Honoring a life

Just a few blog posts ago I wrote about the way bad experiences make us better appreciate the good aspects in life. Ironically, just a couple days after this post, I read in the news about a most heinous crime against a tiny 3-year old girl and my entire world is turned upside down. Suddenly, despite the fact that I did not know the victim, it was hard to simply be, hard to get past this horror in my mind and was reacting to it very intensely. I was taken off my feet by my reaction and even today continue to feel an enormous sense of sadness for this child and her loving family. Suddenly, finding all the so called, 'good aspects' of life, as I wrote in my last post, was much easier said than done.
Breeann Rodriguez was 3 when she was murdered. On Saturday, August 6, 2011, she woke up, got dressed in a pink top and pink and purple pants, brushed her teeth, ate cereal, and went outside her Senath, Missouri house to ride her bike up and down her block with her older brother, who is 5. The community has a zero crime rate and they lived in an end street. At one point while playing, her brother ran inside their home to get a drink and when he came back, Breeann and her bike were gone. After days of an exhaustive and hope-filled search by police and town volunteers, an arrest was made. The man who took her life was a 42 year-old neighbor who had been living there for 10 years. He claimed he saw Breeann in his back yard, standing by his pool and carried her small 30 lbs. body inside his home, suffocated her with a white trash bag, then placed her body in the same white bag and dumped her and her bike in a waterway a few miles from her home. A clearer motive has not been given by the perpetrator, yet he's had a record of losing his temper.

Unfortunately, we all have heard of many such cases before in our lives. But for some reason, this one case, with 3-year old little Breeann, has affected me deeply and I find myself wanting to know why. How come some people read about it and are able to move past it? My friend Jenna suggests that perhaps this case hit me so personally because I too have a daughter who is 30 lbs. and she too likes Dora, and thinks herself our little 'Princess'. She also suggests that perhaps the fact that I have a very active imagination allows me to vividly piece together what it must have been like for this poor little girl to go through this horrifying death. Whatever the reason may be for my deep connection to this one specific case, this one child, I have been trying hard to accept the sadness I feel; not try to move past it, not trying to ignore it. Right now, I am simply allowing myself to feel, living in sadness, not worrying about when the sadness cloud will be lifted.

In the past, when I have experienced death, I found it so important to formulate a life-long plan of how to honor that person's memory with my life, my actions, my choices. From what I read about this little girl, she was a bit shy, but she was a very happy child. I thought of her brothers and of how close knit the family iwas based on the picture slideshows that began to pop up all over the web. I have decided I will honor this child's short, but happy life by heightening my sensitivities toward the sacredness in every child I come in contact with. As I begin the new school year as a teacher of 500+ children, I will take with me this new resolve to make a meaningful difference in each and every child's life. I am not referring to academic goals here. I am referring to something much more important than that. I am talking about inspiring my little people to live life to the fullest and most importantly to see and value their many, many inherent gifts. Too many kids go through their school years absorbing these silly labels placed on them based on their grades on an academic continuum (as if grades somehow determined one's human value or potential as an adult). I will honor Breeann's short life by finding what each of my student is good at and helping them nurture those gifts within themselves.

YOU ARE INVITED: DCPS Education Advocates Organizing Meeting

DC Parent Power Organizing Meeting

Parents, teachers and education advocates are invited to an organizing meeting to look for common ground for civic engagement around public education in the District. The meeting will take place at:

Watha T. Daniel Library (Shaw Library)

1630 7th St. N.W.

Washington, DC 20001

Main meeting room

5:30-7:30 p.m

Wednesday, August 31st 2011

1 block from the Shaw/Howard Metro (Green Line)

Street parking is generally available

This is the second gathering of a group of DCPS parents and education advocates joining together to improve public education by re-engaging DCPS, District government education agencies and elected officials with the major constituency who use the schools.

City families, teachers & interested community members are welcome to participate.

We initially came together inspired by the National Save Our Schools event on the Mall and SOS Conference in July. The initial gathering indicated strong sentiment for:

· Authentic public engagement
· Transparency at all stages of policy development
· Less emphasis on standardized testing
· Richer curriculum
· Strong backing for public education, as opposed to increasing privatization
· Decreasing racial and economic school segregation
· Use of proven methods in all levels of school reform
· Equitable funding for all Wards

If interested, please contact Miriam Cutelis at Miriam.Cutelis@yahoo.com with an RSVP if you plan to attend or if you want more information.
**Feel free to forward this invitation to other individuals or groups who might be interested.


Latest paper collages

My latest collages.........click on the images to be taken directly to my online art store.
I love these Fiskars squeeze punchers...I must have about 20 of them.....every time we get unwanted mail I sit down with my kids and punch out amazing shapes from our unwanted mail and unsolicited catalogues.


Latest collage..

Will be on etsy tonight...
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2


My philosophy of ALLOW- How conflicts can help you grow

Today, something happened that let me see how far I have come. Today, I met rudeness and ugliness in the face and my mind was at peace. Today I ran into an obstacle and I was unshaken, undisturbed. I was driving back home from this encounter and felt the need to thank the Universe for sending me these obstacles so that I may practice over and over again how to harness my mind and find true peace in this lifetime.

I live my daily life under the philosophy of 'allow'. It's not a new philosophy, I did not come up with this stuff myself. 'Allowing' is a seminal part of 'Buddhist' practice', but surely they alone do not hold the keys to all these teachings. The simple and basic philosophy of allow teaches that things will not always turn out the way you want them to, but that in all of us, there's the ability to surpass all obstacles using our minds. Surpassing an obstacle requires that you understand that this one situation here, might not, or will not change and that regardless of that fact you can still find peace. 'Allow' therefore is never about changing the 'other' or the external entity. It's about you and what's going on in your mind, your body, and finding internal solutions to reach peace, within you.

There is a certain discomfort we feel within our bodies when we meet high levels of conflict in our lives. It's a very real, physiological occurrence. Watch your body change when someone makes you mad; your hands sweat, your heart rate goes up, your teeth may clench. I have learned to separate myself from this bodily process and allow this disturbing energy to pass through me instead of acting on it in attempts to make it go away . The more I allow the world to be just who it is, the more I am able to have these feelings of discomfort pass through my body quicker; until the process is so fast, so automatic, that it may even look to an outsider like you never even went through hard times.

Rewind my life 20 years. When conflicts would arise they would eat me up from the inside. In my twenties, rude people were met with an immediate wall of anger. In relationships, I would shift my weight around to get my way. In all interactions I acted as if my very entity and sense of self was under attack and I needed lots of fierce ammunition to defend this fragile me from the world.

In trying to live under the philosophy of 'allow', nothing outside of me has essentially changed. There are still people out there who will not like us, who will be mean to us, who will disrespect us. There are people out there who will never give us a chance. For the rest of our days there will be constant situations that occur that will create conflict and disruption in our lives. But what HAS changed is inside of me. Instead of spending enormous amounts of energy trying to change the world to meet my needs....I now focus on solutions that require me to work with the positive energy that already exists in my life. Focus on the people who are already in your life and offering you so much love, your children, your partner, your friends, your family.

In no other is the INABILITY to use this philosophy more apparent than in very young children. When the external world does not go according to their plans, they throw a tantrum. Children cry and whine until they either get tired or get their way. Unfortunately, that is a battleground my husband and I know all too well. Yet, although they are still very young, I have begun talking to my kids about the fact that life is not supposed to be any one way. Life is unpredictable. In fact, THE only predictable thing about life, is its utter unpredictability. I tell my kids all the time that there is no contractual agreement with the Universe insuring you a smooth ride through life and that often it's the way we deal with the ride that can make all the difference. I always make sure to thank my children when they are being flexible. Flexibility with what life throws our way is a wonderful strength and quality to have and in thanking them I let them know what qualities will help them soar.

Yet, children are not the only ones that throw fits and tantrums when life does not go their way. We, grown men and woman, do it in relationships with our loved ones, our friends, or our colleagues. These grown-up tantrums obviously do not look as outright and bold as when children throw tantrums, but the physiological reactions are the same. Grown men and woman may hold out on attention or love, or give silent treatments, or lash out verbally in times of crisis as tactics to getting their way.

Back to my conflict of today. Today I realized very quickly that a person I needed to work with just did not like me, did not give me any chance and may even hate me. I had never had more than 2 minutes of real conversation with this person so I had to allow her to be. I did give her several chances to engage me in nonthreatening and respectful ways, but got nowhere. Once I noticed there was no progress or initiative on her part to maintain a respectful relationship, I chose to pull back emotionally and let go of whatever expectations I had for our relationship.

There's an expression I very much live by, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." Whereas I think it's important to give people a chance, It's even more important that you cut away all negative energies once you notice things do not work out. This act of 'walking away' may be a real physical distancing from the person, but we might not always be able to walk away from the ugliness. You might need to work with this person, you might be married to them, you might be related to them. Luckily, in our minds, we can always walk away from negativity and ugliness, just shit the mental door...that power we DO have. You can absolutely close your mind's door on all draining energies and people. Instead, refocus on energies in your life that strengthen, pamper and inspire you to be in a good, safe space.

I walked away from this experience knowing that I do not need this person to like me to move forward, I do not need her to agree with me or even care for me for that matter. She might very well even takes steps to create conflict in my life in the future. In my mind I was already there, already explored all those possibilities, right here at home. The worse that could happen has already been explored in my mind and the core of who I am remains in its place; undisturbed, totally at peace. My focus then goes to the positive guiding energies I do have in my life. I have amazing people in my life who fill me with joy, who make me laugh, make me feel alive and THOSE are the people who I'm going to get my strength from. I absolutely feel so immensely blessed to have had all sorts of obstacles in my life and can only wish that I can pass this phenomenal gift of strength and positivity to my own children.

One last thought. I believe all the ugliness in this world is there so that we may more passionately embrace the wonders it has to offer. Imagine of we all were totally happy and healthy and lived a million years that way. We would never know what to be thankful for if it weren't for pain, sickness and misfortunes. All these opposing forces in life are there for a reason. I am sure by now we have all had losses in our lives. It might be person in your life, or maybe a pet. Strangely, only in death do we truly, TRULY know in our hearts and in our minds how much we loved that person. We thought we knew how much we loved while they were alive, but only in death is the full color version of this love revealed. So next time you encounter a conflict, pain, discomfort, shame, anger, know that it has a right to exists and that it's there so that you may have a chance to find its exact opposite in your own life. Only through ugliness is the wonder that is life fully revealed.


Transmission- teacher/child connections that inspire

Transmission - Transmission refers to authentic passing of a certain teaching from master to student or from master to master

In Buddhism, there is a name for the awakening of knowledge from teacher to student and it's called 'transmission'. This knowledge cannot come from a book or from non-living entities, it can only come from another human being, more enlightened than yourself.

In trying to explain to other parents and younger teachers how connecting teacher pay to standardized testing scores deeply, I repeat, DEEPLY undermines the quality of their child's education, I keep coming back to this idea of transmission in Buddhism as a metaphor to better explain what is being lost. Teachers know about transmission too. Being natural self-reflective beings, we find the rewards of our craft in seeing the light go on in a child's eyes, in knowing we made a difference in a child's life. And I am not talking academic here. I am talking about life-changing. Simply making a child college ready is not enough. What use is a diploma if the child feels he's not smart? what good is a diploma if the child has no sense of purpose and self? Teachers teach the whole child, yet, tests ask teachers to abandon this comprehensive approach for a more focused one, 'college ready'.

I can say for sure, that in my 14 years as an elementary school teacher, I have worked tirelessly to not only impart knowledge to my children, but that goal has only been secondary to inspiration. To deeply inspire and empower their very souls, their imaginations, and their sense of selves to become the people the universe intended them to become is every career teacher's main goal. In making the mere passing of these invalid and highly non-reliable high-stakes tests the absolute main objective of our children's education, utterly destroys the genuine possibilities of true inspiration to occur. In making passing a bubble test THE purpose of our scholarly journeys, we render useless the awesome power of imagination. We stomp the possibility of life-changing connections to occur between teachers and students when we ask how smart are you, rather than what are you smart AT? (Ken Robinson taught me that). With what we are doing to our kids today, with this ridiculous testing craze, we are ensuring that this generation of children are getting a much less effective education overall, than their parents enjoyed.

Unfortunately today, in this deliberate assault on teachers and on public schools by the corporate 'DE formers', what replaces these 'golden nuggets' of learning are finite, pre-set structures aimed entirely at simplifying the comprehensive oversight of teachers. These cut-throat methods, surely borrowed from a corporate model, cut at the fragile, yet meaningful continuity and buildup of understanding that would have been in place have the teacher been allowed to follow more organic rhythms of learning. Another negative side affect I find most disturbing, is how our children exist daily within these lesser virtues and absorb these plastic ideals of self-preservation and competition, rather than fostering classroom environments infused with collective problem solving and life-changing inspiration that will be enormously more useful to our future leaders, than any bubble test can ever provide.

The abuses we continuously dispense upon our teachers in America effect all our children in very negative ways. Teachers have become dispossessed of the organic nature of their craft,their self-trust, their self-worth, and dignities. It should come to no surprise then that OUR children too, by their connections to these teachers, have been systematically and ruthlessly robbed of the genuine whole-child, wholesome, and holistic learning experiences these settings should be providing.

In empowering the teachers in this country, we directly empower all the children they work with. Inspiration can change a life, can shape a future, can help one supersede all obstacles and can transform our children into triumphant, whole, emotionally balanced men and women. Yet, if teachers feel demoralized and perform year after year in mere self-preservation mode, they cannot possibly be able to inspire our youth to become the shakers and makers of tomorrow. We should stop spending millions upon millions fine tuning teacher evaluation systems that will ultimately enable us to wrongly overidentify those 'bad, BAD teachers'. Instead, we should begin to value the limitless potential of all human beings when given freedom, trust and respect. People have come to America for centuries because of its endless opportunities. In America, if you can dream it and you work hard, it can happen. Our imagination and innovation are inextricably tied to what America is all about. Let's restore creativity, inspiration, and innovation in schools by allowing career teachers to do what they know how to do best....teach.


THE EXPERIENCED TEACHER: The uninvited guest in a youth and money-obsessed nation

I believe you know you are getting older once you start talking about the 'good ole' days'. When I looked over my notes of what I wanted to blog about today, I saw this judgement directed at me and suddenly, I found myself yearning for a simpler time when experience mattered and held weight. I must be getting older for sure.

In many cultures, experience is synonymous to knowledge and to wisdom and all things fantastic. Matriarchs and patriarchs were elders who we turned to for advice, they helped us pave our paths, they shaped how we thought, how we lived our lives. In America, experience does not hold the same status or power as these more primitive cultures did. In America, we liberally apply these characteristics of wisdom and knowledge to much younger folks who may not actually possess the best knowledge or the best wisdom out there. In America, we value youth, money and pedigrees and in following youth, money and pedigrees we are weaving ourselves a very tangled web.

We value youth in America. All one has to do is look around. We see magazines with celebrities that never, never age, follow recipes from women in perfect pre-pubescent bodies, and we even have a president who is in his 40's. Not only that, but we have record number of school principals and chancellors in their late 20's and early 30's. Somehow we have begun to translate the youth and mainstream beauty as possessing wisdom-like qualities. Why is this? Are we so self-absorbed in our own images and persona that we would rather get stupid advice from a nymph, than good advice from grandma? This is worrying, for it tells me we are living in a society so obsessed with maintaining our collective illusion of youth at all costs, that all true virtues have been tossed overboard.

We value money in America. There is an awesome song in Spanish that talks about the rich. The song basically says the rich can probably wear torn rags and it would become ' THE fashion'. Living in a wealthier area of DC, I experience what I call, the success 'angst'. It's the deep, ingrained need some parents have, that's heavily projected onto their kids, that says success equals money; money equals success. Look at any major efforts now excising in education and you'll find it's financed by millionaires, not education experts, not educational cornerstones of our country. Millionaires. They have not been voted into office, but with their money they manage to influence educational policies and change the landscape of education for all our children.

Unfortunately I don't see us weaning ourselves from our millionaire-worship anytime soon. There are slew of TV sitcoms for teens set in highly wealthy and unrealistic settings; enough to make our kids salivate at the sight of yachts, fancy cars and fancy nick knacks ten times over. Grown ups too are simply fascinated by what power money can buy. In America, our very value as a human being is directly connected to what's in our bank accounts. With following this strong on the part of the common people, I see millionaires continuing to drive policies and setting the tone for our nation for many years to come.

Experience, therefore, is an uninvited guest in the world of youth and money. Yet, letting go of experience has deep, deep consequences for our nation. TFA (Teach for America), for example, is one small part of the for-profit take over of our public schools. They hire very young people from very selective pedigree colleges, give them a 5-week training and send them to work for 2 years in poverty-stricken schools in the inner cities. They have no experience, are cheap and they don't know enough about the issues to talk back; perfect matrix-like employees. What's worse is that after the two years a lot of them land incredibly high-profile jobs such as an education staffer for a congressman, or chancellors and sit at the very doorway of very important decisions in our children's lives. That is terrifying to me as a parent and it should be terrify to all parents.

The question I ask myself then is why?......why has experience been eradicated from the list of qualities we need in life to becoming successful in our careers, our personal lives? Why do so many of our educational leaders, especially in DC, reflect these new sacred cows of youth and money? Too many of these young leaders who by chance have had enough pedigree (luck) or money (luck) to land them in a place of great, great power have let it get to their heads. And I don't say that lightly. We have leaders, barely wet behind the ears in education, reinventing the wheels of education as if their thoughts, words and actions were gold and full of wisdom; when they are not. They cannot be, they have no experience.

I am not fooled by our young leaders who look good, sound good, but have not done the walk to talk the talk. I need to see your 'battle scars' if you want me to hear what you have to say about teacher evaluations, or merit pay and my child's education. Have you been in a classroom much lately? Have you survived in a high-needs classroom long? Parents, community members and teachers need to start demanding that their leaders have more than just millions of dollars in their pockets, and look sharp. Parents, community leaders and teachers need to start developing better noses for these egoistic, self-centered, money-hungry education reformers who sound great but have very little practical knowledge. Follow the money and there you will find the rats.

Parents in DC, from ALL 4 quadrants need to start demanding that their child's teacher have experience. An experienced teacher has chosen this as their career. An experienced teacher loves children and knows this is her calling. She does not do it for money, for fame, she has chosen to teach because she loves teaching children and enjoy seeing that 'lightbulb go on'. Demand not to be part of a perpetual 2-year experiment with TFA teachers. Demand experience, stability and continuity for your child always.


What the wealthy want for their children....and ours

I was in the DC metro with my daughter, heading back home totally energized from the Save Our Schools March in DC and by pure chance ran into the same parent and child we saw heading towards the march in the morning. We struck up a conversation about the march and then about our public schools in Ward 3, which happens to be a fairly affluent area in DC and happens to be where I also live and teach. The minute I mentioned that I work as a teacher for the DC Public Schools in Ward 3, he injected his opinions that Ward 3 schools were still not 'as good as private schools' and that there 'still a lot of work to be done'. In the age of the highly misleading corporatist movie, Waiting for Superman, I am no stranger to the growing misdirected anger from parents at the so called 'crisis' of 'ineffective DC public schools and every time I get such comments as these I am in awe of how little parents really know TRUE FACTS about the forces affecting their own child's education today. They know a lot of myths, but very few TRUE FACTS.

If this parent were more aware of the misdirected forces shaping education today, he would not be saying such comments. He would surely know that private schools highly value smaller class sizes, while here in DCPS we are taking millions in foundation money from millionaire Bill Gates. Bill Gates has been working tirelessly to produce 'studies' to convince the entire country that larger classes are actually perfectly fine for public school children as long are there is a so called, 'effective' teacher in the class. In addition, private schools highly value experienced teachers and year-to-year stability in their staff. Private school want teachers who want to stay in the school community for years, it's good for the kids, it's good for the parents, it's good for the whole community to have this stable sense of continuity, of familiarity. We all know how much kids need stability. Meanwhile, DCPS is firing and churning in inexperienced teachers into the District, closing the so called, 'ineffective' schools, hiring Teach For America (TFA) teachers who possess a poultry 5 weeks of education 'training' to replace the so called, 'ineffective ones' they've fired. What's most illogical about this is that most TFAers don't plan on making teaching their life's calling. So much for stability there.

This misdirected anger towards public schools and teachers on the part of some parents needs to be analyzed, reexamined and placed in proper context. It comes to no surprise to wealthy parents in Ward 3 that any school with small class sizes, predictable, stable and experienced staff will be better. Ask any wealthy parent what qualities they look for in a school? They will never say they want a class of 32 kids, or teachers who have never taught before. Yet, common sense and logic seems to disappear when we judge the quality of our public schools. Somehow, some parents in DC expect public school teachers to perform miracles in often overcrowded, packed classroom, and without the private-school levels of resources they currently enjoy.

Unfortunately, true academic improvement in the DC public schools will not become reality until we, politicians, parents, and administration officials are honest with ourselves and admit that broad and gaping inequalities do exist in these key areas. The comparison does not need to be between public and private either. Even when just comparing public schools from various wards in DC, these gaping inequalities exist. These inequalities lie less in the quality of the teacher, but in every other aspect of the environment such as resources, smaller class sizes, course diversity, after school programs. Last year, I scored high enough in my teacher evaluation to be considered a 'highly effective' teacher by the District of Columbia. While it's flattering to be in this position, I doubt I'd score as high if I were put in a less affluent district, with 45 kids and 34 chairs, with only 100$ supply money to teach fine arts to 540 kids weekly for a year. These are not random fictitious situations I am listing, these are the facts teachers live with daily in some DC schools. Public school children deserve the same quality school characteristics that define what private schools are all about. The wealthy know it, the politicians know it, Bill Gates knows it. How do I know this? Because they all demand these specific characteristics from their own children's education system. Small class sizes, solid, experienced, career teachers do matter, no matter what Bill Gates' studies say.

Focusing the blame on public school teachers and coining them as the main reason for ineffective schools and further framing the teachers as using poverty as merely an excuse not to do their jobs, are THE BIGGEST excuses of them all.

Parents, please, I beg you, do not allow these broad, relentless and shameful tactics to fuel more disconnectedness between parents and teachers. Trust more the ones who have dedicated their lives, passion and love to OUR children and approach with caution the ones tearing apart OUR schools, OUR communities and OUR children's future at the expense of fattening their paychecks and feeding their bottomless egos.

As a parent of two young people, I logically want what is best for my children as the wealthy parents want what's best for their children. So I don't bemoan them for wanting the very best education money can buy. What is infuriating though is how these 'customers' of small class size schools, and believers of experienced teacher for their children are trying to convince the nation of the useless nature of such qualities. But shouldn't what's best for the children of the wealthy also be what's best for all children in America? Why are these reformers asking the exact opposite for OUR children than they ask for their children? Many years from now historians will judge us on our actions and true democracy lies in how we choose to educate our children. What would historians say about how we care for our young? Right now, our country's policies are making some schools more segregated, and making our poverty schools worse.