Spring Brake

Tuesday, March 25, 2014



While Spring break has come and gone at my school, Spring is being temperamental and avoidant. I nearly cried to see the snow again this morning. I am a strong woman and don't generally complain about weather during the season in which it is expected, but I am being worn thin by this never-ending cold.

I have bought daffodils for my office to console me.


******

Right before break, I was nominated by a student to take part in a "Dancing with the UWL Stars" event.  It would be professors paired with members of the Competitive Ballroom Dancing team. I'm not a dancer, but I was tickled to be nominated. It seems that in under two years I've gained a reputation as a professor who may be willing to take part in a dancing competition.

I was a hairs breadth from saying "no, thanks" when I stopped myself.  Did I have the extra time? No, not really .....But......Ah, hell. Why not?! 

This is how I found myself practicing three days over Spring Break with my very patient and kind partner. Our dance style is Swing and I am willing if not always coordinated or graceful. 

Our first competition is Thursday night, so we have two more practices until we perform. I was glad for Swing because I  already have the wardrobe for it. My dance heels came Monday afternoon and I was able to practice in the heels during Monday night's rehearsal. It's one thing to walk all day in heels, it is quite another to do a very fast triple step swing dance in heels during which you are spun one direction than another while remembering to do something with your arms AND smile.

The one move we hadn't nailed down was a "finishing move" ( stop giggling. No, really, stop because then I start to giggle...).

The first suggested moved involved my leaping up and making some kind of shelf with my knees on one of his legs then being thrown forward and down. 

Um, No.  I put the kibosh on that move right away. Know thy limits.

The second move was one in which I throw myself backwards, kick one leg up to be held in his hand while he spins up around. 

We tried that move ONCE. While it was reported by the other dancers that it "looked good", they also told me that I needed to look happy and not horrified/terrified.  I could not promise that.

The move that we settled on was a kick ( by me) over him, then I crouch and he kicks over me. He spins around and reaches behind, between his legs and pulls me through his legs, throws me forward/up...and I fall backwards with my arms out and one leg kicked up.

I'll pause while you catch your breath from laughing.

I'm sore, but pleased. It's fun, this swing dancing, and I've been inspired to sign up for lindy hop lessons. I asked Terrance and to my utter shock, he's agreed. I told him if he refused I would canvas all my male colleagues for a dance partner. I would have, too. 

So think of me on Thursday night at 6:30 when my kind and patient partner and I are doing our Swing dance. Emily will be video taping this extravaganza for her father who will be in NYC.  Many of my students will be in attendance and my work colleagues will be cheering me on. 

I plan a well deserved martini post performance.





Spoiler! - No, I can't.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

This Friday I had an appointment with my wax professional.

I like her well enough - she's no Rosa and not even Polly, but hey, I'm in Wisconsin. I'm just happy to find someone who is willing to do a Brazilian wax.

Your relationship with someone who does your wax should be...friendly.  I mean, you know. She is staring at your crotch, ripping out hair and you are chatting it up. It's not a time to invite controversy.

Unless you are me.

The comment was tossed off innocently. She is kind of a "everything natural is good" person, and I can live with that to a point. At some point the conversation turned to accepting the decisions of other people as their right and how we should respect those rights when she let the "My sister doesn't vaccinate her kids and people are so judgmental of her decision!" statement slip.

I lay on the table, considering my options. I blinked twice, hard. I considered letting it go. Seriously. I am naked from the waist down. She is one of the only people to offer this service in my immediate area. She is currently smearing very hot wax on my nether regions.

Deep breath. Don't do it, Dawn. Let it go.

Yeah. I can't.

I began to describe the hot zones that surround measles outbreaks, and the consequences of everyone who enters those hot zones for 24 hours Post exposure. I talk about elderly people, pregnant women and babies too young to be immunized.  I talk about what happens to them when they catch measles.

I move on to congenital rubella syndrome and what happens to pregnant women who are exposed to rubella. I discuss babies either spontaneously aborted, or born with significant brain damage and - if they survive birth - are often blind and require lifelong care.

I then describe the effects of chicken pox on children who use inhaled steroids for asthma.

I talk about the whooping cough outbreak in our local schools and in the dorms of the university.

I talk about how science has completely debunked any link between autism and vaccines and that, frankly, I feel strongly that children who don't have vaccines shouldn't be allowed in public school because they endanger all of the other people in the school, particularly the children who need herd immunity because of allergies to vaccinations or other factors which mean they can't be vaccinated.


There I am, laying half naked on the table alienating the person who has the hot wax in her hand.

I don't know what it is in my character that simply doesn't allow me to stay silent. It is not always a helpful trait, and often gets me in more trouble than is needed. Yet, there it is.

Can I stay quiet?

No, I can't.

Agents of change

Monday, February 17, 2014

A few weeks ago I assigned a webinar being hosted by NAEYC as an assignment for my students in my Administration of early childhood programs classes. The topic of the webinar was leadership and I thought it was a timely way to start moving into the overall topic of what it means to lead a program.

Yes, we get to budgeting and staffing patterns, but fundamentally I view this as an advocacy course. I take them through how parents apply for child care assistance, how child care and ECE is funded in the United States, quality rating scales and accreditation. It is sort of an odd course for them, not tied to how to teach precisely, but more about the external world that surround ECE. Important, but not terribly "thrilling".

I assigned some questions to which I wanted them to respond after listening to the webinar. I read their responses this weekend and wanted to talk a little about them in class today.

In one question I asked:

When describing the respect that is afforded Early Childhood teachers, Dr. Washington noted:

“If you are at a cocktail party and people find out you work with young children they go to find someone more interesting.”

Have you experienced this? Why do you think that ECE is thought of as “uninteresting”?

Most responded that they hadn't yet had this experience. On one hand, I was glad. One the other, I knew it was coming. I can't tell you how many times I've watched people glaze over when I talk about what I "do". This started when I was in college and announced my major, stating that I wanted to teach Kindergarten. My stepfather was crestfallen. "But! You have one of the most brilliant minds for literature I've ever seen! You want to just teach colors?! ABC's?!?!"

Yes. I knew, even at age 20, that ECE needed brilliant people. My oppositional nature prepared me to take the hit of professional disrespect, professional denigration and come back swinging with research, facts, and basic child development. 

Imagine when I later announced that I wanted to work with infants.  I think my parents could feel my expensive University of Vermont education burning.

So, there are my students today. It's been snowing since 7 a.m. and the majority have been in their field classrooms from 7:30 until noon. They come snow covered and red cheeked into my classroom. I ask them if they think all professors are paid the same wage. They nod yes. They assume that PhD = same degree = same pay rate.

No. I smile and shake my head.  A professor in the College of Business makes double what I do. We started the same year.

They are stunned. STUNNED. "With a PhD?!? Same as you?". Yep. Same as me. In fact, my alma mater of McGill is probably a higher ranked program than the ones from which they graduated. (McGill is generally ranked between 18 and 21 in the world)

"What does this tell you about the value placed on our profession?"

They are silent. 

They know they will never be wealthy. I've told them the 50% attrition rate of teachers in the first 5 year statistic over and over. I am not looking to inveigle them or hide the truth of what they are facing.  Yet this cold hard fact silences them. Two PhD's. Same university. Vast pay differences.

I move to another question:

A major theme in Dr. Washington’s talk was that we must be the change agents within our profession.  We must take control of our own standards and assessments in order to build the system we want, rather than complain about the one we have inherited.

Do you view yourself as an agent of change? How so?

Now, about half of them answered Yes. They did feel they could be or were agents of change. The other half expressed doubt. They had to do what their cooperative teacher wanted in order to make him/her happy. They had to deliver the canned, standardized curriculum because it was what the district wanted. They wanted to be employed when they graduated, so they were already preparing themselves to conform to ideas they knew, based on research, to be ineffective teaching methods. 

We spend four years teaching them to be creative curriculum creators and they give up as soon as they are handed a "manual" and told to read off the page.

"Listen", I said. "Every one of you is an agent of change. Now sure, you can't kick down the door and change everything the first day...but you can defend what you know to be right - based on what you know about child development. You can ask Why - over and over - just like you are a three year old. Why are we doing this? Why are we changing this? Is this really what is best?

Use research. It is here for you. Arm yourself with best practice. 

Teach parents what to expect. Help them be advocates for their children. 

Don't be afraid to say "no, thanks" to a job that isn't right for you. Sometimes you get fired. I did. I got canned as Director - partly because I was soft hearted and rotten with money, but also because I wanted my staff to earn more, and get better benefits and I wouldn't cram 24 kids into a classroom with 2 teachers. I valued quality over quantity. After I was done crying for two weeks because I was sure I had tanked my career at age 32 and was a failure, I found another job. You'll fail, but it doesn't mean game over.  

YOU are the gatekeepers. Each of you. You stand between children who want to love to learn and this insanity surrounding us - knowing full well that we will never be paid as we deserve and will most likely be blamed for things that are out of our control. 

Be subversive. Be smarter than stupid laws or mandates. Get in the system and maneuver through it. We change systems from the inside. We prove to individual people - parents, other teachers and administrators - that a play based curriculum delivers far better results than 1st graders filling in worksheets. 

I need you to believe that you are agents of change because I believe you can be. The day you truly  believe you have no power as a teacher, that you are a cog in the machine? You need to leave that job. You deserve better than that. Those children deserve better than that."

And then I started the next part of class. 



Fun with Eyeshadow

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

We all realize that I am just a 4 year old with toys, right?


Curiosity and Creation

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Prompted by my friend Maija who, after reading the Arts and Crap post said:

"Tell me what to Do with her!?" ( meaning her 20 month old daughter)

Here are some things that I saw work pretty successfully with Younger kids (Toddlers and up):

First off, I don't do food as art material. I know, I know. Some of you are shaking your heads in horror.

"But Pudding Paint, Dawn!"

Nope. I feel strongly that food is food, and is not art material. Particularly when we are attempting to also socialize table manners and how we expect them to behave during meals, the message "Don't play with your food" gets mixed and convoluted when we are encouraging children to play with food - sometimes - but not others.

This means no beans or rice in the sensory table, no macaroni stringing, no whip cream painting.

It incredibly privileged to treat food as art material and I just won't do it.

Art materials are made to be non-toxic. For myself, I would prefer to spend more money on reputable brands for things such as paint, markers or crayons to be sure that the standards are being adhered to, in terms of non-toxicity.  There are other things you can get on the cheap, but I am somewhat a traditionalist when it comes to what brand paint/markers/crayons I purchase.

This means if you toddler eats a spoonful of paint, they aren't going to die. You might have some curious diapers for a couple of days, but no lasting harm. Same with Crayons - I used to warn families when their child had decided to snack on crayons that they may see the results at home, depending on digestive speed.

Crayons:

Don't be afraid to limit choices - a child doesn't need 96 colour choices of crayons at once.  Starting with Red, Yellow and Blue is fine. Switch them up every once in awhile. By the age of 4, you'll see them starting to differentiate more distinctly and choosing shades of colour, but at the beginning they don't need the full palate.

Offer different textures of paper, or place things which will give texture under the paper. When they draw, they will notice that there is something changing the way they are able to pull the crayon across the paper. Do rubbings of bark, or other textured surfaces outside.

Paint:

Limit choice again. Change texture of paint by adding different things - water, dish soap, sand. Offer objects as brushes: Q-tips, pine branches, sticks, dandelions, forks, small squares of sponges - whatever catches your fancy ( and theirs)

Food Colouring:

We often placed small medicine cups of coloured water next to absorbent material ( like coffee filters or paper towels) and either used eyedroppers to drop single drops of the water or something soft like a Q-tip to draw/paint. This makes soft pastel colours and emphasizes blending, as the water soaks through the paper.



Toddlers, being toddlers, want to stick hands in things. They want to taste. They want to feel. One of the more insane "projects" I've observed involved asking one year old to paint with toothbrushes and NOT stick the toothbrush and their mouth. The teachers spent the whole time telling children to not put the toothbrush in their mouth. Finally, with a child who simply wouldn't stop sticking the toothbrush in his mouth? They popped his binky in his mouth.

So now the child is told (via body language and adult choice) "I don't want to hear you - here, let's plug you up" all while asking a child to NOT DO the very thing he/she knows a toothbrush is used for: sticking in your mouth.

Talk about a pointless experience for a young child. Or rather, an experience which reinforces "Adults are crazy and I shouldn't listen to them."

Since toddlers ( and all children) are so kinesthetic, the process of creating is where the joy is found.

~~~~~


Last semester, I had a difficult class. It wasn't the personalities - I liked all of the students a great deal - it was their group unwillingness to create. They didn't play.

The question I kept coming back to? When did they stop playing? When did it become so preferable for them to be told what to do? When did the desire to create, to explore, to test what happens become...unpleasant?

I am prepping for a new semester and am hopeful that I can lead this new group to a different understanding of art and the delight that comes with curiosity.  I hope so, because their discovery is what fuels me to keep chipping away at the monolith of sameness so many of them survived.

Fiasco

Monday, December 23, 2013

The rundown of an academic calendar is always a sight to behold. Students are exhausted, Professors are exhausted and both want to be done with each other - at least temporarily - yet there is always one more assignment, one more narrative to complete.

Without fail, my colleagues and I ask ourselves "Why do we require this assignment?" when faced with stacks of grading, of reading and responding to portfolio's, of editing and revision.

I've staggered over the finish line of this term, particularly exhausted, having felt all term as if I am three steps behind myself. My organization has been mediocre, at best, and I have struggled in finding my groove in any of my classes.

Last week was the end of exams. I pulled the exam times on Saturday (!) and at 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday.
Terrance was heading to NYC for his week of meetings and this left me with surly teen, crazed feline and very baleful rabbits.

After dropping Terrance off at the airport at 9:30a.m. on Monday, I drove home and hopped into the shower. After performing my ablutions, I stepped out to find the phones of the house blowing up. Texts! Ringing! Beeping!

I grab my phone to find 4 texts from Terrance. I'd been in the shower for 12 minutes. He was frantic:

"Where are you?"
"I've left my computer!"
"My plane boards in 15 minutes"
"Where are you!!!!"

I begin throwing clothes back onto my moist self. I text: "I'm on my way. I was in the shower."

I get dressed and out of the house in under 2 minutes with his computer and charger in hand. I hand it off to Terrance and race back home. Did I mention it is 8 degrees outside?

Later that day, I get the mail and find in it a letter that agitates me mightily.

I am upset. I get in the house where Emily is agitating for me to take her out to dinner. Um, No. You'll eat these hamburgers that you need to watch. It is the simplest of cooking tasks - Watch this and make sure they don't burn.

I go upstairs to call Terrance because I am losing my shit.  Just as the call connects us, the fire alarm goes off.

We don't have a normal fire alarm in this house. We have one that yells in an annoying humanesque female voice "FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!" while blaring an incredibly annoying siren.  They go off in a zone formation meaning that they only get louder.

Terrance is yelling on the phone, Emily is screaming downstairs and I am trying to coordinate both of the humans to whom I am legally bound to both calm them down AND get the fvcking siren to turn OFF.

I finally hang up the phone and wave enough towels in the direction of the fire alarms to silence them. Rabbits are now thumping loudly, angered by the noise. Emily is eating her hamburgers and I walk back into the bedroom to calm the rabbits and look something up on the internet.

It was at this moment that Emily barrels up the stairs shrieking "SOMETHING IS HITTING THE BACK DOOR, SOMETHING BIG, AND IT IS FREAKING ME OUT!"

I look, incredulously, at the flapping child before me. At 15, she is almost as tall as me. The idea that some thump has sent her screaming in my direction is unbelievable. I yell, unkindly, that she needs to get some god d@mn ovarian fortitude and get down there and figure it OUT.

She continues to flap and scream. I go down ( she is my shadow behind me) and walk toward the sliding glass door when the THUMP happens. Emily shrieks "THATS THE NOISE!!"

I walk over and grab the blinds and pull them back to find the cat. The never been outdoors before cat who is now Throwing himself, repeatedly at the glass. He is in 3 inches of snow. He looks terrified.  THUMP! He hits again while I scrabble to get the security stick out of place and get the door open.

He tumbles inside looking traumatized. I realize he must have snuck out behind me when I walked over to the mailboxes to get the mail.

When everyone is finally in bed and Micha, the cat, is now attached to the hip of every human he sees I ponder my "No drinking during the week" stance.

Considering I have an exam to give at 7:45 the following morning, I mentally tick on off in the "Owe you one" column and try to go to sleep.



The Dawn Show

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

 
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