Saturday, September 24, 2016

Don't Quit on the Bad (Hard) Days

Well, the honeymoon is over at school.

Three weeks in and challenging behaviors are emerging. Conflicts between kids are rising. Difficulties are everywhere.

In a way, it's kind of a relief.

Let's just get on with the issues, so we can work on them and find a way through.

On Thursday, we had one of our administrators come in and do a presentation on rules, rights, and regulations.  We go over rules and expectations the first week, but we mostly get the "deer in the headlights" look from the kids because they are just so overwhelmed  by everything.

So, the third week is about the right time to have an admin come in and go over it all again so it can really sink in.

The presentation went beautifully.  We had bilingual specialists there interpreting.  Kids were attentive and super engaged- answering and asking questions.  Being their lovely, charming selves.

"Just look at them", I thought to myself. "They are so adorable, so good."  I was really quite proud of them.

At the end of the presentation, we dismissed them.  We all agreed it had gone really smoothly and all the adults were thanked and congratulated on a job well done.

This was 2nd period.

I can't be sure but I'm pretty confident that they had a meeting between 2nd and 3rd period.

And, that the verdict was unanimous.  The decision?  They had been SO good 2nd period they would give us hell in every imaginable way the rest of the day.

Really, it was unbelievable how many problems we had the remaining five periods.

I heard myself saying things like:

"Did you learn NOTHING from the morning presentation???!!!!"

"Ugh, REALLY??!!  Didn't we just talk about THIS?!"

"Okay, THIS?! THIS is play fighting!  Which is NOT allowed!  REMEMBER??!!"

My teaching partner and I discussed the payback at the end of the day.  And, we laughed.With our heads in our hands.

Teaching, like life, is a series of ups and downs.  And, I've learned that over the years, that you should never draw too many conclusions or make any big decisions on really difficult days.


Don't quit on the bad days.  

I heard this advice listening to my current favorite podcast this week:
Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette

Nicole just completed a 460 mile solo backpacking trip on the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

She said one piece of advice she got was to never quit on a bad day.  To not abandon your entire goal and hike because of one horrible day.

Nicole said that on one of her worst days she just sat down in the middle of the trail and started sobbing.  An older day-hiking couple came upon her and they were understandably concerned.

"Just go around me.  I'm fine.  Go around.  I'm okay," she sobbed.

Don't quit on the bad days.

Nicole didn't quit that day and she finished her hike, accomplishing an impressive goal.


I have a dear friend from college who is also a teacher.  She lives in a state with deserts.  Many years ago, we were talking about bad and good days in teaching and how challenging it all is.

She told me that there is a big saguaro on the way into her neighborhood that she would pass on the way home from work every day.

If she had a good day, she would imagine the saguaro raising both its hands in the air as if to say, "Wow! Way to Go!  Touchdown!  Goal!  You did it!"

On the other hand, if she had a bad day, she would imagine the saguaro giving her the middle finger as if to say, "You suck!  Your day sucked!  Your job sucks! Your life sucks!"

This story really sent me into hysterical laughter.

And, I like to think that some days, she gave the finger right back to that saguaro and the bad day.

I don't have any saguaros where I live, but I sometimes visualize one, and even if it's the middle finger one it makes me laugh.  Don't we all sort of feel like flashing the middle finger at a bad day every now and then?

Don't quit on the bad days. 


Years ago when I was first out of college I had a job working with homeless youth. I was part of opening a new drop-in center for them that provided food, resources, and someone to talk to, a respite from the streets.

I had an awesome boss at that job who is still a friend.  We had a lot of time to talk as we built that program.  I remember him being very philosophical about a lot of things.

One thing I remember clearly that we discussed after a really difficult day.  I was referring to it as a "bad" day.  And, he said that he had a conversation with his boss recently and she had challenged that notion of "bad."

She questioned him, "Was it necessarily a "bad" day or was it just a "hard" day?

Maybe if you can reframe a "bad" day and think of it as more of a day that was hard, difficult, and challenging, your perspective on the day will shift.

One thing I know for sure is that with some students it often takes a lot of challenging and difficult interactions with them before you get to the good days.

And, with teaching, it often takes a lot of horrible lessons and activities that bomb, before you find your groove and a class flows.

For whatever reason, I've tried to stop calling days "bad" and it makes me feel better.  If a day is bad, it sounds so negative, so final, so unworkable.

But if a day is "hard", I kind of feel a little stronger at the end of the day, even if I'm exhausted.  I didn't quit.  I persevered.  I got through something hard and difficult.

And, this is how we grow, by the way.  This is how we stretch and become better.


Nicole eventually stopped crying and got up and kept hiking the PCT.

My teacher friend keeps driving by that saguaro.

My former boss and I both eventually left our jobs at the drop-in center for homeless youth.
But not on a hard day.  And, I know we're both proud of what we did to create and build that space for kids who really needed it.

And, I'll go back on Monday.  Ready for whatever the day brings.

Don't quit on the hard days.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Speaking Up

Last year, one of the refugee families we work with was featured in one of our state's major newspapers.  I knew it was coming.  The kids had been late to school the previous day and had excitedly told us all about being interviewed and photographed for a news story.

That weekend I found the article on the front page.  It was really well-written and moving.  It outlined their comfortable middle-class life before their country went to war.  Then the reporter went on to describe the terror of their city and home being bombed and the family's brave but only possible decision to flee.  They left with almost nothing and walked a long way to get to safety, careful to walk only at night so they wouldn't be shot.

After a few years of limbo in another country, they were lucky enough to be able to come here to the U.S.  Their life here has been hard.  The dad walked miles to interview for a job.  It's been disorienting to get used to a new language and a new culture.  They have to be strong for their kids who were traumatized by their experiences. But, they are adapting and they are so grateful for this new life.

My heart swelled with admiration and love as I finished the article.  I looked at the lovely photos of the humble family and I felt satisfied that so many others would know their story as I knew it.  So, my senses momentarily left me as I scrolled down to the comments.

I forgot about the Internet trolls and the haters and the mean people.  I thought a story like this would be a breakthrough in how people viewed this group of refugees.   I felt so moved that I expected to see lovely supportive comments.

There were a few, but the majority were extremely ugly.  One even said that they looked like a bunch of terrorists.

I looked back at the photos of the family of seven huddled on a beat-up sofa in a run-down apartment. I looked at the adorable little children.  I burst into laughter at the notion that these people could be terrorists.

And, then I started to cry.  Hot, angry tears first.  How dare they!!  They didn't know this family like I did.

And, then the tears turned to tears of real sadness and hurt.  How could you not be moved by this story?  Where is the humanity?  Where is the kinship with our fellow human beings?

I thought briefly about answering every one of those mean-spirited trolls.  I would eviscerate them, humiliate them.  Or, I would appeal to heir humanity, their innate human goodness.

Suddenly I felt exhausted.  So exhausted by this battle that has always been a part of my work.  I closed the computer and went and got a hug from Mr. Husband.


I didn't answer those comments in the newspaper that Sunday, but I have made Speaking Up on behalf of refugees and immigrants an integral part of my life's work.  

It's often awkward and uncomfortable, but I can't NOT do it anymore. 

Refugees, immigrants and Muslims are major issues of political contention these days in our country and in our world.  I am still shocked at the casual insults thrown around... about people.  Our fellow human beings.

I think part of the reason so many people are able to talk like this is that they are nameless and faceless to them.  Every time I hear a cruel comment about a Mexican or a Syrian or a Muslim, I want to ask the simple question, "Do you know any Mexicans or Syrians or Muslims?  Because  I do.  And, do you have a minute for me to tell you about these people?"

"It's hard to demonize people you know."  says, Father Greg Boyle.  Father Greg is one of my living heroes.  He works with the poor and the marginalized in the most challenged parts of Los Angeles.    He helps gang members find their way to a different kind of living.

So, now when I hear comments, I confront them.  I talk about my experience with refugees and immigrants.  I try to educate.  And, even though it's tempting, I try really hard not to be cruel or demeaning.  I try to follow Michelle Obama's advice when she says, "When they go low, we go high."

Sometimes the comments have a special hurt because they come in situations or from places or from people that I don't think have any business holding these hostilities

Like the people whose own ancestors were refugees and immigrants once in the U.S.  Hello, most everyone!!!

Like the weekly church goers who show up every Sunday yet say the meanest, most unkind things about their fellow human beings.

Or educators and school staff.  Yes, this happens.

I've heard things like this said about my students over the years:

-They are all so lazy.

-Why are they even in my class?

-I always get stuck with your kids.

It's not easy, but here is what I try to do.

I speak up.  I am trying so hard to be kind and calm these days in the face of these challenges.

 I speak up.  I try to have the most generous view I can of the person in front of me.  I think about how maybe they are just really uncomfortable or fearful.

I speak up.  Sometimes I ask gentle questions or give suggestions for working with newcomers to the country, ignoring the nastiness of the comment.

I speak up.  I talk about how amazing and strong the kids are.  I say they need time and patience to adjust.

I speak up.  One of the main reasons I write this blog is to tell the real stories of the refugees and immigrants I work with every day.

I speak up.

I think Father Greg has it so right when he talks about the notion of kinship.  When we think we are separate from other humans- this is when the problems begin. This is where humanity breaks down.

Father Greg explains the true meaning of  kinship here:

"No daylight to separate us.  Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

I brought the newspaper article about our refugee family to class the next day.  We read parts of it to the class.

My teaching partner, a refugee once herself, told the kids how she understood their journey.  She started to cry.  I started to cry.  A lot of the kids started to cry.  There were hugs among the tears and pats on the back.

And, my outrage and depression from the previous day dissipated.  I looked at our beautiful children crying together and comforting each other, and my heart filled.

Kinship- We were living it in that moment.

Let's all speak up and remember the fundamental human truth that Mother Teresa reminded us of.

"We belong to each other."