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Old dog.

I have a question for you: How do you keep up to date on new things, learn to keep what is old but works, and learn to let go of past bad teaching habits?

These questions were sparked by an anecdote, an epiphany, one of those, “So this is when it happens…” moments. The other day a young woman I am acquainted with is expecting her first baby any day now. He may even be in the world as I type. She was sharing that she was going out to buy some swaddling blankets, and emphasized they would be made of muslin. Some folks asked what swaddling was, and then muslin. “Swaddling” is when you wrap a newborn up like a burrito. It comforts many babies, although mine were so large at birth, swaddling was not really their gig. I chimed in and said swaddling blankets  could be made of flannel, too, and then she exclaimed that no, flannel swaddling has been linked to SIDS. Of course, I looked this up later, because this seemed like “let’s terrify new parents” meme versus actual scientific data. But anything that may keep a baby safe is usually a really good thing to know. Now, three thoughts: 1. I think this is a bunch of baloney, but would never question a woman about to have her first baby. New moms are a skittish lot, having been one myself. 2. I am now “of that age” when the expertise I gained as a new parent from reading books, information, and hands-on experience (nothing like on-the-job training!) has now become passe and irrelevant; 3. Old people don’t know anything according to young people. In this moment, this horrible moment, I imagined myself years hence, talking to one of my sons and fill-in-the-blank daughters-in-law when I become a grandma, and how I will be of no value to them. I will know nothing. I will be one of those women who says, “Well, my boys survived!” while pointing a bony, claw-like finger at them while holding a basket of apples and wearing a hooded cloak.

Deep breath. Okay. Not there yet.

But this led me to think of late I’ve been wondering if my teaching has stayed fresh. We get new programs, acronyms, and philosophies thrown at us constantly. We are told metaphorically that flannel blankets are bad, and muslin is the savior, in other words. And yet, with all this new new new–there are still so many parents who are not getting the fundamental message: Read to Your Child. If I could do one thing for new parents it would be to have them buy-in to the one thing that helps children grow and think. Yes, of course make sure they have well-fed and nourished tummies. Yes, make sure they have a clean, safe place to sleep. Keep them in routines. Don’t let them watch too much TV or stay no the computer. And read to them. But I cannot control what new parents do. I can only reflect upon my own best practices and try to keep them sharp: in this, I am fortunate to have an amazing mentor. Not only is she one of my dearest friends, but has such gentle insight into how to get all students to learn and think–she has a cache of teachers, too, who have thirty or more years of experience. These ladies know a thing or two about true, authentic, education.

Teaching is similar to medical practices in that we first want to do no harm. And yet, I also encounter teachers who have demeaned or bullied students, said a few things that bruise and pinch. I am not perfect, either. I have misinterpreted situations or actions, and encountered some broken children I have not been able to help. So I guess I am asking two questions: how do you first keep on top of your moral and ethical best practices, and then your pedagogical ones? Not an easy one to wrap up.

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I have ten minutes to write this. I have more than ten minutes of thoughts. Good thing I drafted it in the shower while brushing teeth and brewing coffee and feeding dog and looking fabulous. Sure. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

This was inspired by a Facebook post by Happy Rainbow, about wishing those of us who may have had Columbus Day off yesterday a good one. When I was a little girl, our schools in Texas took Columbus Day off, but haven’t enjoyed that holiday in years. I say ‘enjoy’ lightly. Columbus Day, and the adventures of Signore Columbus are fraught with all the pain, disease, cruelty, and general foundations for xenophobia that anyone can discuss. This is not about Columbus, or his exploits. This is a sticky-note of a thought: I would love more time, and I want more school. I know – this seems contradictory.

These are just wishes, and may never materialize, but maybe. I know in my sons’ school district, they decided to go every Friday as early release, and the teachers use this time for planning, professional development, etc. Students like my older son who are in their senor years, and have so much to do it makes me ashamed every time I feel overwhelmed, and others like my younger son who are desperately trying to stay organized, but who are so intelligent and creative, need time to explore the world. My younger son is happiest doing actual science and thinking about the world than siting in a classroom taking notes. Go figure. But my school district is still wrangling over time teachers are allowed to use for planning versus the district’s directions and mandates, and let me tell you, the whole thing has an undercoating of fear.

I do wish we would take a serious look at how kids spend their time, and how teachers meet and collaborate. This feeling of being pulled without effect or growth leads to exhaustion, and it’s not just me:

I want time for mini-sabbaticals. I want time to plan and create amazing lessons. Everything being done by the seat-of-my-pants is feeling a little…scabby. The gift of a schedule breather would be welcome to me. Now it comes in big swaths of time, and I think we end up doing so much review, that the continuity of learning never gets reached. Most importantly, I want my students to get the best from me, so I can truly help and guide them.

I don’t know – I do have more to say, but the clock tells me it’s time to go, take kids to their zero-hour events, and my crack-of-dawn meeting, where I am going to have to shut down conversation in order to get anything done.

Not good.