My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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There but for the Grace of God, Go I


December 24, 2016

Dear Readers,

The following has been reprinted with permission:

Attitude of Gratitude

by Sonny, 6th grade

“Even if I am only 12 years old, I know what it means to be grateful. I know that no matter how bad I have it, I can always be grateful for something. Here’s my story.

I lost my dad when I was about 3 years old. I guess I miss him,   I don’t really remember him. But I lost my mom last year to breast cancer, and I do remember her. I miss her so much, but not as much as I used to. I guess I’ve learned to be grateful.

When my mom died, I tried to be strong, but I couldn’t stop crying forever, it seemed. My mom died during the summer, so at least I didn’t have to go to school. It seemed that all I ever did was cry and feel sorry for myself. I lived with my nana and tata, my mom’s parents, so I knew I had people who loved me. But my mom and dad were both gone and all I could think about was, “Why me?” Then school started and I got even worse. I didn’t know that I was angry. I just knew that life was pretty unfair.

I was never really good at school. So, when I started getting ‘Ds’ and ‘Fs’, it didn’t bother me…much. To be honest, I hated my grades. But, I didn’t think I could do any better.   I was wrong.

I had a teacher last year that taught me about gratitude. I was sad I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet. My mom used to tell me that. I never understood what it meant.

One day at school I was crying because, well, life sucked for me! It had been less than a year since my mom died and Thanksgiving was coming up. All I heard at school that week was, “What are you thankful for?”

“Nothing! I’m thankful for nothing!” I yelled back at my teacher one day when I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I ran into the hall and waited for my teacher to run after me and tell me everything would be okay. I then would tell her how sad I am and she would say she was sorry and then I would tell her that life was unfair, and I would get to go to the bathroom and wash my face and I would be okay until the next time. At least that was how it had gone for the past four months. Not this time.

My teacher, I’ll call her Miss X, dismissed the class to reading and lunch and called me in from the hallway.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “if Miss X won’t feel sad for me, maybe Ms. J would.” Ms. J was our class aide and she was still in the classroom as me and Miss X sat down.

I don’t remember what I thought Miss X was going to say, but I know I wasn’t expecting what came next. Miss X let loose on me. Not in a yelling way, but in a disappointed way.

“Look, I can’t help you get over your sadness, Sonny. I’m not so good in that department. But, I can help you get over being selfish and ungrateful. Now, I’m real good in that department.”

I thought my face showed shocked and hurt, until Miss X smirked. Now, at the time I didn’t know the difference between the smirk and the smile. I saw a smile,. Smiles from adults when kids are sad and crying are a good thing, a warm thing. So, I relaxed and prepared to gets some hugs, maybe  a funsize bag of M&Ms that Miss X keeps in her desk drawer. But no, Miss X lets loose on me again! Only not in the disappointed way she started with, and not quite the yell, yet.

“Sonny, I am sorry that you’ve lost your mom.” Which, of course, I didn’t believe at first, because she was, well, not yelling, yelling. But, she was loud.

“And I’m sorry that life sucks for you right now.” This, this I believed because I pretended not to see that she was about to cry. Aaaand, she fooled me again., because, you see, those were not, sad tears. No, they were angry, frustrated tears; like she was hurt. But, I was listening.

“And I’m sorry that you found out at such a young age that life really, really sucks sometimes. But life can be really, really glorious, too. You don’t know this, yet, and you probably won’t believe me for a while, but yes, life has wonderful moments waiting for you. And even now you are missing them because you’re too wrapped up in poor me, poor Sonny.”

By this time, I figured she was on to something, so I just let her let loose on me. That, and I totally misread the smirk and the tears and I didn’t want to be surprised, again.

“What about poor Nana and Tata? Huh, what about them? I know they love you and would do anything for you, but have you ever stopped to think how hard this is on them? I mean, life must really suck for them right now! I mean, seriously. I know you think you are just so charming and fun to be around, but your nana and tata cannot exactly be thrilled to have a middle school kid running their lives.”

“That’s not fair! I don’t run their lives!” At least I didn’t think I did. Although, I was happy to hear that it was at least a possibility.

“Did I say you were ‘running their lives?’” Miss X said. “I thought I said ‘ruining their lives!’ Ha, ha, ha I’m kidding, of course Sonny.”

Yeah, she was kidding. She used her fake, ha-ha-ha laugh that she uses when she tells a ‘cor-ky’ joke, you know, a corny, dorky joke is a cor-ky…nevermind. I knew she was kidding.

“I know you don’t see it, Sonny, but you are so wrapped up in what you don’t have to be thankful for, that you can’t see the things you should be grateful for.”

And that’s when she said it, “I was sad I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

I really, really, really didn’t want to cry right then. I didn’t want Miss X to think I was feeling sorry for myself, because I wasn’t. It was just that when Miss X said the same thing my mom used to say to me and I didn’t know if I was happy because I finally understood what it meant, or I was sad because I couldn’t tell my mom I finally understood what it meant. So I cried.

Today, I am grateful for things I never thought I would be grateful for. Like, clean drinking water, because there are kids in our country who have only poisonous water coming out of their water faucets. And I’m grateful that I have a nana and a tata who love me and take care of me, because a kid from my old school just lost his mom, too and he had no other family to take care of him so he had to go into foster care. And I’m grateful for…well, you get the picture.

There’s always something to be grateful for. At least that’s what my mom, and now Miss X say. And I’m going to hang on to that. Seriously, if my mom could find something to be grateful for when she knew she was dying, and Miss X can find something to be grateful for even though she has to put up with middle school kids all day, then heck, I’m sure I can always find something to be grateful for. And guess what? The more aware I became, the more grateful I became. And, the more grateful I became, the less sucky life became.

It’s amazing what having an attitude of gratitude can do for a person. Take it easy. Until next time.”

Yeah, what he said. Peace, ~v.


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Women, What are We Good For?


December 18, 2016

Disclaimer: This post contains content that some readers may find objectionable. Reader discretion is advised.

Dear Readers,

People are more misogynistic than we give them credit.

In 1974 I was attending a parochial (Catholic) school. Most mornings before school, I would sneak into the church to listen to the mass. One day, the priest announced that he needed a young man to assist him, as the scheduled alter boy was unavailable. As no young men were in the church that morning, one of my classmates, Barbara (not her real name) raised her hand and proceeded up to the altar. As she approached, the priest shook his head, “No,” and asked her to return to her pew.

The few parishioners, mostly rosary-carrying, elderly ladies began murmuring. The priest understood that unless and until he conducted the mass, the rosary ladies, who made up almost his entire morning congregation, would not leave. Thus, Barbara became the first female altar server at St. Vincent de Paul, and one of my first heroes. Unfortunately, the rest of the 6th grade students made fun of Barbara for being an ‘altar boy’. Huh, misogynistic?

When racy photos of Melania Trump first surfaced during the presidential race, people felt free to fly their misogyny flag. “Would you want this woman as your First Lady?” was the sentiment the pictures seemed to say. “Hell, yes!” seemed to be the response. In fact, one man I spoke with before the election told me, “If Trump wins, at least he has a wife that most men wanna fuck. No one wants to fuck Hillary, not even Bill.” As if being fuck-able is a qualification for her husband to be POTUS. smh

Conversely, not being fuck-able seems to put a woman out of the running. Hmm, misogynistic?

Aghh! What is wrong with us? idk but middle school seems to be no different.

One of my favorite bulletin boards I display in my classroom is my GOALS board. In years past, my students would color, cut and paste their way to a piece of student work I could post on my board. Today I’m much more savvy. I ask each of my students to send me a selfie so that I may print it. I have the students paste the selfie onto a mock-Instagram frame with the hashtag GOALS. I have them list their goals for the upcoming semester. It is incredible how many of my young ladies refuse to participate. In fact, they would rather take a zero than comply.

I know middle school students are self-conscious and even shy about their picture being taken. However, that doesn’t seem to be the problem. A few years ago, Melinda (not her real name) told me her mom wouldn’t let her send me a selfie. When I asked her why, she stated that her mom didn’t trust that the picture wouldn’t end up on the internet. Not a problem, I completely understand that.

Months later, I came across a selfie this same 12 year-old had posted on one of her sites. Here was my student in a push-up bra and thong underwear. Yikes! I had to have a heart to heart with the young lady.

This student told me that she liked the attention her picture received. She said that her ‘friends’ really liked how she looked in her picture! In her mind, her ‘friends’ knew better than she did about how to look good. She didn’t want me to put up a regular picture of her because the boys in her class would make fun of it. However, the boys at school who had seen her bathroom-selfie (as I kept calling it) liked ‘her’ and wanted to ‘go out’ with her.

Wow!  Definitely misogyny.  How heart-breaking to think that objectifying females starts so young.

Of course, men are not the only misogynists we have to look out for. Females, both girls and women, have turned misogyny into an art-form. Let’s face it, have you ever heard any of the following coming from a female:

“Oh, I don’t like women!” Or “I like to hang around with boys, not girls.” Or even “I don’t like girls, they’re too much drama!” Um…hello? You do realize you are speaking about yourself, right? I mean if a person does not like females, and that person is a female, it stands to reason that the person, who is a female and who doesn’t like females, doesn’t like themselves…right? Right.

Geez, this is quite a conundrum. But, I think I’m chipping away at the problem a little bit at a time. Having an influence on the next generation of young women is quite an honor, one that I don’t intend to squander. I hope never again to see one of my students posting a degrading bathroom-selfie. Because nothing is sexy about 12 year-old tits and toilets in the same picture.

peace, ~v.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Middle School Madness


new class

My new classroom.

August 26, 2016

Dear Readers,

School is back in session and emotions are running high.  So far in my classroom there’s been laughter and sorrow, smiles and tears, and a whole lot of learning…and that’s only me, the teacher, not my prepubescent charges.  As always, I have so much to learn about the students I teach.

The school year started out better than I had anticipated.  In fact, it started out better than anyone had anticipated, the other teachers, the administration, even the students.  The ‘feel’ of the new school year was much lighter, much happier, and much more chill than the previous three years.  Even the students’ behavior had seemed to mellow over the summer.  The school’s ‘detention room’ had much lower numbers than in previous years, and it began to feel like our school had turned a corner, at least behaviorally.  Which made what happened this past week so upsetting.  However, I have to admit, what happened this past week is part and parcel of teaching at the middle school level.

I have a secondary-education, English degree and in my state that means that I am able to teach 7th through 12th grade English Language Arts.  I have always known that my personality and my teaching style work best with teenagers, ages 14 to 17.  I am both strict and demanding of my students.  I expect every student to reach just past where they think they can and to work just a little bit harder than they think they should.  In other words, I have high standards, for my students as well as myself.

My high standards do not end at my classroom door.  I expect students to behave like they have some sense when in the presence of adults.  I realize that middle school students can act crazy and they can be loud and obnoxious, which is why you’ll find me wearing earphones when walking the halls and/or during school assemblies.  It’s not the crazy, loud and/or obnoxious behavior that bothers me, be cause believe me, I can act crazy, loud and/or obnoxious right along with my students.  No, it’s not that.  It’s the flagrant disrespect, the bullying, and the violence that I cannot tolerate.  And that is what always pushes my buttons.

In my classroom, the rules are simple: 1. Listen and follow directions; 2. Raise your hand and receive permission before leaving your seat; 3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself; 4. Respect yourself, your classmates, and your teacher.  The consequences are equally simple: The first time a student breaks one of the class rules I give the student a warning.  The second time a student breaks a class rule, they are sent to time-out.  This may seem babyish and elementary.  However, my students all work in groups and it pains them to be isolated from their peers.  Needless to say, it is rare that I have to go to step three.  I allow my students to re-enter their group once they have sat alone for a few minutes, thought about what they have done, admitted to me which rule(s) they broke, and apologize.

My last recourse for a rule-breaker in my class is to send them to the office with a referral. Now, once they leave my classroom and head to the office to speak with the vice-principal, any further consequence is out of my hands, and the rule-breaker is out of my hair…at least for a the day.  Fast forward to this past week.

This past Wednesday was quite an eye-opener.  Not only did I have to write one referral in one of my classes, I was close to writing 8, yes, 8 referrals in one class.  I was beside myself.  Before I began yelling (yes, I do raise my voice at my little cherubs), I stepped away from the front of my class to calm down.  That is when I had a small epiphany: my students tune out anger and respond to calm.  I calmly addressed the class.

It worked!  The 8 rule-breakers were subdued with my soft, low voice and my encouraging words of wisdom…for exactly 6 minutes.  Six minutes is just enough time to lull me into a sense of false security!  It was the end of  the period and I just didn’t have the heart to write 8 referrals.  In fact, I was so hurt and disappointed that all I wanted to do was cry.  I excused my students to their next class with the threat of writing referrals for the unhappy eight as soon as school was out.

I didn’t stick around after school to fill out the paperwork, “I’ll do it in the morning,” I sighed to myself.  I do not make idle threats to my students, that just leads to students not taking my word seriously.  No, I had to follow through with the consequences.  However, I would sleep on it and go in to the office in the morning, sans emotion (I hear that is always best).

The next morning at school as I was writing the referrals, I received a call from one of the mothers of the unhappy eight.  The mother wanted to know why I was punishing her daughter, at which time I politely explained my class rules, i explained which rules her daughter broke, and what the consequences were.  The mother’s response?  “Well that doesn’t sound like my daughter.”  Sigh.  Of course not.

There was no getting through to this mother.  She kept insisting, “That doesn’t sound like my daughter!” and my insisting that it was exactly like her daughter was not going to change her mind.  Finally, she said, “Well, I’m good friends with Mr. Vice Principal, and I’m going to give him a call!”  Sigh.  Of course.

I was certainly upset with this exchange.  However, I had the whole morning to decide how I should handle the whole referral mess, the afternoon would come soon enough.

As the unhappy eight entered my classroom, I realized they were happy and smiling.  The mess from the day before was long forgotten.  What had broken my heart wasn’t even a  blip on their radar.  Oddly enough, this made me smile.  The were 11 and 12 year old kids and they had been acting like 11 and 12 year old kids!  It was then that I had a little bit bigger epiphany: they are only 11 and 12 year old kids!

The class began with light and airy conversation between me and the (now) happy eight.  I was certainly in a much better mood, as were they.  As we all came to an understanding, the student whose mother had called me that morning raised her hand and asked with a smile on her face, “Miss, did my mother give you a hard time on the phone?”

I smiled back, a genuine smile and said, “No, she just kept telling me, ‘That doesn’t sound like my daughter.'”

My student chuckled, “Yeah, she doesn’t know how I act at school.”

Of course not.

Peace, ~v.

 

 

 

 


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Reflections for the Living


Respite

Our garden of peaceful reflection

June 29, 2016

“I know you are anxious to get on with the business of living, but she’s just not ready yet.  I’ve taken care of her, led her and loved her for over 57 years.  Yet, I never had the heart to prepare her for something like this.”

Dear Readers,

This is the dialogue I imagine I am having with Mr. Uruguay; or rather, the conversation he is having with me.  I have taken up my post on a plastic couch directly across from my dying friend. Should he open his eyes, I would be directly in his line of sight. However, that is not likely to happen.

Mrs. Uruguay is generally seated to her husband’s right, in a recliner of the hospital’s finest plastic.  Now however, she is bustling about on the other side of the room as the nurses are fussing about their patient, “Trying to keep him comfortable.”

The Uruguay’s son is pacing anxiously at the foot of his father’s bed. He was in the middle of shaving Mr. Uruguay’s three-day stubble, as per his mother, when the Nurse Angels flew into the room. By his nervous gait, it is obvious that Mrs. Uruguay’s son is not used to not following his mother’s directions, thus the nervous stutter-steps.

Mr. Uruguay’s daughter-in-law is curled up, crossed legged on the other available recliner, pecking away on her iPad, sending and receiving messages to and from parts unknown. Daughter-in-law is a registered nurse.  So, this appears to be old hat for her.

The Nurse Angels flit out of the room as quickly as they flitted in, and the process of death falls like a hush over the room’s occupants.  And here is where I imagine mine and Mr. Uruguay’s conversation picks back up.

“She needs a little more time to get used to me dying.  I mean, it’s only been three days since we made the decision to stop my nutrition and hydration.  And although she knows I’m dying – thank her for the priest and my last rites, by the way – my lovely bride needs just a little longer to accept that she is going to be alone.  I owe her at least that much.”

And so it goes.  Slipping towards death, just as he was in life, .Mr. Uruguay is still in control.  Mrs. Uruguay is a quick study, however.  And although there is a vast emptiness in her soul, she is beginning to take control of her life and her husband’s death.  It is hauntingly beautiful to watch. And so it goes, and so it goes.

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.


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The Role Models


It is unclear to me how I maintain a "Bully Free Classroom."

It is unclear to me how I maintain a “Bully Free Classroom.”

September 4, 2014

Dear Readers,

I sat down last night to write my latest blog post, wrote it, but couldn’t bring myself to publish it. Something just didn’t feel right. I saved the post and went to bed.

The post I wrote yesterday, but couldn’t seem to post, was about bullies and their bullying behavior. In all my years as a teacher, I have never had such a problem with bullies. Since the start of the school year, I have had more than my fair share of encounters.  It didn’t dawn on me that I was experiencing an unusually high volume of bullying in my classroom, until last week at parent/teacher conferences.

No less than five (5) of my students’ parents brought up the subject of bullying.  Each wanted to know what is being done about students being bullied, teased, threatened and mocked.  These parents conveyed to me that it was their son and/or daughter that were the victims, and had been for at least 2 years!  I was appalled, dear Readers.  I was unwilling to believe that this behavior had not been otherwise stymied by the administration and the faculty, at large.  I was unwilling to believe that, dear Readers, until today.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  And the good people at my school were doing absolutely nothing about the bullying problem, at least as far as I could tell.  Thus, the evil has been allowed to triumph.  As a matter of fact, not only has the evil been allowed to triumph, it has been allowed to thrive.  How does that happen, dear Readers?  Evil is allowed to thrive when the people in charge, the people that lead the charge, the role models, they are themselves, the bullies! 

In the past 24 hours, I have been bullied by three of my fellow educators.  In the past 24 hours, I have been bullied by three of my fellow educators in front of my students.  Well, no wonder some of my students are such bullies; that is what the adults around them are modeling.  No me.  Each time I was confronted and the bullying commenced, I stood up for myself and said, “We can have this conversation away from the students.”  In which the bully replied, “Never mind,” yet kept on trying to intimidate me.  And I do know that it had an effect on my students, because inevitably after each incident, my students began teasing me for allowing another teacher to speak to me in such a way as to be bullied.  Sigh.

See my dilemma, dear Readers?  I cannot allow this behavior to continue, whether it be my students or the faculty.  And now it’s a race against the clock.  Now, dear Readers, time is of the essence.  I fear I must find a solution, quickly, because today, I stumbled upon one of my being bullied boys.  You know what he was doing?  Yes, that’s right, he was aggressively bullying another student.  (please pray for) Peace, ~v.


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The Ones You Never Forget


August 4, 2014

Dear Readers,

I just finished grading and recording 106 pieces of homework and 106 quizzes.  I had already put away the papers and was on my way to bed, when a piece of paper fluttered to the floor.  I bent over to pick it up and noticed that it was a picture that one of my former students had drawn and I was floored!  He is one I will never forget.

This past weekend, I had been emptying out old, old papers I had accumulated over the years.  Part of the accumulation was from 5 or 6 years ago.  I’m not a hoarder, just a recycle-er who forgets to recycle sometimes.  Anyhow, this drawing must have gotten mixed up with my current students’ papers.

As I picked up the drawing, I smiled at the recognition of the name.  He was one of my hard-to-motivate students, as bent on sleeping through my class as I was on keeping him awake.  I usually lost that battle.

Then I took a good look at the drawing.  It was drawn like a cartoon strip, with 4 panels.  Without going into too many details, the “cartoon” strip showed Mom and Dad physically fighting, son and Dad physically fighting, Mom crying, Dad leaving and son hoping for the worst for Dad.  Yeah, not funny.

I was saddened because that picture forced me to remember why that particular students had been so memorable.  The “cartoon” strip I ran across this evening, was not a cartoon, it was his real life.  Yeah, not funny.

It has been a few years since I last saw this student CM and I have often wondered about him.  I know he had a hard home life and I can only pray that he is living the life that God wants him to live.  But, I don’t know and I probably never will.

I know that I will not be able to reach every one of my students, nor have I ever been able to.  However, there are the ones I know I helped, the ones I hoped I helped, the ones who didn’t want my help, and the ones I couldn’t help; those are the ones I’ll never forget.  Peace, ~v.