Kiddos 2014

Kiddos 2014

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Chosen Busy

I have a mini poster on my file cabinet at work. It says, “I don’t have time to be this busy.” These are true words. However, busy is what I am. And, busy is what I’ve always been.

My parents tend to forget that I have always been busy.  The sighs and the “oh you’re so busy” comments began when I was young and continue now into my middle age. To me, it is not a deficit or a sign of weakness that I am consistently occupied. One other thing you should know about me is that I crave structure and predictability.  I am not spontaneous and even the first days of a vacation are a little unsettling and anxiety producing for me. There are people who criticize busy, who say that those of us who are, miss the more important things in life. The thing is, I am not busy for the sake of being busy. I am not occupying myself to escape other things or to stop me from being in the stillness of life. Whatever I choose to do, I want to do it well.  I am all in and fully invested in the things that feed my soul, my body, and my family.

When I was a kid, my summer activities had three basic categories – the pool, summer camps, and community education classes.

Basketball Camp and Vacation Bible School were in June. Church camp was in August.  Those weeks of camp provided even more of the structure I craved. That left July and small spaces within each of the other months for me to fill. 

If I were lucky, I would get to sign up for more than one session of swimming lessons. Swimming was something I was good at doing. My only problem was my age.  One had to be a certain age to pass each level. Because of that inescapable requirement, I would take some classes two or three times. I would pass each of the skill tests, not be old enough to pass, and would sign up again for the next session. Today, I’d be called a pool rat. Lessons were in the morning. After that, I’d bike home and make myself lunch and then head back to the pool. I was usually waiting outside the gates when it opened at one o’clock and then would swim until five o’clock when it was time to go home for dinner. A few nights a week, I’d head back to the pool for the seven o’clock to nine o’clock evening session.  Inevitably on some of those nights, it would be family night and that meant the pool was only for families from 7-8 and then would open to the rest of us from 8-9.  On the bench outside the fence, I’d wait out the hour with my towel around my neck and my bike in the rack. Toward the end of the summer, it was getting darker and colder on my ride home, but I’d still stay until the three whistle blasts told me that it was time to get out.  I’d speed home as fast as I could on my blue banana seat “Sky Queen” and hope that no bugs flew into my mouth.

My earliest “organizing my life” memory comes when I was eight and I devoured the community education brochure.  Every May, the brochure would come in the mail, or some of us would pick it up from the community education office early to get a head start on things. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, every community ed class was free. You just signed up for what you wanted to do. 

My bike and I were the best of partners in the summer. The town where I grew up wasn’t very big, so by the time I was able to ride, I rode all over town to get myself to my various activities.  This particular summer, I signed up for Arts and Crafts, Floor Hockey, Canoeing, and Softball.  

Softball practiced a couple of times a week and we would board a bus for the neighboring communities for the morning or afternoon games.  I was a terrible softball player. Catching the ball was not one of my talents, so I played second base. That is, until the game when a grounder hit the base, flew up, and hit me in the face.  Left field then became my spot...way out in left field. I didn’t care though, the sunshine and being with my friends made me happy.  Batting wasn’t one of my talents either, but I did okay, except for that one time when we were playing Wood Lake. I accidentally threw the bat after I hit the ball and knocked out the catcher. Literally knocked her out. Oops.  I wasn’t in the batting order very much after that.

Canoeing was at Memorial park, about a mile from my house. We canoed in the Yellow Medicine River for about 45 minutes, learned a few safety rules, and then slid back to the crumbling concrete boat landing below the big shelter house.  My bike would be waiting for me and I’d ride as fast as I could underneath highway 212 to the high school where floor hockey was held. As far as I can remember, not too many girls played that floor hockey. The boys on the opposing teams made sure I knew I was in the minority (before the days of protective equipment) and I would come out of the games with lots of bruises on my shins and if I was lucky, a few goals. Arts and Crafts class took place in the basement of City Hall, just a few blocks from the high school. I am sure there were other classes that summer, but those made the biggest impression.

Fast forward to age fifteen. Finally, I could get a job. So, I got three. I worked as a carhop at Oak’s Drive Inn (which we lovingly called Choke’s), where I’d take orders, bring them back to the window, and when the food was ready, bring it to the cars on little trays and hook the tray onto the window. Picking up the tray was determined when the customers would honk the horn or blink the lights at me. A quarter tip was pretty much what I could expect, but one of my regulars would always give me a nickel with a look that said, “I know I’m cheap, but be grateful anyway.” The tips were better when I waited tables at the Eatery Family Restaurant. It wasn’t my favorite job, but I’m a firm believer that everyone should be a server at some point in their lives. My shoes were always sticky and my summer perfume was kitchen grease.  My favorite job was working the front desk at the pool. While I longed to guard and teach lessons, the front desk was the only place I could work at age fifteen. Just as in my years of lessons, I wasn’t old enough to take the Water Safety Instructor and Life Guard course. Sixteen was the magic age. Walking beans was another job, but that was short lived and another blog post entirely. In addition to the three jobs, I still had Church Camp, Basketball Camp, and then got to (finally) add in summer basketball league.

At 45, it’s no surprise since I love structure and predictability that I became a teacher. It’s my own little microcosm of boundaries and schedules and passion for learning and love of kids. I’m also a wife and a parent to three active kids. I coach two sports for the high school and one 4th-grade girl’s basketball team.

My mom recently said to me on the phone, “I’m so glad you can finally relax now that school’s over.” That’s a funny statement considering that during my first week of “relaxing” I coached an elementary/middle school track and field camp, ferried my kids to their activities, and did two days of Staff Development with my teaching team. Oh, and I did approximately 27 loads of laundry in preparation for our cross-country vacation.


We left for our vacation on Saturday. So far, 19 hours into a 25-hour road trip, I’ve read nine magazines, one book, and written two blog posts.  The only thing I’m sure of on this vacation is where we are staying. Rest assured, I’ll stay busy because I’m all in for this time with my husband, my kids, and our friends.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Disappointment

Disappointment is the teacher you don't want, of the class you don't want to attend. You know that you'll have to attend it at some point, and it'll be on your schedule when you least expect it. Sometimes you attend for a short time, other times you will go to that class for what seems an interminable amount of time.

Yesterday saw one of our senior athletes end his career at the state track and field meet. He's been ours since he was 12, literally.  We've watched him grow from a 70 pound little squirt to a 120(?) pound young man.  He's the kind of kid you want to sit and talk to, just to hear what's going on in his head. His opinions are thoughtful and fierce at the same time. He doesn't need you to agree with him, but he'll listen to what you think.  He's always respectful, but questions you to gain a deeper understanding, not simply to challenge your authority.  He truly wants to know WHY you think the way you do.

Last year's conversation after the state meet was all about swear words and if I thought I was doing my kids a disservice by "demonizing" certain words.  We agreed to disagree in the end.  This year's conversation at the state CC meet was all about the upcoming Presidential election.  This year's state track conversation centered on disappointment appearing on both of our schedules, unexpectedly.

He's funny and serious. He's a 4.0 three sport PSEO (college during HS) student.  He's been to state in Cross Country, Wrestling, and Track and Field. All in all, he's a pretty phenomenal kid. There are some athletes that become a part of the fabric of your life and he's one of them.  So he graduates today, and we are happy/sad and sad/happy.

He raced in the 800 on Friday night, a beautiful and smart race.  He had the 2nd fastest time coming into finals on Saturday.  It was hot on Saturday and windy. We weren't concerned about that, weather doesn't seem to affect his races, he just goes out and runs well no matter what. The only thing we were both concerned about is not our athlete's race, but how the others around him would race. All day there had been a lot of bumping and stumbling going on. We had never seen a meet where there had been so many athletes fall (and we're not talking in hurdle races either).  So we both (without talking about it) said to ourselves, just let him run his race and not fall.

The gun went off and he positioned himself well.  Of course there was a rabbit (someone who goes out super fast), but that's never bothered him. After the first lap he was in the lead pack and with 250 meters to go, he made a move, out to lane 2 and battling for the lead. Heading into the final stretch, he and two other kids were assured of 1, 2, 3 with just the order to be determined at the line. Watching from the back stretch, they disappeared from view behind the med tent, we heard the crowd go "OHHHHHH" and only one - not ours - appeared and raced to the finish line. Then we finally saw him cross - 8th place.

We were in shock. What happened? We raced to the other side of the track where we found his girlfriend, crying. She said that one of the other athletes lost control, fell, and took Jack with him. He was on his way to a career PR and a 2nd place medal and boom, now we're face to face with the disappointment on our schedule. Fear and Anger made brief (but will come back and visit again) appearances as we were called to the coaches rep tent.  We watched Jack be directed to grab his things, nod to the officials, and walk back toward us.

I was in a panic, was he disqualified? NO WAY. Then I was mad and fearful. The head official spoke to the other coach first.  His athlete was being disqualified because when he fell, he impeded another runner....our runner. Then the official spoke to us. Jack had the option to re-run if he wanted. By himself. After the completion of the 4x400. Or, he could take the 8th place.  So he's not disqualified? No. Relief, but still anger and disappointment.

He decided to re-run. After all, what was there to lose? He hit his first lap - 57 - just like we knew he could. And then, he just couldn't. He finished in 2:05 and maintained his 8th (now 7th due to the disqualification) place.

Then the disappointment started to really descend.  There was nothing we could have done as coaches. There was nothing he could have done differently as an athlete. The outcome of his race was beyond his, and our, control. So here we sit, surrounded by the disappointment and the anger. And, it won't go away. We'll come to terms with it, and by that I mean, learn to live with it. But, it will always be part of ours, and Jack's, story. We will attend that unwanted class, again and again. We will watch the videos and wish we didn't. We will replay the conversations and wish we didn't have them.  We will re-imagine how the race could have ended, and then we will be disappointed again.  We will eventually put it into perspective and realize that it's not life threatening nor is it tragic.

Most of all, we will remain so proud of this kid. Proud of how he handled this unexpected assignment and exhibited courage to run alone.  This is part of our story and his and we will handle it the best way we know how.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

From Player to Coach

When I was a kid, I played a lot of different sports. Lots of time was spent following my sisters around to their various activities before being old enough to participate myself - track meets, cross country meets, volleyball games, and basketball games. Kickball and softball after school with my neighborhood friends were preferred activities. Swimming lessons, softball, canoeing, and floor hockey were all on my summer agenda.

Then I was able to start some organized sports myself and became a three sport athlete in high school.  Cross country and track and field took up the fall and spring, but I fell in love with basketball. I am competitive and stubborn and that bodes well for a team sport where you need those characteristics in addition to individual skills. Plus, it helped to have teammates who were equally as competitive to share the burden of wanting the win.  

High school basketball was challenging. My varsity coach was a real student of the game, he broke everything down for us and made us become students of the game as well. He was tough, demanding, and detailed. We lost in the region finals my senior year and that remains one of my greatest disappointments.

By the time I graduated from high school, I still enjoyed coaching but decided that it would be hard to do when I became a rich and famous actress or newscaster. Instead, I continued to pursue playing basketball and went on to play for 3 years in college.

The first year I played junior varsity. It was awesome, exhausting, and glorious.  My sophomore season arrived and I was hopeful to see some varsity time.  Unfortunately, I came back that fall and was still skinny and hadn’t grown four inches and hadn’t put in the time in the off season.  A little tongue in cheek, but it helps to joke about it, because my sitting the bench for a few games and then moving back to junior varsity was painful for me, but quite a learning experience. I lacked commitment about half way through the season and basically checked out. My decision was to make it through the season and then be done.  

So, that’s what I did. And when my second head coach in 2 years called me into his office to tell me that he wanted me to continue on and sit the bench with the tournament team, I said, “No.” I informed him that I was planning on going with my dad and stepmom on spring break to see my sister in Florida. My basketball career had run its course. I was done.

For the next year, I avoided the field house at all costs. Except, of course, to watch my new boyfriend (now husband) play. Then, I got the itch to play again and started to train and workout and put out feelers to see if I would be welcomed back. It was tough, but we were on the 3rd head coach in four years by that time. He had been an assistant and now was the head coach.  I decided to go for it, told my student teaching supervisor (who was not pleased) and told the coaches I was ready to give it my all.

And I did. I played my heart out. I did all my skinny and still 5-10 body could do. I was 6th or 7th person and played well in the first tournament in California. There, I scored in the first two games and then was relegated to the bench. Not just for the remainder of the tournament, but pretty much the remainder of the season. I was called into the coach’s office to be informed that they were going with a younger, more talented player, who had more potential for growth than me. I understood, kind of, though that didn’t stop the hurting and disappointment.  But, through challenges and discomfort, growth occurs.  Regardless of what anyone says, adversity doesn’t just reveal character. Adversity forces you to build your character.

After that meeting in the coach’s office, I played pretty badly in practice. I played to not make mistakes instead of just playing hard. So, mistakes happened. Strong? No. Ball Handler? No. Tall enough inside? No. Tough? Occasionally. Useful elbows? Yes. But, in the scheme of things, that’s not much. My lack of ball handling and good passing skills limited where my coaches could play me, no matter how hard I worked in practice. And worse than that, my attitude plummeted. I would love to say that I immediately understood my role and became a positive role model. Nope. Instead, I pouted, flounced around, and was generally unsupportive.

My poor attitude during those weeks may have negatively affected my teammates.  There came to be a cross roads. My love for the sport remained, but I didn’t love the player I became when I allowed my disappointment take over. What could I do? I wasn’t going to play. I couldn’t make the game winning basket. I would never start. This was it. Fish or cut bait, as they say. Well, cutting bait was more painful than fishing and not catching anything. So, I made a decision. Let go of my disappointment and anger, and embrace the new things I could learn and take with me at the close of this season of my life.  I tried to become the best water girl I could be.

Finally, I began to see the game as a coach, and not a player. When my teammates were frustrated with shooting lulls or weren’t sure how to defend, I became (or tried to become) a teacher on the bench.  The learning that took place from the bench far outweighed any learning I had ever done on the court.  The emotional side of the game and the mental toughness needed to be successful became my area of passion.

Every team, unless they win the national championship, ends in a loss. Our team was no different. We lost in a packed house to Bethel by four points, 65-61. The clock quit working in the second half and there was no shot clock, so we had people manually counting down.  At one point in the game, while yelling encouragement to my teammates, the crowd yelled, “Sit down Blondie,” to me. That’s my claim to fame for that game. During my senior season, we were 18-8 overall and 16-4 in the conference.

And my stats? Not overly impressive.
16 games played  3.3 PPG   1.9 RPG   49 points   28 rebounds  18-46 FG  39%  13-19 FT   68%  0-1 3 pters  1 assist     3 steals

Looking back, I was actually pretty surprised that I actually checked in to 16 games. To me, it felt like I never played. Granted, the last 2 minutes of a game still counts as a check in. My favorite game came at St. Olaf, where I got to play the last 8 minutes and had something like 8 points and 5 rebounds.

My time on the bench was exceedingly valuable. Perspective is something that can only be gained through direct experience. Prior to college, I had spent almost every minute of every game on the court, playing.  My only perspective was that of the role of the player, not of the player on the bench.  Following my college experience, now I knew how it felt to be relegated to a role that I didn’t want and couldn’t possibly embrace until it was my only choice.

At our end of season banquet, I got a gift. And it wasn’t just perspective. It was a letter jacket. This was something to be earned by a college player. Not only that, but I also got the senior plaque, even though I had only played three years. My coach talked about my contributions as a bench player and awarded me “most inspirational player.” From where I sit now, having coached various sports for 20 years, I know I was difficult in a very moody and passive-aggressive way and feel very undeserving of that award. I think about that season of experience often and the lessons it taught me. When I was still coaching basketball, I could draw upon that gift of disappointment and empathize with my players who were feeling the same emotions that I had felt, sitting on the bench.

Then, I was disappointed and frustrated. Now, I am grateful. The lessons learned have made me a better coach and hopefully, I have been able to help players embrace their role on the team, even if it isn’t one that they would ever choose on their own.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Choosing Track and Field This Spring

Throughout 20 years of coaching, we've heard lots of reasons NOT to go out for track and field. We'll list them here and attempt a counterpoint for each.

I NEED TO WORK.
There is a desire among many high school athletes to work that wasn't there 20 years ago.  Kids want stuff, parents don't want (nor should they be obligated) to pay for those things. Teens may  have to pay for car payments, car insurance, and cell phone monthly use.  In addition, Post Secondary Education is expensive and many kids will work to help pay for that. We have some flexibility and your bosses may be willing to work with your track and field schedule, If you don't ask, the answer is always no. We're here to say that it doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing.

I NEED TO BE IN THE WEIGHT ROOM FOR MY FALL SPORT.

  • We will be in the weight room regularly and will provide multiple opportunities for you to increase your strength.  There is also the off season of summer for you to prep for your fall sport.
  • Many college coaches would agree that multi-sport athletes are less prone to injury than single sport athletes, and when recruiting, they look for those athletes that play more than one sport.
  • We will be flexible with the lifts you want to do, and can include those things you would be doing in the weight room on your own to prep for your fall sport.
  • Time and time again, athletes don't do a spring sport in order to spend time in the weight room. Then spring happens, it's nice outside, and other influences distract away from the original intent to work in the weight room. Track and Field would help to provide structure and opportunity.
TRACK AND FIELD IS HARD.
Sorry, no counter point here. It is hard. It's challenging and we acknowledge that. It's not a place for you if you're not willing to move outside your comfort zone.

WE'RE NOT GOING TO BE ANY GOOD THIS YEAR.
This is perhaps the most troublesome reason to NOT choose track and field this spring. Instead of giving up before we even begin, think of it as an opportunity.  Maybe the one to achieve at a high level, like those who graduated last year, is YOU! If you had told us last year, after losing two 40+ foot triple jumpers, that would would be able to get to that same level the next year, we would have thought you were a bit crazy.  Then, at State True Team, along comes an 8th grader and a 10th grader to jump 40+ feet in the Triple Jump! How bad do you want it?! It could be YOU! What an opportunity to continue the legacy that was started by those who believed. Six of the last seven years we've been competing at True Team State. The team has obviously not stayed the same each year, and yet somehow, we've managed to make it back there.  Twenty out of twenty-one years coaching, Pine Island Boys have had representation at the MSHSL State meet. That doesn't happen by accident. It happens because kids catch the dream and the vision and do the work to make it happen.

I DON'T HAVE TIME.
Actually, segmenting your time helps you to be more focused and productive, not less. Having times when you know you won't be able to do homework or study forces you to use your other times more wisely.

I WANT TO PLAY SPRING BALL (AAU, JO, ETC.)
Your body may need a break from your other sports. But if not, we'd be happy to work with your schedules. We have proven that to others in the past. However, we still firmly believe that your IN SEASON sport should take precedence, so that if there's a track meet and a tourney on the same day, the track commitment comes first.  If you feel differently, we'll gladly discuss that with you and your parents. There are consequences to not participating in your season competitions, including not earning a letter, or giving up your relay spot to some who is committed to Track and field each day.

I DON'T LOVE IT.
That's okay. You don't have to love it. We don't love it every day either. But, it's kind of like any commitment you make in every day life. Everything that has value in doing, isn't loved all the time. It's what we can do when we don't love something, that can provide the most gain or pride later.

As your coaches, we love track and field, but more than that, we love hanging out with athletes and building relationships that are significant and will last beyond your time on the team.  We love trying to be good role models and help you learn life lessons along the way. It is our passion and our calling to help you move out of your comfort zones, push you beyond what you thought you could do, and help you to believe in yourself as much as we believe in you. 

Mostly, we don't want you to regret NOT going out. We've never heard someone say, "I wish I'd never gone out for track and field." But, time and again, we've heard from kids who are now adults say, "I wish I would have stuck it out and gone out for track and field. If I knew then what I know now, I would have sucked it up and done it." You can't go back. Give us a try, we are confident you won't regret it. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Love Story with Teaching - Episode 2

After my first year of teaching, which was not glorious by any means, I struggled to find a permanent position.  Here's how I ended episode 1 of my love story with teaching:

A phone call came in late August. Did I want to interview for a position in an EBD Day Treatment? Nope. I didn’t. But, I did anyway. And I got the job. It turned out to be one of the best things that I ever did.

I think the most important thing that I did during the three years I taught at the Day Treatment was that I showed up. Every day. I chose to come back and be part of my students' lives every day. It was hard, but I did it anyway.

I had no experience, other than my first year teaching a handful of challenging 3rd graders, with students with emotional or behavioral disorders.  I had no experience with middle schoolers or high schoolers. I had had zero classes regarding special education, let alone special education in a setting 4 day treatment.

Scared and filled with trepidation, I started that job. I created a curriculum for kids in grades 5-12 that included physics and life science and language arts and social studies and even PE! The only things I didn't teach were math or health or art.

It was apparent on the first day of school that no one under the age of 18 wanted to be there. We had a point system and lots of rules and expectations.  The students came from their separate school districts by van or car with a driver provided by their home district. They came from seven surrounding smaller school communities.  And, they came with their hoods and their guards up and unwillingly did their pocket checks upon arrival.

Pocket checks? Yep, our students came and immediately turned their pockets inside out, patted themselves down, lifted up their sleeves and pant legs and then shuffled to my reading corner and waited for morning check-in.  With those pocket checks, my assistant and I looked for weapons, cigarettes, drugs, or any other contraband. Did I ever find anything? Rarely. But we did see evidence of self-injurious behavior like cutting or piercings or drug use.  Sometimes you could see that cuts had healed and that provided hope that what we were doing at the day treatment was working.

At morning check in, students would rate their mood based on a 1-10 scale. They could provide reasons or not, that was up to them.  Teachers shared, too.  Gaining trust and creating relationships was the most important part of what I did during my time there.  Mondays were the hardest, especially after weekends away from foster homes and with biological families.  Their homes and families of origin were often volatile and unpredictable, so students either withdrew or themselves became volatile and unpredictable.  Sometimes when we had made great gains, students would come back after a weekend or school break at home and all gains would be lost. The boundaries were different and and maybe they were using drugs or alcohol again, or they had simply lacked care by a parent and regressed so that, yes, Mondays were rough.

We had no substitute teachers and very little prep time. Some days revolved around crisis management and not academic standards.

To say that I learned a lot is a complete understatement.  One year, our staff went to Texas for a conference on reaching difficult kids.  It was life changing. There were two impactful statements that I heard at that conference that I still think about almost every day of my teaching career.

1. "Every child, no matter what they do, deserves at least ONE significant adult that is irrationally crazy about them." For some kids, that adult was one of us on the teaching staff and not a parent or grandparent or foster parent or anyone that typically is that adult.

and

2. "An EBD kid is like a piece of scotch tape. That piece of tape has been stuck on the wall and pulled off and stuck on the wall and pulled off so many times that pretty soon, it doesn't stick anywhere." That is what an EBD kid feels like...they don't stick anywhere. Belonging is the basis of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If a person does not feel like he/she belongs anywhere, nothing else can be accomplished. We worked hard to make sure that the day treatment was at least one place in the world that these kids felt like they belonged.  Then, and only then, could academics enter the picture.

Was it hard to teach at the day treatment? Yes. It was difficult and tiring and draining and sometimes painful. But more than anything, it was valuable. Here are the top things I learned while teaching there.

1. Sometimes students will ask for love in the most unloving of ways. 
I was kicked, scratched, and bitten. I was called awful names and was told "F - you" more times than I can remember.  But forgiveness and reparations were valuable for both students and teachers. I learned that even if the "I'm sorry" is fake, it still makes both parties acknowledge the conflict and gives them the ability to move on.

2. Mental illness in children is very real.
I am not talking simply about things like ADD/ADHD. I witnessed lots of debilitating anxiety and depression. I witnessed the advent of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Reactive-Attachment disorder? Real and so hard to combat or heal. There was and still is, very little help for kids who are DESPERATE for help. They often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol in an attempt to feel okay.

3. Clear boundaries are important. 
Children and adults need to know where they stand. Of course students tested us. Every. Single. Day. My regular ed students now do the same thing. There is comfort for students when they know the boundaries.

4. Teamwork is essential.
The job that I did every day could never have been done in isolation.  The team that I worked with included an on site social worker, county social workers, a classroom assistant (my BEST and most VITAL teammate), a second classroom teacher, an art teacher, two administrative assistants, family therapists, individual mental health counselors, home school district special education staff and administrators, two on site special education administrators, job coaches, law enforcement, parole officers, parents, step-parents, foster parents, and grandparents. It was like a web of support that was needed to help these students overcome barriers that never should have been theirs to begin with.

Another aspect of teamwork came about when we decided to field a basketball team.  My co-teacher and I decided after hours of noon ball and a little push from the students that we should become more organized. And so we started by asking if kids were interested in forming a team.  And lo and behold, these kids who had never been part of a team in their lives, were ALL IN.  We ordered jerseys, held a few practices, and convinced some local teams (a couple parochial schools and a few public schools) to add us to their schedules as scrimmages.  And we played basketball.  Was it perfect? Of course it wasn't, there were a few F-bombs thrown out and some near fights as a foul may have been perceived as intentional. We celebrated every basket, every non-call when we traveled, and every handshake at the end of games.  Win or lose, this team and this game, produced a teamwork victory.

5. All kids have talents, we just need to find them.
One student I had barely spoke. There was no way for him to survive in the regular ed setting. It was suffocating for him and he would feel like he was drowning whenever he went back. So, we kept him. And we brought him an engine or a motor or something. And oh my, did he start to talk. I learned more that year about engines and motors than I care to knew. I can't remember any of it, except how he looked and acted when he was teaching the rest of us about them.  Another example came when we took a field trip to "Mary's Place" in the cities - a homeless shelter with a food shelf, soup kitchen, and transitional housing.  We worked stocking shelves, cooking and serving, and in the daycare center.  One student LOVED the daycare. I had rarely seen her smile and she had said "F-you" to me more times than I could count. But in there? Loving, kind, and gentle.  From then on, I could refer back to that day with her and this would help guide her path forward.

6. Parenting is hard, and so is being a kid of struggling parents.
When I taught there, I wasn't a parent.  I had no idea what it was like to work full time and try to raise a family, let alone working more than one job and still needing financial assistance and emotional support in the process. We held a monthly family meeting that was optional for parents and their kids. Some came. Some didn't. But for those who did, the parents were able to hear wonderful things about their kids (which was a rarity for them) and the kids could come to school willingly and not be forced to learn. The could actually come to school and have fun!

Even though I was not a parent, I still held meetings with parents of students.  One of the first things I always did (and still do) while meeting with parents was say, "Here's what I love about your kid....here's what your kid does well..." These parents rarely get to hear good things about their kids as students. It is a new experience for them and not one they are used to. Parents of special needs students often feel overwhelmed, responsible, and guilty for the behavior of their children.  An IEP meeting for a parent, who themselves may not have been successful in the traditional school setting, can be completely overwhelming and anxiety producing. Simply saying, "I'm glad you're here. I really appreciate ______ 's sense of humor (or reading ability, or creativity, or perseverance, etc), opens up amazing opportunities for communication.

I witnessed a struggling parent and her son at an IEP meeting that has stayed with me all these years. Her son was bright, artistic, and talented.  He was also had made some poor choices, suffered from anxiety and depression, and had used drugs and alcohol.  He was 15.  His mom was 30. He had a baby sister whom he adored.  At his IEP meeting, I said, "Oh _______, you are a great big brother. When she starts talking and says your name you'll be so proud!"

He said, "Well, I'll probably be gone by then."

And his mom said, "We can only hope."

How do you heal that? When a  parent says that in front of you, you know that much worse has been said or done when you are not around.  This was one moment when I realized that I can't heal everything. I can only control my end, the school end, and try to give him the tools to deal with the home and community end of things.

7. Some kids can't survive in a regular school setting.
Do you know the feeling when the mall is just too much for you? When you are around a bunch of people and the noise is intolerable? When, if one more person asks you how you are, you feel like you might punch them? When every single day you have to walk into a place that takes everything that you're not good at and make those things the most important things? When you go to bed at night thinking tomorrow things will be better and you wake up and they're not?  Well, the kids we saw had some of those same feelings. Over and over, kids would begin the transition back to their home school setting, and deliberately fail. We would have ZERO behavior issues with kids and the minute we started talking transition, behaviors would suddenly appear that we hadn't seen before. Or, when kids started back at their home schools, attendance would suddenly become an issue. Kids would skip or just suddenly stop attending the hours at their home school, but still come to the day treatment. Finally, we said, "Why can't kids graduate from our day treatment and their home school at the same time?" And so, with approval from the home school districts, we simply KEPT some students until they graduated! Win-Win.

8. Being a school in the middle of a cornfield has its advantages.
Sometimes kids don't want to be in school. And so they run. However, if you don't want to be in your school which happens to be in the middle of a corn field, there aren't very many options available to you.  And we were, quite literally, surrounded by corn. We were at least 8 miles from the nearest town and out in the middle of nowhere. Students knew that if they decided to run, that we would have no choice but to call law enforcement.  Once there were two students who decided they'd had enough for the day. So, they ran. And ran, and ran. For 8 miles. They ran, walked, probably hitched, on the gravel road to the nearest town. When they got there, they went to the school and found our custodian who was there to pick up our school lunches and got a ride BACK to school, arriving just in time for lunch. Apparently, school was not such a bad place to be after all, even if the next day had to be spent in ISS - In School Suspension.

9. Academics sometimes has to come second.
Students would often come to school with what we termed "carry in" problems.  Even today teaching in regular education, I know that many of the kids I see each day have literal baggage.  That baggage could be as simple as hunger, or a complicated as abuse or mental illness. Hunger could be relatively easy. We partnered with malt-o-meal and they provided us with free cereal for every day.  Breakfast became sort of like a family meal. For kids who rarely had a family meal, this was an opportunity to practice manners and conversation, while breaking away the first barrier - the physical need of hunger. Even in my classroom today, I will have students come to me and say, "I didn't have breakfast." I open my desk drawer and say, "What can I get you?"

10. Humor helps you take it all in stride.
A couple of my favorite moments at the day treatment could have gone either way. Teaching a lesson in the 90s often involved a tool called "the overhead projector." If you don't know what that is, you didn't teach or learn in the 80s or 90s.  After a lesson on who knows what, I asked my student to "flip off the overhead projector." He grinned gleefully and proceeded to literally flip off (using a certain hand gesture) the overhead projector. When this happened, I had two choices. Punish the humor. Or reward the effort. I chose to say, "Perfect. Now, TURN OFF the overhead projector." There was another instance, ironically or not, with the same student. I was giving a test on the skeletal system.  The test question was, "What is a joint?"Giggle, giggle. He said, "I can't wait to answer THIS one!" Haha, I responded, the joint that has to do with BONES! I won't test you on the other one!  I learned a bundle about using precise language when teaching my EBD students.

After 3 years at the day treatment, I got an interview at a public school in the small community where I had been coaching.  I interviewed there and got the job teaching third grade and have been there ever since.  Being back in the regular ed setting was still a challenge, but a relief at the same time.  I did not realize how many of my students' problems I carried home with me from the day treatment and how much I worried about them when their lives weren't with me.  I STILL worry about them, and I know they are adults.  It's not all happy endings - some are in jail, some have died, some have children, and some lead functional lives. I hope that I helped in their lives, but I would be naive if I thought that I had been able to reach them all.  I do know that they all reached me and I have them to thank for making me a better teacher than I was before I met them.

A few months ago, I ran into a woman at a business in Rochester.  I had taught two of her children. I didn't recognize her name so I asked who they were and said, "Yes, I had them both for social studies." Then she said, "And you taught my husband, too!" What?! Really?! Yes, when you were at that special school! And I asked his name and she told me. "Wow!" I said, "That is so cool! I remember him as a very kind and gentle young man." She said, "Well, he is still a kind and gentle man."  We had a bit more conversation, where she told me I would have to stay with this 'teaching gig' so that I could have her younger two, just like I'd taught their dad.

I told her that I wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. This 'teaching gig' is a lifetime thing.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Northrop News 2016

Dear Family and Friends,
Sometimes when I was home with the kids and the arsenic hours (4 pm – 7 pm) would hit, I would grit my teeth and say, “It’s almost bed time. Patience. You will get through this.”  Those were challenging times. And tedious.  And sometimes I still miss it. Not the arsenic hours, because those still happen, but the simplicity of the needs and wants and the to-do list. As the kids get older, it gets easier and harder at the same time. Back then, the days were sometimes long, but time was short. Even now with a teenager and two pre-teens, this rings true.


Gabe - 13
When he comes to breakfast each day, I swear he’s grown. One day everything was fine. The next day, he’s my height and says “good morning” in this deep voice. Holy Cow, literally overnight, my son is growing into a young man! G is in 7th grade and I see him pass me in the hallways at the middle school, where he looks at me out of the corner of his eye or sometimes asks me for food. He is a good friend to others and loves to read. Last winter he played basketball, coached by his dad, went to track and field camp, and played football this past fall. He is patient with his sometimes intense athletics minded parents. Gabe also takes piano lessons, is a percussionist in the band, is a talented artist, and earned a first place in the MN DNR Duck Stamp contest. Gabe got his first deer, a really cool buck, on our land this fall while hunting with Matt.


Ben - 11
Benjamin will always be an “I love you/I don’t love you” kind of kid. He has a deep ability to care for others, while still daily annoying his sister and challenging. He is creative in a messy, dragon, 3D sort of way. He has a way with pop up books, stop motion videos, and enjoys drawing mutants to add to his collection. Ben loves “playing guys” and setting up elaborate scenes for weeks at a time. He enjoyed playing Champion Basketball last winter, but says baseball is his favorite sport, although this summer we had to have the conversation about NOT waving to us from the field. He loves to read character guides and recently started reading the Harry Potter series. Ben takes piano lessons and started percussion this year.  He is at the middle school this year, so I get to see him every day. He is NOT embarrassed to hug me in front of his friends. Yet.
                                                                                                                    
Lyndee – almost  10
We understand more and more what it will be like with a pre-teen to teen girl in the house. We think there’s trouble to come. She is fierce and intense and a perfectionist. Lyndee was very upset to receive an S+ in PE last year, as she knows she “should have had and O!” She loves her daddy and her brothers and still always wants to be with me. Lyndee loves to read and play stuffed animals and write songs for her and Ben’s stuffed animal band called “Animal Jam.” Lyndee will be playing 4th grade traveling BB coached by Mom this January and February, and was again forced to do track and field camp this summer. She got 3rd place in the MN DNR Duck Stamp contest this spring.  


Matt
In his third year teaching at Century High School, Matt has been challenged as he and his colleagues revamped the entire HS PE curriculum to ensure students are geared for more career and college. His favorite class is called “Individual Movement.” He has learned yoga, Pilates, and other ways to inspire his students. I am so proud of the work that he does and the great role model he is to the young adults with whom he interacts. As a Pine Island Track and Field coach for 20 years, Matt led a team of athletes last spring to 4th place in the State True Team Meet, and 2nd place in the MSHSL State Meet in June.  One relay team and two individuals earned state championships and several school records were set. In addition to coaching, he loves the woods and hunting. He still liked his shot gun season this year, but was unable to bow hunt due to his torn bicep from track practice this past spring. He joked that he “gave his left arm” for his team.    
       
Amy
Just like last year, my house is messy and sometimes we eat cereal for dinner. I remind myself when I am emptying the dishwasher (which apparently has a force field around it that only I can penetrate) or folding laundry that I am grateful that it is ME that can do this for my family. Like last year, love and not perfection drives what I do. I am often late (okay, almost always), and always busy. I choose it. Busy is not a distraction from my life, it is just simply the way we live our life. I am grateful for my kids and their conversations, imagination, and humor. I am grateful that my husband of almost 21 years is patient with me and supportive of the things I am passionate about. I am grateful that my job teaching 6th graders fulfills me, challenges me, and gives me purpose. I love going to work every day where I get to teach with my friends! I coached Cross Country this fall for the 9th year and enjoyed each minute. And, I assisted Matt with the track and field team and cried when the season was over. Our passions sometimes take over our lives and our hearts and I hope that our children see that passion and are inspired by it someday.
Family
In April, My mom, Lyndee, and I flew to New York for Heidi’s Inauguration as President of the College at Brockport.  What a thrill to witness that accomplishment surrounded by my whole extended family including aunts and uncles from both sides!  We hosted almost all of Matt’s family at our house at the end of July when Chris, Bree, and Kids, Matt’s parents, Grandma Lois, and Courtney, Scott, and their 6 little ones descended on Mount Northrop. The morning they left, my sister Jill, and her family came to visit! Laughter and tears abounded througout both visits. Our summer concluded when we adventured out to CA for and spent 10 glorious days with Seth, Kaela, Ainsley and Cadence.  Our kids experienced San Francisco, Muir Woods, whale watching in Monterey, Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, Fresno, the Pacific Coast Highway, and the Redwood National Forest. And what did they like best? Hanging out at Seth and Kaela’s house with their cousins. Sigh…..
Pets
Here’s the rundown–Dash - Great Pyrenees/Golden doodle - 5 years old STILL with a wanderlust and a short attention span. He’s sweet and always hungry. Tucker – Golden Retriever - 4 years old with a devious streak. He loves to play ball, but will never give it up, so it’s pretty much one throw and done. Mia-Ben’s tortoise is alive and well. Wrigley – yellow lab – age unknown. He is still a lovely boy with a habit of barking at any noise outside and whining when we are in his spot on the couch. He searches at the end of the night to find the most comfortable bed. Maybe we should call him Goldilab instead.  And, even though I said I would never get a cat, Toonces has wandered into our lives.  May he continue to be the best garage mouser and mole catcher ever.
Peace to you. May your homes and lives be messy. May we worry less about being perfect and instead be real and present in our own lives.
Love,
Matt & Amy
Gabe, Ben, and Lyndee

Dash, Tucker, Wrigley, Mia, and Toonces

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Carrying On in the Path of an Ordinary Life - The Path to Teaching

I used to think that I needed to be extraordinary. When I was young, I thought I might be an oceanographer (even though I had never seen the ocean), or an archaeologist (even though I had never seen any bones), or a broadcast journalist (even though I was terrible on camera), or....bear with me....a cocktail waitress. I wanted to be many things, but mostly I did NOT want to be ordinary.

Throughout high school, I was the small town do it all kind of kid - sports, drama, music - even photo club (though I never took any pictures.)

I did NOT want to be ordinary. I went to college and became one in a sea of valedictorians, athletes, and actors. I still wanted to pursue broadcast journalism and theatre. I soon found myself to be.....very ordinary. I didn't fit in with the "theatre folk," as they called themselves. I loved my BB team, but wasn't quite in the upper echelon that I aspired to be. I enjoyed my classes, but couldn't find my niche.

All my life, I had desired to leave my small town life with my mail carrier dad and my educator mom and be something GREAT!

And so, I came home after my freshman year, taught swimming lessons and became somewhat confused. I liked teaching kids. I was good at it. The kids responded to me. I did NOT want to be a teacher. I did NOT want to be ORDINARY.

So, I returned to college. I continued in my Speech Communication Theatre Arts track, and I continued to feel out of place. Finally....I stopped trying to be rich, famous and extraordinary. I decided to be.....extraordinarily ordinary.

I met with my adviser, switched my major to elementary education with a coaching endorsement and carried on.

This is not to say that there has not been doubt and disappointment along the way. I enjoyed my practicums (except kindergarten) and was challenged by my student teaching and fell in love with coaching.

But, I truly thought I would teach and coach for a few years and then....do something extraordinary. I really have no idea what I thought I might do. Teach at the college level? Perhaps. But, really, I don't know what else I would do. When you earn a degree in business, the whole world of business is open to you. When you earn a degree in education, it can be somewhat....well...narrow.

What ended up happening is that I applied for and was accepted into a graduate fellowship program through Winona State University and Rochester Public Schools. I taught for one year, took grad classes at the same time and earned my MS degree and a year of experience.

My first year of teaching was HARD. Harder than I ever imagined it would be. Harder, I think, than some of my cohorts in the fellowship program. I don't think I was ill prepared, just incredibly idealistic and placed in a less than desirable situation. The school I was in had not planned on a fellow. So, I ended up with some really, really, really, challenging students.

After the first day of school, all of my cohorts were gushing about what an awesome experience it had been and how they just KNEW this was where they were supposed to be. I went home and called my mom and cried about how awful it was.

The year progressed and in October I was in a fairly severe car accident where I broke my pelvis and had an injury to my neck which required crutches and 6 weeks in a hard cervical collar. Not an ideal way to begin a teaching career...especially with a challenging class.

Still, I persevered. And, looking back, I dared to do things in that first year that I never attempted again. I did things and attempted thing because I didn't know any better. Or maybe because I did know better, but did it anyway. I finished my year, was granted an interview with Rochester, was not hired and carried on.

I applied all over the place...Nebraska, Iowa, Washington State, Texas, all over the metro area...literally, for every position I could find. I had one interview in Worthington, Minnesota. It was a great interview and I learned a lot. When I didn't get the job, I especially learned that Worthington was not where I needed to continue my career.

August arrived. My lease was almost up. Matt and I decided that I would continue to teach, but in a subbing positions and keep looking for a permanent position. On August 20th, a former teacher and coach of mine pulled some strings and got me an interview...in an EBD Day Treatment just up the road. Wow. Really? Could I do it? Well, even if I didn't think I could, I interviewed like it would be a cake walk.

August 21st I was hired. I signed my first teaching contract and carried on. For three years I taught at the day treatment in the middle of a corn field. I endured insults from students, physical pain from students, wonderful connections with students and staff, an incredible growth in knowledge and perspective, and experienced joy in unknown and unexpected situations. I took graduate classes to get my Special Education provisional license, got married, and started coaching in Pine Island, a nearby town.

Junior High Track and Field, Junior High Basketball...every day I would leave my teaching job and head south to connect with student athletes, albeit junior high boy student athletes. By this time, Matt had begun a full time teaching position in Rochester and also been hired to coach in Pine Island. In the spring of my second year of coaching, a teaching position opened up. The elementary principal's wife had worked closely with my mom and I had a second connection which secured me an interview.

Interviewing again, I carried on and was hired. That fall, I started teaching third grade and realized just how much the needs of my day treatment students had weighed on me. Those years in the day treatment continued to serve me well with the experiences of dealing with difficult students, students with lots of baggage, parents who need help and/or perspective, and knowing when and how to communicate the needs of special education or potential special education students to other teachers and to parents.

The path of my teaching career could be repeated with many, many educators I know. But, my path is mine alone. It is ordinary to many, crazy to some, but extraordinary? Hardly. I often think about going back to my supposed five year high school reunion. Some friends said, "Amy, you could have been anything, making tons of money, going places...and you're what?! A teacher?!"

Like being a teacher is ordinary? After one year in Rochester, three years in a day treatment, eight years in 3rd grade, one year in 2nd grade, and seven years in 6th grade, I think it is safe to say that teaching is anything but ordinary. In fact, I love my job more than most. And I think that that is extraordinary.