The Power of a Smile

I smile quite a bit.  My students sometimes ask me why I’m always smiling.  I don’t know if I have a good answer for that.  I like my job. I like them. I’d much rather smile than frown. I don’t like being around grumpy people, so I might as well make sure I’m not a one. I guess you could say that in general, I try to be positive and easy-going. Every once in a while, this smiley business pays off.

Today I was on my way to a board meeting instead of school.  I was busy contemplating my route to the meeting to avoid the highways during rush hour. What happens while I’m deep in my re-routing thoughts?  Flashing red lights.  Yep. I got pulled over. I got my insurance card out and was ready with it while the officer approached my car. As I gave it to him I smiled and I said, “I’m sorry, I was thinking of other things and don’t even know how much I was over.” He looked at my insurance card and then asked for my license.  Oh yeah, I suppose he’d want to see that… I got it out of my purse and gave it to him. He looked at it and handed it back to me and said, “Make sure you slow down.”

Now that I think about it, I’ve been pulled over twice in my life. Both times I got a warning. The first time was when I was in high school on my way to work at JC Penney. I’m sure I did the smiley-innocent thing that time too. I don’t really want to test out the theory of the smiley-innocent thing working for me. But I don’t think it hurt in either case.

I’m not saying that smiling will work every time in situations like that. But I think it’s safe to say that an officer would rather deal with someone who is pleasant and smiling rather than someone grumpy and argumentative. I know that in my job I’d much rather deal with the former than the latter! 🙂

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Being a Non-Mom on Mother’s Day

Today is the day that we celebrate moms.  We all have one.  But some of us don’t claim that title ourselves.  Whether by choice or by circumstance, there are actually many women that do not become mothers.

A few years ago I was reading Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  She’s the Eat, Pray, Love gal. In this book she is coming to grips with the institution of marriage.  Having been burned the first time around and facing the prospect of not having a choice for round two, she researched many aspects of the institution. One chapter in particular I found very interesting.  She talks about the childless women of the world.  The consistent percentage of women that never have children is about 10%.  It doesn’t drop below 10% and in many cases it’s much higher.  In the more developed countries in can be closer to 50%.  She goes on to talk about the attitudes and perceptions about women who remain childless.  Many of her observations I have experienced myself and agree with her assessment of the situation.  When meeting new people and they find out that I do not have kids, they are stumped. I’d be interested to see the thought bubbles in their heads as to why I’m kid-free.  But then again, maybe I don’t.

Gilbert calls the childless women of the world the “Auntie Brigade.”  There are many of us out there.  Think about all of them that you know.  They may not be your own aunt, but they are someone’s aunt.  And if they’re not, they’re probably filling in as someone’s aunt.  I like being part of the Auntie Brigade. I get to be another adult in the lives of my nieces and nephew.  The past few years I’ve started taking them for a week or so. I have the advantage of living near Grandma and Grandpa, so it’s a team effort.  But they get to experience life away from mom and dad.  It’s a special week where they do some fun things in a different city and get a lot of extra attention that all kids need.  In the meantime, their parents get a break and can have a little breather from an ultra-busy household.  It’s a good arrangement.

I have been called “mom” before.  By accident. At school. Every once in a while it comes out of some kid’s mouth.  We usually laugh about it. But there is a certain amount of mothering that is done in the classroom. I’m sure there are some things that students ask me that they don’t feel comfortable asking their parents.  Some of my students are already on their own and don’t have a parent to ask. I’m glad they feel comfortable enough to ask me some of those questions.

In church today, the pastor made a point to recognize that mothering is done by more than just those with the title of mom. With how complicated the world is these days, parents need all of the support and help that they can get. It’s quite fortunate that there are those of us who can step in when needed. I am lucky to have a family that does recognize the value of the childless aunt. I did get a card on this special day for moms.  So I challenge you, dear reader, to think of someone who does not have kids on this day for moms. Have you thanked them for that special role that they’ve played in your life or the lives of your children? I bet you’d make their day if you did.

Experience Matters

I was talking with a colleague of mine today.  As I recall our conversation, I think I can sum it up pretty easily.  Experience matters.  But is it valued?   To those of us that have it, it is valued.  To those that don’t, it isn’t.

In these days of attacking teachers and their rights, tenure is one of the main targets.  But what I’m talking about right now, are the changing attitudes of our society and of various generations.  More than ever before, I see people with ideas that they can get rich or become famous over night.  They think they can get there without putting in the work.  Reality TV plays right into that belief.  I’ve had several students that think they’re going to be singers or professional athletes when they haven’t had any real practice or training.  I could go on and on with those stories, but that’s not what I’m getting at.

I have read many books that talk about people who are successful and how they became successful.  How did they do it?  They worked at it.  They put in the time and became experts in their field.  I can’t remember the book title, but one quantified it into 10 years of study/practice/working or whatever it was to hone that skill. A few of the examples in that book were The Beatles and Bill Gates.  In both cases, 10 years of playing gigs or 10 years of computer work, paid off immensely.  And once they found success, they didn’t stop trying to get better.  Successful people are always learning and striving to improve.

When I started teaching, I knew that I had a lot to learn.  I was so glad that I could walk across the hall and get advice and ideas from a veteran teacher.  The learning curve on this job is crazy.  There is so much to learn and you are juggling so many things at once, you can barely keep your head above water. After sixteen years, I know I still have a lot to learn.  Many things are easier for me now.  My classroom management is much better.  But there are still those classes that push it to the limits.  I know the curriculum inside and out, but I’m always looking for other ways to deliver it.  I share with my colleagues and find out what works well for them.  If it sounds like something I can try, I do.  I know I don’t know it all and never pretend that I do.

Now that I’ve been around for a while, I’m one of those “older” teachers.  I’m not fresh out of school (though I do regularly take classes).  I know the realities of the job and what is important and what is not.  I can differentiate between what is good for kids and what constitutes jumping through the hoops.  My experience helps me navigate this complex job.  I have worked my way up the seniority ladder and am proud that I’ve earned it.  Now that I have earned it, there are people who want to negate it.

Our instant feedback society is now producing young adults that don’t know how long and how hard you must work to achieve success and mastery.  “The best and the brightest” is a phrase that is associated with the “young” folk.  If one has grown up with everything handed to you on a silver platter, where do you learn to value hard work?  You don’t come out of college knowing EVERYTHING.  Sorry to burst your bubble, young whipper-snappers.

The really important stuff about my job I didn’t learn in college.  I learned through experience.  You succeed.  You fail.  You learn.  There isn’t any shortcut to gaining experience.  It’s something that takes time, practice and patience.  And it’s value?  Priceless.

Red Flag Phrases

Oftentimes we find ourselves in conversations with a variety of people.  Some are very aware of what is coming out of their mouths.  Some are not.  The ones that are not, really need to be.  It’s through these seemingly minor comments and phrases that one can really tell a lot about a person.  I’m finding this more and more when others comment about my job.  The inaccurate perceptions and stereotypes come right through, as if they were waving a red flag.

He’s just teaching.

You get your summers off.

What do you do during the summer?

Aren’t you done at 2 o’clock?

I’m sure many of my teacher friends have more that they can add to the list.  Many of the comments are in regard to our “summer vacation.”  What I always say is that my summers off are planned unemployment.  I am not paid during that time.  And for that matter, I do not get holiday or vacation pay.  I only get paid for the time that I am physically at my school.

As for what I do during the summers?  First of all, I recover.  If you’re familiar with this blog, you know that I typically write in June about “coming down” from school.  I also do things in the summer that I was too tired or overwhelmed to do during the school year.  They past few summers I have taken classes.  I usually try to travel.  Sometimes I prep for the next school year.  Some years I’m doing activities with my union.  This year I’ll have board meetings to attend.  It’s kind of like asking a retiree what they do with their time.  It’s my time and I get to choose how I spend it.  Please don’t make a judgement.  It’s not your place to judge.

I’m not really into ranting on my blog.  This isn’t really a rant anyway.  But sometimes people say some really stupid things and they have no clue.  When it’s a little comment I often let it go.  It’s later, when I’m replaying the conversation in my head, that I realize how clueless the person is about teaching.

Making a comment that has a judgement aspect to it can be dangerous if you don’t know your audience. If you’re coming from a position where you are not an authority it can be very bad.  Anything that belittles someone or something should be filtered before it leaves your lips.  I’m sure there are things that I don’t know much about.  But I at least try to ask questions and don’t pretend to be an expert.  I think my filter is pretty good.  Is yours?