Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Category: Teaching (page 2 of 3)

First Anniversaries of the Cancer Detour and Thankful to Be Healthy


As we head into July, I am mindful of the first anniversaries of the cancer detour and thankful to be healthy. In fact on July 5 last year, I first began to have notable symptoms of the undetected illness within. Although I had slept through the summer into July, it had not occurred to me that I might be ill. But when July dawned, it became more difficult to dismiss the symptoms I was experiencing. However, for about a month I had no suspicion of anything worse than the stress of traveling. Thankfully, a knowledgeable doctor connected the scattershot of dots I described and ordered the right blood work to begin the diagnostic process that revealed the tumor growing within. For that, I am eternally grateful.


In fact, I am thankful for so many things. Every day as I maneuver my way through commute to traffic on the drive to summer school, I thank God for this job. Although I have to get up before 5:30 on these summer mornings, I am grateful to be working for such a great district and to be meeting different teachers, with varied experience and background, from whom I can learn. I am thankful for the students in my class who are eager to learn and easy to teach. During these few weeks, I am implementing teaching strategies I was trained in two years ago, but haven’t had the need to try out yet. Realizing that I can use these techniques successfully to impact student learning gives me another reason to be grateful.

Along with teaching summer school, I am thankful for the Living Strong, Living Well program. Up until now, I have not loved going to the gym. I always felt out of place because I didn’t know what to do and have a terrible time trying to follow the complicated choreography of some exercise classes. Although I may enjoy that kind of exercise, I often find myself zigging when the rest of the class is zagging. It makes for a highly stressful experience that counteracts the positive feelings generated by the endorphins released through the exercise. So, I am thankful for Ron and Trish, the YMCA trainers, who partner with Stanford to offer Living Strong, Living Well that are teaching me to use machines for cardio exercise and also for weightlifting. Their kindness and patience encourage me to do my best and to use the machines correctly, while not overdoing the weight. These trainers and the other participants in the program give me yet another reason to be thankful.

Summer School and Struggle to Set a Post Chemo Routine

Summer School and Struggle to Set a Post Chemo Routine has been the whole of my life in the past few days.

Summer School and Struggle for a Post Chemo Routine

This week summer school started and so began the struggle to re-establish a healthy routine with balanced time between work and the rest of my life. It has been a great challenge for me. So far, I have managed to spend an enormous amount of time at work and been consistent at the gym, but keeping up on household chores has been somewhat disastrous. Just to keep things interesting, I am having trouble getting to bed at a reasonable time and then having to roll out early the next morning because the school where I am teaching places me squarely in the middle of commute traffic. Consequently, it has seemed like the longest week! And actually, it is only the second full week I have worked since being released back to “normal” life.

But, I am enjoying teaching a new group of first grade or almost second grade students and working with a new staff. I consider this my time to work with training wheels on as I prepare to ride solo at another new school this fall. So far, things have been going well. Using training and experience from the past few years, I am having fun developing lessons with the needs of this unique group of students in mind. It has been a delightfully intriguing challenge that is yielding plentiful rewards. I am enjoying a deep joy and satisfaction in the job that I am doing and in the response of students to the lessons and activities I plan to engage them in learning.

Similarly, my students have settled into a happy routine and seem to be enjoying learning in my class. They have formed friendships with students from various schools, as this is a districtwide program and many of them had never met one another before. I am glad to see them happily engaged in learning and have once again remembered why I love teaching! I am hoping that this excitement and energy for teaching persists into the coming school year at my new school site and that I will be able to establish healthy boundaries for work that lead to a happy and healthy lifestyle that is conducive to good physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

Seeking Words of Wisdom

As I continue to struggle to find equilibrium in my life, I could use words of wisdom for what you have found or observed works.

Finished Chapters and Tales Yet to Be Written

Finished Chapters and Tales Yet to Be Written

I have come to a time of finished chapters and tales yet to be written at the end of this  school year more than almost any other. After a challenging return to teaching for the last eight days of the school year, I settled into the routine and had a special time saying goodbye to current and past students, as well as colleagues, effectively closing a chapter in my life.

Packing and Cleaning Up the Classroom

Beginning after the final bell on the final day of school on Thursday of last week, I began packing up my classroom for the move to a new school site. Once I knew I was going to have chemotherapy, I had packed up most of my personal teaching materials and belongings in the classroom and taken them home to store while I was on medical leave. So, I began packing what remained of my belongings along with the district owned materials I would need to move for the upcoming school year.

Thankfully, packing went fairly quickly and, with help from my niece, I was able to do some cleaning out of outdated materials and supplies that the incoming teacher, who is a friend of mine, decided she wouldn’t need for next year. This process took several days, but it was with great joy and relief that I turned in my sign off sheet and keys at the school. With a shout of “woohoo,” I celebrated the end of a bittersweet chapter in my life. As I remember the good times and all I learned, I move forward to a new school with excitement and anticipation, commemorating finished chapters and tales not yet written.

Preparing for Summer School

With the financial stress of medical bills and a partial month’s pay once my sick leave ran out, I decided that for the first time in years I needed to teach summer school. Since I have rested and decompressed over the course of the last several months, I do not need the summer break desperately as in most other years. And, I thought it might be a good way to ease back into the routine of teaching to teach shorter days in two week increments.

So, yesterday I had my first day of professional development and orientation for the summer school program I will be teaching in a neighboring district. I have been anticipating learning from collaborating with teachers who bring a whole different set of experiences and preparation to teaching. It has been interesting to learn how a district other than the one I teach in during the regular school year operates. I am finding the interaction with teachers from a different perspective refreshing and challenging alike. The freedom I have to develop and implement the curriculum has infused excitement and enthusiasm into the task. And, my grade level teaching colleague is new to the profession, which allows me the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge with her as we jointly plan lessons for our first graders.

Learning a New School Culture

With the move to a new school, I must learn who is who and how things work at the new site. So far, I have met just a handful of people at the new school and have focused on being a positive addition to the staff. As frustrations arise, I find myself seeking advice from a teacher friend who knows the school community and can help me to navigate these yet unknown waters. I hope to quickly learn more about the school dynamics once school starts so that I can fit in with colleagues, students, and parents alike.

Unfortunately, at this point there is some doubt about what grade level I will be teaching and I have not been able to get keys so that I can begin to unpack and settle into the classroom. Hopefully, the issue will be quickly resolved and little by little I can prepare for the upcoming school year instead of having to rush to try to do it right before the new school year begins.

Glancing Back, but Moving Forward

This juncture of finished chapters and tales yet to be written finds me looking back in celebration of the lessons I learned, moments I savored, people I cared about, and challenges I faced. But more than that, I am looking forward with anticipation of the next exciting chapter filled with new challenges and people, as well as unexpected joys and lessons to be learned. It is good to be moving forward in anticipation of even better things ahead!

Finding a Balanced Life After Chemo

Finding a Balanced Life After Chemo

Finding a balanced life after chemo has been a challenge since going back to work. While I was on medical leave from work during chemotherapy, I had ample time for exercise and cooking healthy meals when I was well enough.


I enjoyed trying new, healthy recipes in the kitchen and had a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I was doing something positive to regain and maintain my health. Even still, I enjoy cooking at home and generally choose to come home and eat, rather than eat out where I do not know what the ingredients are in the dishes. However, now that I am back to work, I find that I have much less time to spend in the kitchen to try out these new dishes. Instead, I opt for simpler fare that I can warm up or cook in a few minutes after coming home from a tiring day in first grade. In fact, I think it was scrambled eggs for dinner twice this week!

As time goes on, I hope to find a better balance of life and work, but since I returned to work for the last two weeks of school the flurry of activity consumed most of my time and energy. Hopefully as I continue to recover more of my strength and stamina over the summer, I will find it easier to return to a more balanced life that includes a little more time in the kitchen when school resumes in August.


As often as I could during chemo, I would walk. I tried for at least a half an hour a day, but on some days I simply couldn’t get outside for it. However, as time went on, I found that I really enjoyed the natural mood elevation I got from taking a walk. And, friends would sometimes walk with me, making the outing doubly enjoyable. But now that I have begun the Living Strong, Living Well program and have gone back to work, I no longer have the time and energy for these daily outings. Teaching keeps me on my feet most of the day and the Living Strong, Living Well exercise program provides a different kind of exercise that I quite enjoy. Nevertheless, I find I miss my long walks around the neighborhoods near my house. I miss looking at nature and meeting new people along my customary route. I do not know quite how to find balance in this area, but hope that over time I will adjust to the new forms of exercise and not miss my walks quite so much.

Without a doubt, finding a balanced life after chemo will be a process, but I am anxious to maintain my healthy patterns that have helped me to feel so robust and positive about the future. If you have any suggestions for how I might achieve this, I certainly hope you will share your words of wisdom. Or, if you face a similar struggle, I hope you will share that as well.

As always, thanks for continuing with me on the journey of life!



Back to Work After Chemo

Back to Work After Chemo

Going back to work after chemo has turned out to be challenging in ways that I had not anticipated. Consequently, this week’s post will be comparatively short.


Returning to work was going to be hard physically, I thought. This first week back, I had a commitment every evening after work, so I anticipated being fatigued. Little did I know I was wholly unprepared to deal with the dissonance of reintegrating into teaching at my school, an entity I thought I knew intimately, but which has continued to develop and evolve while I was cocooned for chemo. While I was on leave from work, I thought about how the people at work were not part of the cancer detour, but I failed to realize that I wasn’t part of those months in their lives or the school community, either. I am back seeing familiar things and faces, but I expected everything to be the same and for me to fit right back in. However, since I didn’t live through events with the rest of the staff or experience the ongoing metamorphosis of the school, I have realized that I am out of sync.  Once familiar things have changed and catch me off guard. And, sometimes, my absence has been forgotten about by others and I find I don’t know what is going on for lack of information. For me, this has resulted in an emotional first few days back at work.

Although dealing with the machinery of the school has been a challenge, being back with my students for the last part of the year has been pure joy. The students have adjusted nicely to having me back and are happily requesting to sing songs throughout the day and play games during physical education that I taught them in the few short weeks I worked early in the school year. In spite of my absence, they have had a good year. For this, I am thankful. And, the opportunity to have closure with them is a blessing. In fact, next year I will be assigned to a different school in the same school district, so I am taking advantage of these last few days of school to say goodbye to staff and students alike. I have loved reconnecting with former students and been glad for the chance to tell them goodbye.

Living Strong, Living Well

Twice a week the Living Strong, Living Well program has given me an way to decompress and de-stress after work through physical exercise. And, while I notice my emotions lifting after exercising at the YMCA, I also know that aerobic exercise and strength training  correlate with a lower recurrence of cancer. So, I am pleased to have a dual benefit from my workouts and hope to be able to continue once the program ends.

Furthermore, I have found comfort in working with this group of survivors as we commiserate or laugh about side effects, while focusing on becoming stronger and healthier. Following orientation day, all participants seemed to be looking forward and no longer defined by the disease that gripped us. A sense of anticipation of better things ahead and an easy camaraderie has developed, both of which inspire me to do my best and be a cheerleader for other participants.

Life is Good

Although I have faced unexpected challenges going back to work after chemo, I am happy and grateful for the people, resources, and opportunities that continue to support me in my journey of life as a cancer survivor.  Life is good. Truly, it is good to be alive!


15 Chemotherapy Skills That Will Never Go on My Résumé

15 Chemotherapy Skills That Will Never Go on My Résumé

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I began learning all I could about the disease, what it meant for my life, and how I could help in the process of returning to full health. This began my accumulation of 15 chemotherapy skills that will never go on my résumé. At first, I scoured the internet, especially sites like The American Cancer Society, The Mayo Clinic, Livestrong, The National Institute of Health National Cancer Institute, and even found helpful articles on Pinterest. During meetings, appointments, and phone conversations, I began taking copious notes in a dedicated cancer notebook on what was said by the surgeon, the physician assistant, the oncology nurse who facilitates a support group, the R.N. who serves as case manager through my health insurance, the social worker at Cancer CAREpoint, billing departments, health insurance customer service representatives, my pastor, or my knowledgeable and experienced oncologist . The ability to learn and implement my new knowledge has become an important skill to returning to complete health.

Through it all, I have gained more information than I ever thought I would need about health, the human body, and cancer. This has often been gained with my own body the subject, which has forced me to develop skills for discussing delicate or personal subjects with decorum, while being perfectly candid. Sidestepping important issues can be detrimental to health–my health, and that simply isn’t an option for me. My quest to return to complete health has led me into situations that have taught me other skills.

Other Chemotherapy Skills That Will Never Go on My Résumé

Being able to clamp or unclamp an IV line becomes critical if the pump malfunctions. Stopping the flow of the medication or checking to see if a line was inadvertently clamped is pretty helpful to know in case of other emergencies, too. Unfortunately, I learned by firsthand experience that pumps do malfunction. Which brings me to my next newly acquired skill.

Troubleshooting a chemotherapy pump while on the phone with a customer service representative can be a challenge. The pump is set by the nurses in the oncology practice to deliver chemotherapy at a certain rate. While the nurses have access to wide function of the pump, patients can only stop or restart the pump. That way, delivery of the chemotherapy cannot be tweaked by accidental pushing of buttons while the patient is at home sleeping or doing other everyday tasks. While I do not know about all chemo regimens, I know there is a specific rate at which my chemotherapy drugs are administered and it is unwise to mess with it. Therefore, the button blocking function is a fantastic thing.

That is until your pump starts repeatedly alarming at 9 o’clock at night and you have to call the pump company’s customer service line to resolve the issue. Then, they tell you how to sidestep the button blocking function to get some relief from the sleep robbing noise of the pump. Of course, they also make sure the button blocking feature is reactivated before letting you off of the phone. As you may know from personal experience, talking technology in the wee small hours with someone who knows an infinite amount of information about the technology in question can be somewhat of an exercise in careful listening and following directions. We still couldn’t solve the problem, but we tried.

Being frank with my oncologist about which chemotherapy infusion room I prefer. Infusion day is several hours long, so the atmosphere of the room can impact the level of patient comfort. As a reflective introvert, I found the larger infusion room just inside the practice door and across from the scheduling station to be noisy and lacking privacy because every single patient walks by the door on the way to an examining room. And, the discussions around the schedulers’ desk are sometimes often, but almost always audible in the larger room. So, voicing my preference for the room in the back, which is smaller and literally the last door accessible in the practice, became necessary. Nobody passes the room going anywhere else in the office. People literally have to purposefully walk to that room. As a result, little outside noise filters in.

Packing a chemo bag has become a time-consuming art. Over time, my enormous bag has come to contain all manner of helpful items such as those  mentioned in my earlier post What Should Go in My Chemo Bag. Finding and packing healthful but nausea proof snacks to munch while passing four to five hours in the chemotherapy infusion room can be challenging, but oh so crucial to a good chemo day.

Weirdly Humorous Chemotherapy Skills That Will Never Go on My Résumé

Describing bodily functions with a straight face has become a regular exercise within the confines of the surgeon’s or oncologist’s examining rooms. No topic is taboo and no question is exempt from being answered.

Putting Emla Cream over my port site on infusion day without getting it on my clothes before covering it with Press’n Seal or numbing my fingers in the process has become one of my greatest accomplishments. One day I forgot to put on the Emla Cream at home before heading to chemo and of course that was the day the oncology nurse used the wrong length needle and had to stick my chest twice before being able to set up my infusion. I have not forgotten the cream again and I could probably guarantee that I never will. It was not fun. Not fun at all.

Who knew that exposing my mediport site in preparation for an infusion in a well-populated infusion room without modesty curtains would eventually become a matter of fact and devoid of undue mortification? There still may be a bit on occasion, but somehow I have learned it can be borne. Those of you who were breastfeeding mothers had an advantage over me, but I now consider myself quite experienced. My question to all of you experienced mothers is if the previous state of modesty ever comes back because I am finding it a bit harder to remember what the big deal was.

Wearing a chemotherapy pump as a fanny pack without feeling like I am suffering fashion suicide didn’t take long at all. As a matter of fact, it only took one time knocking the pump on the floor with the IV tubing yanking on the bandage covering the inch long needle connected to the mediport site in my shoulder before I decided to go the fanny pack route. I would choose painlessness over fashion faux pas any day!

Discerning if my oncologist is being  serious or humorous. He is such a kind and knowledgeable doctor that I trust him implicitly to tell me the truth according to current medical research. We are both so serious about cancer and me getting well that honestly, I had to ask him to smile when he joked so I would know he was kidding. Now, I am perfectly clear about when he is joking–and it wasn’t as often as I previously thought!

Using the restroom while the mediport is connected to medications hanging on an IV pole without 15 Chemotherapy Skills That Will Never Go on My Résumégetting turned around, tangled up, or tripping on the tubes or IV pump power cable can be tricky at first. My chemotherapy is given in liquid form, so after an hour or two of liquids seeping into the body, it becomes necessary to use the necessary. Trips to the restroom as a chemo newcomer became lessons in problem solving and Houdini worthy escape acts. After awhile, I learned to dance with the pole, making sure it mostly stayed on my left side and if I had to switch sides how to do so without tangling everything up around me. The importance of keeping the lines and cables securely fastened also became clear rather quickly.

Patient to Patient Chemotherapy Skills That Will Never Go on My Résumé

Learning when to be a quiet listener and when to share what has helped me. No two people experience the same stress with a cancer diagnosis or impact of cancer on their lives. Each detour is different because each patient is unique and the disease attacking their healthy cells is unique to them. So, sometimes listening and validating the fear and frustration is just as important as later sharing that according to recent medical research, using a baking soda rinse is the most effective way of dealing with treatment related mouth sores .

Having empathy during a phone conversation with someone who is vomiting on the other end without getting sick myself.

Sharing frustrations and then moving beyond. We all have frustrations, stress, or doubts and with an ongoing health condition sometimes they can mount up. It is helpful to have friends who recognize and acknowledge those feelings without letting you send out invitations to a pity party. Just hearing someone else say they have gone through the same thing basically neutralizes the temptation to linger in those low places we can all walk into at times.

Being a friend to someone who is wrestling with metastatic disease is the skill I probably least desired to gain. I wish all of the patients I have met would successfully defeat this horrible disease. In the past, I felt so helpless and inadequate to condole with the suffering. Instead of avoiding them, I find myself drawn to their faith, hope, strength and tenacity to live. They challenge me to “live to live and not live to die” because I see them using everything within them to do exactly that: to live.

One friend in particular has challenged me by her unwavering faith in God. She has inspired and encouraged me when we know that for her, cancer will become her ultimate journey, while for me it is simply a detour. Her implicit faith in God’s goodness and faithfulness carries her through the bad days, and a phone conversation with a listening friend can help a little, too. It doesn’t solve our cancer woes, but somehow it resolves quite a lot of life’s issues. And that makes living truly wonderful!

Chemotherapy Skills That Will Never Go on My Résumé

These 15 chemotherapy skills that will never go on my résumé , but that have become crucial in my life may never help me gain a better salary or a less stressful job. However, they have become part of who I am and how I go about life. In different ways, these skills will stick with me and help me be a better daughter, sister, aunt, friend, colleague, and who knows what else. I look forward to the journey of finding out!

Doing Common Core Math Before It Was Common Core

When I was a student, my parents helped me when I had questions about my homework. My mom helped with English and writing, while my dad handled math and science. During my school career, math was taught through solving algorithms. However, my dad was doing Common Core Math before it was Common Core.

Because I spoke the language of algorithms and my dad spoke of numbers as if they made sense, I felt like we were using two different numeric systems. My dad had learned from his dad, my Pa Crowe, how to quickly add numbers by decomposing and composing them in his head. Dad could break numbers down into manageable parts or substitute more easily manipulated numbers in order to find area, sums, and all kinds of other mathematical values. Inevitably, our math conversations ended up with me frustrated because I could not follow Dad’s mental math since I had limited mastery of numeracy.

As time marched on and higher order math became an integral part of my studies, this lack of numeracy became a hindrance to me because I could not effectively manipulate numbers. I could not figure out what a reasonable mathematical solution would be and was practically incapacitated if I did not  have an algorithm to depend upon. While Dad could solve problems by understood numbers and employed diverse mathematical methods, they made little sense to me because my teachers forced me to follow algorithms and rarely gave me a chance to understand numbers.

How ironic that as a teacher I would be challenged to rethink math in order to teach my students the kind of math Pa Crowe taught my dad, and my dad, in turn, tried to pass on to me. I became grateful for the mathematical conversations engraved upon my memory, as well as the ongoing talks I have with Dad. As an adult, I have gained the sense of numeracy that escaped me as a student largely because Pa Crowe and Dad were doing Common Core Math before it was Common Core.

What Makes Elementary Science so Exciting

What Makes Elementary Science so Exciting

Teaching elementary science is one of the rewards of teaching primary grade students. What makes elementary science so exciting is that I have the privilege of introducing students to how to observe their world and how they can learn from their observations.

Year after year, I am surprised and elated to see how excited students become when we begin to study matter and how matter can change from one state to another. We jokingly talk about watching the grass grow as a euphemism for tedium. However for young learners, observations about their world and how to make sense of these observations in scientific ways in spellbinding and highly dramatic, while perhaps bordering on the monotonous for the more experienced observer. In out study of matter, some of our recent observations include watching ice melt, mixing salt with water,  and watching a balloon inflate.

While everyday occurrences for most of us, these simple acts demonstrate the transformation of solid to liquid, the constancy of solid when mixed with liquid, and that the invisible gas we call air will fill whatever container we force it into. One day, we even drew a chalk line around the perimeter of a large puddle on the playground and watched as the water receded from its chalky border and the wind hastened its evaporation. Each recess, students ran to the puddle to see how much smaller it had become. After our extended drought, how wonderful to have some rain filled puddles and then a sunny break to watch Mother Nature work her evaporative miracle.

One of our more dramatic science projects in our study of matter are include dropping baking soda from a balloon placed over the mouth of a water bottle into the pool of vinegar in the bottom of the bottle. The resulting bubbling gas filled first the bottle and then the balloon–beyond the bursting point–accompanied bysqueals of excitement and awe. Truly an exciting and unforgettable moment.

Another scientific favorite was placing an “empty” 1.5 liter bottle with a balloon covered mouth into a container of hot water. While I call the bottle empty, one of the most important concepts my teaching partner and I have tried to demonstrate to students is that gas is all around us and even though we cannot see it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fill cups, bottles, and the space that surrounds us. Students were spellbound to watch the balloon inflate quickly when placed in the hot water and slowly deflate when take out. The process was accelerated by moving the bottle quickly from the container of hot water into a container of cold tap water. Sounds of delight came from all around the classroom as students observed repeatedly the same phenomenon.

What Makes Elementary Science so Exciting

What Makes Elementary Science so Exciting Is the Students’ Joy and Wonder

A joyful experiment was what makes a simple kite fly. Each student made their own kite and attempted to make it take flight. There were varying degrees of success, but the mystery of flight held them spellbound.

Some days when I use my microwave, it is kind of like those simple elementary science experiments. As I was wiping out food cooked to the exploding point, I found myself mulling over the elementary science of why and wishing I had taken some simple steps to contain the explosion more effectively and minimize my unpleasant cleanup task. Still, I suppose my wonder over the “why” and “what would happen if” over my dreary domestic disaster means that along with my young students, I love observing the world around me and trying to figure out what makes it tick. That is what makes elementary science so exciting.

Political Phone Bank Cold Calls

Political Phone Bank Cold Calls

Making political phone bank cold calls was never something I envisioned doing. As an introvert, the thought of talking to some unknown person on the other end of the line was a rather daunting prospect. However, recently, I became part of something I normally avoid: political action. In part because of the extreme polarization of the political system in the United States and also due to my experience living overseas for a number of years, I normally avoid discussions about politics and do not really engage with the process except for getting out to cast my vote and proudly wearing my “I Voted” sticker. However, a couple of the races in the recent elections in California had the potential to impact my life in rather significant ways. Consequently, when volunteers were requested for precinct walking and phone banking, I realized I needed to be involved and participate in a phone bank for a local election.

Contrary to my expectation, phone bank calling was virtually painless. I found it was relatively non-threatening. Most people let the unrecognized phone number I was calling from go straight to voicemail, but a few kind souls took a couple of minutes to listen and a few agreed to consider voting for the candidate I supported. Others said they had already voted. Still others said they have moved and not eligible to vote in the school board election or simply were not the person I thought I was calling. Gratefully, not one of these wary voters was rude or slammed down the phone in my ear.

After a while, I found the calls to be more of a challenge and less of a threat. In fact, I was proud of becoming more natural with the script and making it through my entire list of telephone numbers in the two hours I spent calling.

Unfortunately, my effort turned out to be in vain. The candidate I supported lost the election. But, I think I may be hooked on making political phone bank cold calls. And who knows, maybe I will even take a summer job as a telemarketer!


Hands Free

What’s the Big Deal About Hands?

Who knew that hands free walking would become a hill to fight on.

I suppose when we all begin our chosen profession or vocation we anticipate an idealized version of our work. And if we do anticipate challenges, we know that we are prepared, passionate, and motivated enough to make a difference or to change the course of history by sheer will and determination.

However, as time marches on and the banality of fighting the good fight sets in, we are pestered by all manner of irritations, limitations, and prohibitions imposed by the powers that be, and we realize our efforts have little impact on the status quo. In the case of public schools, an archaic system that divides children into chronological age groups in order to prepare them for work in an industrialized society, shockingly little has changed over time.

In my conversations with a friend who teaches even younger children than I do, I have decided we are outliers. Our greatest frustrations come not from the little people in our classrooms, but by the shocking focus of big people on how classes of students walk across campus or other topics minimally related to student learning or well-being. On both of our campuses, even the youngest students are taught to march silently around the school with hands clasped behind their backs. Incredibly, these are not isolated incidents. Parents have advocated for and against this practice in various locations.

During a recent discussion about student walking without their hands free, I learned that at a school where the practice was enforced, a young student walking with hands behind the back had fallen, lost some teeth, and been badly hurt. In light of events, the parents threatened litigation and the school rethought its hand behind the back policy.

When my teacher friend, who is a trained dancer, explained how human arms are used for balance in dance, I quickly realized I was doing my young students a grave disservice. So, I headed back to school and talked to my students about how we were going to continue to walk safely, quietly, and without bothering anyone around us. We were going to walk hands free to catch us if we stumble.  Simply put, I wanted them to have their arms free to swing and to catch them in the event of a fall.

Freedom Walking Hands Free

One of the first times we made the jaunt across campus with this newfound freedom, hands free, I noticed one of my students moving freely, in a dancelike swagger. Such a little thing, but that option restored a modicum of individuality and freedom with noticeable results.

On any given day, you may now find my students and me flying across campus like airplanes or finding other interesting, yet safe means of moving from point a to point b. It has leant a lighthearted tenor to our cross campus movement that was absent. In an era when teachers compete with high tech graphics and audio, I would much rather my students fly across campus with energy and excitement than to form a silent chain gang drudging from one dull task to another.

Not everyone shares my appreciation of freely swinging appendages. At my friend’s school, a virtual firestorm has resulted from her decision to allow her students to move across campus hands free. The perception is that without hands firmly tucked behind the back, there is no order or safety. One day with hands raised in appreciation of birds flying toward them, my friend’s little students gleefully celebrated the act of flight and remembered an earlier discussion in class about birds. The unfortunate timing of a colleague walking a class across campus at that exact moment ensured that my friend was flown at by a staff member decrying the children’s raised hands instead of celebrating a real world experience practically conjured from a discussion that had taken place inside the four walls of the classroom.

You are asking yourself rightly why this would be worth blogging about. I agree wholeheartedly. This is a non-issue. Real issues would be how to advocate for much needed services and intervention to support these same students who are forced to walk around campus with their hands behind their backs or how we can encourage them to be excited about school, to be happy and successful, and to learn to dream about more than simply having their hands free to walk as they please.

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