to the band room. My plan was to greet each students at the door, have a short, but personal interaction with each student and invite them into the band room to select a drum.

Some of my 8th graders enjoyed my receiving line style of greeting them.  Others were confused, and one students just run past me completely. I don’t think they all understood what I was trying to do but it felt good making eye contact with each one of my kid’s, saying there name and having a short conversation. It’s important that they know above all else that I value them as a person and that they deserve my time and attention.

We drummed and we drummed. We made some great music together. I taught them two songs I learned at a summer workshop. I kept them moving. A lot of the students worked really hard and were very focused. Some weren’t, but the group managed to work through these bumps.

For the reflection piece I adapted the Identity Walk Activity. The original activity is a very powerful way to think about the different facets of identify: gender, sexual orientation, age, etc. by moving through space related to certain prompts. Signs are put around the room with these different identifiers and people walk to them after given prompts (e.g. This it the aspect of my identity that I am most comfortable discussing).

I changed this from identity to these musical factors: tone, reading notes, rhythmic accuracy, note accuracy, attitude, expression, (e.g. dynamics, articulations), and teamwork. The idea is that they hear a prompt and silently walk towards these factors, which were posted at different parts of the room. 

The prompts were:

  • This is a musical skill I feel most proud of.
  • I know the least about:
  • This is our band greatest musical strength.
  • This is my instrument sections greatest musical strength.
  • I feel most comfortable helping others in the band with their:
  • I have most often been evaluated in past music classes in past years by my . 
  • I have experienced the most joy around accomplishments in this area of music.

They moved around the room, observing each other as they moved.  They were really honest and it was a great check to see how my perceptions differed from their own views of themselves and the group as a band. There was a good vibe in the room. They kept wanting to talk about where they were going, which I tried to stop, but I kind of let it go, because I could tell they were talking productively for the most part.

We didn’t have a lot of time to discuss the activity, but the comments that were said were positive about the activity and the vibe in the room was good. I told them that I felt more pride than shame in the room and that I was looking forward to a great year.

That was class one.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Monday, August 28, 2017

Parenthood: 219 – Stickers for Transformers

Ollie is really into Transformers toys right now. And right now he is not entirely internally motivated to comply with our requests. Enter the sticker chart.

We first tried to do sticker charts to help motivate Ollie to stop sucking his thumb. The fact that he astoundingly stopped after the first day of thumb-sucking therapy pretty much made the sticker chart useless. Ollie didn’t seem excited about getting stickers for the sake of stickers. That fell by the wayside quickly.

A couple weeks ago, I was with Ollie at home and someone was doing some work in the house. I needed to keep him occupied so I showed him a random clip of a Transformer cartoon. Ollie’s fascination started then and hasn’t stopped. The thing is that I actually bought him a Rescue Bot Transformer (the part of this toy line designed for 3-7 year olds), a couple years ago and he wasn’t into it at all. However, after seeing the video clip, this toy her barely played previously with was his favorite.

There were more toys in the line that he wanted, but I just didn’t want to give it to him, so we started a sticker chart. He could get stickers for doing chores, eating well, doing work in his workbook, or comply with other request that we set out of him. After getting twenty stickers, which took about two weeks. Today he just earned his fourth Transformer.

Ollie has the sense of time and long-term motivation to keep the goal in mind at this point in his development. Sometimes the incentive of a sticker doesn’t get him to make his bed and sometimes it does. We’ve been going with the approach that we aren’t going to make him do a chore. He has the opportunity to do it and get a sticker or else, we just do it for him. I’m sure there’s an argument against doing it this way, but this system feels right for us.

I like that the sticker chart shows a level of progress and completion for tasks. Ollie likes his stickers and seeing his chart fill out. I’m not a huge fan of him doing something well and then immediately asking for a sticker. There are things that we ask him to do and the only reward is a “thank you” or a hug. Not everything he does will gets him a sticker and most of the time he’s okay with that.

I don’t love how he’s using a lot of “want” language in talking about what toy he’s earning. I know it will take time for him to develop feelings of positive accomplishment outside of the sticker, and we can already start seeing that when he feels after doing a chore and I point out how he is good he accomplished something and when I mention the sticker to him.  Sometimes he forgets that it was part of the deal.

There’s a lot of talk about Transformers in our house, there’s a sticker chart on the refrigerator. We’ll see how this all pans out. For right now, it’s motivating Ollie. We are seeing him develop a sense of pride and accomplishment. Also, as a fan of Transformers toys my whole life, I don’t mind my special little guy taking an interest in these toys.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Frat Boy: Kerry - Part 3

Kerry’s other friends and I had been touching base with each other about how Kerry was doing and coordinating the best way to support her through this difficult time in her life. It was through one of these friends that I found out that Josh had lied.

There was no other girl. Josh had made up the desire to be with a different girl as a way to make himself into a villain and make a clean break. He knew that if he explained the truth that he was simply not committed to his relationship with Kerry, the break-up process would have taken more effort and possibly been more prolonged. Not only did he lack the guts to break-up with her in person, but also he lied in the process.

I felt a whole different kind of anger in that moment. A couple hours later, I saw him at the frat house and I couldn’t hold in the heat I felt towards him. I told him what I knew, and I let him have it all over again. Here’s the thing, in all of the other times when I had been mad at Josh, he had just taken my anger and absorbed it. This time he had enough. He put his hand up and told me to stop.

“What the hell was I suppose to do?” he pleaded to me. “You know Kerry, do you think it would have really been better if I had driven out there to her internship and had a drag out conversation that would have lasted hours? Would it really have been better if she heard that it wasn’t some other girl, that it was her and that I was simply tired of being with her?”

“Well, it would have been the truth,” I replied as I left the frat house.

Walking outside in the quad, I realized that Josh tried to break up with her in the nicest way possible. Intention isn’t everything but it counts for something. What was between Josh and Kerry was between them, but what Josh did affected the relationships he had with Kerry’s friends, like myself. It was up to me what they meant.

From then on, I never mentioned Kerry to Josh ever again. I didn’t go out of the way to be nice to him, but I wasn’t rude either. He could be that jerk who lied and broke-up with one of my best friends and he could be a frat brother that I treated with basic civility. It wasn’t an easy tension, but it was what I would come to learn understand as what it meant to have grown-up relationships.

Late in the school year during a quiet moment in a fraternity cookout, Josh asked me how Kerry was doing. This caught me by surprise, but I quickly had ready in my mind a sarcastic and mean comment, but when I looked over to him and saw a soft, caring look in his eyes. Instead of telling him how much of a jerk he was for what he did, I told him the truth.

“Kerry is doing great, her internship went really well, and she’s got some cool things lined up for the summer.” Josh replied, “That’s great, I’m glad to hear that, and I’m happy she has a friend like you.” I smiled at him, and we sat for a moment in the late spring sunlight in silence.

I think of Kerry whenever I listen to country music. She was into Brad Paisley and Tim McCraw and her interest opened me up to the world of country music I now love. I think Kerry whenever any of my female students speak their mind and prove as Kerry did that a woman can be tough. And I think of Kerry in my moments of doubt as a member of the chorus of people who believe in me and never gave up on me resonate deep within my soul.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Parenthood: Week 218 – Hugs

“Hug your children.”
 - Dr. Spock

Sitting in the parked car, I heard Ollie whimper. I looked back and him and he looked tired, sad and distant. I had just driven him from one activity to another. Ollie had been doing a great job this whole summer managing different camps and activities, but that afternoon it seemed like it too much for him.

I wasn’t sure what to say to him, so I asked him “Do you need a hug?” He nodded silently in reply with sad eyes and a tense lower lip.

I leaned the drive seat back as far as it would go so I could reach back and unbuckle his car seat. He crawled out of his seat, and positioned himself on top of me. I felt his arms reach under mine as I gently hugged him.

After a couple minutes, Ollie pushed himself off my chest. With a energetic smile, exclaimed, “let’s go!” And he headed for the car door.

Ollie is four.  He’s no longer an infant, he’s no longer a baby, and he’s no longer a toddler. While mentally I still sometimes think of him as a toddler, I’m proud of how he has grown into a preschool-age child.

We are working with him on the same things we did when he was a baby: being independent, learning to understand and embrace the whole spectrum of emotions, being kind and empathetic to others and developing communication skills (e.g. talking, listening, reading).

Recently, we’ve been working on teaching him to clip his own seatbelt in his car seat, making his bed, sounding out short words, applying his number skills to the world around him (e.g. elevator buttons), and greeting people with a gesture of his choice (high five, wave, hug, fist bump, or hand shake) and good eye-contact during these interactions.

Ollie’s getting to old to whine, to pout and be rude, but he’s not getting too old to get a hug when he needs one. I don’t know at what age, cuddling in bed when reading a story, or other types hugs stops being developmentally appropriate, but I don't really care.  I’m not a rush for him to stop him from seeking comfort in my arms, and I don’t know if this will ever be a priority in my life.

When we talk about things that I do that Ollie can’t like drive and drink beverages with caffeine, Ollie thinks of these things happening when he’s twenty-years-old (not sure why). While I think it’s good for Ollie to look forward to these things, I want him to understand that there are great things about his life right now.

So the other day, I explained, “Ollie, when you are 20, you will get to drive and drink stuff with caffeine in it, but you will be too big for daddy to carry you.” Ollie, with a concerned look on his face asked me, “But when I’m 20 will you still be able to give me huggles?”

 “Don’t worry little guy, daddy will always be able to give you hugs.”

Friday, August 18, 2017

Frat Boy: Kerry - Part 2

Kerry was quick to tell me when I was being silly, annoying, or overdramatic. She also never hesitated to tell me when she felt like being by herself, and wanted space from me. While these words stung at times, I grew to appreciate her honestly. As fast as she was to tell me these things, she was even faster when defending me. She always had my back and never hesitated to defend me fiercely to anyone.

Almost every day of the school year, we chatted over instant messenger (online text messaging), and shared meals together. We went to concerts together, went out to eat, and partied together. In the social group that was my family in college, Kerry was one of my closest sisters. She didn’t care about the fact that our relationship was unconventional, a college girl hanging out with a guy who was two years younger, a different major, and a different race. If people ever said anything to her about it, she never let on. I’m grateful to her that she valued our friendship more than social conventions, and the norms that in our society that too often pull people apart.

Kerry started going out with Josh before I met her. I knew who he was through Kerry and because he was in marching band with us. Josh soon became closer to me when we both pledged PMA and became pledge brothers. As this pledge class of about a dozen guys went through the process of becoming full members we all became closer and became to know each other as fraternity brothers. (follow these link for more about the pledge process part 1, part 2).

The pledge process is about understanding the values of the fraternity. Brotherhood was a value that was often discussed and talked about and one saying that got thrown around was “bros before hos.” This was a crude way to express that the bond between brothers was more important than relationships with girls. There was this idea that girlfriends were short-term (which was often true, but not always) and brotherhood was a bond that lasted a lifetime (which was often not true, but sometimes proved to be real).

There was an awkwardness being friends with women who were going out with my fraternity brothers. Many of the girls my frat brothers went out with were good friends of mine.  I heard things about these guys from my female friends, which proved for some awkward encounters. Josh had a sense of this. Whenever, he and Kerry had a fight, I would hear about it from Kerry and Josh knew about this. However, beyond a tacit acknowledgement, we didn’t really talk about his relationship with Kerry . . . until the break-up.

If was different when I saw Josh at the next at a fraternity event. When he saw me, he asked me how Kerry was doing. I responded angrily, “how do you think she is doing?” I chastised him for not having the guts to break up with her in person. This was the start of a series of encounters when I would either ignore him or express anger to him for breaking-up with Kerry.

Just when this feeling was beginning to ebb, I found out the rest of the story.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Parenthood: Week 217 – The Week Away

Dear Ollie,

It’s so great to be back at home with you. Last week, we were apart for almost the whole week and that was hard. You had a great time with mom and had a lot of fun with your friends, but I know that you missed me as I missed you.

You demonstrated that your maturity in the way that you reacted to our discussions about me being away and how well you managed your feelings when I wasn’t there with you. You are an amazing, wonderful little person and it makes me feel proud and brings me comfort in the fact that you can find joy in life without me.

I told you that I was away learning with other teachers about how we can work together as teachers to help people be more kind to each other. That really was what my time away from you was about.

Last week, I traveled to San Mateo, California to attend the Equity and Inclusion Institute at Nueva School. We worked from Monday through Thursday focusing on topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We discussed race, social justice, racial identity development, systems of oppression, healing and self-care, school culture, and other issues. You may not recognize these topics, but we have already begun talking about these topics as you have come to know yourself.

More than anything else, what made the institute meaningful were the other people who attended. There were people who identified in many different ways.  There were people who just like you had parents who identified as being members of two different racial groups. They had their challenges growing up and still do, but they were so happy. These people work hard every day to make the world a better place for everyone but especially people like you. In their eyes, I saw your future and it was beautiful, full of love, optimism, and service.

This experience develops the work I’m doing at my school, and it supports the development of myself as your father. I’m not done with this work. I’m still working on knowing and loving myself. As I develop my skills as a teacher to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in my classroom and help other teachers do the same, I am becoming a better father for you and your little brother.

Sometimes we have to travel and be away from those we love to do this work, to learn and to grow. That’s hard to understand, but know that I wouldn’t have gone away if I didn’t think that it wouldn’t have made your life and our world a better place.

We were asked to bring something to inspire us and grounds us.  So I brought a picture of you. Your very existence is an amazing example of the love and progress our society has made.  When the morning is dark, your warm hug and bright smile in the morning motivates me to get out of bed and when the world feels hopeless, your spirit gives me the strength to stand up and continue the work.

Love, Dad

Friday, August 11, 2017

Frat Boy: Kerry - Part 1

Click here for link to my other posts about my college fraternity life.  And that time Kerry and I “cooked” thanksgiving dinner: part 1 & part 2.

I wasn’t fully asleep when the phone rang. Even though most people in college went to bed around midnight, it was rare to get a call this late night especially on a weeknight. After the first ring, I didn’t move, but then I panicked.  Maybe it was my mom and that there was some kind of family emergency. After the second ring, I rolled out of bed, stumbled to the phone at my desk. At the other end, it wasn’t my mom.

It was Kerry.

She was angry, sad, confused and in disbelief. Kerry’s boyfriend had just broke-up with her. When you are on the other end of a line when someone is in this moment, part of you is glad from the feeling your friendship affirmed. However, the rest of you, most of you, feels powerless, frustrated at that the fact that while you are there over the phone, you can’t physically be with them in person.

I listened to her, trying to make sense of the situation between her sobs and as soon as the story became clear, I got angry. Her boyfriend Josh told her that he wanted to break up with Kerry because he was into another girl. Josh wasn’t just some other guy he was my fraternity brother. The crude saying “bro’s before ho’s” seemed more hollow than ever.

Kerry was part of our marching band, PMA, and SAI social group. I don’t remember how we first became friends. It may have been through Molly who took me in and took care of me who was one of Kerry’s best friends. Most likely, we were sitting at our social group’s lunch table and I said something sarcastic, Kerry as she often does, probably complemented my comment with a her own layer of wit and flash that smile at me.

Kerry had a beauty that reminded me of Audrey Hepburn, with a gentle curve of her cheekbone and her intelligent eyes. This combined with the directness and the intelligence of Holly Hunter’s character from Broadcast News fascinated me.

 (BTW y’all, people really need to this movie).

Kerry loved being Kerry and she embraced facets of her life that didn’t go along with people’s expectations. She had no shame of her love of the greasiest Philly Cheese steak sandwiches and Bugle corn snacks. Kerry freely mixed expletives in her sharp comebacks and commentaries.

Kerry wasn’t fake. When we were eating lunch and someone said something that was offensive or stupid, while everyone else at the table was processing how to react, I would look over at Kerry and without fail, her face would express annoyance, disbelief, or disgust that would confirm my own feelings and make me laugh. Some people may have seen this as being rude; I saw it as being real.

As Americans we are conditioned to smile no matter how we feel on the inside. I’ve found that the women in my life who defined what it means to be a strong women don’t give out their smiles for free. It’s about not compromising one’s own feelings for the sake of making other people feel comfortable. Kerry didn’t smile all of the time, so when she did smile to me, it was significant.  Her smile was an affirmation of that I meant something to her as she meant something to me.

I remember her smiling when she taught me how to take a shot of alcohol. It was Southern Comfort, straight. Then she handed me my second shot of alcohol, another shot of Southern Comfort. At this point she was laughing uncontrollably as I steadied myself against the wall

I remember her smiling when she came to my room as the beer fairy. A couple days earlier a guy who liked Kerry, who she only liked as a friend, asked her what she was up to the next night. Kerry said, “nothing.” So when he invited her out to a movie, she had no way of rejecting him. While Kerry was direct, she was very kind. So she accepted his invitation.

A couple hours later Kerry pulled the same line on me. When I told her I wasn’t doing anything that evening, she invited me out to a movie and even though I had no plans, I told her no. I had homework to do and I didn’t feel like going out on a weekend and I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie she suggested. Kerry sighed and explained her situation and pleaded with me that I go out with her and this guy so it wouldn’t be a date. I hesitated, and then she said that I would get a visit from the beer fairy if I agreed to go. So I sat awkwardly between her and this other guy in a half empty theater. I don’t remember what we watched, but I remember it was long. I’m not sure if the beer was worth it.

I remember her smiling through the crowd in that ballroom.  Even though Kerry was away on her internship she decided to fly in and come to her sororities formal.  As Kerry walked into the ballroom disheveled and carrying her luggage, her sorority sisters huddled around her, screaming in delight to see her and giving her hugs.

I stood back from the group, giving her space to have a moment with her sisters. I was about to walk away, and then through a gap in the crowd she caught my eye. She opened up her arms to me, smiled, and we embraced.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017

Parenthood: Week 216 – Fear Itself

While Ollie’s little body shuttered, he squeeze me around the neck tightly as I held him, I reminded him that the life-size dinosaur animatronic robots were just pretend. He repeated to himself, “this is just pretend” as I carried him through the Jurassic World exhibit at the Field Museum.

Ollie was awestruck by the dinosaurs, but he also expressed a lot of fear. The darkness of the first couple rooms made him come him walk close to me and ask me to hold him. I carried him through the different rooms, through the exhibit and felt him cling to me with each roar and sudden movement of these big mechanical creatures.

Part of me wanted to get him out of there, and relieve him from feeling of fear, but when I asked him if he wanted to leave, he shook his head no. Ollie chose to be brave, so I let him lean into the fear and hang on to me for comfort.

My wife, Diana assured me afterwards that this exhibit wasn’t too scary for Ollie, but I was still worried that we had pushed him too far. I was reassured of this fact when the next day, Ollie asked to go back to the exhibit. I asked him about being scared, and he said that while he was scared it was okay, because it was pretend and he had fun.

We have been very conscious and deliberate about helping Ollie embrace all of his emotions. The lesson from Inside Out, that emotions like fear ad sadness, often avoided and considered “bad” emotions are just as important as joy. However this is a lesson that me as an adult have yet to fully learn. My instincts when Ollie is sad are just try to make him be happy as soon as possible or when he’s fearful to make this emotion go away. Instead, I force myself to hold back and help him articulate what he feels and experience them as part of his whole wonderful emotional self.

Teaching joy is one of the first things we do as parents from early smiles and giggles. There are parents who literally throw their kids in the deep end to teach them how to overcome fear, but I’m not that kind of parent. All of the times that we have brought fear to Ollie, it’s been inadvertent. Ollie has been scared when watching in movie theaters and in some museum exhibits, but he’s always worked through these moments and reflected that he wanted to have these experiences again.

Helping kids learn about fear is hard, because while you can’t make a kid too happy, you can bring too much fear to a kid. Emotional scars are real and children are far less resilient than pop culture psychology would like us to believe. I’m not sure how best to help him explore fear, I just know that I’d rather be overly careful in exploring this emotion than regretful.

In being afraid, Ollie comes to know that he can find comfort in others, that the way he feels about experiences can change and that as we love him regardless of what he feels, he will learn to love himself.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Camp - 5 Years Done

Camp. Done.

I’ve been working at this summer camp for five years. I started this gig the summer after Ollie was born and it’s been part of my life ever since. I’ve seen a lot of the same kids year after year and over time, this experience has helped me grow as an educator.

The way the camp is set up is that the campers have two sessions each morning and then they have afternoon activities. For example, a camper might have survival skills as their first session in the morning and then music for the second session. The campers have these classes four days a week, Monday through Thursday.

I’m one of the people who teach sessions in the morning, I see two groups of kids, put together by age groups for 50 minutes each. The size of these groups varies from as low as 7 or 8 to maybe 15, and the kids range from rising 1st graders to 6th graders. There are camp counselors who accompany these groups and often help out during the sessions.

I’ve played with a lot of different formats over the years, but I’ve settled on this sequences that works well. Kids come in, I invite them to sit on the carpet and I lead them in singing a camp song. Usually I do an add-on song like “Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea,” and go off script and stack up weird things on the log like dinosaurs and race cars. I love doing “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain,” and have her bring robots, lions, dump trucks, and magicians. The motions the kids come up with and their sound effect are often hilarious.

Song time is followed by drum circle. Depending on the kids' age, the activities on the drums vary. I make sure to weave in time for us to jam together, opportunities for students to be leaders, space for the them to explore, and activities that have encourage them to compose.

After drumming, we do story time. I read a picture book that has some kind of musical theme like The Drums Of Noto Hanto or Sing, Sophie! Often I’ll pick a book that relates to the next activity. After the book, there’s a variety of things we might do. We’ve taken drumsticks out the playground and explore making music by hitting monkey bars and slides. I’ll teach them how to play cup passing games, or we might play musical charades. I take a lot of the games and activities I do with my kids during the year and have fun with them with my camp kids. Because there is no set curriculum and I’m not trying to “teach them,” I can take the campers’ lead on their interest and focus more on simply having fun with music.

Kids can choose what weeks they want to go to camp so the kids I get week to week along with the variation in ages I get assigned requires a lot of flexibility. Instead of having one plan, I need to have five or six different directions I can take the session in case I have kids who I’ve seen earlier in the summer or if the children have a unique vibe that requires a different kind of activity. I love the challenge, it keeps me on my toes and gives me the chance to try different things while continuing to be responsive to the needs of the campers.

It’s camp and it’s kids and stuff happens. I had a kid get his head stuck, temporally, in a tambourine. This last summer I worked with a group of Chinese students who I waited ten minutes into the session to inform them that while I didn’t speak Mandarin Chinese, I understood much of what they were saying. They weren’t saying anything all that bad, but they did say a couple things they wouldn’t have said if they knew I understood. There’s been kids who think that I’m crazy, some who respond to me really well, but mostly, I get along with the campers just great and we have a good time.

Year 5 is in the books. I first took on this jog really as a gig, but it has proven to be more than that. It’s an important way I keep up my practice, it’s a privilege to work with these kids, and it’s provided important moments of reflection as I enjoy my time with these campers.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Parenthood: Week 215 – Other People’s Children: Part 2

A while back, I wrote (in this post) about how even though I love my own son and care deeply about my students, I’m not that interested in other people’s children. I would actually prefer that there are no other kids when I take Ollie to a playground of a children’s museum. While there have been really cute interactions that Ollie has had with some children we don’t know (like this adorable one I wrote about in this post), for the most part, other kids get in the way.

There is a group of kids between Ollie and other kids. It includes my nieces (I haven’t written about my new niece, but now I have two!), and the special group of Ollie’s friends. This group of friends started from a social group that was formed out a breastfeeding support group. Over the past four years, Diana and these other women have continued to develop friendships and I have had the blessing of become friends with their husbands.

All of our children are friends and we have continued to get together and be an important support system for each other. Sometimes just the women hang out, sometimes it's just the guys, sometimes it’s two couples out of the group, and other times it’s all of us with our kids. Regardless of the combination of people, whenever we get together, it’s special and really important.

These kids, aren’t “other people’s children” to me. For example, we were at a children’s play area last weekend. One of these kids was walking around and another kid walked up to her and started poking here with a stick. She expressed to him that she wanted him to stop but he persisted. I physically got in this boys face and asked him to stop. He smiled at me and started making poking motions towards her and I told him with the nastiest teacher face I could muster “NO! Stop it, and GET away from her!” Scared, he run off, and then pushed another little kid over. (Don’t worry that other little kids’ mom was on top of it too).  I was ready to go with this boy and his parents.  

I’ve wiped these kids faces, picked them up when they are crying, helped them with juice boxes and watched over them happily.  These kids  are extensions of the wonderful love and friendship we feel from their parents. It’s these families that have in a large part make  parenting the joy that we experience every day. These kids are important to Ollie, they are his friends, and I value them because of what they mean to him and what they mean to their parents who I feel indebted to for their kindness.

When we are all together, it's a kind of family and these kids are all of our kids and they will always hold a place in my heart. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Workshop: Part 2 - The Group Lunch

Stop me if you heard this one. A Taiwanese-American, a Filipino-American, a African-American, and a Latina-American walk into a noodle shop for lunch . . .

After my lunch with the African-American teacher, I came back the second day more open to socialize but still feeling introverted. The adventure from the day before put me in a better mind frame to respond more warmly to people, however I chose to retreat into solitude and had lunch by myself.

As we broke for lunch the third day of the workshop, he came up to me an invited me to join his group of colleagues. While I didn’t know him, he was known buy everyone there. Almost every workshop I’ve been too, there’s a younger teacher whose outward expression of enthusiasm hasn’t been dampened by the struggles of teaching. This is the person who always sits up straight when he sings, and is eager to answers questions and participate (even in a workshop full of complete strangers).

I loved watching him take in the workshop. He had an energy and an outward expression of optimism, that is no longer inside of me as it was ten years ago, but is something I admire. He was that guy, he was the life of the party, and he was the only other Asian-American man in the room. I’m not sure how we connected, but I think it was singing gospel music next to him and feeling our voices blend together as we picked out harmonies.

His group included the African-American woman I had lunch with on Monday and one more woman, a Latina-America teacher. She wasn’t as extroverted in her participation in the workshop as my Filipino colleague, but she displayed the same thoughtfulness that I had seen in the African-American woman days earlier.

The four of us clicked immediately as we walked to a small cafĂ© for lunch. We quickly entered into conversations about our teaching practice in relation to our own layers of diversity. Sometimes we misspoke in our use of terminology when talking about identity, and while we were quick to correct each other, the manner at which we did this expressed a belief in the other person’s thoughtfulness and positive intentions.

We had lunch together for the next two days. Feelings about challenging situations at our schools were validated, ideas were shared, and laughter never stopped in our conversations as a way to deal with the seemingly absurd and at the jokes we made to help us cope with our feelings.

Meeting these amazing teachers was the greatest part of the workshop for me. It was so encouraging seeing other teachers of color in a different places in their career sharing the same values, passion, and drive to make education more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

I’m lucky. I get to go back to a school where there is a significant amount of teachers of color with an administration who expresses through their words and actions a belief in the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. This is not the case for all of these teachers, and the time I spent with them was an important reminder of how blessed I am, but also how much things needs to change.

Sometimes all that needs to happen to help make this change a reality is eating lunch together, followed by a joyous toast.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

Parenthood: Week 214 – The Need For Another Arm

We went over in this post how Ollie ended up walking around with a Thomas The Tank Engine toy and calling in The Magic School Bus. The story isn’t over.

A couple weeks ago, we visited some friends. They have two children, one a year younger than Ollie and one two years younger. They all got along really well and had a great time playing together. At some point, Ollie found a school bus toy, and he got really excited. As we were getting ready to leave, the older kid offered the school bus to Ollie. After double checking with her and triple checking with her parents, Ollie finally had a school bus toy.

Now Ollie started carrying around both Thomas and this school bus toy everywhere. He seemed to manage it pretty well, but he would sometime ask for help carrying stuff because his hands were full with his toys. He slept with both toys in his bed and played with them together.

A week later, Ollie came home with another school bus toy, grandma got for his during an outing. It was very nice of her to get him this toy, and Ollie was delighted to have another school bus.

Overjoyed, Ollie tried to pick up his two buses and Thomas. Somehow managing to cradle them all in his arms, Ollie explained, “Daddy, I need another arm.”

We thought that maybe Ollie would transfer his love of his Thomas toy to one of the buses, but instead, his little heart grew to love all of these toys equally. With some effort, he manages to carry them around with him all throughout the house. We limit him to only bringing one of these toys out of the house and while we let him play with them in the car, they don’t leave the car when we are out.

So that’s the deal with the two busses, and the little blue train our boy is determined to carry around with him. However, this fascination may have already changed.

Earlier today, we had some people doing some work in the house, so I showed him some footage of a Transformer changing from a car into a robot. Ollie was awestruck by this. When I explained to him that he had a transformer toy he got really excited.

About two years ago, I bought Ollie a little fire truck Transformer. This toy was designed for toddlers and could change from robot to car in one easy step. Ollie showed no interest in this toy for two years. And guess what he’s been obsessed with for the past four hours? Yup, the little fire truck. At least for the afternoon, he has completely dumped his two school buses and Thomas.

It’s been fun watching Ollie make-up adventures with these toys in his imagination. I don’t always understand what he is doing with his toys but it brings him joy. At first the intensity seemed like a bit much, but then I realized it’s not any different than how interested I get into a piece of art, it just looks different. No, I don’t sleep with my Hamilton soundtrack the way Ollie sleeps with this Thomas and bus toys. I can hold this fascination in my head, but Ollie isn’t there developmentally yet.  Holding these these toys in his arms as he sleeps bring him comfort, reminding him that something he cares about, something that gives him meaning is with him throughout the night.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Workshop: Part 1 - The Lunch Break

“I’m not here to make friends,” I thought to myself like a good contestant on Survivor as I sat in a desk in the far back corner. The other thirty-some educators in the room were walking around introducing themselves to each other. I opened up my laptop and tried to look busy as I browsed through my social media accounts.

As the class began, I scanned the room. I was getting a sense of the gender ratio, the age breakdown and the racial make-up of the classroom. Why? Thinking about these categories and representation is one of the things that you do when you are a minority, racial or otherwise. When there are three women in a room, they often notice this while the men often do not take note of this. People who aren’t minorities don’t take notice of this, because it doesn’t affect them as often.

When I’m uncomfortable in a room, and I identify that I’m the only minority in the room, it helps me realize process my feelings. These questions and this information are critical to social interactions and understanding experiences as a minority. There’s nothing racist about realizing that you are the only person of color in the room. Not noticing this, ignoring the race of people around you, making that facet of their identity invisible to your eyes propagates a damaging ignorance. As long as your observations lead to more questions, and openness to understand, noticing diversity creates a more equitable environment for all.

She stuck out. She may have been the one of the few or the only person who identified as African-American in the class. She was younger than a fair amount of them and she had awesomely colored hair. More than appearance, there was something in the way that she responded and took notes that showed me that there was was something interesting and significant going on in her head.

I pushed these thoughts aside and for the rest of the morning focused on the discussions and the music that was being taught.

We broke for lunch and many of the people in the class formed groups. I got out of the room, avoiding conversation and started heading to where I thought there was some food.  And then here she was walking in the same direction. I asked her where she was heading, she sounded like she had an idea of where she was going, so I asked if I could join her. With a nod and a “let’s go,” we were off.

As we walked we did the normal get to know you verbal dance. As we revealed things about our school and our values as teachers, I decided to take a chance. I began dropping thoughts and anti-racist education in my teaching practice. She confirmed over and over that she agreed with me, I got a little braver and a little deeper. Before I knew it we were going full in talking about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion and our experiences as teachers of color.

We didn’t make the most direct route to the restaurant and we got a little bit lost on the way back to class. We also barely made it to class on time and had to eat during class when we got back. (Bear in mind we had a solid hour for the lunch break). But it was a blast and really cool to connect with a really cool teacher.

No, I didn’t come to make friends or meet new colleagues, but something felt different and necessary with this other teacher. When you are a teacher of color, you are likely in a minority in your school as you are in society.  Being with another who shares your values and your experiences gives the strength and hope to work through the moments when you feel most lonely.

Taking a chance to make these connections was worth getting out of my shell, for myself and later, I would find out for her as well.

That lunch break was an important reminder that while I wasn’t at this class to make friends, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t or I shouldn’t.

It didn’t end with just her, as I find out later from the Asian-American teacher, who reminded me a little bit too much of myself. . .

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Parenthood: Week 213 – What’s fun about age 4?

Ollie has firming transitioned in my mind to being a 4-year old. While this change was gradual, it has taken until the past couple weeks for me to really see what is different and unique about this age.

My time with Ollie as a parent seems more focused on helping him learn how to be with the world around him. When he was a toddler, there were conversations about taking turns, but they didn’t go very deep because he was often satisfied with parallel play, which isn’t the case anymore. When Ollie’s verbal skills were first beginning to develop, we didn’t focus on what Ollie said and how he said words and phrases. Now we are teaching him explicitly how to use words to utilize social norms and self-advocate. He reached beyond the layer of differentiated between a dog and cat to understanding that there are different types of dogs.

We are moving past exposing Ollie to books to explicitly helping him learn how to read and draw letters. We aren’t being too pedantic, but as his awareness of the English language grows, it’s important that we help him interact with English in deeper and more meaningful ways. Ollie enjoys this for the most part like when we were in an elevator today and told him to find the letter “m” for the main floor. He found it after a couple seconds and enthusiastically pressed the button.

There are some parts of this work like doing handwriting worksheets that he doesn’t love, but it’s good for him to do the work. While I don’t want to make him do things he doesn’t like, it’s important that he is pushed to challenge himself, which sometimes means he has to do things he doesn’t like to do. This isn’t anything new. He didn’t like taking the bottle initially when he was a baby, but I taught him how to do that (which I explained in this post) and he was better for working through that process.

Ollie’s more advanced ability to understand the past and the present means that we can better use the past to bring him comfort and the future to motivate him to move forward. Along with this comes more stalling tactics, but overall this awareness helps him see that the important interconnections between the people and events in his past, present and future, that makes relationships and experiences more memorable and meaningful.

What is most fascinating and most rewarding at this age is helping Ollie work through and understand his own emotions and the feelings of other people.  Ashe experiences the world and feels things in deeper and more complicated ways, helping him work through these nuances is more challenging but very rewarding.

Ollie is still my special little guy.  The one who wants to make people smile, who sometimes is hesitant to jump in until he figures things out, and who is fascinated by the wonders of the world.  While the facets of his personality have not changed, the way these parts of himself are expressed continue to evolve.

I've loved every age, and developmental stage of Ollie's life.  Four feels different, but after having gone through each stage, it's a challenge I'm excited to face.  As hard as each stage has been, each one has brought me and my son closer together helping me know my son and myself and grow together in our relationship as father and son.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Inclusion From Special Ed To All

I first learned about inclusion in education during my special education course in graduate school. We were discussing mainstreaming, the change from having students with special needs be in completely different classrooms the whole day to being in the classroom with other students who do not have special needs.

I experienced this first hand as a teacher, when I had students in my classroom who had aids to help them participate. Later I experienced this from the other side as one of those aides who made inclusion and mainstream possible.

Separate is never truly equal. Including students with special needs addresses their right to an equitable educational experience. The feeling of being included is powerful for students with special needs who were once separated. This inclusion is also critical for the students without special needs to have a better understanding of their community, the human condition and diversity.

Inclusion in education has grown to address the many different facets of diversity by creating an education environment where all feel valued. A community can be diverse racially, but unless a school actively works to make sure that the school embraces these racial differences, it won’t be inclusive.

Students feel included when they see teachers who mirror parts of their identity. This is why many Asian-American students like to come up and chat with me, even if I’m not their teacher. I saw this in the excitement in the eyes of a girl who was dealing with Crohn’s disease-like symptom, when I told her that I myself had Crohns. I experienced this first hand when we worked on a song about the Civil Rights movement in 8th grade and had students who previously seem uninterested in music class, want to perform solos.

Inclusion is also in the things we say as teachers. When you refer to a mix-gendered group of students as “guys,” girls feel less included. Students may not explicitly noticed this but gender-biased language does have an effect on how people feel valued. When you refer to parents as mothers and fathers when there are students whose guardians are aunts or grandparents, this makes students feel excluded.

It’s the pictures on the walls, it’s the books on a shelf, it’s making sure that boys aren’t called on more than girls. It’s providing students of color with affinity groups. It’s about reaching out to those who feel excluded by society and actively making sure that a school environment does better than the outside world.

Inclusion is about helping students understand the value of other’s diversity. It’s about seeing how different people in the community through feeling valued can enrich the experience for all.