Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the tag “education”

The Penis: Mightier Than the Sword

I feel as though we live in a culture of “I Want.”

Because “I” want, then I steal, I cheat, I antagonize, I rape, I fight, I bully, I kill, I throw a temper tantrum, I oppress, I hate, I flee, I yell, I abuse, disown, I hurt and I neglect.

Today, I decided that everyone pretty much sucks.

At work, we had a faculty meeting. Teachers totally love those. The only things we love more are professional development sessions and parents who claim that they pay our salaries.

At this meeting a colleague stood up and told a long story about how she had overheard some other teachers
talking badly in the hallway about a student, but, you know, “I’m not gonna name any names.”

Fuck you and your motherfucking passive aggressive bullshit. If you have a problem with an adult colleague, you act like an adult and approach that colleague as if you were an adult.

Also today, a parent demanded to meet with me so I could explain why his son was crying last night over his falling grade in my class. Dude, the fact that your son sleeps in class, refuses to do homework and actively opts out of all class work, indeed, might just be my fault. I mean, most things are. Totally. Let’s meet about it.

Also today, only 60% of my students (high school freshmen) came to class prepared to do the presentations they have been working on for 5 weeks. One even looked at me and said, “What are we supposed to do if we are not done yet?”

Please tell me how you would have answered that question. My own answer was sarcastic and a little pissy.

Also today, a core group of my colleagues were excused from our dreadful faculty meeting so they could meet privately about a course that was being mismanaged and has been, frankly, an embarrassment to our school. I was not permitted to leave this meeting to talk with our guidance counselor about devising a plan to provide homebound instruction for a student who is recovering from a virally-induced heart failure.

Next time I want special treatment, I will be sure to screw up at something first since apparently an acceptable excuse for leaving a meeting is “‘cuz I gotta clean up this shitstorm I caused.”

And finally, today, I found out that I got edged out for some professional perks I had been vying for by a teacher with less experience and who isn’t even fully qualified to receive these benefits.

Fuck me.

And there it is. That’s what I said to myself, “Fuck me.”

In that moment, everything shifted. My worldview cleared like those Claritin commercials.

Why is something that gets “fucked” a recipient, often of aggression or violence? To get “fucked” or even “fucked up” or “fucked over” is to be duped, shamed, victimized or beaten.

If Tupac says, “I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker,” it is an insult because it is supposed to be emasculating to the owner of the “bitch.” The woman in the scenario is just an object or receptacle to accept the “fuck.” Very rarely do you hear a woman say that she fucked a man, suggesting that she had asserted her dominance over him. Actually, I don’t know if I have ever heard that.

And here I am. I ponder what it means to be in the world of “I Want.”

“I want to dominate.”

“I want to degrade.”

“I want to show you I am better than you are.”

“I want to do whatever the hell I want.”

“I want to insult.”

“I want to have power– take power– assert power.”

“I want you to know you are beneath me and that I will fuck you, fuck you up, fuck you over, or fuck this shit until I prove it.”

If a penis (real or metaphorical) can do all of this, then indeed..

The penis: mightier than the sword.

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Things I Can’t Tell You

I am an English teacher in an urban school with a diverse population of students who are, for the most part, really terrific.  I love my job even though I have been known to complain.  But, I complain because, you know, it’s WORK and that sometimes just sucks because it is, you know, WORK.

I am a mom, too.  This should come to no surprise to you, the person who is reading an entry on a blog titled “Off Duty Mom.”

But, my kids are still pretty small.  My oldest is in Kindergarten.  So, while I work daily (and have for hmfhmghph years) with teenagers (and, yes, actually enjoy the company of teenagers), I haven’t had the privilege yet of raising any teens of my own.

And, you’d be surprised the shit I hear as your teenager’s English teacher.  You’d be disgusted, embarrassed, shocked, terrified, enraged, and/or more than mildly amused at the things I both overhear and am told absolutely directly.

Here are just a few of the things I have dealt with in my time in this line of work:

*A sophomore student was once so high, she couldn’t spell her own name right.  I sent her to the nurse since that is our protocol when we suspect drug use.  She was back in my classroom a few minutes later because the nurse could not determine the cause of the student’s unusual behavior.  She then bragged (supposedly) out of my earshot about how much weed she had run through that morning.

*A group of 18-year old students had never heard of the Beatles.  Or Tupac.

*Last week I tried to get a 14-year old male student to stop cutting himself.  Last Thursday, he e-mailed me at 12:30 am apologizing for not being able to keep this promise.  He was treated at a nearby hospital for his self-inflicted injuries.

*For the past two months, a 9th grade boy I know who is a fabulously top-notch student has been dating one of the worst human beings imaginable.  He is an athlete, he’s well-liked, he is a straight-A student.  He is articulate and personable and handsome.  His girlfriend and her mother have been taken to court twice for the girl’s truancy.  She has failed every single one of her classes every quarter since the beginning of the year.  When she is in school, she does very little actual work and mostly just casts her head downward, looking at teachers and classmates above imaginary glasses the way a Bond villain might.  I can’t tell this boy’s mother that his girlfriend is a bad influence because this would be considered inappropriate and a breach of the girl’s confidentiality.

*A Freshman boy asked me why everyone was so sad in the 20th century.  He was referring to the Great Depression, I figured out from talking with him for a few minutes.

*A 15-year old boy today just proudly announced that he was off his ADD meds.  The class looked at him, puzzled.  He, I think, was hoping for applause.

*A 16-year old boy has been confiding in me for months that his alcoholic mother physically abuses him and his father (the parents are separated) steals from him.  Yes, I have notified my superiors.  The boy and his family have been to court.  The courts have found that the boy is in a “safe” environment.  Since the abuse and thefts have started, the boy has been arrested 5 times for lashing out at others violently.  No one gives a shit if I think that this is a behavior he learned from his mother who beats the living crap out of him when she’s on the bottle.

*I suspect that a student of mine is on the Autism spectrum.  I cannot suggest this to her parents as I am not a certified medical practitioner and cannot legally make any determination or even suggestion about her health.  I referred her to a guidance counselor for evaluation, but because the young lady was already being tutored, the parents chalked up her bad grades to a basic need to step up her tutoring and denied any further evaluations.

*A 9th grade student asked me if the book we were reading took place in the time of slavery.  It was set in the 1950s.

*After spending 25 minutes explaining a research paper assignment in class one day, a student raised his hand and then asked me, what are we doing today?  Ummm… WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER?!?!?

*Today a teenage boy wrote his name on a paper to sign up to do a presentation for the class.  He listed only his first name and his last initial.  The “period” used to denote his initial was placed before, not after that letter.

*A senior student who was a “person of interest” in a crime that involved a throat-slashing sat in the front row of my class a few years back.  For legal reasons, my administration was not permitted to let me know that this young man may have been involved in this attempted murder.  When I found out about it from a colleague who had a relative in the police force, I could not share the information with anyone, either.  She was risking her job secretly warning me.

*Three students in my career have “come out” to me privately.  Since they were not a threat to themselves or others, I was not permitted to share this information with their families or friends, but was allowed to share it with the guidance counselor if that seemed appropriate.  She couldn’t share it with their families or friends, either, though.  Ordinarily, I would say that this type of privacy is a necessary thing, but when a mother called me crying about her son needing psychological care, I had to pretend that I knew nothing and couldn’t let her know that he wasn’t likely suffering from a serious disorder, but was simply gay and didn’t know how to talk to her about it.  She had him go through in-patient therapy and the doctors eventually determined that this was, of course, a complete waste of time and energy, as even the boy had insisted.  He wasn’t depressed as she had insisted he was.  His doctor finally “outed” the kid to his mom.  They no longer speak.

*A significantly troubled Autistic teen openly masturbated once in class.  The girl sitting next to him was obviously fairly traumatized.  The other students went through varying degrees of freaking-the-fuck-out depending on how much they saw/heard.  Teachers were not permitted to discuss the situation with the parents of these children other than to tell them that an “incident” had happened and that it was being “handled.”

*A 10th grader did not know that the following countries existed:  Trinidad, Austria, New Zealand and Tibet.

*An 11th grader did not know that Canada was in North America or that Hawaii was a state.

*Most of my students are shocked to learn that I read books before I teach them.  The vast majority are downright shocked when I tell them that I read most books I teach more than once.

*(I think) I talked a 16-year old out of quitting school last week.

*Today a student asked me if the bike I rode as a kid had one giant wheel on the front and a little one in the back.

*There is a student in my school who is severely depressed, but we are not supposed to know about it.  He only showers maybe a few times each month.  If we’re lucky.  We are not supposed to discuss this issue with him or with his family.  We are not supposed to make contact with Social Services.  We can only notify and re-notify our guidance department.

*I suspect a student is dyslexic.  I am not allowed to say that to her parents, though, because my degrees do not include School Psychology or an associated field, nor have I administered any diagnostic exams to suggest that she has a Learning Disability.  I can refer her generically to our Special Education Department and/or our Guidance or Social Work Departments, but if the parent calls me directly and asks me what I think her child’s problem is, I am not allowed to say.

*A parent called me to ask my opinion on a new girl who has been calling and texting her son.  I cannot tell her that this girl is a whore.  No, really.  She was cited for accepting payment in the form of designer accessories for offering blowjobs to fellow students in school.  I have to let this mother fly blind on this one.

 

All of the world’s secrets are safe with me.  Some should be.  Some are awfully damn hard to keep.

What do you think about all of this?

Guest Post

Why I Do Not Think a Five Year Old Should be Labeled ADD

by Rachel Thomas

Our daughter is seven years older than our son and she started out in public school and excelled pretty much all the way through school. She is a very controlled, structured person and not very social because of it. She found that about grade five things were changing, the boys thought the girls had cooties and no longer wanted to play with her,and the girls just wanted to talk about boys and clothes; something she had no desire to do. So she sort of just pulled herself out of the social scene and generally had one friend at a time.

Our son on the other hand was extremely social and because he was customarily around women (his sister, grandmother, and mom) he knew how to treat the girls from the get go. He had a hard time sitting and staying on task and from the time he was in Kindergarten the teacher were telling me they thought he was ADD. Being the parent of only two children, one which was extremely controlled and calm, I had a hard time accepting this. He was a happy, funny, outgoing five year old who made friends easily. He was not a behavioral problem; he just could not sit in one place for too long.

My solution was to put him back in Kindergarten again to see if he would mature enough to be able to sit still but it did not seem to help. Plus the fact that he was in a private school with an accelerated curriculum did not help. The teachers told me he could not keep up and because they were a private school they did not have any programs or after school hours to give him extra help, which frankly puzzled me. I know there is a lot more to it than I am aware of but you would think that if you were paying for a school there would be extra help.

Anyway, I struggled with what to do about the situation. I was determined to get to the bottom of this myself and not just rely on the opinions of the teachers. I, like all parents, loved my son dearly and upon their suggestion of putting him in public school because they have programs and funding for needs such as his I plotted out a course of action. Since we did not have a ton of money I talked to as many learned people as I could and found out ways I could get help. I found that our local university had a program with professors and students studying learning disabilities. I wanted to be sure what we were dealing with so I decided to take him in for testing. It was such a good experience; everyone was so helpful and kind. They tested his eyesight, his hearing, and checked for any learning disabilities; he was six at the time. They told me he did not have any learning disabilities and was brighter than average in many areas.

Next I took him to see a psychologist to check him for ADD/ADHD. He put him through a series of tests and gave us papers with questions for Mom and Dad and teachers to answer about his behavior and abilities. He came out borderline ADD. I decided not to put him on the medications at the time. He stayed in private school through first grade and part of second when I realized he needed much more. In our area we can put our children in any school in the district with permission from the principal if they are not overcrowded or the student does not have behavior problems. We studied the schools in the area and found the one we thought would be best.

They certainly did make way more provisions for him at the public school. They gave him a quiet place to do his work away from the other students when necessary and gave him more time as well if he needed it. The teachers were more than willing to work with us to help. Again, they were sure he had ADD, something I am not sure of to this day but I can see how they would come to this conclusion. I knew how my son worked, how if he did not want to do something he would not do it, and if that comes under the title of ADD then I guess he is. I would be more likely to put it under the title of pig headed and stubborn but what do I know?

The second grade teacher made sure that he was directed to the best third grade teacher. At least she made a recommendation which the principal accepted. The third grade teacher was a jewel, very strict but very loving, which is something my son needed very much! I was actively talking to the teachers all the time and keeping up with what was going on. I wanted to let them know how very important my son was to me. I believe this is so important when it comes to our children and especially so when they are having trouble in school. She told me that she did not want my son to be pigeon holed into special programs and labeled for years to come. They had been sending him to reading specialists and giving him other tests to try and get him into the right special help groups. This third grade teacher knew he was bright, just like I did, and she also knew he was determined not to show it.

They called me into talk about our son and I listened. They wanted to put him in speech therapy for a slight lisp which was fine with me; that could not hurt. And then they told me they wanted him to go to a special reading class during school everyday, which I was assured was not a special education class. I was thrilled with that as well. When any topic came up on special education classes I told them I was not interested and then I brought in my paperwork from the university studies that were done on my son to show them he did not have learning disabilities. That stopped the conversation post haste and because I had his teacher’s support as well they dropped it. That year his grades came up one to two letters in each subject and his reading improved immensely. The extra help in putting him in quiet corners or going to the library in a cubicle to do his testing really helped. The extra reading help and the encouragement from a strong yet loving teacher was another great advantage for my son.

I am not saying that no child anywhere needs ADD medicine; I just do not think it is the end all and be all of answers for every child that can not sit still and does not want to do their work. I would be thrilled if someday they had a different class for boys than they do for girls or one for active kids versus the ones that can sit and be still because all of us learn differently and at different rates of speed.

What I am trying to say is that as parents we should do all that we can to ensure our children are put in the right programs and taught in the most effective way. If we do not get deeply involved they will get lost in the system. I know that we can not all afford expensive testing for our children on our own but I do know that if you do just a little research you can find free testing like I did at the local university. I did use insurance for the psychologist but I am sure there are ways to get a child tested outside of the school system so that you will have all the information to present to those special needs committees that you may be called in front of regarding your child.

Meeting with their teachers and being a participant in their education costs you nothing but time but lets the teachers know how much you care and that you have a desire to help and not let your child get lost in the system. Sometimes this will require a change of schools or it may require home schooling in parts of the country where there are no other options. But as for me my child is worth all the extra work and investigation into alternatives. He is now a young adult and has successfully gotten through high school and has even thanked me for getting him extra help with reading because he is a beautiful reader and feels sorry for those kids who are struggling. But at the same time he gets a bit miffed at me because he graduated at age nineteen because of his two year stint in Kindergarten. He asked me, “What did I do wrong? Put the wrong peg in the wrong hole?” And then he grins and it makes everything all worth while.

 

**Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author@gmail.com.

The People They Interview on the News Have Children

If you haven’t read everything I have ever posted, why the hell not?

good teacherJust kidding.

Sort of.

But, indeed, if you haven’t read everything I have ever posted, you might not know that I am a teacher in my spare time from being a mother.

I engage in the rampant arguing about the worth of the education professions mostly just in my own mind, but I did want to share something for all of the anti-teacher assholes who troll blogs and websites lurking and waiting for the opportunity to fill up precious lines of “reply” spaces spewing hatred and complaints about “overpaid” “babysitters” and worthless union stooges.

I suppose even those of you who are in support of your local (and not-so-local, too) teachers can listen up as well, though.

Everyone loves to talk about whether teachers are worth their salt.  Opinions are like assholes, though, right?  Everybody’s got one.

Instead of opinion, I thought I would offer you some facts.

1.  Two days ago, I attempted to call the parent of a failing 14-year old student in my class.  She didn’t answer and I left a message.  She did return my correspondence, though, just a few minutes later with an e-mail.  She apologized for not being able to get to the phone in time since she was in the “laboratory.”

2.  In a meeting with a parent about her son’s poor behavior in class this fall, the mother smacked her son in the back of his head and told him to “stop be bein’ so ignant.”  I assume she meant “ignorant,” but even then, I could have used that example to prove the same point.

3.  During a field trip, a local businessperson spoke to a group of high school students, but apologized that she wasn’t normally very good at public speaking.  She said that she wasn’t very “ellocant.”

4.  In a meeting with a parent about why it was important to encourage a high school student to read her English assignments at home, the mother argued that the teacher (a colleague of mine) needed to “settle the fuck down” because there was no point of talking about that “Julia Caesar stuff like it was real or somethin’.”

5. At my former job, two parents were once called in to the main office to pick up their children who had been involved in a pretty nasty fight in the hallway.  In the middle of the office, these two mothers (adults, mind you) got into a fistfight of their own.  They were arrested by local police.

6.  At a park a few summers back, I was near enough to a family reunion happening in a pavilion nearby to overhear a group of what seemed like aunts and uncles teaching a 4- or 5-year old boy to say hilarious things like “back the fuck off me, bro” and “don’t be a pussy.”  They laughed raucously (which was the primary reason my attention was pulled in their direction to begin with).

sign7.  When a coworker called home last week to explain that a freshman student would be receiving a referral to our school counselor for masturbating in class, the boy’s mother yelled at the teacher (a coworker of mine) that her son “don’t do dat.”

Sadlly, I could go on.

But, I feel bad about the world right now, so I am not going to.

When I see a child for 42 minutes a day for 188 days in a calendar year, but he is exposed to all of THAT for much of the rest of the time in his home and in his community, I am not sure how to counteract the damage.  It’s like running at an exploding volcano with a sand pail and then having people traipse all over the internet later talking about what a fucking douche you were for not doing “your job” right in cleaning up the mess.

So, if you will excuse me, I need to go put my feet up, collect a giant paycheck and do my nails while your kids play Candy-Pet-Makeover-Farm-Saga on their iPhones until dismissal.

I Don’t Believe in Special Ed.

I have seen (and heard — and smelled) some weird stuff in my day.

Recently, in fact, I saw two people get married on the floor at a Nine Inch Nails concert.  They wore…um…interesting outfits and took their vows just outside of the moshpit.  Or, rather, they took their vows just outside of the area the moshpit would have been had the average age of the current-day NIN fan not been about 40.

Once the nuptials concluded, Trent could proceed with his signature sound that pulses with noise reminiscent of flak jackets, gunmetal and binary code.

216707-anchorman-2-sequel-image-will-ferrellI go places.  I see things.  I have many leather-bound books.

I consider myself fairly worldly.  I mean, I have been to Europe, people.  And, I have two whole gay friends.

Okay, I have one gay friend.

And, I consider myself somewhat educated.  I have a couple of degrees and a bunch of papers that say that this-state-or-that-commonwealth hereby decrees that I am worthy to, like, work and stuff.

Yet, with my vast set of personal experience and wealth of knowledge and worldly understanding, there are still a few things I don’t understand.

My inability to wrap my giant brain around some of these concepts is very possibly going to piss you off.

I am okay with that.

So, here is the deal:

I do not believe in Special Education.

I know.

But, let me explain.

1.  SPECIAL ED MEANS “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO WITH YOU.”  —  Students all too often acquire Special Education designations not necessarily because they have medical or developmental stumbling blocks over which they must jump in order to compete with their peers.  Often, students, and overwhelmingly young male students, are identified as qualifying for Special Ed. due to factors that come not necessarily from their cognitive abilities (or lacking of abilities), but rather from the educational body’s inability to figure out “what to do” about the “problem” of these children.

According to the AASA (The School Superintendent’s Association), a 2005 article noted that “black students nationwide are 2.9 times as likely as whites to be designated as mentally retarded.”  This same article asserts that young black males faces a plethora of other assorted disadvantages in schools.  They claim that members of this demographic “have been found to be 1.9 times as likely to be designated as having an emotional problem and 1.3 times as likely to have a learning disability. Since twice as many black boys are in special education programs as black girls, it is difficult to blame heredity or home environments as the root causes for these figures. In some metropolitan districts, 30 percent of black males are in special education classes, and of the remaining 70 percent, only half or fewer receive diplomas.”  If home environments and family lineage are not accurate indicators, the conclusion seems to be that a portion of the Special Education population is labeled as such not necessarily due to factors that traditionally seem to impact learning, but instead for the “disability” of being young, male and black.

And, as far as SpecialEducationAdvisor.com is concerned, boys of all ethnic and racial background outnumber girls in Special Ed by more than 2 to 1.  Logic and a basic understanding of statistics suggests that any sub-group should reflect the larger populace.  That is, the ratio of boys-to-girls in Special Education should resemble the ratio of boys-to-girls in, you know, the world.  Yet it does not.

Furthermore, the US Department of Education notes that when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in the 1970’s, students receiving Special Education services grew by about 81%.  Now, some may suggest that this vast growth rate is attributable to the fact that states were finally forced to provide needed services to deserving youngsters.  Or, some may interpret this to mean that the number of students who are not functioning intellectually along with their peers in America has octupled in the past 30+ years.  If the latter is the case, then, one might be able to argue that Special Education identification is fairly inaccurate.

Being black or being male aren’t the only indicators of higher probability of Special Education labeling.  Poverty is a major contributing statistical factor as well.  The Georgetown Law Journal says that “advances in neuroscience research will eventually end special education as we know it. In short, neuroscience research is challenging a number of important assumptions that undergird special education law, including, for example, the assumption that there is a real difference between students with a specific learning disability, who are covered by the law, and those who are simply “slow,” who are not covered.”  And furthermore, they cite research conducted which overwhelmingly suggests that while poverty (and more specifically orphandom or homelessness) may lead a student through a variety of reasons to test at a lower IQ than his same-age peers, the underlying causes of that lowered score are not simply a factor associated with raw intellectual capability.  Therefore, impoverished youngsters may end up in Special Education programs even though their potential levels of achievement may be quite high, but yet untested.

The Washington Monthly reported, too, that “anyone who’s spent time in an inner-city classroom can tell you that the challenges the average poor kid faces are often hard to distinguish from those you’ll find in special ed. This may be the greatest absurdity of the special ed law: It fails to acknowledge ‘environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage’ as disabling conditions. Why should a child with a broken back be guaranteed round-the clock, state-of-the-art medical care, no matter what the cost, while the millions of kids whose difficulties stem from poverty and neglect are left to hope that their teachers will break the rules so they can get some extra help? Should we really be spending $10 billion (at least) a year on ‘learning disabilites’ when we still don’t adequately fund Head Start and Title I, the federal programs that were designed to help poor children catch up with their wealthier peers?”

2.  SPECIAL ED. DOESN’T WORK.  —  Overwhelming data supports the idea that the current American system of assistance for Special Needs children does not increase their achievement, but instead inflates their statistics to give the appearance of achievement.

In an article posted on public station WNYC’s website, teacher Laura Klein notes, “The problem that exists here is related to the way that we lower standards for special education students — a trend that perpetuates the academic inferiority that these students feel.”  If Special Education programs were truly working, then the precious standardized test scores states use to determine both the worth of public school teachers and the achievement of the student body would indicate an even scoring pattern between Special Ed. and non-Special Ed. students.  In other words, if Special Education were truly honoring its promise to families to improve the education experiences of their children, then the proof would be in the puddin’.  But, Special Education students are NOT even coming close to competing with their peers on mandated tests.  But, if grades were an indicator, these numbers would suggest that Special Education students are functioning at a fully acceptable level that is on-par with their Regular Education peers.

In 2012, the New York Times published an article written by a frustrated teacher of Special Education students where he “confesses” to be a “bad teacher.”  He writes, “My students have learning disabilities ranging from autism and attention-deficit disorder to cerebral palsy and emotional disturbances. I love these kids, but they can be a handful. Almost without exception, they struggle on standardized tests, frustrate their teachers and find it hard to connect with their peers.”  But, if the system were working, these things would not be true.  These beloved students would be well-adjusted, academically leveled, and behaviorally normed.

3.  SPECIAL ED. COSTS TOO MUCH TO BE THIS UNSTEADY.  —  The costs of Special Education are well-documented.  It’s really expensive.  Mind you, it is really expensive for a broken product.

And, Special Education programming just keeps morphing itself into new iterations without actually accomplishing much at all.

For example, an acquaintance of mine remembers a conversation with the Special Education teacher in her high school building.  She recalls that the Special Ed. teacher informed the staff that the SDIs (or, Specially-Designed Instruction programming) must be followed to the letter.  In other words, it was mandated that all teachers fulfill the elements of student IEPs.  This can mean anything from teachers being required to provide deadline extensions for designated students, to teachers being forced to offer unlimited attempts at tests, or “modified” grading which can put the minimum grade a teacher may provide for a student’s work at any number determined in the IEP meeting.  When a question was raised to the Special Education teacher that went something like this:  “Ma’am, I am following everything in the student’s IEP and he is still failing my class.  What am I supposed to do?,” the response from the Special Education teacher went something like this:  “If you really have done everything you were supposed to and he is still failing, then we need to rewrite the IEP.”

Now, what this suggests is that when 1 and 1 are added and we get 3, we don’t try to figure out how to get 2, we just change the equation so that 3 is acceptable.

And, what is more interesting is that Special Education students make up just a bit more than 10% of the total student population nationwide.  While hard data relating to Special Education spending is awfully hard to come by, many organizations, including Students First, a group founded by former DC-area Chancellor and sometime controversial public figure, Michelle Rhee, published a statement in 2011 suggesting that about 21% of school budgets tend to be allocated for Special Education spending at the local level.   According to New England Cable News, “One noteworthy aspect of special education is that while Congress enacted the education policy for children with disabilities, states and districts shoulder most of the costs.”  So, indeed, it is expensive, accounting for seemingly far more of school funds than seems statistically logical, and those who pay for it are not those who demanded it exist in the first place.

k-> And, so, I find myself wondering why this educated, worldly (and beautiful!) Off Duty Mom can find more meaning and use in a Keanu Reeves movie than I can find in Special Education.

What say you?  Care to explain why I am a stupid jerk?  Hit up the comments section, yo.

I’m Raising Your Boyfriend

When I first had begun my journey of motherhood, I was insanely frustrated by the fact that nobody was brutally honest about how hard parenting is.

1Now, I am pretty flabbergasted by how many people are coming out of the woodwork to talk about how hard parenting is.

I am actually a little pissed that I am not unique in a way.  But, I am also quite comforted to be reminded that I am not completely alone in my troubles.

I have two children:  two amazing, beautiful, kindhearted boys who are, without question, the most important and the  most phenomenal things in my life.  These two are very different and that always amazes me.  They came from the same gene pool.  They live in the same home.  They follow the same routines.  But, they have their own distinct personalities.

My firstborn is a pistol.  He is fiercely, triumphantly, vehemently independent.  He is also brave, gentle, giving, creative, smart and energetic.  But, for the sake of this post, I am just going to focus on the independence for now.

I am very proud that he is a free thinker.  No, seriously:  VERY PROUD.  As an academic myself, I have very high regard for individuals who pave their own ways.  He is an inventor, not a consumer.  He is a leader, not a follower.  That fucking rocks.

This quality made it difficult for me, though, to learn how to effectively parent.  I was really thrown into the deep end of the motherhood pool and left to sink or swim with this little guy.  As a tiny bean, he rarely wanted to do anything I told him to do:  ever.  This was very trying.  And, it was potentially dangerous as many of things I told him to do were merely for his own personal safety.

He is a little older now, though, and he and I have really gotten to know each other well.  I have always loved him with every bit of my being.  But, we are becoming friends now, too.  And, I can’t explain how awesome that is.  If you have a great relationship with your kid, though, you know just what I mean.

My baby is as happy as they come.  He smiles nearly incessantly.  And, he is so freakin’ laid back.  All. The.  Time.  He can’t be shaken (well, unless he has a new tooth coming in or desperately needs a nap).  He pleasantly goes along with just about any request I make of him.  He isn’t a mindless drone, mind you.  He is just so pleased to learn and discover and be shown the ways of the world.  He is excited to see and wonder and experience.

Toddlerhood is really rough.  If you are a parent, I am not really breaking any big news here.

For one child, the toddler period was filled with “No!” and “I don’t WANT to!” and “Aaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhhh!”

For the other the toddler period seems to be filled with “Okay, Mommy!” and “Hee Hee” and lots and lots of snuggling.

I love both of these children.  One is not better than the other.  I don’t wish one is, was, or would be more like the other.

But, wow.  This should be added to the list of Things They Don’t Tell You About Being a Parent: raising a young child is basically starting a brand-new relationship.  You may not be in love at first.  You each may do things that the other doesn’t understand or pisses the other party off to no end.  You may each say some things you don’t mean.  You may feel like walking out.  You may sway from love to frustration and back again many times in a single day.  You may disappoint one another.  And, it may take you both a very long time to really get to know one another deeply.

When you bring a child into a family, you are meeting a new person and starting a new relationship with him or her.  All relationships have rocky spots.  All relationships have peaks and valleys.  This is no different.

messy handsYou may be blessed with the world’s most wonderful child.  He or she may be so “easy,” as parents say.  This often translates to a child who is generally quiet and obedient; a child who sleeps well and loves to try new foods; someone who never embarrasses you in public or has poop squish up her back while you are in line at the grocery store.  You may also be blessed with a “difficult” child.  He is often boisterous, physical, and messy; he has a mind of his own; he doesn’t care what other people think; he may be a pretty big personality.  Either way, you’re still blessed.

The first relationship our children have is with their parents.  Then, hopefully, they will go on to have hundreds of other successful relationships:  with friends, romantic partners, classmates, teachers, coworkers, neighbors, spouses, families and so on.  What we build with our kids follows the same pattern we’ve forged as we might have built any other relationship of our own in the past.  And, how we build our relationships with our kids helps show them the foundation for how they should create interpersonal relationships with others in the future.

This is yet another way in which we might inevitably to something to send them into therapy one day.

Nevertheless, with our best intentions, we move forward, getting to know these little personalities better and better with each passing moment.

Ways I will judge you

I am not terribly likeable in person.

It’s okay.  I’m cool with that.  People who get to know me learn that what appears to be a proclivity toward stuck-uppitude is actually a little anxiety and a whole lot of self-consciousness.

Just because I tend toward the shy side in small groups doesn’t mean that I am not just a little stuck-up, though.

For example, I will make fairly irreversible judgments about…

1.  Your ability to use “THERE,” “THEIR” and “THEY’RE” correctly in writing.

ttt

2.  Whether you are out in public wearing an anklet.

Anklet under nylons with open-toed shoes= even more judgment.

Anklet under nylons with open-toed shoes= even more judgment.

3.  Whether you open the door for others.

4.  How firm your handshake is.

5.  Whether you drink any type of wine (sparkling or otherwise) that is pink in color.

Even better:  pink wine in a box.

Even better: pink wine in a box.

6.  Whether I can say the words “oligarchy,” “cerebral,” “phantasmagorical,” “echelon” and “fuck” in your presence without feeling either condescending or chastised.

7.  Whether you have read a book – in its entirety – in the past 6 months.

8.  How nice your teeth are.

smile

9.  Whether you ignore your children when they attempt to run around among all the tables at Olive Garden.

10. How much very personal information you post about on Facebook.

tmi

What about you?  Anything you see in others that you just can’t help judging immediately?

Is it June yet?

Tgood teacheroday, I shall further my rant about teenagers.

In case, you haven’t caught up with my blog in a while, or…um…ever before, you might not know that I am a high school teacher and a proud momma of two little ones.  I have always said that I do not understand kids at all until they turn about 13.  Most other parents likely cringe at the thought of their children going through the teen years, but I honestly have no idea what to do or say to most 3-year olds.  I just don’t have that piece of DNA in me that makes me want to sit on the floor and play with Play Doh.

I “get” teenagers.  I don’t always like them.  But, I get them.

However…

It is nearly June.  And, if you have never taught you don’t know how much you just kinda want to get away from these kids by this point in the year.

I spent some time in a “real job” in an office.  I hated it.  HATED IT.  But, I have to say that I never wanted to get the fuck away from my coworkers with quite the same desperate passion as I truly want to get away from students after 9 months together.

Indeed.

Indeed.

My coworkers never complained that “someone farted.”  And, they never broke my box fan during a before-class wrestling match that involved a disagreement over a purple pen.  They also never surrounded my desk and yelled my name at me over and over again even though I was clearly talking with someone else.  Their parents never called me to scream at me, threatening to have me fired since they “pay my salary.”  I never broke up a fist fight between my coworkers.  My office was always air-conditioned.  I got an hour for lunch at my office (not the 12 minutes I end up with by the time I microwave leftovers, find something to drink, go down the hall to the lounge and sit down).  I could pee whenever I wanted.  I never had to repeat what I wanted others to do, like, a MILLION times.  My day started at a normal time, not 7:06.  No one ever threatened to slash my tires.  No one ever looked me in the face and said, “I am going to fucking kill you, bitch.”

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I 100%, without question love my work.  There is absolutely nothing I would rather be doing.  I did some soul searching while at that terrible office job.  I bought a book called “What Should I Do With My Life?” in the hopes that it would tell me what to do with my life.  It didn’t help one damn bit.  But, I did end up back in a classroom and it was the best goddamn decision I have made in a very, very long time.

ftsMoms and dads may complain about their children.  This does not mean that they do not love them.

I happen to have 102 children.  I complain about them all the time.  But, I do still love them.

But, now it is your turn to deal with them for a few months.  Get me outta here.

Parenting a “Difficult” Child

I am a teacher.  And a mom.  So, my days are full of “Be nice!,” “Go get a tissue!,” and “Keep your hands to yourself!”.

And, mind you, I teach high school students.

But, I am also the mother of two spirited little boys.  The older of the two is in preschool right now.

Now, I am going to sound like a total asshole here pretty soon.  Feel free to stop reading right now if you are easily offended.

In my career with high school students, I have tackled subjects from eugenics to Descartes to anitdisestablishmentarianism.  We’ve discussed psychology, faith and String Theory.  We read Shakespeare and Hawthorne and Orwell.

"Your little 'angel,' Prudence, colored on the wall today.  You don't LET her do that at home, DO YOU?  Please make her stop coloring on walls."

“Your little ‘angel,’ Prudence, colored on the wall today. You don’t LET her do that at home, DO YOU? Please make her stop coloring on walls.”

Now, I do not believe that my job is necessarily more important than that of an Early Childhood educator.  I don’t even know enough about Early Childhood to even speak intelligently about what it is that they do all day, though on more than one occasion I have snobbily remarked that they pretty much just pass out crayons.

But, my experience has led me to conclude that teachers of children of the ages 4 to about 7 just may try to blur the line between authority figure and parent a bit more than I find comfortable.

Whew.  That was better than I thought it was going to be.  First Grade teachers everywhere are probably a little pissed, but I am proud that I managed to keep my assholery to a minimum so far, though.

Let’s dissect a bit, however.

Personally, I do not feel as though my child’s teacher has the right or the responsibility to help me to “learn” to parent “correctly.”  Now, believe you me, I would love to tell a few parents of a few ninth graders I know about how to do a better job at home.  I’d probably be fired for saying some of the things I’ve been thinking.  So, I am not sure why the teacher of a preschool student, for example, should be offering “advice,” either, really.  In fact, I find it to be pretty inappropriate.  And, frankly, if I want your fucking opinion, I will be sure to ask for it.

In the past year, my son’s teacher has done a phenomenal job of developing curriculum, keeping academic rigor high, and allowing him to develop intellectually to his own potential.  She has also managed to send me “helpful” articles, suggestions, and daily “updates” that discuss the minutia of his behavioral “issues.”  She has also lassoed our part-time nanny into picking him up early from school on days (which I have paid — a whole lot — for him to be present) when she finds his behavior too trying.  Two days ago, she called the nanny 15 minutes into the school day to warn her that she may be calling to have our son removed from school that day.  She did not end up requiring him to leave, though.

Before I had kids, I always sort of wanted parents of my students to know when their kids were real dicks.  I’d write down the blasphemous, racist, insensitive, vulgar, sexist bullshit they would spew word-for-word on detention forms.  I wanted to quote those little snots.  I wanted parents to know that they were raising animals.  I wanted some smug mom to know that her baby wasn’t the angel she thought he was.

Sounds right to me.

Sounds right to me.

Now, as a mom, I now realize that we all know that our kids aren’t perfect.  We all realize that WE aren’t perfect, either.  I suck at math.  But, I am pretty bomb at Wheel of Fortune, for example.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

So, I feel now as though a child’s perceived weaknesses need not be recapped, reiterated, written about, reviewed and discussed freaking constantly.

TEACHER:  “Your kid doesn’t really always play very nicely with others.”

ME:  “Neither do I.”

And, yet I find myself concerned about the potential stigma for my child and for me if he should be labeled (albeit secretly in a faculty lounge somewhere where ladies in holiday-themed sweaters, gossip about MY kid, repeat the crazy, out-of-context weirdness he learned from his father and me, and share strategies on where to buy the best scented ink-stamp pads) “difficult.”

"You know, Little Felix has not been able to take turns being 'line leader.'  I totally credit your inadequacy as a parent in this scenario."

“You know, Little Felix has not been able to take turns being ‘line leader.’ I totally credit your inadequacy as a parent in this scenario.”

Am I parenting a “difficult” child?  I don’t think so.  He is his own little man and his ideas don’t always mesh with mine.  His needs and desires don’t always align with mine.  His interests don’t always connect with mine.  And, every teacher isn’t going to think he is fabulous (just like every teacher isn’t going to think he’s a ghoul, either).

I go on the Super Nanny website.  I have “house rules.”  I set boundaries.  I have clear and pre-defined consequences for negative behaviors.  I have instituted a positive behavioral reward system.  I have consistent expectations and have regular talks about respect, kindness, teamwork, sharing, calmness, taking turns and showing love.  My husband is very much a co-parent in all of this, too.  My kid is absolutely getting a united front before him.

We’re doing things right.

And, now I see that many, many, many parents of the “difficult” children I have taught were doing things right, too.  It wasn’t my fault as a teacher that a kid failed a class or misbehaved in school any more than it was the parent’s fault.  Our kids are all given tools to survive in the world.  They choose, willfully, if, how, and when they will use them.

You are not parenting a difficult child.  Neither am I.  And, don’t let a teacher, healthcare worker, therapist, or judge tell you otherwise.  But, when problems seem consistent, something we’re doing to manage our children’s behaviors and abilities isn’t working.

And, you should feel free and welcome to ask the appropriate experts for their advice on how to approach things in a more meaningful and potentially successful way.

But, no one really should feel the freedom to provide you with that “advice” if it is not solicited.

Feel free to tell your teacher that you would love to have a phone call at work if your child is, say, bleeding from the head, projectile vomiting, fist-fighting in class, or making terroristic threats to other youngsters.  He or she should not call you at the office, though, to tell you that your daughter seems to need more structured playtime, your son should learn to share his toys, or your twins cannot stop pinching each other.

And, as a teacher, it is my JOB to deal with your crazy kids between the hours of 7:36 and 3:06.  It is unacceptable for me to tell you to come get your kid at 8:00 because I just can’t deal with her anymore.  I am paid to deal with her.

Labels are always wrong.  Except on Campbell’s soup.  We need those.  I don’t like surprises.  But, labels don’t belong on our kids.  Unless I ask you how you’d label him, you should keep your judgmental attitude to your damn self.

We all know that there are crappy parents out there.  Some of that bad parenting MAY cause some of our schools to contain horrifying little monsters.  But, we should be clear that it is not a teacher’s job to judge a parent’s worth or ability.  We can THINK anything we want as teachers.  But, under no circumstances should I share my opinions of your shortcomings with you.

Even though more parents than I can count have shared THEIR opinions about MY teaching shortcomings with me…

What We Deserve

hand

 

 

 

 

 

My mother once told me that my first words were
“Me do.”
I said it, she claims, emphatically.
I am sure I meant it, too.

I had been raised with an ideal:
An idea that I’d be beholden to no one.

When a friend of mom’s asked me one time
In mid ’85 whether I’d marry rich one day and live high and fine
Driving Hubby’s Lamborghini
Wearing thousand-dollar bikinis

I looked her straight in the eye and said:
“When I grow up, I will make my own money and buy my own car.”

But, no one seems to say that anymore.

And no one seems to encourage it to be said.

And, when the Lambos don’t come easily, we hear that “it’s just not FAIR.”
As if fairness were determined by equality.

“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” I hear from the mouths of babes.
Never is there a drive to work to find a way
But instead if you don’t have a pencil
That must mean you don’t have to do your homework today.

Or it is my job to give you one.

And, if I don’t, then it is my fault that you have failed.

And, if your computer broke this morning,
Then clearly you should not be held responsible
For turning in a paper that was assigned two weeks ago.

And it is the doctor’s job to keep you healthy,
Your mom’s job to keep you clean,
Your dentist’s job to make sure your teeth don’t rot,
And the Rev’s job to make you believe.

Nothing is up to you, anymore.

Put your hands out.
God and the Fates will provide.

Because you deserve it.

Teachers are told to adjust student workloads
For each according to his need.
No child should struggle, they say
As if struggling didn’t make us all free
Or didn’t build character.
Maybe, instead the struggle is the KEY.

For if every man, woman and child embraced the struggle now
We’d all learn just a little bit more about how
We can build ourselves into mountains
For it was pressure that forged the Earth’s peaks.

In Need of a Chainsaw

I have realized that my life would be a hell of a lot easier if there were two of me.

Wow.  That seems so obvious.  I could be so efficient.  I could do twice as much laundry.

chainsaw post2Let’s be honest, though, if there were two of me, I’d probably just creep twice as much Pinterest and drink twice as much snobby craft beer.

But, what I started to come to understand is that on days when the going gets rough, I could really use a metaphysical chainsaw to slice myself into two beings:  one who will lovingly care for my kids and the other who will get a pedicure, shop for handbags and have a long lunch at a restaurant with tablecloths.

‘Cuz here’s the lowdown:  I love my kids.  I also love not being asked 43 times in a day about Super Mario Brothers and Thomas the Tank Engine.  Some days I feel a little run down.  And maybe I cry a little.  Or  a whole lot.  But, when I get a little time to myself, one of two things typically happens:  either I completely waste it by doing absolutely nothing of any value whatsoever, or I spend it wondering what my precious babies are doing, smiling longingly at every beautiful child who passes me at the mall.

Mom said she wishes there were two of her.  Let's practice being helpful.

Mom said she wishes there were two of her. Let’s practice being helpful.

So, it would really be great if there were two of me – not so I could be Supermom and start baking more or inventing cool crafts that involve pipecleaners and homemade slime – but so that one of me could chill the fuck out somewhere, maybe read a book, go tanning, or visit a friend, while the other joyfully absorbs the peace and tranquility radiating from the other’s blissful calm and is able to appreciate every fabulous moment with a couple of terrific little boys.

I decided when founding Off Duty Mom that I was going to be honest about the good, the bad and the ugly.  So, let me go ahead now and tell you where my chainsaw thoughts are coming from.

The other day, when I pulled my car into my garage after a long day of trying to educate the very unwilling youth of America, I turned off the ignition and just sat there.  For a good, solid five minutes or so.  I just sat.  I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the car.  I didn’t want to go inside my house.  I knew that as soon as I did, two children would be bouncing and running and yelling and tossing toys everywhere.  My car was so quiet.  I had a very difficult time walking away from that quiet.

I felt pretty shitty.  The guilt was significant.  What kind of mother leaves her babies all day and then isn’t running into the house at the first chance that she gets to see and spend any quality time with them?

This gal.

And, I felt crapilicious about it.

A good mom, I told myself, is thrilled to come home and wrap her arms around her children.  And then I cried.

But, I pulled my shit together and came into the house.  My kids ran up to me and yelled, “Mommy!” and hugged and kissed me.  It felt so good.  But, it didn’t change the fact that I was so tired.  So.  Very.  Tired.

But yet, I played and I cooked and I sang and I rocked and I bathed and I brushed and I read.  It was lovely.  And exhausting after an already long day.

I thought again about how I’d love to split into two so that one of me could go get a massage.

Now, I have a pretty terrific husband who gives me time to do the things I need to do.  I have regular chiropractor appointments and stuff.  But, things would be a heck of a lot cooler with another “me” around, anyway.  And, since I am so lovable and adorable, I am sure my husband would agree that two of “me” would be pretty sweet.

chansaw postBut, I suppose that like money and time, if I had extra “me” around, I would probably just waste it.  That lazy bitch would probably just take naps, eat BBQ Pringles and watch SVU repeats all the damn time, anyway.

Ugh.

I wish someone would have warned me that parenting was going to be this hard.  Spread the word, people:  parenthood makes you think about chainsaws.

This has been a public service announcement sponsored by the marginally insane.  Thanks for listening.

The Weeds Behind Me

fire2

Today, I realized that it’s been lost
Sold and on fire, destroyed like Faust.
I recall seeing signs, blazing, “We will never forget”
But we did.

About everything.

A whole generation knows nothing of ones before.
They choose purposeful ignorance, opt to be whores
For attention.
It is about ME, they imply, not my Great Grandma Finch
Whose first husband died the night he was lynched
In Arkansas. Not Ar-Kan-Sas.

You might wonder why the schools don’t teach
About Booker T. and W.E.B.,
Wounded Knee, Kennedy, Gandhi and philosophies
Of togetherness.

Well, they do.

They teach it, over and over, to deaf ears and blind eyes,
To Orwellian automatons, in self-selected coveralls of
Skinny jeans, 60-dollar tees, an air of sleaze and a set of Beats.
And they cry about harassment, racism, and having to WORK,
Of sexist comments and how GW was a jerk
Without the slightest hint of irony at all for the absolute lack of knowledge and experience they possess.

All they know is Martin Luther King
Once upon a time had a dream.
And they can tell you that the dream was to end racism.

But, they can’t tell you a thing about Coretta, Malcolm, Louis, Rosa, Cesar, Bobby, or others who shared that vision
Except that one of those people sat down one time when she was tired.

They can’t pronounce “Tiananmen” because they’ve never heard of it.
Or “Gorbachev,” “Emmett Till” or even know of South Central before they burned it.

The only “Wall” they’ve lived knowing preceeds “-Mart.”
And it all makes me sad.

Worse yet, we try to teach a generation of kids who not only don’t know that their ancestors swung from trees in Birmingham, burned for the color of their skin,
But, they really don’t care.

This is a generation that wasn’t even old enough to remember the Trade Center collapse,
Let alone Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, or the Day the Music Died.
And, I first chuckled that teens had never heard of Nirvana, John Hughes, the Spice Girls or the Beatles.
Then I realized that this was an intellectual tragedy like I couldn’t dream of.
There was, kids, a world before Dubstep.

Believe it.

I used to write research papers by investigating information found in…BOOKS.
Now, the very suggestion of doing that would bring terribly confused looks
From students who appear to need to be surgically removed from their “smart” phones.
And I wonder when we will finally redefine the word “smart,” then.

They don’t know where they’ve come from and don’t care where they’ve been.
And yet they all think they will earn “big G’s,” drive a Lex and be freed
From the tyranny of their parents and the “system” upon turning 18.
And, they don’t know that when you’re 18, you’re still pretty stupid.

And, so Pat O’Leary hides the wire to his earbuds through his Hollister shirt
Adamantly refusing to read Swift or learn about how his ancestors survived tenement living in NYC
Only to be spat upon, labeled non-white, forever a slave to the New Country’s “dole.”
Because he couldn’t care less about how they paid the toll
For him to even sit in that seat and receive a book today.

Lily Locklear doesn’t even know she’s 3-quarters Crow
But, she’d rather chant in her head, “You don’t know –oh –oh”
“You don’t know you’re beautiful.”
Indeed, she doesn’t, but that is a whole different topic altogether.

And, Marcus knows how to design his own Nikes online and pay a few hundred for them,
But he’s never heard of Stokely Carmichael and he doesn’t own a pencil OR a pen.

Zooey is half Jewish. She thinks. Maybe.
But, she couldn’t tell you what that even means.
Is it a culture? A religion? An identity?
“What’s the difference, anyway,” she wonders as she draws on her hundred dollar jeans
With the same Sharpie she used to draw all over her best friend’s arm while they were supposed to be learning about Quadratic Equations.

And, it is a tragedy.

Not like the Challenger, which I actually remember.
But like that of the American Cheetah,
Which had existed but now is extinct
And our children’s minds, their heritage, their culture, their identities,
Too, are depleting, once having been beautiful, hopeful and strong.

I was not alive to witness Woodstock or Pol Pot; too young to really remember when AIDS first made the world stop.

But, I learned about them.  And, I grew.

And, now I say, “I, too, sing America,”
But the trail I leave behind me is growing thick with weeds and ugly from neglect
And, I can’t convince many 14-year olds to sing with me anymore.

 

Turn Up Your Radio (if you dare)

Remember when singers could sing?

My grandma used to tell me that it would never get better than “Moon River.”  I’d roll my eyes at her and wonder why she would refuse to get with the program and jump into the “current times.”

Now, I proudly say, GRANDMA KNEW HER SHIT.

I could write feverishly about how Auto-Tune has ruined contemporary performance.  And, I could go on for a really friggin’ long time about how the only real talent in America anymore just might be on stages, not in recording studios.

And I think about all of the bullshit in education.  The standardized testing.  The Common Core.  The state guidelines.  The benchmarks.

And nobody makes multi-million dollar artists sing for their suppers.  They could sound like…well..ME…and get a contract.  So long as they know the right people, end up in the right place, or own the right wigs.

We test the bejesus out of kids these days so that we can allegedly assess their understandings of literature, geometry, history, grammar, biology, algebra and chemistry.  In the end, the only people who actually end up answering for these assessments, though, aren’t the kids who either did or did not take them seriously, but are the educators whose livelihoods depend now on encouraging a 13-year old to sit for two hours and fill in bubbles accurately in silence.

Yet, we don’t require a goddamn thing — not even talent — from the demigods to whom we pay our sheckles for their willingness to make noises come out of their diaphragms.

Spectacular.

I propose an A Capella singing assessment be issued to all singing “artists.”  In fairness, I should have, perhaps, also put “singing” in quotation marks as well.

The airwaves would be very different.

Although, then, perhaps the only thing that might come of that would be that vocal coaches all over the country would get their salaries tied to how many of their pupils passed those tests.  And then the system would be all fucked up.

 

Be different!

It was brought to my attention by someone who is sexy and honest and noble and amazing (love you, sweetie!) that my last post about gifted kids seemed braggy.

So, I thought that perhaps I ought to follow up.

In a recent post, I pondered (not in the recesses of my private mind like a normal person would, but on the frickin’ World Wide Web) about how to nurture and encourage a capable and fabulous child.

For clarity’s sake, I will reiterate that my kids are absolutely phenomenal.  Best.  Kids.  Ever.  Got nothin’ but love for ya.

But, they are not perfect.  None of us is.  I’m certainly not.  You’re sure as hell not.

And, while I would brag about and embarrass the hell out of my kids if given the chance, that was actually not my point at all.

Each mother, father, guardian and caregiver has a gifted child in his or her life.  But, kids are all very differently gifted.  My question was just how to handle these differences.

I have worked with Special Needs kids, for example.  Just today, a young man who struggles socially and has been identified by a psychologist as having Asperger’s Syndrome, completely rebuilt my class website from the ground-up.  He restructured the code and redesigned my HTML settings to make it more user-friendly for me (a clear idiot who is lucky she can use the WordPress Dashboard).  I have a family member with Down’s Syndrome who can tell you (100% correctly) ever statistic and fact you could ever think to ask about his favorite NFL team.  A few years back I worked with a young lady whose learning differences were sadly never identified, but who clearly struggled academically due to some barriers.  She was the kindest young woman I had worked with, really, and she had a sense of justice and a clear understanding of right and wrong that is not often seen in 15-year olds.

We each have a gifted child.  Most are multi-gifted, even.  But those gifts vary from art to sports to languages to math to computers to mechanics to imagination to manners to leadership and beyond.

My pondering is related to how we as parents both harness the talents each of our kids have, and allow them to grow up to be well-rounded and well-adjusted.  The answer doesn’t seem to be simple.

I know, however, that we’re all certain that we don’t want to fuck this up.

And, we’re probably just as certain that somehow, despite anything we do, we kinda will anyway.

Some therapist will blame us for something someday.

Nevertheless, I’d like to remember (at least just for myself) that differences are good.  Great.  Fantastic, even.  They are to be celebrated.  I just haven’t figured out how, exactly.

Until I do, I would like to celebrate here a few people who have dared to be different and have brazenly flaunted their pride in their differences.

Have a great day…

And, feel free to add your own additions to the list in the comments section!

–Praised now for his innovation and groundbreaking theories, Albert Einstein was misunderstood and disliked in his time for some of his socialist political views and sorta-atheist religious thoughts.  He never attempted to run with the crowd, however.  As a result, he became one of the most revered scientific minds on the planet.

different1

–Everybody is “green” nowadays, but decades ago, a brave soul named Rachel Carson unearthed new ideas about preservation, conservation and environmental science.  It wouldn’t become chic to wear hemp clothes, go off the grid, reduce a carbon footprint and install solar panels on your house until years and years afterward, but her work and writing about the environment changed everything for the indistry.\

different 5

–She’s not all boobs and lips, people.  While she gained most of her fame because of her looks, Pamela Anderson made it a lifelong goal to end abuse and unethical treatment of animals.  Long before it was cool to “eat local,”  be vegan, quit wearing fur and look down your nose at celebrity dog-fighters, she became a very public spokesperson for PETA and helped bring knowledge about the organization’s mission to the masses.

different 4

–Best known perhaps for his role in helping to abolish slavery in the US, Abraham Lincoln chose to go against the grain in one of the most public and dangerous ways possible.  But, he did, indeed, stand up against the “normal” American life of his time and ended up  changing the course of human history as a result.

different 6

–It might sound like a cliche now.  And, putting her on a list with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln may seem to be a bit…much.  But, Lada Gaga has, indeed, inspired a generation of followers and wannabes to get okay with themselves and embrace their uniqueness.

different3

–Centuries ago, Galileo risked his reputation and his life to ignore “norms” and reject popular view to pave the way for the changes in math and science that made the world what it is today.

different 9 galileo

–The great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. created a new America.  He helped to pave the way for change, boldly standing up against the status quo.

different 7

–Aasma Mahfouz helped launch a new view the world would have of Egypt. And, she helped fuel a revolution.

Aasma Mahfouz helped launch a new view the world would have of Egypt.  And, she help fuel a revolution.

— Come, on…You know the movement for a better understanding of Autism in America benefited from Jenny McCarthy’s publicity.

different 2

I lost my Parent Manual

Blue.

Fire Engine.

Hiccups.

Golf tees.

Balloons.

Giant giraffes eating grass in the windy fields.

Bananas.

Yellow lillies.

Craptacular.

This is what happens when my mind wanders.

Did you ever do this exercise?  You just completely refuse to censor yourself and allow whatever gobbledegook that wants to come out, come out.  I ain’t no Hemingway, that’s for sure.  When my mind wanders I don’t get “Hills Like White Elephants.”  I get golf tees and bananas.

All of our babies can be gifted, it appears...

All of our babies can be gifted, it appears…

So, I wonder what are the signs of an extraordinary mind?  How do you tell if you’re truly gifted?  Better yet, how do you tell if your kid is?

As a teacher, I have a very clear and thorough answer to that question.  I have worked with “Gifted and Talented” students for a large percentage of my educational career.  I can spot a truly academically gifted child from a mile away.

But, that’s not really what I am talking about here.

I have known perfectly average kids who have gone on to achieve true greatness in their chosen fields:  biomedicine, law, communications, science (actually, I say “science” because I don’t even understand what this one kid does.  He works for the government doing something with aerospace engineering.  It is way too smart for me to get).  I have also known students who were labeled as “Gifted,” but went on to live in their parents’ basements or work in jobs that don’t even require high school diplomas.

So, when you are raising a little one, how do you know how to recognize talents, how do you determine what is the best way to harness those talents and how do you go about encouraging growth without pushing your kid to become a toddler with a tiara or a mini-Tonya-Harding crazed on winning at all costs?

Well, I don’t actually know.

This is not your mamma’s advice column.

I am just like you:  someone a little lost, fumbling through life in the most graceful way possible (which often is very clumsy, indeed).

One day, though, I suspect we both would like to look back and believe that we did a really great job of raising some really great kids.

But, when your 4-year old seems to gravitate toward, have a genuine interest in and be weirdly good at golf, video games, reading, baseball, painting, writing, and building things (and he appears to be adept at picking up on foreign languages, exhibits kindness and compassion that is not typical for a child so young, is naturally organized, has a freakishly good long- and short-term memory, and has a spoken vocabulary that puts kids twice his age to shame), what are you supposed to do?  Do I try to help him focus and perfect one or a few of those talents?  Do I let him decide first where his joy is most commonly found?  Do I sit back and let this all play out the way he would like it to?  Do I offer enrichment in any of those activities?  Which ones?  And, do I try to have him work on areas where he doesn’t excel so naturally just to help him become more well-rounded?

Yup.

Yup.

Ugh.  There is a whole lot to this parenting stuff.

I, again, was not properly prepared.  I really do want to know where the Parent Manual is.

I am very interested to hear all of your thoughts.  It would be especially nice to hear from more veteran parents regarding how  you assess and foster your children’s talents and skills.

Please comment.  We could all use the advice, I suspect!

Every parent out there wants to make sure that the job gets done right.

Or, well, you know, right enough.

I think we can all agree that we just don’t want to end up with this:

lohan

Or this:

children

Or this:

rush

Agreed?

 

Guest Post

Why you should allow your kids to play more online games

by Celina Jones

If you have children then there are certain activities which provide entertainment and are beneficial in other ways as well. Online gaming is one of these activities. It seems that children simply cannot get enough of Tom and Jerry, The Powerpuff Girls, and the Ben 10 free games which are available online. And, their playing experience isn’t something you need to limit. Read on to discover why you should allow your kids to play more online games today…

Unlimited and inhibited entertainment

Online games can provide a level of entertainment which is extremely difficult to find elsewhere. The level of enjoyment is much greater than can be found via playing with different toys or watching television. This is because your child is given the opportunity to enter a world full of imagination. And when imagination is involved the possibilities are endless. Your child gets to be their favourite character and enter the world of their favourite cartoon show.

Educational benefits

A lot of people do not realise it but there are a whole host of educational benefits which are associated with playing games on the internet. This is because games promote a way of thinking which is very similar to the method of thinking needed to do school work and pass tests. Games allow your children to become more accustomed to strategic thinking and problem solving. Moreover, children become accustomed to playing their games under pressure and this is something which is very similar to an exam environment – as both games and exams have time constraints. In addition to this, games also help children when it comes to their memory capacity and this is another aspect which is very important when it comes to taking any tests or exams.

A cost effective form of entertainment

If you take a look online you will see that the majority of the games are available for free. For instance, the Cartoon Network offers Ben 10 free games, Tom and Jerry free games, Scooby Doo free games and much, much more. These games are all of a high quality and offer a great amount of fun. Moreover, the games which are available for download and possess bigger levels sometimes do come at a cost. Nevertheless, these are by no means expensive and thus still an affordable entertainment solution.

Something which more than one person can enjoy

A lot of games boast a two player option and thus this is something which your children can enjoy with their friends. This is something which is very important because social interaction is crucial, especially when concerning children. Moreover, a lot of the games have chat options and thus your child can play with their friends even if they are not in the same room. This means when your child is at home and their best friend is at their home they can still have fun playing together. Moreover, it is worth noting that online gaming is thus a bit of entertainment that you and your child can enjoy together. This is great because it is convenient and easy and thus you can ensure you put aside 20 minutes every other day to play games with your little one.

The benefits mentioned in this article are just four of many reasons as to why you should let your child play extra games online.

Author bio – 

CJ is a freelance journalist. She used Cartoon Network, including The Powerpuff Girls and Ben 10 free games, in order to research for this article.

Bad Grammar, Sluts and the Undead

As a teacher and a mom, I wonder sometimes.

I wonder (and worry) about the future of my community, of my country and of humanity.

Every time I make even the smallest decision relating to my child, I worry about the impact that decision will have on his growth and how that decision might lead him to success or, ultimately, into eventual therapy one day.  Is there too much refined sugar in his lunch for today?  Should I let him watch Caillou when I know it will just teach him how to whine better?  If he refuses to eat dinner, how should I handle that?

We are all bombarded each day with a cacophony of critical moments — one after another.  Robert Frost never warned us that there’d be so many roads to choose.  I’d give my eye teeth for the opportunity to choose between just two paths in one day.

I find myself in a constant state of questioning how I am helping to make an impact on future generations, and how I – as just one person – can forever make a positive dent in the seamless shell of human time.

Even with being as introspective as I am, and working with young people everyday, I am consistently shocked to hear about how my finger is absolutely NOT on the pulse of youth culture and (subsequently) the promise of tomorrow.

…and Abraham Lincoln, William Shakespeare and Plato all simultaneously rolled over in their graves.

If you are over the age of 25 and do not work with or regularly have contact with kids ages 12-18, please let me enlighten/terrify you with the following:

1.  We are raising a nation of illiterate jackasses.  Not only can people born after 2Pac died not write a sentence that makes any kind of coherent sense whatsoever, they (and just wait until you learn this) CANNOT READ HANDWRITING.  If I teach a lesson to 10th grade students, I must write on the board using only printed, block letters.  Otherwise, moans and groans will erupt, followed with complaints of “I can’t read cursive!”  I blame an over-eager generation of text-o-philes for this phenomenon.  And, it sucks.  Kids today can only process typed language.  Many 16-year olds I know do not know how to sign their own names.  If asked for a signature, they print instead.

2.  This is really showing my age, but for people who are too young to remember the Challenger explosion, some weird social convention has come about.  Everyone turned into a big bag of whores after Generation “X” got real jobs.

I was at a party in 1999 where a wet t-shirt contest was taking place.  The final “contestant” to be revealed were actually two 19-ish year-old women who got water poured all over them while they stood in their thong underwear and white tees making out with one another.  They won the contest.  But, I remember wondering (and, I was completely shit-faced, too, mind you, but I don’t ever recall being drunk enough to think that this was a good idea): what would possess young women to degrade themselves for the gratification of young men?  I’ve never been a complete feminist per se, but come on, people.  I was only slightly older than 19 at this time, but the times they were clearly a-changin’.  Have you been to a dance club recently?  If not, just stay the hell home.  It’s gross.  And loud.  Chris Rock once joked that a dad’s only job in life is to keep his daughter “off the pole.”  If you have been out of your house to witness the under-24 set lately, you may have found already that deciphering between who sucks up dollar bills with her ass cheeks for a living and who is on her way to Philosophy 101 at the local community college is tough since they look an awful lot alike.

3.  Technology is a way of life now.  Isaac Asimov tried to warn us about the rise of the machines, but the damn kids these days seem to be welcoming it all in.  My child could use an iPad before he could pour himself a glass of juice.  At the time, I thought that I was just allowing him to be immersed in educational experiences.  But, I realize now that he’s likely sitting back and secretly plotting my demise.

Watch your backs, old timers.

Kids view technology as essential for life now.  Many adults I know cannot be separated from their smartphones, but the whipper-snappers these days very literally cannot function without electronics.  As a teacher, I cannot remember the last time I saw a teenager do even simple addition without a calculator or cell phone.  Well over 90% of my students show up to school every day without a pen or pencil.  It isn’t that these are bad kids, either.  They just don’t typically USE these items in their daily lives.

And, now I have come to realize that kids know that we don’t understand C++ coding techniques and Java Script, I realize that these illiterate sex fiends are poised to be the only survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse (which, for some reason, every 14-year old INSISTS is imminent).

I wonder sometimes about whether I am just becoming old, senile and out of touch with the changing landscape of human society or if that very human society is disintegrating into a wasteland fed by cell phone radiation, whipits and ramen noodles.  Either way, I fear I am pretty screwed.

So, adults, beware.  I have spoken with the future of this country.  And, they are prepared for zombie war and careers as fluffers, but not for writing thank-you notes to their grandmas.
Sleep well.

“All the World’s a Stage” (and my kids will probably try to set it on fire)

I refer sometimes to my older son as The Destroyer of Worlds.  Before having children, I had no idea how quickly a home could start to resemble something out of a documentary about Sarajevo.

The baby is now joining in.  His big brother is teaching him about how fun it is to throw all of the couch cushions on the floor and climb Mount Ultrasuede.  There are a few things I’d hoped my elder son would teach his sibling.  How to turn the living room into the set of Saving Private Ryan was not on that list.

Is this the living room? Has anyone seen the remote? Or my shoes? Or the dog?
(Special thanks to http://www.cinemotions.com for the image from “Saving Private Ryan.”)

Years ago, I listened to my husband recap stories about how, when he was a boy, his friend and he would put bottle rockets into PVC pipe, hoist the pipe onto their shoulders and launch explosives out one end.  At each other.

I used to think it was all very funny.

I am not laughing anymore.

And, recently, my mother asked me what my plans were for the kids for the summer.  Would we be sending the preschooler to theater camp?  Would the boys try gymnastics classes?  Might the baby like “Mommy and Me Yoga”?  Anyone up for summer classes at the local community center?

No.  No, indeed, I’d not be releasing my two tornadoes upon unsuspecting Art Camp counselors or Nature Walk leaders.

We have the most amazing nanny.  Truly, we adore her.  She’s been a fabulous addition to our family.  But, even she looked like my children (who she loves) were going to send her to the nearest clock tower where she’d happily put herself out of the misery caused by my little monsters by hurling herself to her own welcome demise on the pavement below the other day.  I have no illusions about my kids being easily handled by untrained 18-year olds working at YMCA swim camp for summer break.

My boys are beautiful, loving, sweet, fiercely independent, smart, creative and athletic.  I didn’t know it was possible to love anyone or anything this much.

All of those amazing qualities have their dark sides, though.

Beautiful children sometimes know that their cuteness gets them stuff.  Loving children can learn that withholding their love can be a great manipulation tool.  Sweet children don’t always understand why Mommy isn’t sweet to them all the time; they don’t always understand why Mommy has rules such as “Don’t run in the street even though it might seem so fun” that make her seem so mean.  Fiercely independent children may be born leaders who will not be victims of peer pressure, but they also don’t really listen to their parents, either.  Smart kids can learn more than how to read at age 3:  they can learn how to push your buttons, too.    Creative kids can believe that your walls are the perfect canvas for their work.  Athletic kids will be fit, active and happy…and hard to catch.

So, indeed, raising my little men is an enormous job.  I have tons of help and I have no idea how so many women do it (and do it so well) alone.  But, for now, I will keep the Gymboree teachers, private piano lesson instructors and t-ball camp counselors out of my karass.  They ain’t ready for what my boys bring to the table.

Maybe next year…

 

Off Duty Mom, On Duty Complainer

Let’s talk (and by “talk,” I mean “complain”) about education.

So, I’d like to outline my list of complaints about preschool, specifically.  And, no, I do not plan to wait for Superman here and get all judgmental about our country’s teachers and the state of educational efficiency nationwide.  I do not plan to spew hatred for the millions of men and women who’ve devoted their lives to helping to raise our nation’s youth.  I do not plan to pretend to know ANYTHING, really, about the inner workings of early childhood education and therefore I do not plan to pretend as though I know EVERYTHING about it by suggesting that things like merit pay, standardized tests, de-unionization or de-tenurization might “fix” the “broken” educational system in the United States.  I do not plan to turn this into a bitchfest about how cruddy our schools are and about how we “deserve” better for our kids.

Instead, I just want to crab about my experiences with choosing a decent preschool option for my kid.  I shall offer no advice, solutions or thoughtful ideas here.  Only whines.  You can decide to stop reading now if whining ain’t yo thing.

First, I’d like to moan about how many public school systems have opted not to offer preschool at all.  I live in a nice neighborhood with a nice school system.  It’s one of the reasons why my husband and I selected the place.  But, they start with Kindergarten, not Pre-K.  So, I had to set out to find another option for my little guy.

Second, I’d like to complain about how I didn’t realize that I’d have to start the process of finding this preschool program so damn early.  I began my search when my older son was 2 1/2 years old.  It was January and I was searching for a viable option for him for the following September.  He is now nearly 4 and I’ve STILL not heard from one location where we had been waitlisted well over a year ago.  We were also waitlisted from our #1 choice, a Montessori school very near to our house (which, by a stroke of luck, our son got into only because someone moved away).  The little guy did, however, get into a private school that required a $500 non-refundable deposit (which we paid and which, incidentally, was INDEED not refundable…).

That private school was a fabulous place and our son would have done well there.  And, it would have cost about as much as my freshman year of college cost my parents.

This is not, interestingly enough, the reason why we opted not to send our child there.  The convenient location of the Montessori program was the deciding factor, but nevertheless, what preschool can cost is pretty crazy.

The school system for which I work offers a tuition-based preschool option for those of us who work for the district but live outside of it.  The program costs $700 per month.  And, it runs only 6 hours per day.  Of course, I work more than 6 hours each day, so that $700 cost is just the beginning as I would have to find childcare and transportation for my child, too.

So, the nanny costs me $15 each hour regardless of whether one or both of my children is home.  She will gladly take my older son to and from school, but by the time all of this is said and done, at $15/hr. for 10 hours per day (8.5 hour work day plus commute — assuming I NEVER have to go in early or stay late…) that is $750 each week for childcare, or $3000 each month or $36000 each year just for someone to look after my children (not that that is an easy job; but that just only begins to cover all of my family’s needs).  Then, with the cost of tuition-based school at my public institution, that takes me to almost $43000 for one year of my child’s education and care together.  That, too, is more than my private college education cost for one year when I attended back in the dark ages in the 1990’s.

Now, tell me, is this a standards-based curricular component or is it competency- or task-based?

I did not ever consider sending my son to a daycare center that offers “preschool,” because (and I imagine I will get angry comments about this — bring it) I do not consider this to be real school.  I have visited many of these locations and have asked to see a curriculum.  I have yet to visit a daycare center that was able to produce a curriculum of any type, or even really explain to me exactly what benchmarks they intend to help kids reach.  The closest I got was at one place where they told me that kids will sing and learn numbers and letters.  Great.  At 2 1/2 my kid could already count to 20 and sing his A-B-Cs, so that wasn’t really fucking helpful.

Homeschooling is absolutely not an option, either.  First of all, my husband and I both work, so it might be a little hard to fit that in to either of our schedules.  Second (and I may get angry comments about this one, too…), I personally think that homeschooling is bullshit.  I spent about 12 years teaching high school literature.  I was really good at it.  This does not in any way make me an expert on Science, Technology, Mathematics, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Physical Education, or any of the other subjects I would want my child to have the chance to learn such as Digital Photography, Music, Painting, Industrial Arts, Sewing, Graphic Design or Health.  Yes, yes, yes – there are lots of resources out there to assist people with homeschooling and kids can even attend field trips, participate in local schools’ sports and communicate with other homeschool students through technology.  Whatev.  I believe in traditional education.  There is a reason why I spent 8 years earning multiple degrees and certifications to work effectively with young people.  It all made me QUALIFIED to teach.

Squeezing a human out of your vagina doesn’t a teacher make.

I know NOTHING about how to teach someone to read or play nicely or understand the water cycle.  So, I will leave that up to the experts.  When my kids are ready to talk about William Shakespeare, Richard Wright, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Orwell and Sylvia Plath, I’m all over that.  Until then, I want to be a homeschool teacher about as much as I want to be (or think it’s a good idea to be) a home-doctor or home-dentist for my kids.

And, now I am back to the beginning.  Preschool is expensive and hard to find.  There are more kids on this planet than schools to fit them.  We do not value early childhood education nearly enough in our society.  And, most frustratingly, at THREE YEARS OLD, my child’s schedule is already causing stress.

So, there you go.  Ranty rant rant.

Got something to add?  Feel free to comment here.  I love hearing what you have to say (unless you disagree or want to call me names, in which case I don’t give a shit about you).

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