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March 2017 entries

Family and Friend Road Trip!

Wow, the weekend goes so fast, doesn't it?  This past weekend, Gene and I took all but two of our kids down to visit my family's farm near Philly.  We met up with more friends and family and six of us headed into the city to see Garth Brooks on Saturday night.  

[Disclaimer:  Yes, we saw Garth in January in Cincinnati.  Yes, I realize how spoiled I am. Yes, I love every minute of it.]

We had a blast -- from the 70-degree weather on the farm to the incredible Philly crowd for the concert, the entire weekend was perfect.  

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(selfie skills by Aidan)

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(Ellie and Kale are like rockstars to these little girls, who completely wore them both out by the time Sunday came around!)

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Michelle scored us incredible tickets -- 3 minutes after they went up for sale, and 7 minutes before all of Garth's Philly shows were sold out.  I can honestly say the Philly show was better than Cincinnati.  Not that Garth wasn't incredible in both locations, but the intensity of the crowd in Philly was unbelievable.  I guess they were glad to have him back in the City of Brotherly Love after a 20-year hiatus! 

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 Reality hit us on the way home when Gene was called into work, and I had to go prepare my classroom for the week.  And now it's Monday.  But, honestly, when you love your life, even Mondays aren't bad!

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Are Manners Dead?

Maybe it's because my son was restless the entire night and I ended up getting about 2 hours of sleep, or maybe I am bitter because the Universe could have sent me a two-hour delay today to make up for the aforementioned lack of sleep.  Whatever the cause, I find myself wondering if manners have died completely.  

Just this morning in my classroom, three students in a row walked up to my desk with questions/demands without a word of greeting:  "Can I use a regular sheet of paper for my homework if I lost the handout?"  "Where I can find so-and-so?"  "What kind of coffee did you make?" 

To each one of these students, I responded, "Good morning!  How are you doing today?  I am fine.  Thank you so much for asking.  Now, what can I help you with?"

I wish I could say this doesn't happen on a regular basis.  

Here's the thing:  these kids are not "bad kids" (whatever that means . . . I never use that phrase as a teacher, actually.  That's a topic for another blog, though!).  They aren't attempting to be rude on purpose.  I honestly believe they don't know any better.  

Which, of course, makes me wonder how that happened.  Even last night in our home, I corrected Liam for interrupting Gene and me and made him do it again politely.  I consistently reprimand my children when they forget their "nice words" or act in a selfish way.  I often remind them, "It's not all about you all the time."  

But, I have witnessed plenty of parents who do not tell their young children that the world does not revolve around them.  Instead, they allow their children to run the house.  Think about how often you hear parents say something along the lines of: "She won't go to bed when I tell her it's bedtime," or "He won't clean up his room, so I have to do it."  Eventually, it ends with "It's just easier to do it myself (or let them have their own way) than to fight them on it."  

Here's another thing:  You have to fight them on it when they are young.  Yes, it's hard.  Yes, it's exhausting.  Yes, there will be days when you feel more like giving in.  But, we are raising human beings who should join society as productive, respectful members who contribute to the greater good.  

Another part of the problem is our self-centered society.  There are plenty of adults who lack manners, who don't seem to know the words "please" or "thank you."  We live in the age of the selfie, basking in the glow of the "Me Generation."  The result can be young people who think only of themselves --   What's Mom making me for dinner? Does the teacher have my work graded yet?  What can I get?  instead of Mom's been at work all day.  I should go help her with dinner.  My teacher is a human being, too.  Even though I'm only in her room for 45 minutes a day, she has 120 other people to take care of on a daily basis.  How can I earn what I want?  How can I give back to my community or my family without being told to do it?

Something has always irked me is the explanation that "they are teenagers; it's just how they are."  Instead, I believe that kids will rise to the expectations we set for them, low or high.  These are students who take college-level classes, who drive automobiles, who hold part-time jobs, who fill leadership roles in school teams.  Why do we have such low expectations for them?  Why should I simply respond to the students who walk in and start talking to me like I am a servant, waiting to meet their needs?  I would fail as a mother and a teacher to remain silent.  

After all, these young people will grow into the dreaded "Millennials" we hear so much about.  People who expect to handed starting salaries that are higher than others with years of experience.  People who expect upper management positions before they even learn the trade. People who think they have all the answers before they even know the questions.  

So, are manners dead? Only if we allow them to die.  


Growing Pains

A few nights ago, I saw a video someone shared on Facebook.  I never actually "play" the videos; I just watch the closed captions for a bit before scrolling by.  That's what I did with this one: probably because it was about responding to stress.

 

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski explains how lobsters grow: they become uncomfortable in their shells, they shed them, they develop new ones.  They repeat the cycle as needed.  

I have heard this anecdote before, probably on another Facebook video, years ago.  But, as usually happens, messages like these cycle back and resonate differently each time.  For the first time, my personal life is amazing.  I am supported by an incredible man who sees such potential in me and who sees such beauty in me -- so much that I have never been able to see in myself.  It's a pretty great lobster shell.  But, we do have some stress.  Like I have said before, the bad stress comes from outside sources and not from within.  We also have healthy stress: we are renovating our house, which requires a financial commitment and adjustment; we are also blending two families, which requires lifestyle changes and compromise.  We are changing shells together.  

In other areas in my life, my shell is getting a little uncomfortable.  My immediate reaction has been to wonder what's wrong with me -- why do I feel emotionally exhausted after giving so much of myself to my students?  why do I feel like I don't have time to myself because I give and give at school? what am I doing wrong? the questions go on and on.  And believe me, I am not alone in feeling this way as a teacher.  The classroom is a demanding place, and to do a good job in the classroom is exhausting and draining.  It is always worth it, of course.  To see the "aha!" look on kids' faces, to hear them say, "I get it!", to know that I make a difference in the lives of young people who will go on and change the world.  

The reality is that I need to listen to myself and wonder why my shell is feeling uncomfortable.  Does this mean I should make big changes (I've always wanted a PhD . . . ) or little changes (could I manage my paper load better?)?  I don't know yet.  I don't think I need to know yet.  I think the important part is that I recognize the stress and face it with the man I love, with my family (the entire Brady Bunch of them!) by my side.  We'll all know if it's time hide under a rock and grow a new shell.  The secret is all in the way we respond to stress. 


A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

I often think about the influence of encouragement -- from the standpoint of a teacher encouraging a student, a mother encouraging a child, a woman encouraging her partner.  I believe a positive word can make an immeasurable difference in the lives of others.  

Especially in my AP English classroom, I make sure to help students realize how impressive their progress has been.  They regularly write timed essays and answer incredibly challenging multiple choice questions as they prepare for the AP exam in May (a beast of a test which is impressive in and of itself!).  I encourage them not to be too hard on themselves, to not get so bogged down in the trenches of text prep that they forget how far they've come.  

For my children, encouragement is a key part of our daily lives.  Even when I have to discipline the kids, I make it clear that I have the expectations I do because I believe they can reach them.  I find myself saying, "I know you are capable of more" or "I know you can do this on your own."  It's not just semantics to say that this type of talk is more effective than, "You can't do this" or "You will never be able to do this alone."  

With encouragement comes a delicate balance between confidence and arrogance.  We have to instill humility and gratitude along with self-esteem.  Otherwise, we aren't doing our jobs as parents.  

The concept of encouragement does not only apply to children, however.  Just recently, I received a high rating at my job and some words of praise from my boss.  It is nice to know that my hard work is noticed and appreciated.  It wasn't much -- a paper filed with the state that no one else will ever see and a "thank you" from the man who runs our building.  But a little encouragement definitely goes a long way.  

Even that small exchange reinforced what I already believe about encouragement -- we should seek out ways to build other people up because it can make a difference in their day and in their outlook on themselves and others.