21 Day Yoga Girl Challenge Day 13: Be Fearless #yogagirlchallenge

Today I started a calculus class at the age of 46 because I want to take it!

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Calculus is typically a college freshman class, but nobody ever made me take it in college. These days many kids take it as high school seniors since they have the opportunity to excel one or two years in math.

Click here to read about my love affair with math.

I didn’t want to pursue a math related field when I was in college so I didn’t really care about it back then. When I became a teacher in 1998 I fell in love with math and realized I was good at it. Ever since then, I’ve specialized in math and have been tutoring math privately since 2001. I am certified to teach all subjects 4-8 and math 8-12, but once kids finish Algebra 2, I usually have to refer them out.

I quit my teaching job in 2004 to be a stay home mom and have wanted to take calculus since about 2007. When I decided to do it, I found out that first I had to take college algebra, trigonometry, and precalculus. So I took college algebra in 2007 and just finished trigonometry this spring 2014. There was a long break I’m between due to personal stuff. Since I got an a in Trigonometry and my algebra is so strong, my professor let me skip precalculus.

So here I am, being fearless and taking a class out of desire that most people would rather have a root canal than complete. I’m not scared. I am going to do my best. If it’s super hard I will work super hard. I’m not scared. It can only help not hurt.

21 Day Yoga Girl challenge Day 4: Random Act of Kindness #yogagirlchallenge

For my random act of kindness, I raised another $100 for Cassidy Taber’s educational fund. Cassidy’s mom, Suzanne Shelton, and I grew up together going to both middle and high schools together. Tragically and unexpectedly, she died the night the Cassidy graduated from high school (she was put on life support for a few days and passed away June 26, 2014, but Suzanne as we knew her was gone). This picture was taken earlier that day.

After Suzanne died, I set up an educational fund on http://www.gofundme.com to help with all the costs that lie ahead in Cassidy’s adult life. In just over one month, people have donated almost $11,000, and the fund it still growing!  I know Cassidy would rather have her mom, but I wanted to do something to help her and to let her know that many people care and want to do something positive.  Cassidy starts at Longwood College in Virginia this fall, and her fund will remain open.

  Click here if you want to make a donation!  Any amount large or small is appreciated!IMG_4409.JPG

I am super grateful I got to see Suzanne in January 2014 and in November 2013 when I was home in Virginia visiting. We had drinks and food and lots of laughter. She was really happy with her life at that time. She told me about her daughter, Cassidy, and that she was a senior in high school. Things were going well in her life. She was a proud mom and an excellent friend. I am smiling in her memory.
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Since I saw “Random Acts of Kindness” on the challenge three times, I’ve had it on my mind and have been looking for little ways to reach out to people. So far, I gave a homeless and hungry man some food, and I also took the time to encourage and high-five a guy next to me in yoga class the other day. He was a big, strong guy with tattoos all over. He looked like the kind of guy who could push a big truck around with no problem. But he had a little trouble doing yoga. It was the second time I’ve been next to him in class, and I’ve seen him struggling and resting in child pose when things get hard. I gave him a high-five and said good job today, way to work hard, keep at it! He looked at me with surprise like are you talking to me? He was a little hesitant and not very talkative, but he did high-five me. I hope he felt good knowing his efforts show. Yoga is hard, but the great thing about it is that you can start from wherever you are and modify it however you need to. It heals and transforms lives, so I think it’s great when I see people who are new to it and working hard at it.

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

25 Things About Me

I’m flashing back today, looking back over some of the old notes I wrote on Facebook before I started blogging.  Found this list of 25 things about me and got a kick out of re-reading it and thought I would share with updates where necessary.

1.  Like my friend Eve who tagged me in this note, I have a genius IQ, but I knew it when I was a kid and resented the pressure to be an overachiever.
2.  I like beans….and I make a yummy bean salad.  Whatever I cook if I can throw in some beans I will. (Update-I no longer eat beans!  I’ve been following a mostly paleo diet since August (no grains, no dairy, no beans/legumes, no refined salt, sugars, or oils). 
3. I like to cook, and I am obsessed with eating healthy food like lean meats, lots of fruits and veggies, and whole grains. (Update-no more whole grains!  Was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity (click here to read the entry I wrote about it) in May and have been off most grains (except a little rice since August).
4.  I always wanted to be a wife and mother and never really knew what career to pursue when I was growing up.  Click here to read why.
5.  Because of #4, I went to three colleges, took two years off (one to work for GP and do a NOLS semester (click here to read about it) and the other to work as a cook and live in Telluride, CO), and changed my major twice (#1 French #2 Philosphy/Religion #3 Environmental Studies)….didn’t graduate until I was 25.

Telluride, CO from a gondola.

Telluride, CO from a gondola. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6.  My first ‘career’ was an environmental activist for Greenpeace in Washington DC.

Washington DC

Washington DC (Photo credit: eGuide Travel)

7.  I got my master’s degree in Education and became a teacher after my GP job got moved to Amsterdam;  I was a single mom so I didn’t want to go.
8.  When I was a teacher, I discovered a passion for math, and now that I am a stay home mom I love tutoring math because I can help students learn to love math.  Click here to read about my love affair with math.

Dansk: Dedikeret til matematik

Dansk: Dedikeret til matematik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9.  I love to sleep and will sleep until noon if nobody wakes me up.  I also love being pampered like getting massages.
10.  I met my husband, Joe, at the gym when he was working there and going to school and I was his 12:30 appointment for personal training.  We started running together and the rest is history.  Even though he is a lawyer now, we still go to the gym every weekend and love exercising together.

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11.  I am lactose intolerant (like most Asian Americans).
12.  I am an extrovert and love to get together with friends, pot-luck style, with good food, drinks and conversation.
13. When I go out, my drink of choice is gin and tonic (Bombay Sapphire) and my favorite shots are Jaegermeister and Tequila. (Update-no more gin or jaegermeister due to food allergies.  The only liquor I drink is Patron silver tequila).
14.  I drink wine (chardonnay) when I’m cooking and with dinner.
15. I am kind of a control freak and always am trying to avert danger and/or accidents, especially with my kids. Like we don’t let them play outside in the front yard without an adult and don’t even get me started on how hard it is to have a 15 yr. old who is about to date and drive etc. (Update-since I wrote this post, I wrote nineteen episodes of fiction. I realized this theme came up in my fiction writing. Click here to read my fiction episodes).
16.  I like heights and exposure, hence my affinity for climbing trees as a kid, my love for rock climbing and high mountains where the earth meets the sky.  When I stand on a cliff or overlook I get the urge to fly like a bird, but of course I don’t have wings so maybe I should take up hang gliding or something?

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Split Rock, WY 1989

17.  On the flip side, I am claustrophobic and I would really hate to go scuba diving or caving or anything like that.
18.  I am a big flirt, always have been, in fact I won ‘biggest flirt’ in 8th grade with Bill Schraa who ironically was also voted ‘best couple’ with his girlfriend.
19.  When I go shopping I am all about the sales and hardly ever will pay retail price.
20.  I manage all the money in our household and am good about paying our bills on time or early.
21. I correct people when they use bad grammar (I know that is annoying, but I can’t help it).
22.  When I am going through a hard time, I make music mixes full of songs that reflect whatever it is that’s going on.  Before CD‘s I made mixed tapes.
23.  I always try to complement people and tell them what I like about them (something I learned as a teacher when conferencing with parents).  There is always something nice you can say, no matter who it is.
24.  I spend alot of time on the computer.
25.  I give my kids ‘mommy homework’ if they don’t have any from school and make them do reading, writing, and math all summer (for about an hour a day, it’s not so bad) to keep them challenged.  Click here to read about summer learning.

ZTA Mom’s weekend

I flew to see my oldest daughter at her college on Friday. It was mom’s weekend with her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha. She’s a sophomore, and I haven’t visited her on campus since we moved her into her freshman dorm. She is in a student apartment this year. It was awesome to see how she lives and to meet her friends.

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on the way to the airport

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My lovely hotel room for the weekend

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cool artwork in my hotel room

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her apartment building – gated for extra security

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loved seeing her building – nice and new and gated

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nice pool, jacuzzi and all!

On flying:
Why do people dress up to fly? I felt totally under-dressed in the airport, but I didn’t really care because comfort on the flight is my first priority. Maybe it’s because I have chronic pain. I wore sweats, brought my “forever comfy” pillow to sit on, and I was still feeling achy on the plane. I took a Southwest flight for the first time and was surprised at how they do things differently. First of all they don’t assign seats on the plane. It’s basically first come first serve, sit anywhere you want. Boarding toward the end of the line, I laughed inside thinking about what an interesting social experiment it was. Most of the aisle and window seats were already taken, so I walked down the aisle mentally sizing up people and deciding which middle seat to take. My primary concern was how the people next to me would smell! I’m allergic to fragrance, so if I picked a seat next to a lady with perfume or a man with cologne, the entire flight would have been torture. Once seated, how could I get up, change my seat, and nicely say I changed my mind? I sat in between a lady and a man. Neither of them were fat (didn’t want to be crowded), and thank god neither of them smelled like anything. The flight attendant started explaining emergency procedures to the people seated in the exit row two rows ahead of me. She told them to read the instructions carefully because in the case of an emergency, she wouldn’t be there to help! I wondered where would she be? It was a 2:30 pm flight, and people were already drinking. the lady next to me got a cranberry vodka, and the flight attendant had a tray full of other cocktails. On the return flight, I got a window seat and took a nap (7:45 flight). We didn’t get any refreshments because there was too much turbulence. Less than an hour later, the flight was over. It was better than driving almost six hours!

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hibachi dinner with her roomies and their moms

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me and my girl

On college life:

My husband and I both took non-traditional paths through college, but we both encouraged our kids to have the college experience because it is a phase of life like no other. I attended three different schools, took two years off (to do a NOLS course and live in Telluride, CO), and graduated at the age of twenty-five with a week-old daughter. My husband started college at the age of twenty-four after working as a draftsman since graduating high school. My daughter started right after high school and is on track for a four-year degree and has plans for graduate school (I have my master’s degree and my husband got a law degree, so we have also encouraged her to pursue graduate work). I got my first peek into her life there, and of course I couldn’t help but compare and contrast it to my experiences. During those four years of undergraduate school, young people have life structured for them. They have academic expectations to meet and comfortable living arrangements. They have independence for the first time in their lives. No parents around to make them clean their rooms, eat right, or go to bed at a decent time. They learn how to be self-motivated, and at the same time they have the freedom to explore and experiment with all the fun life has to offer. No demands of the adult working world and families to provide for. It’s all about them, as it should be.

Sororities and fraternities provide social networks and activities. They offer a secondary structure, scheduling events, requiring adequate grades, and a group identity to fit different personalities and backgrounds. While I was never in a sorority, I think it’s a positive experience for my daughter. She loves her sisters, and I was very impressed with her sorority house as well as the rest of Greek circle. In my day, fraternity houses were old and smelled bad, something like the movie Animal House. I never went to a school with a sorority so I didn’t know what to expect, but their house was beautiful! It seemed new and clean and was beautifully decorated with plenty of space. It was fun to see where they meet weekly and meeting many of her sisters and their moms. We had brunch at the house and then had a two-hour painting class where we made paintings of crowns (her sorority symbol).

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our photo booth picture at the ZTA house

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in front of the ZTA house

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in front of the ZTA house

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Painting with a Twist

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our paintings

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we love each other

I love going to Painting with a Twist. We have one near our house, and I’ve been three times already. Everybody makes a different version of the same painting. The instructors walk you through it step by step, so it really doesn’t take talent. I won the ‘who has the weirdest thing in their purse’ contest. I keep a small bottle of olive oil in my purse instead of hand lotion because I have extensive chemical allergies, and it’s the best thing for me to use. Apparently, that’s weird! I’m not complaining though. I was happy to take home a new T-shirt from Painting with a Twist.

After painting, she took me to my first darty. What’s a darty? It’s a day party. Duh. I got to meet more of her friends, two of whom were celebrating birthdays. Then, we had dinner and prepared to go out.

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pre-party fun with my girl and her roomies

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Sierra driving her roomie’s Hummer

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with Sierra’s Zisters

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pre-party fun

Then, we went out to a place called “Conference.” It’s an 18 and up bar. People who are 18-21 get an X on their hands (and get charged a higher cover charge because they aren’t drinking). Many of her guy-friends were there, and we had a ball getting to know each other. I don’t get out too often, so it was really fun for me. I loved getting to know her friends and dancing in the crowd.

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hot, sweaty, and having fun

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getting my dance on with Sierra’s friend

As you can tell, for some reason, I like taking hats off boys and putting them on my head. It was really hot in there, and I was all sweaty, but it was a really fun time. This is my daughter’s ex, and it was nice to see him again. He danced with us and kept all the other guys away from us!

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dancing with some of my daughter’s friends

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with my girl and one of her friends

Then it was time for the after-party. That’s right, first a darty, then a pre-party, then the party, then an after-party. We stayed up a long time. I got to hang out with a bunch of her friends in a fraternity and felt like one of the gang, sort of. Besides the fact that I’m twice their age of course.

The next day, there were no scheduled events, so we slept late and then went shopping before I had to get to the airport for my flight back home. We had lunch at Olive Garden. I got her some clothes, some groceries, and hung curtains in her room for her. What a great weekend. Man, I love college.

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last pic together, missing her already!

Do you love or hate college?

I LOVE COLLEGE

I HATE COLLEGE

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

Daily Prompt: Time Capsule 2012

“The year is drawing to a close. What would you put in a 2012 time capsule?”

1.  A dance bag with ballet, jazz and hip hop shoes and gear. This is the year my daughter (12) became super serious about dance, and our lives now revolve around her practice schedule.

2.  An iphone.  Four out of five of us in the family have iphones. They are definitely a sign of the times.  They have itunes libraries reflecting today’s music too.

3.  My Obama victory magnet.  It’s on the back of my car. I’m happy that he won reelection this year!

5.  Camoflauge pants and combat boots to represent my stepson (20) who is now in the army, stationed at Ft. Drum NY.  He is an infantry man. We are super proud of him for his sacrifice and service.

6.  A Texas Tech flag and a Zeta Tau Alpha sign to represent our daughter (19) who is a ZTA at Texas Tech. She loves going to school there!

7.  My son’s (8) last baby tooth in the front that finally fell out (the yellow one).  It was yellow because when he was a toddler he fell down the stairs and whacked his face and mouth on the tile floor. It cut off blood supply to his tooth, so it turned yellow.

8.  My husband’s business card. This is the year he made partner at his law firm.  He also turned 40 this year (officially over the hill).

9.  An Algebra 2 book because I’ve been studying it a lot this year.  I’m a private math tutor, and I have kids everywhere from Pre-Algebra to Algebra 2 and in between.  This year, I have lots of kids in Algebra 2 and have been enjoying working with them.

10.  An electric guitar because this is the year I’ve been taking lessons consistently and finally learning more about music theory and writing solos.

My Love Affair with Math

I started preschool when I was two years old then skipped kindergarten starting first grade at five years old. I don’t remember much of that early learning, but I do remember puzzles and playing music. My mom is a musician, and she started me on violin (Suzuki method) at the age of three. I grew up knowing how to read music on the violin, and I think that might have been an important step in my brain’s development that led to my understanding of math and science (thanks mom). Music is all math and science.

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I do remember doing math in the early elementary years, and it was always easy. I had good number sense. The first few years of elementary school were a breeze, and the only thing I got in trouble for was singing or humming in class. I understood place value and basic computation. I learned multiplication and division with no problem. After third grade, my mom decided I should repeat third grade so I could be with my age group, and I did fourth grade work. I scored in the genius category on IQ tests and took GT classes through elementary and middle school. Again, I don’t remember much about those years, or particularly liking math at that time, but I do remember it being easy. My mom called me a walking telephone book because I could always remember phone numbers with ease (the same is true for today except that with iPhones I do admit I don’t know everyone’s phone numbers like the old days in the 1970s-80s). But I’ve always had a good memory for numbers and patterns.

Looking back at my high school transcript (Class of 1986 Go Lancers!) I can see why my guidance counselor advised me to pursue a major in French and then return to the Washington, DC area to work at the state department as a translator. I took four years of French and got two B+s and two As. Only three years of math were required back then, so I only did the bare minimum. I got a B in Algebra 1 (ninth grade), a B in Geometry (tenth grade), and a C in Algebra 2/Trigonometry (eleventh grade). Everything got confusing once we got to logarithms. I don’t remember having hatred or dislike toward math, but I don’t remember particularly liking it either. My m.o. back then was to do ok academically and still have a social life and a love life. I did gymnastics and cheerleading and played soccer. I talked a lot in class and was a social butterfly even back then. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I took my counselor’s advice and started my freshman year at Hollins College as a French major. Nobody made me take a math class that year. I did take computer science and programming, which is mathematical, but there was no other math requirement that year. My sophomore year, I did an exchange program at Washington & Lee University. There, I switched my major to Philosophy & Religion. I took a music appreciation class, but again, no math class. I took my junior year off and worked for Greenpeace USA in DC then completed a Spring Semester in the Rockies with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). After that, I transferred to Prescott College and changed my major again to Environmental Studies. I minored in Outdoor Education and Liberal Arts. I passed the math proficiency test there and didn’t have to take any math classes (the proficiency test is equivalent to college algebra).

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I graduated from Marymount University with my master’s degree in education (M.Ed. PreK-8) and became a teacher. My first position was sixth grade, all subjects in Reno, Nevada. Sixth grade deals with a lot of fractions and decimals, yet many of the students were below grade level and still working on memorizing multiplication and division tables. That is when I first started to take an interest in math education. It was a challenge to teach sixth grade skills when kids lacked knowledge they should know from previous years.  I moved to Virginia and worked as a sixth grade teacher in Fairfax County teaching math, science, and health in a Gifted/Talented Center. G/T Centers are 24/7 G/T all subjects grades 3-6. Highly gifted kids learn third and fourth grade math in third grade, fifth grade math in fourth grade, sixth grade math in fifth grade, and seventh and eighth grade math in sixth grade. That’s when I found my niche. I taught seventh and eighth grade math compacted into one year to highly gifted sixth graders, preparing some of them for Algebra 1 in seventh grade. Most of the kids progressed to Honors Math 7 and then to Algebra 1 in eighth grade. FCPS has several different math tracks, and they do a great job of offering enrichment and advancement in mathematics to those are are able. While that is a small percentage of the general population, it is an excellent way to let those students who excel in math to move ahead and take college math in high school. It was fast paced and challenging. I received professional development to prepare me and assist me, and I fell in love with math! Being an adult in a math classroom was a completely different experience than being a child in a math classroom. With my background in science, it all made sense and I was able to make more connections to the real world. Because of my background as a gifted learner, I was a good combination with the gifted kids. In addition to the fast paced curriculum, the kids did enrichment projects like City of Lights (scale models of DC buildings wired to light with bulbs and batteries) and Mathematician Expedition (a research paper on a mathematician of choice). We developed an understanding of the essentials in math, but we also discovered deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics in general.

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My third position was in a middle school in Texas. I taught seventh grade, sixth grade Pre-AP, and sixth grade math. It was my first position at a middle school teaching only math. It was an excellent opportunity to focus solely on math education and to use new technology in math instruction. I co-sponsored the Math & Chess Club and worked with kids at a wide spectrum of skill levels. It helped me sharpen my focus on the middle school math years. The middle school years are an essential link in preparing students for high school math. The concepts go from concrete to abstract as students explore the use of variables and use multistep complex problem solving. Kids become fluent in fractions, decimals, percents, and integers. They explore proportionality and use formulas to solve geometric problems. They use basic number sense and calculation skills to solve more abstract problems.

I started tutoring math privately in 2001 and am focusing solely on tutoring now, both in person and via skype. I see math everywhere now. One-on-one tutoring allows me to individualize to meet each student’s needs. We start where the student is and we take it one step at a time from Pre Algebra through Algebra 2. Since I discovered as a teacher that I like math and understand math, my goal in life is to help others learn and like math, especially girls. It’s a heavily male dominated workforce, and girls are typically stereotyped not to like math. I am confident and enthusiastic and hope to share my love of math with my students. I hope to inspire them to feel confident in their skills and to pursue a college education, in whatever field they choose. They will need strong foundation in math no matter what job they do as adults.

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My undergraduate degree was in science, and now I have specialized in math. I play chess and guitar. I do puzzles and listen to classical music. I expose my kids to math on a regular basis and point out everywhere I see math. They get tired of hearing me say ‘math is everywhere’, or ‘that’s math’, or ‘that’s science’, but it really is true. Math is everywhere and it’s involved in every job that every kid will do when they grow up. As an adult looking back on my own education, I wish the math requirements were then what they are today. I wish I or someone else noticed that I liked math and was good at it and that I had taken math classes in college. Now I love algebra and geometry. I picked up where I left off with logarithms. In 2007, I went back to school and took College Algebra at a local community college in Texas. I’m currently taking Trigonometry on www.khanacademy.org and want to take PreCalculus and Calculus when I am ready. With a husband and kids and a house to run, it’s not as easy now as it would have been to take those classes in college. But, it’s never to late to learn. I read somewhere to be happy, do what you love. I love math. So, I’m going to keep doing it!

30 Days of Truth: Day 27-What’s the Best Thing Going for You Right Now?

My family is the best thing going for me right now.  I’m in a really great spot. My husband has a great job as a health care attorney, and he recently made partner. My twenty year old stepson is in the Army stationed in NY. My nineteen year old daughter is a sophomore at Texas Tech and involved in her sorority (ZTA).  My twelve year old daughter is doing well in her seventh grade classes and dancing eleven hours a week. And my eight year old son is also doing well at school in second grade and amazes me every day with his intelligence and insight.

I’ve achieved the perfect balance of being a person, a wife, a mother, and a professional.  The house is quiet during the day, and I use the time to workout, to learn guitar, to write, to learn math, and to do all the work associated with running a household including the finances.  Once the kids get home, I’m busy with them, and I also tutor math part time. I love that I can use my education and still be a full time mom.  I don’t have any of the stress that comes with being a classroom teacher. Instead, I get to experience the enjoyment and fulfillment of working one on one with students on math-a subject I am passionate about.

I feel very blessed to be in my position, and I’m grateful because my husband and I envisioned this life and built it step by step together.

Worst Teacher of the Year

What the hell is wrong with our elementary school? In general, I support all schools and teachers. I have deep respect for the hard work they do. But when something happens or is said that I disagree with, I stand up and speak my mind.  Isn’t that my right as a parent?

We have butted heads repeatedly over the years over a few issues: supervision and homework (or lack thereof). Every time there is an issue, my concerns fall on deaf ears. The only way I’ve gotten any concerns addressed is to go above their heads to the district.

Yesterday, I went to school for Special Friends Day with my second grade son. I was excited I could be there since the past two years I was a working mom and had to miss it. My mom in law was there too. We had lunch with him outside and then he started playing soccer with other boys since it was their recess time. My mom in law and I got to talking, and I didn’t see what happened, but he came out upset and crying saying the other team was cheating and that one boy gave him a red card and kicked him out of the game. I told him there are no referees in the game and that another kid can’t just kick him out. I told him to go back and play and that I would stand up for him if the boy started messing with him again. So I started paying more attention to the game.

A few minutes later, that same boy started fighting with another boy. They were kicking each other repeatedly, punching each other and slamming their bodies into each other. I watched and looked around for a teacher, but nobody else was watching. I stood up, called my son over, and broke up the fight by telling the boys to stop it. My mom in law took away the soccer ball because they were fighting, not playing.

I thought the school should know there was just a fight, so I sent my son over to tell a teacher who was watching the playground (with her back to the soccer field.)  In the past when I was working as a teacher, no matter what school or what state I was in, there was zero tolerance for fighting.  Kids had consequences.  I figured the teachers needed to know so they could handle it.  I watched as my son told the teacher, and I watched as she dismissed him and kept chatting with a mom with her back to the soccer field.  My son came back to the blanket, and I asked him if she was going to do anything about the fight, and he said he didn’t know.  My mom in law and I looked at each  other in disbelief and sat there watching the teacher and wondering if she was going to act on the information she had just received.  No such luck, she continued to stand there chatting with a mom.  So, I decided to say something to her myself.

I walked over to her and excused myself for interrupting her very important (not) conversation with this mom and asked her if she was going to do anything about the boys fighting.  At first, she said she was just told about it and would deal with it later.  I repeated my concerns wondering if she was going to do anything about it at that moment, since there were adult witnesses and the boys were now dispersing.  She mocked me, slapping her hand on her thigh and using a fake voice to say, ‘well, I will just get right on that! I will do something right away.’  Then she turned to keep chatting with the mom who was standing there. I stood there giving her a hard stare until she took some action.  She called one boy over, and I heard him say, “I wasn’t really fighting.”  So I replied, “yes he was!”  Then things took a turn for the worse.

The teacher then turned around and came at me with her finger pointed, raised her voice, and got in my face telling me that I have ‘no control there’ and that ‘if I wanted to continue talking to her about this incident that I needed to go inside because I was embarassing her.’  She told me I needed to go inside so we could talk with an administrator, to which I replied that I’m sure it was very embarrasing for her since she was the only teacher on duty and kids were fighting and she wasn’t doing anything about it.  Like this conversation with this mom standing there was more important that the safety of kids who were beating each other up??

So, I gladly obliged.  Sure, let’s go inside and talk to an administrator, why not.  We go inside, and we find an administrator, and we sit down, and the first thing she says is, “I’m so pissed.”  How professional?  Let me get this straight.  Two boys beat each other up.  No teacher is watching. No teacher does anything about it.  When I tell a teacher and ask her to act on it, I am the one at fault and am sent to the office.  SHE is the one who is angry, and MY behavoir is inappropriate, not the behavior of the fighting boys.  Really?

She is the first to speak and unleashes with lies.  Apparently, I walked up to her and started yellling at her. Apparently, I attacked her, and this is her defense.  Whatever.  I got a chance to speak my side of the story, and after I explained the urgency of the issue in my opinion, the AP replied with, ‘well we aren’t into public humiliation, and we aim to preserve the dignity of the child, so I’m going to go on the assumption that you (the teacher) were going to look into it later.’  To which I replied that not issuing immediate consequences gives a couple messages:  that if you get in a fight at our elementary school, nothing is going to happen, and that the conversation with the mom was more important than the kids’ safety. I didn’t understand how they expected to get to the bottom of things later in the day once the adult witnesses were gone and the kids were going to lie about it.

It was clear the teacher wasn’t going to do ANYTHING about the fight.  She was too busy chit chatting with another mom to even care about what just happened.  The AP pointed out that we have a philosophical divide – that I expected immediate consequences, and that’s just not how they do things at our school.  She did assure me there were consequences for fighting, and that they would look into it.  She did her best to defend her teacher, which is what she should do.  But, in my opinion, there is no defense of a teacher who turns her back on the report of kids fighting and who acts so unprofessional to a parent with a concern.  All she had to do was excuse herself from the mom she was talking to, call the boys over and deal with the conflict.  Is that too much to ask?

Instead of the boys getting in trouble for beating each other up, I was the one who was out of line apparently.  I was the one sent to the office. I was the one she was “pissed” at.  What message does that send to the children?  She is the most unprofessional teacher I have ever dealt with.  I have never seen a teacher wag her finger in my face and yell at me over something the kids did.  In my opinion, she is the worst teacher I’ve ever met.  It makes me sick that the administration backs this and other behaviors in the past.  We still have three more years at this school, so wish me luck. I’m going to keep being myself and standing up for my kid and for what I think is right for kids in general.

Here’s a quick recap of past conflicts:

1. No homework. They formed a committee of parents and teachers who decided homework isn’t beneficial unless it’s purposeful and meaningful (duh). So instead of assigning purposeful and meaningful homework, they decided no homework. I fought the battle again this year when my son’s second grade teacher wrote home saying there wouldn’t be any homework.  I opposed, and she replied saying they adopted the district guidelines.  I searched the district guidelines and sent them to her and the principal.  The guidelines are about high quality, meaningful homework, not NO homework.  The teacher and principal stopped answering me and told me to talk to the district.  I did. The district said they are NOT a no homework district, and they tried to tell me my school is aligned with their guidelines.  Once I sent the email saying there is NO homework, she said it must be some kind of misunderstanding.  In the end, she offered to send home a workbook that goes with the math series. That’s all I wanted in the first place. I can’t believe it was so hard to get some homework for my child when it was clearly available all along.  I don’t appreciate being lied to either. I don’t appreciate that the teacher and principal stopped being responsive.  I don’t appreciate that they lie and do what is easiest on them.  It’s absolutely ridiculous.

2.  Supervision:

  • Instead of hiring substitute teachers, they let parent volunteers manage classrooms for half days while the staff meets for PLCs (Professional Learning Committees).  Parent volunteers are only background checked in the state of Texas.  So a child molester from another state can easily be in charge of my kids’ class one day just because my elementary school wants to save some money and not hire a sub!
  • When my middle daughter was in third grade, her teacher left the class alone so she could take boxes out to her car.  It was toward the end of the year, and she was moving classrooms the next year.  So she decided to ask a couple kids to help and she left the class alone.  Well, my daughter had to go pee.  She is a rule follower and didn’t want to leave the classroom without permission.  So what happened? She peed her pants!  Then the kids went running next door saying, ‘we need a teacher, she peed her pants!’  My daughter came home humiliated. When I talked to the principal about it, she tried to appeal to the fact that I’ve been a teacher before, and she said you know there are times when you have to leave your classes alone.  OK, like maybe in an emergency, or maybe if you are having a bathroom problem, or something I can see running out for a few minutes if you have to.  But you are supposed to get coverage.  You are supposed to reserve those times to absolute emergencies.  You aren’t supposed to leave your class alone to take things to your car. That is NOT an emergency!

I’m sick of lazy teachers. I’m sick of lazy administrators. I’m sick of people around here being fake!  Do what’s right for kids. Watch them with your eyeballs.  Try to challenge them. Teach them study habits.  And act when something goes wrong.  That’s all I ask.

 

Pearls on a String

     “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.”  ~Richard Bach
When things are difficult, we are really learning. Think about it. If everything was easy, would you learn anything? Psychologist Jean Piaget referred to the unsettling feeling of learning something new as “disequilibrium.”  When we already know something, we are in a state of equilibrium.  When we learn something new, we are in a state of disequilibrium.  Without disequilibrium, we don’t learn anything new.
Problem:  It was my second year teaching at a new school after returning from a six-year hiatus to stay home with my son.   I lasted through the first year and through the transition to a new grade level and principal the second year.  It was the Friday before spring break on my eighth year of teaching, and I had literally just taken a pie to the face in honor of Pi Day coming up on 3/14.  We gave up the scheduled day of curriculum to celebrate Pi and have fun watching brainpop videos about Pi and Einstein and competing in a Pi memorization contest.   I went to the office to file some papers during lunch to meet a deadline, and my principal asked if he could see me. He handed me a copy of a letter and said they weren’t going to renew my contract. He said that because I used the school’s online discipline system for issues like missing work and dress code and other behavioral infractions, that I was being ineffective and was not motivating my kids to do work.   He also said it was because my teammates didn’t think I was ‘happy’ and that I was not a ‘good fit’ for the student population.

Have you ever been told to do something and then gotten in trouble for doing it? Psychologists call it a double-bind. It’s a no-win situation where you are damned if you do, and you are damned if you don’t. Although shocked and blindsided, I realized in those moments that I was fighting a monster far bigger than I was. My crime was following directions, yet for some reason I was getting in trouble for it. I hung my head and cried for a few minutes, and decided that if he was putting me in that position, then I quit. I disagreed with the letter as well as the whole process of the team and assistant principals talking about me behind my back and planning to destroy my career without a benefit of a doubt or any willingness to help me in my perceived weak areas. It was clearly personal and political, and it was a bigger, more sinister monster than I wanted to fight.

Gift:  I walked away with my dignity and integrity knowing I followed directions and worked as hard as I could to be the best math teacher I could be.  I am now able to re-focus my energies on my family and my health and not feel the negative side effects that come from working in a toxic environment.  I know that I forged meaningful relationships with the students and motivated them to work.  If you know me, you know I love math. You know I love science. You know I love kids and teaching.  This negative experience helped me to sharpen my focus and to re-examine my professional philosophies.  It gave me the opportunity to spend time reflecting on the past and how to use past experiences to achieve future dreams.  I will not lower my standards or compromise my integrity for a flawed public school system.  Instead, I will work for myself and focus on teaching math, one-on-one without the interference of a highly politicized work environment.  I do believe that education is the key to success, and that learning never ends.  I still aim to teach kids to love math and to love learning throughout their lives, wherever their strengths may lie.  I am focusing on expanding my private math tutoring business and opening up a website in the future to help kids learn and love math.

Why tell this story?  I want to set the record straight that I quit only because they told me I couldn’t stay.  If any former students or parents are reading this entry, I want to tell them I did not quit on the kids.  I feel that they lost the most in this experience.  All of a sudden I was gone, and they didn’t know why.  I heard from one of my students a few weeks after I left, and she said the administration told my students I quit because I got another job.  I want all the kids and parents to know I did not get another job.  I only left because I couldn’t stay, and I didn’t know how finish the year when I didn’t know what to do day-to-day.   I want them to know it wasn’t because of them; it was because of the staff and administration.  I still believe in the kids, and I still believe in education. I will keep being me and keep doing what I do regardless of whether this particular school wants me or not.  I know who I am – and I know what I’m about, and I won’t let this negative experience destroy me.  I will use it as fuel to for purusing my dreams.  These are all pearls (of wisdom) on a string.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHIr6OmUfqg
Ryan Adams “Pearls on a String”

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

NOLS Spring Semester in the Rockies 1989

     This was the first day of the rest of my life.  I had never gone camping, cross-country skied, or backpacked before.  I had no idea what was in store for me during the next three weeks.  There I was, 21 years old, late January 1989 on skis with a heavy backpack and making tracks into the woods outside of Jackson Hole, WY.  The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), based in Lander, WY,  gave me and 16 other students a ride to this meadow and dropped us off with three instructors to begin our Spring Semester in the Rockies.  It was a 95 day semester broken into five sections:  winter, desert, whitewater, climbing, and horse packing.  I received 16 credits from the University of Utah in biology and natural history.  Winter section lasted approximately 3 weeks.
     Just three years earlier in 1986, I graduated high school with no idea what to do with my life.  My high school counselor saw that I had gotten all As in French (4 years) and suggested that I major in French with the goal of returning to the DC area to work as a translator for the State Department.  I attended Hollins College my freshman year and then did a one year exchange program at Washington & Lee University my sophomore year.
     At W&L, two of my friends (Jack Moore and Chris Walburgh) had already completed NOLS Semesters, and they inspired me to register for a semester outdoors. Chris (RIP Chris Walburgh)  http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?cropsuccess&id=100000216874433#!/groups/19639487026  , also told me about Greenpeace one day while we were studying in the library, so that summer when I returned to DC I responded to an ad in the paper looking for Greenpeace canvassers.  I went door to door raising funds and awareness to aid Greenpeace’s campaigns (oceans, forests, toxics, nukes) and decided to take my junior year off from school and pursue doing a NOLS semester in the spring.  During my sophomore year at W&L, I started rock climbing with Chris and his best friend, Rick, but I had never done any camping or anything else outdoorsy.  There was something about Chris that I wanted to be like too. He was a deep thinker, and I could tell his outdoor adventures had given him something that I didn’t have yet.  I wanted to experience it too.  I worked for Greenpeace until January, then I flew to Lander, WY to start a new adventure (much to my parents’ chagrin).
     We skied during the days through pristine forests and camped in quinzhees at night.  It was tough learning how to cross-country ski while balancing a big backpack.  The instructors dragged sleds behind them full of supplies.  I learned how to stair-step sideways when going up a hill on cross-country skis and when we didn’t have our packs we worked on tele-skiing, carving beautiful curves in the powdery snow.  The forests were lush with fir and spruce and other evergreens.  It was quiet and peaceful.  Just getting from here to there required focus on the moment.  The rhythm of my breath was loud in my head and strenuous tasks took my full attention.  We learned snow science such as avalanche forecasting, types of snow,  and wilderness first aid for hypothermia etc.  We built snow kitchens to cook our camp food and built camaraderie with our quinzhee mates.


To make a quinzhee, it takes lots of snow and lots of hard work.  First, we made a huge mound of snow. Then, we literally climbed on top and stomped down on the snow to pack it down so it was very dense.  Once enough snow was packed in a dome shape, we used shovels to carve out a tunnel, first straight down, then horizontally to the dome, then straight up into the dome.  Then, we carved out the inside of the dome and a floor upon which to sleep.  The temperatures outside were 20-30 degrees below zero at night, and I think about four people could fit in one quinzhee.  Our body heat and subzero sleeping gear got us through the nights, but it sure was cold when we had to get up and night, tunnel outside and go to the bathroom!

Above is a picture of a snow kitchen.  We carefully carved out the snow to create a place to cook and sit.  We always hung up our sleeping bags on our skis at camp so they could dry.

This is a picture of some of the group members piling up snow in a dome. Jon is on top of the dome packing it down. The picture is a little blurry, but he is there.  As you can imagine, this process took some time and it came at the end of a long day of skiing.  Even though we were exhausted, we enjoyed working together to create shelter for our groups.

It’s easy to get a sense of the pristine beauty of the land from looking at this picture.  The snow was waist-high in some places.  We prodded through it, creating corridors to travel from camp to camp.  Every day we came across beautiful vistas and breathtaking imagery in the snowy meadows, forests, and mountains.  My eyes opened up to a brand new world.  Living outdoors for weeks during the winter was hard work, and I will admit I complained a bit.  Not only was I getting used to being away from civilization, but I had never faced such hardships just to exist.  I missed people at home, and I was tired a lot of the time.  I had always been athletic, playing soccer and doing gymnastics and cheerleading, but this kind of physical exertion was something I had never experienced.  I had also never been in such bone-chilling cold conditions.  A highlight of those three weeks was one night when we were sitting around talking and drinking hot chocolate, we got a gorgeous treat – the Northern Lights!   The sky was luminescent, a white/yellow hue, and it danced in streaks across the starry night sky.  We were in awe, looking upon the sky in amazement.  I had never even heard of the Northern Lights before, so it was an incredible learning experience for me. Talk about experiential learning!

Greetings from Canyonlands National Park, Utah.  After re-rationing in Lander, we spent four weeks backpacking and camping in remote canyons for our desert section.  There was a sharp contrast in the weather and landscapes.  It was hot and sunny, and there not a snowflake to be seen.  The landscape was dry and rocky. Shrubs, cacti, and brush grew from cracks in the rocks.  The sandstone canyons carved by erosion over geologic time, leaving contours of the past to be explored.  I traded in my sub-zero gear for t-shirts and shorts, quickly becoming friends with the sturdy hiking boots and gaiters that protected my legs from the desert brush.

After day hikes of around 10 miles through the desert, we stopped and made camp, frequently without tents because the weather was so mild at night.  We spent more than one night at this camp. It was my favorite one because of the beautiful wall curving around my sleeping bag. I felt sheltered and surrounded in beauty.   I wondered how long the rocks had been there and what stories they could tell me about time if they could speak.  It was surreal to sleep in a place that used to be under water, evidenced by artistic curves in the rocks.  It reminded me of the passage from the Tao Te Ching:  “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

I stopped to look back at my friends hiking behind me one day and saw the thunderclouds above them illuminated by the afternoon sun.  We were hiking across high plains with woodlands instead of down low in the sandstone canyons.  I remember my feet and back started hurting all the time during desert section.  The backpack was heavy, and the road ahead and behind stretched as far as the eyes could see.  As I rested and waited for my friends, I contemplated the smell of the sage drifting in the air and electricity brewing above.  I rested my weary muscles and found determination to continue step by step into the future.  What other choice did I have after all?  In these moments, I learned about pushing myself slowly through challenging tasks until completion.

I felt on top of the world in this picture.  We came upon this vista on a pass through the canyons.  The round, pillar type sandstone formations in the foreground are called hoodoos.  The La Sals are the mountain range visible on the horizon.  My attitude shifted during this section. A former climbing instructor and friend advised me to ‘always volunteer and never complain’ while on my NOLS course.  During winter section, it was harder to do for whatever reason.  In the warm sun of the southwest, my mind opened up like a blooming cactus. I started going with the flow and doing whatever it took for the group logistics to run smoothly.  We learned about the flora and the fauna of the desert and explored the ancient Anasazi Indian history of the land.  We were challenged with a day spent in solitude and a four-day small group (student-led) expedition.  I was voted by the group as one of four students who would take a small group from point A to point B where we would meet our instructors four days later.  It was a performance assessment, a perfect chance to show all that we had learned about orienteering, map-reading, travel, and survival in a desert landscape.

We all made it alive, and met up as a group again to wait for the bus to pick us up and take us back to headquarters.  After four weeks, we emerged as a stronger group and stronger individuals.  Our clothes bore the sweat and dust from our travels and labor.  Those four weeks in the desert taught me to open up my senses to my surroundings and to value and respect the fragile environment of which we are all a part.

Rock climbing was the third section. We spent approximately three weeks at Split Rock, WY learning the ropes so to speak.  I had some background experience in this sport, so I was able to take those basic foundations and apply them in my daily practice.  We camped in tents on the granite slabs, did morning yoga, and then after breakfast, we would head up to some top-roping areas for instruction and practice.  We had a variety of practice with cracks, faces, single, and multi-pitch climbs.

This particular problem was difficult for me.  The route traverse slightly to the left and then continues up to the left side up the crack.  The problem is the traverse always resulted in the ‘barn door’ effect and I would fall off the curve in the rock before I could make it up the crack. I tried and tried again but was never successful.

Cenotaph’s corner:  really fun corner route. I did this one repeatedly!

Rappelling class:  The hardest part about rappelling is all in the mind.  It takes confidence to sit back for the first time and give your body weight to the system.  It’s counterintuitive step away from stable footing on the top of a rocky ledge! Once you trust that the system will work, it becomes second nature.  Just lean back like sitting in a chair and slowly walk down the rock using your feet.  The brake hand stays behind and below, and small amount of rope is let out at a time until finally reaching the bottom.  Learning to climb rocks and to rappell down them requires trust.  Trust is another very important life skill.

This is the site of our multi-pitch climbs. We spent many days climbing different routes in scorching sunlight as well as in rain storms.  These routes would take all day to complete as there were three to four pitches to get to the top and then rappelling and hiking a long way down.  I felt invigorated by the heights and exposure.  We had beautiful views of the sage brush plains below, a winding river, and mountain ranges off to the distance in several directions.  The skies were painted with color and with the dark rumbling of frequent afternoon rain showers.

Here we are on the summit of one of my favorite multi-pitch climbing days.  We worked together building anchors and belaying each other. We encouraged each other when we hit difficult positions on the routes.  We believed in each other and ourselves.  These types of activities taught me to focus on the moment at hand and to learn to recognize fear and turn it into a positive power.  I learned to take difficult tasks and break them down into small steps, one move at a time.  I learned to listen to the voice inside that said, ‘I can’ instead of ‘I can’t.’  We smiled with this enthusiasm and confidence as we posed for this picture and then sat down to enjoy a well deserved lunch together on the summit.

Here we are at the bottom after a long hike down.  In one day, we had ascended to the highest heights of our imaginations and then come back down to terra firma to rest and prepare for the next leg of the journey.  I felt so free and so happy, like I could do anything.  After three weeks together on this section, our friendships grew deeper bonds, and we all knew we were sharing special experiences that we would hold forever in our minds and hearts.

The fourth section was two weeks long. We traveled to the Dolores River, CO to learn whitewater kayaking and rafting.  At the beginning of the course, learned how to roll our kayaks in a pool in Grand Junction, CO.  I hurt my neck doing the sideways hip-snapping motion while trying to pull myself up sideways from under water.  Sharp, shooting pain originated at the base of my neck and went down both arms when I tried to move them. I took motrin and sat out from paddling for a while until I felt I could give it a shot.  We were in class 2 and 3 waters, and once I joined the group again, I was able to learn how to maneuver the boat without ever flipping over.

We took classes on river science and how to maneuver the kayaks into and out of eddies. We learned how to avoid snags and how to ride tongues of whitewater rapids.  We learned how one wrong move can get a kayak sucked under water into a hydraulic that will turn a boater over and over like laundry in a dryer.  We learned that if ever thrown from a raft to always point feet down river.  This way, a person can see what is coming and use the feet and legs to try to bounce off rocks instead of crashing into them headfirst!  We took turns being captains and paddlers on the rafts, both giving and following directions and working as a group.

This is a picture of one of my favorite campsites along the Dolores River.  I love the U-shaped river valley and the layers in the canyon walls.  I love the memory of our group camped along the river’s edge, gathered in a circle sharing conversation.  I love the uninterrupted stillness of the scene and the reminder that water brings life to desert areas.  I treasure the remote nature of such an experience, knowing I will never return to that spot again in my life, but thankful for the opportunity to travel at the river’s pace through the land and witness all it had to offer once.

My friends and I soaked up some sun on this rocky slab beside the river as one of our instructors played in the waves.  I can still remember the sound of the white water rushing by and the laughter in the air!

I took this picture of small group in a raft approaching this rapid just upstream of us.  It was a hot sunny day in southwestern Colorado.  The canyons were filled with small trees and brush.  The rapids offered challenge and fun around every corner.  River camping was not as difficult as some of the previous sections, although we did learn a lot about life in and out of boats every day!  We made an assembly line to pass supplies from the boats to and from campsites and worked together as groups to set up and take down camps.  I remember everybody finding lots of humor in the fact we had to transport our solid waste in ammo boxes.  We learned and lived the ‘leave only your footprints’ philosophy of low-impact camping.  We also learned about water conservation issues facing the southwest region.

The fifth and final section was horse-packing.  What a way to end a semester.  This time, we had a horse between every two of us to carry our supplies!  We each rode a horse and took turns trailing the supply horses.  Here is a picture of our group stopping at a watering hole.  We rode along the Oregon Trail in Wyoming.  There were fields of sagebrush interspersed with Aspen groves.

This is my horse, Lil Doc.  She was the smallest horse in the group!  I am only 5’2″ so I needed a petite horse.  She was sweet and mellow.  I picked a wildflower and put it behind her left ear for this picture.

After watering the horses one afternoon, I took this picture of some of my friends and their horses as they walked back to our campsite in the aspen grove  that is barely visible at the bottom of the hill in the distance.  The afternoon sun was getting low in the sky, and we were done riding for the day.  It was a peaceful moment.

This is my friend, Pete, on his horse and holding the pack-horse we were sharing.  We learned how to use the ropes and tie knots to secure the loads on the supply horses.  It was windy, and we wore gloves while riding to protect our hands.

Here we are at one of the campsites surrounded by aspens with their pretty white bark and golden-green leaves.  We were enjoying some laughs as we posed for this picture.  Pete is holding up my book, Illusions by Richard Bach. It was one of my favorites to read on this trip.  It is still one of my favorite books!

This is one of the last pictures I took in the field. It encompasses the beauty of the rugged Wyoming trails we traveled.  The final section gave us a chance to relax a little and reflect on the journey we shared together.  When we finally returned to Lander, we had a celebration and each went our separate ways.  We didn’t know what the future would hold for us, but we completed our goal and 95 days later, we emerged from the field as different people.  I experienced personal growth by entering an unknown world.  I broadened horizons within myself, learning about the diverse world around me and about my place in it.  I pushed myself through uncomfortable and unfamiliar activities and evolved into a stronger, more confident, and adventurous person.  Seeking ways to push myself further and stretch my limits presented opportunities for growth that I never imagined.  I opened up to unimagined and unexpected possibilities and left with the feeling that I could accomplish any task I could dream of.  I felt energized with a fresh view of the world and myself.