A little gift to you from me. Absolutely beautiful.
Note: I have posted this for a year or two in various forms. I worry about it a bit because I don't want to seem self serving since I am a teacher. But I have now been asked multiple times by friends about ideas for teacher gifts. So, I am going to post it.
First of all, you are certainly not obligated to give a gift. If you want to--I think that's really great. If you don't want to, or can't, that's fine, too.
Personally, I always make sure we give our children's teachers something. It's always very modest, but I think it's important, and here's why: I can't overstate how demanding and exhausting teaching is. Wonderful and rewarding, yes--but also exhausting. It's very much like being a parent--a constant flow of giving, giving, giving. You give emotionally and mentally and you risk emptying the well sometimes.
Having someone give back using the same currency (eg emotional and mental) really helps fill the well back up.
Do not feel obligated to spend a lot of money. In fact, you can spend no money and give an incredibly memorable gift (see below).
Remember that, while your child's teacher gets paid, a good teacher is simply not compensated anywhere near the amount of time he or she invests and is not paid for any of the emotional energy given.
One of the most valued gifts I know of is a sincere note written by a child that is detailed and specific in expressing gratitude. I personally feel that way, and I think a lot of other teachers do as well.
Most teachers teach because they wanted to make a difference and most worry, I think, that they aren't doing enough, or well enough or could do more or need to do better. Knowing you are achieving that objective and feeling like you touched a life is powerful motivational medicine. This is the gift I yearn for every year and appreciate so much when I get one! In fact, I have a folder in which I keep these sort of notes and in a fire, it's one of the first things I would grab.
If your child has multiple teachers, be careful about giving a gift to one teacher and not another. Someone does this every year and it can really hurt people's feelings. Remember that teachers are human with feelings. If you must do this, and I can see why there would be occasions to do it, at least give the gift discretely so no one else will see.
Remember, too, that every school has a few popular teachers that everyone loves and remembers. But the less charismatic teachers work hard, too. It's not their fault they are not as fun or popular, etc. Be thoughtful.
You might also consider the custodial staff, etc. A plate of cookies for them would be very thoughtful. I know that not every parent can get every member of the staff something. But when you are in a position, it's nice. There is a parent at our school who remembers the lunch ladies and custodians every year. Every year. I think that shows a lot about her.
Don't feel pressure to be creative or clever. It truly is the thought that counts for most teachers--and if it's not, then it's not worth worrying about them. A list of my favorite gifts over the years would reveal no pattern beyond thoughtfulness.
If you are super busy and want a quick idea, go for a gift card. Teachers don't often have vast amounts of of disposable income and having a gift card to Amazon or Target or a restaurant allows them go get something fun without having to worry about budgetary impact. You can get gift cards so easily now--Visa cards which are like cash, and just about every other possible thing you can imagine: Starbucks, iTunes, the list goes on and on.
If you want to do something more personal, you might find out about their favorite restaurant, spa, etc. is also a good idea. Do they have a charity they support? There might also be instructional or classroom supplies your teacher would love that are not in his or her budget. Talking to the room parents or the teacher is a good idea there.
A few random examples:
One year, one student got some movie passes for us since there was a movie they knew we wanted to watch and knew it would be expensive for our big family. The kindness and thoughtfulness in that gesture still warm my heart beyond the value of the gift.
Another family gave me some really amazing, high-end toffee and candy one year and some homemade treats the next year. Some families have special recipes for hot cocoa or cookie mixes--the list goes on and on, but all of this warms my heart to equal degrees because I know they spend time and effort--which is what I've tried to do for their children.
Another idea is a Christmas tree ornament. Over the years I have received several of these. I always write the student's name and year on it, and each year, as we decorate our tree, I have warm and happy memories of that family. These are really treasured keepsakes.
You might also consider group gifts as an easy way to stretch a few dollars. One year, the parents in my son's class all contributed a few dollars and got her a gift card to the mall. Then, everyone had their child draw a picture and write what they loved about the teacher. We laminated these and made them into a book. I know she really loved that gift.
It truly is the thought that counts. I know some people are worried about giving something the teacher won't like, or that is too modest. Here's the thing: that is their problem! If they are not going to be grateful and appreciative, then they are robbing themselves of joy, and they are not worth the trouble of thinking about. That is their problem not yours.
One last idea:
May I suggest that, along with the gift, you tell them explicitly that you do not want them to write you a thank you note? This is one of the most thoughtful things I've experienced from parents. I am, of course, happy to write thank you notes, but when someone tells me not to worry about it, it is a true gift, saving time and some money. I know a lot of teachers who spend a fair amount of time over the break writing thank you notes and then spend a bit of money mailing the notes (you don't always want to trust the child to deliver these).
Two years ago, I did this with my own children's teachers and some of them literally burst into tears out of gratitude because they felt so much pressure. So, I feel like I'm really on to something here. Some teachers choose to write a note anyway and feel that this is important modeling for the student to see. I totally understand that point of view. My own thought, for what it's worth, is that things revolve around the student all year long. The point of giving a gift is to say thank you to the teacher--not to teach the student something else. But, this is just a thought/suggestion.
Note: All of my current students and parents who I know read this blog do a great job at this! I wouldn't have posted this otherwise.
The Book of Mormon Musical is coming to Nashville. Since I live in Nashville, make my living directing plays, mostly musicals, and since I am a Mormon*, I've had several people ask me what I think about this.
It goes a bit deeper than this for me because I currently have children out serving two-year stints as missionaries, and I have dear friends who also have children out--and dear friends who are themselves working as missionaries.
I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, I really like the way the Church has responded to this. I think it's fair to say that the musical is not terribly flattering to Mormons and what they believe. But the Church hasn't called for boycotts or made threats or tried to shut things down, gone after the sponsors, etc. In fact, the Church bought an add in the playbill (the photo above). Well played, in my opinion. I'm a bit tired of the constant outrage in which our society seems to live these days, so I find this refreshing.
At any rate, here's my take. To me, The Book of Mormon is a sacred book. We read and believe in the Bible, but the The Book of Mormon (BOM, hereafter) is an additional book of scripture. It tells the story of a group of people who left Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and travelled to the New World. Like the Bible, it records prophecies and religious teachings. The culminating part of the book is when a resurrected Jesus appears to the believers in this part of the world, who have long been expecting him.
I love this because the message is that God is a personal God. He knows and loves his children everywhere, and that he actively and regularly intervenes in the lives of those who love and seek to follow him.
I love the idea that he knows everyone, that he speaks to all nations through their own prophets, and that his dealings with humanity wasn't limited to one region of the world.
I love that the account of Christ's visit shows him personally healing and caring for and loving a huge multitude. One by one, he heals and blesses them.
I could go on and on, but if the Bible is peanut butter, the BOM is chocolate. Or ice cream and hot fudge. You get the idea.
I do wonder a bit at the drive to make fun of something that people hold sacred. I've never quite understood that. But, I'm an absolutist about the First Amendment and free speech. The same freedom that allows me to worship according to my beliefs gives others the freedom to poke fun of them. You can't have one without the other. I had a high school teacher who drummed into me the idea that, "I may not like what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I really believe that.
As a musical theatre lover, I do feel a bit wistful that Jews got Fiddler on the Roof and Catholics got The Sound of Music while Mormons got this musical. Those first two respect the religious traditions instead of poking fun at them**. As someone who loves musicals, I think it would be cool to have an iconic show that treated Mormon faith and culture serious. But, that's life, and some Mormon needs to write one.
Finally, I'm concerned about our culture. I think it is coarse and getting coarser, and I don't think that's a good thing. So all the profanity in this show concerns me on those grounds.
For those reasons, I won't personally be going to see it. But I don't begrudge those who do go see it. So, go see the musical--but let me know if you want a copy of the book. And let's talk.
*The official name of the Church is: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Mormon" is a nickname and most of us have sort of embraced it. It's a lot shorter than saying, "A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint."
** I understand that there are other satirical musicals about these faiths. My point is that there are no warm-fuzzy analog to those plays for Mormons.
There has been a big flap about the rocket scientist's shirt. In fact, it may have eclipsed the actual event that brought that guy into the public eye in the first place.
The response seems to mostly be in two camps. Camp A is outraged and says that this shirt is an affront to women in general, and demonstrates why more women don't go into science.
Camp B says that Camp A is overreacting and being bullies. In a diverse world, they say, we all have to basically relax a bit and don't get to impose our views on others. They also point out that in many feminist circles, there is a strong tendency towards defending a woman's right to wear anything at all and insist on respect.
Frankly, I think both sides are engaging in a lot of hypocrisy that really bothers me, but there is something else I want to point out.
For starters, the shirt was totally inappropriate. It just was. When I think of my female students seeing that and processing what it means, I feel literally sick inside. But, leaving the merits (or demerits) of that shirt aside, it was most certainly not appropriate for the workplace, and not appropriate for a worldwide media broadcast. It just wasn't. In what world is that professional attire? Had the guy just worn a shirt and tie, or even business casual, none of this would have happened.
We used to be governed by good manners and common decency. Our dress reflected that. Professional dress shows respect to those around and also to ourselves. Yes, formality can be taken too far--but I think we're a safe distance away from that right now.
In my theatre work, I've noticed that there is magic that happens when actors first put on their costumes. Wearing that costume has a profound impact on how they act in a multitude of ways, small and large. The way we dress influences how we act. It just does.
So, out of respect to those around us, and out of respect to ourselves, we ought to dress appropriately for the venue. That used to be a matter of common decency and basic civilized behavior. And many of those on Team B normally agree with this proposition--thus their hypocrisy. But I do think a little more self-restraint, a little more formality and dignity would not hurt us. And many of those on Team B normally agree with this proposition--thus their hypocrisy.
The second point is closely related. We live in a world where traditional mores, standards, and cultural agreements are either decaying or being thrown out. As a result, our culture is coarser and uglier in every way. Many of the people on Team A have either helped drive this or have welcomed it.
Those of us who don't think it is good to live in a coarse, violent, and in this case, sex-drenched culture are often called prudish or censorious. But standards are like guard rails or speed limits. They keep us all going relatively safely in the same direction, even in different cars and going different directions. They provide necessary social cohesion, and that seems more important than ever in a world of growing diversity.
If you want to start throwing out traditional standards of behavior, if you accept (and encourage) the relaxing and coarsening of the culture, then you can't be shocked or outraged when the culture is coarse. You can't get indignant when someone is coarser than your sensibilities allow.
You can't laugh at comedians or musicians dropping F-bombs, and you can't breathlessly ogle the shirtless Twilight guys, or the Victoria's Secret models, or carry around porny Abercrombie and Fitch bags and then complain because the culture is too sexualized and coarse--or that one guy's shirt is inappropriate because it has sexualized images on it.
Likewise, you can't accept and defend bad behavior simply because your political opponents are upset, or argue that lower standards apply only to you and your allies, not no one else.
Culture is formed by the decisions of millions of people--what we think, do, and especially, what we support with our money. If you watch crass, coarse movies or TV shows, you are helping creating a culture that allows coarseness. You have that right, of course. But you don't then get to define when and how others will be crass.
This scientist guy simply did what millions of other people did: he did whatever he wanted with no regard for others and no regard for what used to define good manners. His shirt was coarse and ugly in a coarse and ugly world. No more. No less. He is part of a culture that we have collectively made.
If you don't like what he did, and I don't, then you need to help start unmaking that culture pretty fast. But it can't be selective. If, on the other hand, you like the way things are, then you really can't be offended when others exercise their right to be as unrestrained as you.
Note: I've been thinking about this for several days and drafting this in my mind. I just now saw that Jonah Goldberg had written some similar things. So, it seems like the decent thing to provide a link to his column.
Contrarians* unite! Over the years, I've realized that I am a contrarian by nature. I've been trying to organize what this means. Here's my first crack at a Contrarian's Creed**:
I am not a contrarian because I'm grumpy, or because I think I'm smarter than everyone. Rather, I am keenly aware of my own human folly and frailty. Therefore, it worries me when other people and new ideas charge blithely ahead, undaunted and untroubled by any apparent awareness that human nature makes folly, error, and vice our common default setting.
A contrarian doesn't think he or she is smarter than anyone else. However, contrarians are alarmed and annoyed when other people, especially those in power, refuse to return that compliment. One is not a contrarian because they are grumpy. Rather, a contrarian is grumpy because so many influential people do such stupid things with neither self-awareness nor meaningful opposition.
Consequently, contrarians mistrust trends, bandwagons, and crusades. This is true regardless of which ideological camp originates the crusade, whether the bandwagon is social, political, cultural, or personal, or whether the trend is serious or light-hearted. Contrarians think that the emperor will almost always have no clothes, and feel that someone has to state that fact, even if it makes others uncomfortable or angry.
Contrarians are not reflexively anti-everything. They can be convinced of a leader's goodness or an idea's utility. They are skeptical, but not necessarily cynical and can cherish deeply-held beliefs and ideals. But the burden of proof is both heavy and likely perpetual. A contrarian must have evidence, probably on a continuing basis, before going along with something--and what he or she accepts as proof will likely vary from person to person.
While they may seem cranky, contrarians are not necessarily harsh or mean on a personal level. Rather, awareness of human nature leads contrarians to a generally sympathetic stance towards human weakness, inclining them to tolerance and compassion in personal dealings. Contrarians are perfectly happy to live and let live, allowing others to navigate by whatever stars they choose to follow. However, the moment someone attempts to mandate or legislate compliance with their own path or philosophy, or the moment a fad or trend grows, contrarians react with vehemence.
Thus, a pardox: contrarians respond to would-be leaders and shiny, new ideas with an unflinching, vocal skepticism matched only by the kindness and charity they feel they owe all humans.
As with all human beings, individual contrarians are prone to be inconsistent on occasion and are likely to exhibit some traits in greater degree than others.
*How do you know if you are a contrarian? I suggest that you cannot be a contrarian if you use jargon and buzz-words with a straight face, or if you sit through a political speech regardless of party affiliation and find yourself agreeing (or disagreeing) with everything. Total agreement or disagreement makes you a partisan and that is totally contrary to a contrarian. A lot of wannabe contrarians are only contrarian about opposing ideologies. That doesn't count. You have to quibble with all ideologies.
You are not a contrarian if you can easily accept decisions from authority figures of any ideological stripe, or if you hold a majority opinion on any issue without feeling severe discomfort. If you go to a meeting where management presents sweeping new changes and you walk out motivated and cheering, you are not a contrarian. Also, if you love TED talks, you are probably not a contrarian, although there is some latitude on this and context matters a great deal. For example, if you find a TED talk on your own, that would be permissible. But if you have to watch one at work or you see one go viral, most contrarians would be annoyed.
**I do recognize the irony in having a creed for contrarians. I need to find a better term. But the term "creed" gave some nice alliteration.
This is my favorite time of the year. Auditions for the big winter musical are this week. It's stressful in some ways and a lot of work. In fact, for me, getting ready for auditions might be as demanding (or more) than the week of the performances, both emotionally as well as physically.
Still, in spite of that, I love this time, and here's why: right now somewhere around 70 kids in 5th through 8th graders are signed up to audition for the play. In a few more weeks, another 80 or so kids in grades 1-4 will audition. Every morning and afternoon, they are in my classroom checking the sign-up sheet, asking for tips or suggestions, working out problems and so forth. It's fun to have them stop by, and fun to see the wheels in their minds turning so hard.
They are busy learning songs and lines, and devoting all their considerable intelligence and energy to giving their part that extra bit of polish and shine so they'll be called back. All of that energy and excitement is almost tangible, and the school is crackling with it right now.
People wonder sometimes why I like teaching middle school so much, and this is one of the reasons. They are still young enough to be excited, and not be ashamed to admit it. Or to admit that they are nervous. Unlike older adolescents, they haven't quite figured out about masking their genuine emotions, and when they are excited, there's nothing like it.
I love the creativity and effort they spend preparing. One student is shy, so she and her friend worked out a duet and spent hours coming up with choreography. Another didn't want to sing a song, so she read a dramatic part from a book she's been reading. Others have spent literally weeks memorizing and polishing and practicing in the mirror so that every gesture is perfect.
This kind of hard work and creativity makes me proud and happy.
But most of all, auditions are exciting because, like any new beginning, the possibilities are endless. Instead of confronting difficult realities, everyone can dream a little and imagine how wonderful it would be to get that one really great part, and how fun it would be if their best friend was right up there with them and so on.
The great thing is that I don't have any idea who will end up getting what parts. I learned long ago that I can't predict this with any degree of accuracy, so I don't even try anymore. I just enjoy the ride and embrace the fact that there will be wonderful surprises.
Unlimited possibilities are not something we get a whole lot of in life. Most of us spend our time and energy balancing the ideal with the real, what we hoped for with what is possible. We learn to accept limitations and (hopefully) live happy lives.
This weekend, when the cast list is posted, it will be time to accept disappointment gracefully and start enjoying what we have instead of what we may have wanted.
But in world where our choices are so often circumscribed by cold realities, the warm sunlight of unlimited, unbounded possibilities is a wonderful place to be for a little while.
I've been reading a compelling new book by my friend, Rebecca Belliston. The series is called The Citizens of Logan Pond, and Book 1 is titled, Life. Books 2 and 3 will be titled: Liberty and Pursuit, respectively.
This series is set in a dystopian America in the very near future. In my mind, that is what makes it so chilling. The plausible nature of the calamity that leads to the dystopia, and the familiar setting give the story an extra poignancy.
I'll let Rebecca explain what the impetus was that got her started with this story:
"Six years ago, I got stuck on a single question: 'What if the end of civilization as we know it doesn't come from some huge war or catastrophe? What if it comes from the absence of one small thing: the dollar?' This question wouldn't leave me alone and has grown into this series."
Taking that question as a starting point, Rebecca has created a haunting story and setting that also allows her to explore the more human dimensions of such a disaster: "I also wanted to explore what kinds of things would survive if everything else is taken away: namely family, friendships, and love."
And explore these she does. Life works very well as a young adult adventure-romance. But it also has additional layers built in as the characters work through situations that allow the reader to think about some of these issues.
Rebecca did a wonderful job of building an ominous tone of suspense. Even when good things were happening, I couldn't relax because I knew the bad guys were off-camera, plotting and getting ready to do something, well, bad. This made it so I could never quite relax--which is exactly the situation in which the Citizens of Logan Pond find themselves.
Rebecca was able to create romantic tension without throwing in sex scenes, and she was able to create menace and tension, and show an ugly world without explicit violence. There were some moments that were very heartrending, though, and the lack of sex and violence did not reduce the emotional impact of the book.
As I said, the book is the first in a series. One other thing I appreciated is that Rebecca managed to end the book in a way that left some questions and issues to be resolved in the next book, but she also resolved the narrative arc in a way that doesn't leave the reader hanging.
You can learn more about Rebecca, and this series at her website.
For a period of about seven or years, I consistently had middle school students in my home. My oldest three were born in close enough succession that it was a chain of unbroken adolescence.
The youngest of those three is now a high school senior. Two of them are well into young adulthood as happy, well-adjusted people who show every indication of becoming productive members of society.
Now, after this interim, I have another middle schooler this year! Once more, our home rings with the dulcet tones of an adolescent who is navigating middle school and all that comes with it.
Having been through this before, and having the advantage of seeing 150ish students a year, I've done a lot of reflection on what worked well before, and what didn't. I've thought about what I learned and things I want to do differently. In case it's useful to anyone else, I thought I'd pass on some of things I'll do differently.
Melding my experience as a parent with my experience as a teacher, I've decided the biggest thing I'd do differently is this: I'm going to devote the best of my energy and the bulk of my time to coaching him through long-term issues, and spend less time worrying about short term ones. Another way to put this is to address problems, not the episodes that bring them to my attention; to focus on causes, not on symptoms.
In other words, I'm going to try to be strategic with my parenting, and less tactical.
I think I probably did this in reverse last time around. In retrospect, my wife and I were so busy putting out various fires that we didn't do as much long-term coaching. The kids still learned what they needed to, and I don't have serious regrets, but instead of doing 70% fighting fires and 30% coaching, I am going to try to reverse that.
I'm especially going to try to build emotional habits like grit, resilience, and problem-solving skills. I've noticed that immature behaviors tend to go away with time. But immature emotional habits can persist.
When your child has a teacher that is difficult for him, if she has friend struggles, a hard class, if he or she doesn't get chosen for the team, or get the part in the play it is very difficult. It feels like a BIG deal. But it's very temporary. And yet, I feel like this sort of thing is where we often invest parenting energies.
When I look back at the things that consumed my last child's time in middle school--the things that she and I worried about--I realize that most of it just doesn't matter anymore. It's gone. I've learned is that the specific, day-to-day stuff, the skirmishes of adolescence, really aren't all that important, although they feel like it at the time.
Being tactical, and trying to win specific battles is always going to be a part of parenting, I suppose. But it's so easy to get caught up in the moment that you lose the big picture.
So, I'm going to worry less about specific assignments and much more about helping him develop study skills.
I'm not going to worry if he has some failures. In fact, while I won't set him up to fail, I hope he does have some failures. I'm not going to bail him out. These struggles are so important for growth--and he needs to learn to cope and adjust now while the stakes are low. I don't want his first failure to be when he's got his first job.
I'm going to worry less about him getting playing time/positive attention from a coach or teacher and focus more helping on developing a good attitude and giving his best efforts regardless.
I'm going to worry less about social ups-and-downs (they are inevitable), and more on helping him be the kind of kid people want to be around.
The single biggest thing I'm going to focus on with him are these related principles:
The only thing you ultimately can control is yourself. People will disappoint you. Life will be hard. In middle school, in high school, and beyond. That won't change. The sooner you learn to take focus on your choices, and I'm going to try to help him be less focused on what others do, and far more focused on taking responsibility for what he did. Middle school students are incredibly focused on what other people do to them. It's hard for them to look at their own responsibilities in problematic situations.
But this focus on blaming others can easily become a habit. Maturity takes care of a lot of things, but people who don't learn to accept responsibility seem to struggle with that for the rest of their lives.
The related principle is this: every choice has consequences--some are good, some are bad, and some are not really either--they are trade-offs. You are free to choose--but you are not free to opt out of the consequences of your choice.
There are no perfect options. Trade-offs exist. Humans simply can't have it all, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, is selling you something, or is trying to get your vote. A happy life is learning to make the best choices you can and then accept the trade-offs and consequences that come.
I am a firm believer in the idea that kids need to work their own problems out. The world can be difficult and kids need grit to succeed. Recently, I heard about employer who had an employee's mother call him to demand that he change her son's work schedule. The son was a new employee and schedules were done according to seniority. One hears about this more and more often and it is worrisome--both for the long-term prospects of the child as well as our collective future.
To intervene is to cripple them and reduce their ability to function in the world. But then--bam! My child gets too much homework, or someone is mean, or--any number of other things. Suddenly, all my beliefs about non-intervening get tossed out and I'm ready to be a micro-managing helicopter parent.
I don't think it's just me. I believe most parents recognize that it can be unhealthy to intervene too much. They understand that on a theoretical level. But then, a child has difficulty, your parental instincts kick in, and suddenly you are devoting all your resources to solving a problem for your child.
This has happened to me very recently. There was a situation in which I intervened and later realized I shouldn't have. Then, there was another situation in which I did not intervene and now think I should have.
So, how do you know when to intervene and when not to?
I've been thinking a lot about this, and while I don't pretend to have all the answers, I have come with a few thoughts.
1. Is your child in serious physical danger? You should probably intervene. I say "probably" because I think the level matters. A skinned knee or bruises? No. A broken limb? Yes.
2. Is your child's long-term health and/or happiness at stake? A test, several assignments, a role in a play, playing time in a game, even a final grade in a class do not rise to this level, in my judgment. Be careful with this one. It can play tricks on you, and you can easily convince yourself that intervening is necessary.
3. Is there a power imbalance at play? Kids need to learn to work through problems. They need to learn to express concerns to their teachers and peers. Disagreements are a chance to learn how to work through these problems. Bullying is different. It involves a power imbalance, repetition, and intentionality. Someone who is being truly bullied may not be able to solve the problem using his or her own resources. Note that a lot of what people call bullying is not true bullying. It's mean, it's discouraging, it's difficult--but it's not bullying.
4. Ask yourself this: "If I don't intervene what is the worst thing that will happen?" The answer to this question is illuminating. It leads me to realize that usually the stakes are not terribly high. I might be frustrated, my child might be frustrated, and so on. There is rarely a serious, long-term consequence.
5. If you think it is serious, then add this question. "Even if it is serious, is this problem worse than inhibiting my child's problem-solving abilities?"
6. Do an ego check. I am confident that a lot of parental interventions stem more from wounded pride, bruised egos, latent insecurities, and other similar parental issues. Asking myself why I really care is often very illuminating for things like this. I really think that's true.
7. Do you intervene a lot? If everything looks like an emergency, then your view of emergencies might have become inflated. If you find yourself saying things like, "I would never want to be the kind of parent who xyz, but..." more than once or twice every few months, I would be very careful and do some reflection. Intervention is a habit, and it can be hard to see. But if your child is constantly needing intervention, I suggest that might a warning sign. You might ask a trusted outside observer.
8. Is everyone out to get your child? If you feel that lots of people--coaches, teachers, etc.--don't appreciate or understand your child, that would be a big red flag. I'm not saying that would never be true. But I think it's unlikely enough to give some serious pause.
9. Last of all, it is my experience that policies and procedures are not usually random or arbitrary. Generally there is a reason someone created a rule or policy. Chances are that there is a reason that coach didn't play your child, or that the teacher gives so much homework. Maybe not, but it would be good to try to explore that before you intervene.
10. When was the last time you coached your child through how to solve a problem?
11. When was the last time you saw your child solve a problem?
A final caution: make sure you understand the full context and details of the problem. Sometimes there are nuances and levels of meaning that might give additional insight. It can be embarrassing to intervene and then find out your understanding was incomplete or just plain wrong.
What are some things that have worked for you in deciding when to intervene?
Something like twenty-three years ago, I was a young missionary for my church. Living in a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I spent my days going door-to-door from dawn to dusk, telling anyone who would listen that God loved them, that he had a plan, and that he spoke through prophets on the earth again--just like he did in Biblical times.
At some point, I got mono, but didn't know it. I just knew I was tired and didn't feel well. But I figured I was just being lazy. Or that I hadn't quite adjusted to the demanding life of a missionary. So, my partner and I kept going. Day in, day out, we knocked on doors, walking all day long, fall, winter, spring, and summer.
I didn't know I had mono. But my body eventually figured it out. So, although I kept going, it finally couldn't. A year later, just about this time of year, it simply stopped. Overcome with exhaustion, I couldn't get out of bed, and I mean that literally. Getting up to shower constituted an enormous effort for me, and driving to go get groceries or eat dinner at some kind person's home was, quite literally, something that took all my energy for days.
These were bleak, bleak days. For months, during fall and a very dark winter, I had to stay in bed all day, every day. Because missionaries travel everywhere in twos, my poor partner (we call them companions) had to sit there in the tiny apartment and do basically nothing. I think he had it worse than I did, honestly. I don't know how many times he re-read the New Testament.
I remember, one very difficult day. I had a portable tape recorder and my mom had sent me a tape recording that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had released. The name of the album was "Gloria," and it was sacred choral music composed over the years by the great masters: Mozart, Schubert, Puccini, Vivaldi, and on and on.
This music became my comfort during dark times. It spoke to my soul when I was struggling both physically and mentally. It also gave me a desire to be a teacher and find a way to share the great masterpieces of the world with students so they could have richer, fuller lives as well.
In fact, during these wretched, claustrophobic, soul-stewing days, the vague thought of being a teacher took root and started to become a real desire and goal. Up until then, I'd planned on being a doctor.
Eventually, I got better--although it was a long journey that involved a bona fide miracle (for details, ask me--or tune in around January since I usually re-tell it then). But even all these years later, I am not quite the same. I simply don't have a lot of physical resilience, and when I get worn down, I absolutely have to rest or risk serious relapse.
I know that now. I learned it the hard way over a lot of years. So, when the warning signs come, I rest and catch up. As long as I do this, it's not a big deal, and remains very manageable.
Today is one of those days. After a few busy weeks, I am worn down to the point of getting sick. I just can't keep pushing it. So, I'm in bed today. I turned on some music, and since it was Sunday, I am listening to my Mormon Tabernacle Choir playlist. Of course, some of it is exactly the same songs I listened to all those years ago.
As I lay in bed listening to Vivaldi's "Gloria," while struggling with the same flu-like mono symptoms, I remember then, and think of my life now, and I can't help but compare and contrast the two.
Instead of a tiny, dark apartment, I have a house. It's small, but comfortable and cozy and includes every convenience I could need or want.
Instead of living with a guy my age (who will change every few months), I have a loving, lovely wife, who is the best woman in the world, and the person I most want to be with forever. We have five wonderful children who bring so much to my life. They good, affectionate kids, and are growing up, and bringing deep and abiding satisfaction as I watch them meld maturity with good choices and growing abilities.
I have become that teacher I thought about being. I get to spend every day at a truly amazing school, trying to help adolescents experience the beauty and transcendence of music and theatre. I'll be better tomorrow, and I'll go back to a boisterous, joyful noise and energy in my classroom. My students might not quite sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but hearing them sing makes my heart soar.
My life has become exactly what I wanted it to be back then, although I couldn't have dreamed about just how wonderful that life would be.
And so, I need to pause and thank God for this goodness--and sing my own Gloria!