Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Teach Your Children Well

So there I was, enjoying a relaxing day at the tiny, rustic (super-unpretentious) beach club to which I belong. I was lounging peacefully on the floating trampoline that's positioned between two tethered docks and on the outer reaches of the club's swimming area. Across the pond, a state park began to fill up with Sunday beachgoers, music skimmed across the water in beats and bass notes, canoes and kayaks and paddleboards glided by, neighbors waved hello and commented on the stunning late-summer weather.

An large inflatable rowboat appeared close by, with what seemed to be a family of five aboard: father rowing methodically, mother in a large-brimmed straw hat, three children. As they closed in on one of the club's docks, the oldest child, a son, climbed up the side of the inflatable and propelled himself over the edge into the water. Curious, I sat up to watch what would become a stunning display of audacity, and one that I'm still trying to make sense of.

The boy was followed into the water by a girl, who looked to be the middle child, and the two kids promptly swam to the ladder attached to our dock. Climbing onto the dock, they were immediately grossed out by the seagull droppings (and one dead fish) that had appropriately discouraged anyone from the club from using the raft that day. These two were ready, though; as if they'd anticipated this part of the adventure, they were wearing water shoes, and they clambered onto the dock and proceeded to tiptoe about (avoiding, I supposed, the largest piles of guano) before jumping off the raft. I moved my scowl back and forth between these two cute kids diving and jumping, climbing the ladder and dancing around, and their parents, blithely watching their children, offering encouragement and Olympic-worthy cheers for each dive.

Just when I thought I was completely flummoxed by this family's blatant disregard for what is club property (and I will add here, it is very obvious that the club is "members only"), the mother removed her hat and lowered herself into the water. She swam over to the raft, but refused to climb aboard, probably because she was barefoot. The kids dutifully, and almost as if on cue, jumped one last time into the water. The three began swimming toward the trampoline as the father rowed off with the smallest child. Yep, he rowed away. Now, from years of lifeguarding, my brain and body automatically commit themselves to safety concerns when I sense them. These kids were probably eight and six, tops. They could swim, I knew. But from the dock to the tramp? I wasn't sure. And then what? The dad has rowed back across the water.

As they neared, the mother called out to me, "Would you mind if they jump on the trampoline?" She'd just prepped her kids for what she must have known would be my response by saying, "She doesn't look happy." Maybe she didn't think I heard that part. She began treading water, as did her kids, while she waited for my reply. Suffice it to say, between my consternation, my frustration, and my indignation, I wasn't particularly helpful or welcoming. I admit that. I asked her if she'd like to pay part of my membership fee. She said "Sure!" like I was asking her if she wanted a piece of gum. I next went the liability route (which is absolutely correct and true - as a club it would be financially risky to take on the responsibility of anyone beyond our members and their invited guests). She continued to wait, perhaps for my "real" answer. I finally told her that even if I personally had no problem with them using the club's property (I did, though), I am a member who, in the end, must answer to my fellow members and our Directors, who assume that each of us will uphold the rules and regulations of the club.

She slowly, very slowly, began swimming back across the lake, her kids trailing her, their voices trailing back across the water to me as the son asked, "Does that mean 'no?'" "It means 'no,'" she said disdainfully, and when the boy said, "That lady wasn't very nice," she answered emphatically, "She wasn't nice at all." About three quarters of the way back across the pond, the husband rowed over to them, and while I could not hear the entire conversation, the mother's whiny "That lady over there was rude" floated over to me on the wind. Soon enough, I went back to the beach, where I commiserated with other members who immediately reminded me that I was in the right.

I'm sure that to this family, I appeared unhappy, not nice, and rude. But what's more important is how they appeared to me, and to the other members: bold, audacious, contemptuous, ballsy, insolent, brazen, and just plain nervy. And what's infinitely more important than that are the lessons that these children have been, are being, taught: that rules don't apply to us; that if you don't get your way, it's the other person's fault; that private property is for public use; that your pleasure is more important that what is right or proper.

I firmly believe that most parents would be horrified if their children trespassed on someone else's property or used other people's things. I know that most children, actually, wouldn't dare go someplace that was clearly marked "private." I know plenty of kids who wouldn't dare to ask, even. If these kids were older, and on their own, I could easily understand their willingness to take the risk - it happens a lot at our little club.  But to witness this behavior as typical and established, to sense this family's expectation of entitlement, has caused me much distress.

As a teacher, I will remember this incident for a long time. These children will probably be sitting in our classrooms someday. And it will probably become our job to impart to them some lessons that their parents haven't (I'm reminded here of the former student who did no work, whose mother insisted we stay after with him, but then claimed that because he had a season pass at the local ski mountain and belonged to ski club, he couldn't make it to any of our extra help sessions). In the end, it will be only the kids who matter, and by modeling appropriate behaviors and establishing clear expectations, we just might make some headway. I have to firmly believe that, too.

Friday, August 24, 2012

School Year Resolutions

I've been ruminating about this post for weeks. Many, many years ago, when my now-adult daughters were babies, I wrote a newsletter article for their daycare in which I detailed how for-nearly-ever, I have marked the beginning of the school year as a time to set goals. Then, just yesterday, I received a message from one of my oldest (read: longest-lasting) friends that she, too, has always seen the start of school as filled with freshness, opportunity, and promise.

And so it is. For teachers, parents, students, and anyone who's gone to school, the end of summer and the beginning of school is prime time for resolution making. So here are mine for 2012-2013:

I'm going to...

...let it slide; let it ride. Perhaps these two thoughts are synonymous, but I like the rhyminess of this resolution. Letting things slide, whether the thing is a snide comment, a rude parent, a frustrating policy,  or a difficult task, will be one of my primary goals. Sometimes I spend way too much time on an issue. Sometimes I over-analyze. Sometimes I just can't let go. I almost always use my 24-hour rule, but sometimes even 24 hours are too many.  So "let it slide" will become a question I ask myself (and others, as others can already attest to): "Can I let this slide?" I bet "yes" will be a frequent answer. And letting it ride will hopefully address, among so many other applicable instances, all those student issues in which I often find myself embroiled. This part of the resolution is about battle-picking. And we all know how important that skill is. Hopefully attending to what's important, and releasing what's not, will  become less of a chore and more of a comfortable process for me.

...mind the fine line. Actually, while explaining this resolution to a colleaguefriend last night, I asserted that most "fine lines" are really thick black (permanent) Marks-A-Lot lines. Between here and there lies a vast expanse of ground, and too often we excuse our stepping over the line by calling it "fine." I'm going to pay attention to that line, however fine or however wide: between humor and sarcasm, between inspiration and instigation, between acceptance and judgment, between concern and over-involvement, between intent and impact, between expectation and execution.

...through it all, do it all...tenaciously. It's going to be an interesting, busy, over-packed, stressful year. This I know. The getting ready isn't just for 40 weeks of class. It's for 280 days, give or take a few, in a row. Mondays through Sundays. Early morning to late night. On stage during the school day, behind the scenes for many hours before and after. Prepping, planning, instructing, guiding, facilitating, assessing, data collecting, collaborating, analyzing. Wash, rinse, repeat. Accessing the warrior spirit and approaching every task with tenacity will be key.

I'm ready to roll. The resolutions are developed, the prospect of an upcoming year of change and much growth is exciting, and the potential for increased success is great. Now if I could just drop that bright and shiny Times Square ball from my classroom ceiling....

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Threes and Sevens

For all my math deficiencies, I love numbers. Not adding them, or multiplying them, or measuring them, but looking at them, thinking of them, wondering about them. They're pretty fascinating, after all. And culturally, numbers figure in our daily lives very deeply.

Since middle school, I've been curious about how easily people subscribe to the adage that things happen in threes. Interestingly, while probably almost everything could be counted this way, we tend to focus on the "bad" things in terms of the threes; we begin the count after the second bad thing and wait for the third to show itself.  Then we can say (to ourselves, mostly), "See, three bad things," thus reinforcing the belief system. Three injuries, three funerals, three losses, three failures. Logically, we know these things happen independently of each other and are not connected to each other in any way: there is one bad thing, and there are way more than three bad things. But by ceasing the count at three, we attempt to limit our sadness, our grief, our frustration. And that's not a bad thing.

And then there's the number seven. If Gene Rayburn asked you to match Richard Dawson's answer to this puzzle, "________ Seven," you'd probably guess "Lucky," and probably correctly. Sure, there are those pesky Seven Deadly Sins, but more often than not, we think of seven as a lucky number. In terms of "good" things happening to us or around us, we don't count, though. And if we did add up the positives, it's likely we'd stop long before seven. It'd be hard to remember them all, despite George Miller's assertion that we could. But that's exactly what I propose we do.

I'm going to do an experiment. Over the course of a day, or days perhaps, and ultimately, throughout the school year and beyond, I'm going to count both the threes and the sevens. When I'm confronted with any combination of three bad things (my own complaints, others' problems, union conflicts, personal or professional issues), I will more-than-double that number with seven good things. I'll count out solutions, blessings, answers... the good things. Whether I'm struggling internally, or grappling with something (or someone) at work, or just generally saddened by the state of affairs nationally or globally, I will try to balance (over-balance, really) the bad stuff with some good stuff.

In the end, of course, the only number that really matters is one. And it's that one that I'm looking to preserve, treat well, and keep in balance. By counting my threes and sevens, I hope to remind myself of what's important, to focus on the positives, and to be always moving forward. Join me on the journey.