Crossroads of Humanity

Mar 25, 2014

Are you a juggler too?

I've often thought about my job in terms of juggling. I do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and then I go over here and do this, and then someone needs my assistance, so I drop what I'm doing and help. Sometimes it can be hours before I get back to what I was doing, but eventually, I pick up the balls I dropped and resume juggling.

Right about now, you may be thinking, "Yeah, that sounds exactly like my life!" or you may be wondering, "What is it this woman does for a living?"

I'm a teacher, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who feels like I'm juggling day in and day out. Still, I had a revelation today.

I knew today would be busy before I even walked into the classroom this morning. It was an off schedule with a lot of special activities and events. For example, we started the day with a birthday celebration. Birthdays are always a big deal in my classroom, with that special child getting a half hour ceremony in which they get to share a little bit from every year of their life so far. Photos, signing and a read aloud from a birthday book make up the majority of the celebration, and the child being honored usually brings in a snack for the entire class to enjoy at lunch.

Ah, lunch! That was another something special for today. You see, last week, I taught the students about how a bill becomes a law. They even got to practice Parliamentary Procedure, and the law they passed had to do with an extravagant pizza party that took place today. The party included an hour's worth of fun and games, pizza, cake and ice cream, and many drinks of choice. The students were really great about it. They considered cost (Little Caesars was voted upon because it was the most cost effective pizza choice with their $5 Hot-N-Ready pizza deal), and they baked and frosted their own cake. They even decided to bring in their own drinks to help cut down on cost. Yes, this really was all their own doing. I just taught them how Parliamentary Procedure works and started them off with a note to one child who read aloud, "I move to have a pizza party next Thursday." In the discussion that followed, they decided to have the party today instead so as not to exclude a child who will be gone later in the week.

Anyway...back to juggling. Ball one: birthday celebration (birthday treat of Doritos added to the pizza party). Ball two: Parliamentary Procedure pizza party (cake to be made and pizza to be picked up). Ball three: special evening event.

The evening event happened to be a hunger dinner that was being hosted by an after school group of students from my class who were trying to raise awareness about world poverty rates and to raise money to help fight the problem. This meant that 1/3 of my students spent some time cooking yesterday and today to prepare for this evening's event.

To top it all off, this week is SPIRIT WEEK in our class, and today was costume day. That means that I was juggling with an entire class in costume!

Talk about busy! The best part of today's juggling act is the simple fact that the students were focused, courteous, and cooperative. Yes, all of them. Yes, all day! As I finished my lessons for the morning... (YES, I was able to teach all of my regularly scheduled lessons even with three balls in the air.) So as I finished my lessons for the morning, I realized that everything was going not only well, but very well. When I was finishing up the afternoon, I had to pause and wonder, "How on earth is everything going so smoothly?"

That's when it hit me. My revelation! I was not keeping the balls to myself. At that moment I realized why I like to juggle and why it usually does go smoothly. It's because I don't keep the balls to myself. I pass them off to other jugglers who invite even more people to join in the fun. For example, the students decided on a cost effective pizza party, so I picked up a cake mix instead of purchasing a cake from a bakery. Yesterday afternoon during Writer's Workshop, I passed off the making of the cake to two students who were caught up with their current writing projects. When they had to go to Spanish class, one of them told me how much time was left for the cake to finish baking, thereby passing the ball back to me. I assured him I would get it out of the oven in 10 minutes. The other asked if she could bring in cake decorating supplies today to finish it, thereby taking a ball back. Throughout this morning, a handful of students asked me if they could help decorate the cake too. I said, "Sure!" So everyone who wanted to, got to participate in the fun.

That is the secret of effective juggling. Think about it. Which is more fun to watch: one juggler tossing three balls around and around, or two, three, or even more jugglers tossing bowling pins back and forth to each other? It's more fun for everyone if more people are included in the show. I really know how to juggle in the traditional sense?

Yes, I do!

S. L. Wallace is an upper elementary Montessori teacher and a published author. Please visit her official author website or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

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Feb 23, 2014

No Lunch for You!

Recently, I watched an segment from The Ed Show: Policies Prevent Kids from Having Lunch

Ed pointed out that in Salt Lake City, Utah, dozens of students had their lunches taken away because their parents were behind on payments. This recent controversy made national news. And who was blamed? Take a look: Lunchlady on Leave after Trashing Hungry Kids' Food. District officials have given a public apology and have said that this will never happen again, and they put the blame on a worker who was following their policy. This is not an isolated incident! It has been happening in cities throughout the U.S.

Up until two years ago, I worked in a public school in Wisconsin. We had our own hot lunch issues because I taught in a public elementary charter school which was a pretty new idea for that district at the time of the school's inception. Until halfway through our first year of existence, our students didn't even receive hot lunch. Because we were located within a middle school, our students eventually received access to the cafeteria and the hot lunch program. About seven years ago, I was in line behind a little boy whose lunch account was in the negative. Still, I was told by the cafeteria worker at the cashier that they would never not feed our little ones. She said if he had been a middle schooler who was too far behind in payments, they would first remind the student to bring in lunch money and may begin withholding lunches, but not for the elementary school kids. Even that rubbed me the wrong way, but what could I do? That was the policy! My last year there, I did see students coming to the lunch tables with exchanged lunches. They were given the bare minimum if their lunch accounts were empty, and their peers noticed.

That trend has clearly spread.

The Star Tribune, Feb. 11, 2014, had the following article: Minnesota students: don't forget your lunch money.  A majority of public school districts deny hot lunch - or any lunch at all in some cases - to children who can't pay for them." This should concern us all. "...if students fail to come up with even 40 cents, some schools respond by denying or downgrading students' lunches..."

Tom Colicchio, a chef and food activist, responded, "If we want kids that are better educated, it starts with nutrition."

He's not wrong! Hungry kids can't focus. Hungry children can't concentrate. Hungry students can't learn.

On The Ed Show, Jennifer Hartstein said, "We going to create a system where they (the kids) don't want to go to school and that's going to start young. And then we're going to perpetuate the cycle of uneducated, unskilled people because they're not getting the education they need to do anything and further their lives in any way."

And it's not just happening in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Utah. This is happening throughout our nation, and it's only one symptom of a greater issue. A chasm has begun to form in our nation, dividing the haves from the have-nots. You may say it's not happening, that I'm wrong or disillusioned, but I'm here to tell you that even the children have noticed. It's time to wake up and see what's happening all around you. It's time to look with your eyes and your mind wide open because it's not too late to make a difference.

I began writing my Reliance on Citizens trilogy in early 2011, because I noticed what was happening in the world around me, and I wanted to make a difference. Frankly, if public policy continues on the path that has already been chosen, the future outlook of our society is bleak indeed. Who has chosen this path? It is certain wealthy politicians who have made the changes that will be a downfall of freedom and equality for everyone. Please read my statement carefully. I am not blaming all politicians, nor am I blaming the wealthy. No. It is a small but powerful group of wealthy politicians who are the root of this problem. Of that, I am positive. If they were not wealthy, they would understand the impact their policies are having on the majority of citizens. And if they were not politicians, they would not be able to create the change we are seeing.

But, you may say, it is a majority of those citizens who put those particular politicians in office. Why would they do that? Why would people knowingly create a world in which they and their children are being harmed? The honest answer is, they wouldn't.

I think some of the people who voted for those politicians must be just as removed from the problem as those who they have voted into office. In my heart, I cannot believe that anyone would knowingly harm the innocent, the children, sick and disabled. Instead, I think some people truly believe that the majority of people who are being harmed by public policy are lazy or deserve what they get because of their past mistakes.

What about the others? It takes a majority of the vote to put someone into office, so what about the people who are now being harmed by the very politicians they helped vote into office? Why would they do that? I think many believe the lies they've been told. They see the statistics that point to job growth and believe they are among the few who are having trouble landing a job. Perhaps they even blame themselves for their situation and think most of their peers are better off.

I'm here to tell you that's not true. If you think for just a minute, I'm sure you can name more than one person who you personally know who has been affected negatively by recent political changes. Maybe your friend's children have been moved to another school because their's was shut down due to the No Child Left Behind policy. Perhaps a neighbor lost a job and is back in school to beef up their resume with the hope of finding a better job in the near future. Ask your kids if they know anyone in their class who had their hot lunch replaced or removed when they reached the cashier.

And yes, even the federal government recognizes that there are problems with No Child Left Behind.

I wrote my Reliance on Citizens trilogy as a wake up call to Americans. It's about a society divided in the very way that our society is becoming divided. One Amazon reviewer stated, "I enjoyed the book, however it has a socialist bent to it. The author portrays most wealthy people as bad, evil and corrupt and the only way to have a good life is if everyone lives equally. Scary considering the administration in power right now." The part she has wrong is about most wealthy people being bad, evil and corrupt. All of the characters in my books are just trying to get by in the only way they know how, no matter how much or how little they have. Theirs is a society in which the strong and corrupt are most likely to survive whether they're wealthy or not. It's truly a society in which everyone looks out for themselves. I worry that this is the path we are on, and I don't like where that path is leading us. But in the end, these books carry a message of hope. It's not too late for my characters. If a minority of people can get us into this mess, then a vocal minority can also get us out of it. It's not too late for us either.

You can learn more about S. L. Wallace and her books at her official author website. The first book in her trilogy is forever FREE everywhere ebooks are sold. The thoughts discussed in The Ed Show clip are highlighted in the third book of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy, Heart of Humanity. Each of the books can be read as stand alone novels. S. L. Wallace welcomes thoughts from readers and is happy to send anyone a free copy of her other books if they ask.

Feb 1, 2014

Books, a Reflection of Society

I've gone on a futile search, so now I'm asking for your help. I cannot be the only person who has realized that books are a reflection of society, but search as I may, I cannot find a single quote of that nature.

I do know that during WWII, the comic book industry really took flight. And it stands to reason. It was a time in human history, when people craved heroes who could swoop in and save the day.

So what do we crave today? What does this surge in dystopian literature tell us about our society? What do demands for more fantasy novels tell us about ourselves? These questions have no easy answers, but they are worth considering.

Right now, there is an event dedicated to fantasy and sci fi readers worldwide. If these types of questions stir your heart, why don't you jump in and join in the conversation or listen to what some of the characters have to say. There will also be a number of games and contests to enjoy.

The Rafflecopter to the right, is part of the Fantastical Reads Event.

And in the meantime, if my questions have sparked some of your own, or if you have some answers, please leave a comment. I hope to see you at the Fantastical Reads week long event, starting today.

Jan 20, 2014

It's MLK Day! Celebrate Peace and Nonviolence Daily

We've all heard the name Martin Luther King, Jr. and most of us know some details about the man, his life and his work.

To summarize: He was born on January 15, 1929, at the beginning of the Great Depression. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and was admitted to Morehouse College in 1944. If you do the math, you'll see that he was only 15 years-old. From Morehouse to Crozer Theological Seminary, he was ordained as a Baptist minister on February 25, 1948. After that, he continued his education with graduate studies at Boston University. Things really got interesting for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he joined the bus boycott in 1955 after Rosa Parks was arrested. Then, on December 5, he became the official spokesman for the boycott. At the March on Washington in the summer of 1963, nearly 250,000 people heard his `I Have a Dream Speech'. Did you know that he was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize? And this great man was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Have you heard his message?  The heart of his message is all about nonviolent communication and acceptance of others. How do you celebrate peace and nonviolence on a daily basis? Do you actively think about it and educate the children you know as to how to go about creating peace? In our competitive society, it is important to teach nonviolent communication and conflict resolution skills. And the best way to teach those skills is to model them. But what if you're not very good at practicing nonviolent communication? If you weren't taught how, it can be a difficult thing to do.

Here is the secret: Nonviolent communication is about recognizing the feelings and understanding the needs of the people in your life.

If you know the secret, you can communicate peacefully with just about anybody. When someone is upset, angry, scared, sad, etc. let them know they've been heard by repeating back how they're feeling. For example, "I can see that you're feeling sad. Why is that?" or "I understand that you're angry. What can I do to help?" By recognizing the other person's feelings and following up with an offer to better understand their needs, you can diffuse many stressful conversations.

If you'd like to practice nonviolent communication, you may be interested in trying The No Fault Zone, a game that I use in my classroom with my students.

Whatever you do and wherever you are, I encourage you to practice peace on a daily basis. It's the best way to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

S. L. Wallace is an upper elementary Montessori teacher and an author. Visit her official author website to learn more.

Jan 5, 2014

Your Words Are Important

We each have a voice. Let yours be heard.

You have a message. Take the time to make sure you're understood.

Instead of arguing about semantics, listen closely and with an open mind.

Try to see the world from another person's point of view. You may learn something about yourself in the process.

Before you head out into the big wide world, think for a moment about what you have to say. How will you get your message across today?

If you haven't seen this video yet, take a moment to see what I mean. The Power of Words

Say what you mean, mean what you say. Your words are important.

S. L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizen trilogy, a dystopian political thriller with elements of romance; Retrospection, a unique historical fiction/paranormal novella; and the short story, Dante's Day Off, in which Dante has a most serious problem.

Dec 20, 2013

From the Abyss

Please welcome John Emil Augustine, author of From the Abyss.

I awaken with a start this morning in a cold sweat, feeling like a drowning victim resurfacing. I gasp and jump to my feet, my heart and mind racing; my body moving involuntarily. I’m having a panic attack. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, there is a black hole inside my chest that I can only describe as pure, hopeless terror. I struggle to quickly throw on my clothes.

It is a sunshiny Saturday morning, and I don't have to work today. My beautiful wife is in bed, and she tells me to stop and breathe. I ask about our kids, and she calmly says they are fine. I ask about money and our rent. “We have plenty of money right now,” my wife reassures me. “Our rent is paid, and it's the middle of the month.” We're about to have a slow Saturday morning with pancakes and coffee. Maybe some cartoons for the kids. I can sit in my chair with my laptop and relax. I stand in the bedroom doorway, half-dressed, and breathe to the sound of my wife's words. She is right of course. There is absolutely nothing to panic about.

I have come to understand that this panic attack is the result of something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My first wife emotionally abused me, using our child against me. I spent more than ten years jumping through her hoops, believing she was putting him in danger or would steal him away from me. In order to keep her happy, I went into debt voluntarily to give her extra money beyond the child support, so she would agree to stay in the state. I did this to continue visitation with my son, though the court appointed me equal custody. The custody agreement was one thing, but it wouldn’t have stopped her. At least, not according to her threats. How long it would have taken me to get him back was a question not easily answered. What it would have cost was definitely beyond my means. My only choice was to keep on her good side in order to continue a stable relationship with my son.

Homelessness, alcoholism, job loss, fractured family relationships – once I began to struggle in my relationship with my ex, I began to struggle in everything. To keep her happy, I put every other relationship I had in jeopardy. I stayed strong in the face of each problem, but privately, I lived in constant, debilitating fear, knowing another crisis was just around the corner. Drugs and alcohol helped me cope, but eventually became detrimental. They were my way of hiding from reality, as was my increasingly antisocial behavior. I had been living through a traumatic and stressful situation for far too long. I had spiraled into a deep abyss.

PTSD is common in soldiers who have seen combat, in rape victims, in natural disaster victims, in attack victims; really in anyone who has lived through a situation which was traumatic. For those who have been traumatized by a marriage and a prolonged divorce in which a child is used as a tool of manipulation, PTSD is unfortunately a reality. As a man, it was the expectation of my family that I remain strong, get over my failed marriage, and work amicably with my ex-wife. In fact, my calls to my mom asking for help were stressing her out, so my dad eventually called me and told me to stop bothering her with my problems. That was my official cue to be a man, quit my whining, and tough it out.

Men are often expected to work alone. It's almost one of our American societal mores. However, isolationism or social withdrawal is a symptom of PTSD. Reaching out can be extremely difficult because someone with stress as the result of reaching out in the first place (as in a marriage) will be far less likely to jump at the opportunity of risking entering into or furthering an existing relationship. Simply put, PTSD sufferers have an excruciatingly hard time asking for help. And men in particular who do reach out are often scorned for being weak.

What’s to be done?

The first step is for us to change our perception of what happens to a person during and after a traumatic relationship. This is why I have written a book series about my experience. It’s hard to identify with someone in such a circumstance if you’ve had no prior experience with it. If you say, as my parents did, that a guy should be in control and tackle his problems by himself, you misunderstand what the problem is, and it is very easy to dismiss someone who is in a tailspin such as I was. It seemed most everyone I knew was telling me to pull myself up by my bootstraps. And, by golly, I did.

I did exactly that. I worked harder than I ever had to keep my family somewhat together, to continue to do exemplary work at my job, and even to help support my ex. I supported her financially by giving more than the court ordered me to. I supported her physically by helping fix up her house, even giving her the half I owned free and clear by signing a quit claim deed. I even supported her emotionally by listening to her rants and trying to help smooth things over with people she needed to keep in her life. I did more than I should have.

Still, in the end, having pulled myself up by my bootstraps was not the way to get rid of the detrimental effects of PTSD. That’s the problem: PTSD doesn’t just go away. It lingers and is re-triggered again and again. You fight it bravely, but it continues to resurface. Not only do you fight the PTSD, you fight the stigma it gives you as you watch people shake their heads at you, wishing you would just get over it.

If you know someone who has had a relationship derail and go up in flames, learn about PTSD and relationships. You can Google the two keywords and find some related articles and studies fairly quickly, though such articles are sparse, and that’s part of the problem. Awareness isn’t common in our society. That is my purpose, to raise awareness.

Become aware. Be a friend to someone in a bad relationship. You may be able to help at some point, and helping is not a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be a huge time or emotional commitment. It can simply mean awareness. I was lucky to have had a few people who were at least aware enough to not turn their backs on me despite how society generally feels about a guy in such a position. I am alive today because of those people.

The hopeless terror does not have to be a reality for those of us with PTSD. There is hope in this life. Help me pass it on.

 From the Abyss

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Nov 24, 2013

Really, Pat? A War on Christmas?

In the latest school news, my last school district has taken on Christmas. And it's so last month! How did I miss that? Oh yeah, I've been dealing with my own hectic life.

A couple of days ago, I wrote to a past colleague with a question about a Roman arch project. He responded with some shocking news. My hometown has once again landed in the national spotlight. This time it has nothing to do with pubic workers taking a stand against a union busting governor. No, this time it was one of their own who caused the uproar.

Here's what I learned yesterday in an email from my friend:

"Though, if you've caught the news lately you know the WSD has made national news. You'll remember the annual email about respecting cultural diversity and finding some curricular relevance for holiday festivities and songs. But a music teacher at West felt like there wasn't enough Christ in the public school district's Christmas concerts, and he called Fox News. Wausau's "War on Christmas" went national. There was a crazy public hearing at a school board meeting; the superintendent received death threats; Sarah Palin came to town to save Christmas from us godless, liberal public school teachers. Crazy, crazy stuff. That is: I still envy you your exodus to saner climes."

What began as a request from a high school music teacher to include only religious based Christmas songs in this year's winter concert led to the announcement that he could perform a concert with no religious based songs. That resulted in conflict between the school board and the administration.

OMG! What have I missed?! Yes, I'm glad I moved away. I'm very glad I moved away. *Breathing a sigh of relief.*

So what was the problem? The district places an emphasis on cultural diversity. The public schools are entrusted with educating all of the students, no matter what their religious upbringing may be. The district has never banned inclusion of religious topics as long as they are educational in nature and respect the students and their families. I never saw a problem with that, and I still don't.

High school choir director, Phil Buch, apparently does have a problem with that. He started the fire by bringing his grievances to Fox News, and school board member, Pat McKee, fueled the flames when he told Fox News that it was "nothing short of a war on Christmas."

What was the decision that caused such an uproar? Ultimately, Buch was told he'd either have to include some secular winter songs in the program, or he'd have to change the theme of the winter program entirely. His response was to disband the choir. Excuse me, but how childish! Being a teacher myself, I can think of so many marvelous things he could have done with that. He could have put together a multicultural program including holiday songs in a variety of different languages. He could have taken a look at holiday music through the ages. In both cases, it would not be difficult to incorporate secular holiday songs. Instead, he canceled Christmas. Yes, Mr. Buch, it was not the Wausau School District that canceled this festive season. You are the one who started this "war".

UPDATE: Wausau School District limits religious music
Wisconsin school district cracks down on Christmas music
Wausau school district threatened with lawsuit over music policy