Monday, May 26, 2008

Tips From My Mom #6

This morning as I was getting ready for church I discovered that the only shoes I had to wear were my white canvas Converse All*Star low top slips-ons. Now these are amazingly fantastic sneakers but perhaps not the best choice for worshiping my "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ".

I still retain a bit of the old school mentality of Sunday clothes, well if not exactly Sunday clothes I at least differentiate between church going clothes and hangin' by the pool casual. So what's a boy to do when faced with the dilemma of inappropriate footwear on a Sunday morning?

Skipping church altogether was not an option as this was the choir's final Sunday singing the anthem for the season. We are a small church with a less than thriving congregation (in numbers anyway) which means that our choir consists of fewer than a dozen singers and I am the only guy singing the bass line. So, if I am not there a vital element of the composition is left out.

As I got dressed (I did have a pressed shirt and pants in my car because I had picked up my dry cleaning on Saturday before heading over to my friends home for dinner/unexpected sleep over) I suddenly heard my mother's voice.

It is not important what you wear to church. No one should comment on what anyone is wearing on Sunday morning because you are there to worship, not judge.

So off I proudly went, in those shoes that at make me happy, to join my fellow choir members to sing a beautiful anthem dedicated to all of the men and women who lost their lives fighting for our country.

But this got me thinking. There is a whole lotta judging going on out there. We can't seem to stop ourselves from expressing our 'opinions' on all sorts of topics; from the cars others drive (Is it Eco-friendly? In poor condition? The wrong color?) to the way folks live their lives (That couple will never last. All gay people are going to hell. That fat girl should put down the bag of chips. S/he should be in school getting a degree instead of doing whatever it is s/he is doing, etc.)

I even had someone chide me recently because I prefer to use my American Express card over a MasterCard or Visa.

And I couldn't help but wonder...

"Is any of this really anyone else's business?" (That's my little shout out to 'Sex and the City'.)

As tempting as it is to pass judgement, which I too am guilty of, I think we need to take a step back and consider that everyone is simply doing the best they can with what they are given and show a little compassion. Isn't it a blessing that there is diversity? Is passing judgement on others just another way to make ourselves feel better about our own choices?

Who among us is perfect? Joseph Campbell wrote in Pathways to Bliss:
"Perfection is inhuman. Human beings are not perfect. What evokes our love - and I mean love, not lust - is the imperfection of the human being. So, when the imperfection of the real person peaks through say, "This is a challenge to my compassion." Then make a try, and something might begin to get going."

I believe that this is what my mom was trying to say all those years ago. To expect kindness and compassion from others and if it is not given to keep on our own path. My mom has remained true to her words and the things she has taught me continue to spring back to the forefront of my mind when I least expect it, like today. And I am grateful.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spread a Little Sunshine

As an educator I am constantly 'kidwatching', always on the lookout to catch a student in the act of doing something I can applaud. In pedagogical terms this means that once I discover and recognize the wonderful things my students are doing I can then build on it. Approaching each child from a place of positive feeling, with a warm smile, allows them to become a risk taker, to challenge themselves to push further when the terrain becomes more difficult and to ultimately succeed. 

Yesterday I discovered once again the power of a kind word and acknowledgment of effort. Only this time I was on the receiving end of this dynamic.  Paul at Cafe Philos honored me with The Sun Mountain Award which was "given for appreciation for your outstanding blog".  

Paul wrote some truly touching words which you can read here.  I am taking a chance that he would not mind if I share a bit on this blog. He writes: 
One of the beautiful things about Gary is the help and encouragement he gives his children to find their own gifts. I suppose much of that comes naturally to someone who has found his own bliss. Yet, everyone knows that some teachers have no sense or feel for it. Instead, they act like Procrustes by trying to make every child fit the same bed. Such teachers can cripple some children. What Gary does is radically different from them. Just as their approach can be crippling, his approach sets children on the course of being true to themselves. Profoundly true to themselves. To watch Gary in action is inspiring.
I would like to believe that all pedagogues share the same passion for teaching, with an innate sense of the privilege we are given to be entrusted with caring for and educating children, but that would be exceedingly naive I suppose. For my part I remain grateful that I have found a career that fulfills me so completely and which brings me joy each and every day.  (I know this may be coming across as a little much but it is honestly how I feel.)  

So, thanks Paul for doing a grown-up version of 'kidwatching' and bringing some positive energy my way.  I appreciate it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


There is a feature in the one of the free local papers in NYC which documents interesting snippets of conversation overheard across the five boroughs.  The dialogue, caught on the subway, a bus or while waiting on line at Starbucks, tends to be outrageously silly commentary that never fails to make me chuckle.

Taking this as my cue, I thought it would be equally amusing to begin to jot down some of the conversations I overhear in the classroom.  Most of the ones I am about to share stem from a child's attempts at constructing meaning.  In classrooms across this wonderful country of ours school children are coming to know the world through concepts and ideas.  To that end they often seek assistance from a more knowledge peer or teacher.  The lesson to be learned here is that when you find yourself in need of a helping hand it would behoove you to choose wisely. Otherwise you could end up with some slightly skewed information.

Scene One:

This conversation took place following a first grade math lesson on polygons.

Child #1:  What is a rhombus?
Child #2:  It's when you throw up in your mouth.

Scene Two:

This exchange took place during our daily morning meeting.  On this day we began talking about some new technology when a student asked "What is technology?"  Another student eagerly jumped in and loudly stated that "Technology is when you got nerd stuff".

Scene Three:

I am conducting a reading lesson and ask for a volunteer to come up and help me demonstrate how good reading partners help one another when they come across a difficult word.  

In American Sign Language the sign for volunteer (pictured left) is very similar to the sign for shirt. As I am asking for a volunteer (in sign) a young girl with a puzzled expression looks up at Lauren and says "Why is Gary asking for a shirt?"

Scene Four:

During writing workshop I walk past a table with three students who are having a heated debate about their favorite shows. As I pass I hear one child state very simply but with great conviction "Dora Sucks!" 

I scuttle quickly past so they won't see my smile.  (Dora is the animated lead character on the Nick Jr. show 'Dora the Explorer'.)

Scene Five:

This discussion took place between a teacher and a student during a tutoring session.  They just finished a guided reading lesson of the book By Myself.

Teacher:  What kinds of things do you like to do by yourself?
Student: Play hide and seek.

I don't think this child could have come up with a more smart ass answer if he had tried.  The fact that he was utterly serious added another dimension.   Think it through.

Scene Six:

A coworker is reviewing a lesson on maps with her class that she had taught the day before.  

Teacher:  Does anyone remember, or can you show me on the map, what state Las Vegas is in?
Student #1:  There it is in vagina.
Student #2:  (with obvious disdain for Student #1s response) No, it's not in vagina.  It's in west vagina.  

I can actually understand the confusion there.  For years as a child I was embarrassed by those bumper stickers that read "Virginia is for lovers" because I always misread them as "Vagina is for lovers".   'Nuff said.

(The picture at the top of the post was drawn by a girl learning to use quotation marks.  As part of her developing understanding of their use she internalized them to be necessary whenever anyone spoke.  She incorporated this into her drawings in an ingenious way - putting quotation marks around the mouth. Clever, clever!  Don't ya just love kids?)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Tour of Egypt

This post goes out as a big, fat (belated) "Thank You" to our extraordinary educational guide Jill over at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Jill took our first grade class on a tour of Ancient Egypt last month for our final museum visit of the school year.  This was our third visit, having previously explored Greek Mythology and African Art through sculpture, artifact, painting and tapestry.  

Jill conducted our tour with the true spirit of an educator.  This was clearly not her 'first time at the rodeo' as she demonstrated an impressive understanding of how children learn. New information was thoroughly scaffolded with prior knowledge and students were encouraged to ask questions. It is obvious to me when adults respect (and genuinely like) children.  There is a light that shines in someones eyes that my words cannot capture, but is instantly recognized when seen. She was patient, accommodating to our requests and downright fun.

An added bonus on this excursion was that Kimy was able to join us. She has an insightful, creative eye for images and captured most of the photos included below.  

The hour long guided tours include time for the children to sit and sketch some of the artwork and artifacts of their choice.  This is probably the most popular activity of the day (other than lunch in Central Park and a jaunt to the playground).  There is something so wonderful in watching a group of 6-and-7-year-olds focusing on these ancient pieces and rendering it through their eyes and talents. Some of their precious drawings are included in the slide show.

Two days after our visit we got a lovely handwritten letter from Jill who wrote "I'm still smiling when I think of the wonderful children you brought to the museum yesterday!  You are just remarkable - something I've heard from my fellow guides for a long time - and I was so fortunate to spend an hour with you and these exceptional children!"  Sweet of her, no?  She also sent us some follow up materials including a copy of the book 'Who Built the Pyramids'.   

As I have mentioned before, each week Lauren and I choose a poem to read in class.  Our weekly spelling words are chosen from this poem and a videotape is made to put on our class web page.  The poem below, 'Egypt', was our selection for the week.  The ever fascinating scarab beetle with it's dung ball provided much entertainment for the young set.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Blog Kin

If you have ever witnessed young children at play in the park or on the playground you have doubtless noticed the easy manner of their interactions.  No one is excluded, all are welcome. New participants seamlessly blend into the current situation at hand, whether it be maneuvering down the slide, crossing the wobbly bridge or joining a dramatic play rendering of the family dynamic. They negotiate the rules and parts together and continue to shift the focus in an ongoing fashion.

This is especially true with young children.  As part of my Master's thesis I observed preschool children in a dual language (ASL and English) program and analyzed their interactions while at play. Sitting there with my notebook, jotting down all that was said and how they solved complicated disputes on their own, I wondered "Why can't adults get along so easily?"

This past weekend I found an answer.  Adults do.  They really do.

We do when we allow ourselves to let down our guard and come together in such a way that is open, friendly and formed through the seeds of mutual interest. Mutual interest at our gathering on Saturday was good 'ol blogging.  A dozen bloggers from as far away as London, England got together near Washington DC to meet (some for the first time) to share stories, carouse a bit and welcome spring by dancing around the May pole.

Our ring leader Reya, she of the dancing eyes and mischievous smile, led us in our dance with instructions to "grab a ribbon and fill it with energy".  We each chose a ribbon that 'spoke' to us (a blue one for me imprinted with my favorite flower -daisies) and held it for a moment while we thought good wishes and desires for the year to come.  What each individual held in their hearts is a mystery but I filled mine with a simple wish; 'happiness'.

Letting go of my inner desire or need to do this right, I began my clockwise rotation around the pole while those directly in front and behind me started their walk counter clockwise. Weaving around one another, in and out, brought out the giggles and soon we were all laughing, dancing and feeling the moment.

As our ribbons got shorter the quilt work of our intertwining tapestry forming on the May pole got more and more intricate.  It was a concrete testament to our strengthening rhythm, our finding a groove together, our connection to one another blooming like children on a playground.  By the time we tied our ribbons off our friendships were also sealed.

Afterwards dear, sexy Lettuce surprised me the gift of a dozen children's books she had hauled in her suitcase all the way from England.  Some of the titles are 'vedy, vedy' English, such as The Queen's Knickers by Nicholas Allan.  Most of them I was unfamiliar with but look as though they will become familiar favorites like The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook by Shirley Hughes and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl.  

I look forward to sharing these with my students for years to come. They are, of course, made all the more special by their journey and by the simple act of giving in friendship.  How wonderful.  

I will conclude this post by first giving thanks to our hosts Barbara and David and extending a thank you to my new blog kin.  It was a pleasure.

The picture below is my favorite one of the day.  It was not the image I had started out to capture because just as I pressed down on the button to take the picture the dog Jake ran after a ball. That night as I reviewed each shot I almost deleted this one but stopped myself because I began to admire the movement and symmetry of the give and take, the moving forward and going after something and how what is outside of the frame is just as important as what was captured.  Kinda like the day.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

AIDS Walk New York -PSA

On May 18, 2008, come rain or come shine,  I will participate in AIDS Walk New York by walking 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) through New York's picturesque Central Park. Since 1986 AIDS Walk New York has raised more than $90 million for those living with HIV/AIDS and has become the world's biggest AIDS fund-raiser. 

At this time I am reaching out to all of my family, friends and blog kin for support in this worthy endeavor. All donations are tax deductible.

My goal is to raise $1,000 and as of this writing I have collected $556.00. So, I am a little past the half way point and hope to reach my goal in the coming week. 

To donate online please click here. If you prefer to send a check instead of donating online you may click this link to print out a handy  donation form.

Thanks for your support! 

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Give Me One Reason

I was walking up the stairs to my classroom yesterday after bus dismissal when my friend Marilla noticed a folded up piece of paper on the bottom step.  She bent down to pick it up and we noticed that it was a list that a student had written on a register tape.  At the top was written - List of Reasons Why I Didn't Do My Homework.  Here are the reasons...

1.  It's boring.
2.  It's not helpful.
3.  I hate it.
4.  My dog ate it.
5.  I don't have a home.
6.  And stuff.
7.  I got sick.
8.  No time.
9.  The flying monkeys took it.
10.  My cat choked on it and I didn't want to touch it.
11.  It's gay.
12.  Tom Cruise is in my closet.
13.  It was lost at sea.
14.  I'm gonna be a race car driver so who cares?
15.  My friends beat me up and took it.
16.  I was sad because I lost my friends.
17.  Umm, stuff.

I just read a magazine article with its own top ten and on that list was "blame Tom Cruise because that never gets old."  I guess they were onto something there.  

I am very curious why this was written - for fun or did someone ask for such a list?  And now that it is misplaced will the child go looking for it or do they really care?  Did they drop it on purpose?  I guess I will never know.  


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