Thursday, October 29, 2009

Get into the "spirit" of Halloween at ci|creative

What: ci|creative Halloween Makeup Fundraiser
When: Saturday, October 31, 2009
Time: 3:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: ci|creative(space) at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie
Register by Oct. 30 at:

Come let some of our local makeup artists give your Halloween costuming the finishing touch.

Emily Rusk and talented others will be transforming kids and adults all day and evening.

Appointments will be taken up until October 30th. Email to to get your space and also include what "character" or face you are looking to do. We feel these slots may fill up fast... email early!

Adult Fees will begin at $10.00 for a basic facepaint. Email us with your ideas and needs and we will give you a price.

Be creative! Challenge us!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wanna get your creative on? (Yes, you have one...)

Through six degrees of separation I have stumbled upon some amazing people and opportunities here in Peoria lately.

One of those people is Amy Lambert and the opportunity is ci|creative.

ci|creative is a grassroots non-profit organization working to strengthen the creative community within Central Illinois.

Before you click away because you don't consider yourself creative, just give me a minute here.

ci|creative's mission is to cultivate resources, opportunity, connections and education to attract and retain the creatives in our community. In addition, they strive to assist those who pursue all things creative by connecting them with other people and organizations who could provide mutually beneficial resources to each other and to the community.

So even if you don't consider yourself a creative person (and we all are in some way, shape or form), you can still be a part of it. As a resource. As a mentor. As an event participant.

Amy Lambert is the driving force behind this venture which was launched just this past March. I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Amy on several occasions at the ci|creative(space) in the Shoppes at Grand Prairie. For those of you who haven't been out there lately, it's where the old Kirkland's used to be across from the Holocaust Memorial.

It's called the ci|creative(space) because it is - literally - a space. Artwork, photography, sculptures, wearables and more by local creatives adorn the walls, floor and furniture - artists pay a one-time fee to display their works for a period of time. The space is set up to be mobile - workshops on everything from writing and social networking to open painting and even a "show-and-tell" offer something for every creative, and even those who may not consider themselves one.

At first, I wasn't sure I quite fit in with this group. I can't paint, sculpt, knit, draw, sew, play an instrument or decorate to save my life. But I can write. And that's creative. Plus I've found a little niche - helping the organization get the word out and heading up their new newsletter ci|stories, which will debut in January. Much more to come on this later as I will be soliciting ideas and inspiration for articles, as well as looking for writers.

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to learn more about ci|creative by visiting their website (still a work in progress) at or their Facebook page. Make sure you check out their upcoming exhibits, workshops and other events - they truly have a variety of unique offerings and opportunities.

The Board Members and volunteers who are making ci|creative happen are local people that have day jobs, significant others, children and other commitments, yet they see the need for such an organization and are working together to "bring back the creative" to Central Illinois. To have a place - and a (space) like this in Peoria is really quite a coup.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I don't wish for happiness...

People often think "What does it take to make me happy? What do I need to do to obtain this elusive thing called happiness?"

I think we've got it all wrong.

Happiness is fleeting. It's how you feel on a crisp, fall day when you and your kids are outside playing in the leaves. Two minutes later maybe, one pokes the other in the eye with a stick and they're both in Time Out. End happiness.

Perhaps it's that feeling you get after you've just purchased that flat screen TV you've always wanted and have settled down to watch your favorite football team. Then they lose miserably, and you caught it all in 50" high def. End happiness.

Or maybe it's accomplishing a project at work and receiving big praise from your boss, only to find out the client hates it. End happiness.

Just so you don't think I'm being a Debbie Downer, here's my point. We all seem to search for something that is going to make us happy - and it's usually temporary.

I've changed my mantra - I don't seek happiness, I seek peace.

The dictionary defines peace as "the freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity." To me, this is something that takes much more effort than happiness. And though from the definition you may think it is as fleeting as happiness, peace to me is a trait that can be found whether you are happy or not.

Today I am happy. God has definitely blessed me with many things to be happy about. He's also given me many challenges, some of which make me very, very unhappy. But through it all, I think I've finally found the peace to deal with them, whether I am happy or not.

So know that as you enjoy this beautiful fall day, it's OK to find things that make you happy, as long as when things go south (as they do), you still find that you have PEACE.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What "color" are you? Find out here...

I attended a fascinating workshop yesterday that assigns "colors" to certain temperaments. Real Colors was developed by David Keirsey based on the work of such researchers as Carl Jung and Isabel Myers and Kathryn Briggs (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) to categorize your personality in order to increase your understanding of not only who you (and others in your life) are, but how to learn to communicate with the other "colors" in your life.

You have to pay for the workshop, but here's the gist of it. If you've ever wondered why you are the way you are, why your spouse thinks the way he or she does, or why your kids act the way they do, you can gain some real insight by going through the workbook they provide to find your/their predominant temperament. While some people may lean strongly toward one "color", some, like me, have tendencies to waver between two. And though you can exhibit characteristics of the other "colors" at different times with different people, you are inherently the color that describes you the best overall.

There are four basic colors - gold, green, blue and orange. Here's the breakdown we received between parents and children:

Gold Parents
These parents are sensitive, practical, organized, a good provider, firm, stable, thorough, punctual, dependable, painstaking, conservative, detailed, hardworking, solid, strict, consistent, structured, dutiful, predictable and reliable. They expect their children to pull their own weight and behave in a responsible way. They regard parents as authority figures and think that children should naturally respect and obey them. They feel that providing a secure home environment is their most important job.

Gold Children
Gold Children are neat and organized. They are responsible and usually get their work done before they play. They don't have a lot of ups and downs, and can be counted on. Then enjoy school, follow the rules and respect authority. They prefer structured situations and are often serious about life. They want to be on time, are loyal and faithful. They do not like change. They pay attention to detail, and keeping their rooms clean comes natural to them. They are Mommy and Daddy's little helpers.

Green Parents

Some words to describe Green Parents are: rational, questioning, unemotional, objective, intellectual, modeling, logical, cool, calm, collected, analytical and theoretical. They do not have a "predetermined" path that they wish their children to follow. However, they want them to emulate the attributes that they think are important. They provide opportunities in the home to discuss curious and intellectual topics, and help their children to make well-informed decisions. They find that arguing with their child is unproductive.

Green Children
Green Children see things differently than others. They are curious and have a lot of questions. They need to research their options before making decisions. They don't mind being alone and usually do not talk about their feelings. They like to study things that interest and challenge them, and are easily bored with routine. Things are seldom black and white for the Green Child. They are the kids that are constantly asking "Why?" The Green Child does not respond well to physical punishment and sees it as a violation of their dignity. They may begin speaking in phrases at a very early age.

Blue Parents
These parents are devoted, sympathetic, insightful, compassionate, personal, peaceful, sincere, empathetic, spiritual, sensitive, accepting, patient, giving, understanding, forgiving and true. They are the nurturers who love to talk to their children about their feelings. They avoid conflict and confrontation. They feel that their family can stay close-knit and strong if they talk openly about their feelings, forgive each other and keep communication open. They love to feel cozy and warm in their home, and put the needs of their family before their own.

Blue Children
Blue Children enjoy being with others and are very comfortable talking about their feelings. They don't like conflict, arguments or tension. They make friends easily, and sometimes get in trouble for talking too much. They follow their hearts, respond well to encouragement, and make good and loyal friends. They are charming and people seem to be drawn to them. Blue Children need a great deal of reassurance that they are loved and appreciated by the people in their lives. They have a rich imagination. They have a very difficult time in homes where there is dissent or tension.

Orange Parents
Words to describe the Orange Parent are: generous, impulsive, witty, spontaneous, troubleshooter, optimistic, flexible, charming, willing, reactive, excitable, enthusiastic, easygoing, compromising, persuasive and fun. They enjoy doing fun and exciting things and take risks. They are unpredictable and sometimes a little "off-the-wall". They can be quick to anger when stressed. They don't get too upset when things are not clean or tidy. They use humor to diffuse tension. They are accepting of their children as they are, and want them to do their best in whatever they decided to do.

Orange Children
These kids like to do new things without thinking or planning. They are eager to try new things, and get bored with structured jobs, classes or activities. They need independence and freedom, and find it hard to follow rules and respect authority. They would rather learn by doing. They see life as a game or a party, and are very active. They are not orderly. If they find something interesting, they can be very focused and persistent. However, they have a tendency to lose interest quickly. Orange children need wide boundaries in which to explore and take risks, and respond to reward programs more than punishment for inappropriate behavior.

After working the matrix, I determined that I am a Gold Parent with Green tendencies. My oldest son, on the other hand, is a definite Orange, which tells me VOLUMES about his behavior. My younger son is a true Blue.

There is SO much more to this workshop, and if you ever get the chance to attend one, I encourage you to do so, especially if you are a parent. Not only does it give you insight into your temperament and those close to you, it gives you communication tips for the rainbow of colors that may be around you in everyday life.

For more information on the Real Colors program, go to

Monday, October 19, 2009

When shooting is a good thing...

If you need a photographer, I've got your girl.

The boys and I had a great "photo shoot" yesterday with a talented young photographer, Caroline.

A little background - and irony (that's how my life goes, you know). Earlier this year I was desperately searching for someone to care for my kids during the summer. We'd tried camps for the past few years, and though I enjoyed what they had to offer, both the kids and I felt as if they were somehow missing out on the summer (we have a pretty active neighborhood here).

I had contacted my church's youth minister to see if he could put me in contact with any nice, responsible Christian college kids looking for a summer job. He gave me a few names, then followed up a few days later with Caroline's. I interviewed her, and was sold. I found out later that she was slated to take a summer job out on the East Coast, but was having second thoughts, and really struggling with the decision. My offer couldn't have come at a better time.

Over the summer I got to know Caroline, and she got to know me. She learned a LOT about my boys and stepped up to the task. She was a powerhouse on our volleyball team, the Volley Llamas. And I found out she was a talented photographer and had the pleasure of hearing about her passion and viewing her portfolio.

I've missed seeing Caroline since the summer ended, so when she called yesterday and offered to take our annual fall photos, I jumped on it. I love the casual, outdoor shots, and she had just the place - an old barn in the middle of a cornfield. Perfect.

The photos are BEAUTIFUL and exactly what I wanted. Caroline is such a pleasure to work with - she's easygoing, she knows what works, but she'll also listen to your suggestions. She has a plethora of cool places to shoot, and is always looking for more.

I encourage any of you who are looking for a photographer for that yearly picture of your kids, a Christmas card portrait of the family, engagement or wedding photos (she's done both), senior pictures, or even a group of friends - to CALL CAROLINE. Her business name is Creative Clicks by Cari and the website is You can also check her out under the Facebook page by the same name.

Her portfolio is diverse for such a young talent and the photos are truly amazing. And the best part is that for a flat fee, you retain ALL of the rights to the photos upfront. That's not going to happen with the pricier places in town.

I highly recommend giving this girl a shot for your next portrait. Yes, pun intended.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?

I bet you're sick. If you're not, your spouse is. Or your kid. Or your friend. Or your neighbor. Good God, whatever it is that is going around is spreading faster than a juicy rumor at a coffee klatch.

I would say the majority of the Facebook posts I have read lately go something like this... "My fever is 103, someone shoot me..." or "They say if your child has the flu, keep him or her home for 7 days - are they kidding?!" or "My husband has a cold and he's the biggest pansy in the patch."

Being sick sucks. It rarely happens to me, but I got a taste of it a few weeks ago, and it sucked. As much as you think snuggling under a warm blanket and watching TV shows you would never watch in the middle of the afternoon would be fun, it isn't for someone like me.

I'm better now, except for that residual phlegmy cough that makes people give you dirty looks in the checkout line at the store. But now my kid has it, and he is the poster child for disease drama. It's not like when he was little, and I almost relished him being that "I want to snuggle with my mommy all day" sick. This is, "I'm bored and whiny and I want you to make me something fabulous that will make me feel better" sick that pretty much chains me to the house all day.

Articles in the paper and on the web are sending conflicting messages about "seasonal flu" vs. "H1N1", and how since seasonal flu hasn't gotten to Peoria yet (it apparently arrives sometime later in the year via a special sleigh or Brinks truck), anyone having symptoms mimicking this flu "must" have H1N1. But don't worry, the articles say, just treat it like you would the flu, because it's most likely not going to require hospitalization. Then you turn the page and see that 11 kids have died in the past week from complications of H1N1. That may be a small statistic in the grand scheme of things, but that's 11 kids too many in my book.

With regards to the vaccine, I am torn. Although I applaud the FDA for pushing this out so fast, I'm a little reticent to pump it into my kids' bodies, or my own for that matter. Maybe I'm naive, but isn't there something to be said for our own antibodies? Sure, the classroom setting is a breeding ground for all kinds of nasty stuff, but is this shot really going to be the cure-all? I don't know.

Until then, I guess I'll join all the other anal-retentive moms who are slathering their kids with hand sanitizer and jumping at every sniffle, cough, and temperature reading over 98.6.

It's gonna be a loooonnnggggg winter, folks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to keep a kid organized (aka How to nail Jell-O to a tree)

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but I do pride myself on my organizational skills.

My son is the antithesis of that statement.

This kid has been blowing me away with his smarts, logic and pattern of thinking since before he was old enough to speak. However, at age 12, I am amazed he finds his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

I just got a friendly call from one of his teachers alerting me to the fact that he received his third write-up for forgetting his materials for class. She felt the need to call me so I would not be "shocked". HA!!!! You're kidding, right? I could have seen that detention coming from a mile away.

I have told my son from the time he started middle school that while I could not do his homework FOR him, I could help keep him organized. That is MY strength. And because I know everyone's method of madness is different, I promised we would find the best organizational system that would work for him.

So far, he's tried special planners that organize his homework by day, time, subject and priority. Then he switched to a smaller, pocket-sized notebook that he could carry around at all times. He went from having seven notebooks (one for each subject) to two - one for the morning classes and one for the afternoon. He's tabbed all his binders, post-it noted all his homework, and stuck a write-on, wipe-off board in his locker.


Part of his problem, he says, is that there is not enough time between classes, and he finds himself rushing so he's not late. This kid HATES to be late - I think it's actually a phobia. But short of micro-managing him to the point where I send him hourly text messages reminding him to keep it together, I'm at a loss.

And yes, you may think it's time to let him "sink or swim". I tried that. He sank. And I'm the type of person who thinks that someway, somehow, there is a solution for everything, and if we just try enough different options, something at some point is going to stick.

Until then, I ask, how many detentions does it take to get through to the head of a 12-year old?

The world may never know.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Postcards from Milwaukee

I had the pleasure of traveling to my old stomping grounds this past weekend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While I was excited to meet up with good friends and visit some of my old haunts, I was not prepared for how much I had missed what this city has to offer. Not only did I wax nostalgic at a part of my life gone by, but I found a new appreciation for this town that I enjoyed so much.

Here are some of my musings from Milwaukee:

1. The air is CLEAN. When I first stepped out of the car, I was greeted by this cool, crisp air that just felt, well, CLEAN. I remember my years on the Marquette University campus where, on a good day, you got wafts of Ambrosia Chocolate Factory, and on the bad days, the tannery. And there was always that strong odor of hops and barley permeating from the brewery that seems to be Milwaukee's trademark smell.

2. The city is easy to navigate. OK, so I am well known for not being able to find my way out of a paper bag, but Milwaukee's road system is set up just for people like me. I-94 will take you pretty much anywhere, and the north-south streets are numbered so if you know how to count, you can get from here to there with little or no problem.

3. There's so much to DO. We didn't even scratch the surface of all I wanted to see and show this weekend. We drove straight to the Lakefront and wandered down a beautiful stretch of walkways, marveling at all the sailboats that were out on Lake Michigan on this 40 degree day.

Some highlights:

We happened upon a place right on the Lake called Discovery World, and not knowing what it was, went in to check it out. This is a fabulous, 120,000-square foot facility that includes interactive science, technology and freshwater exhibits, learning labs, theaters, television and audio studios, and fresh and saltwater aquariums. I got to touch a stingray, view some amazing jellyfish, and see the world's largest model of the Great Lakes. We didn't have time to see the whole facility, but you can bet I will be back with my kids to explore it in full.

Next door was the amazingly impressive architectural structure known as the Milwaukee Art Museum. Again, it was too late to take a tour, but just strolling around the outside of the building on this gorgeous day was enough for me.

From there we headed to the Historic Third Ward, where we experienced the Milwaukee Public Market. Kind of like a mini Pike Place Market of Seattle fame, this indoor mecca contained everything from wine tasting and coffee, to fresh fish, ethnic foods and homemade chocolates.

Ready to imbibe in the beers that make Milwaukee famous, we found the Milwaukee Ale House, a large but cozy neighborhood micro-brewery. Now I'm a Guinness fan, but wanted to sample some of their own brews, and the bartender recommended their Sheepshead Stout. I hesitate to say this, but I found it as drinkable if not more so than my old Irish fave.

Which leads me to my next point:

4. Milwaukee is not smoke-free. I guess it never occurred to me, but when I walked in the bar, my first breath filled my lungs with cigar smoke. Looking around, I realized that the no-smoking law had not made its way up north. It never bothered me that much when smoking was allowed in the Peoria establishments, but after NOT having to deal with it for so long, I found it slightly irritating. But I pressed on...

5. Yummy Bloody Marys. With apologies to my favorite bartender at Sullivan's in the Heights, my love for Bloody Marys originated in Milwaukee. When I moved to Peoria and would order one, I would get some tomato mix concoction with a celery stick. Uh, NO. Milwaukeeans do their Bloody Marys right... a pleasing blend of vodka, tomato and spices, garnished with olives, a pickle spear, and last but not least, a shot of beer. The pickle is the perfect complement to the tomato flavors, and the beer takes the edge off the spice. When will the people of Illinois get on board with this?

6. Stop-and-go lights, bubblers, and Packers, eh? Yeah, I had forgotten about the accents up here - the one I used to have and is SO easy to pick up. Milwaukeeans seem to have their own vocabulary, and though at times it does still make me laugh, I find it quite endearing.

7. Hiking is a big deal, and there's a ton of places to do it. We were directed to Lapham Peak, a part of the Kettle Moraine State Park. This gorgeous area has more than 20 miles of hiking trails (and in the winter, cross-country skiing including miles of lighted trails), the highlight being the amazing view from the 45-foot observation tower atop the highest point in Waukesha County (1,233 feet above sea level). Though the trees up here were not at their colorful peak, the view was gorgeous, the trails paved and the scenery unbelievably breathtaking.

8. Milwaukeeans are nice people. We ate breakfast at the Wisconsin Machine Shed, where we gorged ourselves on calorie-laden, artery clogging brunch items and passed on the cinnamon rolls literally as big as your head. But what I noticed not only here but all weekend was the strong sense of family. Large families. Parents, grandparents and kids all eating breakfast together, hiking together, and seeing the sights together. It was really very heart-warming to see that still exists in a town that has the potential to rival Chicago as a bustling, too-busy-to-stop-and-talk city.

I found myself surprisingly happy and content to be back in Milwaukee, and saddened when it was time to leave. But I do know that I plan to return soon. I have gotten into the habit of taking my kids to either Chicago or St. Louis for a getaway weekend, and have completely forgotten about the town that I once called home. Now that I have been back and seen it with older yet fresher eyes, you can bet that it will be the next out-of-town destination on my list for my kids and me.

You know what I mean, eh?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wise words from a District 150 Board Meeting???

Yes, you read that right. At last Monday's District 150 Board Meeting, one gentleman's voice rose above the fatuous din when he gave a moving dissertation about life today as a teacher in District 150.

As I listened to his speech, my thoughts turned to my own questions about how our children today are raised and treated versus when I was growing up. My initial reaction was to blog to that respect, but after obtaining a copy of Mr. Michael's words, I felt compelled to relay them in their entirety, and save my own retrospective for a future post.

Though the following is quite long for blogging standards, I encourage you to take the time to read through it. He truly makes some excellent points that hit home, and speak to not only the administration, but to teachers and parents as well.

I am anxious to hear your thoughts. Mr. Michael, you have the floor.

"Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to share my views tonight. My name is Bob Michael and I am a proud graduate of the District 150 school system, having graduated from Calvin Coolidge, Roosevelt, and Manual High School. Believe it or not, my father, a graduate of Lee School, Roosevelt, and Manual, named me Robert Alan Michael so that my initials would pay tribute to the mascot of his alma mater, the Manual Rams.

Some 10 years ago, at age 50, I decided that it was a time in my life to give back to the community and attempt to make a difference in the lives of the young people of this great city. Although I began my teaching career at Loucks Edison, I am currently employed at Columbia Middle School as a physical education teacher, due to the Loucks closing.

I remember quite vividly my first couple of weeks at the helm of my physical education classes at Loucks and it became apparent early on that I was completely unprepared for what I was about to experience. Gone were the days of compliance on the part of many students, as was the concept of respect for authority. This is the reason that I am with you here tonight. My mission is to make you aware of what it is truly like to teach in today’s educational environment… a view from the front lines, if you will.

Decorum prohibits me from telling you of all the vulgarities that have been sent my way over the last nine plus years by many students, by both boys and girls alike. I’ve been called “salty,” “thirsty”, “joe”, “dog”, and occasionally “your ugly bald-headed self.” I realize that whether or not I’m good looking is entirely subjective, but “bald-headed”? I truly have a nice head of hair. Even the simplest requests such as “Please sit down” are often met with a lip smack, an “Oh, my god”, “You get on my nerves,” a low frequency groan, and even an occasional “You ain’t my daddy.”

I literally have to teach my students that the proper response is “Yes, Mr. Michael” or “Okay, Mr. Michael.” With persistence and practice, occasionally my teachings have paid off. I truly understand and appreciate from where many of our students come, but although that may in fact explain their behavior, it certainly doesn’t excuse it. Yet we constantly make excuses for kids rather than teaching them how to behave properly.

In addition, I have been shoved, punched, kicked by students and threatened with bodily harm by more than one parent. In all, this has happened some 10 or 12 times, yet I have been asked to appear in court only once. The other police reports that I have filed have apparently either been lost, forgotten, or simply not pursued.

I had one mother take me to task for calling her son “you” rather than using his name, and as I met with her and my principal, she told me at one point that her husband was going to come to school and “knock me the f--- out.” Once again, I had made a simple request of this young man to please sit on the other side of the gym. As he (eventually) complied, I was able to hear him call me a filthy name. In an effort to get him to speak more respectfully, I told him he could continue in class as soon as he apologized to me. That request was met with another profanity- laced tirade. When my principal got wind of the incident, I was asked why this student was not allowed to continue in the P.E. activities. I stated that he would be reinstated as soon as he apologized.

Unable to get any support from my building administration, I eventually phoned the administration building on Wisconsin, talked to a high ranking official, and was told that the student, in fact, did not have to apologize and should be allowed to be part of the class the next day. Apparently, I was depriving him of his education. He did become, however, educated in the fact that a student can be horribly disrespectful to a teacher and suffer no consequences.

Another time, I had a student say “blank you” in front of the class. I sent him to the office, and as he brushed (literally) by me he made a statement to the effect of “Nothin’ gonna’ happen to me anyway.” Ten minutes later he was back in class with an “I told you so” smirk on his face. Twenty-eight other students learned a valuable lesson that day… it’s okay to cuss at a teacher. What are we teaching our kids?

A few years ago one of my students stole my cell phone from my desk. I was able to retrieve it quickly and the next day was called into the office to meet with her dad. His contention was that since I got my phone back, she should go unpunished. As he stormed out of the room while hurling profanities, he threatened to sue me and the school district as my principal sat speechless.

I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the picture.

Discipline is what I’m talking about here. The longest day of my young school life happened at Roosevelt Jr. High school when I was absent-minded enough to go to school without a belt. I bloused my shirt out over the top of my pants and prayed to God that our principal, one William Burdell “Buck” Smith wouldn’t discover my clothing gaff, a violation that would have sent me home early that day with a call to my parents. “Sorry, Mr. Smith, we’ll be sure that Bob wears a belt tomorrow” my parents would respond. “It won’t happen again.”

Well, I survived that day, and eventually I put an extra belt in my locker, just in case. My behavior had been modified.

Our District in general and some individual schools seem to continually lower the bar in an effort to make kids feel better about themselves. I’ve seen how we can adjust the Honor Roll to accommodate more students, thus rewarding them for sub-standard work. We were told in a faculty meeting once that if a child does nothing that we were to give them a 65%. I guess that a real world application of that premise would allow me to come to school, teach no classes, and receive 65% of my income. That’s a pretty sweet deal, but that’s not how things work.

That has been modified apparently, though, so that now if a student makes even a cursory effort to do an assignment, they are to receive 50%. This latest mandate, it should be known, was put forth by the administration without them being kind enough to extend either the teachers or the union the courtesy of involving them in the decision making process.

In another part of this edict, the grading scale has been lowered across the board ostensibly to allow for more consistent evaluation. For example, previously 93-100% equaled an “A”. It is now 90-100%. Please tell me how this helps kids. I should mention here that studies have shown that over the last twenty years, as grade point averages have remained stable or increased, test scores have continuously declined. In other words the grades are there, but the knowledge isn’t.

Get the picture?

That being said, I’ll submit this to you: today’s kids are no different than they’ve ever been. That should raise a few eyebrows. To paraphrase a quote: “The children of today love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and would rather talk than exercise. Children are now tyrants, not meaningful members of their households. They speak out of turn, gobble up food, and tyrannize their teachers.” By the way, the original quote was attributed to Socrates by Plato a couple of thousand years ago. I maintain that children have remained constant. What has changed is what we allow. Let me say that again… children have remained constant. What has changed is what we allow.

By allowing less aberrant behavior we will be able to once again gain control of our schools. Be mindful, though, that I’m not on a power trip here. I can control my classroom. It’s that I want what’s best for our kids. That’s why I teach. Many of our kids have no boundaries. We can teach them boundaries. Many of our kids lack social skills. We can teach social skills. Our kids have problems with accountability. We can teach them accountability. We cannot, however, teach these important “life lesson” concepts within the current constraints of our district’s discipline policy.

That being said, a wise man once told me “it’s easier to criticize than it is to create.”

Please give us a discipline policy with some teeth. Please empower us, your teachers, to draw a line in the sand and let the children decide whether or not to cross it. And please don’t make the line so vague or so far away as to allow a student to receive over 170 discipline referrals and six suspensions and still be allowed to terrorize the classroom on a daily basis. Yes, I’ve taught that student, and when that same student was given the ultimatum (with two weeks left in the school year) of “one more referral and you’re done for the year” this student, in fact, behaved properly for the remainder of the year and acted as a model student. Some students will still cross the line, and for that reason we need more alternative classrooms.

Recent contract negotiations have involved whether or not we should have a longer school day to increase student performance. For that argument I will offer an alternative. We can help our kids achieve more with a more efficient day rather than a longer day. If each teacher in the district has to spend three minutes per class for discipline, a relatively conservative estimate, then roughly a thousand teachers times six class periods a day times 180 days spend approximately 60,000 hours on discipline. Give us a responsible and workable discipline policy and we will be able to teach more effectively.

A word about P.B.I.S., or Positive Behavior Intervention Support. For those of you who don’t know, part of this program suggests that we give children a sticker or some other token for walking down the hall properly, for example. In other words, we need to reward compliance. Now, I’ve been driving for some 45 years, and not once has a state trooper pulled me over and given me a gold star for going the speed limit. I obey the law because that is what is expected of me. Children need to learn the same.

Yes, today’s kids are being raised, as have the children of the last two generations, under the banner of entitlement. Everybody has to feel good about themselves. Every soccer player gets a trophy. We reward children for coming to school. Well guess what, kids are supposed to come to school. And guess what, life doesn’t reward us for compliance. Extrinsic rewards work for the short term. Intrinsic rewards build character and allow us to be successful in the long term.

In closing, I guess I’m grateful that little Tommy Edison didn’t get a gold star for trying his hardest to invent the light bulb and failing on his first try. He may have in fact given up and we’d be in the dark here tonight even more than we already are."

Monday, October 5, 2009


The Beatles pleaded for it, Joe Cocker got a little from his friends, and I finally broke down and asked for it.


I've always fancied myself as the strong, independent type. Who needs anyone? I can do it/fix it/figure it out myself - that's the only way to really get things done, right?


Over the past few months, I've found myself challenged on a variety of levels. This past week, all of those challenges seemed to gang up on me and try to take me down like a sumo wrestler fighting a 98-pound weakling. So I caved. I asked for help.

Funny thing, this "help". I was brought up to count my blessings - to know that no matter how bad you have it, someone else has it worse. And I do try to live that way. But I think at times it often precludes me from asking for assistance, simply because I realize that there are people out there who aren't as fortunate as I am, and who am I to ask for "a little help here"?

Ironically, what I found is that breaking down and asking for help has actually made me stronger.

My son is going through a rough patch right now... and has been for some time. I've read all the books and tried all the parenting tactics but to no avail. Finally, it came to a head this past week, and in complete and utter desperation, I cried out to a good friend, "HELP!"

She did just that - and spent the better part of her day doing it. Her guidance set the ball rolling to further assistance, and though the problem isn't solved, at least now I have a plan of action that I would NEVER have had if I had not asked for her help.

In addition to that, I found myself sicker than a dog this weekend. I haven't felt "right" for a few months, and finally bit the bullet and went to the doctor. I knew it wasn't anything serious, and I felt silly taking up her time with my complaints. The diagnosis? A severe ear infection that with a few days of antibiotics should clear up nicely, and abate my other symptoms as well.

Huh. I may be on to something here.

Professionally, things didn't go my way this past week as well. Passed over for a job I really wanted, at first I just assumed that I sucked. Giving it a little more thought, I sought help in the form of feedback. I received it, and now I know some areas I need to work on for that next interview or freelance job.

Three days ago, I was awash in self-pity, and at the end of my proverbial rope. I had done everything that I could do, and wondered why I couldn't find a solution, come to a conclusion, or discover the answer.

It's because I don't always have the answer.

Sometimes, you have to realize that answer - or the road to that answer - may not come from yourself, but from someone else. And it's not a sign of weakness to tell another person that you need help - it's actually a strength. By opening yourself up to others' ideas, suggestions and thoughts, you gain a new, neutral and fresh perspective on something you may have been drowning in for a long, long time. It's really no different than having a colleague proofread something you've written. You may look at it a thousand times and not see that typo. But for someone reading it for the first time, it might just jump off the page.

Finally, I try to put the shoe on the other foot. If someone asks me for help, I'm usually flattered that they've thought of me in the first place. It makes me feel good, even more so if I actually provide them with some sort of guidance or assistance. So why am I so reticent to ask for it in the first place?

We're all in this together, and we all know something that the other doesn't know. So in the immortal words of the Beatles, the next time you're in a bind, just ask, "Won't you please, please help me!"

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Moms can't get sick, can they?

I rarely get sick. Rarely. But when I do, I feel pukier than a dog with motion sickness riding in a gyroscope.

This one came on from out of nowhere. I was feeling fine - OK, well, not GREAT, but FINE. Yesterday turned out to be unexpectedly stressful, and as the hours wore on, I found myself feeling punkier and punkier. Then the sneezing began. Then the throat started itching. My nose was like one of those drippy faucets you just can't quite turn off all the way. And I swear I can hear my heart beating in my ears.

By last night, I sent the boys to bed without showers - I'm not even sure what they had for dinner - and tried to will sleep to come. This is one of those times when I'm glad I'm single - because no man would have been able to appreciate the sniveling, snoring, coughing mess he would have had next to him last night. This morning, my youngest came in to ask me some insane question like, "Can I have breakfast?" and I just pulled the covers over my head.

Thank God the weather outside today mirrors my condition. So far today the boys have built a fort, played Legos, watched movies and are now playing a throwing/catching game with some sort of hard object between the downstairs and the upstairs, which I feel I may have to intervene in pretty quickly here.

That is one thing that sucks about times like this - I still have to be a mom and I still have things to do. At some point, I'm going to have to step up, suck it up and figure out how to make the most of this weekend with my boys. Part of me is willing myself to feel better so I can enjoy this time with them; the other part of me wishes someone would ring my doorbell with a vat of chicken noodle soup and trade it for my kids for a few hours.

Either way, I'll get through it. There's nothing I HAVE to do today, thankfully, that can't wait one or two more days. And I know that the more I rest now, the quicker I'll feel better. Until then, I'm just going to lie here with my box of Kleenex and my cold medicine and hope that the macaroni 'n cheese fairy shows up soon to make the boys lunch.