My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Playing Hardball


April 25, 2014

Dear Readers,

My rookie season coaching girls’ fast pitch is in the books.  Final tally?  Two wins, nine losses.  Coaching middle school girls ages 11 to 14 was a lesson in futility and humility.  However, I did end the season with a win.  Although, not quite a win I can quantify through my stats.  And when the dust finally settled on our maiden season, I reached a foregone conclusion:  while their softball skills were questionable at best, these girls could sure play hardball.

As the season began, I made several futile attempts to “go back to the basics”.  Asking the girls to demonstrate proper technique for catching and throwing is one thing.  Expecting them to do so is another.

“Kunzmann, do we gotta use two hands every time we catch?”

“Yes, you do.”

A collective eye-roll moved through the group of girls, it was almost palpable; I shuddered.  It was going to be a long season.

The girls never questioned me about anything I asked them to do again.  They just didn’t do what I asked them to do.  For them, it was that simple.  For me, I never stopped trying.

“Put your glove all the way on the ground to stop a groundball,” I would instruct one player.

“You don’t hafta do that,” her teammate would tell her.  And she wouldn’t.

“When you catch a fly ball, put your free hand over the ball to keep it from popping out of your glove,” I would instruct another.

“You don’t hafta do that,” her teammate would tell he.  And she wouldn’t.

It got so bad by the middle of the season that I even had to forfeit one of our games.  We were at an away game and my varsity catcher had forgotten her glove.  I told the JV catcher to suit up.  She said no.  In fact, she flat out refused.  And no amount of begging, cajoling,  and/or wheedling could get her to suit up and take the field.  So, I flat out forfeited.

And that’s how the rest of the season went:  poorly.  We were not a team, and we were certainly not a good team.  The other teams in our division were so much better.  The girls on those teams listened to their coaches.  My girls listened to each other.  My girls didn’t see the correlation, until it was too late.

It was the last game of the season and my girls had taken the field.  I was in the dugout with my JV second baseman sitting next to me.  We were watching our pitcher warm up.  On the last pitch, our catcher yells, “Balls in, coming down!”  The catcher is getting ready to throw the ball to second base, simulating what would happen during the inning if someone was attempting to steal second base.

Most ball players know that if a runner is trying to steal second, the shortstop takes the catcher’s throw and second baseman backs her up.  Not on our team.  And the JV player sitting next to me finally notices.

“Kunzmann, how come on the other teams the shortstop takes the throw when the catcher throws it down?”

“Because that’s the way you’re supposed to do it,”

“Well, how come when I’m playing second base, I take the catcher’s throw?”

I turned to look at her and said, “I don’t know, why do you take the throw?”

She looked a little puzzled and confused.  “Well, that’s what they told me to do.”

“And who are they?”

“The girls on our team.”

“And what did I tell you to do?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted ashamedly.

“I taught you the right way to play second base,” I assured her.

“Oh, then I guess I should listen to you.”

Word.

I’m hopeful that next year she will remember this little ‘a-ha moment’ and give me another shot at coaching her.  For now, I’m just happy that one of the girls came to the realization that she should listen to me.  Now, maybe the word will spread.

Peace, ~v.


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My Kids vs. Bebe’s Kids


April 24, 2016

Dear Readers,

At the end of every school year I’ve been teaching, I’ve run into the same problem: my kids vs. bebe’s kids.  I think a little background is in order before I continue my post.

Bebe’s Kids (pronounced bay-bay) was a 1992 movie based on a stand-up routine by the late American comedian, Robin Harris.  Bebe’s kids, the expression, has worked its way into the vernacular of urban America.  Bebe’s kids is a term used to describe young children who are rowdy and/or misbehaving, who seemingly have no home training.  Used in a sentence:  The students hurling spit wads in the hallway are bebe’s kids.

Lest you get the wrong idea, bebe’s kids are not delinquents, they are not the young juveniles committing crimes.  They are also not the well-mannered, polite students that most parents believe their children to be.  No, bebe’s kids are somewhere in-between.  Bebe’s kids are middle-school students.

At the start of every school year, I spend a great deal of time turning 100 or so bebe’s kids, into my kids.  Bebe’s kids put their feet up on classroom chairs and desks, and they hardly ever say “Please,” or “Thank you,”, unless it’s to their advantage.  Bebe’s kids almost always answer, “Yeah?”, or the always annoying, “What?” when addressing adults.  And they pick their nose, they burp, they fart, and they sneeze loudly in public.  Bebe’s kids have a hard time understanding why 12 year-olds do not have the same privileges as their teachers, “That’s not fair!  How come I can’t _________ (fill in the blank).”

Nine months later and some of my kids still have trouble keeping their hands and feet to themselves.  To be honest, I get lax at times and can be seen propping my feet up on my desk…but mostly not in front of my students.  Most of my kids remember to say, “Please,” and “Thank you,” and are not nearly as rude as they were nine months ago.  Most, not all, but most, have stopped picking their noses in class, and I only occasionally hear one of my kids burp and/or fart during class.  Bodily noises ceased being funny for most of my kids on about the second month we were together; they were never funny to me.

As for my kids whining about how life is unfair and they should have the same privileges as I have at school, well, let’s just say they more or less suck it up during class.  Oh, most still think they are equal to me.  They are just better at hiding their entitlement while in my presence.  For the most part, my kids have begun to show signs of maturing.  Of course, it’s what I expect from them.  That’s not to say there are still a few bumps in the classroom.  The following was a true exchange:

“Why are you late?” I ask one of my kids as she hurries through the door, long after the tardy bell has rung.

“Whaaat?”

“Oh, this is going to be good,” I muse to myself.  “Why are you late?” I repeat.

“Oh, because I was walking over here and when I got right around the corner, I was with my friend, So-and-so, and she saw me, do you want me to go get her?  And I was right over there and I was coming to class and you guys saw me right?  And I knew the bell was going to ring, and the bell rang, and I was walking over here, and…I fell.”

True exchange, dear Readers, she fell.  Of course I wasn’t done with her.  “So, um, you fell, right?”

“Yeah, I mean yes, I fell.”

“Are you alright?!” I ask in mock concern.

“Yes.”

“Do you need to see the nurse?”

“Uh, no, I already saw her.”

“Oh, you did?  She let you see her without a pass?  That was certainly generous of her.”

“Yeah, well she wasn’t busy.”

“How  lucky for you.  And surely she had you sign in and sign out, right?”

“Uh, no, she just gave me an ice pack and I left.”

“And where is the ice pack?”

“Oh, I threw it away before I got here.”

“Of course.  So let me recap:  You were on your way to my class with your friend, you fell, you went to the nurse, she didn’t sign you in, she gave you an ice pack, sent you on your way, and never signed you out, you threw the ice pack away before you got to class, and that is why you are late.  Do I have that right?”

“Yeah, I mean, yes.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to change any of the details in your story?  Now would be a good time to tell me why you were really late.”

“Gawd!  That is why I’m late!  You don’t hafta believe me!  Just ask my friend, So-and-so, she’ll tell you.  I should go get her.”

“No, that’s quite alright.”

With a self-satisfied smile, my student sits down, believing for all the world that she just got away with putting one past me…until she sees me pick up the phone in my room.

“Hello Ms. Nurse, this is Ms. Kunzmann.  I’m calling to check on one of my students who fell earlier and said she had stopped by your office to get an ice pack.  Her name is (blank) and she was just there.”

“I’m sorry Ms. Kunzmann, I never treated that student today.”

“Oh, I must be mistaken.  My apologies Ms. Nurse.  Sorry to have bothered you.”

And that was the end of it.  My student had a rueful, smile on her shamed face (at least she had the good grace to be embarrassed), and we got on with the business of 7th grade language arts.  Later during class, my student apologized to me, and I accepted.

I don’t expect my students to be perfect.  Heck, I’m not perfect, and I let my kids see my flaws.  I just want my kids to be accountable for their words and their actions.  It takes more of my time to ensure that they are held accountable in my classroom, than to just let them think they got away with some untoward word and/or deed.  It also takes a heck of a lot of repetition; they usually don’t get the lesson the first time.  But in the end, it’s worth it.

So, nine months into the ten month school year, and I am happy with the progress each and every one of my kids’ has shown.  Their teachers next year won’t have too much breaking in to do.  Now, if I can just do something about the other 500 students not under my charge.  Those bebe’s kids will just have to wait until next year.

Peace, ~v.

 

 

 


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My Joy


sunsetJoy:  the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune; a source or cause of delight.

October 4, 2015

Dear Readers,

As joy settles in and around my soul, I am taken aback at my good fortune.  I have touched the lives of many young people, and this has been a source of great happiness for me.  However, countless young people have moved my soul, and this has been a great source of joy for me.

Why must I constantly search for more? 

Well, dear Readers, that is what is at the heart of the matter.  It’s not that I think I have done quite enough in my teaching of young people and I can rest on my laurels, it’s that I fear I could be doing more.  I have been dedicated to teaching to the point of absorption.  I have painstakingly and methodically set out to be a fine educator.  I’ve taken the time to hone my craft and I’m almost always tinkering at my workbench.  I am in restless pursuit of a greater understanding as to how to better do what I do.  If the key to success is based on extraordinary effort, well then, I am successful.  However, I nearly always fabricate an opposing force to my joy.

Why must I constantly feel out of balance?

I either have or I have not.  I either take or I give.  There seems to be no middle ground with me.  It’s time I look deeper into my life and question where it is leading, who is really in charge, and what’s really going on.  I need to get ahold of the big picture.

What is my sole (soul?) purpose?

I’ve always taken the road less traveled.  I’ve lived my life speaking my mind and seizing the day.  I’ve gambled that being bold would bring me personal power over my life.  Ahh, but somewhere along the way I forgot that true power always comes from God.  It’s through this relationship that I am blessed with fulfillment.  When I begin to believe that I am the source of my accomplishments, problems develop.  When I forget that I am not the source of my power, my good sense is overwhelmed and I become blind to my true intentions.

What are my true intentions?

Although I’ve faltered, I do have the courage of my convictions.  I believe that man is basically good.  I believe that one person can make a difference.  I believe that I can inspire a generation to act upon the goodness in their hearts.  And, I believe I am blessed.

Why am I worried about my future?

I’ve thought long and hard about these questions, dear Readers.  As near as I can tell, it’s time to take a walk with God.  Communing with nature is one way in which I connect to God.  When the words on the page clutter my brain, my wisdom dulls.  When this happens, it’s time for me to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, Mother Earth.  Watching the sun rise over the mountains, being still and watching the nighttime twinkles in the sky.  Getting up close to a flowering plant so that the bud and I are aware of each other, breathing with each other and for each other.  Man and earth are dependent upon one another.

Why do I lose that connection?

When I can appreciate my connection to God through nature, I can reconnect to the nurturer in me.  I can once again appreciate and care for others.  After all, that’s part of the big picture, to serve others.  To be of service to others is one of my greatest gifts.  I must pray I don’t fall victim to, well, playing the victim.  I oftentimes have developed a “Why me, God?” attitude and plunged into years of selfishness.  I’ve clung to my cloud of oppression and bitterness.  I’ve substituted that for the big picture and it never works.  Selfishness is nowhere in the big picture.

What’s the point?

We were never meant to walk in self-pity.  We were made to rise to the challenges that God has foretold.  Disagreements, hassles, quarreling, arguing, and bickering.  Being at odds with one another does not manifest joy in one’s life.  Being bothered by the differences keeps us from looking for the similarities.  Quibbling over details only derails the peace in which we were all meant to live.

What are my options?

I’m finally beginning to see the balance I’ve been searching for all these years.  I now recognize that I can be an effective educator without dying for the cause.  I can embrace the challenge of teaching without losing myself and my sense of humor.  I can go with the flow without being afraid to go under somewhere downstream.  I can keep everything in balance.

What’s the catch?

Here’s the rub, I must learn to feel my emotions.  That’s what this all comes down to, feeling my emotions instead of constantly masking them.  Truly, this is my answer.  I’ve closed the door to my heart so often that I’ve found it nearly impossible to open it again.  However, through my constant prayers and my faith in God, little by slowly (thanks Skip), I’ve managed to let down my guard and let in my students.

kidsWhat’s changed?

The students are the same, I’ve changed.  I’ve begun to see my students not as empty vessels that need to be filled up.  But rather, as bodies with souls that need to be loved and nurtured.  And it’s been through this love that I have found joy, pure, unadulterated joy!  I’ve found my balance.  I’ve found my inner peace.

I used to think that I wanted to change the world.  But no, I want to teach the children who want to change the world.  There could be no greater joy.  Peace, ~v.

This is the life.


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Taking Stock


August 2, 2015

Dear Readers,

It’s time to take stock.  Every year as school begins I take stock in my life.  I suppose this comes from the fact that as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher.  However, also as far back as I can remember, I have questioned my motives for wanting to teach.  I have oftentimes wondered if I just want to be in high school for the rest of my life.  So, every year I take stock.

This year finds me in a better place both mentally and spiritually.  I am more open to change and I’m more willing to be honest.  Let’s get started.

“Say how you feel, leave the job you hate, find your passion, love with every ounce of your bones, stand up for things that matter, don’t settle, don’t apologize for who you are.  Be brave.”  Yeah, some of you may have seen this quote on Facebook.  But it is a great place to start.

  • Say how you feel  Yes, I do.  The thing is, though, I really need to be diplomatic.  I tend to hurt people’s feelings way too much.
  • leave the job you hate  Wow!  This is a biggie.  I struggled last year as to whether or not I should sign a contract to continue working at the school in which I had taught for the past two years.  I can honestly say that I hated my job.  And I never thought I would say that about any teaching job.  I struggled, to say the least.  However, over the summer, I fell in love with my job.  It was a combination of things, the perfect storm, if you will.  So I guess I did leave the job I hated, and I found one that I absolutely love.  Funny thing is, it’s the same job!
  • find your passion  Indeed!  Ask me a year ago, and I would have answered that teaching is my passion.  However, today I know that my passion is inspiring today’s youth to create their own future.
  • love with every ounce of your bones  Check.  God, my family, my friends…and finally, myself.
  • stand up for things that matter  Those of you dear Readers who read on a regular basis know that I tend to use my blog as a platform to stand up for things that matter to me.  I would like to believe that I am the voice for those who do cannot speak up for themselves.
  • don’t settle  Never settle for nothing but your best.  In years past, I continually lied to myself about this one.  I tried to convince myself that I was being the best Vickie that I could be.  Turns out, I was wrong and I wasn’t even fooling myself.  Now however, I can look myself in the mirror and tell myself that I am working my way back to being the best.
  • don’t apologize for who you are  On this one point, I have a caveat.  There will come a time in the near future in which I will have to apologize to certain people in my life for the person I used to be.  But for today, I do not have to apologize for who I am.
  • Be brave.  There is nothing so brave as being vulnerable and living a whole-hearted life.  I intend to do just that.

So dear Readers, I’ve taken stock.  Some good, some not so good.  I know I will never be a perfect human being.  However, I will spend the rest of my life striving to be the best Vickie I can be.  Peace, ~v.

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SMH


August 1, 2015

Dear Readers,

I’m shaking my head (smh).  I’ve been socially illiterate for some time now, so pardon me if I seem a bit naïve.  I was at a party this evening in which there were adults ranging from 30 to 70 years of age.  Now, I’ve been around adults for some time now.  However, it is only recently that I have socialized with the thirty-something set.  And from what I experienced tonight, I am reluctant to ever do so again.

Ok, adults all talk a little shit about people, places, and things.  This person pissed me off at the grocery store because he had 15 items in the 10 item or less line.  Or, that person flipped me off because I was going too slow in the fast lane, kind of thing.  However, the young couple I ran into this evening chimed in with something new:  making fun of people because they are “ugly”.  Seriously?  Are we back in middle school?

I am used to 12 and 13 year old girls laughing at people they deem ugly.  But 30 year olds?  No, I just cannot accept that.  I work my hardest to try and keep my students from making fun of each other.  Now however, I find I am fighting a losing battle.  I say this because it is the parents who teach these vile behaviors to their children.

For the life of me, I cannot understand what would make a grown adult make fun of another human being for being ‘ugly’.  And to do it in front of their children?  Disgusting.  Is this really the world we want to live in?  Is this really the lessons we want to be teaching our children.  Please, please tell me no.

This evening as I sat listening to grown adults making fun of a lady who works at the local grocery story because she is ‘ugly’, I had to speak up.  It was as if I was in my classroom listening to a bunch of 7th graders.  I guess I’m just so used to that sort of banter that it took me a minute to realize I was listening to adults.

“No wonder I have such a hard time keeping my students from making fun of each other.  They get it from their parents!” I spoke out.  The offending adults stopped talking and after a few seconds of awkward silence, polite conversation continued.

The offending couple may never see this.  However, I want them to know that when their child comes to my classroom, I will protect his feelings as though I am his mother.  I will go out of my way to make sure no one in my classroom calls him names that would hurt his feelings.  After all, I am a mother and it would hurt my heart to know that someone was making fun of my child.  You know, just like the mother of the girl you were making fun of.  smh.  Peace, ~v.

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The Boogeyman 


July 31, 2015

Dear Readers, 

Here’s the thing, I’m a good person. However, I’m also the boogeyman.  Let me explain. I have 23 nieces and nephews and with a few exceptions, I terrified them as children. No, not intentionally. However, they were scared of me. I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 years or so trying to figure it out, and I think I’ve got a handle on it. 

I’ll use one of my nephews as an example.  Lennon, not his real name, was completely intimidated by me when he was a small child. He would literally run screaming at the sight of me.  Now, I was a bit demanding. I expected the children in my circles to be polite, respectful and to follow directions. I suppose I did scare them with my strong, gruff voice. 

I will apologize to no one that I admonish children in a voice that sends shivers down most adults’ spines; it’s how I get the message across. For example, if I want little Lennon to stop running in the house with a fork because he might fall and put his eye out and then his dad, my brother, will pitch a fit, I’m not going to use my soft, gentle voice. My soft, gentle voice is reserved for the conveyance of all things soft and gentle. And little Lennon might not have understood my words, but he understood my tone.  And make no mistake, my tone said, “Stop effing running in the house with a fork!”

Well dear Readers, Lennon is now in high school and he is an awesome young man. He is respectful, bright, and cool as heck!  He no longer fears me. In fact, we have enjoyed each other’s company and we have had some awesome conversations. Kids his age love me. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • I show them how much I love them
  • I never take my love away
  • I respect them first
  • I am firm but fair
  • They can trust me to not hurt them physically, emotionally and mentally 
  • I apologize when I am wrong
  • I am cool like that

I’m not perfect. However, I’m perfectly me. I am an inspiration to anyone who hangs around me long enough. I see the potential in most human beings to be good people. So, if you have ever seen me as the boogeyman, give me another chance. I’m really quite inspirational, just ask Lennon. Peace, ~v.

me now


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Anonymous


July 28, 2015

Dear Readers,

My name is [redacted] and I am an alcoholic/addict.  It has taken me 32 years to write that statement with any amount of sincerity.  Of course, it has taken me that long to be able to work the program with any amount of sincerity, as well.  I was reluctant to even write this post.  And I was certainly never going to publicly admit that I am a, well, you know.  So what’s changed?

Alcoholism is an insidious disease.  Lest you get the idea that alcoholism and addiction do not qualify as a disease, here is Merriam Webster’s definition of the word disease:  a condition of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.  Whew, that’s a mouthful!  Let me break it down for you, dear Readers.

a condition of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts Well, I am a living animal.  And that plant body thing, well, the definition is stating that both animals and plants can have a disease.

that impairs normal functioning I suppose the word ‘normal’ is open to interpretation.  However, this is really the part that gave me the most difficulty because by and large, I functioned pretty normally for the past 32 years, at least on the outside, but I’ll get to that later.

and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.  How are these for signs and symptoms:  shaking, jittery, clouded mind, physical craving, irritability, and headache.

Looking at the definition and breaking it down like that, certainly gives one pause.  Yeah, I guess I really am and alcoholic/addict.  However, what I have just described, dear Readers, could easily be an addiction to caffeine.  Gosh knows I experience these symptoms if I don’t have my coffee first thing in the morning.  But it is also a description of addiction to numerous medications and illicit drugs, and, of course, alcohol.  So why the stigma?  Why, as a people, do we give aid and comfort to those who have the disease of cancer, but shame those of us who have an addiction?  Why do we have telethons to raise money for muscular dystrophy, but insist that we alcoholics ‘just get over it’?

Interesting questions, and I don’t have the answers, at least not all the answers.  But I do know this, as long as we see alcoholism and addiction  as an imperfection, a slight on our character, we will continue to treat the alcoholic/addict as a pariah, an outcast.  Me?  I’m not willing to accept that.        

I recently spoke to an aunt I hadn’t spoken to in quite a while.  She told me she loved reading what I write.  She also told me how courageous she thought I was for writing my own experiences so that others could know they are not alone.  I’m pretty sure she was talking about the fact that I have written about my bouts with mental illness.   But, I’m sure she’d be proud that I wrote about my alcoholism and my addiction, as well. 

I’m in remission now…oops!  My bad, I mean recovery, I’m in recovery now.  But make no mistake, my name is [redacted] and I’m an alcoholic/addict.  Peace, ~v.                     

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