The Spirit of Mr. Rogers

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Photo credit: Salon.com

The other day, during indoor recess, I felt cold in my classroom, so I decided to put on a zip-up sweater. I happened to be standing over a table of students who were playing a card game of which I had never heard. Intrigued, but also cold, I put on my sweater while monitoring the game. I pulled the zipper all the way up to my chin and then artfully zipped it down in the style of Mr. Rogers, my favorite television neighbor.

“I’m Mr. Rogers,” I declared. This declaration was met by blank stares and it quickly dawned on me that none of them knew about Mr. Rogers. They’d of course heard of his popular puppet Daniel Striped Tiger because of the cartoon show, but Mr. Rogers was out of their frame of reference.

When I gushed about this realization to my colleague, who was also in the room, she responded, “To be fair, I never really watched that show either.” Even twenty-somethings aren’t as familiar with Mr. Rogers as I thought they were.

Of course, taking a step back, I realize that it’s not all that surprising that today’s generation of kids doesn’t know about Mr. Rogers. He died before they were born and most PBS stations stopped airing the show regularly. While it’s understandable that most kids today don’t know anything about the beloved TV man, it’s a shame.

Yes, there were and still are many children’s TV shows with positive messages, but few shared their messages the way Mr. Rogers did—by looking children directly in the eye and telling them they mattered and were loved just the way they were.

I’ve written before about all of the important life lessons imparted by Mr. Rogers and I want to know who is doing this today? Where does the spirit of Mr. Rogers live on?

According to the Atlantic, it’s in advice columns because that’s “where adult problems are considered with dignity, and where feelings are taken seriously.” A Reddit user believes  that it’s Neil deGrasse Tyson who cares the torch of Mr. Rogers’ spirit because he’s brilliant and kind and talks about living to make other’s lives better each day.

Just the other day, I came across an article in the Huffington Post about a Massachusetts teacher who created a music video called “Black Is Beautiful” for her female students who often expressed their dismay about their appearances. We need more of this kind of positivity for our children and ourselves.

Who else is encouraging children to be curious on a day-to-day basis? Who else continually reaffirms to them that they are great just the way you are? I believe that is the responsibility of all of us to carry on the spirit of Mr. Rogers.

 

[And now, because I couldn’t help myself, a video of my favorite Mr. Rogers Remix.]

 

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A Year End Reflection

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Goal setting, 1994-style.

The end of a year inevitably brings reflections, varying top 10 lists of the year’s best and worst in every category imaginable, pop culture trivia games, and the ritual taking stock in your life followed by setting goals for the new year that beg to be broken by February.

Instead of coming up with some deep end-of-the-year reflection, I thought I’d share a different kind of end-of-the year reflection; one I wrote in the sixth grade. I came across this recently in a box of my things that I’ve haven’t sifted through in over a decade. I found this piece in a composition book that was passed from grade to grade that was meant to be an exemplar of the work we had done that year. Though I was only twelve when I wrote this it resonates for some reason at the close of another year. (Author’s note: the names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Sixth Grade-The Final Year In Elementary School 

The year has been good to me. I entered sixth grade on August 29th, 1994. It was hot and I sat down in a group with Tara, Andrea, and Ellen. I remember thinking that the room was unfamiliar. I stared at the walls, seeing what was on them.

I had trouble making friends because people had changed. I then began to hang out with Leidy, Rachel, and Anna in about October.

By November, Andrea started to hang out with us. We all did a play in December for a wonderful party (Christmas) our class had. It was the beginning of our wonderful friendships that we have kept this year.

We got first grade buddies who are wonderful. My first grade buddy is Amelia and she is a wonderful little girl. She is kind and very cute. She has character.

Andrea and I had become closer friends throughout the year. Best friends in fact. We’ve had our share of hardships, but we’re still best friends.

Now the year is coming to an end (or close) and there is nothing left to learn. Our teacher keeps on saying that the class will never be together anymore. I used to just not listen to that but now I’m sad. Very sad. I could even cry. I might later, but not now. I say I want to leave Atwater, but the truth is, I don’t want to. I’m finally going to close the doors on Atwater, on my elementary years.

compositionbook
The assignment, which never made sense to me until I became a teacher.

We Are What We’ve Been Waiting For

img_0997As I went to bed late Tuesday evening, realizing that Donald Trump would actually become the next president of the United States and no, this wasn’t some horrendous nightmare from which I would magically wake in the morning, I thought to myself, how on Earth am I going to get up and explain this to the children I teach? My students, who are mainly low-income minorities (many of the Muslim faith), have expressed their deep concerns and fear about a Trump presidency throughout the last year. While they expressed the fear of being targeted on the street and the fear of having family members deported, I continually reassured them that they had nothing to worry about. There is no way anyone who talks like that would ever be elected president, I had said to them, sometimes while wiping up their actual tears.

There is, in fact, a way that someone who talks like that could be elected president and that way is white privilege. My own white privilege blinded my ability to see that a Trump presidency was not only plausible, but also highly likely. In hindsight, I see how I should’ve taken his campaign much more seriously and actively spoken out much earlier.

img_1004So, when I woke up on Wednesday morning with deep dread in my heart, I asked myself: what kind of person would I want to see today, on this day after the election? Someone who’s trying to fight back tears or someone who is optimistic and unafraid to face the brutal reality of what’s to come? I opted for the latter option.

I didn’t want my students to feel any worse than they already did and as kids absorb the feelings of their environments, I wanted to them to absorb feelings of hope. As they entered the classroom, I played uplifting music including my favorite Bob Marley song, “Three Little Birds.” I did this not to trivialize their feelings, but to provide the hope that some how, some way every little thing would be all right.

We had our students write in their journals and their responses moved us to tears. Why do people hate me, one child asked? I guess slavery never really ended, another one wrote. We talked about how the biggest demographic that supported Trump was white people without a college degree. Several of them laughed out loud as if I just given the punch line of a joke. Good thing we’re in school and going to college, they said.

As the day progressed, our kids said they were starting to feel a little better. After much discussion, one girl mentioned that she simply wasn’t going to let someone like Donald Trump get her down. Another found solace in the knowledge that checks and balances will make it challenging for some of Trump’s proposed policies to become law.

img_1003I guess you could say this day was like any other day at school; we were just teachers guiding our students through the world’s uncertainties. Except on that first day post-election and all the days going forward, our work together feels  more immediate because we are on the brink of a presidency that legitimizes hatred. Who’s going to speak out against this hatred if not us? No one. Who’s going to teach our children how to stand up against the injustices they will absolutely face if not us? No one. Who’s going to help our children navigate through these times so that they can do better when they’re grown if not us? No one. As President Obama said when he was a senator campaigning for office, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” and I’ve never felt that more than now.

The evidence that a Trump presidency will legitimize hatred already surrounds us. As outgoing Senate Minorty Leader Harry Reid stated, “The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America.” Already the media have cited examples of Trump supporters harassing women and minorities in the days following the election. On Wednesday, two Babson College fraternity brothers drove to Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater and all-women’s college, and waved a Trump flag around campus while allegedly harassing and yelling racial slurs at students. On Friday, a Baylor University student said a student walked into her while she was walking on campus and then called her the n-word all in the name of making America great again. England has seen a similar backlash since Brexit with a reported increase in racial crimes.

Or how about the fact that Vice-President Elect Mike Pence has a bigoted track record? Our future Vice-President signed a bill in Indiana that said businesses could refuse service to gays and lesbians based on religious reasons, required that all aborted fetuses have burials or be cremated, advocated for the teaching of creationism in schools, and also advocated for the use of public funds for conversion-therapy, which is an anti-gay therapy that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. This man, who also thinks smoking doesn’t kill, will be governing our country.

Is this real life?

The sad truth is that this is real life and it has been for quite some time. But now, I will no longer stay silent.

I’m reminded of the poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller , “First they came…” in regards to the Nazis rise to power in Germany and the lack of a response from German intellectuals. It feels applicable in these times:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 
img_0999Going forward, I urge you to show up and speak up. Yesterday, I attended a love rally in Washington Square Park and marched with hundreds of others to Union Square in support of Black Lives Matter, the planet, gay marriage, Muslims, a woman’s right to choose what’s right for her body, and refugees. Walking up 6th Avenue, my heart raced several times when I saw cheers from onlookers and honks from supporters in their cars. I was reminded that there are still so many people in this world who believe that diversity is what truly makes America great.

If there’s a silver lining to be found in this election, it’s that now I feel a camaraderie amongst strangers where I haven’t before. I’ve seen and engaged in conversation with strangers at the bodega and in the subway when before we would’ve simply kept to ourselves.

As we embrace the inevitable Trump presidency, I hope all of us, regardless of our political affiliations, will be the ones we’ve been waiting for and boldly speak out against bigotry and social policies that unfairly target already marginalized groups.

I know I will.

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Please Stop Saying that Kids Don’t Read Anymore By Andrea Koleck

A great post written by my friend and colleague about how our own generational bias impacts how we view children’s literacy.

learning curves nyc

The generation gap is an American institution. Every generation experiences it and technology exacerbates it. We don’t talk about the impact the generation gap has on our perception of children nearly enough. Specifically, we need to start talking about how our generational bias is impacting our perception of literacy.

We think of the classics as the books that have been loved for generations. And we think of it as a tragedy if these books aren’t being cherished by new generations. But we create readers or nonreaders by what we provide. They might not care about the Babysitters Club, and aspiring author and tomboy Jo March might not speak to your favorite 12 year old. Some kids need Harry Potter in their lives, but some will reject the entire wizarding world. All of this is fine. The very idea of a “good” book is subjective.  And honestly, as a collective group…

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Be Brilliant At It

“The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside us while we live.” -Norman Cousins

This is the book my friend loaned me years. I really should give it back!
This is the book my friend loaned me years. I really should give it back!

 Several years ago, a friend loaned me his copy of Words I Wish I Wrote, compiled by Robert Fulgham. As a young professional, not too far removed from my idealistic liberal arts college days, my mind was blown by the nuggets of wisdom contained within its pages. As a writer, I wished I’d written every single one of these words as the title suggested. The above quote from Norman Cousins completely resonated with me and I’ve thought about it a lot recently as I’ve returned to the teaching profession.

 I’ve been thinking a lot about what we let die inside ourselves in the past few months as I made the choice to get back into teaching and the career path from which I strayed so far. I was starting to feel like I’d let so many things inside me die as I struggled to figure out exactly what I wanted to do career-wise. When I left teaching five years ago, I never gave myself a timeline as to when I’d return, but deep down I always knew I’d find my way back in some capacity.

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-Charles Bukowski

However, in the last five or so months, I felt as though getting back into a career I felt passionate about was beyond my reach. Five years had flown by and my most recent stint as a full-time server made me feel as though I’d reached the point of no return.

Naturally, when you feel so far from your desired path, feelings of self-doubt creep in. How did I get here? How could I possibly have let all of the things that make me who I am just fly to the wayside? It was almost paralyzing to think about all of the potential I was wasting. Was it gone permanently? It had been so long since I’d worked in an academic setting I questioned my ability to secure a job in that field. Had I inadvertently closed the door to teaching forever?

IMG_0779_4To me, there are few things more tragic than wasted potential. I love the way John Updike beautifully paints this melancholy picture of wasted talent in his poem, “Ex-Basketball Player.” He tells the story of Flick Webb, the best basketball player in his town’s history who now pumps gas for “he had never learned a trade, he just sells gas/ Checks oil, and changes flats.” Remembered for his hands that “were like wild birds,” Flick spends his free days at the diner smoking cigars, playing pinball, and drinking “lemon phosphates.” Instead of playing in front of adoring fans, he faces only “applauding tiers/Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads” at the diner. There are several Flick Webbs from my hometown who haunt my memory with their athletic and artistic prowess that went unrealized.

Your potential, rekindled.
Your potential, rekindled.

On the bright side, there is always triumph to be found in tragedy. The good thing about potential is that it is only wasted if you allow yourself to waste it. It can be rekindled. Though I felt so far removed from where I’d begun, I applied for teaching jobs and eventually found my way back into the classroom. All of the things about myself I missed were still buried within me. It was just a matter of bringing those missing pieces to the surface.

On one of my last days of waiting tables, I explained to a group of guests that I was leaving to teach writing. An older gentleman at the table simply smiled and replied, “Be brilliant at it.” Not a congratulations, but a you have an obligation to yourself and to the world to be brilliant at whatever it is you decide to do. This gentleman’s simple words have inspired me far more than he probably ever imagined.

Be brilliant at it. 

I challenge all of you to focus on whatever it is that makes you alive and be brilliant at it. The world is depending on you.

The Dark Before the Dawn

“Remember,” they say, “that the darkest hour of all is the hour before day.”- Samuel Lover

The actual dark before dawn.
The actual dark before dawn.

It’s been far too long since I wrote my last blog post. I could give you a laundry list of excuses as to why this is the case, but I don’t believe in excuses. It looks like I’ve allowed myself to fall victim to the “busy trap” once again.

My last blog post was about letting loose and de-stressing, which is ironic, because at the time I wrote it, my stress levels were at an all time high. New York City was wearing me down and instead of attacking back with a can-do attitude, I let it run me over.

In my two-and-a-half years of living in New York City, I’ve found that city life is a constant give and take. Some days I feel the city takes more from me than it gives. Yes, it’s extremely expensive (I’m looking at you, income taxes). Yes, it feels overcrowded at times, bordering on extremely claustrophobic. Yes, people can be rude, not to mention pushy. At the same time, I love everything the city has to offer. Botanical gardens, surfing lessons, Broadway shows, art museums, French films, awkward poetry readings, garage band performances. You name it, New York City has it.

Just another day of reaping what New York is sowing.
Just another day of reaping what New York is sowing.

There’s so much to do in New York that it can be distracting. I still have to make money and even save it, too. It’s hard to save money when I’d rather be out reaping all that New York is sowing. I feel a constant struggle between making money and doing what I love. Part of the issue is that I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do professionally. Being unsure of what you want to do in a place like New York City where you have to be cutthroat to get what you want doesn’t work out so well. For too long, I’ve put what I love to do professionally on the back burner.

Until recently.

A few months ago, I made the decision to return to teaching. Teaching is where I’ve always belonged, I just didn’t realize that until I took a six-year hiatus. Last week, a few days before my 31st birthday, I accepted a classroom teaching position. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’ve finally turned a professional corner, or at least returned to the right road.

I’m excited to start a new chapter in New York, which is working in a field I so strongly believe in, in a position I’m passionate about. It will be challenging, stressful, and a whole slew of other adjectives, but I’m looking forward to being a position where I can give back to the community of which I’ve grown very fond.

Happy Blogiversary To Me!

cheersToday marks my three-year blogiversary. Quite a milestone, if I may say so! I’d actually forgotten the exact date I took the plunge into the blogosphere until today when my WordPress account prompted to renew my expiring domain name (something I have to do annually).

Three years ago today, I bought my own Tweetupdomain name and started a blog so that I would have writing samples for potential employers. Little did I know that blogging would catapult me into a completely new career path and take me into the uncharted waters of tweet-ups and other social media/blogging-related meetups. Not to mention the countless people I’ve met virtually and in real life thanks to this medium.

I don’t think I ever thought about where blogging would lead me or what would actually become of this blog. I simply just wrote in hopes that someone, at least–if not solely–my parents, would read, enjoy, be entertained, and be challenged by what I wrote.

breakfast sandwichMy first blog post was about a sandwich. I’m a woman of many words when it comes to the foods I enjoy, so it’s no surprise that food posts have made many appearances on this blog. I’ve shared family cooking traditions, expounded upon my own food obsessions, and even passed along a recipe or two.

classroomAnother thing I’ve loved about having this blog is that it’s been a great forum for creating dialogue on social issues that are important to me such as education, health care, and the latest happenings in local government. Facebook and Twitter rants don’t quite do it for me.

I raise my glass to you, Prince William!

Then of course, there’s the lighter side. That’s the great thing about having a blog called Ramblings, I can write about whatever I want. Conversation starters for the socially challenged, gushing over my literary crushes, reflecting on an old celebrity crush, requesting to work for Saturday Night Live in a cheeky cover letter, lamenting the death of romance, ranting about Comic Sans. One of my greatest joys came from solving the age-old mystery from my youth about the disappearance of the other Cinnamon Toast Crunch bakers.

Perhaps the biggest laugh for me is in realizing that Snooki has provided my blog with the most traffic. Thanks to the post I wrote about her publishing a novel, there was always a spike in traffic to my blog on Thursdays just before Jersey Shore aired. Thank you, Google image search!

So, what’s next? What will the next three years bring? More of everything, I hope! For starters, it’s time to get back to a more frequent blogging schedule. Second, it’s time to get more personal. Perhaps throw in a bit more about my own life, only the interesting parts of course! Lastly, I really want to take a look at how I can engage foreign readers. Within the last year, WordPress started keeping stats on clicks by country. It’s really cool to look at the map of top views by country for my blog:

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People from Myanmar have visited my blog? Not to mention Albania, Egypt, Mauritius, Australia, and India. It blows my mind! If only I could get this visitors to speak to me and share their stories. The possibilities would be endless. I would love to find a way to foster an international conversation.

We’ll see what’s happen. Here’s to the next three years and beyond!

Champagne toast!
Champagne toast!