Unveiling your thoughts

Some time has passed since I have felt like sharing my heart or thoughts in a blog. There has been too much noise swirling around. My days have been filled with, I should’s…I ought to’s, to do lists and requirements.  I have worked towards completing these on a daily basis in both my work and personal life.

Then I was brought back to the quiet voice of reason which reminded me to pause.

I started re-reading, “The Universe Has Your Back,” by Gabrielle Bernstein. I watched a beautiful session by Iyanla Vanzant about the power of your thoughts and uniting through positive prayer.

To say that what is happening in the world at large is upsetting, unsettling, and raw would be an understatement. Death, destruction, and despair, seem palpable right now. Yet, they do nothing but drag you down spiritually into the depths of muddy fear and darkness.

One of my favorite films is, What Dreams May Come. There is a scene in which R. Williams is desperately searching for his wife in her depths of despair and isolation. He clings to the hope that seeing her, speaking to her, and reliving the positive hope that they shared will bring her back to their union as spiritual partners. He is literally and figuratively clawing towards her all the while being pulled down by the inferno of the hellish imagination that is his partner’s fear and reason for attempted suicides.

This scene came into my mind as an image of desperation while contemplating what continues to boil around me in society, life, and our world.

When I stop and ask myself, “What can I do?” I feel like a small human standing upon a mountain calling into the wind and being pushed by her force.

Yet, something brought me back from the whiplash of society, and it was my learned ability to pause, re-center my focus, and become aware of my thought process again.

There are many things that I can do as a human to help my personal energetic field which in turn will impact those around me, and that in turn have the potential to become ripples in the tide that we are all connected by.

Iyanla Vanzant called upon people who listen to her work to find something to write on consistently, a notebook or something of that sort. She asked that her audience join her and write down every negative thought that comes to mind throughout their conscious day. This act will engage your nerve endings through writing with your hands and also form a realization of just how many thoughts, and ideas you have. It will allow you to fully become aware of which ones are negative and consider the why behind the thought process. Becoming acutely aware of your own participation in the energetic field that is our world helps you take ownership over what you CAN do. This, in turn leads towards what I perceive as action.

Actionable efforts for positive thinking, positive minds, leads to positive, empathetic, and understanding interactions with our fellow beings. It leads us towards asking ourselves, “How can I become involved in my community? Who can I dialogue with in order to bridge an understanding in the discord between our belief systems? When and how can I bring change to the laws in my district? Where can I be an activist for change and how?”

Small steps towards change must start within. Self reflection and complete honesty about your own belief system, our personal thought processes, and our fears is the basis for making strides towards something we cannot predict, which is the future.

Iyanla Vanzant prayer

 

Learned Hate.

Learned hate.

Ever since I can remember I have identified as a human being who was raised as a Jewish American.  The first time I can recall feeling ostracized was in late second grade at my class lunch table:  “Ew, what’s that???? Why are you eating crackers and meat for lunch, weirdo. Is that like a JEWISH thing?” I had never felt so uncomfortable in my life. I didn’t know how to respond, I felt ashamed, I felt confused, I just sat there and stared. I listened to the snickers and laughter around me. I wrapped up my food, threw it away, and went to the bathroom. Later in that same year my teacher announced that I could make a puzzle wreath and paint it blue for the Jewish Christmas. This was in response to when I had just told her, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, is there something else I could make for my parents?”

In high school my sister received a permanent marker swastika drawn on her locker. She felt paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. However, Debbie was blessed with the gift of a remarkable friend and it was her friend who informed teachers, and took it upon herself to back that fellow peer up to a locker and confront his foul decision herself. She is still a heroine in our family’s life today. The student who attacked my sister was given a specific amount of hours of course work, videos, and lesson work all completed at school on the Holocaust. He was provided with the opportunity to learn about the hatred he had been taught, and reflect upon it. 

Later in high school during, “American Studies,” history class work in 2000 I questioned my teacher about why our text book had no reference to the Holocaust. She promptly replied we could discuss that more later. When we moved past 1945 in our course work I asked her again, this time after class and she replied, “If you want to learn more about WWII or the Holocaust than you’re welcome to take the next history course after this required course, but we don’t cover that in depth. We discussed the dates, the events that transpired in American history, but we don’t go in depth about what happened to the Jews.”  I told her that I felt, personally, that it was shocking and greatly concerning that a part of world history was not being covered in a history class.

Indifference.

One of the most memorable teachable experiences I have had with a student was the following:

I used to pass out math designs as enrichment work after an assignment was completed. There were multiple options for students to work through, throughout the course of a math unit. I handed a child a decimal worksheet that was next in the unit and I moved along checking in with other students. The next morning, one of the tasks for morning work I had assigned was to pull out their math design and get started. This particular child refused, the table team members at this child’s desk started talking about the reason why, the child’s neighbor responded with, “Just pull it out and work on it, it’s not a big deal.” I respectfully asked them to focus on their task at hand. I knelt down next to the child and asked if they wanted to talk about it later. I received a nod.

One on one in discussion the child revealed the following, “My mom said that I’m never, EVER, allowed to like that symbol, it’s a bad symbol, that’s what is on the worksheet Mrs. B. That’s why I don’t want to do my work.” I said, “What symbol?” “The star, the Jews, or the Jewish people star, or whatever it’s called is bad!” I looked at the child and took a slow breath. “What do you mean it’s bad?” I inquired. “Well, in my religion, we don’t believe that the Jews should like, I don’t know how to explain it, I just know that I can see that symbol in that worksheet and I feel uncomfortable.” To which I replied with, “Ok, I hear what you’re saying, let’s have you put that worksheet aside for now and we’ll have you think about it. As for Jews being bad, can we talk about that?” “Yeah!” the child replied. She continued, “Well like my people, or my mom told me that they are not nice, they don’t like our religion, we don’t get along, and that it’s a bad group or something, I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Now, I have to pause here, in my head, as Jewish person, I was extremely torn. I really wanted to respond with, “Did you know that you’re teacher is Jewish. Am I a bad person because I’m Jewish?” However, I stopped and I reflected that I did not want this to become a personal battle, I wanted instead for this to be an opportunity for learning and growth in perspective for this child.

Over the next few weeks, into months, the discussion continued. When the opportunity arose to tie in WWII, the Holocaust, and the President Roosevelt leveled reader book together into a literacy study, the opportunity for more teaching evolved. This child became intrigued by the idea that Jewish people had been persecuted. This child and their friend requested literature about WWII and children during the Holocaust. I provided more children’s literature to which they chose to read during independent time.

Later the following transpired, “Mrs. B. I had no idea that the Jewish people had been killed during WWII. I ….did you know that there were 6 million people that were Jewish who were murdered??? Why would that happen?” Staring at me with wide eyes and astonishment, the child continued.  “It’s like in my religion, being a Muslim, I get really upset when people say that all Muslim’s are bad, because, I’m not a bad person! I love Islam.  My family are good people.” I nodded my head and replied, “So then, I guess there was a lesson to be learned, we can’t always judge someone based upon what religion they believe in or practice?” To which the child quietly looked down at the book and whispered, “Yeah,” followed by, “Did you see the books we got at the library?” This child and friend proceeded to pull out multiple books on WWII, the Holocaust and Anne Frank.

The purpose for me sharing these encounters is this:

Through education, through discussion, through reading, through dialogue, bridges can be built in our understanding of one another. Human beings can connect and unlearn the hatred they have been taught.

Hatred is taught.

Hatred is learned.

Hatred is not an innate ability.

Love is an intrinsic response.

Love is a natural desire.

Talk.

Discuss.

Question.

Listen.

Learn.

Love.

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Meeting a Hero

Meeting a hero this winter…

When I was a little girl I was blessed with the best possible momma, sister, and daddy. I thought that they all walked on air from the time I was old enough to understand until today.  What you don’t realize as a child are all the little details we fixate on as adults. These are the things that make or break relationships in today’s world, and yet, why must we concern ourselves with things that are mere trifles in the grand scheme of life and the world.

What I was blessed with the most was a house hold that valued reading.

I was read to from womb until I left the house at age eighteen.

My father told me stories of his childhood at bed time, he read to me from the chapter books I selected as a pre-teen and continually read every book I was reading into high school.

My mother fostered a love for literature from infancy. I loved being read to by both of my parents and my sister. Those were some of the most vivid memories I can still feel when I slip into my mind’s eye today. The feeling of swinging in my mother’s skirt while holding the pages of the book up so she could read to me about Peter Rabbit or Benjamin Bunny.

While covered in chicken pox, facing another round of bronchitis at the age of six my sister waltzed into our folks bedroom and presented from behind her back, “Rescue Rangers,” the story of two brave little mice that save another fellow creature and jewel. I can still see he smile, tumbles of curls spilling over her shoulder while saying in a passing breath, “Here you can pass the time reading this with me, and you’ll soon look like this, once again,” as she passed my framed school photograph from the year before. Ha! Just what you want to be told when you feel like the creature from the blue lagoon.

Why share all of these strings of connectivity and literature?

Tonight I met a heroine of ours, my mom’s, my sister’s and mine. Patricia Palacco. Her book, “Mrs. Katz and Tush,” was a beloved favorite that I chose often at bedtime. I remember reading it to my nephew upon a sleep over occasion. We’ll have to revisit it sometime soon. Hearing her candid words about her youth, her learning disabilities, and her remarkable family, friends, and neighbors brought tears to my eyes this evening.

Happy tears.

Tears that made me smile, and nod, and spring forth a new well of emotions within me. Especially when she described her fourteenth year of life. The year that her deepest, darkest fear came to light, and a teacher reached out a hand to help guide her towards climbing a hurtle she had always felt was so formidable. The fear that she could not read.

She went on to describe Mr. Falker, who was really Mr. Felker in her junior high classroom in California.

I was brought back to my second grade year when my amazing mother said, “I’ve had enough of this not reading and not doing anything about it with your current school, we’re doing something now.” My mother researched, and read, and found a program at a private school that had major results for children with dyslexia.

I was the child in the classroom that had a keen ability to hear, see, and listen.  I memorized text. I repeated it, I evaded being called upon. I stumbled through the sounding out of words. I was being educated in the “whole language” classroom environment, and nothing clicked with phonics and phonemic awareness. I saw shapes, and negative space when told to sound out the word. It was not until the moment when with repeated practice, isolation of words into boxed in shape I could recognize these shapes as letters, then digraphs, and vowel combinations. Finally the sounds and the letters connected.

Patricia spoke of the moment when she finally made sense of the negative spaces that surrounded these “letters,” and the feeling of elation that followed. Realizing that a whole new world had opened up to her.

I can recall the first library chapter book I read that felt, I liken to climbing Everest. I had the best parents in the world. The most patient, supportive, and loving humans. They provided me with the tools for knowledge and they put in the work that needed to be done with me in order for my goals to be achieved. Without that reading program, Mrs. Lau, and my parents, I would not be a teacher today. I am not quite sure where I would be. But I do know that I wrote to my third grade teacher every year of my public school education. Every few years I send her a letter, and I receive a card in reply. When I graduated with my masters degree in teaching, the first person I wrote to after my sister, was Mrs. Lau, my third grade teacher. The woman who taught me how to read, and helped me make sense of the puzzle pieces that I finally knew where to place.

Thank you Patricia Palocco for sharing your stories all these years. I met you once in 1997 at the Lusac Public Library in Anchorage, Alaska. I can still see your face, your bun, and the back drop of the maroon curtains behind you in the basement hall. Life has a funny way of coming full circle. Tonight I showed you my book, signed by you in 1997, and I thanked you for doing what you do. Your stories have been read to every single class of mine every year. Each year before I read aloud her stories, especially in the winter months, I tell my students the following:

“I’m going to share with you one of my heroes. Now, this hero is an author. This author helped me feel like I was not alone. When I was a little girl I could not read, until third grade. Patricia Palocco’s words, her family, and her stories are one of my greatest joys to share in life, and now, I will introduce you to her work.”

You might wonder what the children think of her work? I’ll leave you with one word: riveted.

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Show me your numbers B.D.

What transpired in the last forty-eight hours is absolutely astounding, and yet, not surprising given the day in January when the government turned upside down. My lips drew into a firm line, and my left eye brow raised when I learned just whom was appointed to the highest position of education in our country. 

I would like to extend a round of disappointed applause to those in the Senate whom are absolutely tucked into the back pocket of a human being whom undoubtedly flaunts illiteracy, ignorance, and violent rhetoric about the very generation that will inherit the “thrown” said being sits upon today. I believe firmly in education, intellect, and action, however, I also believe in karmic retribution.  I believe that there will be a reckoning, and justice will prevail. The challenge is steep, the hill is vast, and yet I see glimmers of light still ahead.

One must persist.

When I sat and pondered upon the daunting decision I made in order to go into the field of education I came to a realization that it could be summed up into a matter of pure numbers, clear mathematics. 

I sat and thought more about my early days in this field of education and I asked myself, “How much time went into that year of graduate school and my first year of teaching?”  I decided to calculate rough facts, not calendar date by calendar date numbers, just to see for myself how much time actually went into my fundamental years of educational ground work.

It took me 1 year to decide upon, volunteer, pass exams, enter grad school, and 2nd year to work tirelessly seven days a week, graduate, apply to 200 jobs, interview in person for 10 jobs before I landed my first position in public education. Calculating my year of student teaching plus graduate studies work and my first year of teaching together roughly breaks down to: 24 months, roughly 720+ days, 17,280 hours, 1,036,800 minutes, and 62,208,000 seconds of teaching, planning, reading, grading, prepping, self higher educating course work, singing, collaborating, drawing, calculating, learning, sketching, growing, listening, loving, challenging, caring, counting, helping, band-aiding, smiling, cheering, underlining, circling, typing, standing, responding, hopping, skipping, whistling, herding, clapping, snapping, pointing, chanting, running, holding, IEP-ing, 504-ing, nurturing, embedding, and educating myself and students in the first two years of my education work. Multiply that times 8 years, as of now, and then I have the last decade of my life’s work in a nutshell calculated by time.

It took 1 week, 168 hours, 10,080 minutes and 604,800 seconds in order for a decision to be made that has the potential to derail the education system I have spent 10 years of master training work within.

I had continuous discussions with a mentor of mine about the current state of education as it stands today. I was continually told, “Hold on, hold out, the pendulum will swing back Rachel, I promise it will. I have seen it and I understand what you’re going through.”

I do not see a pendulum any longer.

I think it became stuck, far along the right hand side and cracked somehow. Much like the ticking hands of a clock stopped by someone’s gloved hand, as they pushed down upon the minute hand, our seconds flew by and yet we waited for the swing back or forward and it never came.

What the hell is going on? This is a common thought that goes through my brain when I pause to think about what has happened in three weeks time.

I was a child of the ’90’s. A product of public education. I experienced the push in of my peers who benefitted from I.D.E.A. I attended a public university for my bachelor and masters degrees. I am a public school teacher today. I have taught in Title 1, federally funded school programs for the last ten years. I cannot even count how many children, families, colleagues, and community members I have worked with any longer. It would make my head spin to think about all the beautiful, challenging, amazing, and ultimately human individuals I have crossed paths with.

But I can tell you one thing… not once have I had a public government official in my classroom. Not once.

Until this next month.

I invited the mayor to meet my students and read aloud a Dr. Seuss book on Theodore Gisselle’s birthday.

Chutzpah? I’ve got it. Right here. Right now.  Who are we going to befriend? Our own public official. I figured he might want to get to know some of his nine and ten-year old constituents. So why not now? Why not celebrate, and learn from his point of view, and he from ours.  I cannot wait to meet the leader of the town I live and work within alongside my 27 amazing students. He will surely be amazed by their intellect, humor, and courageous hearts. I know I am every day!

Children are our future.

As the witch said during the second act of, Into the Woods,

“Children will listen, and learn, and grow…”

Children are the generation who will inherit this great land and nation. Children are the essential component whom the country should focus upon. You know what is not essential?  Someone else’s money.  As well as someone else’s inability to understand the very fundamental vocabulary of the field upon which they will now be the head of. 

Perhaps I could send her a vocabulary list for homework? I think I will include the definitions because she’s going to need them. The first ten words will include a variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that one should familiarize themselves with prior to their first meeting with appraised individuals in education, and then the list for the following week will be a laminated definition sheet of ready to know acronyms used daily in the sphere of public education.

First up on her specialized non-IEP approved vocabulary list:

maieutics

Followed by:

benighted

Society, which do you truly value: education or money?

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