Tag Archives: children

Teaching is Like a Box of Chocolates

Yep. You guessed it. You never know what you’re gonna get.

This year I appear to have gotten a box full of caramel peanut clusters. Yeah, there are one or two of the ones that are filled with the liquid fruit-flavored stuff, but I can deal with that. They’ll cleanse my palate to help me appreciate the others even more.

And there are close to three dozen of them altogether.

Don’t get me wrong. I work really hard to make sure all of my chocolates feel like they are the expensive variety, even if they are full of artificial flavors and colors. I will strive to help them meet the standards that the state chocolatiers have set for them.

It should be a delicious year.

What Would You Do?

There is a little boy in our neighborhood I’m worried about. I’ll call him Sam. Sam is four years old and always seems to be unsupervised. He rides a bike up and down the sidewalk without a helmet, crosses the street on his own, walks uninvited into peoples’ houses, and seems to be in danger of injury or worse.

Sam has started knocking on our door regularly looking for our seven year old son. When told he should be at home, he says his mom told him to go play outside. He lives in a nearby apartment complex which has had a history of trouble. He says he and his mom live with her boyfriend. Barefoot and shirtless, he roams the neighborhood like a homeless waif. He is clearly developmentally delayed, craving attention, and neglected.

It breaks my heart. What would you do? Report him to CPS? Ignore him? Feed him? Clothe him? Would you let him play with your children?

New Parent Evaluation System Advances to Governor’s Desk

The following is but a fantasy born of the author’s frustration with the shortsighted Washington State Legislature. It is not intended to incite hysteria among irresponsible parents residing in the state of Washington.

In an effort to make the new teacher evaluation system meaningful, Washington State legislators today approved a new parent evaluation system. To ensure that teachers are teaching students who are ready to learn, parents must agree to participate or their children’s test scores will be ineligible for use in teacher evaluations. In addition, the children of any parent whose evaluation ranks at the lowest level, unsatisfactory, for two years in a row will not have their test scores applied to teacher evaluations. Those children will then be removed from the home and placed in a boarding school until such time as the parents complete remedial parenting classes, hold a job for six consecutive months, quit smoking, receive counseling for anger management issues, and any other interventions as ordered by the courts.

Parents will be evaluated based on two twenty-four hour observations each year conducted by a qualified social worker. Evaluation criteria will include the following areas: Home Environment; Health and Safety; Enrichment Opportunities; Discipline; Nurturing; Modeling of Appropriate Behavior/Interest in Learning.

The social worker will give a minimum twenty-four hours notice of the planned observation. The social worker will be permitted to observe all family routines during a full twenty-four hour period. A second social worker will relieve the observer so that he or she may get a decent night’s sleep because nobody performs their best work when they are tired.  In addition the social worker will be permitted to interview any member of the family regarding activities not observed during the visit.

Unlike the new teacher evaluation system, parents will have the right to request a second evaluation by a neutral observer after initially being rated unsatisfactory.

The governor is expected to sign the law into effect tomorrow.

The Answer Sheet – The problem(s) with the Common Core standards

The Answer Sheet – The problem(s) with the Common Core standards.

This almost two year-old piece in the Washington Post raises some of the concerns I have with ed reform. I’m particularly concerned about the narrowing of curriculum and failure to recognize developmental factors which affect student performance.

Washington State PTA’s misguided policy statement

I was extremely disappointed to learn that the Washington State PTA had chosen to take an official position in support of charter schools.

I have some issues with charter schools that I believe give them an unfair advantage. First, charters are opt-in schools. I know the term they prefer is “choice schools,” but I think that’s too warm and fuzzy.

What happens to feeder schools when an opt-in school or program opens ? They lose the students whose parents opted for the new school or program. Those are the parents who care enough or pay attention to what’s going on with their children’s lives to try to make a difference. They are drawn out of the affected schools, which are left with a higher percentage of uninvolved families. Those schools see test performance drop, and the charter looks good in comparison.

Second, because many charters employ non-union teachers, there are no limits on their hours. This works for charters as they tend to employ younger teachers with high energy levels and few family commitments. Administrators can pile on the expectations with no consequences, that is until an employee reaches his or her physical and/or mental limit. What happens next depends on the heart of the administrator.

There isn’t much room in these charters for an older, experienced educator who wants to get eight hours of sleep at night and spend quality time with family. Well, not his own family anyway.

This article in the L.A. Times quotes a number of teachers on the time commitment.

Thankfully I know that voters have repeatedly rejected charters in the past. I’m not too worried that they will be accepted by the voters in our state in the future. As a teacher though, I may elect to forgo membership in my building’s PTA in the future.


Certain signs, symptoms could be childhood depression

Published in the Puyallup Herald: 10/19/11 6:00 am  


Children generally aren’t afraid to let you know how they are feeling, what they like or dislike, or what their dreams and fears are. Sorting out facts from imagination can be a challenge, especially with kids through early elementary-school age, but it’s important to listen carefully.

I know someone who, around second grade, began to suffer terrible nightmares, gained significant weight, became extremely sensitive to teasing and rejection, and frequently missed school due to illness.

His parents tried to get him help, but only time managed to alleviate those troubles.

Today, a good medical professional would consider examining such a child for depression.

When you bring up mental illness, people react differently than they would if the topic was cancer. Some people believe it’s not an illness at all, but rather a character flaw. Others are uncomfortable discussing it at all.

Thanks to increasing coverage about this problem in the media, however, more people seem to understand that mental illnesses deserve the same attention and care as any other illness.

According to WebMD.com, about 2.5 percent of children suffer from depression. When compared with some sources, that number appears to be low.

For those younger than 10, depression is much more common among boys, but by age 16, girls outnumber boys.

A partial list of signs to look for includes irritability or anger, continuous feelings of sadness or hopelessness, physical complaints such as stomachaches or headaches which do not respond to treatment, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, social withdrawal, fatigue, and vocal outbursts or crying.

This is by no means a complete list of symptoms, so be sure to check with your physician if anything concerns you about your child’s behavior.

Couple any of these symptoms with a family history of depression, or a recent traumatic life event, and the case can be compelling.

Treatment is available for children, but be an advocate for your child. Do your research before you agree to a treatment regimen.

Not every medical professional knows everything there is to know. If you have doubts, get a second opinion.

The first step is usually counseling. If that fails to help, medication may be prescribed.

The important thing is to follow through with treatment once it begins. Talk it over with your doctor before you make any changes.

Childhood is a challenge even without a mental illness. So, as parents, we must be alert to help when children can’t help themselves.

Dreams can be dashed if a child has no ability to believe in himself. Ambition struggles to coexist with hopelessness. Telling an 8-year-old to buck up doesn’t always cut it.

The child I mentioned earlier might have realized that he enjoyed writing much earlier in life if he’d had the necessary treatment to deal with his troubles.

If your child is struggling, do all you can to help.



I am not religious. I haven’t attended church on a regular basis since I was about fifteen years old. To that point I was a Roman Catholic. I had gone through Confirmation and First Holy Communion. I even tithed, intermittently anyway. There was a certain comfort in childhood in attending church on Sundays, going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, or being smudged with ashes on Ash Wednesday.

Mom was a devout Catholic and I know she wanted her children to be the same. I think it’s safe to say that none of us turned out as such. Because Dad was not a Catholic I did not face much pressure as I began drifting away from church. I know Mom wasn’t happy, but there was no anger. She just looked sad. I never spoke to her about my reasons and she never asked. She died of breast cancer six years later.

What it came down to was unhappiness. I seldom felt really, truly joyful as a child and a young teen. Doing all the right things in my church never made any difference. Happy times always seemed to be experienced through a filter of haze. While I had a few close friends, many of my peers teased me, especially as I began to gain weight through my obsession with junk food and television. Thankfully, time has helped me understand what I now believe caused that hazy filter. Depression.

About ten or so years ago, listening to my future wife describe her own symptoms and experience with depression I realized it sounded much too familiar. I had never had a name for it until then, had no way of asking for support because I didn’t understand and I feared being judged.

A few years earlier, after months of the worst symptoms, I described my experience to my doctor. He had no clue whatsoever. No diagnosis. Nothing. I went back to the same doctor after learning about depression, and asked him if I might have depression. He gave me a brief questionnaire, reviewed it, and gave me a prescription. That first prescription actually made my symptoms worse, but things have gotten better over the years. I’ve since changed health care providers.

I could not even begin to tell you how many people have tried to draw me into their religion over the years.  My thin veneer of normalcy did not conceal my core of sadness, making me an obvious target. Let’s start with the Hare Krishna in San Francisco in 1974 when I was seventeen who called me a “far-out guy.” I walked away with a book I didn’t want and less money than I started with, but I was too polite to say no. Then there was the time a high school buddy and I were approached outside the Seattle Scientology office, and asked to take a “personality test.” When they found out we were under age they quickly moved on. There have been more Jehovah’s Witnesses than I can begin to count. Once, a JW woman came to my parents’ house offering literature. Strangely, I came to know her several years later as the bride to be of my step brother, also a JW. Nice enough people, but why do their churches tend to be window-free? Not a good fit for claustrophobics. I sat next to a Mormon missionary on a Greyhound during my freshman year in college. Once he knew there was no chance of me converting, we were able to discuss music for the rest of the trip. When I was thirty I ended a seven year friendship because he could not stop proselytizing. I had been one of his groomsmen. I question that decision to this day, but I feel talked down to anytime people treat me as though I’ve had no experience with or knowledge of their religion. Ultimately, it wasn’t religion that helped me take the first step on the road to wellness, it was knowledge.

Then there are the people who simply practice their beliefs with no expectation that those around them be anything other than what they are. If anyone will bring me back to church it is these people. They treat non-believers like human beings, not objects to be manipulated. They lead with their joy. They live their lives fully and meaningfully, setting an example which your average televangelist cannot. They will never carry garishly colored signs with cruel messages at the funerals of fellow Americans who gave their lives in hopes of  preserving freedom of speech. You won’t see them blowing themselves up in a crowded public space on the evening news. And they won’t beg for your money to support their “ministry” on channel 96 at 2 a.m. More than anything else, they won’t call for a “holy war” or burn heretics and witches, real or imagined, at the stake.

During my most recent depression flare-up I made a 40 mile drive to visit with an old friend. I made a point of it because I knew the support of friends and family is an important element in the treatment of this illness. My friend is the minister of a Presbyterian church in an urban area. I couldn’t have predicted such an outcome for him thirty-five years ago. As we enjoyed lunch at a neighborhood cafe he listened patiently to my story and was very supportive. Not once did he suggest that I make any spiritual changes in my life. He simply affirmed my feelings and concerns. After lunch we drove back to his church. I had brought along my camera equipment because I wanted to take some pictures of the interior of the beautiful church. He left me there as he headed off to an appointment. I stayed another thirty minutes or so, inside a church of my own volition, not as a guest at a wedding, or a mourner, or tourist, for the first time in almost forty years.