Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring Lesson

Things aren’t always as they appear.” A very wise woman gave me those words of caution many years ago. I was in the middle of a discussion making a judgment. I did not know the “whole” story and therefore, what I assumed was very wrong. Funny how little memories like this can just leap into your conscious from time to time. Stranger still to remember during the season of year when things are definitely not what they appear!

With spring arriving, I decided it was time to get into a regular exercise regimen. I usually walk, but I wanted something a bit more aerobic. I decided to get a bike. Should be simple, however, I wanted the kind of bike from my childhood. The old-fashioned kind of English rider on which I took my first wobbly spin around my Aunt Edwina’s neighborhood with my cousin Skipper running beside me calling out encouragements like, “Watch out for that pole,” and, “There’s a wall at the end of that hill!”

Now, anyone who has gone shopping for bikes of late knows that the rage is the “all-terrain, mountain-road” bike. It has a zillion speeds, is lightweight and can fold up to the size of a credit card. All kidding aside, they are very high tech and I have simple needs. I opted for the old-fashioned kind of bike, the kind Sean Connery tooled down the streets on in movies about old writers. Little did I know the difficulty one would have finding such a vehicle!

After visiting various bike shops and several second-hand shops, I had almost given up. Then I was compelled to stop into a very little antique shop. (Remember, things are not always what they appear.) There in the back was an English bike. It looked new. Its price matched its looks! I was disheartened. Seeing my face, however, the shop mistress smiled and handed me the name and address of her parent company. She assured me that I would find just what I wanted.

Fifteen minutes later, I was in the middle of a huge warehouse filled with all manner of collectibles. This place was a recycler’s dream. Old doors, cabinets, china, lights, books, tools filled every inch of space. In the middle of the conglomeration of stuff was a collection of old bikes. It took me about three seconds to pull the one I had been dreaming of out of the pile. It was dirty; it had a little rust here and there, nothing serious though. The tires were flat and the brakes would need adjusting, but it fit the bill perfectly. An inquiry with the proprietor let me know it was well within my price range. Sold!

Several hours later, brakes adjusted, tires pumped, WD40 liberally squirted about; I was ready for a spin. How wonderful it was to ride down the street and notice the beauty of my neighborhood. We miss so much of life by our incessant need for speed. Too often, we miss the beauty of the gardens and open spaces around us. Traveling at this kinder, gentler speed, the splendor of an entire bank of daffodils filled me with awe. The returning songbirds serenaded me. I enjoyed the scent of the earth awakening from the winter and that wonderful green smell of fresh cut grass. These were all things I would have missed in the rush of my automobile.

As I road along absorbing the wonder of the moment, I began to muse over the fact that so many times in life we fail to see what is really there in front of us and subsequently judge a situation without knowing what is true. We spend a lot of energy not really noticing our surroundings or the people around us. We say hello to folks, but seldom do we really listen to their reply, yet we assume we know all about them simply because they exist in the same space as we do.

In the book, The Little Prince there is a well-known quote about how, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” We often make judgment calls on situations or people based purely on what lies on the surface of a situation. Seldom do we even think to take the time to find out the facts. As a writer, I strive to learn all the facts. There would simply be no substance to my writing, if I only wrote about what appeared to be obvious. In order to appeal to readers, a writer has to discover what lies beneath the obvious or, what looks like the obvious.

I remembered a seminar I attended given by Dr. Bernie Siegel. He was talking about Peace, Love and Healing, his latest book at the time. He made the point that we all needed to stop rushing through life making judgment calls and take a few minutes really to know each other. He suggested that we be daring. Ask the clerk behind the counter where they got their dress, or inquire as to a person’s health and really listen to the reply. If they say, “Oh, I’m OK,” ask them what that means. However, he cautioned, we must stop falling into the habit of judging a book by its cover. In other words, a cranky person could really be someone exceptionally nice but for the fact that they are in great pain or under great stress. Subsequently, a constantly cheerful person could be someone who is also in great pain or in great stress but just hides it well. How many times have we learned of a sudden change in someone’s life (illness, death, or divorce) and said, “Boy, I never knew. They always seemed so happy?” We never know if we never take the time to care and find out the facts.

By the time my journey around the block ended, I had come to realize the blessings that came from not judging a book by its cover. If I had never ventured into the tiny antique shop, I never would have met the woman who saw my disappointment and gave me the address of the warehouse. If I never entered the old mill building that housed the warehouse, I never would have rummaged through the bits and pieces of yesterday strewn about and found my bike, for which I was grateful.

We all have miles to go in learning the lesson of seeing with the heart and not judging others. However, just as spring reminds us that things are not always what they appear by bursting through the grayness of winter, we too can have a reawakening of mind and spirit, blooming in the joy of seeing “what is essential.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Reflections on Teaching

 I was wandering around my computer, when I found this post that I wrote back in graduate school for our class blog.  As the teacher to international students learning English as a second language this post has taken on a new meaning to me.

It is a book that grabbed my attention, took me inward into my own learning and my desire to teach and brought me to a place of determination and passion.

Reflections on "You Gotta Be the Book"
The entire time I was reading this book, I kept wishing I could actually be in Wilhelm’s class...not as a teacher, but as a student!

I love writing, but, had it not been for a few well-placed teachers in my life, I would have never ended up becoming a writer, let alone feeling accomplished. I struggled through school due to undiagnosed learning differences. I discovered, often by accident, tools and strategies to overcome what my brain did not seem to get. Several teachers along the way saw something in me that they nurtured. Sisters Margaret Delores, Mary Ralph, Claire Denise were most instrumental in taping into my “gift” for the word. Later in high school and junior college, I had several teachers who believed in me. Their faith in my ability to succeed gave me the push I needed to do just that. What a gift to give a student!
Imagine if we all entered the classroom convinced that each and every student was going to succeed! I know that would blow all the standardize testing out of the water.
It scares me to think of the damage we are doing to our children with mandatory standardized testing. We have turned schools into prisons with ‘lock downs’ when students do not behave and no recess because more study needs to be done to pass the tests. Or, as is the case in several of the schools in a close urban area,  schools where children must stay within the building, where classrooms have no windows to open, and teachers must share class space with four other classroom teachers in the same room (different classes).

The policy states that No Child Will Be Left Behind, but by putting unrealistic demands on systems that are already failing, without support, and without room to meet the needs of individual children, we are leaving whole communities of children behind.  It is no surprise that most of these children are from homes that are underprivileged with parents or more often a parent struggling to make ends meet.
Fifty years from now, I do not want to be remembered as a member of the generation that killed education. What is to be done to change things is still murky for me, but I will strive to create reflective, enduring, critical lessons to all my students, be they preschoolers or senior citizens. Education is not an industry; it is not a commodity; it is a way of Being and it last a lifetime!

My current class at Mt. Holyoke College Library 2010 

This was written during the previous presidential administration before several states began taking drastic actions to correct the grievous wrong created by No Child Left Behind, which is a clear example of the power of words.

"No Child Left Behind" sounds inclusive, compassionate; however, when we look closely at what this edict meant, we see that it is quite the opposite.  "No Child" will be "Left Behind" is they have the privilege of attending a school that can cope with the demands placed on it to excel.  But, for schools that do not share such privilege, the students and their teachers have been left to either sink or swim.  

We have yet to see how changes being made will help.  I know that there are thousands of dedicated educators throughout the country struggling to give their students the best they can in education.  I also know that with budget cut-backs and standardize testing, it becomes increasingly difficult to do the work of teaching.

Each day I enter my class, I give thanks for the opportunity to share a love of knowledge with my students.  I believe in their success, I believe in their ability to be the best they can be, and I believe each of them can make a difference in this world. 

So far, none of my students has ever let me down!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

March Madness

Winter Garden

Only five days into March and already my calendar is filled with various meetings, appointments, chores and duties!  No wonder there is the expression, March Madness!

However, according to NPR's Andy Bower, the term actually came from the name of Illinois state-wide basketball tournament.  This came as a complete surprise to me.  I enjoy basketball, played it in high school and still like to bounce the ball around a court from time to time, but I NEVER knew that this was were the term, March Madness was developed.

For me, March Madness is the time when the weather begins to cut us all some slack, thereby creating numerous reasons to gather together, enjoying camaraderie, celebrating various spring rituals and simply enjoying the longer days of sunshine.

As we enter March, I begin to get an itch to garden.  The gardening books suddenly show up in the mail, causing me to dream of mounds of flowers and herbs coexisting in perfect harmony just as they do in the pages of the mail-order books.  I dream, but I have long since realized that no one's garden EVER looks like the books, unless they are fortunate enough to have a full-time gardening team to do the work, along with perfect growing conditions.  I have neither.  Therefore, I have allowed myself the leeway to enjoy a wildly eccentric garden which includes what others call weeds along with cultivated plantings.  

I must admit, that at times, the green, growing things get the better of me and proliferate at an alarming degree.  I hate pulling plants out, but I also do not like the feeling of being swallowed alive by my garden.  It is a constant struggle, but one I lovingly attend to since the final results yield such delights!

Garden in July