Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Monday Night Flag Football

For the past several weeks our oldest son has been playing in a flag football league. It has been so amazing watching him and his team grow together to learn a sport that, well clearly they weren't born to play. That may not sound fair, but to paint the picture think of a team that lacks raw talent and is kind of on the nerdy side. Something out of a Rick Moranis youth football movie (you know you saw that movie!). They are super cute and fun to watch. Especially the team spirit. The high-fives as each squad runs on and off the field just makes this daddio smile! They have so much fun, even as they watch other team score.. And score some more.

And while all that is enjoyable, the part I appreciate most is the sportsmanship shown from the coaches of the other teams we're playing. There is no running up the score; there is no teasing, or taunting. Instead, I see the coaches making the game work for both teams.  They take players off to give our team a little advantage. These coaches show care in talking with their teams to stress sportsmanship to the point where our team receives cheers for "big" plays from everyone including the players on the opposing team.

The result of all this is that our team is getting better. They still come to the games ready to work hard and keep trying. They don't "expect" to loose or get special treatment. They are there to figure out this game and get better. Our coach and the other teams' coaches are all chipping in to make that happen. So as our season is winding down I know that my boy is better and more confident from the experience. He can even say that he caught a TD and threw for a TD in the same game! I also know that he values good sportsmanship and doing the right thing not because it means he gets an "advantage," but because everyone walks away feeling better.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Teacher Dad : Parenting for Change

I'm a 37 year old white father of twin bi-racial 4 year old boys. I couldn't be any more proud of that fact. They are 2 of my 5 kids all of whom I love dearly. Our mixed race family turns heads everywhere we go, mostly because we are super cute! But also because we are clearly a loving family.

When my wife and I decided to add to our family through adoption we knew the responsibility we would have in raising our soon to be diverse family. We talked about the challenges that our boys could face as Black Americans, but then again we also discussed the challenges our daughters will face, and the overall hurdles we as parents will face in raising all of kids. Being a parent is challenging work regardless of family make-up. 

Our goal is to raise strong independent thinkers that can show empathy and compassion for all types of people. Kids that can follow rules, but also know when a rule needs to be reevaluated and challenged. We encourage our kids to feel, think, and question.

So, as I sift through the recent events surrounding the death of Freddie Grey in Baltimore, I'm asking myself what I would be saying to my boys if they were older. How would I try to explain to them what happened, and what has been a pattern of "happenings" in recent years towards black males?

And it's super hard. Because I'll have to explain to my suburban American kids that life isn't "fair" to everyone in our country. That there are some kids born into homes that don't have the same support and love that they do.There are kids born into families that live in places where opportunity is different, where schools are not like the ones they go to. That there isn't a choir class, or iPads, or arts & theater, or a library with new books every year. It's hard for me to have to explain that there are people that don't think it's fair to help these kids and families because they feel by helping we are only furthering a problem. That help equals dependency, and it's not okay to help people that will just then rely on that help.

I know that when I say these things the response will be, "why?" "Why are kids not being treated fairly?" "Why are there schools that don't have the same things my school does?" "Why do their families not have the same opportunity?" "Why do people feel that way about kids and families in that community?"

They are going to ask all of the right questions.  And I'll have to explain to them that it's history. That there has been a history of segregating the have nots from the haves. That while our country was founded on the idea of all men being created equal, it hasn't been practiced by everyone. I see that I'll have to look into the eyes of my kids and explain that because 4 of them fall into a "minority" subclass, that they might find a tougher road. And that's simply because of skin color or gender. That our country has a history of stereotyping people just on looks alone.

I think of all of this, and I struggle with the idea that in 8 years when my boys are 12, that all of this could still be going on. That 8 years later we could still see areas of extreme poverty in our country. That we could still hear the same "just work harder" banter. That when my kids finally do ask "why" I'll have no better answers than I do today.

A colleague recently asked me about our decision to move to this community. A community that is noticeably less diverse than our previous Fairbanks, AK home. Did it play into consideration? Sure. It was a worry to know that our boys could be even more of a minority in this town. But, I also explained that since moving here we've connected with other families like ours, and that while we are not the norm, we are cared for. Does that mean things will be easy when our boys are bigger? No. No it doesn't. Their mom and I will have to put a strong emphasis on the importance of first impressions. On how to be mindful of surroundings and the situations they put themselves in. We'll have to talk about tone and the power it has in positive communication. The truth is we'll have to do this with all of our kids, because it's true for each of them. 

In the end, I know that they won't be totally alone in that they will always have the love from each other, their siblings, extended family, their friends, and of course their mom and me. We're so proud of the little men they're becoming and regardless of the life struggles put in front of them, this loving support team will always be there. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Teacher Dad : Teacher Appreciation Week

My last bite from day 2 leftovers! 
The other day our student council decided to get the staff a Chinese food lunch for teacher appreciation week. How awesome is that, right?! The funny thing is that when you get things catered and people have specific lunch schedules things have to be timed correctly. Well, it turned out that the food didn't get to school soon enough, and the teachers with the first lunch period missed out on the food completely. Not a big deal, because the amazing admins, students, and staff made sure to get plates of food to those that missed out.

But the entire issue got me thinking, and I realized that what happened in our building is a good picture of how things work for teachers across the US. Ultimately, what some teachers have available to them depends greatly on where their lunch falls (or where they teach). There are some schools out there with unlimited resources at their disposal, including parent volunteers, booster moneys, P/D funds, and technology devices. While others work in places that require them to spend out of pocket for nearly everything they need in the classrooms. There are schools where parents are begged to help on field trips, and all extra-curricular activities are funded at bare-bones unless they are strictly academically focused (i.e. you won't find a bowling team at these schools). These are the schools where the teachers weren't even offered a lunch!

I happen to work at the school with the best lunch schedule. You name we've got it, and if not.. we can write a quality grant and get it. We are super supported by an amazing community, and everyone around knows it. And, what amazes me is that I run into teachers that don't realize the great lunch schedule we have. "Lunch wasn't warm enough" (class size), "wanted chicken fried rice not pork" (kids not doing homework), "the seats aren't massaging" (teacher pay). And while those are all solid issues in the world of academics, there are teachers in the other lunch that don't even have a microwave to heat up the food brought from home! It is so easy to take things for granted, and educators are no different.

There are days that I wish all teachers would have to teach in a variety of different environments, so that we can all have a taste of what it's like some place else. I've had the privilege of teaching in 3 different schools in two different districts. I've seen a lot of things that have helped me shape my views on public education, and have helped me to appreciate a great thing when I've found it. I see the need to advocate for educational change and equality. But without a common voice, its hard to fight for change. Especially, when we do try and all it sounds like it teachers wanting more money or other negative headlines take over.

So, if you're reading this, and you haven't yet, please contact your kiddo's teachers and thank them for doing what they do. Sure, some of them might not be the best teacher your kiddo could have. You may not even like them. But the truth is, you don't know which lunch they might have at school or in life. And while, a quality teacher can leave all that aside to be the best they can be for the students, some just might need a pick me up that a "thanks, you're appreciated" message could bring to their day. So to my fellow teachers out there fighting the good fight.. I appreciate you!