That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood, published in the Nodaway News Leader, 3/10/22
Anecdote #1:I once heard a woman complaining about how difficult it was to care for her nearly waist-length hair. Her friend asked why she didn’t cut it shorter and she replied her husband wouldn’t approve. I was probably five or six at the time and thought that was one of the dumbest things I’d ever heard in my short life.
Anecdote #2: I played AYSO soccer in Maryville from age five to 11. I was usually the only girl on my team. I loved playing and was pretty good at it, but there was always at least one boy who would comment about me being a girl or how I couldn’t play.
Anecdote #3: I loved playing pickup basketball at BYU. Being the only girl, I was generally picked last. They soon realized I didn’t need to be a guy to be good.
Anecdote #4: When I was in sixth grade at Washington Middle School, I could generally be found playing kickball with the boys at recess instead of standing around talking with the girls. I was made fun of a lot because of it. My homeroom teacher, Carolyn Henry, always encouraged me and told me I could do anything the boys could do and it didn’t matter what anyone said.
I’ve been reflecting on women and sports and equality the past few weeks after players on the US Women’s soccer team reached a $24 million settlement with the US Soccer Federation over unequal pay. March is also Women’s History Month, March 8 is International Women’s Day and March 15 is Equal Pay Day, the date that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.
While we’ve made strides over the years, it seems like we’re still trying to prove our worth as women. I hear the word patriarchy thrown around a lot, mostly negatively, and I want to look at it historically as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
Historian and author, Dr. Gerda Lerner, believed the establishment of patriarchy was not an evil conspiracy of men nor a singular event but developed from 3100 to 600 BC in early agricultural communities. They were sustained by the practice of intertribal exchanges of women for marriage.
“In a time when women’s average life span may have been less than 28 years, and when infant mortality was 70-75 percent, women were bearing and nursing babies all the time in order for the tribe to survive. So a sexual division of labor was created that was functional and approved of by both men and women.”
She said this system was created inadvertently with “unforeseen consequences” and “gave early peoples the notion that men had rights that women did not.”
Separate from the idea of patriarchy as a system of society, but similar, is Biblical or Christian patriarchy which is a set of beliefs concerning gender in marriage and family. It has its own misconceptions including those regarding Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit.
Religious scholar Bruce Hafen said: “The incorrect idea in Christian history that wives should be dependent began with the false premise that the Fall of Adam and Eve was a tragic mistake and that Eve was the primary culprit. Thus women’s traditional submission to men was considered a fair punishment for Eve’s sin.”
He continued: “Eve was Adam’s ‘help meet’ (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for ‘meet’ means that Eve was adequate for, or equal to, Adam. She wasn’t his servant or his subordinate.”
The subjugation of women by men has been further supported in Genesis 3:16: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Hafen notes, however, the Hebrew “bet” means rule with not rule over: “Husbands and wives are interdependent with each other. They are equal. They are partners.”
Equal and with.
Those are ideas I support in both religious and societal practices.
They are ideas I’ve been thinking about since that woman said she couldn’t cut her hair. And ideas I’ve been fighting for since my soccer, kickball and basketball playing days.
It’s not about women being better than men, but that we’re not less than either.
Author Vera Nazarian said: “A woman is human. She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man. Likewise, she is never less.”
How do we continue to change things? How do move more toward equality?
I believe one way is by simply encouraging girls like Mrs. Henry did for me. It may not seem like much but her words and belief in me created tiny ripples with far-reaching effects.
That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood, published in the Nodaway News Leader, 2/10/22
Do we have the courage to be humble?
That might seem like an unusual question to consider. Why would we need courage for humility? Or, why would we even want to be humble?
In “Could a lack of humility be at the root of what ails America?” Frank McAndrew, Knox College psychology professor, said: “There are a lot of reasons behind the political polarization of the country and the deterioration of civic discourse. I wonder if a lack of humility is one of them.”
Psychologists Everett Worthington and Scott Allison studied humility and found after generations of self-focus – the “do your own thing” of the 1960s and the push for “high self-esteem” in the 80s and 90s – the need for humility has increased.
McAndrew noted other factors – the growing distrust in experts as well as news outlets and social media serving as echo chambers, “where like-minded individuals reinforce each other’s worldviews.”
In a time when being right seems to be more important than listening, having the courage to change can be difficult. But I also think humility has been misunderstood.
Indian philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan believed that “humility is the non-judgemental state of mind when we are best able to learn, contemplate and understand everyone and everything else.”
Dr. Tim Soutphommasane, University of Sydney sociology professor, said humility is needed for human flourishing: “(It) is required not only for us to improve ourselves, but also for us to treat others well.”
Religious leader Dieter F. Uchtdorf said humility does not mean thinking we are worthless: “Humility directs our attention and love toward others.”
Until recently, humility wasn’t discussed outside of religion. However in the early 21st century, Worthington and Allison write, “the need for humility burst through church doors into the halls of corporate power” as a result of the fraud and dishonesty found in cases like Enron, Freddie Mac, the Lehman Brothers and Bernie Madoff.
Looking beyond religion, Duke University psychologist Mark Leary conducted a series of studies exploring intellectual humility or “the recognition that the things you believe in might, in fact, be wrong.”
Vox science reporter Brian Resnick wrote about Leary’s studies and explained it isn’t about being a pushover or lacking confidence. “The intellectually humble don’t cave every time their thoughts are challenged. It’s about entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others. It’s about asking: What am I missing here?”
According to McAndrew, Leary discovered “those who score on the high end of intellectual humility process information differently from those who score on the low end. They’re more tolerant of ambiguity and realize not every problem has a single, definitive answer or outcome. When they hear a claim, they are more likely to seek out evidence and prefer two-sided, balanced arguments. Unfortunately, most people do not score high on intellectual humility.”
The good news is that Leary said it doesn’t require a high IQ or a certain set of skills to achieve intellectual humility, but simply a desire to acknowledge your limits.
So if it’s possible for any of us to achieve, then the next question would be do we actually want to increase our intellectual humility? Do we want to be better citizens and neighbors? Or, are we comfortable sitting where we are right now?
Sometimes we might not even realize there’s a problem which is why humility is so important.
Soutphommasane said, “For there to be recognition that one may be in the wrong, even when one doesn’t necessarily mean to be, there must first be humility. Someone must be willing to acknowledge their current ways may not necessarily be right or the best.”
This idea of humility is not just about political polarization or civic discourse. In the business world, for example, Fortune 500 coach Melody Wilding says: “Research proves humble leadership works. Not only are self-aware leaders more effective, but they also impact the bottom line.”
The case for humility can be found in other fields, relationships and experiences as well.
But are we willing to try it out? Are we willing to accept we might be wrong?
Courage is the ability to do something you know is difficult or dangerous. It can be found in small acts or grand feats but also in ways which seem insignificant but are life changing.
Facing fears. Standing up for others. Doing the right thing when no one is watching.
And … choosing humility.
I believe humility has the power to solve a lot of problems.
That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood published in the Nodaway News Leader, 1/13/22.
The year is done. I spread the past three hundred sixty-five days before me on the living room carpet… I fold the good days up and place them in my back pocket for safekeeping. Draw the match. Cremate the unnecessary… I pour myself a glass of warm water to cleanse myself for January. Here I go. Stronger and wiser into the new. – Rupi Kaur
We’re now a couple of weeks into the new year and I’ve taken a different approach to 2022 than in previous years. While I’ve been contemplating the last 365 days like Kaur – keeping the good and learning from and letting go of the bad – and looking ahead to the next, I’m doing it with a new outlook.
The late Desmond Tutu said: “We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth…”
The pandemic has been a difficult time for many reasons, but it’s also been a period of concentrated personal learning and growth for me. I’ve realized how little I know about a lot of things. My life choices, education and experiences have led me down a certain path that is quite different than a lot of other people’s paths. And I have developed a profound longing to see things from their perspectives.
Tutu also said: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
For us to be human together, we have to know and understand one another. The best way I’ve found to do that is through listening to and learning from others who are different than I am – by reading about their histories, experiences and stories. Despite what some people say, this hasn’t made me hate my country or made me want to leave. Instead, it’s given me an understanding of why people make the choices they make and has helped me to better love my neighbors.
Here are a few books I’ve read recently that I recommend to help us better understand one another: I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal; Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho; The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande; Notable Native People: 50 Indigenous Leaders, Dreamers, and Changemakers by Adrienne Keene; White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad; Locking Up Our Own by James Forman Jr.
What will I be reading in 2022? These have been suggested on recommended reading lists that I’ve added to my own: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez; We Are Not Free by Traci Chee; Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho; Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain; The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins; Feelings: A Story in Seasons by Manjit Thapp; Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia; The Removed by Brandon Hobson; I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys; I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez; Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram; Better, Not Bitter by Yusef Salaam.
If you’re looking for children’s books, I’ve recently purchased these for my nieces and nephews: Rabbit’s Snow Dance by James and Joseph Bruchac; Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi; Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya; Any Day with You by Mae Respicio; The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad; Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho; We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom.
What are you reading this year? I’d love to hear.
Maybe we can learn from one another. And, in turn, be human together.
That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood published in the Nodaway News Leader, 12/9/21.
In the summer of 2020, I began watching the “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” video series by former NFL player Emmanuel Acho, where he talked about race with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Matthew McConaughey and others. He developed it into a book which I recommend.
Instead of race, however, today I’d like to talk about another uncomfortable subject – mental health.
I was recently sitting in a small family setting and one person asked about another’s recent mental illness hospitalization. The mood immediately shifted but the person was open with their experience. As the conversation progressed, I noticed one family member was visibly uncomfortable, shifting in their seat, looking out the window and trying to change the subject. I didn’t feel like the conversation had fully developed, though, so I brought it back up and more questions were asked and discussed.
I realized we were truly having an uncomfortable conversation. It felt like some people understood things a bit better and others felt heard and seen.
We’re no strangers to mental health struggles in our extended family with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addiction and suicide.
The pandemic was especially difficult on my own mental health as I spent much of my time alone and isolated. For 15 months, I only went into public twice (to vote) and my husband worked long hours. Last winter was very dark for me with a depression I had not before experienced.
Then after being fully vaccinated, as I began to slowly reintegrate into society, a new mental struggle developed – anxiety – especially around large groups of people.
Sometimes our struggles can feel like an unending, unrelenting daily battle, like we’re drowning and can’t keep our head above water.
I get that. I’ve been there.
When we’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to remember we’ve been here before and come out on the other side. Which is why conversations like these are important so we can remember and also realize we’re not alone.
Everyone needs help at some point in their lives. Asking for help with your mental health is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength.
I’m a strong, smart, independent and capable woman, and I have struggled with my mental health. I know plenty of other people who have as well.
A conversation like this one needs to be the rule, not the exception. Conversations with family members. Conversations with friends. Conversations in private and conversations in public.
Uncomfortable conversations help us have clarity and compassion.
Sometimes those struggling might not know how to ask for help so it’s important for the rest of us to be aware and reach out.
Here are some signs a loved one might need help: struggling to work, parent or keep up at home; unable to handle stress with normal coping strategies; using drugs or alcohol to cope; risk-taking behaviors; unable to focus; sleep issues; lack of interest in activities that once brought enjoyment; panic attacks; fear of being around others; mistrust of people; sense of guilt and unworthiness; restlessness or agitation; anger or violent outbursts.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text MHA to 741741.
I was not prepared for the emotional toll that accompanied being unemployed during a pandemic.
At least not in the ways I expected …
What I had not factored in was rejection. Nor in the magnitude with which it came.
Let me back up and share how I got here. Like way back.
I spent the first eight years of my married life as a stay-at-home mom, working nights for several years to help make ends meet. When my youngest started kindergarten, I joined the staff of a small community newspaper where I stayed for over 13 years. I had some underlying health issues during that entire time that progressively got worse and I worked the last five years from home.
In 2015, my husband and I decided to turn a family property into a vacation rental business. It’s located in a very rural area in northwest Missouri and we weren’t sure how successful it would be due to its location. We worked hard to build it while both having full-time jobs and raising two very active children who were still in high school. One of the things that helped was the growing popularity of the Missouri Star Quilt Co. in nearby Hamilton (Quilt Town, USA). By the summer of 2019, we had expanded into three vacation rentals and we were very optimistic about our success.
With my health continuing to decline, and the business doing well, I made the difficult decision to leave my job in October 2019.
You know what they say about hindsight… Well, 2020 was lurking around the corner and I had no idea what was about to happen. Looking back, I don’t know if leaving my job was the best choice, but I definitely needed a break. Not just a vacation but some real time away. Among my many duties at the newspaper, I was also the social media manager. I had built the brand’s online presence from the ground up and it had become all consuming for me. The first thing I did when I woke up and the last thing before falling asleep, constantly checking my phone while attending my kids’ activities and also while on vacation. I wanted it that way. I wanted our customers and followers to trust us and look to us for anything at any time. But after a decade of doing it that way on my own, I was exhausted. And that exhaustion contributed, in part, to my declining health.
So I was looking forward to a change of pace, something that didn’t require as much of my round-the-clock time and energy, and something that still pushed me but didn’t overwhelm me. I found that with our business. November 2019 was our strongest month ever, and December, January, and February continued to be great despite the winter weather.
And then COVID hit. We started getting cancellations in March and they continued all spring and into the summer. Missouri Star Quilt closed its numerous store fronts in Hamilton early on and then decided to keep them closed until spring 2021.
I was prepared for the financial stress, as much as anyone can be, I suppose. I mean, I knew not having that income would be difficult. But I felt we could roll with the punches and make it through. We’ve pretty much done that our entire married lives.
What I was not prepared for was rejection. And not just once or twice, but being rejected over and over and over again.
Let me explain.
As our upcoming bookings were being canceled in March, I had hope that things would turn around quickly. As March turned into April, and with the loss of more bookings, I began searching for jobs.
I was not the only one.
Millions of Americans were out of work due to the pandemic. The April unemployment rate increased over 10 percent to 14.7 percent, the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in history (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).
We were getting by financially with my husband’s job, but I was concerned that if the pandemic continued throughout the summer – our best and busiest season – we might be in trouble. Congress had passed and the president had signed the CARES Act, which included Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, so after not getting any bites at job offers, I decided to file for unemployment.
I knew nothing about unemployment. I’d never even really thought about it. I quickly learned, though, that like many things in Missouri, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations was woefully unprepared for the pandemic. It was a very confusing and frustrating time for thousands of Missourians with outdated equipment and few answers for those in need. Two months after I filed, I received my first unemployment funds (for those unaware, unemployment benefits are a certain percentage of what you used to make and last a certain number of weeks depending on where you live). During that waiting period, I had continued to apply to jobs all across the country. Anything I could find. I didn’t want to be receiving unemployment. I wanted to work. I wanted to help provide for my family. I wanted to feel I was of value to something or someone.
As the weeks wore on and rejection letter after rejection letter arrived in my inbox (or worse, I didn’t even get a response), I started getting really frustrated. Getting rejected again and again, week after week, started to take its toll on me emotionally and I slowed my process. I applied to just three jobs a week, the requirement for Missouri’s unemployment. Even still, three rejections each week for months is still a lot of rejection.
In early July, I decided to work on a book idea I’d had shortly after leaving my job. For the first couple of weeks, I was excited. I thought it was a great idea and felt it could help a lot of people.
But as the rejections kept rolling in, my enthusiasm for the book waned. My thoughts began to turn pretty negative.
“Nobody wants you.”
“You have no employable skills.”
“You have no talent.”
“You are not a productive member of society.”
“You are no good.”
“No one will want to read this book.”
And so before the end of July, I stopped writing altogether.
My husband would encourage me every once in a while to write something, anything. The thought of opening my laptop made me want to vomit. I tried reading articles about how to deal with the rejection (including ones like “Eight Ways to Cope and Rebound from Constant Rejection,” which, by the way, did not help whatsoever). Nothing seemed to motivate or inspire me. I felt worthless.
Months passed. Week after week, rejection email after rejection email, while also feeling the weight of the world and not being able to do anything about it (racial injustice, overwhelming COVID deaths, governmental chaos, etc), I finally gave up emotionally. I was not suicidal, but in late-November I decided there wasn’t much point in living. I didn’t feel like I was contributing to anything, in any meaningful way, and I was just tired of feeling so much. I hoped I would fall asleep and never wake up.
It wasn’t just the rejection that led to the depression. It was the isolation of the pandemic. I’ve only been in public twice since March (to vote in the primary and general elections). It was also realizing some people I trusted as friends weren’t really friends, which included name calling and a lot of tears. I think this past year has shown many of us that we didn’t really know some people like we thought we did. It was also the pandemic itself. I was more than ready to start building up our business again.
And, it was also another change to our income. In October, my husband’s company closed the depot where he worked and all employees were laid off. He worked a seasonal temp job for a while and some part-time jobs here and there after it ended to help provide for us. We did without a lot and scraped by to somehow pay our bills. And, thankfully, a few days ago, 14 weeks after being laid off, he received a job offer for full-time employment.
I know my story isn’t unique or even as tragic as the many I’ve read over the last 10 months. I haven’t gone hungry. I haven’t been evicted. I haven’t lost a loved one to the coronavirus. I haven’t had to help my children with virtual school while also working a full-time job. I haven’t had to work in a hospital or a long-term care facility, or in a school while also teaching online, or in a grocery store, or a meat-packing plant, or a morgue.
I haven’t had to deal with a lot of things others are going through. And I realize my privilege has helped with that.
But I also don’t want to just dismiss what I have gone through.
It took me longer to resurface this time from the depression. It’s not something I face regularly, but with a chronic physical health condition, I know it’s important to make sure I’m taking care of my mental health as well (knowing that you’re likely never going to get better is a constant mental battle). There’s no one specific thing I can point to that helped this time. Probably a lot of little things including baking, which I know sounds pandemic cliché, but it has really helped. It’s incredibly difficult for me to do with my chronic pain (I have to do a little and then recover for a while in bed before doing more), but it seems to be great therapy.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a slow, growing desire to start writing again, and this is the first thing I’ve written. I know it’s rough and a bit all over the place. But I think that’s okay since I’m just doing something again.
I read a phrase right before Christmas that’s been in the back of my mind since – “a whisper of peace and a sigh of hope” (Richelle E. Goodrich).
I guess that’s how I’m facing 2021. It’s not much, but a whisper and a sigh is better than nothing and more than I had a few months ago.
No matter what 2020 was like for you, I hope you can find that, too. And maybe one day, we can look back and realize it led to something more than just whispers and sighs. Perhaps greater peace and greater hope.
From the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus itself to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement to the country’s rising unemployment/wealth disparity to the lack of concern for global climate change – and everything in between and beyond – 2020 has revealed the role that Disgust plays in my life.
My family was recently discussing Pixar’s “Inside Out” and who exemplified each character emotion the best.
When the discussion got around to me, my husband and 19-year-old daughter, in unison, said Disgust.
What?! Disgust?! My response was apparently even in character.
The first time I watched the movie, I loved Joy. Who doesn’t want to be her? It’s joy, after all! Happiness, delight, well-being, success, good fortune.
I worked for a community newspaper for over 13 years and wrote an occasional column which I titled “That they might have joy.”
I so wanted to be Joy. I always have. That’s the goal in this life, right? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
But Disgust? No way! I think I’ve been ashamed of my disgust, or parts of it, for much of my life. Or what I thought it meant. But in the weeks since our family discussion, I have begun to embrace my inner Disgust.
In the beginning of the movie, Joy introduces us to the Disgust character: “She basically keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially.”
That sounds like a pretty good thing.
When her parents try to get her to eat broccoli, Disgust heroically sweeps in and knocks the green veggies away.
“I just saved our lives,” she says. “You’re welcome.”
I love that. I am impatient, sassy and sarcastic. But I’m also honest, well-meaning, caring and protective.
I care. A lot. And because I care so much, in a world that seems to be increasingly troubled, I’m disgusted a lot.
Koss continues: “Disgust in the role of acceptable social behaviors has the potential to be very important. If we teach our children there are certain values that are important, and morals to follow, they have the potential to be offended (disgusted) when behaviors opposite to their values are displayed.”
Research by University of Kent psychologists in 2016 has shown that expressing disgust can be motivated by moral concerns.
“Participants themselves were more likely to choose to express disgust when their goal was to show that their condemnation of an act was morally motivated… The findings suggest that disgust is not just an expression of an inner feeling, like nausea or contamination, but a signal that advertises a moral position.” (Disgust is way of communicating moral rather than self-interested motivation – sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161219133831.htm)
What are some of these issues that I have been “disgusted” about in 2020? There are plenty. Racism, the criminal justice system, the death penalty, LGBTQ+ rights, global climate change, poverty and disproportion of wealth, homelessness, refugees and immigrants, growing unemployment, government leaders, healthcare disparities, mental illness, gender inequality.
It’s not enough to just be disgusted, though. We need to figure out ways to use it to create change. The COVID-19 pandemic has people questioning how we get back to normal. Some have suggested, however, that instead of going back to normal we should move forward to something better. I agree. With so many issues to be disgusted about, let’s work for a better way.
In Inside Out, Disgust incites Anger to help accomplish her purpose – she fuels his anger with her words until he bursts into flames and breaks open the window to save Joy and Sadness.
Instead of avoiding or denying or being ashamed of our disgust, let’s embrace and channel it through “honest, well-meaning, caring and protective ways” in an effort to help our communities move forward to something better and ultimately to help save lives.
Then we can all sit back, sassy and sarcastically, and say, “You’re welcome.”
“Everyone in our tribe had two names, the real one which was secret and was seldom used, and one which was common, for if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic.” ― Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins
The old, heavy, wooden door creaks open. I don’t move. I don’t open my eyes.
Tiny feet gracefully skate across the hardwood floor in footed pajamas as they’ve done countless times before. I feel her warm breath on my face and catch a hint of fabric softener and shampoo from last night’s bath. I remain in character – lifeless.
She reaches out with her chubby fingers, gently touching my cheek and sliding her hand down my face, repeating the motion a second and a third time. I break, holding back a smile, and squint through the darkness. 4:12.
“Mama. Hungry. Up.”
I pause to enjoy the early morning moment before rolling over away from her. I tug at the covers, push my husband’s cold feet away, and smile, out of her view.
“It’s still nighttime, Hannah. Go back to bed.”
Hannah: Hebrew name (Channah) meaning “favour, grace.”
Alaska: Aleut word Alaxsxaq orAlyeska meaning “mainland” (literally, “the object toward which the action of the sea is directed”), “great land,” “beauty.”
She touches my hair, trying for another response.
I lie motionless. I could use another hour of sleep. Or two.
Conceding defeat, she moves on to the next tactic, maneuvering herself into our bed, one leg up and then the other, pulling, struggling, then highjacking the quilt. She squirms a bit and snuggles in beside me.
“Love you, mama.”
I roll back over toward her, stare into her big, dark brown eyes, and smile. I run my fingers through her hair and down the side of her rosy, chubby cheek, as she had earlier done to me. I gently close her eyes and continue to caress her face until her breathing slows. Over her eyes, down her cheek, again and again and again, slower and softer each time.
And then tranquility arrives as she drifts off to fantasyland.
More than 40 percent of teachers quit teaching within their first five years citing lack of administrative support, low salaries, accountability pressures, lack of advancement opportunities and working conditions.
My dad was a teacher for 35 years, my husband for 15, and my aunt, cousins and several friends also teach. I’ve covered numerous school board meetings and functions. So while I’ve never been one, I’ve gotten a glimpse into and heard plenty of stories about the profession.
As we begin another school year, I want to talk about working conditions, one of the reasons teachers are leaving.
Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash
I’m not talking about having no control over the thermostat in your room, which means you’re either freezing or burning up (there seems to be no in between). Or being on the receiving end of every germ that walks through your door. Or having no time to use the bathroom. Or having to swallow your lunch in three bites.
Are these the reasons teachers are quitting? No. Dealing with parents? Yes.
Several recent online posts by former teachers highlight this problem.
Earlier this summer, Jessica Gentry, a former kindergarten teacher in Virginia, wrote: “Let me tell you why those who ooze passion for teaching are leaving the occupation like their hair is on fire.”
Her viral post included the excuse that the kids have changed.
“Kids are kids,” she wrote. “Parenting has changed. Society has changed. The kids are just the innocent victims of that. Parents are working crazy hours, consumed by their devices, leaving kids in unstable parenting/coparenting situations (with) terrible media influences… and we give the excuse that the kids have changed? What did we expect them to do?”
In a viral post from 2018, Julie Marburger, a former middle school teacher in Texas, wrote: “I left work early today after an incident with a parent left me unable emotionally to continue for the day. Parents have become far too disrespectful. Administration always seems to err on the side of keeping the parent happy, which leaves me with no way to do the job I was hired to do … teach kids.”
She continued: “(Parents) have to stop coddling and enabling their children. It’s not fair to society, and more importantly, is not fair to the children to teach them this is okay.”
In January, Kori Clements, a successful high school volleyball coach in Texas, resigned due to “parents’ political pressure.”
“I was told by campus administration that I needed to recognize the political aspect of my job and also of theirs. I cannot and will not compromise the integrity of my decisions based on a parent’s political pressure or position. I believe strongly in the value of athletics, that being a part of a team is a privilege and playing time is earned.”
While this example was with athletics, the problem is the same in the classroom.
Do all parents do this? No, of course not. Most are doing the best they can and understand teachers are as well. I’m also not saying all teachers are good. I know there are some who shouldn’t be in education.
“An open letter from teachers to parents” by Bored Teachers lists five steps for improving the relationship between parents, teachers and students: 1. Stop making excuses for your kids; 2. Make sure they’re doing their work; 3. Cut the distractions; 4. Model good habits at home; and 5. Work with their teachers, not against them.
Stop making excuses and teach them to be responsible for their actions and their schoolwork. If they’re not getting an A, find out why. Have they completed all of their assignments? Are they participating in class?
I believe most parents love their kids and want what’s best for them. But expecting something when it hasn’t been earned isn’t the way for them to learn, grow and succeed. We need to expect more of them. Do we really want our future mechanics, doctors and leaders doing the minimum to get by and get rewarded for it?
I also believe most teachers are doing their best, sometimes in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We need to stop thinking we know how to be better teachers. They’ve had years of education and training and many seek additional learning each summer.
So what’s the solution?
Work together. You know your kid. They know teaching. Discuss your concerns respectfully and work to find win-win solutions.
“Be on our side. We are obviously not in education because we expect to become millionaires, we’re here because we care about kids and our society. So let’s help each other, and let’s do the best for the kids we love” (Bored Teacher).
Believe in them. Trust them. Cheer for them.
They really do want what’s best for your kids. Just like you do.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
By Jacki Wood, “That they might have joy column,” Nodaway News Leader, August 2019
“That they might have joy” column by Jacki Wood, Nodaway News Leader
I’m standing in the middle of the road.
If you’ve ever been in the middle of a road, or seen someone who is, you know it’s probably not the safest place to be.
There’s a chance you might get hit. More likely, though, you’ll get yelled at or cursed at, honked at or shown some unfriendly hand gestures.
When I was a kid, we lived on a quiet street, so it was pretty common to see us in the middle of the road. We would play ball or skateboard or even go sledding with little concern. Now I live in the country and walking down the middle of a gravel road can be quite peaceful.
But the road I’m standing in the middle of is not a country road. It’s not a city street. Or even a busy highway. Although it’s plenty loud. And it can feel fairly threatening.
The road I’m standing on is a political one. And I don’t think I’m alone here either.
It’s sometimes hard to see each other there in the middle, or near the middle, because the far left and the far right are zooming by us so incredibly loudly.
We’re trying to navigate each day while surrounded by the divisiveness and partisan polarization that has grown in our country in recent years. And we’re doing it, right there amidst all that yelling and cursing and honking, still trying to stand on our principles without being tossed to and fro.
Before I go any further, let me be clear…I’m not promoting silence or complicity. When there are issues we feel strongly about, we should take a stand, write our elected leaders, hold meetings, walk in parades, knock on doors, advocate, share on social media. We can do it fervently and still respectfully.
In “Eisenhower Republicanism – Pursuing the Middle Way,” author Steven Wagner writes: “In American political culture, those who describe themselves as ‘middle of the road’ are often portrayed as unwilling to take a stand or lacking in political sophistication. This was not the case with Eisenhower, whose ‘middle way’ was a carefully considered political philosophy similar to Theodore Roosevelt’s cautious progressivism.”
Eisenhower said his ‘middle way’ was a “practical working basis between extremists.”
Sounds to me like we could use some of that practicality in our current political climate.
So what can we learn from Eisenhower today?
A couple of Bills may have the answer.
Bill Kristol, a conservative Republican of the George HW Bush White House and founder of The Weekly Standard, and Bill Galston, a Democrat veteran of the Bill Clinton White House and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, created the New Center project and wrote Ideas to Re-Center America.
“We present some bold new ideas for re-centering America. We know that our politics have gotten off kilter. As the parties have become more polarized and our politics more partisan, the great American majority – which wants to see cooperation and compromise – has been left with no good choices.”
Their ideas center on four core values they believe can help move politics beyond polarization – opportunity, security, ingenuity and accountability.
“The ideas we advance represent a New Center for American politics, a politics that reflects both our enduring principles and the new circumstances we confront. In place of a politics stuck in the past, we offer an agenda re-centered in the future, not a tepid compromise between Left and Right, but a new way toward the stronger economy, more inclusive society and more effective politics that we all want for the country we love.”
You can read more at newcenter.org.
Albert Einstein said: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” While we might be going through some difficult times, there might also be some great opportunities out there to discover.
So if you’re like me and standing in the middle of the road, or on the shoulder of one side or the other, let’s look for ways to come together and not be drowned out by all the yelling and cursing and honking.
I’d much rather help build bridges (than walls) to help unite and strengthen our nation.