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Tuesday Evening September 5th

I called my friend from the road, “Are you staying or going?” Memories of our family with our greyhound and cats huddled under our stairs during hurricane Charley came rushing back. She was emphatic, “Go!” It was just me. My husband was traveling for work; my son was at college and my daughter in Illinois. I had settled into my routine after traveling most of the spring and summer, and I really didn’t want to leave. Gas stations were already out of gas. There were reports of shortages of water.  It was only Tuesday. The storm was predicted to hit on Sunday. Remembering our days without power after Charley had me wondering how bad it would be after Irma even if my house survived.

Wednesday Morning September 6th

I decided to go. The carrot at the end of the stick was a road trip to my daughter’s house in Urbana, Illinois. I’d get to see her and celebrate her birthday early.

Even after I decided to leave packing and organizing felt surreal. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the notion that when I returned my home could be destroyed. There wasn’t much I could fit in my car besides my two ninety pound dogs. I spent more time trying to protect things in my house and less time packing.  I grabbed my USB and saved all my manuscripts and all the drafts and their edits. Suddenly, I was very thankful for this blog and social media where years of pictures and posts were safe. Photo albums, paintings, journals, and even my middle school box full of notes went into bins I stored in a safe section of my house. Mentally I had to let go. Hurrican Irma was on her way. My home would be destroyed or it wouldn’t I had no control over the situation. The only control I had was my decision to leave. I suppose after experiencing an unexpected earthquake in California, and then Hurricane Charley, I was thankful I had enough warning to get out of town. Life doesn’t always give warnings.

Wednesday Evening September 6th

Roscoe, Smudge and I took off on our adventure to Illinois. All the gas stations for miles were out of gas. Luckily, just before I reached I- 75, I spotted a long line and hoped. Never had I been so happy to fill up my tank!

Traffic was light for the two-hour drive to Tampa. Then I caught up to the masses. It was bumper to bumper for hours. Rows of cars lined the exit ramps that led to fast food and fuel. I drove until 2 am and then began searching for a hotel knowing there was no way I’d make it to the room I booked in Georgia. Every station was vacant. No gas. I still had a half tank, but I didn’t want to venture too far searching for hotels or gas stations because I didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of Florida with no way to escape Irma. My daughter in Illinois and my husband in Vegas called every hotel they could find close to me. Nothing. I pulled into a giant Lowes parking lot to stretch, plan, and walk the dogs. I figured the safest thing to do was stick with the crowds. If gas were coming, it would arrive at stations off of I-75. I kept going. I tried another exit and luckily found gas, but still no hotel. When the adrenaline from the day and caffeine had worn off, I decided to sleep at a rest stop. But the next rest stop I found was closed. Security had to block the entrance because it was packed with people. I kept going. Finally, I reached Georgia! It was 5 am. I found an open rest stop. Cars were parked on sidewalks, grassy areas, anywhere they could find. Roscoe and Smudge were wide awake from napping the entire trip, but I was exhausted. With my seat reclined and my pillow shoved against the car door, I slept, while Roscoe and Smudge pushed their noses to the window watching all the people and their dogs walk by.

Thursday Morning September 7th

When I woke the sun was shining, the air was cool; people were everywhere. The dogs and I went for a walk before climbing back in the car and hitting the highway. Traffic was still busy. Since I had planned to stay in Georgia, I drove for awhile and then began searching for hotel rooms again. The one I had booked had given my room away and they were full. Every exit I tried, every hotel desk I approached let me know immediately that there was no more room. I kept going. By 4 pm I reached a town outside of Atlanta. There were less Florida license plates than Georgia, so I decided to give it a try. I needed sleep, a shower, and food!

When the kind man at the desk told me he had a room and pets were okay, I wanted to leap over the counter and give him a huge hug! However, after riding in the car with my dogs for hours and not showering, I figured he’d appreciate a simple thank you instead.

Friday, September 8th

After a nap, dinner, and a full night’s sleep the boys and I were ready to hit the road again. We drove to Urbana where my daughter had dog treats, dog toys, chocolate, and a University of Illinois hat and fuzzy socks decorating the dresser of our room! My home away from home.

Eric flew from Vegas to Illinois and worked at my daughter’s house while we spent the week together waiting for power to return to our neighborhood. Even though I had traveled with my daughter over the spring and summer being with her in her everyday life was different. I had the opportunity to share in her world, and I loved seeing her as an adult, working hard with her team and managing her business. I loved chatting with her roommate and listening to stories about their racing lives. Eric cooked for us because we’re all safer if I stay out of the kitchen and he happily tackled my daughter’s home repair list because he’s a great dad! Meanwhile, Roscoe and Smudge took over every couch, bed, and futon as if they’d lived there forever.

On our drive back home, we stopped to have dinner with my son and his girlfriend. Seeing my children thrive on their own brings me such joy. They’re happy. They’re independent. They’re brave. They’re knowledge seekers. I couldn’t be any prouder of them. My impromptu road trip brought me closer to my children.

The entire trip from the people at rest stops who offered to help me with Roscoe and Smudge to drivers on the road to people at the gas stations and convenience stores were all kind and helpful. I felt a renewed sense of peace that I had lost with this last election. Seeing so much kindness gave me hope.

When my world is turned upside down eventually I look for the lessons. These past few weeks, I learned the importance of letting go. I learned the value of life and of spending time with those I love. I learned that I can plan all I want but still the unexpected will happen. It’s easier to ride the current than try to swim upstream when that happens. And with the loss of two of my favorite trees I planted nineteen years ago, I learned to begin again to focus on the possibility of what could be.

Namaste

Never have I come home from a substitute teaching job and cried. Until this year…

The phone rang for middle school. My inner voice said you know it’s going to be tough. Delving into a class full of hormonal teens trying to figure out their place in the world can be challenging. I’ve done it for the past three years, subbing in classes that can be difficult to find subs for because of behaviors. Slowly it’s taken its toll, and this year I had decided to sub only for high school. Then came the call for middle. I figured I had all summer to rest, an attitude of positivity and a heart wanting to help. So, off I went to the most challenging job of my life.

Middle School

ME: “Please put that desk down. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.

Student: ” Miss, don’t mess with him. He’s been to jail three times.”

ME: “I know you’re playing around, but I need you to take your seat. We can’t punch each other. Someone’s going to get hurt.

ME: “Please don’t stand on the desks.” The boy lifts his shirt and mimics a strip tease.

ME: “Language.” “Inappropriate.” “Let’s be kind to one another.”

The blocks were an hour and a half long with six to ten boys and zero to two girls. All of us in one room. I tried reading to them. They talked over me. I tried two middle school ice breaker games. One lasted ten minutes and the other fifteen before they were done and back to insulting each other. They wandered around the room searching for anything to get into to grab my attention. My job wasn’t to teach the students. My job was to try and keep them from hurting each other for an hour and a half.

I had to ask for another adult to come in the classroom twice during the first day. Once when a boy insisted he was going to jump over a desk and another time when two boys were about to throw punches. When security came in, they sat. When security left, they sat for fifteen minutes if I was lucky. I left feeling defeated. I failed. I couldn’t manage the classroom, and as a result, I couldn’t teach any of the lessons I had brought with me.

When I returned home, I couldn’t stop thinking of the kids. How did they get to that point? Was it their home environment? Was it their elementary to the middle school environment? Where were the adults in their life trying to make things better for them? Are we failing as a community when our children cannot be taught because they’ve learned to have outrageous behaviors in the classroom? Even though this school was by far the most difficult I’ve been to, I’ve seen similar behaviors in other middle schools. What happens to the child that doesn’t have parental support, has developed difficult behaviors, and has been placed in low-level ability ranked classrooms for his first through sixth-grade years? Well, what happens is school becomes a place where he has learned how to shock, disrupt, shout-out, rebel, fight, and complete his worksheet only if he feels like it. If he’s never felt confident in his ability to do the work because we’ve placed him in low classes for years telling him he’s dumb then why should he try? And if you don’t think we haven’t told the students they’re dumb by putting them in these classes then go sub and listen. I guarantee you will hear, “This is the low class. This is the class for dummies. I got put in here because I failed ____.” School is not a place where he has learned to seek knowledge and value becoming a life long learner. School has become a constant reminder of how he is different from the other students. Behaviors arise, consequences occur, and by middle school, he feels like school is a jail. His behaviors have gotten out of control, and school is no longer about learning it’s about avoiding referrals and suspension.

I went back.

Because I believed these students could be helped. Because I believed the students had good hearts, hearts that were hurting, and needed more adults to show them learning could be enjoyable, there’s a whole world out there to discover; life does not have to be about who can beat up whom or drugs or guns, or jail…

I tried again. I failed again.

There were moments, small moments of light where a student would ask a question about the book I tried to read, or stand up and ask his classmates to, “shut the fuck up,” so I could speak. One student explained that he had to have a backup plan if football didn’t work out. He showed me baking videos and said he wanted to be a baker. Another time, two students flirting with each other took it too far resulting in a shove which led to a student falling into me. Immediately another boy who witnessed the accident asked me if I was okay. I wanted to cry, not because of what happened but, because in all of the negativity he showed compassion. It was those tiny moments of light where I took a deep breath and reminded myself to keep trying.

I’d imagine that’s what the administration and the teachers at this school felt. They too must search for those moments of light where they see a student has made progress. I am in awe of the administration and teachers at this school because I’ve never been more challenged in my life. Those teachers are strong hearted, caring people, who care enough to try to put back the pieces of souls that have been ripped apart. The things they hear, the things they see from twelve to fourteen-year-olds, it must break their heart day after day, and still they try again hoping to make a difference. That is an incredible person!

How do we make it better? I believe it’s up to the community. I also believe our school structure should change beginning in elementary. Students that struggle with behavior and or academic success should not be grouped together in one typical American classroom with desks, and behavior cards and threats of referrals. All that does is put the focus on behavior. Teaching in those types of classrooms is extremely difficult. We should think home-school–in school. When students have more moments of feeling like someone cares for them, feeling academic success, and feeling as though they’d rather research how to 3D print something or how an airplane flies rather than how to shock their teacher with inappropriate behavior then we’re succeeding in educating all of our students.

They are our future America. Do we want them to continue the pattern of anger and negativity thinking their future will be a jail cell or do we want to challenge their minds in a positive way giving them a chance to choose what they’d like to do with their future? We have the opportunity, to teach them to be curious, knowledge seeking individuals. We know what doesn’t work; now it’s time to change it. We need to begin to think beyond four walls and rows of desks.

Check this out! AltSchool. When we can have schools like this for everyone and not just the ultra rich, then we’re valuing every child and investing in our future.

Nontraditional Schools Across the World

They placed her in my arms. I thought they had made a mistake and brought me the wrong baby. She was so big with beautiful dark curls framing her face. When she left to be with who we were told would be her adoptive mother she was a tiny three-month-old that had been with us over two months. I hardly recognized the six-month old I held in my arms. She cried and cried refusing to be set down even for a second. I understood. For the next several months she was either in my arms or my husbands. That summer her brother and sister came to live with us too. They were two and three years old. We had five children under six–seven of us in a two bedroom house owned by my grandparents.

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The Art of Happiness.

Perhaps it’s because I spend my days writing imaginary scenes with imaginary characters that I understand the power of imagination. I’ve come to realize the way in which I view the world, and my everyday experiences are under my control. In other words:“With every experience, you alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.” Oprah Winfrey

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The entire drive I stopped my mind from conjuring thoughts that brought tears to my eyes. I needed to hold it together yet the more I pushed my emotions down, the more they rebelled, bubbling up to the surface.

Hospice. The last time someone I knew was in Hospice, she passed before I could get to her, hold her hand, and tell her much I loved her. She was my everything, my grandmother.

I arrived and walked down the quiet halls carrying the hope that some people leave hospice and return home. Maybe I wouldn’t have to say goodbye.

Goodbye. The thread that ties us all together. Many of us know the pain of never again. Some learn it too soon.

A week later I drove with my son and two friends to her celebration of life service. My mind raced from thoughts of her husband and two young sons to thoughts of her mother sitting in the hospice room rubbing her daughter’s arm.  Breathe.

The school auditorium was packed with people who had been touched by Maiya’s life.

Memories. Wasn’t it just yesterday that she walked through the hallways helping, organizing, laughing, everyone knew Maiya. Everyone knew Maiya’s heart.

Holding back the tears, I turned to my friend. “I can’t watch the slide show; it’s too sad.” My friend reminded me it was a celebration of LIFE! “When I go you better be at a bar somewhere toasting my life.” Reality. We never know when we’ll have to say goodbye. Even in death, Maiya reminded us all to live.

Teens to young adults, students from years passed, played the steel drums. How many times had I seen Maiya in the band room making sure kids had what they needed?

But the words of one woman hit home in a letter she wrote to her daughter in law when she first found out Maiya had cancer. “I was afraid to love you too much because the divorce rate is 60%.” The honesty in those words cut straight to my heart. Being afraid to love because one day we will lose what we love. The fear of goodbye outweighing the freedom and greatness of love. It wasn’t until Maiya’s mother-in-law knew she’d lose her daughter that she chose to love her with her full heart. In that moment I knew I was the same. I needed to love more and fear less.

Maiya loved with all her heart.  She had less time here than anyone ever would’ve imagined, but in that time she taught us to see the need in our community, care, and do something to help. That lesson was a light within Maiya. Now it’s been passed on to all who knew her. Even though we said goodbye Maiya’s light will continue to shine.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know how much I love my dogs Roscoe and Smudge. I’ve been posting pictures of them since they were tiny pups. #Roscoeandsmudge I’ve had to learn a lot about dog training this past year thanks to them. I found that there are similarities between managing a classroom and managing two ninety pound dogs.

I was a classroom teacher for five years, and I’ve been a substitute teacher for eight. I’ve learned a thing or two about classroom management especially being a substitute teacher. Training dogs is similar to classroom management in that it calls for me to always be in a position of leadership while continuously assessing energy levels.

I once heard a teacher say, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” I thought it was brilliant because she let her class know the importance of kindness in leadership, but also strength in that kindness. She let her students know that she was in control thus allowing them to sit back and learn. And as any teacher knows classroom management always comes before learning. Learning can only take place when students feel safe.

Roscoe and Smudge are my boxer/pit mix pups I’ve cared for since they were two weeks old. Now they’re a year and a half. When they were little and I could hold one in each hand training was easy. There was an understanding that I was the leader. Looking back I realize the understanding was there because I knew it. Then Roscoe and Smudge grew and grew! They began to exhibit typical dog behaviors like barking, curiosity toward small creatures, and excitement which resulted in pulling on their leashes. The more they pulled, the less I wanted to walk them. Suddenly I began to question my leadership skills. I started to believe that there was nothing I could do. A dogs will be dogs attitude which was not helpful toward my relationship with them. I started to miss the little pups that listened and didn’t nearly knock me down every time I tried to get the three of us out the front door.

Then I remembered the classroom. As a middle and high school substitute, I walk into a room full students I’ve never met. My job is to manage the class and teach the lesson the teacher has left for me. My years of experience have taught me that being too relaxed or too strict result in disaster. An attitude of strength in kindness is what’s necessary. I must walk in with kindness and calm carrying a positive energy that lets everyone know I’m in charge. Sometimes it’s a complete act. A fake it until I feel it attitude, but most of the time it’s exactly how I feel.

I had forgotten that Roscoe and Smudge are always looking to me to be their leader. The minute I started to believe that their pulling on the leash was something dogs do and I had no control was the moment they took control. That’s what dogs and students do when they don’t have a leader. They take control; chaos ensues because no one feels safe. The good news is that when the energy levels get too high, they can quickly be brought back down through a calm yet strong presence. Take a look at this video for a great example.

Negative energy and positive energy fluctuate with each thought or belief. As long as I’m aware of the energy, I’m bringing to a situation I have control over adjusting it whether I’m in a classroom or training Roscoe and Smudge. It doesn’t mean that I’m always the perfect leader. It means that I’m aware that my thoughts evoke emotions which result in either a negative or positive situation. If my energy is negative, the minute, I sense it I have the ability to change my thoughts which change my emotions, and influence those around me whether it’s dogs or students. Good leaders don’t yell, criticize, insult, or use violence. They understand how to bring positive energy into every situation. They lead through kindness which is a strength far greater and more developed than its opposite. In other words, it’s easy to get angry and yell it’s much more difficult to face your anger/fear and turn it into positive leadership.

It’s not about being perfect. It’s about understanding that if the moment isn’t perfect, you have the ability to change it. Change your energy to change your environment. It works for classrooms and dogs!