I am a teacher. And as a teacher, Senate Bill 5 has brought something to my attention that both surprises me and saddens me. It’s probably not what you might assume. Yes, the potential to lose up to $20,000 of my salary is enough to make me sad. What’s more, losing benefits is never good to hear. Also, merit-based pay that would only work if all students were equal and all tests were fair, is definitely frightening to me.
But what surprises me and saddens me the most about Senate Bill 5 is the response against teachers it has revealed. Every article or debate discussing either side of this issue soon becomes flooded with vitriolic comments that paint teachers as lazy elitists who seem to only care about their tenure and summer vacations. When did this happen?
In the twenty-eight years since I became a teacher, I cannot think of one teacher who went into the field to make money. We all knew that was not an incentive. Still, we were drawn to a career that placed us directly in the lives of our students --the future of our nation. There used to be an honor, an understood respect in being able to say, “I am a teacher”.
True, the state of education is in a state of chaos. You don’t have to point that out to any teacher. We’re at the front lines of this battle. We know. But, assuming this dire state is because teachers aren’t doing their jobs, is like assuming the ongoing war in Iraq is due to the soldiers overseas not doing their jobs. No one would dare put that blame on our brave soldiers’ shoulders. We are quick to point out there are many other factors out of their control. Instead of blame, we look for ways to support them in their battle. Why the opposite for teachers who battle to educate our future?
Are there bad teachers out there? Certainly. Is that what causes such a negative reaction when this topic comes up? Maybe. Perhaps some people simply remember the one teacher they had who never should have become a teacher at all, and forget all the wonderful teachers who helped shape them into who they are today. Believe me, though, the bad teachers are the exception. Instead, the field of education is saturated with wonderful, caring teachers who give way beyond their 180 days of contracted service to ensure that each child has a chance to succeed.
If Senate Bill 5 passes, stripping wonderful teachers of pay and benefits, and strapping their merit to ridiculous standardized tests approved by those who have never been in a classroom, many great teachers will be forced to leave the profession they love. And many great teachers-to-be will be forced to choose other fields. In the meantime, we teachers will continue to do our jobs amidst growing frustration, disrespect, and uncertainty.
Because we are proud of who we are. We are teachers.
Hello, my little one!
Welcome to my world.
Your first breaths
become my last
breaths I ever breathe
without thinking of you.
And as you lie upon my chest
nestled close to my heart,
I wonder what being a mommy will hold
as I smile and breathe in your delicious baby smell
and promise not to blink.
But I must have….
Because now you are learning to walk
One toddler foot in front of another
Your dancing eyes lock on mine
determination oozing from your beaming smile.
You can do it…you can do it.
And you do
as I smile and breathe in your delightful giggle
and promise not to blink.
But I must have…
Because now you are trying to ride a bike
Wobbling, weaving, zigging and zagging.
Slowly, my steadying hand
becomes less necessary.
You can do it…you can do it.
And you do.
as I smile and breathe in your exhilarating joy.
And promise not to blink
But I must have…
Because now you are entering
You can do it… you can do it
And you do.
As I smile and breathe in the wonder of the woman
standing next to me.
preparing for life on her own
miles and miles away from home
yet still so close to my heart.
Wondering what waits for you now,
I must remind myself to breathe.
I can do it….I can do it.
“Welcome to your world, my little one.
Take a deep breath
…and promise me you won’t blink.”
Some moments wrap so tightly around me, I have no choice but to write them down. So it was with the May morning breeze cooling off an otherwise overheated week, that I glanced around the fields of Colerain High School at the mixture of teens and teachers and had to smile.
A week earlier, we finally received the results of the test that holds our students’ sophomore year hostage. Thankfully our banner can stay –we are excellent once again.
Now it was time for our OGT party.
And amid donuts and Deejays, the teenagers mingled among their teachers while the tunes of country, pop, and hip-hip hugged the air.
And that’s when I smiled.
As a Sophomore English teacher I understand the importance of the Ohio Graduation Test. I get the significance it can hold for my students as well as my district. Still, sometimes as much as we try to make the necessary information palatable, it seems we teachers must spend months cramming test answers down our students’ throats instead of feeding them morsels of knowledge to whet their academic appetites.
And perhaps it was this fact combined with the juxtaposition of the mild mini moment of the party coupled with the intenseness of the end of the year academic demands, and the worry of piling up papers to grade, that made me stop and take notice. But when I looked out and saw teachers and students laughing, bouncing soccer balls, hula-hooping and just sharing this time together, I had an “aha!” moment.
For, standing before me were not test scores and statistics.
No, standing before me were the adults and teenagers I had worked closely with to get as many across the finish line as possible. Sadly, some students remain shy of the goal, while, happily, others have flown past any preconceived success estimation. But that day we celebrated the coordinated effort of so many individuals working together, culminating in just having fun together.
And as I was competing in my own hula-hoop contest with one of my students, she giggled at me and said, “Mrs. Bundy, when I’m a senior and look back –this is going to one of my best memories from high school.”
Now, that is an excellent rating that beats any banner or ribbon anywhere
At the end of the seventeen hour journey, the trophy proclaiming second runner-up was positioned next to the Grand Champion trophy. Although the smaller award was admittedly dwarfed in the shadow of the previous week's impressive prize, it represented something mere size can't measure.
The high school Show Choir met at 7 a.m. on that Saturday to travel to their destination in another state for an all-day competition that culminated months of practicing everything from singing and dancing, to presentation and production, to articulation and attitude. Coming off the grand champion victory of the previous week, the teen's spirits were high. They walked into the venue with a confidence that belongs to champions.
Unfortunately, the wheel of good fortune spun that day and landed on the judges proclaiming them third place in the preliminaries. And for a while this affected the way they saw themselves. They were the same award-winning, awe-inspiring, talented kids that walked into that competition. It's just they stopped believing that's who they were the moment someone else deemed them less deserving than the best. The performers had forgotten that others can judge us, but they can't define us.
The teens themselves had not changed. Perhaps this week, a pose wasn't held long enough, or a note went sharp, but that didn't change the definition of who those teenagers were.
At last by the finals, they finally seemed to realize this. They didn’t give up. They regrouped and reclaimed their winning spirit. This goose-bump-inducing performance would leave the audience recognizing beyond a doubt that they were winners. Receiving the second runner-up trophy didn't change the triumphant definition of who they were in the least. In some ways it represented the heart of a champion even more than the colossal trophy of the week before. True, we all like coming in first. Winning is good. And we certainly need to encourage our children to strive to be the best they can be, not settling for less than we know they are capable of. But when we allow those judging us to have the power to define us, we lose sight of who we are and who God intended us to be.
After all, He is the one who originally defined each of us and ultimately is the only one whose judgment actually matters at all.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois utters the famous line, “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”
Today, I know exactly how she feels.
It all began with a two hour drive to Indiana so my son and daughter could fulfill one of their dreams: seats in the fifth row of a Dave Matthews Band concert.
Just shy of our destination outside of Indianapolis, people in other cars started honking, waving and pointing to us. Realizing they were probably not expressing their deep admiration for my eight year old minivan, my kids pointed out that they seemed to be pointing to my tire. Upon pulling over, it was easy to see the flat tire was about as useless as my knowledge of fixing it.
Buying air from a gas station pump (who said air is free?), I managed to buy a little more time and get the kids to their concert venue. Then, I set out to figure out where on earth my spare tire actually was, and what on earth I would do with it, once I found it.
Within minutes, the newly replaced air was hissing out of my tire. Finally finding my way to another gas station, my hopes became as deflated as my tire when I realized that gas station didn’t even have an air pump.
At this point, I had a flat tire 120 miles from home, by myself, at 6:00 on a Saturday night. And of course, just to complete the mood, it started to rain.
That’s when I uttered a prayer –admittedly more of a complaint than a petition. “Lord, You have to help me here –I have no idea what to do.”
And then, just shy of a chorus of angels singing harmonies in my head, directly across the street, I saw a muffler shop with an open garage door.
Approaching the garage, I noticed they had closed an hour earlier, but three grease covered mechanics were still inside working.
Playing the damsel in distress more than I really wanted to, I interrupted them, hoping one might at least know where the allusive spare tire was on a Honda Odyssey minivan.
When all was said and done, they not only knew where the tire was, but without hesitating, they also put the van on their car rack and changed the tire for me. All of this was more than an hour after they had closed on a Saturday night.
Overcome with gratitude I choked back tears as I asked how much I owed them.
“Don’t worry about it, Ma’am,” the young mechanic replied.
Once back in my van, I allowed the tears to flow as I thanked God for the kindness of strangers, and all the angels he sends into our lives –especially the strangers who are angels who are sometimes covered in grease.
Some life moments wash over us as if they were scripted by Hollywood. The time is so intense we are certain that at any instant we might hear a director yelling, “Cue the music!” as the dramatic scene plays out before us.
Thus, I was waiting for the swell of the soundtrack of my life to begin playing last night while on a walk with my first born.
Her suitcase was waiting by the door.
Her passport was waiting in her purse.
Her future was waiting around the corner.
This was the night before she was to leave for Guatemala as part of a program to help Guatemalan women find life skills and careers that will keep them from being at the mercy of others. It’s a wonderful program–--one I fully believe in ---–for other people’s daughters. For my daughter, after she graduated from college, I was thinking more along the lines of a job within fifteen minutes of home, one she could drive to and from in an armored vehicle, with or without an escort from the National Guard. So it was, this detour from the life-bubble I wanted to keep her in was smacking me in the face while we walked on the eve of her endeavor.
It was an unseasonably cool summer night. The light mist of rain was a perfect setting for the mood I was wallowing in. We walked and talked and I hugged her as much as I could.
As we arrived back to where we began, we sat for a moment on the front porch, looking out at the cloud covered horizon. She indulged me as I blabbered on about how quickly the years had gone ---how proud I was of her –how hard letting go sometimes is.
And then, just as the misting rain was watering my wallowing, a ray of sun squeaked through the dusk sky. “Look,” my daughter pointed at what the ray had brought us.
There, right above us, was a rainbow. And at that moment I felt a blanket of comfort covering me, reassuring me, reminding me.
When my first born was a baby, her daddy used to sing her a song that became her theme song. The refrain is:
“Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow it over the hills and streams
Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow the fellow who follows a dream”.
As I remembered those words of her song, I realized that is exactly what she is doing ---following her rainbow –following her dream.
And if a director were to be shooting that scene of my life, he would have at that moment yelled, “Cue the music.” And the scene would fade with my arms lovingly wrapped around my baby girl.
For at least a few more minutes.
“Maybe one day you can write an article about it and tell me why you did it,” teased my father-in-law as he heard of my absolutely uncharacteristic “indiscretion” of the weekend before.
And as I now pivot my head to look in the full-length mirror, the reflection of my no-longer bare back takes me aback for just a moment.
A tattoo? Who-da- thunk it?
Yes, the weekend involved a college campus and a bit of peer pressure. But I swear no alcohol was involved.
I was attending a weekend workshop as part of my Masters’ classes at Miami University. The day marked the last day that my two daughters and I would all be students at Miami at the same time. With my oldest graduating the next month, the day was all the more sweet due to its significance.
“We need to do something big today,” one of my girls suggested. After a varying degree of propositions that took more time, money or nerve than I had that day, they both agreed on the best memory maker for us.
“You need to get the tattoo today.”
A few months earlier, when my younger daughter started at the same university as her sister, they decided to get matching tattoos. Their selection was a Celtic cross –the cross with the circle in the middle. When they unveiled this decision and tattoo to me for the first time, I have to admit it was a bit concerning to see the backs that I had rubbed with sunscreen all those years to protect from any permanent marks, now forever marked with a symbol. Still, I admit the idea of the symbol was intriguing. The cross of course, represents our faith; the circle of the cross, a symbol of eternal love. I actually thought it was a pretty nice tattoo for my daughters to share. When I mentioned it was, indeed, a nice bond, they suggested I join them in the bond. And I laughed at the impossibility of it all.
But somehow it didn’t seem so impossible when my daughters reminded me of their suggestion that day at Miami. Standing there with my two girls each now a young woman, on her own verge of the rest of her life, I wanted to freeze the moment. So I said yes.
And as I sat in the tattoo parlor in Oxford I could not stop smiling a ridiculously goofy smile at the strange scenario I was witnessing but could not fathom. This was a piece of my life’s puzzle you could never have told me would fit in with the other pieces of the last 48 years. It was so not me. And yet, knowing my girls wanted me to share in their bond, made me want to share in getting a tattoo I never would have imagined.
And as I stare at my back today, I think about writing that article to explain to my father-in-law and others why I did such a thing that is so different than anything else I have ever done. But maybe that is also part of the reason I did it.
Coloring inside the lines, thinking inside the box, doing the expected, is stable and decent and good. And that is pretty much how I have lived my life. I have prided myself in being dependable and therefore, pretty predictable. But there is something so liberating about getting older and waking up one day to realize you don’t need the approval of everyone after all. You have reached a beautiful zenith of life when you embrace the idea that you just don’t need to explain everything anymore.
So part of me was tempted to write that article explaining why I got my Celtic cross tattoo; but the other part of me doesn’t want to write it, because after 48 years, I finally know that I understand. And that’s enough.
Holidays when the kids are little have their own way of grabbing your attention as if in a face-hold and not allowing you a single thought until the moment is over. With those early years and the overwhelming need to protect, entertain, and feed our children, the reflective thoughts about the moment get put on the backburner for one day when you might actually entertain a free thought.
That day is today for me.
With my oldest now just graduated from college and my youngest in middle school, the days are full of busy-ness –but the time between the moments allow me to actually have a thought and process it.
This is what I reflected on while watching the 4th of July fireworks reflect from my rearview mirror this year.
Gone are the fourth of July days of preparing a bicycle for that early morning parade. No more purchases of crepe paper and mini flags to adorn a tricycle that will end up not being ridden when the little one decides he wants to be carried for the mile walk. No more packing a suitcase full of toys, snacks and mosquito repellent to take along for the waiting of the evening fireworks display.
This fourth of July had most in the family going their separate ways. Then as night began to fall, in anticipation of the fireworks, my son asked for a ride for him and his friends to go to the display. After dropping them off, I pulled over on the side of the road to watch the fireworks from my car.
At that moment it was the independence of my children I was reflecting on more than the independence of my country. But that night with every beautiful burst of light shooting across the sky, I started to believe the fireworks were symbolic of that precious thing called childhood.
With a burst of beauty, it all begins. At times loud, but always exciting, it has your full attention. You swear you will never take it for granted. But somehow you do. Then, when you think you have seen it all, something surprises you that takes your breath away, once again. Sometimes you think it’s preparing for the finale, but before you know it, you are given a little bit more. And a little bit more.
And then you start to kid yourself and pretend it will never end. But the fireworks and childhood always seem to end before you are completely ready to admit it’s time.
“You look nice. Have a good day.”
And thus began a typical day for me.
It was the ‘70’s, I was on my way to school, and my dad was driving.
Fathers of this time were of a different generation. Their sole concern was that there was enough money to clothe the family, feed the family and educate the family. It was the mother’s job to raise the family.
My dad was not into reading books to pontificate parenting practices. Dads of this time were just in their kids’ lives –they didn’t worry about all that “bonding stuff” we worry about today.
For this reason, I enjoyed my rides to school with my daddy. Having him and his full attention to myself was a treat. And everyday it was the same routine. As we pulled into the school, I would kiss him on the cheek, at which point he would say the lines I had grown to expect, “You look nice. Have a good day.” And, I would exit the car, ready to start my day, full of the knowledge that my daddy thought I looked nice.
This routine remained unchanged for years, with the small exception of when I started Jr. High School. This was the time I informed him I was going to kiss him goodbye while he was still driving, before we actually got to school. This, of course, was due to my adolescent anxiety, fueled by the fear my classmates might realize I actually had parents, and heaven forbid, even liked them.
And he humored me and continued to reply those edifying words.
It was such a simple thing, but I am certain from that original exchange, blossomed a belief I was worth something. Years later, before I found my prince, while shuffling through many frogs, I remember on more than one occasion being displeased with something one of my dates might have said. The first thought to pop into my head was always, “My dad wouldn’t treat me that way.”
How true it is, that the first man in a little girl’s life is her daddy.
So, this year for Father’s Day, I know just what I’ll do. I am going to go right up to my dad and proudly say, “You look nice. Have a good day.” And then I will kiss him on the cheek.
No matter who is watching.
In three month’s time, three friends have lost a parent.
Somehow, that expression has always seemed strange to me as it seems better used to describe a child losing a parent in a crowd, panicking and crying for a minute and then finding them again. When we refer to the death of a loved one as losing that loved one, it negates the permanency of the situation. The implication of losing something is that it might ultimately be found. But in death, the loved one is not returning. And as much we can find comfort in our faith and rejoice in the promises of heaven of one day being together again, the death of a parent is one of those life moments you deny will ever happen even as a part of you understands it eventually will.
Because no matter how old you are, you are the child and they are the parent. Our words for them may change over the years. Da-da and Ma-ma become Mommy and Daddy which ultimately might morph into mom and dad, or mother and father. But while labels change, the role they play in our lives never completely changes.
We are their child.
We are someone’s child.
True, the rest of the world might recognize us as full-grown, competent adults, perhaps even answering to the labels of mom or dad ourselves; but to somebody somewhere, we are the child, the one they care for and love with an unconditional love. They’re our parents.
No matter how imperfect we are –or how imperfect our parents are--- there is a love that’s a love that forever defines what love is for us. There is a connection that connects us beyond genetic make-up and hereditary traits.
Maybe that’s it: we’ve always known we’ve had our mom or dad’s eyes, nose, mouth –but as we get older we come to realize we also have something so much more meaningful –we have their heart. And that is something we never lose.
Even after they’re gone.