Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Profile Picture is a Bumper Sticker... pass it on

This week I noticed everyone is changing their Facebook profile pictures to cartoons. Evidently this is the new popular and fun way to indicate we are against child abuse. Who starts these trends? Lucky thing, because the old ways (bumper stickers and being appropriate to children) were getting boring. And really, we must find a way to let people know we don’t agree with it, because otherwise all of our friends might suspect we abuse children on a regular basis and are fine with others doing so as well. I do worry that if I don’t change it to an animal cartoon, people might think I’m okay with animal abuse. Or what if no one knows I’m not okay with abusing the planet either? How can I indicate that?
Here’s the thing. If we are truly interested in stopping child abuse, not just making it look like we are, then perhaps our efforts could be directed toward actually doing things and voting in ways that support families in our communities, locally, nationally, and globally. If we don’t want to just wear the t-shirt or the bumper sticker proclaiming our dislike of child abuse (or any other abuse), why don’t we invest in educating and providing resources for those parents who are most likely to abuse their children? Why don’t we insist to our elected officials that families are a priority? And if we want to use the power of Facebook to do so, I’m sure there is a way. I’m just not convinced that this is it.
Oh, and who sees our profile pictures? Our friends. Do we have friends who abuse children? I sincerely hope I do not! And if so, is it likely that seeing their friends suddenly change into cartoon characters will modify their behavior toward their children? I’m thinking probably not.
If you want to become a cartoon character for fun, then by all means, enjoy yourselves. They look pretty cute. (Though I think my friends are cuter!) I myself have occasionally turned into a cabbage, a dog, or a flower for no apparent reason other than my own peculiar enjoyment. But let’s not pretend that it’s going to make any difference to any of our personal causes. Because it’s not. And I personally will not be changing to a cartoon character simply because “everyone’s doing it”. Hopefully people who know me will know I’d prefer they didn’t abuse their children.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Women: Are You Smarter Than My Cat?

This morning I was out prowling in the garden picking raspberries and filling a bowl with them when I heard Zillah (my cat) meowing at the screen door to be let out with me. Being wedged firmly underneath the bird netting, I decided to ignore her plea and continue with my picking. She continued to escalate past meowing into plaintive cries. I paused again, but recalling the cat door we installed 4 years ago just for her, I went on with my task. The cries became yowls and increased in volume and frequency. I was disgusted and muttered to myself about the ridiculousness of this situation, becoming more entrenched and determined NOT to give in to this ploy of hers to annoy me enough that I would remove myself from the garden and come all the way up to the house to let her out when she could let herself out.

That got me thinking about the mindset that allows a person to depend on another person for happiness. Zillah pretends to depend on me to let her in and out sometimes, though we both know she can do it herself. But many women and children (and probably men as well) behave this same way. They spend their time yowling for someone to let them out when they could do it themselves. I used to be one of those women, and before that, at times, one of those children.

Women: let's be smarter than my cat. Let's make ourselves happy and not wait for someone else to open the door.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Swamp Concert

March 30, 2010

I should not write incessantly about spring. I do it every year. They say that all writers succumb to springtime and the follies of writing it inspires, and so I, being oppositional, want to prove Them wrong. Perhaps truly gifted writers find and give inspiration on those dullest of February Michigan days when dirty snow piles are all that remain of winter, and grass refuses to consider the color green. I must not be gifted, because I can’t. If I write on those days, it is because something else has inspired me, and usually it is my own fury over the state of society or the idiocy of certain members of my community.
But Spring. I can’t help myself. Out There, I feel things that the poets have already used up. Alive, connected, thrilled. It’s a chorus of earth things calling, croaking, trilling, singing, exclaiming. Something even laughed, and while I’d love to think it was laughing at my leaky polka-dot muck boots, I don’t disillusion myself that I rank as anything other than a mild disturbance out there in the swamps. Peepers peeping away like mad. Cranes warbling somewhere nearby. Red-wings trilling and flirting. Cardinals, robins, chickadees all change to their spring dialect. I found fern clumps starting to swell, and a fallen tree that was collapsing last fall is now only soft red, fibrous dirt snuggling down to become new flooring in the woods. Ducks don’t seem to belong somehow, in their colorful, carved looking perfection. The wood duck sits awkwardly in a tree momentarily, trying to balance on those silly feet. I tell it that ducks don’t sit in trees, so it obligingly flaps down and finds its way to the water with a great deal of commotion.
Tansy drops her stick and bounds into the swamp to chase a surprised muskrat. Muskrat disappears beneath the water and swims her way through the murky stems while Tansy looks after her in surprise. What kind of cat or squirrel can jump into the water and swim away?
I see Deb’s tent is up, blending greyly into the tree trunks. She must be watching the fox den again. I wish I could take a week off from work and do the same, but Tansy would ruin the experience, I am sure. I wonder if the foxes know?
Where once we skated, now bugs skate on black water. The ice is gone and duckweed rims the edges. I spy a delightfully lowered tree trunk, curved to form a swing and just skimming the water’s surface. Knowing my boots will be full of water in seconds, I decide it’s worth the wet to find a perch on that curving trunk. Feet wet, but soul is content. I am sitting on the water and the swamp settles into its un-practiced, unharmonious concert again.
I am torn between wanting to share it and wanting to keep it to myself. I want to tell you not to miss a moment of it, but I want to own it exclusively. It is mine, and it should be everyone’s. Today it sat in my boots and under my palms. Every sense was engaged, including one that only happens in the spring. The sense to come home and write, to strive to capture what no camera, video, or paintbrush can. It is hearing the birds and frogs, plus seeing the green things, plus feeling the bark under my hands, smelling the black muck on Tansy’s fur, and tasting the wild chives as I walk past a tree festooned with white fairy mushrooms… it equals … This.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kindergarten, Merit Pay, and Parenting

Last week one of my kindergartners informed me I looked as if I had two black eyes. That means no more purple, sparkly eye shadow for me, I guess. Another precious child stated that I looked pregnant. And I can't count the number of times I've heard, "Mrs. Hoogerland, you forgot to..." to which I want to snarl, "I didn't FORGET... I am not READY yet, and I am in charge, NOT you!" But I don't. I smile sweetly. And to be fair, each morning when we sit in our Morning Meeting circle and share Good Things, there are at least 6 children who look adoringly at me and say, "My good thing is I have the bestest teacher in the whole world!" or something to that effect. I am not completely immune to these sorts of comments, especially when they issue from a red-haired child with a lisp who also cannot say their "r"s. It is no matter that this statement is patently false, or that the owner of this opinion has never had another teacher, and therefore cannot objectively make this judgement. No; I'll take it.

I'll take it because it makes the early mornings and late evenings worthwhile. Because it makes the days when I feel NO ONE IS LISTENING TO A WORD I SAY don't really matter after all. I will take those warming Good Things and hold them in my pocket during the trainings, the meetings, the workshops, and the book clubs, where everyone smiles vapidly while high-talking, exclaiming, sharing baby pictures, and pretending they do everything right and that their hair is really that color.

I am greedy for the hugs and the smiles from these children, and most of all for the moments when their eyes light up and they "get" it! They know how to read a word or they ask a great question or make a connection or prediction to a story. I love knowing that most of the time, they just want someone to let them know they are understood and heard. How much time we adults waste trying to solve their little problems, when all they need is someone to say, "That must have hurt. I'm sorry that happened." while giving them a squeeze and a sympathetic smile. Then off they go, perfectly fine and ready to face the world again.

My biggest challenge has been the Unlikables. There are a few every year. When I go in and make the biggest effort possible to seem to adore these children, to believe in them and pretend I love them, they respond almost instantly. And this? Makes them more likable. It is an important circle to begin, and it is my responsibility. If I fail, then school may always be a trial for these children, and they may fail as well. The Likables will always thrive, because their way is paved by whatever it is that makes the world an easier place for them. It is the Unlikables that need me the most.

The Unlikables are explained in many ways. Not enough love at home. Not enough structure at home. No consistency at home. Poor nutrition, hygiene, and exercise at home. Permissive parenting. Authoritarian parenting. Neglect. Not enough physcial, mental, emotional, and social stimulation at home. Too much TV and video games, not enough books and outdoors. Not enough whole grains, fruits, and veggies. Too many hydrogenated oils, sugars, plastic food, and preservatives. No modeling of appropriate behavior or choices.

And yet, and yet... we expect these children to grow up and be responsible adults? When does THAT happen, if the above is what they experience at home? Are teachers truly meant to "fix" all of this? Will the threat of "merit pay" make teachers fix these children and therefore fix their test scores? Only if we are also paid to enter our students' homes and make the necessary and permanent changes that are so desperately needed there.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is parents who need merit pay? If parents received merit pay for feeding their children well, making sure they play outside more than they play video games, talking to them, listening to them, reading to them, and understanding them... then I think we just might see test scores rising. Of course, test scores wouldn't show the real benefits, but they might satisfy the complainers. If parents had to be as qualified to have children as we have to be to drive, hunt, fish, teach, and countless other licensed activities, it is likely that our entire society would be much better off.

If the only parents were qualified parents, our health costs would be reduced. Our schools would thrive. Our population would not be over-whelming to our natural resources. Our prisons would be few. Our family values would suit both democrats and republicans. Some may speak of "rights" when it comes to something like this. But since when do rights come without responsibilities? Parents get in over their heads before they know it, all because they think they should have children, but they are unprepared for what is required to do this job well.

I work my very hardest every single day to not only teach the required reading, writing, math, and science, but to teach children to make eye contact, practice empathy, use their imaginations, think for themselves, and most of all, to question and wonder about the world around them. I get them for less than 9 months, and I expect all of this and more of myself. I cannot change their diets of sugar, hormones, dyes, and preservatives. I cannot affect the time they spend on the couch living listlessly in a virtual world while the real and fascinating world is out there, disappearing before our eyes. I cannot convince their parents that children must have limits, boundaries, and choices all at once. I am incapable of proving to these loving parents that parental love is not friendship, that parents have a crucial job to do, and no, they will not receive merit pay for it, but they will give a gift to their child and the world that is immeasurable.

I do not need merit pay. I need to hear from a 5 year old that I am the "bestest teacher in the whole world". but most of all, I need parents to be the "bestest parents in the whole world".