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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A year in the tides of grief

One year since Deborah Leah Alvarez left this earth has meant that: 12 months, 52.1429 weeks, 365 days,  8760 hours, 525600.432 minutes, 31536025.92 seconds have passed.

~Analytically speaking it means all of the information above.

~Speaking from the heart it means that all of the varying shades of the rainbow and everything in between has gathered, washed, and moved through me in this time frame.~

It has been the crashing of waves.

It is the rise and fall of the sun.

It is every first sighting of a bright shining star.

It is the moon beams slipping through cracks in my window.

It is first moments when a heart leaps for joy and falls in the realization that the one you are about to tell cannot be spoken to directly. 

It is the re-learning to accept your new heart’s layer, with all its flaws and all. 

It is the re-building of faith when seeking through the depths of a hallowed despair. 

It is the first feelings of happiness and allowing the heart to feel joy. 

It is learning that love may not be diminished by the inability of the tangible, yet transpired into the spiritual realm.

It is what Truvy said in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

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Death has a strange way of bringing the best and the worst out of the people it touches. I have found that through my own grief I have learned to love myself in ways I never thought possible. I have learned that forgiveness is a crucial component to my happiness. Forgiveness has taught me that I do not need to seek a right or a wrong answer, but rather seek to find a state of contentedness that I dwell with and release my tethered connection from anger in order to allow the emotions to turn into love.

Never does a day go by that I do not think of my sister or long to share something with her. She was my closest friend, mentor, and supporter. What she has bestowed upon me and continues to bestow upon all of us is the love and light she shed while here on this earth. So many wonderful humans near and far have shared their love and connection with Debbie over the past year. Connectivity was something Debbie strived for. She believed whole heartedly in the fact that humans need to seek for love, education, honor, humor, forgiveness and generosity. Thank you for connecting so many of us Debbie and continuing to do so. Your rainbow touches near and far.

Through writing I have allowed myself to find solace in words that were far too difficult to communicate in person. Thank you so much to all of Debbie’s and our friend’s, our family members, her colleagues, her admirers, her blogging friends, and her supporters over this last year.

~Like waves crashing upon a shore, rays of sunshine were beamed down upon us, with which we were able to dry our tears with each loving gesture, made by all of you.~

Thank you. 

I leave you with words, as my sister would have wanted.

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For me, I leave you with a song that speaks to my heart:

 

May her life be a blessing: Deborah Leah Alvarez.

 

Ninth Year

Think of a time when you felt safe, felt grounded, and felt happy.

Imagine that place.

Can you bring your olfactory sense back to the location? Can you see what it looks like before you? Perhaps you see it and walk within that realm when you dream. Or maybe it reappears every now and then when something strikes a memory chord in your brain.

I can still smell and feel parts of the interior walls of my elementary school. The smell of glue, the wet pavement outside on the playground, and the crisp air after snow has fallen and stillness unfolds.  These smells and the combined shine of the tile in the main hallway are emblazoned upon my memory. I can almost feel the painted brick wall on the outside of the gymnasium. If I close my eyes I can see the hallowed entryway of the leaded windows in the circular library with slivers of light darting across the gray carpeted floor. That smell of the books, dust, and a sense of comfort intertwined with one another can bring me back in an instant.

Walking into my school building four days ago, for the beginning of a new school year, I felt a rise of positive anticipation bubble up within me. There is something magical about watching all of the hopeful children of varying ages walk towards their next school year with fervent glee and nerves.

The twenty six individuals that entered our classroom on Tuesday all carried with them a sense of expectation, a sense of wonder, and an overwhelming sense of jitters.

Their day started off with a gift bag that was stapled together and laid upon their desks, with what they did not know was a plethora of supplies buried within each bag. A mentor colleague of mine taught me about this, “mystery bag,” game as a welcoming first day activity. Each year I have carried on the tradition with a new class.

As the day progressed the student’s nerves eased and my heart melted. I love watching students begin to unfold, ever so slowly they uncurl a tiny layer of themselves, their level of trust builds as they explore the beginning of friendship and community. The sense of innocence in their questioning and steadfast belief in, “doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” is truly everything that adults strive to go back towards in time.

As an educator it is part of my job to teach about compassion, kindness, patience, and above all: love.  There is no curriculum that can encompass masterful lessons for these essential skills we need in life. It is merely a lesson in every interaction I have with a child, every question I answer, and the laughs that we share. I focus on sharing these ideals through the stories I select for students. They experience, read, and listen to these works of art every day. Children intrinsically desire to show kindness towards one another and I build upon this instinct to create a unique structure every year with a new community of people.

Going into this ninth year I felt a shift in myself as an educator. I realized my level of gratitude had been raised in the last few months. I felt grateful for the opportunity to share my passion for literature and life long learning every day with a new bundle of children. I felt hopeful about what my role could bring to the table in this year of growth for these students. I also felt a rise for my love of humanity, in which I dwell within as I walked through the doors, and down the halls, on the beginning of my ninth year.

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Stop. Just breathe.

Stop.

It’s a four letter word that has power. It holds the opportunity to communicate a clear, yet simple message.

So why is it so hard to say?

It is the one word I use when a student is being inappropriate, a boundary violator, or seeking my advice as to what to say when someone bothers them.

Say, “Stop.”

What is it about all this noise around us today? It seems to be a spinning vortex of information, misinformation, communication and miscommunication. It is nestled into every moment of every day.

Stop.

Are you listening?

Do you listen when someone speaks, or do you wait to respond? Sometimes I do both. It’s a work in progress.

Do you ever find yourself oversharing or emotionally vomiting with words?

Stop. Just say, “STOP self.” And do just that, stop.

No one needs to be the bearer of your misinformation, your quandaries about another, or the oversharing bulldozer of what is unnecessary data.

Hanging in my classroom is the following poster below that has the word THINK written vertically. It was made into an acronym for a few concepts.  I saw the idea online a long time ago, and I made my own poster. Consider the following before you speak, share, or “share” through social media…

T-is it TRUE?

H-is it HELPFUL?

I-is it INSPIRING?

N-is it NECESSARY?

K-is it KIND?

All too often we are not provided or providing the possibility for communication that is quality, confidential, and kind. Listening to my friends, my loved ones, my colleagues, my acquaintances, often times I see my reflective behavior in them. My energy level shifts, my mood can fluctuate, and can be a barometer at times unless I truly concentrate on what the person is saying, before I allow my emotions to come forth.

I have practiced something with my students this year called, “problem solving mediation.” Now, it might sound simplified and silly, but it is the same elemental principles in having a crucial conversation as an adult. It can be challenging, but with continued practice, it can work.

Instead of saying, “YOU this, you that, you are, you did that….stop and think.” What impacted you as an individual? The, “I, me, my, mine of the issue.” Start with an I statement, breathe, and proceed providing adequate time for the other to share and communicate when they are done.

Now, it does not always solve every issue, but I do feel that learning the basic techniques of communicating your personal perception, emotion, concern or question is essential for little and older people alike. Start with the I, use THINK, and then communicate. It is better to attempt to work it out, then ruminate on a negative vibe or feeling that festers with time.

If I have learned anything from my losses this year it is this…

Life is too short. Don’t waste it with, “I’m going to….you should’s, or he that’s…” speak up, enjoy it, work on it, make progress with the simple steps you take every day.

If you need to take some steps backwards for grounding then do so.

Quit apologizing.

Stop agonizing.

Get up, get moving, and start doing.

Do for you, do for Debbie, live and enjoy what you are offered today, and simply be grateful for the opportunities that are presented.

As challenging, as uncomfortable, or as difficult as they may seem.

Face it. Live it. Love it.

Breathe.

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TIHS kind of day (use a mirror)

For lack of a more interesting beginning: I’m exhausted. 

     Over the last 3.5 months I have been rehearsing for a Christmas musical a friend wrote, working full time, working out 6 days a week, stressing about family, worrying about health, planning, driving, organizing, talking, singing, practicing, and walking that balance beam we call life.

Sometimes I just want to throw all the pieces up into the air and scream while I watch them all fall back down and turn into glittery confetti…if only.  The current positives that are milling around in my mind proceed as follows:

  1. I am three days away from winter break from teaching. You know all those crazy memes of teachers running for the doors screaming? That’s me right now. I’m done. I’ve had it with attitudes, misspellings, sighing, requests x 27 and then some, repeating myself, filing paper work, making copies, making phone calls, writing emails, responding to emails, giving band aids, mending wounds both physical and emotional, mediating, locking and unlocking doors, searching for items, listening to demands, entering grades, having paint all over my hands, being sneezed on, being coughed on and glared at when I ask them to cover their mouth, wiping down tables, reminding for courtesy and the amount of general lack of gratitude. My bucket is not filled at work right now people I need recoup time.
  2. I wrapped the Christmas show and made new friends. I was grateful for another musical experience that pushed me as an individual, but I have to admit it was hard. It was challenging for me to force myself to drive across town the last week for rehearsals. It was not that I did not want to be there or follow through, it’s just that I am emotionally drained.
  3. My body tells me when it has had enough, and I generally listen. Like tonight when I stepped out of the car for dance class and my foot cramped and hurt immensely, I stopped and thought, “I think that’s a sign that you need to go home Rachel.” So I listened, and I did.
  4. Small glimmers of hope with my sister’s recent PET scan were also dashed and then thrown against more frustrating new growths in an already ravaged body, which made me want to yell into the wind: FUCK YOU CANCER. I should have been a scientist.
  5. I watched part of my birthday present from my sweet guy tonight, “Cinderella,” helped me lose myself in the fairy tale.
  6. I have a fluffy quilt, a couple pillows, and a bed to sleep in after writing.
  7. I had yummy home made pasta, and chocolate to wash it all down with.
  8. I realized after this last birthday that I could feel an emotional shift of ,”not caring,” about what people think of me slowly slipping away. See the meme below for my current feelings.
  9. I have a wonderful set of friends, family, and humans that I love and who love me. ❤ Case in point, my bff, Resa.Resa's bday party 2015
  10. I saw an amazing meme that sums me up.  That is my life update for this evening.  I’m going to dream land and will wake up and do it all again tomorrow. Enjoy the meme and one of my favorite Hollywood legends, The Norma Jean, aka, Marilyn Monroe. ❤ (PS I don’t know who created or posted the original meme below, I don’t own it, nor do I intend to pass it off as something I created. Rather, I appreciate it and am sharing it. Thank you.)Marilyn quote meme

Cute Opinions

Opinions

The definition for the word, opinion, according to my dictionary of choice reads as follows: 1. Considering a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. 2. Entirely probable: Or, a personal view, attitude, or appraisal.

Read and Pronounced in the following languages as:

Latin: Opinio

Spanish: pienso que, (to my mind…)

The word in French: “à mon avis” (in my opinion…)

Hebrew: דעה

Italian: opinione

Opinions.  What is it about this word that weighs so heavy on us as human beings?  It seems that anyone and everyone has one, about every subject; even when they may or may not have any knowledge or authority on a particular topic that they project an opinion about.

I think some of my favorite opinions I have received in person have been about my career.

When I respond to the question, “What do you do for a living?”

I politely share, “I am an elementary educator. I teach multiple subjects at the fourth grade level.”

A few opinionated responses can be rounded up into one nice, clean, fresh labeled response: That’s cute.

Here’s my thoughtfully contained responsive dialogue that runs through my head: It’s cute that I teach classroom aged children for a living? Ok wait, are the students cute? Are you referring or meaning that I am cute? Or is what I do with my masters degree….cute? I’d just like to clarify what all that really means.

Here are my thoughtful reflections in no particular order:

I am an adult. I am not cute. I am many things, included but not limited to: intelligent, thoughtful, caring, qualified, creative, attractive, humorous, and talented. I’m not cute.

Children circa age nine to ten years of age have cute moments in time which can correlate to the equivalent of, “cuteness,” in a what our society deems appropriate.  Again with the opinions though…?  However, please do not diminish the fact that children are highly outspoken, clever, and quick witted human beings all at the same time as being, cute.

Is a higher education degree cute? Is spending 365 days pursuing a masters degree in a field of work reduced to the equivalent of being cute? Is being paid $40-$50,000 less than other masters of their field in our society really cute? Is this where the issue in value of education really lies?  It all boils down to the fact that people think it is…gulp…cute to educate?

Why is it that we have opinions about things that perhaps we have never, ever experienced? To quote Harper Lee’s wonderful novel and character Atticus Finch, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  These words struck a chord with me at age fifteen and they still do today. They are so much more applicable to what I am referring to now at age thirty one than what they were when I first read them in school.

Why is it that we all seem to have an opinion about what other people do with their lives, their relationships, their beliefs, and their families? Who am I to comment on what someone else does with their time, let alone, their body?  It absolutely astounds me that in our society we are still going round and around the mulberry bush regarding so many topics. This feels like an age old argument.  This phrase just came to mind, “Only time will tell,” this seems rather odd. Are we not at the point when, “TIME SHOULD TELL,” already?

My little experiences with responses to my line of work, which mind you are merely one facet of who I am as an individual, are very minuscule in the grand scheme of things. There are a thousand and one little pieces that make up my daily thoughts and choices in life. I feel so lucky to be granted this life in which I have choices and options. Although, that should be saved as an entirely different rantingly thoughtful blog.  Honestly though, I think the moral of my thoughts here today friends is this: think before you speak.

Think and consider the following:

Is what I am about to say nice?

Is it thoughtful, is it something that I am sharing in order to inspire, create, or empower?

Is this the right audience to share this comment with? Or is it meant for another purpose?

Does this opinion of mine really demonstrate the value of the words I am about to speak? If not, perhaps I should rethink my statement before it flies out of my mouth.

In my humble opinion life is about uplifting others up, showing and caring enough to give respect and above all empower each other to be our best selves on this earth.

I have been actively working on opening my eyes, seeking out truths, and sharing my wisdom.  Spring is a wonderful opportunity to turn over a new leaf, no pun intended.

Sparkle on friends.

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