Tell Me What To Do!

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

I’ve had this thought percolating on my mind for quite a few weeks. What is it about the term “unconditional” that just doesn’t lay right with me. I have had this idea, this concept, these words on my brain for awhile: What is meant by unconditional love, unconditional acceptance, unconditional guarantee..anything that we say is unconditional. And the bigger question ‘how is this perceived and interpreted by those who it applies to?’ Does the underlying meaning give free reign, laiseez-faire with no consequences or responsibilities? And then this pops into my head, how often have we heard our kids, students, friends, colleagues, and families say “just tell me what to do!” an amalgamation of ideas, whether they connect, not sure, but will explore as I wrote this post. So many unanswered questions in life.

To have this make sense to you, and me, I’ll limit my mind wonderings to kids (our own and in school) and then we could extrapolate further (maybe on our own). Thinking back to all the times said “Oh, you can do it: eat big kid food, drink from a cup, poop in the toilet, sleep on your own..”you get the drift. And followed by, “Do it for… mommy, daddy, grandma, babysitter, etc.” And there it is “I’ll be so proud of you when you do IT.” The condition is clear, not even implied. The kid does it because who doesn’t want that love, that’s the reward. (Generalizations, for sure, but indulge me.) Then we head into school where pleasing the often based on that compliance that in and of itself is the conditioned reward.

So much of childhood is spent doing what others want, what’s expected of them, that somehow it comes as a big surprise to the adults (parents/caregivers and teachers), when kids just say “just tell me what to do!” We have driven their initiative, their willingness to take risks, their agency, their choice, their self discovery out of them. When mistakes become a be all of failure, not a jumping stone to try again, because they want to please, to be seen only in a positive light of a success story. The unspoken unconditional love/acceptance is but an illusion as it seems to be conditioned on others approval.

Nothing is ever in absolutes, but making a point is sometimes most startling when driven home in infinite terms. I think of myself as an observer, a listener, a student of wonder, a forever learner and a sharer. I use this blog to reflect, to learn, to understand. Watching kids with many years of experiences as a teacher, a mother, a grandmother and a friend, questioning through reflections has helped me move forward. I have become more aware of my responses to others through my reflections. I have some answers, at times, but mostly here to be supportive to family, friends and colleagues. It’s been a difficult year for so many. Too much to worry about when survival was at the forefront in our lives. Which brings me back to our kids and what they perceive as we talk about “unconditional love/acceptance.” Home life and school still has responsibilities..but how we frame it may be one of the reasons kids say “just tell me what to do!”

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Clarion Call

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

I sit here once again reflecting about this past weeks’ event, about the shootings at a spa  in Atlanta and the horror once again perpetuated at the “other.”  Othering  destroys. Haven’t we seen enough of that yet?

Now for awhile, before I can get back to subbing, I am sidelined, but not without voice. I think of how all this impacts our students, the youngest ones to college graduates and then beyond. Impact and learning go hand in hand, and that’s where I choose to use my voice.

So my clarion call, First Do No Harm. According to Merriam-Webster, clarion call: a strong request for something to happen -usually singular //He used his speech to sound a clarion call for affordable health care. //the leader’s clarion call to action

I believe that what we say, share or if we, “indoctrinate” with our perspectives leaves an indelible imprint on our students. All one has to do is sit at a table (lunch room, family table) wherever kids gather and listen to their conversations. From talking about peers, teachers, parents, governments, their world views, etc., they voice what they hear and try to understand (always my hope). No one is immune. If nothing else “bullying” certainly has shown us that. We need to know who we teach, their backgrounds and their diverse lived experiences. Home life now, more than before, on the “razor’s edge” because of the pandemic. Teach with love, respect and caring. Way more than curriculum is at stake now. Teachers once again have an added responsibility, how to keep our students’ emotionally and physically safe (as they try to explain more about hate, yet once again), without adding an unintentional burden.

We want to raise caring, understanding, Upstanders, with a voice.

With prose and poetry (maybe), here I add..

To right a wrong, causing harm,

Animosity, vilifying and othering.

Not what is needed.

But once again the hate is strong, even as “allyship” is spoken.

Parceling out to whom and why, once again unspoken.

So I am inclined to believe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

      And Elie Wiesel

with their CLARION CALL.

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An Assignment: Your Choice

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

This is not the post I thought I’d be writing next, but this is the post that is the right time, now. March 13, 2020 my last day in school with the kinder team. We sat since Wednesday, March 11, 2020 (when the students went home at noon), scrambling to get a curriculum set (appropriate for our Kinders) for the next two weeks. What were we thinking!! As we quickly learned how to teach with Zoom and the many links we designed for distance learning, we thought it was for a short time. And I taught this way till April 17th when my long term substitute position ended. That was the day I no longer was involved in the day to day teaching or subbing. Hits me hard whenever I think about that. And I can never say enough about my colleagues and how hard they have worked from then till now. On site school has started for some of the kids and teachers. Hybrid model is a burden many on Twitter have shared. Stress seems like such an inadequate word to describe what’s happening. But with that I segue into my post..

I have an assignment for you. You won’t be graded, you don’t even have to do it. You choose. I was thinking of words and a T chart. I was wondering if we put words in columns of positive or negative, how they make us feel and how it impacts our day to day lives. And maybe even our mindset. After you put them in your T chart maybe take the time to reflect why you put them where you did. I have a list of words, but certainly add your own to your T chart.

Here goes in no order, just what popped into my head as I walked today. Some words are “loaded” some “benign”. It’s how we look at them and decide where they go for us. 

Attainable, Sustainable, Pundits, Educators, Leadership/leaders, Harmony, Dedicate/dedicated/dedication, Pandemic, Vaccine, Resilience, Pivot, Impact, Distance learning, In house learning, Curriculum, Tests, Friends, Colleagues, Family, Sympathy, Empathy, Justice/Equity/Equality, Imbalance/balance, Voice, Choice, Needs, Wants, Harm/harmful, etc….

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More Than A Single Story

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher 

When we spend so much time beating ourselves up for past transgressions, real or imagined, what message are we sending our students? When we buy into a mindset that has us questioning “why” we feel there is something wrong with “us” what message are we sending our students? Are we really so fearful of backlash or not being understood, we don’t speak up for ourselves, what message are we sending our students? 

There is much anger in this world, vented everywhere and and at everyone. No one is unscathed. Messages of helplessness and hopelessness seems to be pervasive. Is this the message we want to be sending our students?

So much needs to be changed. So much inequality and inequity. It is past time to figure this out and make changes. Isn’t the message we want to send to our students that working together, listening to multiple stories, making space at the table for these stories is a bridge that builds and unites, for change? 

I joined a Zoom meeting recently and we listened to a TED TALK by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on “The danger of single story.I heard this TEdTalk before, but this time I really listened to the harm a single story can do to a person and a community.

When we are seen only from one perspective, whether race, religion, age, position and any other attribute that narrows one’s willingness to understand who that person is or what travels in their journey brought them to this place (wherever that may be)? Is that what teaching is now? I am on my podium shouting, this is wrong. Raising strong, thoughtful, independent, caring and kind people means we don’t vilify the “other.” I have written about do overs in another, but similar, context, But now almost a year after writing the other  postI’ve seen and read so much that doesn’t open up dialogue, doesn’t try to understand, but leaves me wondering how will our students interpret all of this? What space will they have to share their feelings, their concerns. Will they be seen as having a “single story?” Words are powerful. Words can be harmful. Words that say that one is the oppressor and the other oppressed/the victim need conceptual understanding to have a place in the classroom. Perpetuating that model, without context, is abhorrent to me. History is shared in words. Books are shared with words. (How those read alouds have guided me as a conduit to understanding and discussions! And how grateful for the words from diverse authors who share their multilayered stories. Words can empower change, with respect, understanding and inclusion. I choose those words. How about you? 

Maybe this is the winter of my discontent?


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For The Most Part

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

Day by day, the not knowing is the most difficult part of facing the future. Never been that way. Not that I remember. The uncertainty like “looking into the eye of the tiger!” We have no guarantee, never had that, for the most part. But we forged ahead, made plans, had goals, for the most part. And as I reflect my mind keeps going to..

Looking into eye of the tiger,

What would I see?


Was that fear staring back?

Bold or cowered, what would I do?

Looking into the eye of the tiger,

Gripped with uncertainty,

Alone or not what did it mean?

I know there’s been silence from me, for a bit, here on the blog. But not because I’ve not been thinking about, well about everything really: pandemic, vaccines, winter storms and always, school. It’s like a trifecta of a Greek or Shakespeare tragedy. And the word “rollouts” looms in my mind. From vaccine rollouts to school rollouts to power grid rollouts. How facile it is on our tongues to discuss life in terms of “rollouts.” Crazy, right?

We go on. That’s what we do, right? The ramification will only be known over time. And yet we persist. And yes we look at our strengths, what we can do, each of us. I’m glued to the news at times, I know maybe not the best thing to do, but I want to know. And from knowing, I learn and from learning I see hope, for the most part.

A walk and I look up to see this incredible black bird perched way up high. I was mesmerized  by some of its moves, way up in a precarious position. Somewhat like life right now, for the most part.

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Words Matter

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

What does it mean when we say “poor you” and what is it that “the person hears?”

I’ve been ruminating about this for a few days. Vivid recall saying it myself, about my own kids, my students, family and friends. And how often I have heard family, friends and colleagues saying this over time. It comes from a place of care, concern and compassion, that I know. You hear someone is sick, didn’t get into college of choice, missed out buying a house, lost their job, engagement didn’t work to the much more mundane of didn’t do well on a test, collaborating on a project a bust, bad hair day, a friend problem and more. Pretty sure we all have been on both sides of the “poor you” conundrum!

Conundrum: 1 a : an intricate and difficult problem                                                                      b : a question or problem having only a conjectural answer

We express sympathy, understanding and solidarity with that person’s disappointment. And that person hears that, but maybe more. Is it a resolve to do more to carry on, to face the future with hope and resilience? Or is it with a feeling of doom, bad luck, the luck of the draw and helplessness to work through it, work it out and make their path? Does it mean that person gets a pass because it’s not up to them? And some things are not in our control but my concern is what that means at the end of the day.

Time to bring this back to kids, school, teaching, teachers and parents, especially now during a pandemic and remote learning. Parents are overwhelmed, that’s a given. Teachers are working harder than ever before, that’s a given. And kids are working so hard to meet the challenges they’re facing as well, and that’s a given. So where’s the conundrum, you ask? The mindset of “poor you” when these three, this triad, Parent, Teacher and The School Aged Child ( Many years ago I taught a class with this title to nursery school teacher candidates.) converge. When the child flubs a test, when the teacher would like to put tests on the back burner, when the parent is inundated with their own work Zoom calls or has a job which limits their time at home during their kids’ remote learning. I can hear all the “poor you” utterances. And I am one of the voices. More than that, I am the listener as well. I want to know more, I want to change the language of giving up to one of what can be done. What’s next, how do we move on. Not every “poor you” is a battle cry. Some are as simple as an emoji hug. My concern is what is heard, when that person is seemingly reassured with a “poor you” what is the message that is perceived? Is there a pass to not push ahead? Is it you’re not accountable, you don’t have to change? Is it, it’s not you’re fault, “poor you” they’re picking on you, you can’t do more? And then you give up!! And that’s what is most frightening to me, most worrisome, most discouraging?

So beyond listening, what’s needed? The conundrum, when a response outweighs the nodding of ones head, in agreement, as a listener.

How are you balancing worries that pop up as you meet the challenges of daily routines, in your roles? Today’s post a result of ideas that swirls around in my head on my daily walks.

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I Am America: Ode To The Dream

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher  

I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors

Who found their way to these shores.

They took me by the hand as we wandered many lands,

To find our way to these shores.

One came so close, but had no more, left my side, in another land.

The other strong and resilient, she had a dream, 

And took me by the hand to these shores.

I am the daughter of immigrants who sought a dream.

Not always welcomed, but persevered.

I have a story to be told.

Yours and mine differ, that is so.

I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors,

Bred with dignity,

A promise instilled, I tell my story.

And listen as yours unfolds.

Our journey different, our paths may never cross,

But today on the Mall, I “see” it all.                                                          

                                                     The National Mall in Washington D.C.

                                                                 January 19, 2021 
                                                           Photo credit Joe Raedle/Getty




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Beyond Loss Of Learning

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

I went for a walk today. It’s warm here in Los Angeles, a bit uncomfortable to walk, but I did. It’s January 18th, MLK2021 today. I walked with a heaviness in my heart. It’s there many days now. I know why, we all do. But the heaviness is compounded by the events from the riots in Washington, DC on January 6th, the pandemic and the uncertainty that is pervasive everywhere (not only in the US). As I walked my mind wandered to kids and school and loss. Allow me a wide berth, please.

It started with the idea of take-aways. It went to loss and swung back to take-aways. So many have written with deep concern about student loss as they learn from  home. So many push to go back to learning in the school house. They say kids will be so far behind. They will lose ground and their education will be a disaster. I read, I listen and I cringe. Wherever you may be if you read this, your reality may be so different from mine, here. And that’s okay. As long as you in your community stay safe, then what works for you, is where it’s at for you, now. With that said, grace and understanding must be how we look at other communities.

So I look at loss… loss of life, loss of livelihood, loss of basic needs. The pandemic has us in a downward spiral, hanging on to the precipice. And I jump to our students, our kids, the big take-away is their loss.. not academics, but the loss of friendships in a school setting. The relationships built on with social emotional learning I spent over 38 years watching the sacred development of friendships. Yes I call it sacred! The pathway to adulthood is reinforced by relationships we navigate in our formative years. From eye contact at birth, to the first smile and response to a babble we are on our way. There may be detours along the way but those moments playing in the sand box, sharing blocks and building castles, those friendships forged, shape who we are and how we come to see our world. And that’s where, more often than not, school comes in.. it did for me, my kids and grandkids. And when my students came back to check in, when they were on campus, the stories they’ve shared focus on memories of laughter, books read, collaborative activities from our Farm to Desert to Rainforest Units. And the discussions we had when things were rough out there. That’s what I see as a greater loss than the worry of academics. The loss can’t be measured in metrics, data or assessments. To me the loss is measured on the look at our kids’ faces and what they are (and are not) experiencing.

Sometimes my reflections overwhelm and seem hopeless, but I often look for a silver lining. Today I remember the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his vision and am grateful that maybe I’ll see us get closer to the other side of the mountain. We can use our voice to include everyone in our dreams.

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Cognitive Dissonance And The Reality

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher 

You know I walk a lot, and when I walk, besides stopping to “smell the roses” and take pictures, I think a lot! I’ve written and shared my #oneword2021  Destinyand now I wonder if I need to rethink STUFF. Not my word, Destiny, per se, but the reality of life. Maybe now I need to look at what the possibilities to go back to what I have loved from 1976, working with children, my role as a teacher..teaching. Everyday when I listen to news, the pounding in my ears, weighs heavily in my heart.

I’m forever the optimist, looking at the possibilities and what I do have and what’s my destiny to shape. Back to my #oneword, right? So you ask, where’s the cognitive  dissonance(This is an interesting article!) I wait for the time I can go back into the classroom, to teach face-to-face, more or less, adhering to the school protocols. In my mind’s eye I see myself sitting with a group of students, whether with Playdough, playing outside, with manipulatives in math groups, sharing read alouds, or working in with reading and writing workshops groups. I see myself with colleagues talking about students’ progress, needs and interests to develop curriculum and spaces for students to explore and grow. I see what I have had and now continue to want. But that’s not the reality, I know that. What can I accept and how do I adjust to the reality? Retired, did not mean no longer teaching. Retired, did not mean not stepping into a classroom. Not yet. And I had that as a substitute teacher with toddlers up to second grade. My “dream” job in retirement. And then March 2020 all that changed. By April my subbing stopped (long term position ended). But not my passion in learning, absorbing information and sharing, as I have always done, with school colleagues, and on Twitter and Facebook.

So now reality. Need to confront the cognitive dissonance. What’s feasible, what’s possible and what am I ready to do? Some have thanked me over the years for “mentoring” them (certainly unofficially). Some have asked for guidance and wanting to brainstorm ideas. My excitement in sharing and learning with them was always the driving force, the motivation! When asked to tutor students over the years, I have chosen not to (for many reasons) and certainly now, with restrictions in place, Zoom tutoring is not in my choice, I might add. 

Time to align cognitive dissonance with reality. Working on it. Not sure where this will lead to, but as always sharing my reflections and journey. 

It’s 2021 time to face what needs to be faced and understood. I’m okay with it. The path is still there for me to explore and decide what to do. As teachers begin the New Year I can still hear their excitement as they greet their students. It’s one day at a time. I wish them all a safe journey. 


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#oneword2021 Destiny

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

Well it’s that time of year for many of my Twitter PLN…our #oneword search, reflection for the coming year. I’ve had fun with it. Enjoyed reading what others divulge and why, and of course the mulling over of my past ones and what the new one will be.

A strange 2020 to look back on and I thought to continue  #oneword2020this year.
But no although I’ll still “question,” this year my mind is focusing on destiny and fate. There is a crossover with these but I see them differently. Fate to me is a “fait accompli” “An accomplished fact; an action which is completed before those affected by it are in a position to query or reverse it.” A done deal with no options.” 

Destiny, although described as 1. something that is to happen or has happened to a particular person or thing; lot or fortune. 2. the predetermined, usually inevitable, course of events. 3. the power or agency that determines the course of events. I look at it is as what I make of the future..what’s in my hands to shape and mold. Basically option 3!

Life changes one’s views. And 2020 has interrupted and upended many lives. How many are not anywhere near what they expected at this time of their journey. Loss magnified by life’s circumstances. Hope and joy may be in short supply. But that’s where fate versus destiny comes in. Fate is living in the loss..destiny is how we change loss into hope and joy. So that’s where I’m at. I’ll look to make my destiny filled with hope and joy. It’s where I choose to live. Never forgetting what is available to me, secure and anchored by family and friends. Never forgetting my work has given me a purpose for so many, many years. Never forgetting I can use my voice purposefully, learning as I go along. Never forgetting the loss is still there, laying low most days, but then comes up and I remember what I have lost. But those losses became the stepping stones for who I am, the backbone of my resilience.

And so I get to continue to shape my destiny. To be there, to share, to lend a helping had. To laugh with glee, when laughter might have been lost, but wasn’t! I am curious to see what 2021 holds for me as I wonder if being a substitute teacher, can still be the promise I had hoped it would be, when I retired. For now I live vicariously through the musings of my teacher friends. I share with them my thoughts, ideas and of course passions!

My destiny intertwined with family, what a blessing for me. Seeing my grandkids grow. Spending time with them. Building and sharing memories. Being part of that journey with them. Pretty good I would say. So taking destiny in my hands, what is your #oneword2021? Whatever you choose, you go for it and live it!

Safe, happy healthy New Year 2021 from my house to yours.

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