An Alternate Reality: Treating Teachers as Society’s Superstars

Key and Peele’s TeachingCenter

Inspiring acts come from all sorts of people in all sorts of forms. Today I share a skit from two great comedians – Key and Peele.

  • • Big corporations put their money behind teaching?
  • • What if the best teachers got paid the way the best athletes get paid?
  • • What if the schools that performed worst one year got first pick for superstar teachers in next year’s draft?
  • • What if the general public held up teachers as heroes, idols even?

Great food for thought. And presented in an entertaining way. So far, nearly 6.5 million people have watched this on youtube. Now that’s inspiring. Thank you Key and Peele!

Be Inspired to Action!

Check it out. Let’s get that number over 7 million. And, once we’ve thought about it, maybe we will each find a way – big or small – to let great teachers we know they are appreciated. Heroes even.

Share your inspirational stories about teachers!

New York, New York!

I’m doing a lot of traveling this graduation season. That’s got me thinking about the importance of place in some children’s literature. We all know New York is unique – some of us love it, some of us avoid it like the plague. For those whose kids are interested in New York rhythms, here are a couple of my old favs.

From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is about the adventures of Claudia and her brother Jamie from suburban Connecticut just outside New York who run away to Manhattan. What better place to hide out than the Metropolitan Museum of Art! Just the idea of taking up residence in such a majestic place is mesmerizing. But there’s more. The kids get caught up in a mystery surrounding a statue in the museum. Pegged for kids ages 8-12.

Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight, follows the minute-by-minute adventures of rambunctious little Eloise who lives in the very fancy and very big Manhattan Plaza Hotel. From pouring water down the mail chute to driving the elevator operator crazy with her endless rides up and down, Eloise’s escapades are quintessential New York. And lots of fun for any kid who has a mischievous heart. Pegged for ages 6-9.

Share your favorite children’s books about New York.

Talking with Graduates About the Future: Reach High

Graduation season is beginning. A time of sentimental looking back but mostly a time of anticipation of what lies ahead. I gave an 8th grade graduation speech a few years ago. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share excerpts with you here as food for thought to this year’s graduates.

Striving for Success

You, graduates, chose as your graduation theme: Striving for Success. It’s a good theme because it highlights the connection between effort and achievement. And we all know that to achieve your goals, you must work hard.

Reach High

REACH HIGH. That’s the first thing. Don’t settle for what’s easy. Think BIG. Push beyond your comfort zone. Put your own special mark on whatever you choose to do.

Oprah Winfrey recently was invited to give the graduation speech at Harvard University. And she talked about reaching high. She was dealt a terrible hand in early life. Her family was so poor she had to wear dresses made from potato sacks. And she suffered abuse at the hands of grownups around her. But like all of us, she was born with talents.

One of her particular talents is the ability to communicate, to make people feel like she understands them and cares about what they think. This raw talent is a great gift. But the hard part is figuring out how will you use your talent….

When Oprah was 16 years old she was participating in a beauty contest in Nashville Tennessee. As with all beauty contests there was a question and answer portion and she was asked “What would you like to do when you grow up.” She answered “I would like to be a journalist.” But more important, is what came next. She said, “I would like to tell other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and the world.”

It was this – telling other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and in the world – that has guided Oprah throughout the twists and turns of her career.

She started in radio when she was just 17 and then moved on to TV where she could reach millions of viewers. She was a local news anchor and then became a talk show host and with her unique, warm, personal style she used her show to get people thinking about important things. She raised awareness about important issues – gun control, illegal use of steroids in sports. And she stuck to her vision. When other talk shows became trashy, Oprah refused to join them because her true goal was not just to be a talk show host but to make a difference in people’s lives. She used her show to start a national book club that got people excited about reading. She used her show to raise money for important projects. She reached high with a goal of changing the world. And she used that as her compass. And she still does.

Each of you has talents waiting for you to use. Most of you will not go into your next phase knowing exactly what you want to do with your lives. Your main job in high school is to get good grades so you have the BEST opportunities when that next graduation rolls around. Deciding what your life goal is will probably unfold a little bit at a time. But be aware. Use your time and experiences in school to think about what makes you tick. Try new, and sometimes difficult, things. Don’t be tentative. Give it your all. Reach high.

Share your stories about graduating

Happy Earth Day!

From my writing perch in my living room, I look out onto a beautiful tree that is currently greening up. Yay! And it is Earth Day. So we should all take a moment from our busy lives and think about what we are doing or can do going forward to and hand off a fertile, healthy earth to future generations.

What Can We Do To Save the Earth?

There are many organization and individuals doing wonderful things to save the earth. I hope you will share your favorites.

The Nature Conservancy

If you’re looking for a way to get involved, you might consider checking out the Nature Conservancy. I like it because of its breadth – works in 69 countries and is immersed in a wide variety of environments on land and water, in city and countryside.

There are so many ways to get involved. And the Nature Conservancy website is such fun to explore. There’s a map of the United States that has links (regularly updated) to opportunities for involvement with environmental projects in the state of your choice. There’s another map with links to the Nature Conservancy preserves around the world. Great places to think about if you want new learning experiences about nature and the environment. You can sign up to get news and updates from the Conservancy about ways to get involved.

Need inspiration to get started? Read the great stories of people, young and old, who are taking initiative to preserve our earth.

One Boy’s Story

One example: A seventh grader is raising funds to turn a defunct naval air station into a nature preserve for birds. How’s he raising the dough? He sells his own photos of birds and nature. And he’s getting a little help from a local winery and a nature center that are exhibiting his photos for him.

Hmmm. I think I’ll wrap up here and go work the garden!

Share links to inspirational environmental stories here!

Children’s Books for Earth Day

Nearly New and Absolutely Fabulous

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is great for city kids. Liam wanders through his grey city and stumbles upon a defunct railroad track. He decides to turn the old space green. The story follows his efforts through the four seasons, exploring the way nature, with Liam’s help, takes over the space. The illustrations burst with life. And those who have walked the Highline in New York will recognize the results! Pegged for kids ages 4-7.

Oldie but Goodie

Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg is about a boy who has no interest whatsoever in making the world green. Walter throws trash on the street and refuses to separate the family garbage into bins for recycling. He spends the evening watching a TV show about airplaneing into a futuristic world. Walter wants to fly into the future, too. That night, in his dreams, he fast-forwards in time. But it is not what he expected. He finds himself in place after place ruined by human destruction of nature. When he finally returns to the present, Walter has a new appreciation for the environment. Pegged for ages 4-7.

Share your favorite books for Earth Day.

Siblings Support

This week we celebrated sibling relationships. I am touched by the outpouring of sibling love posted on Facebook. I’ve taken some time to reflect on the depth of my relationship with my own sisters and the relationship my children have with each other.

Yesterday, I looked online to see what’s going on out there to help siblings in need. Turns out, there’s quite a bit. There are both national and local organizations. Some provide help for siblings of children with severe illnesses or disabilities. Others help with grief over a sibling who has died. Some focus on support one sibling can give another such as donation of blood or kidney.

One organization, Siblings Day Foundation has a focus on making the Siblings Day we just celebrated an official annual event like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I am also drawn to their mission statement that includes a goal of compiling a national directory of sibling support groups. I am a big fan of sites that post links to inspiring groups around the nation and the world. This makes it so much easier for someone who wants to get involved to find just the right entry point.

For now, here are just a couple of links for those who are interested.

Sibling Leadership Network

Be the Match

Share your stories of charities that provide help for siblings.

Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary!

To one of the most beloved children’s writers of all time. Here are the classics:

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary centers around youngest child Ramona but has much to do with the sibling relationship of Ramona and her older sister Beezus. Ramona and Beezus are such a joy to read about because we all recognize ourselves in them. They are at times demanding, bossy, cranky, etc but they are loving kids who try hard to do what’s right while at the same time having an interesting and fulfilling childhood. What’s not to like?! Read one and I’ll bet you will check out the entire Ramona and Beezus series. Pegged for ages 8-12.

Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary centers around Henry Huggins and his irrepressible and mischievous dog Ribsy. Like the Ramona books, there is a Henry series. It gets even more fun as Ramona and Beezus live in Henry’s neighborhood and show up in Henry’s stories. Both series share the same true to life, timeless experiences that we all have in some form or another. Pegged for ages 8-12.

Share your favorite Beverly Cleary books.

Siblings Loving Each Other

As many of you know, today is National Siblings Day! In honor of this complicated and wonderful relationship that is like no other, I will share just a few simple stories.

The First Was OK, The Second Not So Much

Just over two months before my third birthday I became a sibling. That is, until then, I was an only child. Not only was I the apple of my parents’ eye, I was worshipped by my large extended family as the first girl in my generation. I don’t remember much about my mother’s stomach growing but grow it did and my parents prepared me for my inevitable shift on the family couch to make room for a sibling.

On April 24, my mother took a little suitcase to the hospital and several days later, sister Karen came home, plump and quiet. I slid over. A few days later, another baby entered the picture. Lisa was small and wiry and not quiet at all. I had not bargained for this. While my parents were busy settling the twins, I picked up a large container of Johnson’s Baby Powder, twisted the top to holes open and methodically sprinkled the entire thing all over the living room-sized Persian rug. When my parents beheld my handiwork, I met their eyes with a glaring stare. In slow, measured words, I laid down my law: “Don’t bring home any more babies.”

Not Alone

A couple of months ago, I spent a tense two weeks waiting for the results from the biopsy of a slice of my toenail. During the hours before I got good news, I poured out my heart to this second twin to come home. She listened. She shared her own experiences with waiting for important news. She made me feel I was not alone.

Even One Was Too Much

My daughter Emily was an only child for three years. She liked it that way. Actually, she LOVED it that way. She was the apple of her parents’ eye. She was worshipped by my large extended family as the first child of her generation. She knew she had a good thing going.

Following the parenting books we devoured, my husband and I did not tell Emily about the prospect of a new sibling until I was about halfway through pregnancy. Nine months is a long time for a child to contemplate an unknown and dreaded life change. When we did give Emily the warm fuzzy version of becoming a sibling, she simply looked into space, didn’t say anything. My abdomen continued to expand. People would stop us on the street and ask about the impending birth. Ladies would bend down and ask Emily if she was excited to have a new brother or sister. Emily simply looked into space, didn’t say anything.

Until one blustery March today I took a little suitcase to the hospital and a couple of days later came home with sister Caroline. Emily stared at her with stone cold eyes. She said “I wish I could throw her in the garbage.” She never laid a hand on Caroline. I think about this when I hear parents say “Use your words.” Ha. Ha.

Not Alone II

A couple of years ago, Caroline was applying to prestigious theater schools. She was summoned for an audition in London. She felt small and unmoored at the idea of it. We all saw her fear. Her dad and I wished her well. Her sister, Emily, bought a plane ticket and accompanied Caroline across that large pond dubbed the Atlantic Ocean. Emily busied herself during audition time, then whisked Caroline off to the warmth of a good meal and even better company. She listened. She shared her own experiences with putting herself on the line. She made Caroline feel she was not alone.

There are many other tales I could regale you with – time with my siblings Karen and Lynn; time with Emily and Caroline’s sibling Corinne. Stories that may find their way onto this blog another day.

Share your sibling stories

The Sickness Blues: Children’s Books

For Young Adults

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is so popular with teens that it was made into a (highly successful) movie. In case you missed it and you like tearjerkers, you should dig into this one. 16-year-old Hazel meets Augustus at a support group for teens with cancer. The book is sad but it’s also funny and alive with love. Appropriate for teens.

For the Younger Set

Curious George Goes to the Hospital by Margret and H. A. Rey is one of my old-time faves. Irrepressible George can’t resist eating a puzzle piece. The tummy ache that follows lands George in the hospital where his curious nature makes him a handful. The illustrations are so great. George may find his surroundings to be tempting. I find George to be irresistible. Pegged for ages 4-7.

Share your favorite children’s stories of coping with the sickies ☹

Spring Sickies

Spring has arrived with all of its usual accouterments. The weather is up and down. Two days ago the thermostat reached almost 70 degrees. Yesterday it was snowing. There are buds on some of the trees. The grass is greening up and spring flowers are poking out of the still hard ground. There is fast increasing daylight making every da a little bit longer and more relaxing. And then there are spring illnesses. Which are all that much harder when you’re alone.

The Spring Sickies

I got a call from my daughter early this morning. She had a high fever, terrible sore throat. Her roommates were away for the weekend. She was alone. And feeling terrible with no one there to take care of her.

The Joys of Being Taken Care Of

I’ve been in all the different positions relative to illness. I have strong memories of being sick when I was a kid. Throwing up, aching throat. But also a place being made for me in my parents’ room that became the sick room (probably to keep germs away from my sisters). It was the only time I got to watch unlimited TV. And food served to me on a tray. More recently, I was laid up and waiting for test results. I was physically low and emotionally stressed. My partner took on the household chores, made me meals, rubbed my head. In these situations, I got to let go of responsibility, put my well-being in the hands of another.

The Satisfaction of Caring for Others

When I was a mom of little girls, I stepped into the role of caretaker. I hated my kids being sick but I felt satisfaction in the ways I could make them feel better. Cold clothes to forehead, managing their trips to the doctor, making lots of chicken soup. And spending time with them, being that constant presence that assured them they did not need to worry.

It Sucks to be Sick Alone

I also remember living in my first apartment after law school. I was so excited to have my own place. I fixed cool dinners for my friends. Loved getting up on Saturday mornings, joining other young adults in the weekly shopping ritual. Getting coffee with the paper. A full, satisfying life. Until I got sick. I felt physically awful. But most of all, I felt alone. No one to bring me meals on a tray or do the chores. No one to bring the fever down or rub my head. And, since I have a hypochondriachal nature, I missed just having someone to console me and tell me it would all be OK.

It Takes A Village

I Facetimed with my daughter today. I did my best long distance caretaker: talked her through the steps of caring for herself, assured her she would be OK, gave her a verbal head rub. A friend came over to bring her some OJ.

Most of us have been there at some time or other. We get through it and go back to enjoying the longer days and better weather. But while we’re in it, it sucks. So those of us who have friends or loved ones laid up, remember how good it feels to be taken care of – reach out and take care in return.

Share your stories of coping with the sickies ☹