Fifty Shades of Yoga Pants

For a work-at-home gal like myself, Facebook often provides that gathering at the water cooler that I miss three weeks out of every month when I’m not in the office.  And these days, what recurring theme is buzzing through my timeline more than any other?

Fifty Shades of Grey (the movie) and yoga pants.

So about the movie.  I never go to the movies because I have Netflix.  Will I see it at home when it comes out on Netflix (which, judging from the early reviews is rather imminent)?  Maybe.  I’m an adult, after all.  I have three almost grown children so I obviously know how babies are made.  So, yeah, I might watch it.  Or not.  My choice.

Do I need to read about the many reasons I shouldn’t see the movie or read the books (oops, already did) because the overt sexual themes and misogynistic messages will alter the way I view myself as a woman?  No, because I’m an adult who read the three books that were—and this is just my opinion—so poorly written (except for the sex parts—she nailed it there) that they serve as a cautionary tale about how not to write.  And because I’m an adult who knows that the kinds of encounters described in Fifty Shades of Grey were fictional, just like the poorly developed characters and the flimsy plot, I also know that no woman in her right mind would ever fall for Christian Grey’s kinky shenanigans.

That is correct–no woman in her right mind would ever fall for those kinds of kinky shenanigans.  One of the best gifts I’ve been given is a strong character.  I come from a long line of women on both sides of my family who were strong, independent, smart, and sassy.  I pray every day that I’ve passed that genetic gift onto my own daughters, and I think I have.  I can only imagine the torrent of bon mots that would fly out of either of my daughters’ mouths were they to be approached by a 27 year-old billionaire with a menu of weirdness and a non-disclosure agreement.  He’d sulk away with more than his tail between his legs.

Enough about that.

But speaking of legs, apparently, my wardrobe of black and grey leggings and yoga pants are apt to render men apoplectic and unable to function in polite society.  Oh well, sucks to be you, I guess.  I live in leggings and yoga pants and I have no plans to stop, so let this be a warning to all of you men out there:  When you see me coming, avert your eyes.  I mean, really, is seeing a woman in yoga pants all it takes for you to become so flustered that you can’t manage your man business?  Maybe you need to work out a little more.  Or go on a date or something.  Geez.

While I don’t agree that women should go about showing off all of their goodies, I also think that women should wear what they feel comfortable wearing.  Right now, it’s leggings and a sweatshirt.  Tomorrow it might be yoga pants and a hoodie.  Next week when I’m in the office, I might wear a skirt and a pair of boots.  Or maybe I’ll wear yoga pants again.  Because guess what?  If done correctly and accessorized accordingly, yoga pants can be just as dressy as a pair of slacks.  So there.  Leggings look great under a long sweater and a pair of riding boots.  So there again.  Let’s face it:  Women have enough to worry about without having to be concerned about your unharnessed junk.

Here’s the thing:  If you want to wear a pair of jeans that sag to your knees, go ahead.  Look like a fool.  If you’re 300 pounds and want to wear a pair of jogging pants with JUICY emblazoned across your ass, go ahead.  Become a fixture on People of Walmart.  Adhere to your workplace dress policies, because often there is a good reason those policies are in place.  Dress the way you’re comfortable within the boundaries of your workplace, wear clothes that fit, and call it a day.

There are too many other things to get your panties in a twist about than movies and clothes.  Instead of worrying about what everyone else is seeing and wearing, spend some time teaching your sons and daughters to be strong, smart, independent men and women.  The rest will take care of itself.

Do What is Best for Children

I know, let’s turn Indiana schoolchildren into prank monkeys!

While it’s true that I’ve been out of teaching for four years, and with my youngest in the second semester of his junior year in high school, I really don’t have a dog in the fight, I still can’t wrap my head around what legislators—and not just those in Indiana—are doing to children.

Before you start with the mistaken notion that I’m one of those liberal, union-loving, child-coddling, tree-hugging, GOP-hating left-wing nut jobs, let me put that to rest.  I’m not.  I’m a conservative Republican with Libertarian leanings who believes the federal government should not feed schoolchildren (their parents should) nor subsidize preschool (cut taxes so that one parent can stay at home).  So there.  Those two radical ideas might be off-putting to some of my friends, but we’re about two generations into a Great Society that has another mistaken notion that the federal government exists to take care of us.  We need to get back to taking care of ourselves and get the federal government out of education.

That said, I truly do believe in public education, even though my own children were mostly educated in Catholic schools.  My parents were public school teachers, and between my husband and me, we have around 45 years’ experience in public schools both in the inner city and in suburbia.  Public schools should serve as the great equalizer—a level playing field—even though school funding is a complex and counterintuitive formula here in Indiana.

The takeaway?  Provide a level educational playing field, yes, but hold each family accountable for how that education makes their children productive and responsible American citizens.

But back to what legislators are doing to children, because if what happens within the walls of the school are not things that are best for children, then they ought not to be happening, right?  Marathon standardized testing, mandated by state and federal regulations that are tied to funding, staffing, and a school’s A-F ranking is something that happens to children, not to adults.  Explain to me how making a third grader endure nine hours and 25 minutes of standardized testing is good for him.  Because I’d really like to know.

In my last year of teaching, I was told that I was to “get” each of my 27 fifth graders to pass ISTEP.  I laughed.  Seven of my 27 young scholars spoke limited English.  They might soar through the math part, but they wouldn’t even be able to read the language arts portion.  In a hilarious twist of irony, these students would have the instructions read to them in Spanish, their native language, but would be forced to take the test in English.

I wonder how many state legislators could take the test in Spanish.  More hilarity.

Moreover, several of my students with IEPs were not even close to reading on grade level, but they, too, were expected to pass the test.  C’mon, their IEPs mandated that they would have extra time to complete the exam—all they needed was a little extra time, right?

Hell, they could still be taking that fifth grade ISTEP today as freshmen in high school and still not pass it.  Time was not what they needed, fellas.

My point is this:  How is standardized testing good for children?  Does it make for better schools?  No.  Does it make teachers better?  Hell no.  Do teachers have any control over who walks through their classroom doors at the beginning of the school year?  No!  Does standardized testing eat up instructional time?  Yes!  Does it take away from authentic learning opportunities?  Hell yes!  Do I need to go on?  No!  Because common sense tells us that high stakes testing doesn’t do anything but create nail-biting, anxiety-ridden teachers and students, and turns school administrators into monocle-wearing, whip-bearing SS officers threatening to unleash their torrent of fury against any teacher who dares question the hours and hours of mandated test prep being forced upon them.  After all, their necks are also on the line.  Administrators who do not produce passing test scores shall be eliminated!

There are parts of the ISTEP exam that make sense, and there are parts of it that are thoughtful and well-written.  Well, at least there were in 2009, the last year I administered the test.  I’m not saying, “Abandon standardized testing forever!”  What I’m saying is to be reasonable.  Use the test as one piece of the assessment pie.  Much of what happens to children while they’re in school cannot be and should not be reflected in the results of a standardized test, no matter how well written it is.  Children’s writing, their ability to communicate, solve problems, seek out answers to questions, their technological prowess, their curiosity, and their affective learning cannot be adequately measured by a standardized test.  Which is more important?

To legislators, politics are more important, and schoolchildren serve the state as their pint-sized pawns.  To them, a school’s poor test results means that those children’s teachers are bad, bad teachers and should be fired, their schools nothing but dens of iniquity full of leftist commie teachers who care more about their rights than the children they refuse to educate.  Fire them!  Fire them all—no, better yet, parade them throughout the streets of the capital city and throw rotten tomatoes at them.  Make them a spectacle, an example of all that is wrong with public education.  Heads on a pike!  Burn them at the stake!

And then we can turn all the public schools into charter schools, because that’ll solve everything.

And all the time, those teachers were just trying to do what was best for children.

Sixteenth and Martindale

Is there a difference between perception and reality?

The story I am about to tell is true. It describes an event that took place early in my teaching career, and it is one that I will never forget.

First, some background.

I taught sixth grade at IPS School #26 beginning in November 1986. School #26 was predominantly Black. I did not have much experience working with Black students; I didn’t have much experience working with any students. I also did not have much experience working with Black teachers and para-professionals–teachers’ assistants, if you will. I had recently graduated from Penn State, hardly a bastion of diversity when it comes to Black and White.

Eventually, though, I became better at recognizing and appreciating the differences between me and my African-American students and colleagues, and an easy symbiosis evolved among us. In the spring of my third year at IPS School #26, I was on playground duty with another staff member, the venerable fifth grade teacher Mrs. Edwards. Mrs. Edwards was at least 70 years old if not older and had more seniority in the entire IPS school system than any other teacher. She was also the most beloved member of our staff, and rightly so–her students were well behaved, her classroom was immaculate and thoughtfully organized, and her bearing was formidable if not intimidating. She dressed each day for work as if she were attending church–sky-high heels and all–minus the hat. And she never, ever was seen without a Bible in her hands. She often used it to beat children who got out of line while waiting for their breakfast, intoning, “Oh, I do so hate to hit you with my good Book!” One swat with the Bible for every word in the aforementioned sentence. I loved her. And she scared the hell out of me.

Mrs. Edwards had a cloak hall in her classroom–not everyone had a cloak hall. Her cloak hall was used to store coats and boots and backpacks and naughty children. Mrs. Edwards also had a paddle–nothing special, just a paddle with her name emblazoned on the handle in perfect Palmer penmanship. If you had a student who needed paddled, Mrs. Edwards was your go-to lady. Don’t judge: This was 1989.

Back to playground duty or, rather, I should call it “parking lot” duty. Because we didn’t have a playground at IPS School #26. We had a blacktop parking lot. We had some balls–a couple of basketballs and a kickball, and in the past we had had some jump ropes, but they were lost somewhere along the way. There wasn’t much for the kids to do, and there were a lot of kids to keep busy. Three sixth grade classes, one special education classroom of fifth and sixth graders, three fifth grade classes, and another all-fifth grade special education class. Remember, it was 1989, just before Inclusion.

What did the kids do for thirty minutes of what was supposed to be recess? Some kids played with the few implements we had available for them, but most of the kids–pre-adolescents–stood around and talked, or stirred some unseen neighborhood pot they had dragged to school, full of hatred, jealousy, and vindictiveness. As you might have guessed, then, on this particular beautiful spring day, a fight was brewing. The antagonist, an African-American student named Glenn, started posturing in front of another male student, also African-American. Mrs. Edwards, heels and all, started toward her student, the one who was being confronted. I managed to get myself between that student and Glenn.

In the back of my mind, all I could think of was, “She’s wearing heels! She’s going to get shoved to the pavement and break a hip! She’s old!” I, on the other hand, was dressed in a t-shirt, jean skirt, bobby sox, and white Keds. I positioned myself in front of Glenn–a young man the same size as me–and held him by the shoulders, looked him in the eye, and said, “Not today, scooter.”

Apparently, that pissed him off enough that he decided to take a swing at me–in the ensuing confrontation, he managed to relieve me of a rather sizable chunk of my hair, tore off my necklace, and ripped my t-shirt enough so that my bra was exposed. That pissed me off enough to turn him around, get his arms behind his back, kick him in the backs of his knees, and force him onto his belly. Whereby I sat on his butt, pinning his arms behind him until the paddy wagon came. I am sure I surprised him with my chutzpah.

Between the time I forced him to the ground to when the paddy wagon (IPS Security, not IMPD) arrived, I do remember telling him that he f***ed with the wrong person. Yep, I tossed the f-bomb at a sixth grader. Countless times.

After IPS Security relieved me of my duties as butt-sitter and f-bomb tosser, I found myself in the principal’s office, giving a statement to one of the officers. I did not wish to press charges, but I did want the kid suspended for the remainder of the school year.

After IPS Security left, my principal unleashed a torrent of fury against me that stunned me speechless. I had just saved Mrs. Edwards from a dangerous situation that could have hurt her, and I broke up a fight that would have most certainly disrupted the educational environment for the rest of the day if not for the rest of the school year. And here was my principal ripping me a new one for doing what any sane person would have done. Through the roar in my ears, all I could hear was him saying, “Racist, racial, race, relations.”

The rest of the day was a blur–I do remember my students’ ooh-ing and ah-ing when I returned to the classroom; I summarily I turned off the lights and read to them from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. None of my colleagues came by to ask if I was okay, no one asked me if I was hurt. No staff member talked to me for the rest of the day.

The next day a fellow teacher who happened to be White pulled me aside and whispered, “You’d better be careful. The paras (teachers’ assistants–all of whom were African-American) have told everyone that you whipped Glenn with a jump rope then tied him up with it.”

Jump rope? WE DIDN’T HAVE JUMP ROPES!

It got worse. The para-professionals had spread the lie that I called Glenn a ‘n*****, that I was indeed whipping him with a jump rope, and that after I was finished whipping him, I tied him up. They knew this because they were all watching out the window while it was happening.

Another staff member, also White, pulled me aside and told me that Mrs. Edwards had stated that she was disappointed with me. When this staff member, who had also watched the entire tableau the previous afternoon, asked her why she wasn’t standing up for me since she was right there and saw everything that had happened, apparently she replied, “I will always stand with my race.”

That was my first experience with racism. Moreover, it was a lesson in perception. What those para-professionals perceived and what Mrs. Edwards perceived were one in the same–even though what Mrs. Edwards saw was what really happened. And she knew it.

I’ll never know why Mrs. Edwards’ and the para-professionals’ perception of the incident was so different from the reality I experienced that day. In my mind, the only thing I did that I should not have done was swear in front of a student. To them, though, I did everything wrong. I was the privileged White girl asserting my authority in the way that, historically, they remember White people asserting their authority over Black people.

Why tell this story today? While I don’t agree that the officer who shot Michael Brown in August 2014 was guilty of any wrongdoing, I also understand that others’ perceptions might be different. This is because my experience with Glenn at IPS School #26 located at E. 16th and Martindale on the near eastside of Indianapolis in 1989 was perceived by others as a racist act of aggression when I know in my heart that all I was trying to do was to protect Mrs. Edwards. It broke my heart that she sided with those who made up the story about the jump rope, but then again, I had not lived her life, I had not experienced her experiences, and I had never walked around in her skin, so from her vantage point, what I did was just another instance of a White person beating down a Black person.

I learned that day that you don’t have to agree. Just understand.

Child of God, I love you.

You are a child of God.  You are precious.  You are mine.

I read again today of the passing of another local teenager who committed suicide. The details of this heartbreaking news are immaterial; instead, what remains incumbent upon us as adults is trying to figure out why a young person on the very cusp of a long and seemingly abundant life would ever choose to end it and, more importantly, how to prevent this from ever happening again.

I can only imagine that parents of teenagers, upon hearing this kind of news, get that sick, I-want-to-throw-up feeling, wondering if their own child could ever conceive of doing something so horribly permanent, so heartbreakingly sad.

And, invariably, we all ask, “Why?”

could jump to all kinds of conclusions about how kids these days are spoiled, and when things don’t go their way, they resort to all kinds of dramatic means to get attention (because some of them do).  I could make asinine assumptions about how today’s kids have no structure at home, no boundaries, always get what they want but it’s never enough, or how drugs and alcohol wreak havoc with a child’s psyche, and that’s what probably caused this tragedy (because sometimes it does).  Or I could foolishly point a finger at these kids’ parents, wondering what kind of home life the children had that would compel them to do this.  Because, truthfully, all of these factors do have merit.  One or all of these instances could be valid reasons why these tragedies have occurred.

But are these instances the cause, or is there an underlying motif playing with our children’s minds? And does sanctimoniously pointing out the faults of other families do anyone any good?  Because whatever heartbreak was happening in these children’s lives has just been multiplied a hundred-fold in the suffering of their parents and families.

No, I believe it’s something more ominous altogether.

Sadly, even a child growing up in a loving, nurturing, and spiritual home can fall prey to suicide because, unfortunately, we live in a society that has devalued human life.  The horrifying images of Americans being beheaded by the insidious evil that is Isis are broadcast on the internet for our kids to witness.  Women and even underage girls can walk into a Planned Parenthood facility, have their babies viciously sucked out of their bodies, then walk out a couple of hours later after the staff has given them a collective high-five, praising them for their “brave” decision to end their babies’ lives.  The violent nature of many of our kids’ video games doesn’t help lend credence to the sanctity of life; instead, it actually glorifies death, making it appear fascinatingly cool to kill and be killed.

These are today’s hardships, the yoke upon this generation’s shoulders.

Instead, what if our society valued every human being—from conception and beyond.  To this end, we have some work to do.  We must look for signs of depression in our kids and take seriously their anxieties, their worries, and their fears.  We must dedicate ourselves to teaching every child that he or she is valuable beyond measure.  Children must know and understand that God has created them in His image and that however insignificant they may perceive their lives to be, their very existence is a priceless treasure—a gift.  We may not like everything they do, but no matter what, we love them.  When they make mistakes, and they will make mistakes—some of them even colossal mistakes—it’s okay to lay down the law.  To do anything less is unforgiving.

But most importantly, we must make sure that our children know that they are loved.

To our children, know this: You are a child of God.  You are precious.  You are mine.  And I love you with every breath I take, with every beat of my heart, and I will continue to love you long after I am gone from this world.

 

Back to School

Few phrases have the ability to render depression in a teacher as the words “back to school”. In fact, four years after I went “back to school” for my twenty-fifth and final year of teaching, I still cringe when I hear the carefree, twinkling television commercial voices urging parents to drop what they’re doing, head into Target, Wal-Mart, and Kohl’s and get those kids ready to go back to school now! Because, Heaven forbid, if your child isn’t armed with the entire contents of Wal-Mart’s “back to school” section (which, curiously, now often includes tissues in boxes that look like school busses, hand sanitizer in gargantuan sizes, and Clorox wipes for those booger-y desk-tops), it’s a sure thing that his teacher will sneeringly look down her wart-riddled nose at you for not having heeded that all-important school supply list (which, incidentally, probably took seven or eight rather heated in-service meetings with the entire staff to compile).

In short, as a parent, you suck. You have every reason to be depressed.

But why are teachers depressed? And before I answer that question, let me apologize in advance to all of my teacher friends. I am sorry I feel compelled to reveal this ugly secret, but really, the public should know what you all (and what I did, at one time) go through while getting ready to go back to school, actually going back to school, and the weekend after you go back to school.

It’s simply the worst time of the year.

Here’s why: The getting-ready part–those few precious weeks before the FDOS–are, typically, fun. You get to reconnect with your colleagues after the few short months weeks you’ve not seen each other since the LDOS and, if you have a nice tan or you’ve been somewhere fun, you have that going for you, or if you’ve decided to do something different with your hair then you get to bask in the oohs and awes of your fellow girl-type teachers who decided not to go blond-y blond over the summer months weeks (I did that once), so yeah, it can be fun. And invariably, someone’s pregnant, someone’s gotten engaged, or, more likely, someone’s getting a divorce, so there’s gossip a-plenty.  And then there is the anticipation of a new start, a fresh set of students, eager babes who can’t wait to learn all that there is to learn in a year–because who wouldn’t be eager to learn at the end of the summer July?

Yeah, there’s that slice of hope, that nugget of “maybe this year it will be different” and the determination to make this year “the best school year ever”.

Then there’s the day–usually one or two days before the FDOS–when you’re contractually required to be at school at your contract time–7:00 AM-ish for elementary teachers, typically an hour later for middle school and high school teachers. There’s no room for error here–as in don’t be gettin’ used to the Starbucks drive-thru every morning–and you resign yourself to the fact that there’s no going back. School has started.

But wait–once your contract day begins, instead of those last minute touches to your classroom, you get to sit in meetings for the entire day! Even lunch–that sacrosanct hour twenty minutes when teachers are free to bitch about all the things teachers need to bitch about in order to maintain their sanity–becomes someone else’s agenda because you’re forced to eat a poorly catered lunch provided by the PFO where you can’t sit with your besties and tell it like it is because Mrs. So-and So is standing behind the pulled pork and you’ve got her kid in your class this year. The last thing you need is for her to overhear you grousing about how *&^%$#@ annoying the morning meeting with the superintendent was or how you hope this Christmas the PFO gets a freakin’ clue and hands out Trader Joe’s gift cards instead of those boring-ass United Arts and Education cards (five bottles of Two-buck Chuck v. ten dollars-worth of bulletin board borders? Wine me, please).

Then there are more meetings to learn about more procedures that have changed just enough from last year the end of May that you are forced to pay attention when all you really want to do is go home and take a nap (or watch Days of Our Lives). So you hurriedly spend the end of the contract day making sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row lesson-wise and giving your classroom another once-over to make sure it’s kid-friendly (hide the empty cans of Diet Coke you were meaning to put in the recycling, clean out a drawer so you can hide your purse inside of it, and wish you had some Clorox wipes already because there’s a definite dried streak of a booger-y snot-like substance on the aluminum frame of the bulletin board you just finished putting up, and you know it’s not yours). You want to get home at a reasonable time because, as your mother used to say, “You have a big day tomorrow.”

I do not know one teacher who has slept the night before the FDOS. Not one. Which means for teachers the FDOS is one long-ass day, and all you can think is, “Why didn’t I buy a coffee maker to put in my room? I could have hidden it inside my purse drawer!” The FDOS is surreal–you either have 30-35 names of kids to memorize, or you have 180-200 names of kids to memorize. Regardless, it’s a day when you are expected to be in charge, you’re expected to know what you’re doing, you aren’t used to going more than an hour and a half without a tinkle, and, well, you’re just plain miserable. And tired.

The weekend after the FDOS (or FWOS) is fraught with two emotions: The first, relief at being able to relax over a cup of coffee and The Pioneer Woman on Saturday morning; the second, an abysmal depression that hits you sometime Sunday afternoon because …

You have to go back to school tomorrow.

So why am I writing this when I am no longer teaching? Because, even though I have not had a weekday off work since December 12, 2011, the whole “back to school / work” malaise does not affect me. Teachers, most of whom work during the summer months weeks–they work at another job, they take classes, they participate in professional development, or they take care of their own kids–are still not burdened by the need to always be “on” as they are when they are actually teaching. I wish I could take credit for this, but I read it on another teacher’s blog: Being a teacher is like being an actor on a stage who is also responsible for writing the script, directing the play, building the set and scenery, designing and sewing the costumes, and selling the tickets–but most importantly, marketing the entire enterprise to an apathetic public. The energy it takes to be a teacher is as gargantuan as that liter container of hand sanitizer you just bought, and then some.

Why do I still care?  Because I love all of you and because, if you’ll let me, I can be your voice.  You can’t say these things publicly (especially the swear words about the superintendent and the PFO) because the Teacher Police will find you and make your life miserable.  You’re not free to vent any longer.  The Teacher Police can find me and chastise me all they want.  I don’t work for them.  So there.

The good news is that around mid-September, the dust will have settled, you and your students are into a routine, the weather will have begun to get a little crisper, there’s football, and most of all, you’re over that “back to school” period. Normalcy replaces utter exhaustion, your bladder slowly begins to accommodate an hour’s several hours’ worth of pee, and the promise of a nice bottle of Pinot Noir on a chilly Friday night makes the week go a little bit smoother.

Until the last week of school. But that’s another blog altogether.

Have a great school year, my friends!  Few people can do what you do and live to tell about it!

I swear.

I do. I’ll admit it. It’s one of my worst habits, after biting my nails–yes, my twice-monthly manicured nails.

I’ve had a potty mouth since about 1975, a year after my mother died. She used to have a potty mouth, too, but not surprisingly, when she began getting herself squared away with the Lord, she put aside her swear words, and I have to say that at the time, it was quite unsettling. Not because having a mum with a more evolved vocabulary was a bad thing, but knowing that she was shelving her words in order to be a better person was. And because my dad was the world’s all-time champion swear word utterer, I began to worry about his standing with The Almighty.

My dad took swearing to an entirely new level of intellectual prose. He eschewed the “common” language of the swearer–never, ever uttering the big kahuna of swear words–you know, the one that begins with an ‘F’ and ends with a ‘K’ (unless you changed the verb to a noun, in which case it ends with an ‘R’). No. His swearing was a patois of strung together adjectives; all colorful, threaded together by the occasional swear word. A master of both hyperbole and figurative language, my dad had the innate ability to generate a variety of words to describe one’s mother as well as one’s suspect parentage.

To wit: My dad had an ancient International Harvester Farmall tractor, bequeathed to him by his dad. To start it, he had to crank it, like an old- fashioned automobile. Then some levers had to be pulled, then pushed, then pulled again, and, if the planets were in alignment and the gods were on his side, the thing started. Most of the time, though, it didn’t. As a child, I thought the magic words to start the tractor included his long string of cursing, combined with several rich and vivid adjectives, combined with his kicking of the front tires. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

So yes, I come by it honestly. That damn apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Ironically, as a teacher, I only once made the mistake of swearing in vain: I called a kid a smartass. I meant to say “smart-aleck”, but I was way pregnant with twins, short of breath, short of patience, and had a serious case of cankles, and this kid was such a smartass that the word just flew out of my mouth before I could think. After the collective “Oo-Ee-oo!” of the other students, I got someone to watch my class of fifth graders (Oh, stop it. You’d have done the same thing if you had had that particular class of fifth graders. They were monsters.), marched down to the office, and told the principal what happened. He laughed. It was 1993–a time before principals got their panties in a wad over the shenanigans of their teachers. But I still called the kid’s mom to tell her I cussed out her son. She asked, “Well, what did he do?” I told her he back-talked me. She assured me that when he got home he was in for an ass beating–her words, not mine.

I smiled and triumphantly waddled back upstairs to my fifth graders. Prospective teachers–do not try this today. Times have changed, and you are the one who will suffer the ass beating.

Even before that incident, when I was teaching sixth graders and I had taken them camping for a week, I purposely let a swear word fly. I, along with two other milquetoast first-year teachers, were with the girls in our cabin, lights out, and I was exhausted. Not sure about the milquetoasts–they weren’t saying much–and besides, these were my kids and I was in charge. Naturally, the girls, ages 11 and 12, were all a-twitter with the excitement of being away from home for the first time with their friends. Repeated entreaties of “It’s time to stop talking, girls,” and, “Stop talking please. It’s time to go to sleep,” were of no use. Unless I took drastic measures, no one was going to sleep that first night in the woods. So I did it.

I said, very plainly and loudly, “Shut. The. Hell. Up.”

The rest of the week was just ducky.

When I taught eighth graders and the subject of connotation and denotation came up, I would proffer this lesson about swear words: Use them judiciously. You never know when you might need them. Why?
If you’re not a habitual swearer, when faced with a seemingly critical situation, you can throw in a ‘damn’ or a ‘hell’, and you’ll end up getting everyone’s eyebrow-raised attention and maybe even a little bit of respect. Swear all of the time, and those same folks will brand you as no better than the wheelman of a canal barge or some such low-life occupation. I try to remember this bit of counsel that I’ve offered to others when I, the world’s current champion swear word utterer, swear out of habit.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to remember my own damn advice.

Next month, I’ll tell the story of when I told the parents of one of my students, “Every time I try to have intercourse with your daughter, she doesn’t respond.”

Stay tuned.

The People’s Republic of Massachusetts

Every so often, I’ll have nightmares about my children being taken away from me and there is nothing that I do can get them back.  The forces that are keeping me from my children are far too powerful to negotiate with.  I can see my children, and I can hear their screams and cries for me to save them, but I’m powerless to do anything.  I awaken with wracking sobs, and it takes me a few minutes to convince my sleep conscience that it was all a bad dream and that my children are safe with me.

That is, until I read about stories such as the case of one Connecticut teenager Justina Pelletier.  Justina, according to her physician, suffers from mitochondrial disease, a rare metabolic disorder that causes extreme fatigue and a host of other symptoms affecting, among others, one’s eyesight, digestion, and muscular strength.

In February 2013, the Pelletiers, upon the recommendation of Justina’s doctor, rushed her via ambulance to Boston Children’s Hospital.  The decision to go to Boston Children’s Hospital was based upon this doctor’s recommendation to have Justina seen by a certain gastroenterologist who had just moved from Tufts Medical Center, also in Boston, to Boston Children’s Hospital.

It was a decision that resulted in the Pelletiers’ losing custody of their daughter and the beginning of their nightmare.

To make a long and tragic story short, Linda and Lou Pelletier, Justina’s parents, lost custody of their daughter because Massachusetts child-protection officials acted upon the recommendations of doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital who diagnosed the teenager with a mental disorder, disregarding her earlier diagnosis of mitochondrial disease.  The Pelletiers, the parents of this child and probably (I’m only guessing here) the people who know her best, disagreed with Boston Children’s about Justina’s diagnosis and care, so they did what any responsible adult–parent or not–would do:  They sought a second opinion.  And for that subversive behavior, they were separated from their daughter.  She was fourteen at the time.

When my daughters were fourteen, I used to toss and turn all night worrying when they would go to a friend’s for a sleepover.

You can read all about the case; however, the point that I am desperate to make is this:  Since when does the State (or in Massachusetts’ case the ‘Commonwealth’) or any agency, entity, or organization know what is better for a child than the child’s parents?

Oh, I know–believe me, I know and have been privy to several cases of parental abuse, neglect, Munchausen Syndrome, you name it.  I was a teacher, and I saw that all the time.  However, I never tried to substitute my beliefs or judgment over those of a parent.  What right did I have to tell a parent what is best for their child?

Just for fun, let’s look back in history at some other instances where “the State” has sought to overrule a parent’s judgment.  There was the infamous Hitler Youth movement where scores of German children were coerced into goose-stepping for Adolf, not to mention the obvious brainwashing happening to all those blond-haired blue-eyed kiddos.  And how could we forget those highly competitive Soviets who would send emissaries into a school in order to pick out future athletes to exploit and take them to a training facility far away from their parents?  Okay, at least they got to go to the Olympics eventually, if they didn’t end up in the salt mines of Siberia.  And there exists, even today, the numerous cases of child trafficking resulting in forced labor or sexual exploitation–state sanctioned?  Not directly, but then again, every time you buy a pair of Nikes, think about the country where those cool-looking kicks were made and little hands that made them.

“But Kelly,” you might be saying, “that’s over and done with, and that pesky child trafficking problem?  That only happens in third world countries–not here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.”

Justina Pelletier, the now sixteen year-old daughter of Lou and Linda Pelletier, who has been in custody since February 2013,  remains in the custody of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts–not because her parents abused her, not because she reported that her family was neglecting her, and not because she showed up at school with a wicked case of head lice and smelling like pee.  She remains in custody because of a hunch.

While in some parallel universe it may be true that Lou and Linda Pelletier have somehow sabotaged Justina’s health, why remove her from her home?  Would it not make more sense to return her to her parents under some kind of supervision?  Some follow-up care?  An agreement whereby she is seen by a psychiatrist to rule out mitochondrial disease?  No, that wouldn’t do because then several state workers would be out of a job–social workers, judges, state-sanctioned “experts”.  The big bully wins this round, and knowing that the Pelletiers are not a family of means (read:  litigation-happy), the state sentenced Justina to the psychiatric floor at Boston Children’s.  Her parents had limited visitation rights.  And that’s where I would have come completely unglued and quite possibly hurt somebody.

Today, nearly a year and a half later, Justina remains in state custody in a residential facility for troubled adolescents in Connecticut, 90 minutes from her home.  She has made repeated pleas to be returned to her parents, an altogether opposite response from what one would expect from an abused child.  As a result of their advocating for their daughter, Lou and Linda Pelletier have been branded as difficult and combative.

Difficult?  Combative?  I’d say they’ve shown remarkable restraint.  I can’t say with all certainty that if my child was being held against her will and against the will of my husband and me that there wouldn’t be somebody leaving the courtroom in a body bag.

Only in the Soviet Union America.

 

 

Maybe we should lower our standards?

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Just last week, lawmakers in my adopted state of Indiana decided that there were enough educated, trained, and experienced teachers out there, so they went ahead and opened the gates of teacher-dom to anyone with a college degree and a ‘B’ average.

I’ll get to the comparative analogies in a minute.

So, what does this new law say about the majority of teachers who matriculated through teacher training programs at accredited universities, spent countless hours observing and participating in the teaching process in classrooms with veteran teachers guiding them through their nascent lessons and interactions with children?  What does it say about the future teachers who spent upwards of two semesters student teaching at different grade levels in order to experience as much of life as an educator as possible before Pomping and Circumstancing their way across the graduation stage?  And what does it say about those who braved the interview processes at several school districts only to finally land their dream job–as a teacher’s assistant or a substitute teacher with the hopes of someday being called up to the big leagues?

And what does it say about established teachers who, on their own dime, sought out advanced degrees and certifications so that they would be not only more marketable within their school district, but more importantly, become better at their craft?  What about those who went back to graduate school to earn a special education or gifted education endorsement, a middle school or high school certification, a Master’s Degree, or a principal’s license?

I’ve done everything listed in the last two paragraphs, all while giving 25 years of my life to the State of Indiana as a teacher, both at the elementary and middle school levels, both in the rough and tumble inner-city of Indianapolis and the once tony suburb of Lawrence Township.  Most of those years were amazing; some of those years were downright awful, but in retrospect, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  That I am no longer a minion of the State of Indiana is irrelevant–what is relevant is the State of Indiana’s latest bone-headed move to lower the standards of teacher certification.

So, Indiana, while you’re at it, here’s something to chew on:  Once I had dreams of becoming an R.N.  I even applied to and was accepted into the School of Nursing at a small institution in Ohio.  However, once my father wisely reminded me that the sight of copious amounts of blood made me pass out cold, I reconsidered my options and chose to remain a teacher.  But since then, I think I’ve licked that blood thing (the passing out thing, you weirdo), and now …

I want to be a nurse.

I graduated in 1985 from Penn State University with a 3.5 GPA.  So, whaddya say, Indiana?  Can I become a nurse?  What’s that?  I have to pass a test?  No problem–I’m an excellent test taker.  Experience?  Psht!  I have three kids that came out of my body, so I think I know a little bit about being in a hospital and what it takes to be a nurse.  And the countless trips to the ER and their broken bones, stitches, and the one time my daughter Caroline drank a bottle of liquid Benedryl …yeah, I think I can handle this.  How hard can it be?  I want to be a nurse, for crying out loud, not a biomedical engineer.  Geez.

So if not a nurse, there’s another profession I’ve always thought I’d be good at:  Lawyer.  How hard can it be?  I know you have to pass a test (again–GOOD TEST TAKER HERE), and you have to be able to write well (I think I’ve got that, Scooter) and know a lot about the law and how to research laws, precedents, decisions, and stuff like that.  So, can I be a lawyer?  What, is there some exclusive club that only lawyers know about that would prevent me and may 3.5 GPA from Penn State University in Elementary and Kindergarten Education from becoming a lawyer?  Okay, so then can I go back to being a nurse?

Skills?  Special skills?  To be a nurse?  Oh, like giving shots and things.  I already know how to do that–I gave myself shots every day for the first three months I was pregnant with the Boy, so there.  There’s more?

Well, what about “on the job training”?  No?  Why not?

Okay, so maybe lawyering is a better option.  I know they read a lot.  I read a lot.  I don’t understand why I can’t be a lawyer.

“But Kelly,” you might be saying (unless you’re a teacher).  “You’re being ridiculous.  Whether you’re a nurse or a lawyer, each profession requires a particular set of skills.  Liam Neeson said so.  Really, dear, what special skills are needed to be a teacher?  Honestly, how hard can it be?”

Gee, I’d love to sit down and outline for you all of the necessary pedagogy, the extensive metacognitive skills knowledge base required, the need to have a complete understanding of P.L. 94142, the difference between an IEP and a 504, the ability to align a set of standards to instruction and an ability to document the hell out of it, the affective aspects of containing upwards of 40 children in one room at a time for an extended period and …well, I could go on and on.

How hard can it be?

Harder than you think.  Teaching requires a hell of a lot more than a 3.0 GPA and a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

 

 

You Can Call Me Bossy

Citizens of the world unite!  Avoid the word ‘bossy’ because it might lower a young girl’s self-esteem!

Here we go again.

My niece Jacqui has grown up knowing that she is bossy because we use every opportunity to remind her of how bossy she is.  My two daughters Julianne and Caroline, too, have bossyness running through their identical DNA. Furthermore, in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary beside the word ‘bossy’, you’ll see a picture of my sister Becky.  In fact, ‘Becky’ is oftentimes a euphemism for ‘bossy’, as in, “Quit being so Becky!”

Incidentally, all three young women’s respective self-esteems are solidly intact.  Becky’s self-esteem was never in question.

beyoncebuttI visited the “Ban Bossy” site, and I was intrigued to see that one Mrs. Z (neé Knowles) has served herself up as a spokeswoman (not a ‘spokesperson’; she’s a woman for crying out loud) for the campaign to ban the word ‘bossy’.  Hm.

Then my ADD took over, and I decided, since I have some of her earlier stuff on my playlist, that I’d listen to some Beyoncé just to see if I wanted to download anything else of hers.

I Googled “Drunk in Love” since it’s a duet with her husband, Jay—you know him as Mr. Z.  I gave it a listen, and, like most popular music, (even the music I listened to back in the 70s), I had to look up the lyrics, although all we ever had were the album notes and only if they were included.  Once again, I digress.

Anyway, this is what Mrs. Z rhapsodized about her husband:

“I’ve been drinking, I’ve been drinking,
I get filthy when that liquor get into me.
I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking,
Why can’t I keep my fingers off it, baby?  I want you, na-na.
Why can’t I keep my fingers off you, baby?  I want you, na-na…”

Okay, so Mrs. Z got a little tight, a little wound up, went home, and made frisky fun with her husband, I get that.  But, because it’s a duet, Mr. Z obviously had to weigh in:

“Foreplay in the foyer, f*cked up my Warhol.
Slid the panties right to the side, ain’t got the time to take drawers off.
On sight, catch a charge I might,
Beat the box up like Mike in ’97 I bite.
I’m Ike Turner, turn up, baby, no, I don’t play…”

Then he finishes off the third verse with this gem:

“Sleep tight, we sex again in the morning
Your breasteses (sic) is my breakfast, we going in, we be all night.”

Oh, my.  Well.  I can see why she doesn’t want to appear “bossy”—her old man might beat the crap out of her just like Ike Turner did to his wife Tina “What’s Love Got to Do With It” Turner, or maybe he’d bite off her ear  á la Tyson v. Holyfield (props to Jay-Z for not mentioning the rape conviction).  And, you know, I’m not so sure I’d care for my husband talking about my panties like that or having my “breasteses” for breakfast.  He normally has an Egg McMuffin™ or a large coffee from Dunkin Donuts, but not my breasteses.

Furthermore, my man might be bigger than I am, but I guarantee he’d never think of laying a hand on me or even joke about it.

In all seriousness, I don’t give a fiddler’s fart (my nod to St. Patrick’s Day) what Beyoncé and Jay-Z do in the privacy of their foyer or any other room in their castle, nor do I care about their song lyrics.  They have a right to sing whatever they wish to sing, regardless of how silly, misogynistic, sexist, or offensive it may be to some people.  Doesn’t bother me.  For the record, I like Beyoncé’s music.

Why don’t these lyrics bother me?  Because I respect their right to create song lyrics, even ones that are, on their face, tasteless and crude like the ones I’ve pulled out of “Drunk in Love”.  However, though I’m not a billionaire hottie with a voice like hers, I, too, reserve and deserve the right to use the word ‘bossy’ or any other word I want to use for that matter.  I’m a big girl.  Let me take the heat if what I say is stupid, offensive, jerk-like, or otherwise unseemly. You’re not the boss of me.

In fact, I’m going to go a step further.  I submit to all of you who appeared in the “Ban Bossy” video:  To Beyoncé, to my favorite comic actress Jane Lynch, to my diplomatic role model Condoleeza Rice, to Mrs. Affleck who was so adorable in 13 Going on 30, and to designer of the timelessly stylish wrap dress Diane Von Furstenberg, quit being so bossy and don’t you dare tell me what words I can use and what words I can’t!  Again, you’re not the boss of me!

Fair enough?

I don’t know about you, but I get a sick feeling in my gut whenever I hear someone invoking the word ‘ban’.  Read up on The Nuremberg Laws.

There was some big time banning going on in Nazi-controlled Europe in the first half of the twentieth century…

Deconstructing Downton Abbey

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Ever since my sister Becky introduced me to this Masterpiece Theater drama, my life has revolved around Sunday nights.  Downton Abbey, brought to us by the only kind of liberals I root for—the programming managers at PBS—is, for the uninitiated, a ‘veddy’ British, high-brow, Julien Fellowes (of Gosford Park fame) soap opera.  The drama features A) an early 20th century aristocratic family living in this enormous house with about 10,000 rooms to clean and B) the people who clean them.

It’s delightful.

There are two sides to the Downton Abbey world—the upstairs world and the below the stairs world.  It’s the upstairs world that puzzles me, and in a minute, I’ll tell you why.  But it’s the below stairs people who deserve all the kudos.  Even though they are much heartier, smarter, and practical at life, they remain fascinatingly adroit at taking care of the upstairs people.

And they manage to pretend to like it.

First, there’s Carson—he’s the butler, and he runs the show at Downton.  Carson is British to the core, a man of strong principles with even stronger opinions on how life should be lived.  When he walks into a roomful of his lieges, they all stand.  Impressive, for a servant.

Then there’s Mrs. Hughes—she’s the housekeeper, and I’m pretty sure that in the back of her mind and in the back of Carson’s mind there’s a hookup in the works.  We’ll just have to see.  But since both of them are rather long of tooth and, well, not very attractive, it’s not a coupling I care to witness.  And you know if they’re British they have really bad teeth.

Then there’s lady’s maid Anna and the valet Bates.  They’re married; however, their marriage began on rather shaky ground since shortly after they were married, Bates was arrested, tried, and convicted of killing his first wife.  Don’t worry—Julien Fellowes made it look as if she had it coming.  Anna doggedly played Nancy Drew and found a way to get him freed from prison, and now they’re happily together, except for the memories of that visiting valet in the Season 4 premiere who raped Anna during a house party.  Ugly stuff.

Thomas is the under-butler, and he’s what the British would call a “nah-sty piece of work”; he’s what my dad would have called, “a real shithead”.  He’s forever stirring the pot and making trouble for everyone, upstairs and downstairs, seemingly to assuage the suffering ache in his loins resulting from his suppressed homosexuality.  But don’t feel sorry for him.  No one likes Thomas.  What’s frustrating about Thomas is that he never seems to get caught being devious.  How stupid are these upstairs people?

Why do the upstairs folks puzzle me?  Aside from their stupidity, they can’t even dress themselves!  Hell, my kids could dress themselves at age three—they could even pick out their own clothes!  Not only can these grown men and women not dress themselves or comb their hair, they can’t even fix themselves a snack, clean up their rooms, open a newspaper, or serve themselves food at dinner.  One would think that with the dearth of such appallingly simple life skills, the upstairs people would suffer from an appalling lack of facility, as well, but no.  They evidently hold all the power because they’ve managed to convince the below stairs people to do all of this stuff for them!

I know, I’m mystified, too.

The upstairs people are all related—there’s Robert, Lord Grantham.  You can also call him ‘Earl’.  He’s the heir of Downton, but his sperm count apparently didn’t include any little guys with XY chromosomes, so he was left with three daughters.  This caused quite a hullabaloo since the law in England at that time said that a woman was incapable of inheriting property.  I should think so—hell, they can’t even tie their own shoes, let alone run a farm.

Cora, Lady Grantham, is Robert’s wife, and she’s an American with a boatload of money (that her ineptly equipped husband lost in some really bad investments—again, one who is incapable of buttoning buttons probably shouldn’t be handling money).  You’d think that Cora, as an American girl, would have enough pluck in her to know how to part hair in the morning, but again, Cora is just as feeble as the rest of the clan.

Of the three daughters, one has died in childbirth—the remaining two don’t much like each other.  This is because Edith, the younger of the two surviving daughters, spilt the beans on her bigger sister Mary when Mary foolishly succumbed to the exotic charms of one Kemal Pamuk, the visiting Turkish ambassador.  However, in Mary’s defense, if you had seen the actor who portrayed the Turkish ambassador, this would make perfect sense.  While it’s true that Mary lost her cherry to the hot Turk, the Turk didn’t fare as well.  Mary’s virginity coupled with her feigned resistance proved to be too much for Mr. Pamuk and the poor guy expired on top of her.  The most obvious downside to this was that Mary’s very first walk of shame included her lady’s maid Anna and her mother Cora helping her to drag the freshly dead but happily satisfied corpse back into his bedroom.  Ma-mah was not pleased.

Talk about beginner’s luck.

Edith, easily the least-liked character, suffered the indignity of being literally dissed at the altar.  But in all fairness, she had practically begged this poor old one armed bugger into marrying her, so she really shouldn’t have been surprised.  After that fiasco, Edith got “modern” and started writing for a magazine in London and fell in love with Michael.  Michael, however, has a wife (Edith can’t catch a break), and even though he has agreed to move to Germany to get a divorce (apparently Reno wasn’t yet opened for business), he hasn’t written to Edith in awhile which has Edith’s knickers in a twist because…

…she’s apparently carrying his bastard child!  Oh, the humanity.  Post-Edwardian karma.  Shouldn’t have told on your sister, Missy.

Rose is a new character who has managed to breathe a little bit of life into the Grantham household; however, last night’s make out session with a very attractive bandleader may have been the bit of writing that has Julien Fellowes jumping the shark.  FYI:  All of the Granthams are white folks, in case you were wondering.  And this is set in, like, about 1922.

My favorite among the aristocracy, though, is Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham.  It is she providing the drama with its witticisms and color.  She’s what I aspire to be when I become an old yady.  And I love her voice.

There are other mystifying elements to Downton Abbey, like the fact that even though all they ever do is eat, all of the females look as if they haven’t had a decent meal since before The Great War. And the boredom, the everlasting boredom these women must endure!  I guess getting a j.o.b. is not in their wheelhouse.

But I’ll keep watching.   We’ve got the Great Depression and another world war to look forward to, after all.