Monday, March 31, 2014


One of the hardest lessons I've ever had to learn is this:

You cannot want more for somebody than he wants for himself.

It's simply an unhealthy desire, and it will leave you, broken-hearted, banging your head against a wall.

As a teacher, I do battle with this every day. I see students with such potential who continually underachieve or disbelieve their own abilities or self-sabotage on a daily basis.

It's such a magical word -- potential. Really. It practically screams to be bolded and italicized. It's a whole universe of dreams and possibility in a nice little 9-letter space. But in truth, it's just a word. And, often, it's our own hopes and dreams we are forcing into that 9-letter space; not theirs. This is the danger zone.

With my 7th graders taking their standardized test in writing tomorrow and Wednesday, (and another round with math and reading in just 2 more weeks), I found it especially difficult to cram any more into their heads. Each class, I had to take the academic and emotional temperature of the room. Some classes needed a pep talk. Some needed last minute reminders. Others just needed to know what classroom to show up to tomorrow. And still others just needed to be left the Hell alone.

It is a fearsome and dangerous thing to poke a hive of agitated bees.

When each class left me today, I had to fight down the urge to focus on the 3 or 4 kids each class who voiced that they "only want to pass" and demanded to know the passing rate for this test. It's not typically 70, as in class, but that's the last thing I want them to do -- aim low -- so my lies of omission are the strategies I employ. Their desire to be average is completely foreign to me and also happens to be far below their suspected potential. but they are not me, and I am not them.

I cannot want for them what they do not want for themselves. All it leaves me with is a bruised head and a broken heart. They will do as they will do, and all that I am able to provide is the patience to see them through and the trust that I've prepared them as well as I possibly know how. The rest is up to them.

So, for all of my fellow teachers, in the midst of testing season, I offer this advice. Let them be. There will be plenty of other days to karate kick the hive.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kindness Matters

One of my students asked me last week what I wanted for my birthday this Thursday. I told him that I honestly didn't know. He suggested a Duke trip to the Final Four, but even I knew that was a pretty desperate wish. I'm sad at just how right I was.

But I did think about it all weekend. It's so great to be a kid with a birthday coming up. The world is your oyster, and it's just about the only time that you get a pass for being selfish with your wishes. No sharing. No watching your back for that creepy elf. No costumes. Just you, a big sugar rush, and a pile of presents.

As an adult, though, it's lost a little bit of its magic, and I find myself needing fewer and fewer things in my life. So I've been thinking instead about all of the richness I already have.

I have been blessed with a meaningful career that challenges me every day.

I am honored to work alongside some of the most dedicated teachers I've ever known, and I have been for 14 years now.

I have money in my bank account. I cannot always say this, but I can right now. So there, I said it.

I have a home with cuddly kitties who snuggle and comfort me no matter how awful or great my day has been.

I have a home.

I watch, each day, my former students and campers grow up to change the world. And I get to say I had a tiny part in it.

I am relatively healthy, even if there's more of me than I'd like there to be.

I have a family who has always wanted me to be more than I ever dreamed I could become, even if it meant letting me go in order to have it.

I am surrounded by friends who loved me when I had nothing to give them but my friendship. And they haven't stopped yet.

And, this year especially, I've found myself surrounded by kindness. From the smallest moments to the biggest struggles, I've been met with nothing but encouragement and support and kindness. In a world that often feels so negative, I constantly am astounded by how much light there truly is.

I have always believed that kindness matters. I even keep a small sign in my classroom to remind both myself and my students of this. I believe it's circular; what you give, you will one day receive. I believe that it's contagious. And I believe that it is intentional. 

Certainly, I think there are some people in this world who are just more naturally inclined to being kind, but I don't think it happens accidentally. All of us, at some point or another (perhaps today even) has been faced with the choice -- to be or not to be kind. The chances and opportunities may be random, but the choice is not. I wish I could say that I always make the right choice, but I don't. The very best thing I can hope for is a chance to make the choice again, and I can.

Kindness is one of our last renewable resources. Yet it's only renewed by each of us.

This year, I don't want a sugar rush. I don't need a pile of presents. And I've already had the very best birthday party I could ask for, out in the wild West Texas wind with my most beautiful, wonderful friends.

All I want is for you to put a little more kindness out into the well. You don't have to tell me, or anyone else for that matter, but do it. Think about the nicest someone ever made you feel and, over the next few days, try to give that to someone else. 

Here are some of my favorites:
  • Let someone cut in front of you at the grocery store.
  • Go over to a new mom's house and hold that baby while she sleeps or showers or folds clothes.
  • Sneak attack hugs (or high fives)
  • Donate to a local shelter. Call them first. Ask what they need. Hit the Dollar Store.
  • Allow your significant other to sleep in. Especially if you have kids or animals.
  • Pick up the tab for the person at the next table (or behind you in the drive-thru)
  • Spend an hour at a nursing home.
  • Take a bouquet of flowers to the hospital and tell the nurse to give it to their most in-need patient.
  • Clean out your bookshelves. Donate your favorites. Old books need new lives.
  • Bake some cookies for your secretary or custodian or local service people.
  • Leave a nice note for your waiter or waitress (along with a generous tip).
  • Leave a nice handwritten note for ANYONE (words matter too!)
  • Drop off a bag of food or litter to an animal shelter.
  • Make copies or run an errand for a coworker when they least expect it (thanks again, Mandy, for the copies last week -- one of the best gifts you could give me: time!)
  • Smile or tell a joke. Tell your dumbest one. Even if people say they don't like it, they probably do.
  • Call someone who made you angry and forgive them. This is a tough one. Or forgive yourself.
  • Send an email to your boss and brag on someone they may have overlooked. Teachers, pick a kid to brag on. Send 'em to the office on a POSITIVE referral.
  • Pray. Pray for someone who doesn't ask. Pray for someone who may not know how.
  • Notice the strengths of others. Thank them for it. Let them know how their gifts matter to you.
It doesn't have to be big or expensive or even well-planned. But when the opportunity presents itself, grab it and fill the well. You might just find yourself a little renewed, too.

Thank you, yet again, for visiting this space this past year. Whether you left a comment or whispered a prayer or just had a little chuckle, somehow I felt it. And it's lifted me up.

That's more than I ever could have wished for, friends.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Greatness Rising

I grew up in a really small town. Tiny, really.

There were only two stoplights (there are still only two). My 1st grade classroom was only about 200 yards from where I sat in my senior English class. When you moved from elementary school, you literally turned two corners in the hallway, and you were in junior high. To go to high school, you walked out the breezeway. We only had four channels on television until I was 10. We never had more than eight or ten stations until I was out of college. Tiny, I tell you.

It's a good place. But it's not a place that many people leave. Especially to become a football star.

Ours was Kenny King. When I was little, I can remember him coming to visit his hometown and making an appearance at the high school pep rally. He came to our classroom, and I stuck my hand out to say hello and get his signature in my autograph book. His hand engulfed mine, and I saw that he had on a very pretty ring. It looked similar to the college ring my dad always wore, but bigger. And shinier. He was so tall, with such a deep voice, but his smile was wide and welcoming.

I still have that autograph book somewhere. It has the signatures of my brother, my mom, my Grandma Henrietta, and a Super Bowl champion.

My mom and dad, both avid football fans, almost fell over when I showed them my book. And once they explained just who he was, I almost did too. Because of their awe, my awe was doubled. Every time he came to visit, or made an appearance, I was starstruck and too nervous to ever say hello again, no matter how many times he signed my t-shirt or binder or notebook paper.

Even now, when the Super Bowl airs, you can spot #33 in a clip, on his 80 yard touchdown run -- a record that would stand 16 years. And even now, when I see it, I get a little weak-kneed at having once come so close to a star. I can remember the way that he stood with his old classmates and teammates and teachers, taking pictures, signing shirts and footballs, so at ease, so normal, so like all of them (just with a fancier car and flashier jewelry). It didn't make sense to me that they should feel so comfortable in the midst of someone who had -- gasp! -- been on TV.

In the time since I was 17, I've managed to teach or coach thousands of kids who have grown into tremendous people, including: doctors, lawyers, entertainers, soldiers, mothers, teachers, and two professional basketball players and a national champion. Last night, I turned on Sportscenter to see a former student, so shy and quiet when I knew him in the 7th grade, burning up the highlight reel, hitting seven 3-pointers for his team in their first NCAA tournament game. And then tonight (and all season), I've watched another former student-athlete grow and develop into a solid collegiate player under the eye of an NBA and NCAA hall of fame coach. All such wonderful kids whose hard work and dedication took them far beyond their own city limits.

As I see them, playing on TV, earning the respect of commentators and players that I, myself, grew up in awe of, I am amazed that I came so close to greatness without even knowing it. And I begin to finally understand how those men and women could stand and chat with a legend with such ease. They knew him not before he became great;  rather, they knew him through all of the things that led him to be so.

I'm amazed at how they've changed as I study them in timeouts and interviews. But then I will turn my head quickly to see a gesture or a smile or a face that isn't 30 or 23 or 19. When I look closely, they're 13 again... turning in their homework or challenging me to a game of Knockout or hauling their tuba down the hallway. Those are the faces that now leave me a little starstruck, and tomorrow I'll look into my classroom and wonder about the futures waiting inside.

And I remember how lucky I am to see greatness rise, every day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


So... I love my job. I do. But like with any job, there are things you have to do that, frankly, you just don't wanna.  One of those such things is training. Another is standardized testing. And when you get those two crazy things together... well, it's a whole lotta don't wanna.

But whether you want to or not, it must be done. Before the actual standardized test training next week, we had to watch 3 training modules about standardized testing.

No. That is not a typo. It's exactly as clear as it sounds.

This is modern day education. Just like there are warnings like "Do not ingest" on tubes of Preparation-H because somewhere, somebody thought "Hey. This stuff I put on my butt? I wonder how it tastes" and then got sick and died, there are poorly-acted training videos set in the worst looking fake classroom because somebody, somewhere, thought "Hey, I've got 4 hours to let kids test in my room. Maybe I'll take a nap."

And now we all suffer because grown adults can't follow scripted directions, pay attention, and stop eating hemorrhoid cream. Such is life.

But because there's not anything top-secret in these videos, and because I was so tired of hearing the robotic voice explain to me what was happening in said videos, and because I was totally alone in my classroom at 6:30 PM with no one to whisper my snark to, I live-tweeted my experience between video segments. Luckily, I think everyone was watching the NCAA tournament play-in games and paid me no mind.

I have to admit, some of the scenarios were intriguing... students stealing test booklets and hiding them in their leather jackets from 1992...THEFT! A teacher who can't tell the difference between Roberto Martinez and Robert Martin... ILLITERACY! Teachers leaving their booklets, trusting another teacher to turn them in only to have that coarse villain violate privacy rules by looking at the test... BETRAYAL! A shady looking administrator leaving a teacher's door unlocked after "checking smoke alarm batteries"... ABUSE OF POWER!

It's enough to make someone certifiable. Or you know, just #CERTIFIED!

*Please note that all of the teachers referenced below are what I believed to be not-so-professional actors playing the role of some very questionable educators. Because, let's face it... video taping a classroom actually engaged in standardized testing is most likely against the rules. There wasn't a module mentioning it, but I'm sure there will be next year.

**Also, reading this blog post does not qualify you as having been "trained". This blog post cannot be used as module credit, will not print out a certificate, and could never do these videos the justice they so rightfully deserve.

***Plus, I had to watch; therefore, so do you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Post-Spring Break Analogy

How I would describe the first day back from Spring Break:

Sometimes you're in control of the laser pointer.

Sometimes you're just not.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Procrastination...

I have a problem. And its name is Procrastination.

Seriously, I have a black belt in Time Wasting.

It's a problem I've had all my life, and I fight it all the time... getting packed for a trip, I'm still stuffing underwear into the suitcase as the car pulls up to the curb. Putting away laundry only happens when the mountain of clean clothes fully overtakes the kitchen table and threatens to erupt onto the floor. Grocery shopping? Forget about it. I'm the Queen of I'll-Stop-And-Just-Get-One-Thing. I run my car until it's empty because I hate stopping for gas. I dodge every deadline until the very last moment. And I hit the snooze button about 20 times in the morning, up until the exact second before it becomes too late.

And, frankly, sometimes I'm too late. It's genetic. I promise.

Well, this Spring Break turned into the Week of Postponed trips (and all for very good reasons), so last Saturday, I promised myself, "one day of time suck, and then -- PROJECTS".  Let me tell you how that went:

I finished watching "Breaking Bad". I caught up on all of the movies I had been missing. I watched the True Detective finale 3 times. I spent Sunday with a friend in Dallas. I spent a couple of afternoons at a nearby patio, checking their margarita supply. I wrote. I read. I saw every game of the ACC basketball tournament -- and it's a 15-team league. I got a manicure and pedicure and then proceeded to wander around Target for an afternoon and wound up buying oranges and Diet Coke. So... yeah.

I did not clean out closets.

I did not schedule doctors' appointments.

I did not renew my driver's license (although, for real, someone make me do this tomorrow).

I did not take the 4 (FOUR, y'all) boxes of things I cleaned out of closets (at Christmastime) to Salvation Army.

And, I most certainly did not clean out the other closet, the junk drawers in the kitchen, or my bookshelves.

That is until last night when I started cleaning out cabinets and the refrigerator (expiration date check) and the medicine cabinet (more expiration date checks -- I found Pepto Bismol tablets from college, y'all) and on and on and on.

Just since 5:00 tonight, I've done the dishes, 5 loads of laundry, re-organized the linen closet, the bathroom, the kitchen, and sorted out my entire sock drawer. I've developed a bit of a sock problem. I've also decided that if you are a man who can fold a fitted sheet, I will marry you. Truly. You don't even have to buy a ring.

You know how they talk about how runners hit a "runner's high"? I think I've hit the "cleaner's high". It's pretty elusive (although not as much as that stupid runner's high myth), but I think I'm there. (Or maybe that's just the Clorox fumes.) The only problem is that it's 11:32 PM on the last night of Project Spring Break, and I've got to be at work in only about 7 more hours.

See? A black belt. I think it's in the dryer, or I swear I'd show you.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Logic vs. Not Logic

I scared the ever-loving hell out of a poor AT&T guy today. He was only about 20 or so, and I'm sure he's had no training for the likes of me.

I went in today to talk about rearranging my plan. I've had both of my parents on my cell phone plan for the last 4 years, and I know there has to be a better, more cost-efficient way to handle our needs. I've known that the quickest way to chop about 30 bucks is to cancel my dad's phone, and I've known it for a long time. I just haven't been able to do it. Every month, I pay the bill, and I promise that I'll make that change. Yet I don't. It's a promise I never keep. Sure, it's only $30, a drop in the great Cosmic hat, but it could definitely go to use elsewhere. This is logic.

My dad has been in a nursing home for the past two years. We haven't given him a phone for lots of reasons, most of which I'm sure seem heartless to anyone who isn't in our situation but hopefully save everyone the smallest of heartaches and heart attacks. I lied and told him it had been stolen after a hospitalization. It was hard because I'm not one to lie to my dad very often. It was terrible because he's always been able to see through them when I do.

I confessed to a friend last weekend that I'd been paying the bill even after he went into the nursing home. This is not logic. She wasn't shocked, but it's been in my mind since then, wriggling worm-like, begging the question of why.

I don't know why. There is not a sane or logical or remotely understandable reason to keep it. If this were happening to anyone else, my dad would've already scolded me into cutting that cost months ago, telling me to "toughen up" and "let it go". But it is happening to my dad, and as I've learned, outlooks and opinions change drastically when he's at the center of them.

My dad has Parkinson's, and that will never change because there is no cure. And he is getting worse, causing me just this week to postpone a visit because he wasn't well enough. Even his medication treatments bring little relief to his continual muscle freezes and immobility, and when adjustments are made, we risk his mental stability and the emotional stability of my entire family. The last 5 years of his treatment, trading sanity for independent movement, have been a damn work of art in how to rob Peter to pay Paul. A mural, painted entirely with false hope, disregarded opinions, and monkey shit.

My dad has changed so much -- physically, mentally, emotionally -- that he feels less and less like the man I grew up with every day. He's still in there, so sly and sharp some moments that it's scary, but there are others that disconnect me in a way I once thought unimaginable. That's hard to say, especially to someone who doesn't have a parent at all. But my whole life, I thought the worst thing that could ever happen would be for him to die. It is only after years of watching him slowly disintegrate, of watching all of us fall apart, do I concede that perhaps there are far worse things than death. Maybe that's naive or selfish or cliche -- it certainly feels that way -- but I know that I wouldn't wish it on my very worst enemy. I don't hate anyone that much.

Keeping that phone line has been a habit, a secret that I've pushed down in order to make it feel as if he's not gone. Because he isn't gone. But it also doesn't bring him back. I talked my dad into a cell phone to make myself feel better when he was out working alone, when his moments of physical fallibility were frequent enough to give me worry but infrequent enough to make him stop. Now, he cannot dial the numbers himself or even often make his voice loud enough to be heard over it. I gave him that phone so that he would have a way to reach all of us, and now we are all so desperate to avoid a phone call because in my family no one ever calls with good news. Never before has $30 made such little sense to me. All my life, I have done what my dad advised, and here I was, yet again, needing my dad -- my not-sick dad -- to just tell me what to do.

Nothing in the world makes me feel less like a grown-up than to actually have to be THE grown-up. I feel like a 5 year-old, playing in my mother's make-up and jewelry.

And these are the thoughts that snaked around my brain while I waited at the AT&T store. While I waited on their psychotically bright orange couch, questioning why I couldn't do such a seemingly simple thing. And for me, waiting is the hardest part. Waiting gives me time to think and feel and fear and doubt. I'm not good at waiting. In fact, I'm almost as terrible at it as I am at lying.

So, when that poor, unsuspecting 20-something asked me how he could help, I didn't know how to explain that I was here to get rid of my dad's last tie to his own independence and dignity. I burst into tears and barely managed an apology, leaving him blank-faced and staring after me as I scuttled out the door, desperate to save my meltdown for the car, away from the orange couch and befuddled looks.

And to top it all off, they still got my 30 bucks this month. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, my old dad just shakes his head.