Stop Trash Talking Teachers

“If you can’t get a job, become a teacher. If you can’t teach, teach PE.”

A student told me a joke that he heard from his dad. Teachers get a bad rap.

Too many people see teaching as the fall back venue when more profitable career choices fail. No one ever enters the field for the pay, yet critics argue that overpaid teachers have too many vacation days.

Though poor teaching exists, do not dis teachers in front of me. My grandparents, parents, sisters, sister-in-laws, and many high school and college classmates dedicated their lives to educating youth.

Teachers give back to society with no string attached. My grandparents offered free room and board to athletes unable to afford college tuition, my parents provided meals before and after games, rides to and from extracurricular activities; and every summer, my sisters and I exchange professional development strategies.

teaching in the streets of Obernai (Alsace, France)

teaching in the streets of Obernai (Alsace, France)

Every teacher I know has lain awake at 4 am, wondering how to inspire students to calculate faster, write more accurately and read more comprehensively.

Each year, I learn how to teach another concept, in a new way, with the latest, greatest tech aid. All of which are programmed to DELETE personal contact at a time when society is moving so fast, few have time to attend to the real needs of the next generation of kids. Then once we alter everything, some guru of education develops a new groundbreaking theory that looks exactly like the model we used a decade ago.  In the end, like my mom knows, “everything I need to know, I really learned in kindergarten.”

Teachers may be our last link to kids, who are becoming increasingly more in sync with electronics and less tuned in to human beings.

Teachers are often blamed for society’s shortcomings, from children’s lower IQs and falling test scores, to lack of social skills. When the family disintegrates, the school is expected to pick up the slack by developing the children’s self-esteem and social graces that are no longer acquired in our homes and neighborhoods.

Cushy job? Summers off? Holidays a go-go? Teachers I know give up weekends, work late nights and put in overtime without pay. They do homework, grade papers on weekends, counsel kids during their planning time and coach on weeknights.

How does one measure the value of a good teacher? What test score reflects the life of every child successfully nurtured into adulthood through the guidance of an educator? TLC does not count on appraisals. No one is paid extra for kindness. Yet the teachers, who shaped my life, took the time to wipe away children’s tears, to console troubled adolescents and to stand in for kids when others couldn’t.

Ask a grown child who was the most significant mentor in their lives outside of family members, they will name a teacher or a coach.

My son, a senior at one of the Midwest’s best academic colleges, is studying to be a teacher. Yet teacher’s pension programs are depleted, salaries blocked, and stress levels are at an all time high. I applaud his career choice, for the greater the social instability, economic distress and global strive, the more our world need more bright, capable, caring teachers.

Teachers never get enough credit for the great lengths they go to to motivate kids!

Check this out! The Armstrong staff in a Minneapolis suburban school show support before homecoming, Shaker Heights educators in Greater Cleveland area use ingenuity to teach the Making of a Molecule, and teachers at my alma mater, Sterling High School, step up to stay on beat to the modern day demands of our profession before a Homecoming football game.  Let’s give it up to the teachers for getting down to inspire kids!

Historic Cowsheds in the Alps Transformed to Contemporary Swiss Chalets

Midwesterners head up North to Wisconsin to escape. The Swiss just head up. Second home Swiss chalets tucked in alpine meadows are so common that there is a great migration upward every weekend. So when Cathy, a colleague, invited us to her chalet in the Vaudoises Alps, we couldn’t wait for Sunday.

meadows in the mountains

meadows in the mountains

The adventure begins with the drive to Les Ormonts, a village 1,200 meter high between Leysin, Les Diablerets, and Villars. We wind around hairpin curves carved into a mountainside, where hardy grapevines cling to the porous soil and cows appear to stand on two legs grazing on the sheer slopes.

Cathy and Jan’s chalet was tucked on a ledge in Les Vöettes, a hamlet of chocolate-colored cubes spill across the verdant valley like tossed dice. My friends bought the chalet in late 90s, but it dates back to 1755 when it was a herder’s shed sheltering livestock brought up for the summer. A historical landmark, like most of chalets in the area, any alteration must be approved by the Swiss government.

In the 1950s, the chalet was restored, renovated and expanded, yet retaining the original wood. The facade facing south across the valley from Leysin was a darker brown toasted by the sun. The faded red shutters, nearly 3 centuries old, were as light as cork and like the mushroom clinging under window ledge had turned to petrified wood.  In pots lining the balcony, red geraniums swayed in the late summer breeze.

geraniums on the front porch

geraniums on the front porch

Ducking into their front door was like stepping into a museum especially with Cathy’s antique decor. Three wood burning stoves heated the two-floor chalet in the winter. Even in summer the thick walls with small windows, maintained a temperature ten degrees below the one found outside. A cowbell, old farm implements, an ancient clock, and other antiques hung from the chalet walls. A four-poster bed, armoire, rocking chair like my grandma’s, and other family heirlooms, made me feel like I stepped back in time.

dining room

dining room

At a height of only 5’8, the doorways were made for the small statured people of yesteryear and only Cathy could enter the room without ducking. Both of our husbands had to stoop in the dining room.

On the veranda overlooking the valley, we enjoyed the picnic lunch that Cathy purchased in the village that morning. We savored the regional specialties: freshly baked, brown pull-apart rolls, sliced ham, aged sausage and cheeses, Tomme Vaudoise, a soft creamy cheese stuffed with garlic and a year old Etivaz, and a tangier 3 year old version. Dessert was a thick, creamy yogurt mixed with fresh raspberries.

From their chalet, we hiked up another 500 meters along a winding path. The woods opened up to green pastures where cows grazed savoring their last weekend in the mountains before the traditional désalpe, migration to lower lands. Back at the chalet, Cathy served apple struddle and Jan poured unpasteurized milk, compliments of the neighbor’s cows, from a silver milk jug of yesteryear.

hiking with friends

hiking with friends

The fresh cream, milk and cheeses were as good as those from his Normandy region, Gérald confessed, « But don’t tell anyone. The French maintain strict loyalty to their home regions. »

Then, as the sun began to sink behind the mountain, we bid farewell to Heidi land and followed the caravan of cars snaking down the mountainside toward modern civilization in the cities of Lausanne and Geneva.

World’s Apart Posh Grande Dame Genevoise and Plain Ol’ Midwestern Pat

sitting in a café

sitting in a café

The woman at the table next to me is in that indiscriminate decade we call middle aged. She is immaculately dressed and as the French say, bien coiffée, which belies her age.  She wears a smart looking custom made tailored suit, an overcoat of cashmere, and suede boots, so pointed she could endorse checks with the tip of her toe. Her perfectly styled and meticulously, colored golden hair hides the grey. Her manicured nails, painted ruby, match her silk scarf, which draped around her neck artistically, covers any neck folds. On one arm, a solid gold watch shines from her wrist, and on her other hand a diamond the size of a sugar cube gleams.

Meanwhile, I cross my feet under the booth to hide my well-worn, scruffy Asiacs.  I am wearing a pair of Kohl’s black yoga pants, a Target Cuddle Duds T-shirt and a pink, zip up hoodie with Chicago inscribed in cursive white letters. My entire outfit including silver earring posts costs $39. 99. Clasped to my wrist is a twenty-buck, black Ironman Timex that I have worn for the past decade; I still need my students’ expertise to reset it after I change time zones.

walking in style

walking in style

Plagued with a bad back, I never carry a handbag, instead I slip loose change, my French passport, Swiss residency papers and a 10 franc note on the inside pocket of my purple UW-Steven’s Point basketball jacket. I don’t get it. I never abused my body, keep my health care team in business (doctors, chiropractors, podiatrists) and retain my gluten free, low fat, no sugar regime, yet my body is kaput. How did I get so wrecked? I wear tennis shoes out of necessity, as it is the only cut of shoe that allows me to insert my clunky orthotic soles. I marvel at women my age and older, who scurry down streets balancing on stilettos, carrying LouisVuitton handbags bigger than shopping carts and weighting more than an electric car.

I hide my-desperately-in-need-of-a-trim-hair under a color-coordinated baseball cap. I put off a trip to the beauticians because it is so outrageously expensive and to be honest, a bit of a lost cause.

I wear a thin gold wedding band and safire ring to match the Norwegian eyes my husband fell in love with, but can no longer see because half my face is underneath my humongous dark movie star glasses. It is the only fashionable accessory I own; however, I don’t wear them to hide my « celebrity » status, but to protect my eyes from the light due to a medical treatment.

Even though I have been to Geneva hundreds of times, I stand on every street corner looking lost, because I am unable to distinguish left from right. I looked as bewildered as a refugee just off the boat and marvel that I never get picked up for vagrancy. My husband will be relieved to know, I have yet to pass around my baseball hat on the commuter train home.

If you saw me on the street, you would never know that I have lived in Europe for thirty years. Always wearing my trademark tennies, I still look more touristy than the tourists.

Unforgettable School Trips Across Europe During Fieldweek

Every student longs to hang on to summer just a little longer. At my school, the start to the school is every student’s dream. The 2nd week of September we head off on field week known as semaine verte.

wandering in an Alsacian village

wandering in an Alsacian village

Oh no, this is not just any school trip to the local museum. With Europe at our doorstep, our back-to-school adventure includes corralling bulls in southern France, climbing mountains in the Swiss Alps, and riding gondolas down the canals of Venice.

Jewish district in Venice

Jewish district in Venice

Each grade took off for a different destination. The 8th grade headed to the mountains, 9th grade bused to Provence’s paradise, the10th grade to visit concentration camp and cathedrals in Alsace, and 11thgrade flew to Barcelona, Edinburgh and Berlin.

strolling the streets of Strasbourg

strolling the streets of Strasbourg

In the past I traveled with my daughter’s 11thgrade to Venice,

Nat & friends waiting for the vaporetto

Nat & friends waiting for the vaporetto

and my son’s class to Provence.

field week in Camargue

field week in Camargue

When graduates look back, the favorite memories of high school revolve around their week of bonding in places most kids only dream of visiting.

Join me on our back to school extravaganza – education at its best in a room without walls.

Camargue's cowboys

Camargue’s cowboys

Showtime at Summit Lake – Getting Back to Nature

Every summer I return to my roots and renew my soul at my little red family cabin rocking in the boughs of evergreen, deep in the woods on Summit Lake, Wisconsin.

his majesty the Loon swims by

his majesty the Loon swims by

At daybreak on the dock, I sipped coffee as the sun rose behind the tree line across the lake where loons danced in the morning mist. Six loons circled in a ballet of synchronized swimmers, one after another bobbing under, black hinds pointing skyward. One loon cried out, flapped his wings and scooted across the water 100 yards past the island toward the opposite point. Another loon followed. They swam one behind the other for 20 yards, then suddenly took flight soaring overhead looping around half of the lake then landing back where they started.

After breakfast, I biked the winding blacktops around the neighboring lakes, under the canopy of trees. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a deer standing so still by a sign post that I thought it was one of those Wisconsinite yard gnomes. I braked and turned to stare as the statue came to life. Timidly, with a flick of her white tail, the deer stepped onto the pavement. She stared at me and tilted her ears as if listening for predators.

Mama deer stares at me

Mama deer stares at me

After crossing to my side of the road, the doe posed, wide-eyed and hyper vigilant. I met her gaze equally alert, a prayer on my lips, hoping no car would rumble past breaking the spell. She nibbled on leaves, glancing back over her shoulder as if being tracked. Minutes later, she darted back across the road and a white-spotted baby deer bound out of the brush and to her side. The mother nuzzled Bambi forward onto the blacktop, turning to peer back over her shoulder. Suddenly a smaller newborn, leaped out of the woods. The babies, like frisky puppies, darted separate directions. Mama deer nervously corralled them  toward my side of the road, her eyes pleading, « Please don’t shoot. »

I appreciated her parental anxiety. I remember when my young brood wandered out of reach on busy Parisian boulevards. Finally safely across the street, a baby at each side, Mama deer locked her big brown eyes in mine, nodded her head, and then disappeared into the woods. I felt like the deer whisperer.

In the late afternoon as if on a private lake, I swam alone. No jet skis, no motorboats, no pontoons were out to break the silence. I heard ducks quacking and looked up to see Mama Mallard followed by five babies swimming single file in the reeds just in front of me.

swimming in the lake by the ol' log cabin

swimming in the lake by the ol’ log cabin

The show never ends in Northern Wisconsin. When the evening sun sets, mesmerized by the lake, a silver mirror of glass, I stare at my reflection. A family of lake otters startled me out of my reverie, breaking through the still water to dip and glide off shore.

I am living in a state of grace in perfect harmony with Mother Nature.

Only One Hotel Jungfrau (Mürren-Swiss Alps) Lives Up to Its Name

Switzerland is filled with countless lodgings bearing the name Hotel Jungfrau, but there is only one place in the world where that is it not a misnomer. The Hotel Jungfrau of Mürren, in the Lauterbrunnen Valley (Swiss Alps) can actually boast of offering the world’s best of the Jungfrau.

Built in 1894, as one of Mürren’s oldest hotels, it was renovated in the 1980s. Though completely modernized, it retains an old world feel in its wooden exterior and spacious lounge areas where comfy sofas line the windows and fire place.

happy flatlanders in front of the hotel

The construction of the Mürrenbahn in 1889 and the Allmendhubelbahn in 1912 brought tourists to the valley. British Sir Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) put Mürren on the global map when he organized the first slalom race, which was held next to the Hotel Jungfrau in 1922.

The hotel offers the ideal setting to fall in love or renew wedding vows. Owners of the family-run 3 star hotel share their own love story. Veronica Fluck, from the French speaking part of Switzerland, fell in love with Alan Ramsay from Scotland, and chose Mürren as the perfect place to raise two daughters. The couple and their staff are so warm and welcoming, you feel more like special house-guests than passing tourists.

Booking rooms, costing from 93 to 177CH per night, is always challenging as there is so much choice and you can never be sure what your are getting for your money. Accommodations are simple, but clean, and the rooms are fairly large by European standards. Rooms with views cost extra but hey, if you do ever make it up here what is a few extra bucks? For an extra $20 a night, you can admire the 3 kings right outside your window in 3 dimensions. In room 26, at the end of the floor, you feel like you can reach out and touch the mountains as you admire the sunset from your balcony overlooking the village.

a view from our room

Located next to the ski school, Hotel Jungfrau is ideal for winter sports. In the summer, meadow trails just outside your door are perfect for hiking, biking and adventure sports. However, Mürren is so small everything is centrally located with easy access to the great outdoors.

What sets Hotel Jungfrau apart is the hospitality of the owners. It also offers what Gerald and I agree was the best continental breakfast we ever had in Europe. A copious spread of cereal, fresh grapefruits, oranges, melons and pineapple, 5 different juices, 3

…and from down the hall

…and from down the hall

homemade jellies, dried apples, prunes, apricots, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, beans (must be the Scottish influence), local cheeses and fresh bread, rolls, and pastries awaited guests. The morning chocolate, coffee, or tea is piping hot.

The mountaineers’ breakfast, included in the bill, was so delicious, we regretted not staying there for dinner to try the cuisine of Chef Hans-Peter Schaer. He combined innovative culinary ideas from his long stay in Australia and Asia with the traditional Swiss Cuisine in the Restaurant Gruebi.

The Hotel Jungfrau website boasts, “This is the only place where a genuine Scotsman serves a large selection of single malt whiskies in the Swiss Alps!”

cozy lobby

Recommended by travel guru, Rick Steves, I can also vouch that Hotel Jungfrau in Mürren truly lives up its name.