I’m a Libtard

“Stop living in fear,” he shouted as I returned to my car. “Libtard!”

It was Friday morning, and I had just stopped for gas before leaving for work. I decided to go into the convenience store and grab a drink to take with me, and that must have been when I provoked the exchange. It was early, but the store was busy with customers grabbing their coffee and other supplies to get through their Friday duties. We were a mix of masked and unmasked customers. I did my best to stay more than six feet from any customer–especially the unmasked variety–and I chose the line with the cashier who chose to wear her mask properly instead of the other who wore it tucked under her chin.

Eyes reveal a lot, and I must have communicated some nonverbal disapproval earlier. Maybe he noticed my intentional distancing while inside the building, and he was offended. Perhaps he noticed my choosing the longer line to avoid the cashier with her mouth and nose fully exposed to customers. Most likely, however, it was my mask. Far too many people consider it has a symbol of fear instead of a sign of trusting science and an effort to protect self and others.

Libtard, I thought as I drove away. That’s a word I haven’t heard for some time. I don’t like labels, but I don’t let them, how erroneously they might be derived, define me. I’ve become accustomed to being mislabeled throughout my life. Honestly, I can easily brush off the current preferred pejoratives snowflake, boomer, and Karen. I even occasionally embrace an epithet or two.

I don’t, however, appreciate the efforts to make Kevin the male equivalent of Karen,
but that is a topic for another day. 

The Other KLM

We like to blame our uncivil discourse and name calling on social media, but our national problem has a long history leading up to today. I will begin in the ‘80s–a time that saw a drastic changes socially and politically. Mass media was evolving, and AM radio was in a dramatic decline. Listeners were switching to FM stations for their listening pleasure, and the AM radio channels were struggling. In 1987, the FCC approved a repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, and that led to the birth of conservative talk radio, and our civil discourse has dramatically changed as a result.

In the beginning, we saw the kindler, gentler conservatives who already had significant followings, such as Paul Harvey, become centerpieces of building the talk radio format that we see today. It wasn’t until Rush Limbaugh came into the picture, however, that the movement became a prominent force that changed politics in the United States. Limbaugh was controversial, brash and unapologetic, and his audiences loved it. 

More liberal-leaning personalities attempted to match that success with progressive talk radio, but they were unable capture audiences and advertising revenue the conservative radio personalities did. 

Technology has evolved, and we now have streaming services that bring us a more diverse group of thought leaders. Unfortunately, it seems like the more extreme and divisive voices are, the more successful they are at building large, loyal audiences. 

Because of this, we have become a less kind and less gentle society. The Internet is full of memes and animated gifs singularly intent on trolling others. A simple web search will reveal hundreds of websites that sell t-shirts or bumper stickers to own the oppostion. You will find thousands podcasts and video channels to support your personal biases. Division has become an easy way for people to earn a living, and we are currently experiencing an existential crisis because of it. 

I soon forgot the early Friday morning exchange. Working with students helps center my thoughts and emotions. I realized later, however, that the combination of my t-shirt and face mask must have triggered the stranger’s comments. It wasn’t until a co-worker mentioned she liked my shirt. I looked down to see the words BE KIND in bold white letters. Two words. According to both political extremes, those two words are considered a sign weakness. We must destroy the opposition, they say, and we must do it at all costs

Are we beyond kindness? It requires empathy. Developing empathy requires effort. We must talk with people, and we must do it by practicing active listening. We must listen to understand, break out of our comfort zones, explore the hearts of people with different beliefs and question our own

The Other KLM

We need to demand better from our thought-leader celebrities, and we must lead by example. It’s too easy to resort to the easy online cheap shot when confronting disagreements. I do it. I commit to be better and provide stronger examples of how we can build bridges instead of dig deeper trenches. We must be better. Our survival depends on it.

The Grasshopper and the Ant

The Grasshopper spent all summer long
Performing for friends her festive song.
When winter wind began to bite,
Not one humble morsel was within sight.
No beetle, no fly, no trifling grub;
Just famished, barren bellies for her to rub.

She wailed to the Ant concerning her mess,
Of encountering her cupboards with so much less
Than what her neighbor claimed for storage.
“Perhaps you can spare some of your forage,”
The Grasshopper invoked a meager handout.
“Just enough to outlast this wintry bout.”

The Ant was disinclined to be so charitable
And impart spare food from his bounteous table.
“You chirped all summer from morning to night;
Am I to nourish you in your blight?”
The Ant ordered his neighbor to go her way
And languish through what she brought to bay.

Author’s Note: I wrote this fable into a poem for a book of emergency lesson plans I helped compile with a teacher friend, Michelle Clark several years ago. What was surprising, after testing the lesson plan that accompanied this poem was the discussion students had about personal responsibility vs. charity. It was one of the happy accidents that resulted from this project.

You can get a copy of A Likely Story at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Students Succeed When They Read at Home

Note: I wrote this for a different blog in August 2019. It was one of my most popular posts, I decided to post it here so it wouldn’t be lost.

I’m two weeks into the new school year, and we have completed loads of activities with my students to assess what needs to be done to make sure that those trusted to my classroom grow at acceptable levels. One startling reality I face each year is this: an increasing number of students insist they don’t read.

Each fall I search for better ways to encourage reading, and each fall I find one or two strategies that reach a few extra students. I’m faced with the reality, however, that the best way to encourage reading is by changing what children see and do in their own homes. So, I ask myself, what can I do to encourage reading is an activity that is encouraged and honored in the homes my students return to after a day at school?

“To learn to read is to light a fire” — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

I can’t control what happens in other people’s homes, but I can share what my parents did to develop a love of reading.

  1. Parents read to their children

    My earliest memories include my parents reading to me. My mother always read a story before we went to bed each night, and my siblings and I looked forward to that activity. She would let each one of the children select their favorite book to read, and I often picked my favorite, Lyle, Lyle, the Crocodile.

    I won’t discuss the data now, but research proves parents who read to their infant and toddler children build cognitive and vocabulary advantages in their children over those whose parents don’t do the same. If you are reading this and just starting a family, read to your children; give them that early advantage.
  1. Parents let their children see them read

    My city had two daily newspapers, and both were delivered at various times to our home. The afternoon newspaper was delivered on weekdays and the morning paper on the weekends. My father would read the afternoon paper before our family had dinner and wake up early on the weekends to stay caught up on current events. We saw him reading every day.

    I feel like the most important thing my father did, however, is turn reading into a family activity. While we were young, he would read the comic strips out loud to us. As we got older and learned how to read on our own, Dad would hand out different sections of the newspaper so that we could each have something to read. We would trade sections as we completed our reading.

    Unfortunately, fewer and fewer homes have traditional newspapers delivered on a daily basis. I’ll admit, I have converted to reading local and national newspapers online. Parents could share that love of reading on a computer, but it doesn’t match the connection the touch and the smell of newsprint brought to my family when I was young.
  1. Parents take their children to the library

    My parents took our family to the local public library once every two weeks. It was exciting to see all of the books that could be borrowed and taken home for my own reading pleasure. I knew that I was finally a big kid when I got my own library card and the privilege to check out books on my own.

    I was embarrassed and disappointed when I didn’t return a book by its due date. I think I owed 35¢, and I had to pay it out of my own pocket. That was a lesson in personal responsibility that I will never forget; thank goodness I never lost or damaged a library book. 

Helping students become confident independent readers is key for increased success at school, and parents are the main influence in developing confident young readers. I’m sure I will revisit this topic again and share other ways my parents raised six children who all love to read. In the meantime, please drop a comment about your own experiences reading in the home.

Beware of Burnout

Photo by Yan on Pexels.com

Last fall, pre-pandemic, I wrote a blog post asking why I come home so tired after a day of teaching. I was hoping to get some answers from other teachers to avoid burnout. Of course, I need to figure out a better way to build an online audience and engage everyone in discussing ideas. That, however, can be a topic of another day.

Fast forward 11 months, and the teaching profession faces a far-more critical crisis. We are in danger of collectively burning out within the first months of the new academic year. Labor Day weekend, for example, I read a friend’s social media post. She awoke at 4:00 a.m. resigned to spending her holiday weekend grading papers, creating video content for the upcoming week, and recording personalized feedback for her IB students. I applaud the dedication, but I worry about her emotional and physical well-being.

“Remember to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.” —Unknown

Teaching is a noble profession, but why are willingly sacrifice our personal lives for it?

We need to reclaim our lives. The first step is to take all weekends off. Completely. Do things that make you happy. Blogging, for example is a hobby that I have sacrificed for my job. I am finding renewed energy when I write.

I have had some good Me Time so far this weekend. I woke up early and took a quiet walk through the neighborhood. I sat on my porch and read while waiting for today’s sunrise. I will enjoy this weekend, and I will not allow myself to feel guilty for leaving my lesson planning and grading at school.

We are in the education for the students, but we are also creating bad working conditions for ourselves. Resentment creeps deeper into teacher conversations. Colleagues are stressed out, and I worry about what will happen when they break. We will not be available for our students if we continue in this dangerous direction. It needs to stop. 

How we can collectively look out for one another? How are you avoiding burnout? How do you balance your teacher life and your personal life? Post your comments. I want to hear from you.

Check out some of my poetry about similar topics: Frayed and Fatigued, Receptacle, House cleaning.

Seeking Golden Moments

My colleagues and I recently finished our first full week of collaborating and planning for the upcoming school year. As I left home each morning, I exited the neighborhood and headed west for school. I would occasionally glance in the rearview mirror to witness sky-filled splashes of copper, lavender, crimson, and blue as the sun began to peek over the majestic mountain range to the east.

It’s a shame that we miss out on so many sunrises throughout the school year. We rush to school when it’s dark. The first lessons of the day begin even before the sun appears, and far too many sleepy eyes are struggling to stay alert. Our busy schedules force us to miss one of the day’s most brilliant moments.

I made a midweek commitment to take time for sunrises. Today, I fulfilled that personal promise. I exited my neighborhood onto that same road I drive daily to a park located on a high point on the west side of the valley. A crew of masked cross country athletes were stretching before a morning run in the distance as I searched for a secluded east-facing bench to begin my new morning ritual.

A refreshing draft carried the muffled voices of athletes through the faint campfire-scented air as they collectively counted down their pre-run stretches. I found a secluded bench to sit and wait for the day’s smoky-salmon sun to surface. 

Far too often, the west’s most spectacular sunrises and sunsets are caused by wildfires. The smoke in the air was that day’s proof. Mother Earth, however, knows how to create calm amidst chaos. 

While school start times remain beyond control for most teachers, we should seek golden moments for our students. Think about what it would mean as science, art, history, or English teachers to face east with our students for a few minutes in the morning. We could study the juxtaposition of destruction and creation, learn about the science of colors and light, or measure the angles of shadows in relation to the sun’s position in the sky.

This theory is still percolating in my mind, but I believe carefully-planned golden moments to start the day could transform education. What better way could we introduce mindfulness to our students? I am going to test out my theory this year. Who’s with me?

If you are a teacher and have ideas on how we can create golden moments and build mindfulness in ourselves and our students. Feel free to share your thoughts here.