Remembering Faith Elizabeth

Remembering Faith Elizabeth

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It Takes a Village


I have to write about something tonight that is close to my heart. And that is on my last nerve...bad combination.

I am a teacher. I think I'm a pretty good teacher, by all accounts. Positive administrative reviews, students that learn and seem to like me, and good working relationships with my colleagues. I'm a pretty good teacher - but I'm not perfect. Every single day there are things that I wish I was doing better. I wish I was more patient with a child; I wish I was more organized with a lesson; I wish I was more confident with a particular topic or subject. Even though I've been teaching for 12 years (yes, mom, that's right) and have become a solid veteran teacher, I always believe that there is something for me to learn to do better...because I believe that's what a good teacher does. Good teachers are constantly changing and adapting our craft to better meet the needs of our students. So - here's my issue...two words -

Education. Nation.

That is the NBC News sponsored summit that was in New York earlier this week to address the crisis of public education in this country. All of this ties in to recent press about a new movie being released called "Waiting for 'Superman'" that profiles in a documentary the state of public education in this country - which most of us will agree needs some serious help. I agree with that. But here's where I get a little bit annoyed - everyone is busy BLAMING someone else for the state of our failing schools and our failing system. And the people catching the vast majority of that blame are the teachers and the administrators. Everywhere I turn this week I'm hearing about "bad and ineffective teachers" and "failing schools" and "accountability." Let me be very, very clear about something...

I have no problem with teacher accountability. And, by the way, good teachers want the bad teachers gone, too. They make me look bad and make my job harder. Of course I should be accountable - to my students, their parents, my colleagues, my administrators, and myself. But my accountability and success as a teacher SHOULD NOT and CANNOT be limited to one state standardized test. Test scores go up - I must have done well; test scores go down - I must be a bad teacher. Huh? When did 180 days and 2000 hours of work come down to ONE DAY of testing? Who else in the world is assessed on their job performance based on one day? And since when are the teachers and the schools the ONLY ones responsible for the way a student learns? I thought that it takes a village...

Here's my problem with all of this conversation about failing schools, bad teachers, and a crisis in education. No one is talking about the parts of a student's life that are outside of school - like parents.

Don't misunderstand me - I am not "blaming" parents. What I am saying is that if I am held responsible for what I do during the time I'm with them, why aren't parents held responsible for the time they are with their children? For helping their child learn and be a part of their child's education? I know from 12 years of experience that great, involved parents will make a world of difference for a child.

All of the press about Education Nation and "Waiting for 'Superman'" are talking to parents who clearly care and are highly involved in their child's education. No one is talking to the parents who let their children fend for themselves and aren't around - and we all know they exist. What about those children? A child needs support outside of the four walls of a school - and without it, success is immeasurably more difficult.

It has been said that "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, I'm a part of the village. But so are the children, the parents, the bus drivers, the principals, the coaches. A child spends 7 or 8 hours a day at school - and then they leave my world and go home to theirs. Some don't eat again until they come to school the next morning for breakfast. Some go home to care for younger siblings so their single parent can work three jobs to keep food on the table. Some are living in a 1 bedroom apartment with 10 people. Some don't have heat and electricity because the bill hasn't been paid. Some have no adult supervision and run the streets until they decide to go to bed at midnight. Some are watching drug abuse and violence as though it's normal. Yet I am held accountable for ALL of this when they show up and, understandably, can't focus on learning.

If it takes a village, then the village is failing. Children who truly have a whole village around them - good teachers, good administrators, involved and caring parents - will undoubtedly succeed. What do YOU think happens to the children who live in a village where the chief is absent and the medicine men are ineffective?

That's what I thought.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mom's Night Out

When I was a kid, my mom was a stay at home mom. She left the workforce when I was born and didn't return for 12 years, when Di was entering kindergarten. We moved a lot, so my parents didn't get a lot of "date nights." It wasn't until we lived in Aurora, CO that they found people that they were willing to leave us with for a night or a weekend. While we lived there, my mom joined a "Mom's Night Out" group. As a kid, I simply knew that once a month (I think on a Monday night), my mom left us in my dad's capable hands so that she could go out with her friends for an evening and have dinner. I accepted that - dad managed fine - and that was that. As I got older, mom used to tell me that her "Mom's Night Out" was cheaper than a psychiatrist. I'm not sure I got that when I was 12, but I do now.

Fast forward 20 years and here I am.

Tonight I went to my version of "Mom's Night Out." Coincidentally, we all are mothers. More importantly, I find such joy and laughter with this group of friends. We all know each other in the group through someone else in the group. We're like the real life version of "Six Degrees of Separation." It's kind of what we are - friends connected by one other person in the group. We meet once a month to talk about a book for a "Book Club." At least, we call it a "book club."

Truthfully - we talk about the book for 10 or 15 minutes and then gab about life and drink wine/ beer for the rest of the evening. We cackle over the funny things that have happened in our life, we listen to the frustrations, and we enjoy each other's company.

I am not close with everyone there, but I am friendly with them all. Some are friendships that are connected through another person, and though I enjoy their company, they aren't all independent friendships. But here's the interesting thing - when our "book club" was out of commission for a few months and we didn't meet - I truly missed them. All of them. I talked to a few of them independently, but found I missed the group together, because together our dynamic is truly...well...heart - lifting. I sat tonight, in the very pleasant fall evening, on this restaurant's patio having a glass of wine and felt lifted. Lifted up. Tracy sat next to me and cackled like only Tracy can. The conversation ranged from the book to sex to a husband's obnoxious behavior to a new baby to potty training to school/work and everything in between. And as I sat I realized what my mom meant all those years ago: this really is cheaper than a psychiatrist.

A couple glasses of wine and a couple of hours with friends later I feel like a much less stressed version of myself. Some of us are teachers, some of us are not - some of us have a long history together, and some of us are more recent. But it is incredibly relaxing to just be with a group of friends that make you feel better - and don't charge a $30 copay! I hope you all are as lucky as I am.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Walking on Crutches

I am getting a bit of a slow start this morning. Sarah and I have our "date" to get pedicures and then we're going to go pick up the shirts for the SHARE Walk for Remembrance and Hope that is October 2. We will be walking to remember Faith and all of the other babies lost too soon. But as I said, I'm getting a bit of a slow start on this day.

Last night, I crashed a bachelor party. Okay - not really. But I did show up to one to pick up my lovely husband so he did not have to drive home. And it was not the gaggle of debauchery that you might imagine. They were at a casino being boys, so my presence was not all that cumbersome. I actually ended up staying for awhile with Jamie and we learned to play Roulette - and actually walked away with a whopping $16 more than we started with. All in all, a good night. And I learned that when you know what you're doing at a gambling table, it's actually pretty good entertainment! So we had a very late night - later than I can think of in recent memory - and now I'm trying to caffeinate myself into being productive today and making my date with Sarah.

As part of my groggy "join the land of the living" process this morning, I began checking some of the blogs I follow and was thrilled to see that Angie Smith had posted something new! (See the "Bring the Rain" link on the sidebar.) I love her voice in her writing and I almost always take something away from what she has to say. Her blog was the first one that I found and began reading when we received Faith's diagnosis, so it holds a special place in my heart. Angie Smith simultaneously makes me laugh and cry and think, all while simply talking about her life and her struggle to live wholeheartedly and joyfully, even after losing their infant daughter in 2008. She is a Christian woman married to a man that is a member of a Christian band, so her faith and spirituality are common in her writing. Today she talked about the story of Lot, which is essentially about listening to God's plan for moving forward and not looking back (or at least, that's what I took from her message.) I am, by no means, an expert at Biblical stories.

It's about trusting that you have to look ahead and leave behind you what is behind you. It's not about forgetting it, but it is about trusting that there is something in front of you that is worth moving forward for and that trusting God means leaving behind you what you must. Sometimes this is incredibly difficult to do and to believe. I even expressed to Jamie the other night that sometimes I feel guilty if I'm having an "okay" day and feeling pretty good. I worry that it means I'm forgetting or "moving on," even when I know that forgetting is an impossibility and "moving on" is a phrase that has a whole new meaning. He wryly laughed and assured me that would not happen - and I know that it won't. I know that to us, "moving on" simply means that we keep going. It means we find a way to weave Faith into the life we have without her because we believe that there is something else awaiting us. So, we talk about her and do things to remember her, like the walk in October - all the while doing it with a hole inside our hearts.

I've heard it said that when you have a child it's as though a piece of your heart is walking around outside your body. What a profound sentiment - and very true. Jamie and I feel that everyday - that a piece of our hearts is missing because it belongs to Faith. It is with her and will always be. To us, no matter what else this life brings, no matter how much good we have - we will always be doing it with a missing piece. Our family pictures will always have a hole in them; they will always feel incomplete to us. So, how do we trust that we must keep walking forward? I'm not sure I have this one figured out yet - I just know that some days we do this with a skip, and other days we do it as though we're walking on crutches. But, we trust and so we do - and we do it with the spirit of Faith in our hearts. Because now that's where she resides - in our hearts and in our dreams and in our memories.

Despite my groggy start to the day, I feel like today I might walk a little lighter. No hobbling today - today I will skip because I choose to.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Being brave

I have been called strong. I know that - but not for the reasons people think. Yes, surviving the loss of our daughter has strengthened me. But I knew I was strong even before that. A friend told me last year, in the midst of some stress and frustrations at work, "You are fearless." This was in response to the fact that I had, again, opened my mouth and expressed my opinion about something. I know - that will shock those that know me.

Yeah, not so much.

So, I told someone what I thought, expressed my opinion (which, by the way, many people shared but few were saying) and went about my merry way. I was polite and professional. Another skill I apparently possess - the ability to say what I think without being rude. Well, most of the time. It's called tact, people. Many people, both personally and professionally, have shared that they often are afraid to say what they think for fear of what someone else will say or do in return. I have never possessed that fear.

You can blame my parents.

See, not once in 33 years has it EVER occured to me that someone wouldn't want to hear what I have to say.

I'm only half-kidding.

First, I was raised by parents (who my sisters and I affectionately call "fringe" people) who, shockingly, listened to what we had to say as though it was valuable and worth their time. Even when we were barely able to put together a sentence. Hmmm...what a concept. Not to be confused with always doing what we wanted or agreeing with us or even "giving in" to our demands; rather, they taught us that our opinion was important and worth listening to, even if we didn't get what we wanted in the end. They demonstrated to us that what we had to say had worth - no matter what decision was made, we were raised to believe that we were important enough to be listened to. So, that's what I've always believed.

Then I graduated from college and got hired as a new teacher, where, I had a principal that had the same philosophy. She truly had an open-door policy and always listened to what we had to say - no matter what decision she ultimately made I always felt like I'd been taken seriously and that my voice had worth. I also had an assigned mentor that was so much like my mother it was eerie - and she continued to train me well to say exactly what I thought - in a tactful and professional way - no matter who the audience that was listening.

You can see that getting me to sit back and be quiet has been a challenge for those around me. Thankfully, not many have tried. In fact, I'd like to believe that most people who know me love me for this quality. They always know where they stand.

All of this goes back to the idea that my friend shared with me, "You are fearless." Well, I never thought about myself like that. She was referring to the fact that I so "bravely" expressed my opinion. My reply to her was, "I'm fearless - not wreckless." Like many, I need my job. Like most, we can't afford for me to lose my job. I know my boundaries, my limits - and more importantly, I truly do know when to stop talking. Really - I do. And so, sometimes, I do.

More importantly, I know what's important. I have learned this lesson - in ways that are hard and painful. I have learned, because of my beautiful daughter, that I'm not going to waste my time on things that ultimately do not matter. I know what my priorities are and I continue to learn how to balance when to be "fearless" and when to stop. I have been given the opportunity to see through a different lense - that life is more than what I wish for. Jamie and I haven't stopped wishing and hoping - but I think that when we are at our best, strongest and most fearless, is when we take in what is immediately in front of us. When we stop longing for what "should" be and missing the life we "should" have, we find that we appreciate more wholeheartedly the life we DO have - right now. Today. Because despite the sadness and the hardship we could dwell on - and we have had more than our share - we also have a lot of good. We have become fearless through what life has given us. I do not wish our path on anyone - but I wish the lessons we have learned on all of you. They are the lessons that life is about - and they are the lessons that make life worth living for. May you all be so blessed.