Who's Teaching the Children
I was driving through Oklahoma a few weeks ago in the middle of a storm. I stopped at a red light and saw hordes of people carrying signs. Who in the world would be out in the rain on a day like this, I thought.
Teachers would. Because it mattered.
And when you really think about it- the cold rain was likely the easiest obstacle they’ve had to face for long time. Those teachers were working to accomplish a pay raise after years of having a stagnant income. According to what I read, the last tax hike to support education in Oklahoma was 30 years ago. That's not good. Since that day, a wave of teachers in other states like West Virginia, Arizona and Kentucky- are fighting for increases too.
Are they worth it?
It’s caused me to reflect a lot on what our expectations of teachers are and what my own experiences have been.
If you're keeping track, the school districts are trying to take responsibility for a host of societal maladies. They’ve started tracking children who have a brown discoloration on the back of their neck (acanthosis nigricans) and alerting doctors to screen for diseases like diabetes. They’ve started counseling sessions to help children whose families are going through divorces. They’ve been faced with training children to take standardized tests that are meant to assess the effectiveness of the school but ultimately stress out both children and teachers (I won’t include the name of that test - by the time this blog is published, they may change to a new test!) The teachers watch for signs that a child may be abused and deal with teenagers that take drugs.
Now there is talk that they should learn how to operate a gun to protect our children.
Are they worth a raise?
My parents did a great job raising me. My dad taught me how to apply weather stripping around a door and my mom taught me the importance of caring for others. But do you know who else raised me? My teachers. And I bet the same is true for you.
I confess I don’t remember the state capitols I once learned. I also can’t recall the order of the Presidents of the United States. But frankly, I can look that information up in seconds. What I learned, and retained, was far more valuable.
I had a fifth grade teacher who thought it wise to teach her class speed-reading. Seriously. I learned it in elementary school. I cannot express how VALUABLE this was in medical school and later in my career. She obviously had some flexibility in her lesson plans, I’ve never heard of this since. I kinda doubt teachers would be allowed to do something like that now...
One year, we did a huge project for our Middle East learning module. I read newspapers and magazine articles for months -and ultimately learned more about the issues in Egypt and Israel than most adults. Even today, the names Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin sends me back to the classroom where we felt like we are part of the world events. We’d take sides in discussions and debate what was going on. We wrote letters...and received responses from government officials. I learned that one person can be heard.
In biology class, I held a live fish tail under a microscope and gasped at what I saw. Actual blood cells traveling through the vessels. I would have stared for hours at the miracle in front of me. The teacher was emphatic that we’d do no harm to these fish. After a defined short time, we returned them to the water. She taught me two lessons. One- the incredible experience of seeing live biology. Two- respect for the subject matter.
What I’m trying to say is that I owe a tremendous amount to the teachers that I’ve been fortunate to come in contact with throughout my childhood. They have shaped me into what I am today. And I’ve been impressed by the ones I know as adults who have taken each new responsibility onto their shoulders and kept marching. For the kids.
Maybe I'm biased. I think children are our most precious resource. I believe that teachers should make a lot of money and that the field of education should attract the brightest and most creative individuals that our community has to offer. We expect an tremendous amount from our schools, we need to acknowledge that and act accordingly.
I want all of our teachers to get the respect they deserve, the support they need and a salary that will keep them in the field. Doesn't that just make sense?
May 8th is Teacher Appreciation Day. If you think about it, write a letter to a teacher that has made an impact in your life. (I just did) Being a teacher is a tough job. Let's show them some love.
News from the Unicorn World
That's my third book...on the right side of the screen. Yup. I finished the first draft and it's out to beta readers. But let me give you some other cool news.
Last weekend I went to a baby shower (I'm in favor of any party celebrating babies...and pregnant moms, of course). I sat down next to my girlfriend's sister and she said something funny. "Oh... I get to sit next to an author!"
To my right was my daughter and to her left was an empty chair. It was ME she was referring to! How cool is that? She'd read my first book and liked it! Said that she enjoyed YA.
Then...as if that was not enough to make my heart sing...I got a message from a former neighbor. She called the second book fabulous - which when you look it up in the dictionary means: amazingly good, wonderful, mythical.
Lastly, a reader of the draft of the third book said it was the best book yet. Ok...it was my daughter. But, I'm still holding on to that! I'll get the comments from the rest of the readers and then it goes to the editor. I'm starting to get the hang of this..
The last book in the series exists only in glimpses in my head. Charging unicorns. Magic manuscripts. Stubborn heroines. Frankly, its scaring me. It's supposed to be the grande finale, the book that ties everything up, the story that brings a smile to your face and a wish that it would never end. NO pressure. But here's the deal. I know how it ends. I just have to get us all there and trust me...I working on it!
I want to say a big thank you for all the kind words and support that I've had on my writing adventure. I started out thinking this was a lone endeavor but it turns out that a lot of people have helped me in so many ways. Like my son - who helped me get on instagram this weekend!
Playing in the Dirt?
When I was a little girl I played in the dirt. Armed with a colander, I used to strain dirt through the holes, leaving behind pebbles and stray pieces of leaves and grass.
Ultimately, I ended up with dirt that was as fine as talcum powder. I would let it slide over my palms, tickling my fingers and cooling my skin. I’m not sure what I was going to do with this dirt but I placed it where all children place their treasures at this age- a shoe box.
My dad found the box tucked away in the back of the garage and promptly threw it away. I was heartbroken, it had taken days to fill the box with the right consistency, hours of removing tiny pebbles and stray weeds.
He was totally unsympathetic. It was just dirt, he said.
The Philbrook Museum of Tulsa is currently featuring an artist that also plays with dirt. She used the red dirt of Oklahoma to create a incredibly intricate rug.
The rug takes up an entire room and is roped off to prevent careless footsteps or children who are like me and enjoy playing in dirt. She used pieces of shoe soles to make patterns that ultimately remind you of both the Native American culture and a Persian rug. The drift of color across the rug from reds to pinks to reds again, gives the illusion of fading spots in an antique heirloom.
The height of the rug is precisely uniform, as are the margins. No dust settles on the edges giving you a clue that this was taken from the earth. No stray pebbles or leaves.
Rena Detrixhe uses the red dirt to "connect her project with the land and the people who live on it". Her work will be available until June 30 at the downtown museum in Tulsa if you happen pass by.
One things is clear, no one threw away her box of dirt when she was little.
The Inspirational Jane Goodall
What can a pediatrician learn from a woman who studies monkeys? It turns out...a lot.
I went to listen to Jane Goodall on Monday night at the University of North Texas. Jane just celebrated her 84th birthday. I expected a frail, wispy haired woman to come shuffling out on the stage.
I was wrong.
Jane Goodall embodies my definition of a strong woman. At 26, she started her study of primates. Now, at 84, she’s working to save our world.
Jane's life has been remarkable in many ways- she was made famous when she challenged the long-standing belief that only humans used tools. In a quiet but firm voice, she has continued to make observations that have changed the way we look at primates. But it isn't just monkeys that Jane has been studying.
Jane has watched the shrinking of the rain forrest, the decline of several different species and the despair of young adults who believe the world is on a self-destructive path. She made a decision to become an ambassador and travel around the world despite the fact that she considers her time with the chimps precious.
What is her message? It's not too late, she says. There is many good reasons to still have hope.
But she would recommend some changes.
Eat less beef. Cattle produce a lot of methane and it's bad for the environment. In her youth service program, you can sign up for a ‘one click campaign’. I recommend looking at IEATMEATLESS . It's not necessarily a decision to go vegetarian, just a commitment to eat less meat. Simple.
She’s watched the monkeys and how they raise their young and suggests we adopt similar habits. (okay that really got me interested!) The young are attached to their mothers and 2-3 other adults for five years. Children need their parents and stability. There is nothing wrong with daycares, she is quick to add, if the staff is consistent and the child can form true attachments. Hmm. Tell parents to ask about turn-over when they interview daycares. Simple.
Raise your children to think about the next generation. THIS is big. We don’t do that. But we need to...
Instead of spending her last days on earth basking in her successes, Jane will spend 300 of 365 days of the year on the road. Teaching and praising. She does a lot of that. Talks about the generation in front of her—the ones that will save us. Commends them on what they have done and will do in the future.
Why is she so hopeful? I'll summarize. She believes we have been given brains to make wise decisions, that the human spirit is indomitable, that nature is resilient and our youth are determined. Good points.
Her words on the screen said it all “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”
Read more on about Jane Goodall here.
Storytelling is an art and my husband was lucky enough to run into an artist.
My husband was in China years ago and was advised to walk down a back alley, climb up a set of stairs and find a certain man. That's it, no other details...so he did it.
The man was a traveling magician, a nomad really, who went all over the world performing illusions and telling jokes. Often, he would work for free to raise money for charities. He was away more than he was home, so the world became his residence.
That evening he told my husband some stories...and then my husband told me.
Years earlier the magician was approached and asked if he could host a fellow entertainer that was coming to town. He agreed. Not having a lot of money, he called in lots of favors to dine at restaurants and show this new guy the town. He was a little miffed when the visitor, David, asked to dine at a particularly expensive restaurant on his last night in town but he, somehow, got enough money together to pay for the meal. Later he took David to see his show. He sat him down in the front row and said “Let me show you what I do for a living...”
A short time later, the magician received an invitation to come visit his new friend. David wanted to repay the hospitality the magician had shown. Along with the invite, was a first class plane ticket. When he arrived at his destination, he was picked up by a limousine and taken to an auditorium. He was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the place and the crowd gathered there but happy to be reunited with his new friend. David took him to the front row and said “Let me show you what I do for a living...”
And then the band came out from behind the stage and started to play.
And the magician saw his first U2 concert.
David Howell Evans, otherwise know as the "Edge" was his new friend.
Another time, another show.
This was one of his free shows but there was one problem. No one was laughing at his jokes or enjoying the magic. The show was halfway over and the audience of children remained stone-faced.
Determined to get a smile...he worked harder, told more jokes and then finally..one of the boys smiled. And then another did.
And then... they started laughing. Giggling. Snorting. Holding their belly- laughing.
Over the sounds of their voices he heard another sound.
He'd never heard a laugh like hers before. It was loud, raucous and jarring. It practically hurt his ears. It was the oddest laugh he'd ever heard.
He made it through the performance and sat down wearily in a back room afterwards. When someone came by to check on him he asked the man, “What just happened...”
The boys in the audience, the man explained, were actually child soldiers. They were emotionally damaged, by not only what they witnessed, but by what they’d been forced to do. Prior to their arrival in the orphanage, they’d hurt and killed women and other children. No one had ever seen any of them smile or laugh.
The magician took a breath and nodded, remembering their faces and laugher.
And then he remembered the other noise. So he asked...."What was that awful noise- was that truly someone laughing?"
The man smiled and said that it was the woman in charge. She just couldn't seem to help herself. When she'd seen the boys smile and giggle like normal children...she couldn't hold back her own laughter. Despite the appalling noise.
That woman was Mother Teresa. She was canonized and declared a saint in 2016. And that's how a magician helped a saint.