That Wasn’t on the Lesson Plan

You need some love?canstockphoto3020791

He said it a second time in a low, creepy whisper. The teenager was 6 feet tall, 250 pounds completely dry. He’d been whispering at me the last five minutes from the back of the room. What’s your name? Are you mad? Need some love?

I could feel the muscles in my neck and shoulders tighten and I began the scenario run down, mentally practicing blocks. Thinking about how to leverage advantage. He was wearing pants halfway down his ass which would easily be yanked to hobble him at his knees. He was too big for punches or kicks, but a downward fist or upward knee to the nuts would bring him down.

His words were meant to be intimidating and my adrenaline rose. I’ve heard these things from random boys and men my whole life. I am an ignorer and can usually count on the behavior getting much worse before it goes away.

I could hear the blood pounding in my ears. I inhaled and exhaled slowly. If it were an elementary school kid, he’d be saying he had to go to the bathroom for the 50th time or that he didn’t feel good or that his crayon broke. But this mutant boy/man is crossing a threshold and he sees every interaction with a female person (even someone likely older than his mother) to be an opportunity to sound like a rutting boar. He still just wants attention. But it makes me feel ill.

I work to calm myself down and decide not to cripple him for life and spend time in jail on an assault charge. But my brain is churning – I think of snide comments meant to humiliate and destroy. Anger. Anger. Breathe. And back to stoicism.

You need love?

He thought volume was the problem. This time the teacher heard him and sent him to the dean.

canstockphoto24048860Another boy is using his phone to take pictures of a girl in the room. She asks him to stop and he doesn’t. She raises her hand and the teacher locks up his phone.

I ask another boy to put his phone away a second time and he gets up and walks away from me in a show of defiance. He gets sent to the dean’s office.

The boys in this class talk more than the girls, often talking over each other in a bid for attention. The few students who have a genuine desire to learn, sit through this boorishness for an hour and a half.

When people talk about public schools, I find the conversation to be fairly superficial. All the talk about teachers’ unions and curriculum and complaints about taxes are simplified political talking points with no hint at solutions. And offering up for-profit Christian madrassas is unlikely to solve the complex problems of teaching and managing students with diverse learning abilities and economic backgrounds.

I’ve been volunteering in classrooms since my daughter entered the public school system. It’s a large public school system, where reduced lunches can approach 70% and where the attempt to mainstream and equalize has become an unwieldy juggernaut.

Admittedly, elementary kids bring enough charm and curiosity with them to offset most behavioral issues. Middle school kids are all over the board and a bit feral. High school kids are worrisome. They are a foreshadowing of the future.

canstockphoto1076788Both my husband and I are products of public education. I went into the Army to pay for my college degree. My husband spent summers roofing and doing part time work to pay for his. We are autodidacts in that we pursue learning on our own, so perhaps we didn’t have as much riding on the quality of education. We never assumed it would be all we needed. We don’t assume that for our daughter, either. The emphasis in our house is always on the learning and much of that doesn’t come from school.

Unfortunately for a lot of kids, school is it for them. It’s not happening at home and all the years people have been deriding teachers and public education have paid off. Those attitudes of disrespect have infiltrated families and students, and it shows up in the classrooms. Education is now characterized as some elitist hobby and no billionaire with a theological ax to grind is going to change that.

Public schools and teachers are being asked to do impossible things. Behavioral and learning issues plague nearly every classroom I’ve been in. 10% of the students take 80% of the teacher’s time and attention. It would be easy to blame this on mainstreaming, but the sorting hat of the past put a lot of kids in the wrong classrooms, where growth was limited. It’s easy to see why equalizing learning space became a thing.

While people are content to sit back and play the roulette wheel of blame (it lands on parent, teachers, unions, government and students themselves), few are able to offer anything helpful or substantive.

canstockphoto13763092Smaller classroom sizes, improved buildings and higher staffing levels are needed. Parental accountability. A culture that supports learning as a worthwhile pursuit and doesn’t like to brag about its ignorance. Curriculum that is implemented and maintained for enough time to see what actually works, instead of going with pedagogical light bulbs that seem to turn on and off on a whim.

I wrestle every year with how I feel about public education in theory, especially when it comes to my own child in practice. I understand parents who advocate for school choice, although how this helps rural kids or kids with transportation issues or poverty level children or special needs children, I don’t know. And while I understand those who home school for religious or academic or safety reasons, not every family is capable of supporting that kind of system.

canstockphoto41865678So where does it leave the rest of the kids? Because people talk about caring about the children, but what they really mean is they care about their children. Every student is the future of our country. They’re going to be the difference between my generation living out our golden years or being soylent green wafers.

I’m done at school for the week, albeit a little unsettled by my recent interactions. But I remember, too, that when I walked into class this morning I overheard a student tell the teacher, I saw Michelle in the hallway. She’s coming to class. I’m glad because she helps me.

Well, alrighty then. I guess I’ll show up next week, too.

Fired Up, Part 4: Screw It, I’m Going to Smile Anyway

For many people, it’s been a tough few days. I know some people are hooting and hollering in delight, but they will only be able to maintain that state for so long, before they realize their lives are not getting better and nobody’s drunk uncle is going to change that.

canstockphoto28476729I’ve had to tamp down all my #notallwhitepeople, #notallwomen, #notallliberals, #notallcitydwellers, #notallmidwesterners defensiveness and close myself off from the stream of blame pouring from every venue. Blame isn’t going to help the Trump supporters improve their lives and it sure as hell won’t help the rest of us move forward.

I’m done with politicking for now, because that piece of the equation is ostensibly out of my control. I voted. My candidate lost and now my government is becoming a kakistocracy (thanks, Elyse for the new vocabulary word!). I don’t like, trust or want to be represented by these people, a mishmash of know-nothings, salivating jackals who want to stick it to anyone who ever insulted them by screwing up the entire country.

The real key is to figure out what to do now. When you’re unwilling to engage in the blame game, it comes down to what you, as an individual, can do. And figuring that out takes a little soul-searching. What’s important to you?

canstockphoto10916833My initial reaction was a long laundry list of causes and needs that could easily paralyze me where I stand. We get overwhelmed with the number of things that could be fixed in this world. Sometimes we have to pick and choose what our priorities are and focus on them. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care about other issues. It just means we’re one human who can only do so much.


The results of the election have helped me crystallize what I want to protect and advance. I’ve decided my priorities for the moment are: civil rights, reproductive rights, education and the environment. If the luxury of time or money is not yours to share, find one thing, one cause, something close to your heart and put it there.


Yesterday I joined the NAACP ($30 for annual membership), donated to The Center for Reproductive Rights, set up a small monthly donation to the Sierra Club and registered to become a community volunteer in my school district for 10 hours a week. It’s not much, but it’s a beginning.

canstockphoto6128415I am still finishing the letters to my congressional representatives. I forget that my writing process is always longer then I expect. I told them who I am, what I care about and wished them well as they enter into the fray.

In the upcoming days, I will write to the people I didn’t vote for. I will tell them who I am, what I care about and wish them the strength of character to be better than the pack of hyenas they appear to be. I’ll say it more nicely, though. Maybe.


I keep thinking about how people of color must be shaking their heads at the white people who have just gotten “woke” to the alive-and-kicking racism in this country. And the environment would like to know where the hell I’ve been. My uterus just yelled about damned time. There’s room for mocking and criticism and I can take it. I figure it’s part and parcel of getting into the mix after staying for so long, so comfortably out of it.

This is the silver lining that we can find in the electing of a horrible human being. The rest of us can learn how not to be bystanders or complacent.

canstockphoto5624611I know I’m going to make mistakes and assumptions. I know I’m no saint and I expect to be schooled accordingly. I know that I may not fully understand the issues on the ground or the academic theory that drives feminism and racism and immigrant issues. But I’m here now. Tell me what I can do to help. I’m listening.


I’ve always believed politics is personal in theory, but this year, it felt extremely personal. My fellow Americans voted for someone who tapped into every hate-filled philosophy in this country and made it his very own. So, yeah, I do take it personally.

Last night, my daughter and I started to get back to some martial arts and strength training. I’m putting up the speed and heavy weight bags again – good for practice, good for anger. I’m not going to wear a safety pin, because I am not fond of symbolism for its own sake (plus, I’m pretty sure that little bugger would eventually stab me). I’ve always been a safety pin. No matter your limitations, do something to make yourself stronger rhetorically and/or physically. Imagine and walk yourself through situations that might require your intervention, whether it be protecting someone in public or disagreeing at the Thanksgiving table.

canstockphoto1478703I’ve been thinking about our finances. Our family lives below its means, but now we’re going to take austerity measures. I want to give more support for causes I believe in (and we might need bail money). The future is uncertain and the effects of any Social Security and Medicare tinkering during this regime will hit hard when my husband and I prepare to retire. Likely when we’re 85, at this rate. This is a good time to sort out what we need from what we want.

In the words of a favorite blogger and writer, Chuck Wendig, I’m going to ART HARDER.  Many years ago I read the autobiography of a man in a foreign prison and what I’ve never forgotten was his ability to recite poetry in his darkest hours. You will find this in a lot of camp literature – the pieces of humanity people hold onto when everything else is bleak – the music, the words. Art is a reflection of our humanity, something we must remind ourselves of over and over, so that we can stop our “othering” and connect with each other.

This is my final post in this after-election series. I have needed to write more this week than usual, but will likely retreat back to once or twice a week posting of the mental flotsam in my brain. Time to regain some equilibrium in order to be in this for the long haul.

Thank you – take care of yourselves and each other.MichelleSig copy

Related Posts:

Fired Up, Part 1: Changing Where, When and How I Get Information

Fired Up, Part 2: Softening Perspective, Steeling Resolve

Fired Up, Part 3: Mitigating Despair

Fired Up, Part 1: Changing Where, When and How I Get Information

I wrote an impassioned post following the results of the election. Still amped, I had another sleepless night, up at 3am. As I have for months, I logged in and went to the usual sites, CNN, BBC, The Washington Post. No need to go to 538. Polls mean nothing to me anymore.

canstockphoto15203858Quickly I scroll through click bait headlines, breeze through articles, scroll down through the comments. It’s all the same. The same pundits turning themselves into pretzels, the same commenters calling each other names and reciting questionable facts and hyperbole. It’s as if the election were still going on and people are unwilling or unable to shift gears. Yes, my candidate lost and yes, the next four years are going to be awful. Time to move on.

My sources of information failed to prepare me for the election results. I had found echo chambers of propaganda and confirmation bias. I had sought reassurance that this loathsome individual and his posse of slicked-back Breitbart winged monkeys were not, in fact, contenders. I was wrong and despite my inquiring nature and hungry mind, I was not prepared to fully participate in democracy. Most of us simply aren’t.

I don’t watch TV anymore, because online streaming is wonderful and generally free of commercials and vapid anchor chatter. I do listen to NPR, which includes a nice dollop of the BBC and the CBC. But the majority of my news comes from online. I avoid Facebook and Twitter feeds, curating those sites with a hammer.

This morning I cleared my bookmark Media folder. I am no longer interested in infotainment. I am no longer interested in being soothed. I put together a list of sources that are drier, less partisan, less flash and more substance, as well as international sources. I’ll share that list here, but won’t spend a lot of time defending my choices.

The second thing I did was create a Legislature folder. I bookmarked my city government, state and federal legislature websites. I went to each of my states US Congress people’s websites (of all parties) and signed up for the e-newsletters of upcoming and ongoing legislation.

Thirdly, how and when I retrieve this information makes a difference. I’m an early riser and while I’ve changed my morning routine to include meditation, journal-writing and offline reading, the last thing I do, before writing, is read the news. We all know how that ends up – two hours later I’m looking at cute chinchilla videos, nowhere near prepared to write. I’m limiting my news reading to lunchtime and the sources I’ll read will likely not have chinchilla links.

canstockphoto6569979Lastly, I will no longer read comments sections following news articles. Many of my revamped news sources do not have commenting as an option. As much as I am interested in what is happening and what people think about things, I think we can all agree that comment sections on news articles are Exhibit A of the Dunning-Kruger effect. None of us is as smart as we think we are. And to get smarter, we have to reach up, not down.

It’s time to reset, to arm myself with information, to learn how my government works on a micro-level. Information must precede any action and the sources must be curated. Talking points do not an informed citizen make. This is how my revolution begins…

My list of news sources:

For Legislative Sources:

If you have sources or ideas for sharing information, please share. The goal is to find less biased, less partisan sources with a focus on disseminating core information and not entertainment.

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 3rd Place

canstockphoto142844613rd Prize goes to Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab for “The Love of a Grandfather”. Her essay made me think about the nature of sacrifice and service on behalf of others. Who paved the road for us? And how will we pave the road for others?

She was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and a scenic Minnesota postcard. I also made a $50 donation to the Philippine Red Cross.

The Love of a Grandfather

By Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab

My grandfather used to tease me of being called “pugad de nilgab” or a granddaughter pulled out from the ashes of burned pine tree. Among his granddaughters, I have the darkest complexion. Nevertheless, I am my grandfather’s favourite granddaughter, that is according to my cousins. I did not know, he never mentioned but I do remember that he always try his best to give my small request. During fiestas, my aunts and elder cousins beg me to ask money for cotton candy and I do not fail them.

canstockphoto35886275My grandfather is a strong man and loves his family. He always tells me the story of his experience as a soldier during the dark ages of the Second World War. I even memorized the marching songs they sung. I also memorized their love story with my grandmother which he always tells me before bedtime. Most of the time, I slept with them with grandma because I want more of his stories. He has 20 “carabaos”* and I was always with him in feeding them and looking when 1 or 2 are astray. When we go home from the mountain after feeding the carabaos, he would carry me on his shoulders. I did not have the best friends aside from my school friends, but I had my grandpa.

One time, he was trying to memorize the colours of the American Flag including the president and I sat beside him and help him memorize. I never knew that he would leave us to the US, having the privilege as a veteran. I cried when he went away. His parting words were as always, it’s for you and your cousins’ schooling.

I went to college and he goes home every other year, and I was happy, but never again did I ask for money. I hoped that he would just go home and he could stay with us and never again, to see my grandmother cry at night when I sleep with her because she is alone in their room. I graduated college and asked him to come home. He told me he has to stay so that he could support my dream of becoming a lawyer.

He always dreamed when we were walking on the mountains looking for carabaos that I would be a lawyer. But, I did continue because I love the degree I finished and wanted to have job and show him that I can support my siblings and cousins so that he could come home. I had my first job in 2006 as a Social Worker in a Temporary home for abused children, and was happy to tell him how I love my job and how his stories has inspired the children. I waited and he came home lifeless August of 2006. My cousins and I finished our studies a cousin is a practicing doctor in the US, the other is a psychologist at the same time a teacher while my others are nurses and pharmacist.

canstockphoto2692257My grandfather’s dream was for us to finish our education and according to him “I must do everything that my grandchildren will not taste the hardship that my children (our parents) has experience due to lack of education”. I cannot forget my grandfather because of his love and devotion. His love to support us was not ended with my cousins rebellion, not ended with my non continuing of becoming a lawyer but pressed on to support every grandchildren who has a dream and inspire those whom he think needs inspiration.

“Every minute is an opportunity for me to help my grandchildren to realize their dreams, if I have to plant trees and sell as many as I can, I will! If I have to dig and look for a pot of gold, I will! If I have to sell my carabao, I will! Lived away from them, I will! I never want them to taste the pain of being uneducated and to bear the scourging heat of the sun from dust to dawn working ground yet with no progress. I love them.”   Eusebio Banggalat

* Water Buffalo in the Philippines

Congratulations Cezanne!

Congratulations! You Barely Met My Expectations

Michelle, we’d like you to know how much we’ve appreciated your presence and to let you know that we’ve come up with a new review and salary plan for your role here.

I am intrigued. Please sir, continue.

We’ve noticed that Bob is doing great at his job and you are sucking eggs at yours. In order for you to keep your job, we’ve decided to lower our minimum expectations of your work performance.

I am astonished. I protest.

But Bob was mentored into his role. He received extra training and hand holding. How can I compare when you just stuck me at a computer and left me alone for three years?

Your smile is magnanimous and you try to speak in small words.

This is the boo-boo we’re addressing. Don’t you see? You only have to show up and the next raise is yours!

He waits for my grunt of enthusiasm, but I continue to stare dumbly, as is my wont to do.

The next day, I come into the office wearing my pajamas, load up Netflix and microwave some popcorn. No point in doing much else.

I’ve been listening to the news and reading articles regarding the latest move by the state of Virginia’s education board. To address testing disparities among specific races (yes, let’s use that term), they’ve set different minimal standards for kids, depending on whether or not they are Asian (highest standards), White, Hispanic, Black or kids with disabilities. Before I jump in with a political correctness knee-jerk response, I want to say that I recognize the difficulty and expense of addressing the education gap. It seems nearly intractable, but not impossible.

We heard very little talk about the decimation of our country’s education system during this election cycle. Like infrastructure, it cannot be treated like a short term budget trick, trimming and cutting a little here and here and here. This will truly bite us all in the ass. For people without kids, your ass will be bitten too, because these kids are the economic crystal ball that determines quality of life in your dotage. It says a lot about our country that our war machine is well-oiled and maintained, while the machinery that educates our offspring lies rusting away under benign budgetary neglect.

What Virginia has decided to do is to take the most expeditious and least expensive route towards making their state education’s report card look good, in order to receive funding from the federal government. They, like 32 other states, get money while being exempt from portions of the federal No Child Left Behind program. Regardless of how you feel about the NCLB law, Virgina has lowered their expectations of the children in their state. They are focusing on a forward-looking goal by walking backwards.

I am not an educator, so I can only look at this issue from a personal and parental perspective. What impact does it have on a person’s psyche when they are told that the expectations for their performance is lower than that of the person next to them, because that is all they can manage? I would feel defeated before I even began.

Here’s the deal. It’s okay for Asians to have dumb ass kids and okay for blacks to have geniuses. Don’t institutionalize your inability to problem solve by telling kids that the baseline expectations for their performance are dependent on their race. We’ve been there, done that. We have some brilliant minds in this country, many of whom are products of a public education system. Time to put our creative minds, our imaginations and our money to work to realize a bright, intelligent future for our nation. We should expect nothing less of ourselves or of our children.

Quitting While You’re Behind

In 1992, I quit grad school after completing one year. On every level, it felt like failure – giving up, not sticking it out, not going the full mile. Thousands of dollars in debt, working three jobs, living on coffee and fear of failure, the final straw was when a professor told me that he was giving me a B- as a favor (C was considered failing at the graduate level). I thought “why am I working my ass off for this?” I didn’t have a good answer, so I knew it was time to be done.

My educational track was determined by efficiency. I had transferable credits from my Army training as a Russian linguist, so I tested out of all the basic college requirements and did my undergrad degree in a couple of years. Even as a nontraditional student, I still hadn’t figured out what I was doing, so onto grad school I went.

With letters of recommendation, passable GRE scores, I was accepted into the graduate program in the Russian department. My favorite professor specialized in linguistics, so I decided that it would be my focus as well. It took two semesters to realize that I was in way over my head.

I was working a couple of retail jobs, as well as doing an internship translating documents, struggling to make ends meet and barely had time to focus on my studies. And every single day of classes, I was reminded how very far out of my league I was. As a military linguist with an infantry division, I had done a lot of listening and transcribing and not much speaking. I was supposed to give class presentations, in Russian, about morphology and etymology. The combination of my weak speaking skills, poor study habits and sheer exhaustion meant that I could not bluff my way out of this disaster. And I was paying for it.

Over the years, I’ve revisited that whole miserable mess in my head, considered returning to school, feeling envious of my friends who have multiple advanced degrees, wondering if I could have really applied myself. The result of leaving grad school is that I took on a full time job with benefits, worked to pay off my debts, began an illustrious administrative career that has made me a jack of many trades. I now have solid organization, editing, technical, problem solving, accounting and multitasking skills. I have real-life skills that have served me well outside the world of academia, no matter what the state of the economy. I still work hard and am doggedly persistent, but I know when to quit.

Regardless of the miasma of dysfunctional family dynamics that I was raised in, several lessons stuck with me from my childhood. You work hard, you don’t quit and you remain doggedly persistent. Even if it kills you. As an adult, some of my best decisions involve quitting. There is perhaps an art to leaving, but for me, it’s never a smooth process. I clumsily blunder my way through good-byes, resignations and breakups. Things sometimes have gotten very ugly and it takes me a few years to realize that despite my awkward bowing out, I was on the right track.

As I prepare for my next career transition, moving from a business manager to a full time writer, I realize that I need to dust off my “quitting” skills and remind myself why it’s a good thing. I’m late to the writing career and I can’t spend a lot of time with the usual buffet of guilt, regret and 20/20 hindsight. I’ve begun to look at how I spend my time, recognizing that quitting needs to apply to some of my smaller habits and patterns of thinking. I need to quit believing my self-worth is associated with a paycheck. I need to quit distracting myself from the things that are important. I need to quit the constant editing and judging of myself that prevents me from letting authentic and productive writing occur. Sometimes quitting is the only way to move forward.

Have you ever quit something uncertainly and discovered later that it was the best thing you could have done?