Coming Soon…

A little sneak peak into whats on the horizon.

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Excerpt:

     “I am standing in my 4th grade classroom, watching 17 tweens sit in silence, scratching graphite bubbles on an answer sheet, careful to make their marks dark and neat.  A student from the Congo silently struggles to translate the English.  One girl squirms in her desk, trying to rid her mind of her fighting parents and her brother, who left for the Marines this week.  A boy quells the gamut of emotions welling up within him; it’s his birthday, and for the first time in his 10 years, mom won’t be there.  She couldn’t take care of him anymore.  Another girl needs to pass this test in hopes of breaking the cycle of alcoholism and gambling addictions that have hijacked her family.  One writes with scars covering both arms from the abuse of her older brothers.  I reported it to CPS, but nothing was done, and it keeps happening.  Still one kid wonders if his mom will beat him again because he failed yet another big test.

I teach in a school of society’s leftovers, scraps tossed aside and left to rot while the powerful in the world get on with their life.

These are my kids.  And I am overwhelmed as I stare at the gap between what they have and what they will need for the life ahead.

An iPhone could easily do this math, but the state needs results from them, numbers on a spreadsheet to appease the demands of a system that has abandoned them and reduced them to conformity.   It’s a system that needs them to scratch A,B,C, or D, and has slowly suffocated every other possibility.  

There are no other choices. 

“Be a good little boy and mark the answer you’re supposed to, so you can make a lot of money one day,” we say, carrot dangling.  The Accountability Economy is desperate for the correct combination of bubbled letters so their future employers won’t be sued. 

B.

C.

A.

C.

Wrong combination?  Dopamine access, denied.

Our gut knows this is not the path to human thriving.   James Cameron never made a blockbuster megahit about students sitting in desks bubbling correct answers, or about white guys getting promoted to a bigger cubicle. 

Robots are beginning to look a lot more like humans, and humans are looking more like robots.

Something is off.   Innovation and greatness are not cultured in the confines of conformity, but are bred and birthed in open space and opportunity.  

Something is missing.   Risk defines every great human story, and yet my classroom and your workplace are carefully engineered to mitigate as much of it as possible.

Something is wrong.   Even when the answers are right.

Educators know this.  Parents know this.   Voters know this.  Mother Nature knows this.  

I don’t just mean something is wrong with the schools.  Or something is wrong with families.  Or something is wrong with politics.  Or something is wrong with the environment.

I mean, something is wrong. “

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Back to Podcasting

Now that school is finished, we’re back to podcasting!  Check it out on the podcast page or download on iTunes.

This next series has been fermenting in my brain for quite some time and its just about ready to serve.   It’s called “Food: the Spiritual Science of Eating.”  We’ll be talking about the deeper realities that are connected to what and how we eat, how our global food system evolved, what our body is/isn’t designed for, and how to actually make real, no-joke, long-term change in our diet.  Bonus: I get to interview some really awesome people!

First episode drops Saturday…

Seven Ways to Teach Your Child Their Name

We may give our kids a name at birth, but its the next 18 years and beyond that we really name them.  So I thought Id come with with a short list of ways to do that, for practicality’s sake.  

SEVEN WAYS TO HELP TEACH YOUR CHILD THEIR NAME

1.  Look them in the eyes.   

First, the most basic, and maybe the most important.  It tells them they are human.  Pay attention and, if you’re like me, you may just be shocked to realize how little you actually do this on an average busy day, especially with several kids.  I mean tune out everything else and play with them or talk.  But make the eye connection.   Wrestle, tickle, get in their face, talk, look, and listen.  Even (especially) when they’re in trouble- connect those eyes.  Something miraculous happens, as if you are literally pouring part of your own spirit into them.   And they receive this brief beautiful affirmation when, just for a moment, they are your priority, and they matter.  

2.  Remind them of their name when they forget.

Ever thought about why your mom called you by your entire string of names when you were in trouble?  What was she doing?  She was reminding you of who you are.  You were not acting like you.  She knew the real you, and you had apparently forgotten for a moment.  Kids do that.  So, by calling their name, we whisper to their soul, “That is not who you are.  It won’t lead you to life and identity and joy.  I know what will, because I know your name.”   All that in three simple words (and perhaps a furled eyebrow).

Another great way this is done is to always use “we” language, and maybe throw in your family name. When one of my kids acts out, it is somewhat standard now for me to say “WE don’t do that in this house.”  This moves you from “Policeman” to “Captain of the ship”, which means we’re in this together.  It also holds me accountable to practice what I preach.    It makes our family name a badge of pride.  We are Nichols’, and we do things a better way in this house.  (May sound corny, but hey, we Nichols’ dont care ’bout that.)

3.  Nicknames. 

Just give em one.  Or three.  Two generations ago, almost every kid in town had one of these.   Some had several.  Very often, people would even forget your real name.  My grandpa was Scooter, and to him, I was Turth (I have NO IDEA what Turth means).  My sister was Crystal Pistol, or just Pistol.   My cousin was Peanut (and I was secretly jealous, because I thought Peanut was cooler than Turth).   My OTHER grandpa just called me “Little Man.”  I cant describe to you how special I felt to be Little Man. 

A nickname is a way of personalizing your unique relationship with a kid.  It adds a little definition to their name once theyve had time to live a little.  But more than anything, a nickname reminds them (and us) to quit taking themselves so seriously.  We Rat Race Suburbanites could use that every once in a while. 

4.  Milestones

The Jews have Bar Mitzvahs.   Hispanics have Quinceaneras.   But for most people in my world, milestones are sadly absent.  How many college age students aren’t really sure whether they are an adult, or a kid, or what?  Most people treat them like a kid, but they sort of feel like an adult, but then again they don’t.  Heck, I know 30 year olds like this.  

It sounds too simple, but usually all they ever really needed was somebody to just tell them they are now grown.  The right somebody, that is.  Parents.


Life doesnt come in neatly defined stages.  It just happens, gradually, a day at a time.  So milestones sort of our arbitrary way to stop and define what is happening and how far we’ve come.  Because they need to know.  A lot of us are afraid to tell them, because we have a hard time facing the fact that they are no longer little.  (See #7 below)


How you do this doesnt matter nearly as much as that you do it.   But ask yourself this: at what age is a kid an adult in your family?  Maybe its 18, maybe its 21.  Maybe its when they graduate.   Decide this now –because you won’t be ready then– and throw them a party when they get there.   Its not celebrating an accomplishment, like finishing school, but an arrival.  Make it a big deal.  Bless them.  And let them know they have arrived, even if we all might have our doubts if they can handle it.   I would even recommend doing this more than once- maybe have 2 or three big celebrations along the way, and usher them in to whats next with confidence and blessing.


5.  Make Them Good at Something. 

For the love of John, this is NOT taking them to practice some uber-competitive sport with 75 other kids who will make them feel like crap because they dont pitch a 95 mph fastball.  How about things like– 

-Catching coins off their elbow.

-Keeping a balloon bouncing without letting it hit the ground. 

-shooting a slingshot at a target.

-Playing “football” with the sugar packets at a restaurant. 

(And then– I am begging– quit it and move on with life before your game turns into this.)  
Today, I just held up a blanket in the living room as a target and let my two girls throw a football at it.  They loved it.  My dad was an ACE at this.  Give him an object — any object —  and an unsuspecting kid, and that man will have them playing a game in no time. They will like it.  And they’ll get this weird sort of mini-boost of confidence when they get better at it.    (Plus, when they’re good at something nobody else cares about, it keeps them from bragging about it at school…)
Then, teach them real life skills as they grow older, and then let them be known as the go-to person the home for that.  For whatever they are good at, brag on them in front of somebody else.  Don’t fake the compliments.  Find things they are ACTUALLY good at — “the organizational whiz,” “the music virtuoso,” etc.  

Think about it.  When they are an expert in their own home, you have just given them a place where they matter and are of value.  When the rest of the world rains on their parade (and it will), they will have a shelter to go to where they are known and needed. 
6.  Land the Helicopter. 
If you find yourself wondering whether you are a helicopter parent, let me help you:  If you weren’t, you wouldnt be wondering (and you wouldnt be reading a blog post on parenting).  You already live in a world where your neighbor will call CPS on you for not snapping the 5 point harness to drive to the mailbox. 
We hover because we love her.  But lets try to hover less, shall we?   I say “Age+1 appropriate freedom.”  In other words, just a tiny bit more freedom than their age probably warrants — enough freedom to make you constantly nervous.  (You’re welcome.)  They will get hurt one day, and you will hate me for suggesting this.  But it might just save them from a bigger hurt. 

What are you communicating when you hover?  Besides annoying them to death, you are giving them a constant reminder that youre not sure if they can handle life on their own.  And if you, the name-giver, are unsure, guess what that makes them?    A 35 year old in your basement eating your cheetos while you fill out his unemployment paperwork.

Three of the toughest words a parent will ever have to digest:  Let them fail.  

7.  Mourn Their Loss. 

My personal rule of thumb is, one good cry per year per kid.   And I dont cry.  Some of you wimps need to just go ahead and schedule this in your weekly routine.  Because all change is a form of loss, and all loss must be mourned.  You will never get back those days when he was a baby (or age 14). 

I can guarantee you this– if you never embrace the sadness of the death of yesterday, you will never be able to embrace the joy of the promise of tomorrow. 

Show me a young married couple who are still tightly controlled by one or both sets of their parents, and I’ll show you a set of parents who never grieved a loss.  


Every single birthday, we say goodbye to the child we used to have (AFTER the party, not in front of the kid, okay?!).  We bury memories and let go with tears and angst.  And in doing so, we set our child free to become what God has destined them to be.  The greatest blessing is knowing, when we finally do set them free to fly, that we have given them a name that they now own the rights to. 

Why Teachers Are Walking Out

For the last ten years, I’ve been a covert operative in Women’s World, a.k.a. Public School.  I am not a typical elementary teacher.  I am male.   And I am often confounded at what I have seen my coworkers silently acquiesce to, happily playing along, fueled only by the sense of the purpose they work from.  I am not surprised that teachers in many states have had walkouts.  I am surprised that they waited so long to start.

Obviously, I’m sympathetic to my colleagues.  I’m also sympathetic to garbage collectors, Haitian farmers, and CPS caseworkers.  In comparison, our job might be considered a breeze for the pay, with its dreamy holiday schedule and all.

Let’s not go down that rabbit hole, though, because the walkouts aren’t really ultimately about “pay,” the face usually presented.

Women are done being taken advantage of.

That’s what this is about.  Don’t think that it’s a coincidence that mass walkouts are happening within a year of the #metoo movements, the sex abuse revelations, or the women’s marches.

It’s not just about pay.  It’s about respect.  It’s about boundaries crossed and people used.  It’s about unrealistic, unspoken expectations systemically enforced, leaving the perceived inability to speak up for oneself.  It’s about a mass of subservient people waking up one day to see the reality of what they’ve been putting up with all along.

When you hear stories and shine light into cultural blind spots, you start to see that there has been wide scale, nationally accepted inequalities kept alive for decades in the dungeons of school halls, among the nations largest female workforce.

Whiteboards?

I was in a data analysis meeting with my female colleagues, needing student whiteboards for math.  (Imagine your teachers back in 1987 requesting an overhead projector.  Basic.)  A good set might run $50.

As a norm, I don’t request purchases from the “company.”  I often forget it’s even an option.  When I mentioned it to a co-teacher on the way to the meeting, she gave me a sarcastic, “Good LUCK…”

I said, “Hey, if this school, on its $10 million budget, can’t afford $50 whiteboards– how do they expect someone supporting a family of 6 on a teachers salary to be able to?” She said she had never thought of that.

She had never thought of that.  This is our culture.  Where you aren’t allowed to think about asking for your needs to be met.

The given is to figure it out.  Because women will.  Had I asked 20 different teachers about whiteboards, 10 of them would start spewing out names of stores.  The other 10 (older) would give me some DIY weekend instructions that involve table saws.  Seldom would any of them think to say, “Umm, ask for them…”

Injustice and oppression thrive in places where the norms are never questioned. 

My boss didn’t think that way, either.  Minutes before, my boss had told us, “We’ll do anything to help you.”  Minutes later, I was met with a kind sigh, “Aren’t whiteboards pretty expensive?”  One of our support staff spoke up, “Didn’t you ask me about those last year?  I’ll get you some.”  And she did.  Possibly on her dime.  I didn’t ask.

The fact that the whiteboards were such a small purchase actually illuminates the problem.

A man’s operative norm tends to be, “since its not a big deal, the company should have no problem helping you out.”

A woman’s tends to be, “since its not a big deal, you should be able to handle it yourself.”

Handle It.

— I’ve witnessed a teacher running a fever, surrounded by nurses taking her blood pressure, get up and stumble down the hall, on her way to wrangle kids.
–I’ve witnessed a teacher passing a kidney stone refusing to go home.
–I’ve witnessed a teacher get punched.
–I’ve witnessed teachers yelled at, demeaned, and criticized, and then go chase down the kid to make sure he is okay.

     And all that was just this week.  

Nothing we handle is a huge deal.  But the sum total of all of the straws on the camel’s back have become a crushing weight for so many.

It’s not about the pay.  It’s about all of the ways an entire sector of the country’s most selfless givers have been complicit to a system that has evolved to bilk them every way it can:  of their time, their money, their energy, and their emotions.

Pay for it yourself.
Create it yourself.
Stay late and put on that function yourself.
Meet during your time. 
Work during your weekend.
Be kind to people yelling, ignoring, cussing, and hitting you.  Then, make sure they pass the new standards.
…And be prepared to take bullets for them, too.

These things are not said as much as they are collectively understood, much worse.

Tacit expectations are the ones we feel least able to challenge.

See, behind each one of these expectations lies the unspoken threat– “Don’t you love your kids?”

A Woman’s Honor

I’ve learned that a woman will do almost anything to prove she’s a good caretaker and nurturer.  The female honor code is, do it for the kids, no matter the cost.  Don’t ask questions or be perceived as disloyal to your children.

And, while each woman should be responsible for enforcing her own boundaries, we should not be systematically violating them, either.  I want the women of my world free to be fiercely loyal mothers and selfless givers, without some manipulative loser-of-a-school system taking advantage of her selflessness.

But we have an underfunded system who keeps pushing and stretching for every free woman-hour and donation it can get from those fiercely loyal mothers and their Boxtops.

The system, in many places, bears a creepy resemblance to an abusive husband.  If she loses “him” [her job], she feels like she would lose everything.  He constantly tells her she’s not good enough, and has spreadsheets with scores to prove it.  He blames her for the kids problems, and offers no real help in fixing them.   But she stays and puts up with him– because she loves the kids.

He is boxing her in, manipulating her, and implicitly calling her loyalty into question every time she doesn’t bend over backwards to appease him and make him look good.

Should we be surprised that she’s finally walking out?

An Overstatement?

Maybe I am being dramatic (Hey, I’m a teacher).   But contrast this with my white collar buddies in corporate land.  If you do anything work-related, you charge it to the company, and get the airline miles in the process.   Own a business?  Buy what you want for yourself, make sure its “work-related,” and write it off.

Teachers?  They go through a 3-step process involving a waterboarding interrogation in front of a one-way mirror to get some spaghetti noodles for a lesson.  So we just do it ourselves.

Consider “Teachers Pay Teachers”

This one kills me.  It’s an online community of 2 million of us, paying each other for homemade curriculum to get the job done right.  This exists?  I didn’t know we were independent contract laborers.

But no one I know questions it.  My coworkers are happy to shell out their own dollars because, in their minds, they are helping some poor sister in south Georgia trying to supplement income.

Imagine a bunch of nurses buying morphine from one nurse who makes it in her basement, when the hospital won’t give them enough.  Or cops buying tasers from Leroy the Ex-Cop who now hand-makes tasers in his garage that don’t suck.  Or Egyptian slaves buying good brick-making tools from their fellow slaves on the black market.  Shouldn’t Pharaoh be funding this?  Nah, he’s on a shoestring, poor fellow.  I’ll just do it.

Male.  Mind.  Blown.

So, when it comes to things like…
Conferences?  Nope.
Company clothes?  Buy your own school T-shirt, if you love us.
Tools for the job?  Maybe your PTA can donate.  Or DonorsChoose.
Health insurance?  Ha ha.  Ha.
Annual raise?  A cost of living increase, less than your actual cost of living increase.
Bonuses?  Starbucks Gift cards.  From students.
Per Diems?  Travel mileage?  What are those?
Company credit card?  Not in your life. You’d be too wasteful.

But those test scores?   They’d better go up, and up, and up.

Trust

And then, there are the ways we aren’t trusted.

In Texas, we take the STAAR test.  We go through a few of hours of training each year that we jokingly refer to as “52 ways to lose your license.”   It is a State-mandated course that involves a PowerPoint detailing the ways we shouldn’t be cheating.  And if it even LOOKS like we might be cheating, we’re in trouble.

Soooo….. let me get this straight…. You pay us $60,000 a year to be a life mentor for 20 children….  But you don’t trust me not to cheat for my 10 year old on his 4th grade math test?

Consider Hattie’s effect size — famous research that determines the most impactful effects of various educational dynamics.  This poster is in our lounge.

Hatties effect

Greatest effect size?  Student Expectations.   Im wondering, if Expectations of our small humans are so powerful in determining their outcome, why do we keep breeding pathetically low expectations of our large humans?

We don’t enforce higher expectations by being meaner.  Expectations must be paid for.  We treat people as if they are capable, give them the right tools for the job, and stand back to watch in awe of what they do with them.

 

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Is It Really a Gender Issue?

If you think its just a School culture issue unrelated to gender, you’d be wrong there. And we have coaches to prove it.  The only male-dominated sector of public school gets what they need.  I know, because I was a coach for a year.  That year, our students got new clothes, a new locker room, and new uniforms.   They got free food each week and free rides home.  Coaches got free jackets, free clothes, free food, free conferences, free high-fives, free respect, a free pass on dress code, and a free pass from expectations of student academic achievement in our classes.

But I could not get free multiplication flash cards for my math class that year.   I got more perks, bonuses, and respect in one year of coaching than in 9 years of teaching elementary school.  Its not about ONE person or school, its about systems evolving over time, built on the ways males and females most typically interact.

Waking Up, and Walking Out

It’s not about whiteboards, perks, or paychecks.  Its about a workplace culture that has formed around our most deeply invested, caring, and empathetic sector – our women.

Women, thank God, are waking up.   They are waking up to the same realization that called out Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein.  And they are calling out the system.

I don’t like walkouts, protest marches, or angry speeches.   A decent society shouldn’t need them.  But I do like it when people wake up, and finally say “no more” to a system that keeps demanding more while empowering less.

“I will not just be used or taken for granted.  I matter.”   This is the mantra of the new teacher. 

She is no longer just a glorified babysitter.   She is the master of a skilled profession that combines the rigor of brain science with communication skills, data analysis, public relations, and artistic performance.  She is a talented professional with the job of shaping minds, and a loving parent-figure with the job of nurturing hearts.

You get what you pay for, and if we want good teachers, we had better pony up before she leaves us to go live happily ever after with a company that will treat her right.

I am walking out with her, but mine will be permanent, at the end of the month.

Mine is a personal choice, based on my life goals.   But I do wonder whether I might have stayed longer, were it not for my inability to refuel year after year as quickly as I have been drained.   I love my kids more than ever.  But I won’t enter a classroom another year without a full tank of patience, grace, and joy.  It’s time to refuel.

All of my best wishes to those who continue to do this work, regardless of the conditions.   You are some of the best.  May our society wake up to your true value, and may your needs be fully met.   No matter how the votes turn out, you will always have mine.