Monday, July 31, 2017

Teacher Parenting

I have two children. My wife and I call them the Weirdlings. Before you think it odd that we'd give our kids a collective nickname that echoes my own sobriquet, their name came first. In fact, we decided our kids would be called Weirdlings before we were pregnant, before we were married, before we were engaged. It was one of those long-term relationship vacation conversations, and we acknowledged the truth that we're both goofy nerds, so our kids, at that point totally hypothetical, would have no chance and no choice. They'd be weird. They'd be Weirdlings.

This is a post about Weirdling One, our eldest. For those of you looking for education thoughts in this space, we'll get there, I promise. Enjoy the journey. It matters.

He's four years old. Four and a half, I guess, since when they're this small those fractions still matter as a lot happens in those first six months. That's still a significant fraction of the child's life. He's smart and funny and, if pressed to describe him in two words I'd say, "Blurry noise." He hasn't stopped talking since he was born, and he hasn't stopped moving since then either. He's great and great fun and greatly exhausting. He's a Labrador. He loves you immediately and fully and do you want to play come on let's play watch this look at me I love you come on.

Recently he and I have started having trouble getting on. Not huge trouble, he's four. He's not sneaking out in the middle of the night and staggering in at 4am smelling of cheap apple juice with stolen Legos hanging out of his pockets. When he tells me I'm the meanest daddy it doesn't come with the vitriol only a teenager can summon up. In fact, he rarely tells me I'm the meanest. He's got a favorite stuffed monkey, who is named Monkey because when we named him we didn't realize that Monkey would be The One. Monkey has been around since Weirdling One was ten months old. When hurt or scared or tired he wants, in order 1) Monkey, 2) Momma, 3) Me. I don't begrudge Monkey or Momma third position. I get it. They're both pretty great at snuggles. So he doesn't normally tell me I'm the meanest, he tells Monkey. These are normal four year old grumps. These aren't the problem.

The problem is recently he began lying to me. About all kinds of things, most of which are things that, to quote every parent and teacher ever, "...would not have gotten [him] in trouble if [he'd] just been honest in the first place." I don't know what triggered this change. It started all at once, out of the blue. I didn't think we were giving consequences that would be so awful that he'd do anything to avoid them. I think it's probably a developmental phase (and wife research corroborates that). Funnily enough, he did just finish his first half year of pre-school, and I'm curious if he learned it there. Darn kids at school, teaching him bad habits. (That's a joke, I'm not blaming his school, his teacher was amazing.) The lying is about silly things, but things that become less silly when he looks me in the eye and protests, "No, I'm serious. I'm not lying. It's true. Really." Emphatically. Repeatedly. There will occasionally be the throwing of his brother beneath the bus.

The thing he doesn't realize, probably because he's four, is he's got the exact wrong parents for this. My wife was a teacher, and I am one, and we both have the Teacher Senses that allow us to detect Obvious Lies (I mean, he's four so he's not exactly fooling the CIA here anyway). We know the tricks to get a child to confess to a lie without meaning to. I'm guessing these are muscles non-teacher parents have to build up after they have kids. I want to stress here that I'm not saying being teachers makes us better parents. I'll get to that.

In my classroom I believe in positive reinforcement, the five positive statements to one negative statement ratio, focusing on catching kids being good rather than catching them getting into trouble. I'm pretty good at all of that in a room full of 5th graders.

I found myself struggling to remember those things with my own kid. It's one thing when a student lies to you, it's something else when your own kid looks you dead in the eye and makes claims you know aren't true. And I was having a really hard time handling it well. It was so frustrating and took me completely off guard. He's four! Really, this already? My wife doesn't get the lying, he only does it to me. In fact, he's told her the truth and then admitted, "I lied to Daddy about it."

I'm not flying off the handle with him. But I have let my reactions go right around my Teacher Brain, straight to Idiot Parent Brain. I just started taking toys away. My thought- He loves his toys. This will work. Then I did the thing I repeatedly tell student teachers not to do- I made a promise/threat/condition that I did not want to follow through on. "Next time you lie to me, I will take away your bike."

Why would I say that? I'd never say that kind of thing in my classroom. This was different somehow, he's mine. And, of course, because he's four, he lied to me again the very next day. Because I hadn't actually done anything to help him.

I was so frustrated. With him, sure, but mostly with myself. What a stupid thing to do, taking away his bike. He loves his bike. I love watching him ride his bike. He and his brother ride bikes all the time. Now, because I said a stupid thing, I have to do the stupid thing. A thing I know isn't actually going to help the behavior.

I'd have asked Dr. Google what to do, but no matter what symptoms you put into Dr Google it turns out you've got cancer of the eyeball and seventy-eight seconds to live. So instead I did exactly what Weirdling One does when he's upset- I called my mom.

Mom used to work for the City of Where I Grew Up as a parenting counselor. Basically, if the county took away your kid for some reason, she ran and taught the classes you had to take. She also, if I do say so myself, did a pretty good job with me. My sister too, I guess. But my sister is second, she had to practice on me.

I laid it all out for her, and when she started giving me advice and tips it finally struck me- These are exactly the things I'd be telling a new teacher who came to me with this problem with a student. "You should come up with a sticker chart and he gets stickers for good choices and when he gets five he gets to choose a reward." "You need to make sure the consequence is a logical extension of the poor choice." "Make sure you're focusing on the good things."

It's here that I point out that my wife also came up with the sticker chart plan and we just hadn't gotten around to implementing it yet because I was ignoring the teacher instinct that says Start as soon as possible too.

"Why didn't I think of these things! I know these things! This is how I'd teach it." I said.

"Because it's harder with your own kids. You're not teaching, you're parenting. You don't know what you're doing, you're figuring it out. It's ok."

I guess I needed someone to say that. An outside view. Extra eyes that see things that I'm too close to. I just kind of assumed being a teacher would help me be a better parent. I think it helped, but it's also not the same. Much in the same way that becoming a parent has made me a more empathetic teacher. Having kids didn't magically improve my lessons or grading or feedback, but he helped me better see the parents on the other side of the equation.

I'm incredibly lucky, because Weirdling One is an amazing kid with more love and joy in his body than you'd think one person could contain. We're going to work together, along with Momma, to help him see that the truth is the way to go. Here come sticker charts and all those other things that are worth trying. We'll work through this phase and whatever phases and challenges come after. If I can, I'll use what I've learned teaching. Mostly, I think, my wife and I will muddle along as best we can.

And when Da Squish hits this stage, we'll be a little more prepared. Of course, he's very different from his brother, so who knows what that preparation will be worth.

Post Script- I want to note that I could have asked my Dad for help too. Still probably will. Especially since he's going to text me about four seconds after reading this post asking how his grandson is doing.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Truth, Health, and Students

Today part-time White House resident, full-time golfer Donald Trump made an announcement regarding tweeted while talking out loud to Fox News that the armed forces of the United States would no longer be a place where trans-gender people are welcome.

At the same time the Republican Party is busily attempting to strip health care from millions while having no replacement plan of their own.

These are facts, and though anyone still supporting Trump has a purely theoretical relationship with facts, facts are still important.

These two events (no, a tweet thread isn't normally an event but the president* is too much of a coward to hold a press conference so we have to pretend twitter like a place the Kommander-In-Chief ought to speak from) directly and indirectly impact our students. See, you knew I'd get to education eventually. It's all coming around. Since they impact our students, we are not doing our jobs if we don't talk about them and look at them from our classrooms.

The president* openly speaking of trans people as unable to properly serve is an open attempt to lessen them. If you need me to go into why that's the case, you need to spend a little time in a room thinking about it. No one should have to hold your hand and say, "You see, all people deserve to be treated like people." If you counter with the "cost of their health care" line we've been fed I'll know you actively avoid facts. Short version- What he said is wrong.

We have trans students. Every single school in the country. And the second-highest highest post in America, right behind Putin, just singled those students out and told the country they are not good enough to serve. This will reverberate through the trans community, and will continue to embolden those who would rather hate than think. Since election hate crimes have become more and more prominent on campuses. This tweeted policy continues to make that ok. It's a continuing Othering of anyone not straight, white, and Christian. Othering is the opposite of education.

Our classrooms are supposed to be safe spaces. You cannot learn if you are surrounded by hate. Teachers need to be barriers, force fields that dissipate the hate before it can get inside the room and the school. It's summer break, but we can't pretend this is going to go away before we once again stand before our students. We must keep in mind the hate being spread from White House, we need to know that our schools and students don't exist in a bubble. We must have open conversations that emphasize truth and safety. If you don't feel your students are old enough to handle an explicit conversation about trans rights, there's still conversations about those different from us. Read The Sneetches. Discuss. Slip the message in there.

The attempted dissolution of the Affordable Care Act has a less obvious direct impact on our students in school. Especially for all our classes where no student ever gets sick or hurt ever. I know my fifth graders are always perfectly healthy in every way and never need to doctor. I mean, except for the kid who needed surgery. And...well, you get the idea. It would be foolish to assume a successful revocation of the ACA does not impact our kids.

How many of our kids are using health insurance for off-campus appointments? How many of our kids will lose out on the basic human right of being healthy if the GOP manages to repeal? And how many school-based experts will lose their jobs in the ACA is repealed? You think, "What can we do about that?" Call. Vote. March. Discuss. Don't ignore.

This is less a conversation we have with our students, unless you teach older kids. I wouldn't delve into the health care debate with my fifth graders, but I would talk about helping those in need with real life examples. We should be aware of what it means to our kids, and we can talk about it among ourselves as professionals who teach in the real world. Many teachers talk about preparing students for The Real World and doing assignments that would matter in The Real World. We need to walk the walk amongst ourselves too.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fueled by Coffee and Love by Mari Venturino

You may remember that I hosted a very special #WeirdEd happy hour back in April (The Story of Tonight) where we swapped stories and shared ideas. That was in the middle of a very crazy book-creating process. Well, guess what? It’s published!

Fueled by Coffee and Love is a collection of real stories by real teachers. Each contributor shared a story from their teaching journey. Some stories will make you smile, some stories will make you think, and some stories will make you cry. These are our stories.

Still not convinced? The intro was written by the one and only Doug Robertson! And, if that isn’t enough, all proceeds from this book will be donated to classrooms and teachers. (Ok good, you’re convinced. Go buy a copy, then read on.)

Jennie Magiera mentioned Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk in her ISTE 2017 keynote--if you haven’t seen this TED Talk, take a second to go watch it before we chat.  Adichie says, “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TED Talk, The danger of a single story). It is a dangerous thing to allow others to tell our stories, especially when they are doing so for political or economic gain.

This project started in February 2017--my AVID 8 students were starting 20Time projects, and I decided to do one myself. My inspiration for this project stemmed from news media and politicians telling a one-sided tale of what teaching and education is and is not. I feel frustrated that the individuals making decisions about our profession have little idea of our day-to-day joys and struggles.

FBCAL - Social Media Release Graphic.png

What I thought would be a small and manageable project exploded (in a great way) and turned into a full-scale book project. In March through May, I gathered stories and facilitated the editing process. A total of 53 stories came in! Then, it took May and June to finish the editing, final formatting, getting a logo and cover design created, and getting the whole thing published. (Shoutout to Ray Charbonneau & y42k Publishing Services for making the self-publishing process easy.)

One of the biggest challenges in this project was recruiting a diverse cross-section of teachers, especially including teachers of color. Because this project grew out of my group of friends and PLN, I know there is some diversity of authors and I also know it isn’t representative of all teachers. (And, since I don’t know all of the authors personally, I’m making this judgement based on their stories, bios, and Twitter profiles.) This is something in the forefront of my mind as I plan for Volume 2.

Get yourself a copy of the book on Amazon--while you’re there, buy a second copy to gift to a teacher who has made an impact on you!

If you’re interested in writing and/or editing for FBCAL Volume 2, please fill out the interest list and I’ll email you once Volume 2 gets rolling this fall. Find out more about the project on the Fueled by Coffee and Love website.