Nostalgia for Teaching and Things Kids Say

Nostalgia for Teaching After retiring two years ago, the thing I miss most about teaching is the kids especially in September when it’s back to school time. Even on my worst days, students would say or do something to make me smile.

Once my adult daughter came to help me at basketball practice and when I introduced her to my young athletes one of them exclaimed, “Wow, you look just like your sister!”

Another time years before the age of retirement, my sixth grade student ran from the primary building to the gym. She loved PE.

“You look just like my grandma!” she blurted out with a huge smile of enthusiasm

Taken aback for I never considered myself the age of a grandma, I foolishly asked,

“Really? How old is your grandma?”

“Seventy-five like you. Tall and fit. And she still plays basketball every week.”

Go, granny go.

I burst out laughing. Should I be insulted that she saw me as old enough to be a granny or proud to know she considers me fit enough to still play my favorite game?

Another day a graduating student told me she remembers having me in first grade PE. Ah yes, in my early days at our school I had to teach every grade between year one and twelve.

I taught long enough to be one of the elders. When students I had in class returned to our campus to for student teacher training, I felt proud. This year one of my best student/athletes returned to school to teach and now coaches with me.

Nostalgia for Teaching Students also offer some of the sweetest gifts of appreciation.

One of my favorites was handmade – sort of. A boy gave me a plastic Scandinavian Airline travel pouch used by under age children when traveling unaccompagnied. In permanent black marker he wrote on the front of it – Old Timer Comin’ Through. Now every time I fly I carry my passport, glasses and blindfold in that bag on a lanyard around my neck. As I wait in the endless security check lines, I think of my former student – now at Cambridge – and chuckle.

Chalkboards are obsolete now replaced by white boards, electronic tablets and laptop computers. Over the years the means of communication changed immensely.

This one was one of the funniest notes from a student that I worked with in the learning support department, which became a safe haven for so many including me.

The way we connect may change, but the message remains the same. Teachers do make a difference. Every. Day.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the International Baccalaureate

In a recent blog, I boasted about Sterling High School where I studied in my youth, but I am equally proud of the International School of Geneva Switzerland, where I taught for years as an adult. The world’s oldest international school, started in 1924, became a co-founder of the International Baccalaureate, which is marking it’s 50th anniversary this year.

As the daughter and granddaughter of teachers, I came from a family that valued equality and education. Joining the teaching ranks at ECOLINT, a school founded on the principles of respect and tolerance, felt like an honor and a privilege. It is no surprise that my school helped create the IB in 1968 and established its headquarters in Geneva.

“The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through inter-cultural understanding and respect.”International Baccalaureate

Designed for international students, whose parents were part of global diplomacy and multinational organizations, to meet qualifications for curriculum in home countries, the IB is accepted worldwide in over 2000 universities in 75 different countries.

The demanding academic program, emphasizing personal development, is offered in English, French or Spanish at 4775 schools in 153 different countries where 70,000 educators teach 1.4 million students, which at one time included my son and daughter.

The IB offers an international education that devInternational Baccalaureateelops the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, and work in a rapidly globalizing world.

In addition to the six subject requirement, the IB candidate must also write a 4000 word investigative research essay, attend a Theory of Knowledge course, and fulfill countless hours of work as part of the creativity, activity, and service (CAS) components.

Many former IB students go forward to make a mark in art, business, government, education, science and global affairs.

“Beyond intellectual rigor and high academic standards, strong emphasis is placed on the ideals of international understanding and responsible citizenship, to the end that IB students may become critical and compassionate thinkers, lifelong learners and informed participants in local and world affairs, conscious of the shared humanity that binds all people together, while respecting the variety of cultures and attitudes that makes for the richness of life.”

I only wish some of our present day world leaders had taken the IB and become conscious of our shared humanity, developed an international understanding and adopted our ethos for tolerance.

As another graduating class steps up to receive their IB diplomas at the International School of Geneva’s commencement ceremony, I tip my hat to these multi talented youth in hopes that they will use their knowledge and experience for a greater good to bring about a safer, saner, better world.

International Baccalaureate

 

If you have a Facebook account, once logged in, copy this link to see a video about the International School of Geneva and the IB.

https://www.facebook.com/ecolint/videos/10155476600988692/

Stop Senseless Tragic School Shootings

No more. Enough. Stop senseless tragic school shootings. Since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings in America — an average of about one a week.

Yet in the aftermath of the horrific massacre in Parkland Florida, our leaders still refuse to discuss changing gun control policy to protect our most vulnerable citizens – American youth.

When did sending your child to school become as dangerous as playing Russian roulette?

To Europeans, the solution to America’s gun violence seems like a no-brainer. Fewer guns in circulation equals less gun fatalities.

In hindsight experts analyze the red flags, and suggest school personnel should have recognized the warning signs, which is like passing the responsibility for the crime to the victim.

The students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School practiced code red lockdown drills, took proper precautions and followed safety measures, but no training can prepare one to intervene at the right instance to prevent another tragedy. Human nature is too unpredictable.

Do we really want to turn our schools into gated fortresses patrolled by armed guards?

We cannot eliminate violence. We cannot eradicate mental illness. We cannot foresee the exact instance when a troubled teen tips to the dark side.

But we can do more to keep guns out of the hands of children.

Other nations have done so successfully. In May 1996, just weeks after a deadly shooting in a shop in Port Aurthur Tasmania, Australia enacted a nationwide gun law reform. Since then mass shootings dropped to zero. Like Australia, Great Britain enacted some of the world’s strictest gun-control measures following mass shootings in the late ‘80s and ‘90s to curtail violence.

Part of the American dichotomy baffling Europeans is our obsession with the 2nd amendment – the right to keep and bear arms. Back in 1791, when the constitution was drawn up, this amendment made sense considering the political situation and risks faced by our young nation. That logic makes no sense today.

What kind of world are we creating when people feel a need to carry a gun to the grocery store, corner cafe, and local school for safety?

As a nation, we need to rethink our deeply ingrained notions of individual rights for the greater good of humanity. We need to set political differences aside and calmly discuss ways in which gun law reforms can curtail violence.

I am not talking about weapons used for hunting. There is a huge difference between inheriting grandpa’s old Winchester for tracking deer in the Wisconsin wilderness and aiming an AR-15 semi automatic rifle at a classroom of children. No one except for military and law enforcement officers needs to own assault weapons.

We have to stop pointing fingers of blame at the school. Coming from a long line of educators, I believe wholeheartedly in value of education. Having taught 30 years in the US and European international schools, I witnessed firsthand societal changes within the school setting in four different countries. Working with troubled teens goes with the territory, but we cannot blame the students, teachers, and other officials for failing to intervene in time to prevent deadly shoot-outs.

Even with the best training, adequate safety measures, and ample information sharing, we will never be able to predict human behavior.

When guns are as readily accessible as candy at the nearest five and dime, when laws defending gun ownership are greater than those protecting individual safety and when school shootings continue to rise at alarming rates, we need make some changes.

When our President blames mental illness for school shootings instead of addressing gun control issues about firearm accessibility and lethality, we have to question our leadership.

When active shooter safety drills become a mandatory part of the curriculum, we are all in deep trouble.

What are we, as a society, teaching our children?

Happy Father’s Day Man with Heart

Though a pacemaker helps your heart keep its beat, we know it needs no assistance in applying its love to being the generous, patient, empathetic, thoughtful, guiding, tolerant, worn out ol’ heart we call DAD. Even as your once strong stride has slowed somewhat, you continue to be an energetic guide through troubled times.

Generous. Your giving heart helped finance college education and provided emergency loans that were forgotten. You helped pay for trips – trains, planes, and automobiles – and seemed to have an endless supply of those $20 bills you referred to as “gas money.” Each year, you took the money you got back from your savings and reinvested it into your grandchildren’s savings. And then there were the presents. A cowboy hat, Barbie doll, microscope, basketball, bicycle… You derived greater pleasure in satisfying others’ material desires than your own minimal ones.

Your greatest gift, though, was time. Taking the time to make sure children grew up feeling loved; not just your children, but all children whose path stumbled across yours. You pitched whiffle balls to the whole neighborhood, rebounded basketballs for the entire team, providing support and counsel to students and players alike who didn’t always have another source for it. You welcomed friends to our cabin every summer and ignored the obvious logistical inefficiency of having to ferry them back and forth separately throughout the summer. In fact, you shuttled kids around until we were old enough to drive, at which point you simply taught us to do it for ourselves.

Patient. You spent hours perfecting our jump shot and bit your tongue to keep from yelling at noisy, teenage girls’ « slumber-less » parties in your basement.
When a student cried in practice or acted up in class, instead of cajoling or scolding you listened, easing the pain for generations of adolescents who discovered one adult they could trust.
You read the same storybook to a demanding 4-year-old granddaughter and balanced the same checkbook for an even more demanding 94-year-old father.

Empathetic. You captured emotions and moments of natural stillness in your paintings and then gave them away so that family could be surrounded by elegant reminders of your love.
You’d peek in at your daughters’ tearful talks behind closed doors, asking, « everything okay? »
Your tender heart gives bear hugs, knee pats, neck rubs, and handshakes. Every phone conversation ends with those 3 endearing words, « I love you, » so there is never any room for doubt.

Thoughtful. In a time when men never wrote more than their signatures, you drew home made cards, penned letters and mailed hundreds of manila envelopes filled with sports clipping to your daughter overseas.
You bought fun fruits, chocolate kisses, ice cream cones and other favorite treats for grandkids.

Guiding. You walked the talk by setting an example of self-discipline, perseverance and integrity – values you instilled in the young people you taught and coached. You counseled so many students, athletes, and friends of your kids that you became a « Papa Mac » to dozens.
You taught us how to save pennies as children and budget money as adults. You explained how to read maps, make terrariums, catch fish, shoot baskets, and throw curve balls.

Tolerant. You welcomed everyone of every race; nationality and walk of life into your home believing every human being should be treated equally. You showered everyone from janitors, to waitresses, to secretaries with kindness and good cheer. You respected your children’s choices from college and careers to dates and mates.

Loving. You loved unconditionally. You forgave our embarrassing affirmations of self, like when I wore pants to church as a teen and left the country to play a game as an adult.
You accepted without question when one daughter married a foreigner, the other married a Cornhusker, and the last broke off her first engagement. And if one of us decided to marry a divorced, ex con, you would learn to love him too and be there to help with the rehabilitation.

Thirty years ago we almost lost you when you had a heart attack. With exercise and clean living, faith and family, you recovered. Though your heart may be tired, your lungs weak and your legs weary, you keep fighting to get up and put one foot forward. In doing so, you inspire us to keep on a keeping on.

You have a great heart, Dad.

The best.

Speaker Graduation International School of Geneva

When I accepted the honor of speaking at the International School of Geneva’s graduation ceremony during my final year of teaching, I was filled with trepidation. Who was I to give advice to such a talented group of students and their families? How I could bid farewell to my community and career without bursting into tears?

I am uncomfortable being in the limelight. My story is only one of many of the stories of the trailblazers who fought for civil rights, but my message – the right to pursue one’s dream – is universal.

As I stood on stage in front of a packed gymnasium, I fixed my eyes on my husband, sister, brother-in-law, former athletes and students and my racing heart calmed. I entered the zone, knowing I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was destined to do.

 

Students, colleagues & parents congratulate the speaker

« You each have a gift. You all have a story. Share it. As I step back into the shadows, you go out and shine. Show up. Stand up. Speak up. Be the best you can be. Raise the roof for the class of 2016. Go out and rock the world. »

At the end of my speech, people hailing from every corner of the globe gave me a thundering standing ovation and I was deeply humbled. Due to illness and injury I can no longer do so many of the things I love, but in spite of pain I continued to show up even when I didn’t feel like it and focused on what I could do. I was bowled over by an outpouring of appreciation from the community that has sustained me for the past 2 decades. Though I can no longer run, jump and play, « I can still walk, talk, write, speak, and inspire. »

And maybe that is enough.

Who Stole My Keys?

Everyone loses keys and teachers are notorious for it, but to prevent misplacing mine, I devised a foolproof plan. I wear them. Like charms on a necklace, my bike, car, house, locker, and school keys hang on a lanyard around my neck.

Since I literally run between three departments –English, PE and learning support – my keys open every gym, storage facility and classroom in 5 different buildings. I was dumbfounded when in the blink of an eye between unlocking the changing room door for the PE students and locking up equipment after class, my keys vanish into thin air.

Five teachers help retrace my steps on the great missing key caper. We empty wastebaskets and look behind toilets, under shower stalls, in sinks, on wall bars, under trampolines, on top of shelves and beneath ball bins.

When our search turns up empty, I deduce – someone grabbed my keys out of the door while I chatted with another student. I drag my burly colleague, a former rugby star, to the cafeteria to interrogate the suspects. The boys told us to check with the girls outside at the picnic table; the girls sent us to the smokers’ corner off campus. One guy took the cig out of his mouth long enough to say, “Pas moi, madame” and dump out his book bag as proof. He suggests I see the rest of his class that would be heading to history.

Panic set in. I made a mental, to-do checklist – empty locker, remove valuables from desk, see janitor to deactivate keys to the gyms, department offices, and equipment rooms. Frantically, I call my husband to explain insisting, “Change the house locks. Sell my car before it is stolen.”

“Why would you carry every key you own?” my husband asks.

“So, I won’t lose them.”

“But they are lost.”

“Not lost, stolen!”

I am hyperventilating when I walk into the history class and plead to the students, who I had just confronted in my PE lesson. “Don’t say anything now. No questions asked. Just bring my keys back; my life is on that key chain.”

Désolé Madame, we haven’t seen your keys.”

Dejected, I walk back to the gym where a younger colleague with better eyesight is locking the gym door and shaking his head. No luck. I urge him to search one more time.

So we repeat the process. While I peek under gym mats, Frederic strolls out of the storage room swinging a hook filled with red bibs. Low and behold, behind the bibs dangling from a black UWSP lanyard is a beautiful set of keys. I hug him and then take off.

“Hey,” he hollers. “Where are you going?”

“To apologize to those kids.”

“Wait! Don’t forget your keys!”

I grab my keys, race across campus, knock at the classroom door and eat humble pie as I appeal once again to the students asking for forgiveness.

Then I stroll back to the gym smiling. My faith in humanity is restored by my colleagues’ kindness and my students’ integrity. With my keys jingling ‘round my neck again, all is right with world.