Saturday, February 20, 2016

Call the sub! I'm staying home!

This past week was exhausting. Four out of the seven of us were sick with flu like symptoms creating a home environment that can best be described as survivalist. There was plenty of laundry done, and insane amounts of ginger ale and toast consumed while we did our best to get the house feeling better.

And I get to use the pronoun WE, because I was there helping each and every minute. I ended up taking 3 sick days to be home to help with the all that went into taking care of my sick family. So, with Monday's holiday and my 3 sick days, I had a 1 day work week!...errr.

When I first started out teaching, taking sick leave was something I hated. I disliked being away from my classroom, because it was MY classroom. I'm in control of what happens in there, and how the kids learn. It is my responsibility to get things done, and if I'm gone, I have to trust a substitute to take over... and that never goes well.. or hardly ever! I would feel guilty for missing, and worry that it made me look bad. I mean, people don't take time away from work! It's just not natural!

I grew up watching my dad take little time away from work. He'd work long hours during the week, and would often go in on weekends. As a CFO, he was responsible for so much at the office, and that weighed on him pushing him to bust his butt at all cost. I watched that everyday, and believed that I would also spend every waking minute working while finding time here and there to make a sports game or to coach.

But over the last 10 years that I've been teaching, my views on taking time off have changed. Sure, I still know that chaos is expected when I return to my classroom. "Mr. Mach, the sub didn't know anything, and you need to reteach it all!" That my favorite pencil will be gone.. seriously.. who takes a nice mechanical pencil!!!?? And that it's really days of instruction and progress lost. That said, I have to put my family's needs first in those moments. I could have just gone to work this week, and left my wife who herself was sick alone to take care of the throwing-up kids. That would have been the best idea, if I truly didn't like being married or seeing my kids.

I have learned that taking care of my family is more important than the properties of Kites and Trapezoids in a high school geometry class. And sure, I have an important job, but using my sick leave doesn't make me a bad person. If anything, it shows my students that I value my family, and take pride in being able to help out at home. For some of the kids, that may be a more important concept to learn than that the diagonal connecting the vertex angles of a kite is the perpendicular bisector of the diagonal connecting the non-vertex angles AND is also an angle bisector to the vertex angles! Awesome info? Sure it is! But it isn't more important than the health of my family!

Now, tell me how you feel when your kid's teacher is sick and not at work. Do you take sick days from your position?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lessons from Diane Sawyer's interview with Sue Klebold

Last night, my wife and I watched Diane Sawyer's interview with Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold. For those of you that recognize the name but can't place why, Dyan was one of the "Columbine Shooters." We never intended to watch the interview. In fact, we had no idea it was even going to be on. But, being that we are parents, educators, and hobbyist sociologists (ok my wife has a minor.. I dabble), we couldn't stop ourselves from watching. 

It was clear from the first moment we laid eyes on this woman, that her life had been shattered. Just close your eyes, and think about what she has experienced. I'm sure you don't want to, because it was HER kid that did this. But that's the thing. You know how much you love your own kid or kids. How your heart just beats for them, and you do all that you think is right. But there is no manual. There is no way to know for sure, especially as we get caught up in the busy of our lives. It's overwhelming to sit in those feelings and imagine the life she has lived since that day. 

As the interview went on, there were so many emotions that we went through as we relived that day, but as parents, not as the college students we were back then. We send 4 kids to school each day. We pack their lunches, do hair, check for glasses, and load them up with, at times, just a quick "love you" & "see you after school." It's the same way many of the parents of the victims did that day, and the mornings before any of the countless school shootings since. We sat numb at the idea of that quick morning "goodbye" being the last. There is no fairness to any of it. To lose a child at a place that we trust to be safe is world shattering. It shouldn't be possible.

This feeling goes further for my wife, because she's married to a teacher. A high school teacher in a very large affluent school. I'm charged with not only educating my students in math, but also being on the front lines of student/teenage life. Any more, what is the job of a great educator? It can't be expected that we JUST teach kids content.. can it? With all that happens in the lives/development of teenagers, how can we not want our teachers to build relationships with the kids? At this point, it has to be a part of the job description. We have to expect our teachers to role models, and figures of support. NOT just content drivers, or standards enforcers. But how do we make that happen, encourage it, or even put that in a contract when all discussion is on budget cutting and the importance of STANDARDS!! 

It's crazy to know that before the shooting at Columbine, one teacher did contact Dylan's parents to let the know about a disturbing paper he had written. It was passed on to the counselor, and no further action was taken. Dylan and the second shooter, Eric, had also been arrested for felony theft. The judge gave little to no punishment. Both events were calls for help. But these signs were missed, and with the continuation of school shootings in our country, these signs occasionally still go missed. 

So, what is the takeaway from all of this? For my wife and I, it's that we can't get caught up in the bustle of our everyday to the point where we overlook the importance of special or significant little moments. That moment of "goodbye" needs to be special each day. Each hug, each worry, each bit of sadness needs to be taken with equal love & concern for each of our kiddos. But further than that, our concern and care needs to extend to the friends of our kids, to my students, to my wife's clients, and to the family we have all over. It's so easy to get caught up in money concerns, deadlines, house cleaning, laundry, or even political campaigns to the point where those little signs are written off. If anything, last night's interview was a reminder at just how important our roles as parents, teachers, and role models are each and everyday. We all have a responsibility at helping support the lives and success of each and every kid that crosses our paths. It's not that Dylan's parents failed him, it's that many of his calls for help went unnoticed by all the adults in his life. Sure his parents own a great deal of that burden, but I know that if he were one of my students, I would own the responsibility I had in overlooking the help he needed. It's my job to know my students, and to care for them beyond if they know how to use the quadratic formula or not. It's my responsibility to be great for my kids and my students. 

Now tell me what you think. Use the comments below to share your memories of that terrible day at Columbine. Did you watch Diane Sawyer's interview? Do you feel like your school is a safe place? What makes it a safe place? 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Fresh, Clear, Well Seasoned Perspective"

I'm a Pixar fan... Ok... A huge Pixar fan! So, often times scenes from those movies will pop in my head triggered by the words I just said or even events surrounding my everyday living. This past week several events caused the scene below with Mr. Ego from Ratatouille to pop into my head.

Perspective... A huge theme for my week. I've needed a good heaping serving of it to keep me grounded as the week lead me up to today, my oldest kiddo's 10th birthday! It's hard to believe that I've been a dad for 10 years. This week has given me time to reflect on what these 10 years have been for me and my family. And when I'm deep in reflection, I often play the "what if" game. What if PK was an only child..? My mind spent a lot of time on that this week. I see Facebook, and all the wonderful lifestyles of my friends with 1 or 2 kids. I fantasize at the financial comfort my wife and I would have. How her business would have grown more. How I would have not only secured my masters quicker, but maybe I'd also have an admin license. I dreamed of the house we'd have. Would we still be in Alaska? What if we stopped at 2 kids..? What if.. What if.. What if...?

Then I would sit back and take in the perspective. How could I live without any of my 5 kids? That just wouldn't be right. They are all amazing kids and I couldn't live a day without them. And who's to say that we wouldn't have endured different hardships having just had a single kiddo? Sure things have been tough, but in the last ten years, we've done so much! We've added 4 more kids, lived in 5 different homes, had vacations, weddings, earned a master's degree, started a business, started a blog, and showed our kids what living and family is all about. My wonderful 10 year old is who he is today because he is the big brother to 4. His kind, loving nature, imagination, and passion are all enhanced because of his siblings. So more perspective, how would it have been fair for him to not have his MGM, A-town, OE, and ZuZu? .. Perspective!

My second connection with perspective is truly it's own post, but fits the theme too well! So, I'll sum this part up just to keep PK's bday celebration at the center of things! Earlier this week, my wife shared with me a headline and article from the newspaper in Fairbanks, our old home. The story was about the school district looking to cut 80% of the nurses employed and working in the schools. Of course, this is being done in an attempt to trim costs in a school district that has been struggling for years now (increased class sizes, difficult contract negotiations, buildings with leaks due to trees growing on top of them).

Cut to my staff meeting this week, where I listened to the "big" worry for my school admin team... "We should have 22% of our student body eating free and reduced lunch, but year to year those numbers are going DOWN. Why aren't they filling out the paper work?" Then we got a break down of which activities the "subgroup" participates in and heard about the difficulties in trying to figure out how best to engage this group of kiddos more with sports/activities.. "...but how do we do that with say, the swim team? They have practice at 5:15am every morning!"

Perspective.. there are plenty of middle to upper class school districts doing more than fine in our country, and will continue to do more than fine while the schools of our lower to low-middle class districts will continue to fall apart. There is no fairness to this. It's time for more perspective. You can read a great article by Nate Bowling, a past teacher of the year, addressing this inequality here