Mid-week Wisdom

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Rising against the wind

blog circling the sunThe noted pilot, Beryl Markham, is just four years old when her mother leaves her in Africa with her father. That loss and her unconventional upbringing in the British colony there leads her into an early and disappointing marriage at sixteen and several notorious affairs. She defies gender role expectations throughout her life, becoming a horse-trainer and bush pilot, the first female to do so.

“I had forged her myself, out of brokenness, learning to love wildness instead of fearing it. To thrive on the exhilaration of the hunt, charging headlong into the world even—or especially—when it hurt to do it.”

She marries a second time and has a fragile child, who must be left behind in England with her now estranged husband (Markham) and monster-in-law when she returns to Kenya, the place she considers home.
Her life coincides with that of Karen Blixen (“Out of Africa”). She even has a long running romance with Blixen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton. So you see Beryl’s life is anything but orthodox.
Circling the Sun is beautifully written. Author Paula McLain allows the reader to feel what Beryl feels when she’s training, riding and watching horses. Markham intuits what is needed, a skill that makes her a natural as a pilot.

If you love stories of strong women–or loved “Out of Africa”– you should definitely add this one to your “to read” list. You might also consider West with the Night a memoir by Markham herself and Straight on Till Morning, by Mary S. Lovell. I’ve just added them to mine.

blog west with the nightblog straight on till morning

“There are things we find only at our lowest depths. The idea of wings and then wings themselves. An ocean worth crossing one dark mile at a time. The whole of the sky. And whatever suffering has come is the necessary cost of such wonders, as Karen once said, the beautiful thrashing we do when we live.”

Reading is antidote to toxic stress of childhood poverty

read aloud 4 Low income children suffer stresses that would buckle our knees and yet we expect them to learn and grow and develop at the same rate as their higher income classmates.

My Fresh Ideas column published this morning in the Nevada Appeal. Click here to read why Reading is the antidote.

Invest in Children, Not Testing. It’s That Simple.

“Children don’t magically do better when we test them more or raise the bar higher, they do better when adults back up higher expectations by creating supportive and enriched learning environments, that nurture and nourish children as whole human beings, with social, emotional and creative needs, not just as data points and test scores.” ~Christopher Chase at Creative by Nature

Christopher writes a great summary of what scholars and researchers (rather than politicians and test publishers!) know about what children and schools need.

Creative by Nature

“The best schools keep their eye on the prize—the kids—not just whether they are pleasing higher civil authorities. They see the job of adults as one of nurturing intelligence and empathy, openness to the world, while cherishing their children’s uniqueness. They stay close to families, and see teachers and parents as allies not adversaries.” ~Deborah Meier

kids drawing

Here is what the research tells us: We don’t need more money for state testing and national standards, what is needed is greater investment in successful teaching approaches, support services and innovative programs, so that high quality learning opportunities can be provided to all children. Money for teachers, dental and medical care, books, school trips, community building, lunch programs, arts programs, sports programs and whole school reform- not for Pearson, PARCC, private charter school investors and Common Core.

Decades of research has shown that solutions to education problems are not unknown or complicated, they just require a shift of priorities, and a willingness to put money into innovations…

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“You might be a kindergarten teacher if…”

This was originally published in the Nevada Appeal on January 9, 2006. I’m re-posting it here in honor of kindergarten teachers and one very special girl who is starting kindergarten today, my granddaughter.

kinder classAlthough I’ve been an educator most of my life, I came to kindergarten rather late in my career. Perhaps it is for that reason I have noticed that kindergarten teachers are really quite different from other teachers. However, I haven’t been able to put my finger on precisely what that difference was. Until now.
You might be a kindergarten teacher if:
• You buy two pairs of running shoes a year and you don’t run.
• You put 10,000 steps a day on your pedometer without leaving your classroom.
• “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and the “Hokey Pokey” are part of your daily exercise routine.
• You wear seasonal clothing and jewelry that no “normal” adult would wear. An apron is part of your “professional attire.”
• You use hand sanitizer before and after every activity.
• You find yourself humming the days of the week song in the shower.
• You ask, “Did you flush?” and “Did you wash?” at least one hundred times a day.
• You wash your own hands 100 times a day.
• You thank God for whoever invented baby-wipes, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and Velcro shoes.
• A daily review of coughing, sneezing and nose-blowing etiquette is appropriate and necessary.
• You have to remind your students not to write on the carpet. Or each other.
• You have added “booger flicking” to the list of classroom misdemeanors.
• You’ve used one of those little toilets in the last week.
• You fall asleep at 8:30 every night.
• You show up for your manicure with tempera paint, Play-Doh, and glitter under your fingernails.
• You go to every grocery store in town looking for alphabet macaroni and get excited when you find alphabet cookies at Costco.
• You buy zip-lock baggies by the gross.
• It takes you three times longer to prepare a lesson than to teach it.
• Your carefully written—and rewritten—lesson plans bear only a slight resemblance to what actually happens in class.
• You can sing a song, recite a poem or name a picture book to teach every standard in the kindergarten curriculum.
• You spend part of nearly every weekend and vacation at school.
• Your average sentence length has shrunk to five words and you repeat every one of them—every one of them—at least three times.
• You easily decipher those cryptic personalized license plates.
• You’ve made your own peppermint- or gingerbread-scented Play-Doh.
• All twenty-nine of your students snap to attention when you say, “I like how Elliott is sitting.”
• All your pants have one or more of the following: paint stains, bleach spots, faded knees or dusty footprints from students putting their foot on your leg as you tie their shoes.
• Your first thought when the weatherman predicts rain is, “Oh, no. Indoor recess.”
• You recognize the irony in rewarding a large class for good attendance.
• You realize–too late–you didn’t learn how to say, “Don’t eat the glitter!” in your Spanish class.
• You stock up on Airborne, Echinacea and vitamin C every winter.
• You know it’s easier to go to work with a cold than to prepare for a substitute.
• You believe almost any art project is better with glitter.
• You’ve decided against Botox injections because then you couldn’t give “the teacher look.”
• When a student with limited English calls a book’s dust jacket a “sweater,” you understand the confusion and smile as you explain it.
• You know precisely how many days you have been in school. And how many days you have left.
• You’ve resorted to puppetry to hold your students’ attention.
• You spend at least as much time tying shoes as teaching the alphabet and it’s not even on the report card.
• You know what standards are covered by stringing colored macaroni on a necklace.
• You know kindergarteners need blocks, paint, Play-Doh, songs, stories, and patience. And outdoor recess.
• You are so accustomed to modeling good manners that you thank your dog for not barking. You even thank the police officer for your speeding ticket.
• A trip to a book store always begins and ends in the children’s section.
• You never go to the grocery store without buying at least one thing for school.
• During the course of your day, someone shows you— and you get to compliment them on–their new underwear.
• You work with the most spontaneous and deliciously unpredictable people in the world–five-year-olds.
• Little voices singing “Home Means Nevada” can make you cry.
• You consider it a privilege to be a child’s first teacher.
• You witness small miracles every day.

fulldaykinder_preview

You never know who you’ll run into

Husband: You know the best part of living up here? You don’t run into people you know at the store.
Me: You know the worst part? You never run into people you know at the store.

For nearly forty years, we lived in a relatively small town. We both had careers, but I also volunteered with the Girl Scouts, PTA and Food for Thought. I taught school. I attended classes at the community center and the community college, went to Weight Watchers, and wrote for the local newspaper. People know me. A trip to the farmer’s market or the doctor would frequently mean I’d run into someone I know. For better or worse. I’m a social person (ask anyone), but for twenty years I avoided one supermarket because it was in the same neighborhood as the school at which I taught. A quick stop turned into a parent conference or a reunion as I tried to discreetly choose a hemorrhoid remedy. Or something for feminine itch. Or a bottle of gin.
I rarely went farther than my mailbox without my hair done and make-up on. The law of perversity prevailed: The worse I looked, the more likely it was that I would run into someone important. So I always dressed with at least a thought about who I’d run into. My boss? The PTA president ? A school board member?
Now that we live forty miles away in a large city, I have yet to run into an acquaintance at the market. Not one. The people here—except for my family–have no idea who I am. I find it freeing in a way. I can reinvent myself because no one has any expectations. I used to think I did my make-up for me, because I hated seeing that pale, tired-looking face in the mirror. Now, I’m not so sure.
Perhaps it is also the law of diminishing returns. The effort of putting on make-up—and then taking it off—every day doesn’t give me the pay-off I hope to see. Is just being clean and dressed enough now?
In fact, today maybe I’ll just wear a hat, sunglasses and a smile and call it good. Maybe. I’ll see what the old lady in the mirror says.

sunglasses lorie

Atticus is just a man after all

blog go setAt twenty-six, Jean Louise Finch comes home to Maycomb, Alabama for a two-week visit with her adored father, Atticus. He’s seventy-two now, quite crippled with arthritis but still mentally sharp and practicing law. In Scout’s mind as in the minds of readers who read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is the perfect father as well as a fair, courageous, and honorable man. He is the archetype of the parent we wish we had and the person we wish to be. His character has achieved mythic status.
But Scout’s world is shaken when she overhears his racist, ungenerous and patronizing remarks made at a citizen council meeting. She is devastated and made physically ill by the thought that she could have been so blind to his true colors. She feels betrayed by everyone in Maycomb, everyone she trusted.

“…You confused your father with God.”

Some of the remarks I’ve read regarding the book are critical of Atticus’s words and beliefs. Readers themselves perhaps feel betrayed by what they perceive as a failing in this father they have come to know and love. Their hero didn’t live up to their expectations and has toppled off the pedestal. Hmmm.

Harper Lee is under no obligation to the reader with regards to Atticus’s character. It is fiction, after all. The Atticus in Watchman is more complex and certainly a man of his time and place. And isn’t it also consistent with normal human development that it’s not until her mid-twenties that a somewhat naive Scout comes to terms with the reality of her father and not just the myth she idolized as a child? Our parents are human, not divine. The world is not black and white. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the same issues as Scout. Perhaps this is our own coming-of-age story as well as hers.
Well-done, Miss Lee.